Wednesday, April 10, 2002

One Man's Alternative Media Strategy III
Sander Hicks recently released a draft of his alternative media strategy. I responded. Today, the dialogue continues as Sander comments on my critique.

Well, we have the brewing of a classic anarchist-versus-socialist debate brewing here, but I'd like to address our differences as friends.

I made reference to the "fat cats" and you quoted me. That's the first question: Do you believe a class of fat cats exists? And if so, that a class of the rest of us exists under them?

I think your first major weakness is the quick summary of what the "Left" means to you. A fast cobbling together of some minor '60s figures, some of whom are now conservatives, is not what I call the "Left." For me, it's a grand red tradition that goes back to the French Revolution, or back farther to the Diggers. From there, up through Marx, the Abolitionists, the Soviet experiment, Civil Rights, the Anti-War Movement, etc. It's not a trend, a lifestyle, or the product of a bygone era. Today, it's ascendent, it's in the streets, and corporate globalization is going to get what it deserves. It's like this big poster this black lady had up at the protest against Bush's inauguration -- "Mr. President, the Movement is Back!"

I don't want to sound like I'm lecturing you or talking down to you, but you're making a classic anarchist blunder: Your privileged background helps you to ignore the centrality of class struggle. And this hurts your argument. God, that sounded anal. I mean, I come from an upper-middle-class background myself. Dad was a World Bank economist. But having been on the streets a little bit in the last 10 years, I have worked to rid myself of the outlook of my upbringing and sought to see the world with the masses. I mean, you and I know how strong capitalism is, and as two people who have, at times, bought into the Fast Company culture of progressive capitalism, we see how capitalism is powerful because it creates a worldview. I would argue that Fast Company-type mini-revolutions have been happening since the dawn of capitalism. That same energy is what started capitalism, and, thank God, gave it the gumption to beat feudalism and create something new.

But where is it going? And what does that worldview today really teach us? Well, first of all, it teaches you this cynicism, not to take the Left seriously, and to consign it to the dustbin of history, again and again, despite its presence. Even you don't seem to put much credence in the anarchist thinkers you hold up as alternatives: Zerzan, Bookchin. But what is the real lesson of capitalism? On its surface, there is a myth... and it does have some basis in reality... an interesting amount of zeal and excitement does run through a small business... the lesson I take from that is that we all should work at a job we love, a job we are inspired by, and pour our souls into. Everyone should have that, but it's not going to happen under this system. This system has proven that. Capitalism is based on exploiting people. A few are granted the privilege of believing in what they are doing; the rest can't believe this is happening to them.

Let me bring it down to concrete examples. I've been taking a break from the city and from Soft Skull out here in Long Island, writing sometimes, but working as a carpenter for money. In both companies I've worked for, the boss is always trying to dock your wages for petty reasons, keep your wages down when you start there, pay you as little as he can. Why? Because it's the easiest thing he can do to cut costs. They know I need the work, I don't really have an means to address grievances, I'm a floating non-union carpenter out here. What they don't know is that in my head, I'm putting the math together. This is what capitalism is, times a billion. It's bosses getting away with as much as possible and taking it out of labor, the real source of the value. We're the ones building the house, or spackling the interior, or outside 20 feet up in the air on a plank between two ladders, nailing cedar clapboard siding on. And they are the ones with a certain worldview that says -- this is human nature, it's everyone for himself, it's dog eat dog, let's do it to them before they do it to us.

So, your quick summary of the Left was sloppy. And I'm not sure you even really understand why class exploitation is wrong, or if you believe such a thing exists.

You are free to say that I, Heath Row, am not on the Left. But don't say it doesn't exist in history. And please don't slander a tradition I love.

Now then, here's something we agree on:

Deprofessionalize journalism
This sounds a lot like something said in this book I'm currently reading, "Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian 1948-1967." It's about guys who tried to start a left news weekly in NYC and keep it running through the crest of McCarthyism. They were in Europe for the Marshall Plan and saw a lot of socialists kept out of the reconstruction while the U.S. let a lot of deposed fascists come back into power. Back in the USA, the media and government were in cahoots to re-elect Truman, the bomber of mass Japanese civilians, on a platform that was Cold War defense contracting and business as usual. 
One of the founding principles of the Guardian was that the profit motive didn't belong in media. It didn't serve the nature of the trade. What do you think about this? I notice you relegate the profit motive to underneath the need to "make sense of the world " and this I applaud. But what's the role of the profit motive in media?

Your solution right now seems incomplete. Micro-media projects? I'm sorry, but the world we live in is much bigger than that. We've got a class of fat cats fighting over the world resources with our blood, our labor. Who's going to stop it? Not a collective of indie rock bands or a zine. A workers revolution will. One that unites the Left, one that is dynamic, and has learned from its past.

Or, you suggest:

Smash the media state from inside
You see, we're after different goals. I want a better world than this, and I think it's possible. You, on the other hand, in effect are telling the world here, "It's OK. Work for Bertlesmann. Things aren't that bad! Everyone's doing it!"

Sorry, that sounded sarcastic, and I wanted to write this in a way that wasn't hurtful. But the sarcasm was meant to make a point. I hope the point is taken; it was not made with malice.

Offer viable parallel options
I like this, and I really like the idea of us appropriating the values (good design, editing) from them. We have more in common than I realize, perhaps.

All too often, I see indie media without values. Our values have to be better, not worse, than bourgeois capitalism. Some indie media/political kids don't get this. But you know what? They tend to be young, and they tend to be anarchist. Either the world knocks some sense into it like it did me, or they get out of indie media. Because this "anarchist" view of hermetic, sloppy media production itself doesn't serve the "market" for quality things people need.

On that note, what's up with your self-deprecating comments on the Anchormen? Don't you believe in the quality of that project? I mean, I for one put a song on a mix tape for a girl I had a hugehuge crush on. Not all songs you do are great, but there are moments of brilliance in that band. I think in this instance, your need to be clever, self-effacing, and smart got the better of you. It happened way too much in this piece. -- Sander Hicks

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