Review of Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History

One section of Master’s Thesis research included legal analysis with politically chilling effects upon anti-lynching and leftist movements in The United States of America from Harper’s Ferry to the late 1960’s. The way in which the law laid force upon the bodies that broke with expected behavior and the means by which police facilitated “corrective” behavior for these violations differs drastically. And dialectically. To suppress suppress either labor, racial and leftist political struggles is to repress the three progressive aspects of society that have been driving emancipatory ideas and practiced encased in institutions. Because of this, of course I read Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History by Rebecca N. Hill.

Hill’s history has a pleasantly journalistic feel to it. The main characters are of course detailed – the defendant – whomever she’s describing in that section – and the plaintiff – the State in the place that they were arrested – are both described and all their relationships therein. Who were those involved with the crime, what brought them to where they were right before they just were arrested, arraigned, transported, processed, jailed, for days, jailed, for months, jailed, for years, then brought to court, etc.etc.

It combines this description of their time and those around them with legal exegesis of the components of the case. This combined with local socio-political factors involved in such cases, such as the manner in which popular movements sought to impress their influence upon the courts, had a number of legal implications on social movements involved with race, class and/or labor struggles. While Sacco and Vanzetti are name dropped in the highly underrated, very funny movie War On Everyone with Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Pena. Anyway…

 

The book is organized around several dramatic cases, starting with John Brown’s trial. From this heavily police involved form of repressive behavior the the narrative goes to where the law played a less involved roll. Lynching throughout the south in the United States was a true horror that kills thousands of African Americans. Police slowed their roll on the road towards justice and would often falsify or forge documentary information, not intervene while militant bigots exercised their force upon them and, well, all around oppressed them.

Racial, Labor and Leftist social justice warriors – a term that ought be associated with esteem – sought to impress their demands that the state more justly apply it’s purported universalism, an inherently conservative position. The other says the state is unjust and wants to replace it along democratic, centralist lines rather than plutocratic ones – the preconditions for the most active ire. Labor wants the state to join its side in demanding more benefits but are not connected to the Leftists either because of lack of class conscious or lack of practical use value in linkage, a serious consideration to make considering the effect that associating with Reds could have on your work life.

While John Brown clearly engaged in the behavior he was charged with, the obverse is true of the Haymarket Martyrs. Their case spawned a holiday celebrated nearly everywhere in the world except the USA – May Day. If you’re not familiar with the case, you should look it up. What I found interesting as though Hill does not spend much time on the material evidence, of which there is none, and instead writes about the majority-immigrant leftist responses. Of course every people has a culture, but that of Chicago – the Second City, was unlike many others due to the habitus brought over from the German revolutionaries. Gymnastic, parading, militant Anarchist culture practiced by Germans and a number of other stocks from across the shore shocked the sensibilities of the local bourgeoisie.

After an incident that was, essentially, the pretext for the public execution of the Opposition Leadership Anarchist newspapers fought not just to save members but leaders. Newspapers which shared workers stories about their conditions, pay, bosses and other things now started to include writing from those inside. Rather than becoming devotional, religious character associated with sublimity their writings subverted the abolitionist martyrs sharing stories and expressions of romantic, sexual love. Anarchist newspapers published the love letters of the Chicago anarchists and their wives and girlfriends, another practice that was taken up by most socialist defense campaigns.

Hill’s history ends with the equally tragic tale of the Black Panther’s Party. With an emphasis on the Party’s organized defense apparatus raised to support George Jackson, Hill shows a man imprisoned due to political caprice rather than justice. Like The Haymarket Martyrs and Sacco and Vanzetti, his writings behind bars and public adoration of Assata were used as gristle to further help people find sympathy in their story. Having recently read their published letters and accounts – I get it!

All these and more arrests and trials forms responses with historically dependent forms of action. Organizations along class and/or racial/ethnic alliances were highly limited by place, history and the interests and powers of the state and local elite. In some cases the popular struggles were able to save the subject of their organization. Other’s no.

Hill’s history shows radicals creating interconnected networks of protest and resistance activity as well as volunteering time and donating money for massive fundraising undertakings that spanned the globe. Success in obtaining government guaranteed rights often depended on how loud and disruptive supporters could be to the normal functioning of government.

Mixed in is to this journalistic, documentary history are comments pulling together some of the themes evident in today’s world:

“Once admired as the heritage of manly individual freedom, Puritanism in the 1920s became associated with the Ku Klux Klan, along with fundamentalism, racism, capitalism, and prohibition.”

The heritage of many organizations racism persist in various ways. And yet to point this out is to become a public persona non grata. Example K:

Example on the opposite side? Trump the tee-totaller and Sacrosanct “States Rights” Sessions just did a 180 on over over a decade of federal drug enforcement policy.

These broader points build and intersperse Rebecca Hill’s account. Along with the legal proceedings, are a few interesting asides as well – such as The Red and the Black being George Jackson’s favorite novel.

Her conclusion does not lay out a platform upon which a group might be able to exercise their collective social power in order to achieve this, nor should she have to. The conditions by which that they would need to be changed would always depend upon the locals activities. What she does, however, is provide a powerful ethical imperative:

“The capacity to imagine a different world might begin with the ability to refuse to accept the characterizations of people who were willing to recklessly go against the rules of the society in which they live as wicked, misguided, wrong, foolish, or criminal. It is much harder to see the face of the “handsome sailor” on an imperfect human than it is to accept the underlying message of the modern-day nation-state that the only real heroes are the cops and soldiers who protect “us” from the rest of the world”

Review of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

 

Based on a number of recommendations and awareness of his political bent, for quite some time I’ve been intending to read the science fiction writings of China Midvale. I’d yet, however, to get around to doing so when I saw that Verso Press was holding a contest to promote his new book  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. I submitted an entry and sure enough was one of the lucky winners of a free signed copy of this work of non-fiction.

Excepting events in America, the buildup to and aftermath of the Russian Revolution is probably my most read about world historical event. I’ve read books solely on the subject written by those that were present, such as John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World or Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution as well as essays by Emma Goldman and Victor Serge and, of course, Lenin’s Essential Works. I’ve read a few left and right wing histories published after the 1990s as well. I share this to establish if not a specialization of knowledge on the issue, than at least an above average familiarity with the events one would expect on such a subject. Anyway, to the book…

As a whole October is a very different creature from most of the texts that I mentioned above. This, however, is not necessarily bad. Trotsky’s writing on this period is simply magisterial and Reed’s journalistic descriptions of the sundry meetings unrest are at times nail-biting. These men had clear agendas that were intimately tied to the events that they were describing. Mieville, it seems to me, is writing this as a means of popularizing knowledge about the events in Russia and trying to do so at a distance. Because of this, as well as what I believe is a desire to avoid getting caught up in the debates of that time through extended focus on particular persons/issues it lacks some of the same passion. And yet no matter what side of the political spectrum one is on, I feel that this could be appealing to even those that aren’t Reds. I expected some sort of propagandistic asides peppered throughout the book prior to reading it, but none were there.

I could see myself assigning this book for a history class as not only does he do such an even handed job, but also as there is a glossary of terms in the back that would assist those not versed with the terms of the revolution. After a very brief historical context, Mieville begins the Story of the Russian Revolution in February, following the first revolution. It closes eight months later, in October.

Instead of highlighting an identified-with hero (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin,etc.), Mieville focuses on the sufferings of the soldiers being ground up by the Kaiser’s troops, the unrest of the peasants, the plight of the industrial workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the incompetence of the Kerensky government, the rifts between the socialist parties and within the armed services. In this Mieville does a great job and consistently uses the words of those he’s writing about. As a means for creating tension, however, this is not a great technique. Since the only real character development is that of the people of the city that once paid little heed to the Bolsheviks to then viewing them as representative of their political will – I found this somewhat disappointing as well. Not that the anecdotes aren’t fascinating or the style of writing isn’t good, however my familiarity with it all made me hope for something that this wasn’t. As such I’d say that this was more for those that were unfamiliar with the topic.

Review of A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin and Henry Miller

On the inside cover of the used copy of A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin and Henry Miller 1932-1953 is an inscription that has been covered over with black permanent marker. Dated December 1987, it reads

Dear Thom,
In some ways we will always be together.
Love,
S.

Those familiar with the life and works of Anais Nin and Henry Miller would no doubt not be surprised by such a sentimental dedication being written into its pages, and made an amusing start to my reading this 395 page edited selection of these two literary luminaries letters. I chose to read these letters, which range in length from 1/2 to 33 pages, following a reflection on a discussion.

As you can see from the below photo from my library…

#Truestory: I #binge #books #henrymiller #litlife

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I’ve a long history of affection for Miller’s autobiographical oevre. Now that I’ve read enough of Art and Artist by Otto Rank, a psychologist who actually plays an short but important role both as an inspirer to both and lover of Nin’s, to know the word I’d even go so far as to say that he was, in Rank’s terms, the artist after which I’d apprenticed myself.

Missing from the picture are the journals of Nin’s that I’ve read from the same period when she was first introduced to Miller. I’d first read two of her multi-volume journals while in Copenhagen, Denmark, occupying time as rain made the wide city unwelcoming. My host, a family friend, had just smoked some buds from Christiania, put on some chaotic but oddly calming jazz music while writing a paper on import tariffs effects on the fishing industry of the country and then suggested I occupy myself with what was on his shelf since he had no television. I perused it, picked up her, and began literary journey of my own as the recordings of her inner life were so compelling and the man about which she felt so ecstatic about so intriguing that after that bingereading I knew I had to have more.

In the letters collected here they are at first merely two people with deep passions to be recognized as literary artists. The share the writings that they’ve been working on – in Miller’s case Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn while in Nin’s it was her early childhood journals – and give each other reams upon reams of feedback, discuss art, and a variety of topics from the banal to the esoteric. A note in the introduction, in fact, points out that the roughly 400 page collection is but a partial fragment as a number of the notes – sometimes two or three a day – were lost and that a sizeable amount of material was excluded so as to make this collection a “best of”. Anyways. Though both were married, Miller and Nin soon became lovers after meeting. Nin also explores lesbianism with Miller’s wife, June. Anais’ husband, well he’s oblivious to it all. A banker, he leaves for a short period and this gives the two of them a few weeks together. The time that they share during this brief affair become grist for more and a growing, profound appreciation for each other. Since Miller is too poor to afford to keep a home with Nin as he’s unwilling to take on non-literary work he is not able to ever “set them up” as he so wishes. Amusingly enough in fact, Miler relies on Hugh for money to live, though not directly but by that which is given to him  by Nin. Here, for example, is one of the many delightful passages that Miller writes:

Don’t expect me to be sane anymore. Don’t let’s be sensible. It was a marriage at Louveciennes – you can’t dispute it. I came away with pieces of you sticking to me; I am walking about, swimming, in an ocean of blood, your Andalusian blood, distilled and poisonous. Every thing I do and say related back to that… I say this is like a wild dream – but it is this dream I want to realize.

It’s not just as human expressions of love and longing that makes the collection pleasurable. Alongside the star-crossed love narrative are the reflections of two genius writers that struggle to find markets for their works. My book is peppered with underlines to mark great turns of phrase and insights into the human condition. No surprise given that this was a period when both were each producing significant works. One of those significant works, in fact, I learned about for the first time while reading this book. The World of Sex is a Penguin Modern Classic that despite having read all of those books from New Dimensions and Grove Press that I’d never heard of.

Those familiar with Henry literary work will be pleased to find a number of the kaleidoscopic collisions of thoughts in the form of beautiful flourishes of phrase and insight characteristic of Miller at his creative height.

The latter third of the book the romance has ceased to be described. Following a series of events – which I describe in the close their letters and lives turn from lovers to an exemplar friendship. Such a friendship does not come easy, however. A number of letters contains long and heart-rending accusations and cold, but insightful recriminations flow back and forth. The romantic love subtext fades from their exchanges, but they still clearly love each other.

Henry’s final break with Nin comes over her haven taken on Rank as a lover. While there is no direct statement of this by Henry, the pattern of behavior that he follows for a while hints at his pain. Had he the courage to admit the source of his pain, to overcome it and thus not keep distant from her is an interesting exercise in “what if”. While they both found professional acclaim and a financial stability form their work – I can’t but help wonder – a la La La Land’s lovely and yet heart-rending ending – whether or not they would have found greater happiness had pride not prevented it.

 

Review of Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds


As part of my professional development as a Creative Director, despite my title of “Creative Strategist”, I decided to read a book by the Chief Creative and Brand Strategy Officers of Sapient Nitro, a very large brand and content marketing agency. Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds, written by Gaston Legoburu and Darren McColl could easily have been one of those shamelessly self-promotional type of works, which seeks to show in book form a number of client successes and merely hint at the type of research and creative work that goes into the marketing projects they manage. While they certainly do include a number of their success stories, this is done primarily to illustrate the developmental and publishing process related to “storyscaping”.

To put this new form of marketing action the books begins with a delineation of the power of human narrative going back to the time of man when we sat around fires and told each other stories to distract us from the fear of animals and tribes surrounding them. In reviewing the elements of short narratives I found myself recalling much of college elective course in Storytelling. This is actually a knowledge set that I’ve found myself consistently drawing on in my ideation for Fractl, which I find amusing as after I’d decided to take it a number of people said that this was something that’d I’d never use. Following this the authors provide an overview of the various ways that the internet has changed the development of effective business to consumer marketing communications. They point to a digital/traditional divide that exists in marketing and are even handed about it saying that while the latter still has its place, it’s due to the dominance of virtual worlds for mediating decision-making processes and the more number of contact points with customers that it’s something that companies neglect at huge potential risk to their bottom line.

The application of Joseph Campbell’s ethnographic and literary/mythic concepts related to the hero’s journey was, for me, surprising but also sensible as it’s appropriate for relate the product of a brand to the hero’s quest. It frames desire as, well, heroic self-development rather than personal satiation.

The recent Pepsi television ad that has been receiving much, deserved, flak for its social insensitivity is a great example of this. In the video while a heroic goal is met, the cessation of social strife stemming from systemic economic and racial marginalization and oppression, the cause for it – mutual enjoyment of Pepsi – is, well, stupid.

A more appropriate example of such heroic help is provided in the analysis of campaigns that SapientNitro did for a UK gambling company and a ski resort. For the gambling company they were able to apply UX principals to their app – there’s always a co-constitutive relationship between marketers and producers – such that they were able to provide an improved “excitement” level for bettors. For the ski resort they were able to consultancy that would lead to investment in digital photography equipment and smart chip technology so that guests were able to share their experience and thus encourage the most convincing form of marketing – word of mouth.

By “building worlds” the opportunity is created for people to connect with brands in immersive and cooperative ways. With the emotional responses to these “Experience Spaces” that lead to sharing as the goal, consumer research helps improve the response and helps to build brand identification and loyalty. At this point Legoburu and McColl outline relationship between the steps leading from brand strategy and product positioning to an organizing idea and experience space that leads to the “storyscape”. They’re clear to point out that this is not a linear path but a conceptual totality that adjust to the many variables which exist within consumer insights and their purchasing journey.

Part two of the book switches tracks to focusing on how it is that an organization’s purpose can be clarified, uncovered and applied in the office and in marketing to increase brand value. The purpose is something that Legoburu and McColl say is not found from talking with the president of the company but an internal assessment of their operation due to the fact that their can be an excessive focus on profits on the part of management such that they lose sight of what they are actually delivering. Lest this seem esoteric, let me provide an example given in the book. Whereas Hanna-Barbera’s leadership defined themselves as purveyors of cartoons, Walt Disney conceived of themselves as providing family entertainment. Because of this wider scope of their operations, Disney was able to rapidly diversify their productions into other profitable areas while Hanna-Barbera slowly stagnated.

The chapters Walk the Walk, Insight to Desire and In Their Shoes, all provide an outline for how a creative, marketing department can transform various forms of research and data points in order to better understand the typical consumer narrative. For someone like myself, who is familiar with Marxist and Freudian interpretations of social and commercial activity, the book reads like a bowdlerized Marcuse with aphoristic rather than baroque formulations. Lest there be some confusion on my evaluation of the book here, this is a compliment to the authors. The author’s discussions on marketing mix modeling, adaptive worlds, and their relationship to the epistemology of customers is, I dare say, incredibly insightful for determining how to influence behavior and maximize on opportunities. This is a great book that I marked up significantly and I definitely fore see myself revisiting in the near future.

Review of “I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit”

To be honest I would not have purchased I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit based on its cover or back matter. When something claims itself a #1 bestseller but it is clearly not I am suspicious, but not in a way that makes me want to investigate it. The back matter shows me that the author has a similar path as my father and other superlatives made me similarly wary. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a read on someone special’s suggestion and found myself greatly rewarded as a result.

One of the aspects of the book that I found engaging was the pleasant simplicity of the prose and concepts container therein. Dr. Michael’s descriptions of a wide variety of psychological states, the causes for their crises, analysis of components of the ego, etc. align with similar, more scholastic readings I’ve done. Yet it is presented in a way that engages the reader to be a participant in his excavations of human motivation and the Higher Self (not his term) moreso than mere exegesis of the history of those concepts in various schools of thought (a la Becker). There are multiple instances of hypnotic writing therein that are intended to get the reader to explore their own embodiment of love and fear-directed thinking and behavior (Michael’s terms).

By giving in to feelings of guilt or shame or having an ego that controls rather than a more conscientious form of mind-body-spirit co-management psychic disequilibrium starts to be create. During this period crisis can be relieved or, more often, deepened as the internal contradictions become intensified. But “What happens when the reality that you created becomes too much for you to bear?” Dr. Michael asks and responds with, “You sedate yourself with something stronger to completely alter and escape from your perception of reality.” This can take the form of self-stimming in many forms, addiction to television, gaming, books, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Freud designated this tendency pattern repetition. While Dr. Michael does not use this term specifically, he does point out that “The experiences that you did not learn from lead you to continuously repeat the same reality, resulting in guilt, pain and limitation.”

It’s this focus on limitation and examination on how the heart hardens and contracts through examples that sets this books apart from others. While I’ve been studying psychological development and various disciplines to achieve personal empowerment, I’ve often found the discussion either too metaphysical or too clinical. This makes sense as the purpose of the course readings and participatory, experiential based practicing of those materials in groups and one on one settings was to impart technical training. However, the reformulation of the material here is oriented more towards being a component of a spiritual practice.

Returning to power

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This is evident in the fact that each chapter ends with an overview and an affirmation. Besides the trace-inducing writing, there are also multiple points where you are encouraged to say aloud certain phrases. While I read this from cover to cover, this is also one of those books that you could simply look through the chapter list to find places to speak to certain areas in your life that are causing one to stray from Love and Truth, for it’s when one doesn’t operate from those perspectives but from Fear that profound internal and external problems begin to occur. By running from pain you lose the opportunity to learn from it and from that power is returned to the self. To quote my father, one must face, embrace and replace the survival messages that emerge from certain periods in our life that become no longer beneficial to our innermost needs.

In close I think it’s worth mentioning that after reading the book I engaged the counseling services of someone who’d studies with Dr. Michael. One of the components of the session was to repeat the affirmations with passion, in a similar manner that experiential psychologists would but with physicality included. This combined with other reformulations of previous traumatic experiences was a good reminder that living a happy life is often not nearly as complicated as our ego’s would like us to believe.

 

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Review of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a history of the cultural and political forces that have shaped the African-American experience.

What sets Taylor’s book apart from others on the subject, however, is how far she goes beyond simply documenting the seemingly endless dimensions of racial oppression in the United States. Instead of just describing its dynamics, she also includes a class based method so that activists may contest it – a recurrent theme of Haymarket Press’s publications. Taylor starts her overview in the 1930s, when blacks were not given the same treatment as white workers during the New Deal. After a sufficient period of education, agitation and organization, however, blacks were able to so disrupt the normal functioning of governance that Lyndon Johnson had to address their grievances.

Taylor’s understanding of the manner in which capitalism operates in America is tied explicitly to racist ideology. Though only beginning in the 1960s, she points out how racist ideologies which use the “culture of poverty” argument to explain relative deprivation of the black community have a dual function in political discourse: not only do they serve to scapegoat African Americans for their conditions rather than lack of a full Reconstruction program, but, by racializing poverty, it also conceals white poverty. This designation of workers in the lowest income sectors as disposable thus obfuscates the structural dynamics of American capitalism.

Rather than merely focusing criticism just on whites, Taylor shows through a number of examples how the class differentiation which has taken place in the Black community since the Civil Rights Movement has mean that liberal black politicians who have come to power on the hopes of ameliorating problems in the black community have taken over the task of disciplining blacks. In addition to this she points out how black capitalism boosters going back to Garvey fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the economy that they were working in. Rather than upward mobility through this means, she endorses Liberation.

Taylor emphasizes the need for working class unity and then explains how “colorblind” language and politics in the US operates to stoke racial tensions and mystify historical relations. The language of colorblindness was first used by Richard Nixon and the Republicans. While a good means of mobilizing sentiment against racial discrimination, as the black civil rights movement became compromised and co-opted by capital, it came to replicate the same effects as the racial justifications of policy thru class-based discrimination.

If this seems removed from the present as there was a black president, it’s worth pointing out that during the tenure of Barack Obama African-American’s were disproportionately unaffected by the steps taken to bolster sections of the struggling economy, that Obama distanced himself from the needs and grievances of the black community, the Supreme Court has struck down sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as no longer relevant and that in a number of NGOs point out that in historically racist places it is now increasingly difficult for people of color to vote or live without harassment.

While the hash tag first shared by Alicia Garza, #blacklivesmatter, has certainly been useful as an organizing medium – Taylor shows through historic examples of how such organizations have become co-opted and rendered a form of palliative care for the black community. In order to ameliorate these conditions, Taylor states, black and white (and brown) class based unity is the answer. BLM has moved in that direction – their most recent platform contains a number of planks that speak to the condition of the working poor. However spreading solidarity has been a historically difficult task in America and given the wont of crypto-racists to tar and declaim BLM as a racist organization hints at the difficulties they face as they are currently composed.

*

Interviews with Taylor below:

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35103-achieving-black-liberation-a-conversation-with-keeanga-yamahtta-taylor

https://roarmag.org/magazine/black-awakening-class-rebellion/

 

Review of The Denial of Death

We leave a worryless life and emerge from our mother’s womb and learn many new sensations that must at first feel rude and grating. We scream as we gasp air for the first time, are dried, are held by not all sides. Somehow we innately now knowing that we must eat to continue to exist in this world. To quell this state of terror we transfer onto our parents our own sense of self. We map what symbolic values they and the culture associated with them onto ourselves, while repressing the arbitrariness of it through psychological repression that people who do not practice mindfulness techniques rarely notice. Thus begins a critical response to Freud through the lens of Soren Kirkegaard and Otto Rank, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.

I found much of the commentary by Becker on Freud’s character similar to that of Walter Kauffman’s. They diverge, however, in their appraisal of Freud’s correctness in the base cause for the manifestation of anxieties in human character and thus what at base most motivates us as humans. Becker discount’s what he sees as Freud’s hedonistic interpretation and instead proffers one based on heroism of personal expression rather than inherited cultural roles, religious roles or the pursuit of wealth by explicating Soren Kirkegaard’s novelistic insights to human’s self-motivation and Otto Rank’s reflections on his own therapy practice.

The divergence of perspective has a number of large effects but the most important could perhaps be summed up as follows: whereas psychoanalysis seeks to alleviate as much as possible the neurosis that prevents the normal functioning of areas in life which the patient seeks greater control; a more appropriate means for achieving fulfilment, gratification and community is through the pursuit of a heroic ideals. Depression thus becomes a matter of courage, the inner artist failing to must their talents and energies. The neurotic, born through the choking off of action, need only keep acting in the manner that takes them on what they most want. The manner that Becker puts it is, I think, better: “When the person can no longer convincingly perform his safe heroics or cannot hide his failure to be his own hero, then he bogs down in the failure of depression and terrible guilt.”

As the human begins to develops to its highest potential, rather than just along the axis of its neurosis as process begin, the following begins to become the inner drive of our consciousness: “The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing, in order for self-transcendence to begin. Then the self can begin to relate itself to powers beyond itself. It has to thrash around in its finitude, it has to “die,” in order to question that finitude, in order to see beyond it.” Having recently read the Seducer’s Diary I was pleasantly gratified when reading Becker’s commentary on the story of Coredelia and K in Either/Or as it was aligned with my own thoughts about his depiction of a weak spiritual fortitude. Becker even has a name for it, which is important as it becomes the point at which he turns his attention from desire, fulfilment, anxiety and character to develop his model of human health.

Jonah Syndrome is a state of consciousness that leads one to believe that lasting happiness is not only something that is impossible but that proximity to it will lead to one to be ”shattered, disintegrated and even killed by the experience”. To guard from this they pull back and away from what would in a better adjusted view would be a fount of. As it is the destruction of the self that is actually a pre-requisite to being able to achieve lasting happiness, that person soon lapses into depression and neurosis. The solution to the problem of neurosis is Goetheian: Make a game of the world and play it in the fashion that one most wishes. One may not like the cards they are dealt, but grit and perseverance will get one there.

Becker’s extensive exposition of Rank’s views of the artist are both profoundly insightful and beautifully written. Rank, like Hubbard, exalted the artist as the highest embodiment of human potential. Establishing a balance between the self and the world means thus following one’s hero project wherever it may lead for the whole of one’s life. The creative solutions that we come up to get that is the genius possible within our species being and truly being dedicated and convicted people may come to know the artists that are inside them.

 

Review of “Angela Davis: an Autobiography”

 

When you read an account of how someone describes the highs and lows of their existence in their early 20s it tells a lot about their character. Most people are trapped in the pursuit of selfish interests, a good job, obtaining good housing and a lover to share their time with. There is nothing wrong per se with such pursuits, however often there is no balance and actions to promote community development is ignored.

Angela Davis: An Autobiography is the inverse of this typical selfish pursuit of happiness, one informed by an insightful political and philosophical recognition that as long as historically repressed and exploited communities in the U.S. were politically and economically marginalized that she, as a black woman, would always be a second class citizen if not de jure but de facto. The personal narrative that frames it makes this book something beyond a jeremiad against American Society. Instead she describes how her hopes, dreams, and aspirations along with most others with dark skins were unable to follow through on them due to the oppressive ignorance of numerous Whites.

For many years Angela Davis studied under the German Marxist Philosopher Herbert Marcuse in Europe and in California. Distinguishing herself as a serious scholar in her field, she obtained entry into prestigious study abroad programs that placed her in the center of radical student life in Europe – an important connection for subsequent speaking engagement in support of legal defense fees – while also studying historical materialism. Her engagement with historical materialism, or the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, combined with her desire for a practical outlet for her education besides being a professor is what drew her to become a member of the Communist Party USA.

Davis likes to conclude some of her anecdotes with a “lesson learned” message advocating steps to increase political awareness, make cadres function better, etc. There’s not enough of them where it reads like anecdotes mixed with catechism, but they do open up what I thought was a number of ambiguities and contradictions. In her description of working with SNCC and other parties, for instance, she claims that certain Black Nationalist groups are overly fixated upon the nationalist question, are unduly critical of socialism as a “white man’s thing” and the need for working with like-minded people. However these criticisms are said in such passing that they offer little in the way of political education to those uninitiated in the debates surrounding these and other topics.

One of the recurrent narrative elements of all of the Black Panthers stories is their arrest by police and being charged with crimes that courts of law subsequently are determine to not have been committed by them. Huey, Assata, the Panther 21, many others. Escaping with years of their lives in jails makes them a lucky one. George Jackson, for example, was killed while serving time. The prison guards staged a riot and shot him down. His death greatly affected Angela. They had formed a romantic relationship through their letters. While not able to make their affections physical, I found the connection evident from reading his letters mentioning her and her reactions here to be very compelling.

Marxist Paul Saba published a highly critical review of the autobiography in the first issue of Class Struggle magazine, stating that class which Davis praises the most and adopts is that of “…the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie, with firm reliance, not on the working class, but on the liberals, the intellectuals, lawyers and professors. This is combined with the condemnation of any movements among the people which base themselves on class struggle rather than the capitulation of the revisionists.” Considering the large amount of the book which is devoted to praising legal professionals and uncritically describing her academic studies with Herbert Marcuse, that the CPUSA has largely foregone working class and African-American struggles I think that this is a fair assessment. I think the criticism is, however, unduly harsh. While I’d agree to an extent with Saba’s claim that there’s a fair degree of distance between her and African-Americans generally – a result of her education and class privilege stemming from her profession – I think the book does great service to showing the traps and barriers faced by radical activists. One can certainly think that more should be done while still respecting the effort. Rather than performing the same old song and dance about the correctness of one’s foundation of political action, as Saba does, in order to claim theoretical superiority – I think it’s better to praise the exemplary courage and determination to better the world despite the risks inherent to one’s life and liberty. This perspective, critical but also respectful, seems to me to be on display in Shepard Fairey’s poster below.

Final note: Those preferring to read the book digitally can find a free copy here.

Review of The Autobiography of Assata Shakur

A former Black Liberation Army member that has obtained political asylum in Cuba for perceived lack of evidence for crimes connected to the murder of two police officers, Assata Shakur is a polarizing figure. She is still wanted by the FBI and talk of her possible return to America was discussed between respective nations bilateral trade meetings leading to online talk of her spiking to numbers not seen since legal defense committees received donations in her name for other sham trials in the late 1960s. Assata was one of many black political and cultural activists that were falsely imprisoned for hours to years based upon the whims of the judicial system. The Autobiography of Assata Shakur memoirs describes the evidence against her, the conditions of her trial, penetrating and poetic social insights, her treatment in the prison as well as her socialization with white communities under Jim Crow, her work with the Black Panther Party, etc. It is, another word, wonderful for touching on so many of the important issues of that epoch.

At a young age Assata describes herself as being very sensitive to the Jim Crow conditions which she grew up under. She tells of the isolations of being unable to play with neighborhood children because of her families purchase of a home in a white community. She describes how the low level of intellectual abilities that her classmates first had for her.  Later she will also describe in detail her close relationship to two of the five young girls killed in a church bombing that happened a short distance from her childhood home.

Yet her anger is not without a certain sense of revolutionary irony. Revolutionary as while recognizing the seriousness of the situation – racially informed class oppression – she is also able to recognize the base absurdity of its claims and the essential precariousness of the various power allegiances keeping it together. For example she describes going into a shoe shop in Montgomery with her friend as a young teen. A white clerk and overweight customer look at her in red-faced anger and terror quickly take on a tone of deference granted as they speak with a French affectation and claim to be from the Martinique. They are Caribbean, the social thought of the day went, therefore exotic and ergo not black. They are conversed with by the staff as they try on shoes.  Assata, at the time named Josephine, speaks in her best accent and finally breaks character. The initial angry attitudes return, however the girls can’t stop laughing. Now speaking in plain English, as they leave the store, she calls the people present out for their bigotry. There are many poetic turns of phrase and local color captured in these and other exchanges, all of which is to sound please but be immoral. Given these exclusionary experiences it is no wonder that she begins to have increased involvement in black nationalist cultural and political networks and organizations.

What makes this such a compelling book is not just the everyday heroics that comes to be displayed but also it’s structure. After childhood and arrest are covered the structure shifts to a back and forth between a horrifying depiction of what life is like in jail and narrative of her work as an activist. First one starts to become painfully aware of the cruelties of the treatment afforded her because she was a political prisoner, such as being forced to live in an isolation room for 21 months on end – a practice which was only stopped after a long struggle to get an independent investigator of the court to verify Assata’s claims. Following this Assata describes her work at a Black Panther Party breakfast program for children. She would wake up at 4am in the morning and cook for all of the children and come up with various educational programs for them to help get in the learning mood before going to school. She describes the paranoia and fears of briefly having to live an underground life as she’s just discovered that she’s again being promoted in the media as responsible for a crime that she’s not committed. And what helped her face such COINTELPRO actions? Her good skill set was recognized and she was promoted to New York to help the Party be more efficient.

Assata’s autobiography is good not only for the above, but she also reminds the reader that there were many others targeted for assassination, observation, infiltration, and social subversion through ruses, rumors, and other sorts of intelligence campaigns designed to delegitimize and destroy trust. She names three people that were connected to high ranking members of the Party that were used in FBI conceived plots to entrap or bring harm to Members. She is not, however, wholly uncritical of the Party. Some of the members are upbraided for their misogyny when she first arrives in New York. She eventually left the group as she found Newton’s ideology to be incompatible with her own, as she thought they needed to have less of a focus on the thoughts of a greater leader and more information on black history. Certainly anyone seeking to learn about black history is well served by reading this story and her other writings.

Review of Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger is one of the books that inform the unique grading rubric for determining whether or not a certain campaign conceived in our daily Ideation meetings will be proposed to our advertising clients, send back for further details how it would be completed or shelved. The TL;DR book review format can turn the book into a short acronym, STEPPS, that stands for and encourages marketers to ask the following about their products:

Social Currency – Does sharing information about this make you look good?

Triggers – What cues do people have with your product, how can this be expanded

Emotion – What sort of emotion is elicited by discussion of you product and how can this be changed?

Public – What can be done to make private purchasing decisions private?

Practical Value – Can you assist others in some way by this information

Stories – Are you framing the information you want transmitted into a narrative format or just a list of product specifications?

Delving deeper into these principles, Berger presents a number of case studies that illustrates various advertising campaigns in action using these principles, correctly or incorrectly.

Being familiar with internet lore in general several of the examples provided in each of these sections, or variations therein, were those that I was familiar with. For example the $100 sandwich and the  connection between 1980s anti-drug advertising, which made the private public, being seen in part as a cause for the rise in teen drug use. A larger number of them, however, I was not. Thankfully the books was written in such a way that though it consists primarily of case studies illustrating the aforementioned messaging qualities the book does not take an overly formal tone.

Reading these analyses and commentary on the over-importance of influencers, varieties of physiological arousal, presenting information in an appropriate context all are very useful not only to those seeking to raise awareness about products for sale but also for those seeking to engage in any sort of public awareness campaign. An anecdote about a healthier eating campaign on college campuses, for instance, is described how a different choice in wording (A/B testing) could have a 25% greater likelihood in encouraging students to eat more fruits and vegetables. The difference in wording? Using a general food associated terms “When you eat” versus “when you fill your tray”. The latter was more effective as it had a stronger contextual trigger – students saw this in a cafeteria.

I found the “fool in the pool” anecdote – the story about Ron Bensimhon’s break in to the Olympics and jumping from the divers deck while wearing polka dot tights and GoldenPalace.com emblazoned on his chest – to be particularly useful as a reminder for the need for correct triggers/context and being attuned to the psychology of sharing. As a content marketer, depending on the client, much of the material we produce can be quite tangential to those whose products or services we are seeking to help bring greater exposure to.

The book is a quick and easy read and I was happy to learn that some of the practices that I’ve applied to my project decisions are those that Jonah Berger endorses. This isn’t necessarily a result of my own genius, but likely from my having read Berger’s teacher’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. For example, a project that I’m working on I was ready to use a single broad survey as a data source for a campaign. After having read this I’m now more confident in pursuing a slightly different direction that queries less people but gets more information that will likely lead to others relating to it at a deeper level. Previously open to pursuing the least time intensive route that would likely still make the customer happy, now I can cite evidence why a small pivot could be result in much greater visibility.