Monthly Archives: March 2013

the geography of de-sovietization & modernization

A recent study conducted by the Carnegie Endowment in Russia and the Caucuses  determined that Stalin – still “commands worryingly high levels of admiration”. The report is littered with incredible bias, including but not limited to accusations about the “Russian Character” that include their dependency issues and lack of  exposure to twitter. However the most interesting accusation, to me,  is the geographical divide between the two parties – those who generally approve of Stalin and those who generally disapprove.

Beyond indifference, in Moscow, 18 percent of those surveyed perceive Stalin positively and 46 percent negatively, while in small towns the figures are 29 percent and 16 percent and in villages the difference is even more striking—35 and 18 percent.

The main reason for this being, in CF’s own words, that de-Sovietized Russians are likely to be:

…products of the new, postindustrial economy that has developed chiefly in Moscow. They belong to the modern globalized world and have learned to assume responsibility for their choice of careers and lifestyles. They have an achiever’s mentality, something the traditional Russian experience could not have taught them.

Here we have a fascinating insight into the mechanizations of the “civilizing” theory of urbanization. To digress for a moment: I only have experience in the Middle East when it comes to truly having dialogue with NA countries, but the city/village divide was coming on strong. In Palestine, it added extra injury to the situation because children leaving their families in the countryside because vacant land is soon seized by the occupation. People had to leave for the cities because that’s where restriction hit the least (almost all of Area A, the part “governed solely” by the Palestinian Authority is located in urban areas) and where jobs were the easiest to find. These émigrés changed the urban landscape as well, turning tight communities where everyone knew each other into frightening possibilities in strangers who had no communal accountability.  Still, both émigré and local would down their noses at “baladeeya”, those from the countryside. In Palestine, the countryside is the root of national identity. Before the occupation, Palestinians were mainly rural.

Now, just like everywhere else in the world, communities are becoming more urbanized. The largest human migration in human history is currently taking place in China, where hundreds of millions have moved from the countryside – once Mao’s seat of power – to the cities. They flock to the promise of jobs, but, more often than not, end up in cheap housing, sometimes considered “slums” on the outskirts of town.

The culture that has sprung up around this phenomenon is that of the modern urban dweller (not citizen) – those more “plugged in” to the global economy, are more sophisticated and informed than those who live in the countryside where life is more backwards. As the $300m Carnegie Endowment for Peace says:

The key point here is not so much that Russia’s poor, depressed, stagnating, and often declining provinces are a repository of Soviet-style thinking, but the reasons behind those attitudes. These areas lack social diversity, most communication is basic and personal, and the price of human life is very low. A few institutions (mainly schools and television stations) compensate for the lack of development by indoctrinating citizens with collective symbols and ideas. In big cities, by contrast, increasing individualism and more complex social interactions lead to a rejection of the myth of Stalin, not just indifference to it. (Emphasis mine) 

The city, therefore, is the factory in which the 21st century human being is made. Stalin had gulags and was the head of a system that killed a lot of people, sure. He was also the head of a system that did indeed win the Great Patriotic War. The city seeks to erase this, make the former vestiges of what was once a point of fact into a lesson on individualism.

Stalin’s death was accompanied by an outpouring of public grief. In a last act of mass murder on March 9, 1953, the deceased tyrant caused hundreds of deaths as hysterical mourners were crushed and trampled in the gigantic crowds trying to take a last look at Stalin’s body.

This kind of contempt for the people parallels with the photos of mourning we see being published from Venezuela. Collectivization is a source of  shame and hysteria, the countryside and villages are bastions of backwardness. The people don’t know anything, they are dumb animals who will trample each other and languish in stagnation. The individual is the only subject to address, the only being with rationality. The hope for the future is found in a new economy based in the cities, where access to individualism and “complex social interactions” (not defined in this paper) will pull the backwards, collective-thinking global countryside into the slums and black markets – both considered admirable examples of free trade in neoliberal literature – of the 21st century.

Instead of looking at the material conditions of the countryside, where support of Stalin has risen over the last decade, the paper assigns racist and classist attitudes towards rural lifestyles and traditions. The mass automation of farming and industrialized slaughter of livestock has led to the impoverishment of billions worldwide who are left with little choice but to move into urban centers and engage in cheap manufacturing or service-based livelihoods. Their lives were probably better under the Soviets. Yet it is not their collective conditions to be examined, rather, their individual attitudes.

For the first time in recorded history, more humans live in cities than in rural areas. The idea of the “citizen” is stripped away as collective society disappears and the notion of dwellers as consumers is adopted. They are not entitled to anything and should expect nothing from anyone – an individual, after all, is responsible for his own well-being. If the trajectory of the global economy continues, then the folks over at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace have nothing to worry about – Stalin should be dead soon.

Oh, and happy International Women’s Day

 

postfeminism

Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 8.50.33 PM

What is postfeminism? Allegedly it is the space where we can move past feminism, where feminism no longer holds appeal to women and where it can even be harmful to women. As Melissa Gira Grant writes: 

The patriarchy’s figured out a way to outsource hatred of prostitution. They’re just going to have women do it for them.

Grant, who  is a former sex worker (to be specific: not a pimp/madam) claims that patriarchy, an amorphous “they” not rooted in material reality, has outsourced the oppression of women to women themselves. This is an argument made by many who claim that women are the ones who cut other women in other parts of the world, who participate in forcing early marriage or abuse other women in the family. Then Grant gets more specific:

I wouldn’t advocate for a feminism that’s buttoned-up and divorced of the messiness of our real lives. Your feelings are your feelings, but you’re not going to litigate your feelings about my body. The feminist ethics that I signed up for were respect for my bodily autonomy, that my experience is my experience, and that I’m an expert in my own life.

What is postfeminism? It is a desire for control over one’s destiny. It is the hope that someday, no one will call you any names or discriminate against you based on your sex. Yet, when this individual oppression ends – the oppression against prostitutes, against trans women, against my right to choose, against me, will this have achieved female liberation?

The postfeminism of today is deeply rooted in neoliberal atomization. A single female’s experiences are just as valid as any other female’s experience. A wealthy white woman who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute – her choice is equally valid as the poor woman of color who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute. Postfeminism promises the liberation of individual women, but not females. These individuals are fighting against “patriarchy”, a concept that is not individualized or even rooted in material manifestations. Rather, it is as amorphous as its own concept: a male slapping a woman, a man cat-calling a woman, or a man who makes a sexist remark at work is patriarchy rearing its ugly head from the aether. Yet a culture of objectification, where women are plastered up like slabs of meat for sale in phone booths, where women dance for money, where women continue to make $.70 on the dollar; this is not considered a war against women. After all – a woman may now make the individual “choice” to engage in these acts, in these careers, may make the individual “choice” not to bear children to get ahead in business. Acts of violence against my body are crimes against women – but larger systems of oppression suddenly become more complex, more bogged down in uncertainty as we must learn to understand that these systems are made up of individuals who have the capacity to make “choices”. 

It astounds me that leftists who might otherwise deride the idea of free choice under a capitalist system make all sorts of room for women like Grant to write privileged accounts of the system of oppression called the “sex trade”. Broader women’s movements such as the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network  might feel as though an abolitionist stance on prostitution is right and good, but, as Grant would say, they are “privileged” in that their voices are louder than hers – the voice that enjoys prostitution believes that sex work is feminist work. Indeed, the other voices aren’t heard as loudly as the abolitionists “because they’re working”. This amorphous group of women who are pleased as punch to be working as sexual objects for sale are quiet, a silent majority cowed into silence by angry groups of feminist women who claim that 90% of women want out of prostitution.

If the voice of a “queer woman who dates women in her non-sex-work life and has sex with men for work” is not heard as much as the loud majority of feminists who want an end to prostitution, this is because women who “choose” sex work, who come at it from a political perspective of “empowerment” are in the extreme minority. But the individual reigns supreme over the masses in postfeminism just as it does in neoliberalism. When a woman demands her “right to choose”, she is demanding her right. She is situating feminism in a sphere where she does not feel fettered by her sex, where she personally has the ability to pursue whatever she wants. If she is a stripper and a man touches her inappropriately, this is a battle in the war against male domination – but the very institution that shapes his thinking is not in and of itself oppressive. Male domination is boiled down to the individual, becomes a question of one human exerting his will over another’s in an unfair way. It is no longer about systems of oppression, cultures of abuse, or industries of suffering. We are boiled down once again to our individual experiences.

A single person cannot change the world because change is the prerogative of the people. There is no such thing as a mass movement of individuals – they might all be walking in the same direction, but they are checking their smartphones and turning off onto a side street the moment they are required to check their egos at the door.

Melissa Gira Grant’s views are not just dangerous because they blame women themselves for their own oppression –  either as angry sex-negative feminists or individuals who just make “bad choices”. They are dangerous because they shift the blame away from male violence and domination and continue to trump the experiences of a privileged few over the many. Why won’t these leftist blogs and magazines run a counter article to this kind of perspective? Anything else would be hypocritical. Perhaps it is simply not what leftist men want to hear: that their individual enjoyment is not the purpose of female liberation.

Image

crumbling infrastructure

crumbling infrastructure

will my friends in europe believe this is how we live in the “richest” city on earth?

Grandpa, what is “content marketing”?

this is how deep the rabbit hole goes

The first and most important thing you need to understand about content marketing is that it is currently keeping the print medium alive. I don’t just mean news, I mean everything. This is the most important aspect even without knowing exactly what content marketing is, because it paints us a picture of how it all came to this.

“Disruptive innovation” is the industry buzzword for new cheap gadgets being pushed out of South Asian work camps that replace last year’s gadget everyone paid $500 for.  There is a broader, more longer view to be had though – for sure, print wasn’t in so much trouble until tablets and blogs came along. Now, consumers of Vogue or The Atlantic can quickly block all the ads ruining their experience. I once asked my mother to buy me a ladies’s magazine. She bought one, sat me down at the kitchen table, and proceeded to rip all the ads out of them. By the time she was done, only about 20 or so odd pages were left in the 200 page magazine. I’ve never bought a ladies’s magazine myself. And nowadays, others can push away the ads in favor of Adblock Plus or a quick click on their Kindle as well. What’s more, most magazines and newspapers sell their digital subscriptions at a discount – as if the paper is what you’re buying for the money, not what’s written on it. Meanwhile, people from my generation are more likely to visit their daily blogs for free rather than shell out $7 for the latest issue of the Economist.

This kind of shift in medium coupled with the new hyperdrive crisis circuit of capitalism has resulted in a fatal blow for print journalism. What is the result? Step into any office and the desperation is thick in the air. I watched the publisher stand with his head in his hands: “Where are we going to find a million dollars?”

The answer is content marketing. Gone are the days of full page ads next to content, gone are the days of “sponsored messages” that run next to content, gone even are the days of embedding our journalists with the troops. Now the money that print makes is no where near the content, it’s as far away from the masthead as possible – GM can go to *INSERT POPULAR PAPER* and pay them to start a blog on behalf of GM, using house journalists and house researchers, not to mention house support resources. They will promote this blog using all sorts of sinister search engines – you might not even know this blog is sponsored by GM. The paper can write white papers for government officials, all with house PhDs and former lawmakers, they can shmooze with the fat cats on K street and no one will ever know that it amounts to financial propaganda.

Of course, the print sector is quick to cover their ass and claim this is about integrity. They keep it from the masthead to reserve their integrity. Fair enough. But what about the resources, the writers? Lois Lane can’t contribute to the Monsanto blog and then very well publish a story in the masthead blasting Monsanto, can she? It’s backdoor blackmail – you want your integrity so bad? Well just make sure you don’t look like a hypocrite when you publish your 4000 word expose on how Monsanto is poisoning our lakes and streams worldwide. Instead of avoiding Monsanto’s new scandal because of a simple and clearly visible sponsor conflict, which might cause eyebrows to raise, Lois Lane’s day employer avoids honest reporting and it seems spontaneous, even legitimate.

What’s really shocking is the number of bloggers caught up in this game. While print journalism seems at the very least slightly uncomfortable using their good names and resources passed around as marketing contacts, bloggers are clambering to finally get paid for what they’ve been doing for free for years. With no fancy j-school credentials, they don’t even have the slightest twinge of regret. Thousands of easily reachable social influencers, I Mean Bloggers, lie in wait behind expensive marketing paywalls, ready to shill for whoever will pass them a hundred bucks. This is not to impugne on blogging, or bloggers for that matter. I take issue with a market where millions upon millions of us are generating content that is eventually capitalized and we never see a cent for. I take issue with the death of journalism and with the death of print. As wages continue their freefall, the only journalists left to be hired at major papers will be from rich families and probably married into these scandals anyway.