Saturday, August 28, 2004

A Few Interesting Links

Too busy to write anything reflective this week, but in cleaning out my various inboxes, I thought I'd share some links...a few genuinely interesting ones, and some others that are worth a look, a laugh, a good cry, or a dramatic cringe:

Site soliciting testimony of "ordinary Americans" explaining why they won't vote for Bush.

A messy, busy anti-Bush site.

A site made by some people I sort of respect, but now full of Ann Coulter wannabees and poor thinkers:

ACLU's report on an emerging "surveillance industrial complex"

The trailer for Trey Parker and Matt Stone's scandalous "Team America."

James Hart, open racist, Republican candidate for Congress from Tennessee.

And more on James Hart.,13918,1278071,00.html

The Republicans are VERY embarassed about him.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


Stannard calls the Presidential Election in August!

I am calling the election here and now. Bush will narrowly defeat Kerry. This despite a weakened Nader and a Green Party Presidential candidate who is openly calling on people in swing states to vote for Kerry. The Democrats' attempt to out-military and out-patriot the Republicans (whatever the cogency of many of the arguments made during their convention) has already backfired. The Republicans will prove that nobody can do that to them. At their convention, they'll launch a patriotic, militaristic orgy the likes of which have never been seen. Bush will continue to turn his weaknesses into strengths. The Democrats can't present an articulate alternative, because they simply don't have one. "We're slightly less corporate and slightly less militaristic" doesn't cut it. A whole lot of people won't be allowed to vote anyway. Four more years, this time with an incumbent President Bush, will drive many progressives to demoralization and emigration. Will I be proven wrong about any of this? I sincerely hope so. But if I am, I'll publicly say "I am a idiot." (sic) Let's see what happens.

If They Could, They'd Pass Legislation to Pay Us in Toothpicks and Chicklets

The new Bush overtime regulations go into effect tomorrow, and all credible indications are that they will be a disaster for workers like my wife, Ann. Read the AFL-CIO's fact sheet and feel free to post anything which suggests they might be wrong in their interpretation. Ann and I hope they are...our bank account hopes it, Ann's back and muscles hope it, our son Andrew would hope it were he able to articulate such hopes at 16 months of age.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Notes on Class and Materiality in Debate
(lecture delivered at Wyoming Debate Cooperative, August 2, 2004, Laramie)

I'm going to assume most of you know what Marxism is, what its basic theory is. I hope that if you don't, you'll go back and re-trace some of the terms and ideas you hear in the lecture, maybe learn a little bit about Marxism and then come back and read the lecture (available online). I am happy to talk to you about those basics if you find me.

What is Marxist criticism? Before I try and explain it, let me give you a living example of it:

This is what Wesley Clark said at the Democratic convention in his very appealing speech:

“I am an American soldier. Our country has been attacked. We are at war. Our nation is at risk. And we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle against terrorists.... As we are gathered here tonight, our armed forces are in combat.”

Each of these sentences contain certain rhetorical acts of identification with something called the United States. Identification is a powerful and foundational rhetorical act, and one is justified in questioning the thing with which the speaker identifies. In 1990, as plans were being made to attack Iraq, and before I knew much about socialism, I commented to a friend in the Socialist Workers Party that I had heard someone say "We have to stop Saddam," yada yada yada. The friend replied: Next time, ask, "Who is we?"

That response is a good way to approach Marxism from the inside out. For "We have to stop Saddam" could easily mean the "we" of those of us who would never make such decisions, or it could mean those of us who are conscripts for either side of the battle, or it could mean "we Americans," those who identify with America as a nation, a kind of really big family. And it's an insidious kind of process, forgetting that you do it, never knowing or giving much thought to who "we" is. From there, when you start thinking about that, you then think about how you really don't get to make these monumental decisions, and maybe you'd do it differently, and isn't it true that all you really know about Iraq and Saddam is stuff you read in the papers or hear on radio or TV? And when you read more complex literature, journals or independent press, for example, you start to notice it's much more complicated than it is on TV. And again, it strikes you that you're being made part of a "we" that doesn't really mean you.

All of this is independent of the question of whether or not a set of rational actors, given the ability to fully consider their options and potential consequences, would choose to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

I want to talk to you about how to apply Marxist thought in academic debates. First, I'll provide a brief review of Marxist thought, then I will talk for a bit about the basic substantive debate over capitalism and its alternatives. Finally, I want to spend the majority of this presentation talking about the untapped critical potential of thinking about class and materiality in a forum where we advocate various kinds of material, collective actions.

Why is it important to talk about materiality in debate?

-Dana Cloud: Current rhetoric, and rhetorical theory, tends to believe that speech acts occur prior to materiality, that the speech act and symbol are primary. It leads us to believe that we can change social institutions by changing words or ideas. But "workers can't eat symbols."

-Debate itself has been saturated with discursive determinism. We constantly hear that the "criticism" de jure will change things. Or that we need a "mindset shift." We seldom hear that we need a change in material conditions. In fact, the more enamored we have become with idealism, or discursive determinism, the less "the plan" seems to matter. After all, our talking is the only thing that's real.

Brief Review of Marxism:

--dialectical materialism

-But our speech acts are not the only thing that's real. Speaking, writing, expression, occur on a continuum between base and superstructure. At the "base" is the physical, bodily act of speaking. At the "superstructure" are the forms of expression and the ideas conveyed. At the "base" is the rhetoric industry, the physical-economic manufacture of consent. At the "superstructure" are found all the paradigms and floating idealistic visions.

-Now, we argue a lot about how "deterministic" Marxism is, but for some reason we think it's no problem at all to say that language "determines" or constitutes reality. We take Marxism to task for being utopian while we say "the criticism equals peace."

-The fact is that Marxism is in one sense very determinist, and perhaps should unapologetically assert its hard determinism and place the burden on the other side to say why that's bad. For myself, I prefer to say that the base "contextualizes" the superstructure. "Contextualize" carries a huge determinist strain--it suggests that without a particular base, the superstructure would not be what it is. But it also breaks us away from seeing the base as some kind of control room full of buttons, to be pushed in order to manufacture different things in the superstructure.

-It is particularly curious that in debate, where we constantly make causality claims (Go to Ken D.'s lecture on this!) we would have a strong objection to Marx saying the base determines the superstructure.

-And we can never forget what "dialectical" in dialectical materialism means, and how it allows us to understand how Marx could have believed we are both free and determined. Forgive the sexist language here, but Marx wrote that "Men make their own history...but they do not make it any way they please."

-In any event, there is a correlation between production/distribution and ideas. Fishermen worship Sea Gods. And bourgeois discussions about social phenomena in the superstructure take on a similarly self-serving mythos.

--class conflict -Mainly, these discussions tend to obscure the relationship between the haves and have-nots, or more specifically, between those who profit from the labor of others (and the exploitation of nature) and those who have only their own labor power to sell.

The Capitalism Debate:

--relationship of political economy to social phenomena

-If the source or context of a social problem is found in the economic base, and if the solution (the change in the superstructure) doesn't send some kind of shock wave down the line, as it were, and affect the base, then there is a sense in which advocating shallow bourgeois reforms is like playing "Whack-a-Mole."

-Against the objection that these small reforms constitute a localized end of suffering, Marxists may even assert that such reforms delay meaningful change by obscuring the relationship between political economy and social phenomena.

--inevitable collapse

-Bourgeois authors across the board are starting to talk about the coming economic collapse again. Paul Roberts' The End of Oil is a good example.

-Marxists have been saying these things for a long time. Now it's okay to talk about resource wars again. But the base must have a particularly powerful hold over us if it can make us kill one another with such abandon. Maybe some things in the superstructure have that kind of hold, but the collapse of religion wouldn't trigger world wars, while the collapse of capitalism likely will.

-For information on why capitalism will inevitably collapse, I refer you to the myriad theorists and writers on the subject, such as James Devine, Rosa Luxembourg, John Gray, Paul Sweezy, Ellen Menkens Wood. The important thing to remember is that no "epoch" lasts forever, no form of production and distribution lasts forever. We may argue, however, about how such forms and bases change--catacalysmically or gradually.

The Relation of Identities

Dana Cloud writes that what sets Marxism apart from "identity politics" is that class is a relationship, not an identity. However, there are reasons to personally identify with class, or a class. There are reasons why your end of the relationship means something. There are poor people, even in academia, and being poor changes your relationship with other people. For me, Marxism becomes a new kind of identity movement when we are allowed to voice our experiences as poor people, as people who do not share in the pie, nor in deciding how the pie is made.


-Those poor people, we poor people are also ignored when the 1AC gets up and reads the plan. The plan contains myriad logistics. Those logistics, and the logistics of the logistics, are implemented by ordinary working people--our mothers and fathers and fellow workers.

-Their project, like all policies, all plans of action, is essentially a "project of labor." It involves setting forces into motion—material and communicative—and those forces, that matter and speech, exist only in a larger, intimately linked political-economic context.

-Whatever’s holding back the "plan" is a reflection of bourgeois labor, while the aff also omits working-class labor; they don’t address the perspective of those who administer, execute, and clean up after the plan.

-the plan will employ wage workers to keep the logistics running. That’s okay, right? Who cares about those wage workers anyway?

-There is no way to understand the effect of plan advocacy on everyday materiality and humanity when the agents of that material field are ignored and taken for granted in the construction of said advocacy.

-Ignoring class is inclusive of ignoring all other identity categories we ought to be concerned with—gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, age, poorness, etc., because the ORIGINAL omission of class allows those with a vested interest in "business as usual" to utilize otherwise sincere policy advocacy to justify current power arrangements.

What's wrong with Marxism?

-First, what's not wrong with it, or in other words, the least effective answers:

1. Marxism ignores _______.

2. Cap good, judge!

So some potential problems with Marxism are:

-Marxism is plagued by a self-assuredness, intoxicated by its own correctness. This means the movement will never succeed.

-Or, that self-assuredness is more than a mere theoretical irritation. Emmanuel Levinas reportedly says all good ideas are threatened by their own Stalinism. That self-assuredness might mean its adherents wouldn't mind killing or re-educating you.

-Moreover, the scarcity and material chaos that will occur when capitalism collapses means that the Stalinists would get a hearing among the people, or even bypass the people.

-There are many routes to revolution and so calling for a rejection of "reforms" wouldn't make sense to a studied Marxist--she would ask whose interests were being served by those reforms. Marxists don't want people to be crushed until they revolt, to starve until they organize. We don't believe that misery ALWAYS means a better society down the road, and sometimes extreme misery brings out the absolute worst in people and not the absolute best.

-There's been a trend lately to "impact turn" criticisms. I think talking about Stalinism is very important, but given the ease with which one can win the inevitability of capitalism's collapse, and the survival question (most eloquently articulated by Meszaros), the most effective way to answer a Marxist criticism is to link turn it, and in order for that to happen, you must be aware of the relationship between your advocacy and the class struggle. The fact that affirmatives are forced to think about that relationship, of course, means that the criticism is doing its job.
(Lecture delivered at Wyoming Debate Cooperative, August 3, 2004, Laramie, Wyoming)

(mpf=Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism)


Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) brought the body into psychology; that is, not only did he take seriously the biological urges Freud had discovered, but he also boldly asserted the influence of those urges on the whole of a society.

As a psychologist, he touched his patients during therapy, breaking that wall of words.

Similarly, in debate, there are walls of words. I don't want to break that wall today, but I would like to ask a question: What is the role of repressed or misused sexuality in shaping rhetorical argument?

Others have spoken of repressed desire. The "Nuclear Desire" criticism run by a few teams this year (West GA, Fullerton) says we desire the bomb like we desire other fetishized objects. The social psychology of Lacan speaks similarly of all sorts of utopian fantasies, often including debate advocacies. But Reich is concerned mainly with the interaction of sexuality and materiality--sex and economics. Hence, instead of Marx's "political economy" we have Reich's "sexual economy."

Psychoanalysis reveals the mechanisms of sexual suppression and repression and
their pathological effects in the individual. Sex-economic sociology goes
on from here and asks, For what sociological reason does society suppress
sexuality and does the individual repress it? (MPF 23)

A little longer ago, a team from the University of Southern California argued that debate was a "theater of pain," and following the work of Marquis de Sade, pointed out that we love to talk about pain in debate, that much of what happens in debate rounds is sexual, masturbatory, and that to authentically live this, we might want to advocate violence in debates (with the hint that such rituals would make us less likely to hurt one another outside of debate).

So if I were writing a book about Reichian social analysis, I would entitle it:


For Reich, the following four things feed on each other:
1. Strong paternal authority
2. Sexual repression
3. Authoritarian personalities
4. Reactionary political ideologies

It's an uncomfortable fact to point out that people found fascism very, very sexy.

Reich borrowed from Freud the notion that the "repression of infantile sexuality is the rule in 'civilized man'". Furthermore, that "human morality, far from being of supernatural origin, results from the suppressive measures of early infantile education, particularly those directed against sexuality" (MPF 22).

However, Reich lamented that the sociological implications of these discoveries were blocked by Frued's resistance to mass-social explanation based on his theories. Because Freud dismissed Marxism, he also dismissed any attempt to combine a study of mass political economy with the study of repressed sexuality in individuals.

But for Reich, this separation made no sense, since he saw in Germany an entire generation of fascist-friendly people who were obviously struggling with their own repressed sexuality.

So Reich proposed the following:


Reich asks us to consider the caseof a working class woman, the wife of a worker. "Her economic situation is the same as that of the revolutionary worker's, but she votes fascist" because "the anti-sexual, moralistic structure of a conservative woman makes it impossible for her to develop a consciousness of her social position, it ties her to the church..." and thus refutes the basic Marxist notion that one's social position absolutely determines one's revolutionary consciousness. Of this hypothetical case, Reich concludes:

...the suppression of the gratification of primitive material needs has a
result different from that of the suppression of the gratification of sexual
needs. The former incites rebellion. The latter, however--by
repressing the sexual needs and by becoming anchored as a moralistic
defense--paralyzes the rebellion against either kind of suppression. (MPF

Reich mentions the peacock-like military uniforms, the use of attractive women in recruitment ads, rhythmically perfect parades, as ways in which repressed sexuality can be slowly and carefully extracted from people, to unconsciously satisfy (but not completely satisfy) sexual urges people often don't even know that they have.

Thus: "Sexual inhibition alters the structure of the economically suppressed individual in such a manner that he thinks, feels and acts against his own material interests." (MPF 26)

For Reich, moralistic sexual repression is vital to solidifying class hierarchy:

Since one does not enjoy the economic position of the upper middle classes but
at the same time identifies oneself ideologically with them, the sexual moral
ideologies must make up for the economic deprivations." This is partially
completed through the patriarchal family, in which a sexually repressive father
is submissive to his boss, but then "in turn reproduces submissiveness to
authority in his children, especially his sons. This is the basis of the
passive, submissive attitude of middle class individuals toward Fuhrer figures.
(MPF 44-45)

Put another way:

The establishment of economic freedom of the working people
goes hand in hand with the dissolution of the old institutions, especially the
sexual ones, a process of which the reactionary individual is afraid.
Specifically, the fear of 'sexual freedom'--which in reactionary thinking is
represented as 'sexual chaos'--checks the longing for freedom from economic
exploitation. (MPF 50)

So far, we have explained why sexually repressed societies are susceptible to authoritarianism, but we haven't yet explored the link between authoritarianism and sado-masochism.

Sexual energy, repressed, must go somewhere. For some it becomes mystical, or religious energy. For others, it becomes political energy, given to hierarchy. In either case, it takes on a sadomasochistic brutality, because it is a distorted, frustrated kind of energy. Even the most loving sexual acts involve a kind of "violence" or "violation," a violation to partners' vulnerability even by consent. But unactualized sexual energy cannot control or mediate that violence. Thus, repressed desire becomes, through self-fulfilling prophesy, perverted sexuality: "...sexual stasis...the dammed-up sexual energies seek an outlet through all kinds of pathological channels...This distorted, disturbed, brutalized and debased sexuality in turn supports the very ideology to which it owes its existence." (MPF 75)

Reich suggests that religion is often a substitute for sexuality--

The religious feeling, then, is the same as
sexual feeling, except that it is attached to mystical, psychic contents.
This explains the return of the sexual element in so many ascetic experiences,
such as the nun's delusion that she is the bride of Christ. Such
experiences rarely reach the stage of genital consciousness and thus are apt to
take place in other sexual channels, such as masochistic martyrdom. (MPF

The war-making tendency is an urge to manufacture and use weapons designed not merely to strategically neutralize an enemy (after all, we do not manufacture "weapons" that put everyone to sleep or temporarily paralize them), but to inflict pain and suffering, to destroy many people and inflict the torture of witnessing that death, as well as the physical pain of the survivors:

Man constantly reproduces the machine-like organism by his kind of education,
science and philosophy of life. This biological crippling is reaching the
pinnacle of its triumphs in the scientific, mathematically exact, machine-like
killing of today. As mechanistic philosophies and machines alone cannot
kill, sadism also comes into play; sadism, this secondary drive born of
suppressed nature, the only important characteristic which distinguishes man's
structure from that of the animal. (MPF 295)


Imperialistic wars require that there be no rebellion in the women against the
function that is imposed on them, that of being nothing but child-bearing
machines. That is, the function of sexual gratification must not be
allowed to interfere with the child-bearing function. (MPF 90)

It's pretty clear that, for Reich, there was no solvency for oppression and violence as long as sexual desire was repressed by binaristic and metaphysical notions of morality. In "Further Problems of Work Democracy" Reich wrote:

As long as [compulsory sexual repression] prevails, genuine democracy and
responsible freedom remain an illusion. Helpless subjugation to chaotic
social conditions is the hallmark of human existence. The murder of the
living triumphs in compulsory education and war.


Now, consider: What has changed since Reich? Are we more "liberated?"

Marcuse, on sexuality in advanced industrial society: Just when we thought we had liberated ourselves from victorian sexual mores, along comes late capitalism to distort and commodify our sexuality. Marcuse wrote Eros and Civilization in 1955. In that book--

...he offered a dramatic re-interpretation of Freud's theory of repression and criticized Freud's stress on the genital organization of sexuality and on heterosexual intercourse. According to Freud,
adult sexual development is a progression from oral and anal eroticism in
infancy to the final adult stage of genital sexuality. In response, Marcuse
proposed sexual liberation through the cultivation of a "polymorphous perverse"
sexuality (which includes oral, anal, and genital eroticism) that eschews a
narrow focus on genital heterosexual intercourse.
Marcuse believed that sexual liberation was achieved by exploring new permutations of sexual desires,
sexual activities, and gender roles--what Freud called "perverse" sexual
desires, that is, all non-reproductive forms of sexual behavior, of which
kissing, oral sex, and anal sex are familiar examples.
Marcuse was himself heterosexual, but he identified the homosexual as the radical standard bearer of
sex for the sake of pleasure, a form of radical hedonism that repudiates those
forms of repressive sexuality organized around genital heterosexuality and
biological reproduction. "Against a society which employs sexuality as a means
for a useful end," Marcuse argued, "the perversions uphold sexuality as an end
itself . . . and challenge its very foundations."

This may or may not have been an appropriate response to the commodification of sexuality in the wake of repressed desire. Marcuse is somewhat responsible for the role of sexual liberation in the 1960s; he played a role similar to Foucault in that respect. But it seems like "sexuality as an end in itself" was even more marketable than nuclear family, father-knows-best sexuality.


So some speculative thoughts here:

Is a moral imperative a manifestation of your desire to control me?

Think of the way we utilize deontological imperatives in our criticisms, and essentially how the call for the ballot is a call to "punish" the other team. Ritualized, public punishment.


Is debate really a theater of pain? And specifically, is there a biological context to this?
--research speculating that male debaters like big impacts like nuclear war.