Localism and Community

[F]aced with the unpalatable conclusion that small alternatives won’t out-compete or destroy capitalism, localists cling to a fierce faith in communities to band together and do it yourself.

Localists yearn for community, freed from the uniform mediocrity of anonymous, corporate-controlled spaces. However, the petite bourgeoisie’s way of life precludes a community, since members of the class rely mainly on themselves for economic progress and emotional support. Community members are either fellow petite bourgeois competitors or customers demanding lower prices. Perhaps this is why so many localists have such a strong nostalgia for community as an ideal place where business happens and values take shape. Farmers markets aren’t just a place to shop, but a place to socialize: since “consumers have ten times as many conversations at farmers’ markets as the do at supermarkets… You go from being a mere consumer to being a participant.”

Why do localists want their shopping trips to include personal conversation? Alternately, you could appreciate the anonymity and speed of supermarket transaction if you have other ways to socialize. But it makes sense that the petite bourgeois, trying desperately to succeed in the marketplace or gain control on their own merits, would feel lonely. They try to re-forge the social connections lost in the marketplace in the same individual way they advance. Consumption is where they compete to achieve the symbols of habitus. The desire for friendly consumption is as close as the petite bourgeois get to stepping outside their daily antagonisms.

Just as ideology is a single class’s way of life generalized to all of society, community for the petite bourgeois becomes community for them alone. Wendell Berry criticizes corporations, governments and schools for concealing a “private aim (which) has been to reduce radically the number of people who, by the measure of our historical ideals, might be thought successful: the self-employed, the owners of small businesses or small usable properties, those who work at home.” This persecution of petty capitalists sets local community advocates against “Communists and capitalists (who) are alike in their contempt for country people, country life, and country places. They have exploited the countryside with equal greed and disregard.” The local community are “small farmers, ranchers, and market gardeners; worried consumers; owners and employees of small businesses; self-employed people; religious people; and conservationists.”

The inference is clear: the working class isn’t part of the community. [Emphasis mine.] The images are of the town square, the main street where everyone knows your name, the butcher, baker and small shopkeeper. These evoke market towns where residents distributed commodities made elsewhere. In contrast, industrial towns were often centers of intense class struggle between owners and workers. Not coincidentally, industrial towns created close community networks forged in that struggle. These close-knit communities of workers also demonstrated all the values of collective self-sacrifice, yet localists never mention them, preferring fuzzy invocations of consumerist fantasy.

The problem lies in how malleable the term community is, including capital, the state, and workers — groups whose interests are fundamentally at odds. By suggesting workers are at most another group making demands on the state, the designation of community hides power relations. It replaces class with innumerable differences of income, culture and other sociological categories, bounded by geography rather than a common exploitation. This blurring of conflict is fundamental to localism. By invoking community, localism attempts the political equivalent of Proudhon’s fair markets for small artisans, imposing a false social peace by eliminating the working class rhetorically.

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Greg Sharzer, No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change The World (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012), 98–101.

Nostalgia

Nostalgia must be guarded against — it’s debilitating. People become nostalgic when they feel they’ve lost control of their lives. When they see no way forward, they look backward. Nostalgia is fear of the future, a symptom of resignation.

It’s sad to think that there are people who long for the degradation that existed in the “East Village” in the 1970s/80s. These are primarily (exclusively?) people who moved in when the neighborhood had been all but abandoned. Today, those left pine for the time when few people would venture into the area. They don’t take into consideration that regular, working people left due to the degree of decay that they cherish so much. “Slumming” is not something people born into slums find attractive.

When I was growing up, it was the beginning of the period of crisis that led to the current neo-liberal era. Nostalgia then was for the 1950s: American Graffiti was the rage. I remember my high-school English teacher asking our class why we were so enamored of the 50s. The 50s weren’t so great, he said. It was the time of McCarthy. Of course, it wasn’t our nostalgia; we were just high-school kids. It was the nostalgia of his generation. But it was the time of crisis, and to take people’s minds off of it, an idealized vision of the past was offered up as a distraction. Today, oddly enough, that idealized vision is of the crisis period itself! I guess it shows that the time is less important than the superimposing of childhood memories onto that time.

I had the idea to write this recently while walking with my son, approaching Whole Foods on Houston Street. It occurred to me that this will be his recollection of Houston and Second Avenue, while others go to their graves lamenting the demise of the Mars Bar. Your starting point is where you are today, and your goal is the future, not the idealized past.

The Wrong Version

On Wikipedia, The Wrong Version of an article is the version that is protected during an edit war. If you’re not familiar with the workings of Wikipedia, an edit war is when two or more parties change an article significantly and often, so that no version of the article is ever in place for very long. Eventually, a Wikipedia administrator will step in and “freeze” the article, preventing further edits, until the warring parties come to an agreement on the content of the article. The version of the article that’s frozen is inevitably the wrong version.

The wrong version I’m referring to is a discussion I was involved in in the comments section of another blog. I use the term “discussion” lightly — it was more a collection of anonymous attacks that I was defending myself against. Anonymous, because that’s how most people there present their arguments: anonymously. I don’t waste my time responding to most of the anonymous attacks, but if someone puts their name to a comment, I will respond. However, after a couple of back-and-forths, my response was not posted.

No matter. The moderator of the blog probably thought the “discussion” had gone on long enough, and didn’t want his comments section to become a version of Usenet. I can understand that; I would have done the same. Still, for me the comments end in The Wrong Version.

I’m not going to post what my response was. It really doesn’t matter. Let the wrong version stand.

Fan Mail From Some Flounder

I try to rely on the WordPress spam filters here at Quilas, but sometimes I wonder if they’re working properly. When you read these, it’s hard to think they’re really spam, and not fan mail!

This must be why my spam posts are so popular!

By the way, these all come from the post Saving the Lower East Side?, a very popular piece, itself.

spam-0619-1751

spam-0618-2200

spam-0618-0503

spam-0618-0025

spam-0616-1936

spam-0616-0937

spam-0615-2054

spam-0612-0700

spam-0612-0632

spam-0613-2224

Comments

Please note that comments must be on-topic. So, for instance, comments about 7‑Eleven should not appear in a piece titled “Search Terms,” which has nothing to do with 7‑Eleven.

In the future, comments that are off-topic will be removed.

Quilas Meets Save the Lower East Side

“You look a lot like… oh, never mind.”

Quilas Meets No 7-Eleven

I found a new site recently: GoAnimate

Expect to see more animations on Quilas in the future!


 
(What they’re talking about.)

Search Terms

Periodically, I check the Stats page, to see how many views I have, and from which countries. One of the features of the Stats page is that it tells me the top search terms that were used that led people to Quilas. Some of them are very specific: “can major repairs be capitalized for rental income.” Others are less so: “fine fare logo.”

But this one:

quilas-search-terms-0505

Who would write that? If you didn’t already know of the band Swedish House Mafia, why would you search for “bands with initials shm”. That’s like searching for “singers with the name gaga”.

Left Forum 2013

If you’ve been reading this blog this past month, you probably noticed the announcement for the Left Forum in the right column. It’s gone now, because this past weekend was the event.

I didn’t go last year. After going every year for almost twenty years, I stopped, for many reasons. One is that it’s always the same people, saying the same things, year after year. Another is that the panels are more tepid than they were when I started going. Still another reason is that, between web sites and mailing lists, I can find just about any information I need. These conferences used to be more informational for me than they are today. (About this: during the break in Sunday’s session, I was eating lunch at Subway with a friend of mine, when an older man came into the place. He saw our name badges and started talking to us, telling us that this was the first Left Forum he’s been to and what a fantastic thing it was. He was almost ecstatic, and I realized that while I may be tired of aspects of it, there are people for whom this is a really good thing.)

Add to this the distress I was experiencing for not having completed “East Village” Ideology, that I wrote about in Howl, and How A Quilas Piece Comes To Be, and I just wasn’t motivated to go, despite having received an email wherein it was written that if people volunteered to videotape two panels, they could get in for free. (Eventually, the “free” thing won out, and I decided to go.)

I taped six panels, even though I was only required to tape two. I figured since I’m already there with my camera, why not? I’m going to put up clips of each, once I’m done editing them, but for now, the panels I chose, and a bit of commentary on them, are:

Primitive Accumulation in Light of the Current Onslaught of Austerity — One of the benefits of taping the panels was that I didn’t need to take notes. Unfortunately, that means I have nothing now to refer to. The thrust of this panel was that primitive accumulation still continues, that it’s always continued throughout the history of capitalism, and that it did not refer to one period of pre- to nascent-capitalist development, that theft and plundering have always accompanied capitalism.

Wall Street’s War to Impose Austerity — There was almost nothing about Wall Street or austerity. The majority of the discussion was about Henry George, and Henry George University (where two of the panelists taught), and Georgists. This was supposed to be about U.S. finance capital pushing the agenda that is playing out in Greece today. I agree with Michael Hudson that Marxists have no rapport with Georgists, so why were they there? It’s bad enough that they still debate anarchists and Proudhonists, as if these arguments have never been resolved, but do we need to rehash debates with libertarians, of all people?

The Future of Education Reform — The education panels are usually interesting, since I have a child in a New York public school. Even though I heard nothing new at this one (this is an example of keeping up through blogs, web sites, etc.), I was able to get information from people I’ll contact next year to arrange for speakers at my son’s school. Two of the panelists were active in the United Federation of Teachers, one of them in the MORE caucus; one was in the Chicago Teacher’s Union caucus CORE; and the fourth was a writer for the Brooklyn Rail.

Marx’s Politics of Revolution: From the Critique of Proudhon to the Critique of the Gotha Program — I chose this one because of my recent focus on petite bourgeois responses to capitalist crises, but nothing new came out of it for me. It’s one of those panels where the question “Was there an epistemological break in Marx’s writing?” picks up where it left off last year, everything said before is said again, with the understanding that they will continue the discussion at the next conference.

Public Resource Theft: Lessons of New Orleans Public Housing for NYC — Again, nothing new, but I did get more contact information. Except for the people from New Orleans, everyone in the room was from my neighborhood and focussed on the NYCHA Infill proposal. A demonstration opposing this is being planned for October 19. I’ll post more on that when the time comes and I have more information.

Dialectal Materialism vs. The New Physics — Far and away the most interesting panel of the weekend! As soon as I saw this title in the program, I knew I had to attend. What is “the new physics,” and how is it counterposed to dialectical materialism? (My nephew just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Physics. I asked him if he knew anything about this antagonism. He didn’t. Perhaps it’s a graduate-level discussion?) By “new,” it turns out they meant 20th-century physics! Mike Gimbell spoke first. There were two main tacks taken in his talk: 1) the political — “Relativity theory was thrust forward in the ruling class’s fight against Communism;” and 2) the scientific — “Relativity Theory is an attack on basic physical laws.” Instead of describing it, I will show you a clip:


 
(Auto-focus isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.)

“East Village” Ideology

The “East Village” has always more of an idea than a location, since the days when this northern part of the Lower East Side was first renamed, and that idea is petite bourgeois to the core. I knew this was true, but until I started receiving replies to Saving the Lower East Side?, I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched it was. This is a post that examines, from the workers’ perspective, a small business in the neighborhood that was offered as a model for future use of retail space. At first the piece sat silently, but then the owner of that business wrote and claimed ownership of the information in the piece, and requested I remove it.

I’m not going to recount the arguments here (you can read it in the Comments section of the above-mentioned piece), I just want to say that once he claimed ownership of the information obtained through an interview with one of the workers in the company, opinion shifted to his side. This is what surprised me. If it were simply that the owner of the company requested I remove the piece, I wouldn’t be writing this, and I wouldn’t have altered the piece the way I did. It was that friends of mine were siding with him against the workers at the company, whom I felt could only benefit by the information.

I have to say that even I felt as if I was doing something wrong by not removing the piece. But instead of just cravenly acquiescing the way SLES did:
rob-stupid-naive
I had to examine why I felt this way.

    The ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of the conditions of production. The tenacious obviousness … of the point of view of production alone, or even of that of mere productive practice … are so integrated into our everyday ‘consciousness’ that it is extremely hard, not to say almost impossible, to raise oneself to the point of view of reproduction. 1

How does this ideology reproduces itself? It’s everywhere. It’s the focus of news blog articles and editorials, it’s the focus of portraits of local residents, it’s represented in the goals of “community” organizations, it’s in the mythology of the “East Village” artist. There’s almost nowhere that it isn’t! Here are a few ways, off the top of my head.

Of course, the most obvious sources of reproduction are newspapers. This week’s edition of The Villager has this story:

pb-villager-headline1

It’s not so surprising that a small business should feature a story about mayoral candidates defending small businesses, but none of these are surprising.

***

A regular feature on the blog of photographer James Maher, and reproduced on EV Grieve, is called “Stories From the East Village”. It features profiles of PB locals. This is the list of occupations held by each, since the series began:

Singer / Songwriter English as Second Language Teacher, Retired
Construction Worker Piano Tuner
Coney Island Circus Performer Stratospheric Coloratura and Performance Artist
Owner, Surma — The Ukrainian Shop Social Worker, Retired
Owner, Continuum Cycles and Bike Shop, Continuum Coffee Electrical Contractor, Marine
Factory Worker Cartoon Artist
Speech Pathologist, Dancer/Dance Teacher Musician
Street Artist Actor
Stay-at-home Mother, Medical Assistant Landlord (Miami)
Designer, Argentine Tango Dance Organizer Photographer
Student, Employee at Zaragoza Environmental Engineering Marketing and Communications
Dominatrix Actress/Model
Owner, Cafecito Clothing Designer
Senior Minister,
Middle Collegiate Church
Nurse, Waiter, Retired
Public Relations, Curator, Bartender Doorman, Retired
Tattoo Artist, Owner Fineline Tattoo Caretaker, Student
Musician (Flute and Bass), The Flute Mistress of Epic Doom Metal Artist, Fashion Consultant
Musician, Artist, Producer Painter
Musician and Dog Walker Deliveryman
Musician, Barista

 

***

There is an online petition that originated in the “East Village,” that is meant to be presented to the New York City Planning Commission and City Council. Apart from making a number of specious claims, it calls for:

    … the City Planning Commission and the City Council to amend the city’s zoning text to require that no corporate formula store or bank open a new location without approval from the local community board. Such a zoning amendment will not only allow communities to restrict the number and location of chain stores, but also allow community boards to negotiate legally binding stipulations on all elements of chain store character from signage and closing hours to wage scale.
    [Emphasis mine. -Quilas]

***

And of course everything ever written by No 7-Eleven NYC! When I first started writing about them, I used the term “small business group” to describe them. It was not entirely accurate, but I was couching my terms then. Just swap in “petite bourgeois” for “small business group” and everything will make sense. It’s what I was trying to say anyway, without alienating my more sensitive readers.

***

That’s a very cursory look at some of the ways the dominant ideology is reproduced locally. I intend to write more on this topic in the coming weeks. Hopefully, they won’t all take as long as this one did to complete!

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1 Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

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