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Monday, December 05, 2011

Alan Moore on OWS

A short while ago, we discussed comic book writer/artist (and alleged representative of Hollywood) Frank Miller and his scabrous remarks on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Annoying as his views are, what really bugs me is his prose style. Everything he says nowadays sounds like a bad imitation of Frank Miller. This guy probably can't even write down a recipe for potato soup without resorting to unimaginative tough guy patois: "All right, scumbags -- peel the spuds right or I'll use your guts in my next cassoulet. What, are you retarded or something? I'm the goddamned entremetier!"

A reader directs our attention to a new interview with Alan Moore -- the other big name to emerge out of the comics world in the 1980s. Right now, he's working on a book called Jerusalem, which I eagerly await. (And I'll be very pleased if this book does not have a long opening chapter written in caveman-ese.) A few highlights:
Well, Frank Miller is someone whose work I’ve barely looked at for the past twenty years. I thought the Sin City stuff was unreconstructed misogyny, 300 appeared to be wildly ahistoric, homophobic and just completely misguided. I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller’s work for quite a long time. Since I don’t have anything to do with the comics industry, I don’t have anything to do with the people in it. I heard about the latest outpourings regarding the Occupy movement. It’s about what I’d expect from him. It’s always seemed to me that the majority of the comics field, if you had to place them politically, you’d have to say centre-right. That would be as far towards the liberal end of the spectrum as they would go. I’ve never been in any way, I don’t even know if I’m centre-left. I’ve been outspoken about that since the beginning of my career. So yes I think it would be fair to say that me and Frank Miller have diametrically opposing views upon all sorts of things, but certainly upon the Occupy movement.
The characterization of comics professionals as right-wingers goes against the reports I've heard from others. Perhaps those reports are out of date.
As far as I can see, the Occupy movement is just ordinary people reclaiming rights which should always have been theirs. I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it; they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it.
"Very intelligent"? Not always. There were many missteps at first. The protesters were wrong to insist on consensus democracy, and wrong to distrust of the very idea of leadership. Worse, too many of the OWS-ers were -- and are -- attracted by libertarian solutions, which would only make things much worse. But the strategic errors proved unimportant; the country simply needs a movement like this one.

Obviously, the emphasis on non-violence is something we should all applaud.

When asked what aspects of our current system need to be changed, Moore responded:
Everything. I believe that what’s needed is a radical solution, by which I mean from the roots upwards. Our entire political thinking seems to me to be based upon medieval precepts. These things, they didn’t work particularly well five or six hundred years ago. Their slightly modified forms are not adequate at all for the rapidly changing territory of the 21st Century.

We need to overhaul the way that we think about money, we need to overhaul the way that we think about who’s running the show. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people, to the people whose lives this is actually affecting. It’s no longer good enough to have a group of people who are controlling our destinies. The only reason they have the power is because they control the currency. They have no moral authority and, indeed, they show the opposite of moral authority.
I can't agree. Neither, for that matter, do most of the OWS protesters. In a previous post, I mentioned a poll which revealed that more protesters favor a flat tax (Rick Perry's big idea) than favor a radical revamping of the entire economic system. The numbers were five percent versus four percent, if I recall aright.

I don't believe in anarchism. We need a return to the "New Deal normal" that held sway during this country's most prosperous years -- the decades between Roosevelt and Reagan. Those policies created our middle class.

Moore would probably find my stance naive, bourgeois, perhaps even reactionary. Many Americans, however, would consider me a radical socialist. In the U.K., the political center is located in a very different place.
Some very important pampered people who almost always get their way fear libertarian solutions might be very bad for their favorite country.

My view is ANY ideology which can serve to destabilize the elite status quo in the short term is worthy.
You seem to have more imo petty grievances which don't allow for this possibility.
Right, Ken. In other words: "I know how to put out this fire -- MORE GAS!"

Libertarianism is NOT an untried solution. Libertarians always present their scehme as some great untried ideal -- and this is pure bullshit.

Just move to Somalia, why don'tcha?

I think the website you want it run by Glenn Beck.

Me -- I think I'm going to create a cartoon image of me slitting Ayn Rand's throat, which I'll post in the upper corner. Just to let guys like you know what I REALLY think of libertarianism.
I would agree with Moore on your stance. In order to make a return to some kind of New Deal arrangement workable, you'd have to create conditions that would enable American corporations to begin paying decent and rising wages again; to wit: 1) wipe out most of the industrial base of the rest of world, to eliminate global competition and the inevitable race to bottom that goes with it; 2) Undo the liberation of women from the household to as to make the supply of skilled labor drop significantly and 3) unplug all the computers everywere, so that the demand for labor would increase significantly. The list goes on.

You must know that the only reason the American Oligarchy played along with the New Deal was that they feared their system was on the brink of total desintegration before then. But boy did they work relentlessly to undo everything FDR did... and since in general terms they control the strings that make society move, they were ultimately successful. Why advocate a model that has aready failed to hold?
Just capture a photo of Silvia Sidney cast as Juno in Beetlejuice for your Ayn Rand.
Well, I agree that we are currently working with mostly medieval social and political structures. Rich elites control everything from government to religion. However, despite some allure in the freedom aspects of Libertarianism, I've realized (with some help from you Joseph), that Libertarianism is a very primitive form of governance (if it can even be thought of as governance at all) and is completely incompatible with Democracy as we know it.

We are starting to find that cooperation is a very big factor in species evolution, yet most humans want to go to the "every man for himself" model, something that has never worked to improve the lot of humans as a whole. I think it's odd how "socialism" has become such a dirty word, when it really just describes people working together to make a better life for each other. The American ideal of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is admirable, but in our current system always involves pushing several other people (at least) down into the mud while you do it. Authoritarianism is what seems to appeal to those on the right the most, regardless of their profession of Randian values of independence. They want the government small, but the military huge. Even then, they don't want the parts of the government they like to be small at all. Anyway, I'm obviously not an anarchist,but can appreciate the appeal in an unreachable, utopian way. If all people were honest, caring, just and pure, anarchy would be a great way to live with no leaders or power structures. Of course, that is not how humans work and probably never will be.
"1) wipe out most of the industrial base of the rest of world, to eliminate global competition and the inevitable race to bottom that goes with it; 2) Undo the liberation of women from the household to as to make the supply of skilled labor drop significantly and 3) unplug all the computers everywere, so that the demand for labor would increase significantly."

All of this is silly. A lot of people seem to forget that there was plenty of trade during and before the New Deal era. After the war, Europe rebuilt very, very quickly, even as it lost its colonies -- mostly through the sort of mixed-economy, Keynesian solutions which are now considered discredited.

The argument you make about women in the work force was once made about black people. Same with your argument about computers: We heard similar things about every labor-saving invention.
Yes, there was a lot of international trade during WWII and afterward during the New Deal (if that's what you meant by 'plenty of trade') but it was mostly in terms very, very favorable to the United States, even viz Europe and Japan. The US ran huge trade surpluses from the beginnig of WWII until the mid-sixties, if I'm not mistaken. That was because, to pick an example, US car makers didn' t have to compete with Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, Fiat (which now owns a big chunk of Chrysler) in the US market, but the Europeans and the Japanese had to buy almost all their capital goods from the US; and there were many other imbalances like that. Breton-Woods and the Marshall Plan were, after all, all about taking advantage of that unprecedented industrial, comercial, financial and military hegemony enjoyed by the US after the war.

So Europe didn't rebuild itself from the ground quickly like that on its own: it was by and large rebuilt with American capital: not only machinery, raw materials like oil (remember when the US was the largest oil producer and exporter in the world? Those were the days, man) and know-how, but the US provided and controlled the financial arragements that supported the whole system as well.

By the mid-to-late sixties everything changed: then, and only then, Europe and Japan began to catch up with the US in terms of product quality and efficiency and so the one-man race for the international markets was over. In those circumstances, the worst thing that could happen for the interests of the so-called American "middle-class" (considered from a purely 'sharing of the social surplus' perspective) was the popularization of the integrated circuit coinciding with a huge increase in the labor force. Yes, you and I have heard all about that regarding every labor-saving innovation and yes, that is the truth: under capitalism labor-saving techniques are really a curse for the working class.

Also, very importantly, something that I should have mentioned in that numbered list: in 1971 US domestic oil production peaked, but consumption kept rising and rising (the American Dream and all that). That was the point in history when all these factors effectively doomed the New Deal social contract. In the long term, there can be no welfare state if there are no consistent yearly trade surpluses, period. That was true for the Soviet Union and it's true for the United States of America. I feel your pain, Joseph, I really do, but the US simply cannot afford a private enterprise based New New Deal now.

To paraphrase J.P. Harvey, America's dancing days are done. You guys will have to rebuild your society from the ground up; may I respectfully suggest that this time you put a little more emphasis on cooperation and conviviality?
heh, "J.P." Harvey was a good one - it's P.J., for Polly Jean, Harvey.
Yeah right, Joe, Beck's such an critic of Israel. And you're a better strategist than both Cockburn and Greenwald.

Actually, I agree with this posted here that libertarianism in the long run leads to monpoly capitalism. We're talking short-term destabilization, however. It's actually GOOD that Frank and Kucinich work with Paul on key issues. Hillary wouldn't/didn't in their position.

1 Comment »
1.How do you know the perhaps purposefully advantageous corporate contribution to the “over-complexity” etc. didn’t precede the government control? Libertarianism leads ineluctably to monopoly capitalism of the fittest.

Of course to prevent any of this we have to have a political class, a ruling elite, with a true national-patriotic ethos–not one of greed.

Comment by truthteller — 12/6/2011 @ 4:09 pm
(From Moore:)
"Our entire political thinking seems to me to be based upon medieval precepts. (...) We need to overhaul the way that we think about money, we need to overhaul the way that we think about who’s running the show. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people".

This is just vacuous crap - not too extreme, but just woolly and if anything, too moderate. Give a celebrity a microphone, and he'll give you his words of wisdom - whatever the subject. BORING!
Joe - I can't agree with the statement that the computer is a labour-saving invention - except in the obvious senses.

Most computers are used in offices, so how come the number of office workers hasn't gone down?

It can't seriously be argued that office work now makes a greater contribution to production than before, thus allowing production to become more efficient.

You may support a more humane form of capitalism. I support demands for reform too. But whatever the good sense in avoiding the twittery of shouting "revolution now!" at all possible moments, capitalism is still essentially insane. It is insane considered statically, and it's insane considered in terms of its historical dynamic. It can't not be insane. It's fuckin' mad, having all those people working in offices sitting in front of computer monitor screens. And it's mad having millions of fuckin' cars, mostly with one person in them, on the road for 1-2 hours a day. And millions of people wasting time watching TV for 4 hours a day, and so on. Mad, mad, mad!!

Labour-wasting device might be nearer the mark.

It could be argued that in non-exploitative conditions a computer could 'save' a lot of labour (so people can do what, exactly?), but first, that's very debatable indeed, and second, well who said there could be a third 'economic' term alongside capital and labour? It's often not that useful to consider technological means abstracted from the society in which they are used.

(Which admittedly doesn't shed much light on the curious Antikythera mechanism! :) )

PS Alan Moore is a fine example of someone who wants to have his cake and eat it, albeit at an 'advanced' level. Some of what he says is just superficial, celeb-in-front-of-mic stuff. "No-one is in control" is ridiculous, whatever fancy layout is used to express it.
b -- oh, stop it with bashing Moore as some sort of "celeb." You sound jealous. It's not as though the guy is releasing a sex tape video or doing shows with Jonathan Ross every month. The man is a writer, not a celebrity.

I should address the "no-one is in control" remark. That was said in response to the response to his work "Brought to Light," a piece on CIA abuses done on behalf of the Christic Institute back in the late 1980s. I'm sure it made him something of a hero to the conspiracy crank crowd, and I think he reached a point where he had to fob them off. God knows I reached that point too.

As for the computer as labor-saving device -- you gotta be kidding. What are you and I doing right now? In the pre-computer days, it took one hell of a lot of work for someone to make his views known to the world -- to do the research, to write the words physically, to interest a publisher, to build an audience. Now, I can do each and every day the kind of work that previously would have required months of effort.

Just look at the "research" part of the equation. It's so bloody easy, these days. While researching a piece I may write on Umberto Eco's latest novel, I stumbled across a copy of Maurice Joly's autobiography. There are, what, maybe five hard copies of that book in existence. Previously, I would have had to travel to Europe and visit the Bibliotheque Nationale if I wanted to speak intelligently about his life. Now, I can download what I need at 3:00 a.m. in the comfort of my attic in Baltimore.

I call THAT labor-saving.

And let's not even talk about what I do for a living. Everyone who does Photoshop complains about making selections -- but I can recall the days of laboriously using exacto blades to cut out figures from photos, then painting the edge to hide the cut marks. And the results STILL looked crummy.
He's a celebrity in that he gets interviewed on subjects about which his thoughts are of no particular worth or profundity, he doesn't mind, and then his words get published as though they're worth listening to. He's extremely conscientious about what he does in his trade. What I've seen of his work, I've liked. Some of it is brilliant. If any middle class tosser is as good at their research as he is, and as careful to make such a high-quality product, then I haven't encountered them. So hats off to him for that. He does a far better job even than, say, Umberto Eco. I should imagine he's probably also done some cash-in stuff (as has Eco), but if so, I haven't seen it, but then I'm no comics-head. But remarks such as "our entire political thinking seems to me to be based upon medieval precepts" and "we need to overhaul the way that we think about money" and "as an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people" are what I said: vacuous. I don't care who says these things - they're a product of mouth before brain. Whose political thinking? What does it mean for ideas to be based on precepts here? What medieval precepts? It just doesn't stand up; it's not worth listening to. Turn on the TV or radio to hear talking heads go on about 'what we think today', etc. His hero Aleister Crowley - no left-winger - would never have uttered such careless formulations about anything. Moore's theory of time is a bit embarrassing too, although I don't doubt he believes it and has thought a lot about it, and it's not vacuous.

His 'no-one's in control' may have been motivated in opposition to conspiranuts, but it got used (by him) as packaging for the false idea that capitalist society is 'chaotic'. "The truth of the world is that it is chaotic" indeed. No it isn't.

The analogy between society and the mathematics of stochastic dynamic systems is false. Just as false as the idea that sociobiology is justified because order 'emerges' in the 'self-organised' way that it does in certain mathematical models.

The computer does save labour in the way you say. But it hasn't cut down on the overall amount of drudgery in the society, the number of labour-hours worked in wage-labour - not even in administrative work in offices, which is where most employee-hours are spent in front of computer screens. It has deskilled a lot of this work too. Revolutions in spinning technology meant 10 workers put more yards of cloth per hour out of the factory door. Computers in offices...well a lot of the output could go straight in the bin and it wouldn't make any difference. You do investigative and creative things using your computer. But a lot of people have to sit staring at screens, and then when they type something it's likely to get squiggly-underlined, and if they try to turn off squiggly-underlining they'll get laughed at or told off. Deep down they must be thinking they'd like to throw the damn thing out of the window.

Me, I don't find research easy even with a computer. I always get to the edge and want to go further...

As for Eco - a shady character, too clever by half; been wondering what he really knows about the hircocervus!
I said I couldn't agree with the statement that the computer is a labour-saving invention, "except in the obvious senses".

A related point: the digitalisation of library holdings has gone hand in hand with the removal of access to a great deal of material from a very large number of people.

It used to be the case that almost anyone, so long as they didn't look homeless or appear too unsure of themselves, could walk into an academic library, ask for a day pass, get issued one, and find whatever academic journal they wanted on the shelves. They could even photocopy articles if they had the money.

Nowadays, most journals don't appear in print editions, and access is restricted to those with university accounts. The rest of us can in principle open accounts with information companies privately, but that costs the earth.

In practice, unless you're rich, you have to have an academic post, or a friend in an academic post who'll tell you their password.

You can still get inside the building, but when you do, if you want to read an article published fairly recently, you'll need a password - which you won't have. Thanks, Elsevier! Thanks, universities!

So WHAM, most of the world's journal articles have been taken out of the reach of most people.

There are exceptions to this. The above doesn't apply to national libraries. They're much better than university libraries. But there ain't so many of them! :-)
The New Deal gave us the SEC and helped pass Glass-Steagall. That regulatory structure created almost half-a-century of stable financial policy, maybe not all of it good, but protective of the middle class. That alone, w/o mentioning FDR's jobs and housing policies (and working Democrat majorities in Congress), makes me pine for the old days.
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