Monday, November 26, 2007
ASLO: Nannies and Arsonists

K-Punk has finally put up his long-promised "Marxist Supernanny" post, and it's well well worth the wait:

Rather like many teachers or other workers in what used to be called ‘public service’, Supernanny has to sort out problems of socialization that the family can no longer resolve. A Marxist Supernanny would of course turn away from the troubleshooting of individual families to look at the structural causes which produce the same repeated effect.

The problem is that late capitalism insists and relies upon the very equation of desire with interests that parenting used to based on rejecting. In a culture in which the ‘paternal’ concept of duty has been subsumed into the ‘maternal’ imperative to enjoy, it can seem that the parent is failing in their duty if they in any way impede their children’s absolute right to enjoyment. Partly this is an effect of the increasing requirement that both parents work; in these conditions, when the parent sees the child very little, the tendency will often be to refuse to occupy the ‘oppressive’ function of telling the child what to do. The parental disavowal of this role of is doubled at the level of cultural production by the refusal of 'gatekeepers' to do anything but give audiences what they already (appear to) want. The concrete question is: if a return to the paternal superego - the stern father in the home, Reithian superciliousness in broadcasting - is neither possible nor desirable, then how are we to move beyond the culture of monotonous moribund conformity that results from a refusal to challenge or educate?

I love the way Mark uses the trivial detritus of society to cut to the sickness at its core. Of course, being a Marxist, he identifies this sickness predictably.

This, combined with the pro-Capitalism-in-miniature musings of my previous post (combined aslo aslo wik my ongoing rereading of The Aeneid against Vergil), is leading me to think that Capital is like fire. Properly tended and controlled it can be a valuable tool, but set free it does nothing but destroy. Neoliberalism is the idea that Capital always knows best (where, as American TV viewers know, Father used to).

Neoliberalism is like a serial arsonist in a tuxedo.

More Coffee Talk

Two Fridays ago, having skipped out on OC's second birthday party the night before early enough (after the first glass of free champagne, that being) to be upright, I made it to the CCC DC TC for the cupping. I'm quite glad I did. One of the three coffees we tried, as it turned out, was the Ikawa microlot that came in third place in Rwanda's Cup of Gold competition. The stuff is on sale at $32 for a 12-oz. bag, and while every cent might not be detectable in a cup, it was the hands-down favorite and certainly a treat for everyone present.

Now I'm far from a cheerleader for multinational capital, but I have to admit that it's pretty amazing what high-end coffee production has done for Rwanda. As Peter Giuliano points out:

Whenever I talk about Rwanda, I always mention the fact that there was no good coffee there six years ago. None. There was coffee, but it was dried on the ground and sold to the generic market, destined for “filler” and instant coffee. The turning point was the building of the first washing station in the Kenyan and Ethiopian style, which revealed Rwanda’s potential to produce delicious, world-class coffees. I made my first trip there not long after that event, as Rwanda was taking its first, tentative steps towards building a wonderful coffee industry. I helped train cuppers and assisted cooperatives secure financing to build more and better washing stations. We began to work closely with the Karaba cooperative and Epiphanie Mukashyaka’s Bufcafe washing station. Over the years, as Rwandan coffee grew, we developed relationships with other communities such as Humure, Rusenyi, and Nyakizu, and have returned over and over again to visit our partners, help train cuppers, and lend our expertise as the coffee industry flourished here.

Apparently, coffee production has even helped heal some of Rwanda's infamous cultural rifts, with feuding tribes forced to work together on the various steps required to harvest and process the beans. Giuliano also founded the Bikes to Rwanda charity, one of the chief goals of which is to give coffee farmers a means to get coffee cherries from the fields to the washing stations before they begin to ferment.

This is the kind of thing that gives capitalism and enlightened self interest in general a good name: the first world's thirst for quality coffee aids in the reconstruction of a troubled nation.

But how far does this go? I'm neither an economist nor an expert in international relations, but I read a lot. And any time I hear about the power of international investment to help troubled countries I'm always reminded of Conrad's masterpiece Nostromo and of the Goulds' liberal faith in good business-- in the ability of a silver mine to transform Costaguana. Even an operation run in good faith leads to turmoil and bloodshed. What happens when an operation is run (as a corporation, in essence, must be) in rapacious pursuit of the most profit possible?

I still remember a tour I took of a Dole-owned pineapple plantation island in the Hawaiis when I was a lad. The workers there worked for subsistence wages, were grossly overcharged for cheap housing, souls sold to the company store. People throw around terms like "wage slave" half in jest, but if anyone deserves such a term... If something like this could happen on American soil, where laws meant to protect workers from such naked exploitation exist, what can you expect in countries where they don't? What can you expect in a world where international organizations and treaties can strike down such laws as forms of protectionism?

More pleasantly, Counter Culture Coffee isn't Dole Pineapples. That is much more a testament to the caliber of people working there, however, than to anything to do with the "invisible hand" of the so-called free market.

Saturday, November 17, 2007
Amidst the hosannas and hagiography, a bit of backlash was to be expected... but who could have guessed the direction whence the sneak attack would come?

But, as Gutterbreakz takes a moment to remind us, there was a time when it was OK to like Moby: before he started believing his own hype; before he morphed into the insufferable media caricature he is today, the talking head on VH1 wedged between Billy Corgan and Gwen Stefani. And even if the Burial/Moby comparisons produce nothing better than Gutterbreakz's uncannily spectacular "Go Raver," they will be worth far more than their weight in snark.

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