Riffing with Intellectual Harbinger of the Anti-Bourgeoise, John Steppling
One of the toughest things I’ve been facing is the bald-faced collective delusion of fellow Americans. From the rank and file social worker, to even the people I serve – homeless, street people, addicted, just out of prison – to the creeps at the top, like my own Oregon’s Phil Knight, Nike guy, all the way through to the politicians, bureaucrats, and those vaunted intellectuals. These delusions center around capitalism, the buy-sell world of service economies, deep into the transnational crap that is the under girder of America’s engines of the rich.
Off-shoring, outsourcing, sweat-shopping, disruptive economies bigger in scope and power like those perverted MOABs dropped on humanity. Americans can’t see beyond the buy and sell, the debtor class, beyond mortgaging off futures, the unborn, and collective communities. America is about bankrupting cities, counties, retirement accounts, national and state commons.
America the Money Machine is about selling off everything, at any price.
Americans can’t see beyond the buy and sell, the debtor class, beyond mortgaging off futures, the unborn, and collective communities.
Americans can’t see beyond the buy and sell, the debtor class, beyond mortgaging off futures, the unborn, and collective communities.
Some see Trump as something new, some billionaire abomination. Others see their fellow Americans as lazy, daft, DNA warped, deserving of homelessness, near homelessness, poverty, childhood disease and delinquency and insanity. Moreover, it seems America is one giant Hollywood set, one big pack of pretend lies, all those rotten TV series, all that Netflix, all those reprobate media madmen setting the tone for this mass delusion, mass collective corruptible consciousness.
Pile on other dysfunctions of this fake democracy: Inquiry is dead, or on life support, and intellectualism is as shallow as the IQ of these leaders, including Clinton or Trump. Daily, though, I see a certain uselessness in critiquing the empire of delusion. I see this same intense yammering on about generals and captains of industry, about this or that vice president, this or that scum-bucket in high office.
Daily, it’s a deep dive into the mire of the muck – everyone is corruptible, these DC things, these coast to coast prognosticators, generals, producers, CEOs, all of them, totally corruptible for sure. We can have smart discussions about racism, militarism, the power of collectivism and socialism; we can talk about bio-intensive organic farming, about restorative justice, ecology and economies; we can light up the night with magnificent stories about climate change, civil society, resistance and the practitioners of resistance and revolution.
Yet, in the end, this is a sirocco of blinding repetition – since when did leaders in the Capitol, or in other state capitols, or captains of industry or titans of philanthropy or middle managers, or any of them in that scattered group of Chamber of Commerce backers, or anyone in the industry of FIRE – finance insurance real estate do ANY good for the average person in this genocidal country? Accidental good only through the force of resistance and protesting, picketing and regulation/legal advocating?
I find sometimes the critique, the deep study of how things are wrong, which wedding party got to be labeled “splat” or “collateral damage,” which DoD or CIA mole is the whistle blower of the month, all is not just tiring but redundant, every decade, self-replicating over and over the same capitalist lunacy. The shit that comes out of these people’s mouths, tuning up for the apocalypse, readying the world for nuclear winter, priming us all for the absolute larceny of the elite against us, it’s a pummeling that never stops, never is different, throughout history there, for all generations to hear and subsume.
Yet, still, it’s a pleasure working in the trenches, and writing this raucous stuff I do, looking deep into the rancid throat of white America, which allows me to intersect with great minds and people with persuasive skills tied to their formidable thinking skills and acumen around philosophical discourse and the logic of their own radical revolutionary thought.
I posed some questions for my expatriate in Norway, John Steppling. Sure, he’s a playwright, and had some creative success in Hollywood, but more importantly, he’s a socialist, a real radical thinker in a time of false thinking, and his trajectory is now enhanced at a ripe age (in his 60s) with identical twin boys.
We can savor the words of Henry Giroux on Steppling, and get a sense of John’s powerhouse undertow of radical philosophical thought:
John Steppling is one of the world’s great writers and public intellectuals. His essays are brilliant and wide ranging, remnants of an intellectual period that is receding quickly in an age of tweets and the poison of neoliberal and celebrity culture. His insights are provocative, compassionate, and refuse the usual gated academic and disciplinary boundaries. He writes with a sense of civic courage that is as inspiring as his intellectual reach is wide. I am proud to call him a friend and comrade. — Henry A. Giroux, McMaster University — Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest; English and Cultural Studies
John is the author of Sea of Cortez, The Shaper, Dogmouth. His blog looks at culture and counter-culture, the fog bellowing from the ship of fools designing what they believe to be art, captured in more and more pedestrian and producerist ways.
Here, a few questions I hit Steppling up for some quick, visceral responses, and then what follows are deeper looks into the labyrinth of his mind, and his perspective on the politics of living in modern America.
A. Why does it matter to the world that the USA even exist?
John – What does it matter? Well, I mean I’d say the world would be a much safer place without the US.
B. What do you think is the philosophy of the USA, if anything?
John – It’s a puritan nation. An Imperialist nation. It has no philosophy. But it was founded on genocide and slavery. The colonial rulers were men of property, many slave owners, and that isn’t so different from today.
C. Where are we going in the next 20 years — USA, globally, China?
John – I wonder if the US will exist in 20 years? Global capital is in crisis. My fear is the desperation driving the ruling class today.
D. Fascism is on the rise. Coupled with militarism, and the surveillance state and financialization of every moment of our lives. It’s looking bleak in this MOAB-dropping, drone-sickening world. Discuss!
John — The rise of anti-immigration parties in Europe, for example, has always felt like something the US wanted. Almost a Psy-Ops sort of thing. This is also of course an aspect of capitalism in crises. Over production, unemployment etc. And the looming social unrest that will come from water shortages and ecological disintegration. The reality of the surveillance state is that much of this technology doesn’t work, but it doesn’t have to. The point is to establish the idea of this great hegemon. Of course, the NSA and all these various intelligence agencies do know most everything about us. But what they know isn’t as significant as some think. What is worrisome is the psychological deprivation that comes with this new cyber panopticon. The loss of privacy and civil liberties, the hardening of the western psyche. And the erosion of public education in the West, and the new directions of education. A data driven sort of training for life as a prole. There is great unhappiness in the US, certainly. Drug addicted — both legal and illegal, and the addictions to electronic gadgets. People has lost compassion and a sense of community. And that has bred a couple of generations of deeply incurious and psychologically stunted individuals. And there is this disturbing eroticizing of violence. State violence in particular. The new fascist parties one sees globally are directly linked to the US. They serve western capital. And the penetration of western capital into all markets is, of course, the desired goal of the ruling class. Total control. Global hegemony. Income polarization is increasing. The numbers for hungry Americans is staggering. Food insecurity is growing. Especially for children. What sort of society applauds a MOAB? One with a broken moral compass, to be sure. The society of the spectacle. It is reaching some sort of singularity, but a highly dysfunctional one. What that portends is hard to guess. But it isn’t good. The sadistic nature of American society is more acute than ever. The war on the poor and vulnerable is a source of entertainment for many. Look at Hollywood film and TV. In a 100 years or 200, what will people think of this society?
Working with Steppling’s words, his intellectual blowtorch, well, it’s easy to see a world underbelly, one where any number of antagonists hold sway on the world’s stage. He looks for real art to be something bigger than what has come out of the orifices of the petite-bourgeois and the power house arbiters of high (low) culture (sic).
In a world where people in this country have NO idea what art is, or have no idea why Americans are not the center of the universe or the height of evolution, Steppling looks at context, and the power of narrative interpretation, reflection and deconstruction.
Easily, a world of Steppling is tied to a willingness to shed any pretentions or any patriotic tendencies, which gets us to a line closer to the purity of what it means to think, and to critically explore the world of madness that is the world’s stage/set of American life, both physical and intellectual.
Paul – John, America, and almost anything touched by white capitalism, is a system that is based on a base of people (majority) believing it is the only successful system, one prejudice predicated on, “Show me one country, one society, where socialism or communism or even your goddamned cooperative economies work!” Respond.
John — Ok…well, I always think of Fidel Castro answering that by asking where are the successes of Capitalism. People always point to the failures of socialism and communism. And of course, if you see the world through the lens of western propagandists, then you imagine a grey cold Orwellian nightmare. The truth is that the USSR had enormous achievements and great happiness, and it didn’t take place in B&W — and the same, or more, with China and the Maoist revolution. And certainly there is little dispute that the Cuban revolution changed that island for the better. Now….I can hear the responses to what I just wrote. I know them by heart.
John Bellamy Foster wrote, back in 2009, on Capitalism….
Rather I mean by ‘failed system’ a global economic and social order that increasingly exhibits a fatal contradiction between reality and reason—to the point, in our time, where it threatens not only human welfare but also the continuation of most sentient forms of life on the planet. Three critical contradictions make up the contemporary world crisis emanating from capitalist development: (1) the current Great Financial Crisis and stagnation/depression; (2) the growing threat of planetary ecological collapse; and (3) the emergence of global imperial instability associated with shifting world hegemony and the struggle for resources.
And this is not at all to say that I think Communism was perfect. But why do people hold socialist movements to these impossible standards? That is the very pernicious and very deep manufacturing of a master narrative and point of view that is bourgeois western capitalist. In fact there has always been enormous success in Communist countries. But the role of mass media and Hollywood looms very large in this. The Bernays meme, as it were, was introduced by Adam Curtis — with Century of the Self. And while that six hour BBC documentary was quite fresh at the time, and sort of inspired, the following work by Curtis lurched ever further to the right until his last piece was just unwatchable. But the point here is that this notion of marketing penetrating our consciousness gained some traction (Curtis was only following after Adorno and Horkheimer, really, and others such as Kracauer). And this is what one has to really be aware of, because that introduction was neutralized and appropriated by the system — by mass culture, and mass culture is in the hands of a very few very rich people and powerful corporations. And dissent is neutralized. So the ideas of Bernays were suddenly being discussed as if they were not part of this horror show of manipulation, but rather a normal aspect of postmodern society in the West.
Let me quote Michael Parenti here…
The corporate capitalists no more encourage prosperity than do they propagate democracy. Most of the world is capitalist, and most of the world is neither prosperous nor particularly democratic. One need only think of capitalist Nigeria, capitalist Indonesia, capitalist Thailand, capitalist Haiti, capitalist Colombia, capitalist Pakistan, capitalist South Africa, capitalist Latvia, and various other members of the Free World–more accurately, the Free Market World.
A prosperous, politically literate populace with high expectations about its standard of living and a keen sense of entitlement, pushing for continually better social conditions, is not the plutocracy’s notion of an ideal workforce and a properly pliant polity. Corporate investors prefer poor populations. The poorer you are, the harder you will work-for less. The poorer you are, the less equipped you are to defend yourself against the abuses of wealth.
Paul — I’ve lived in other countries, and worked in a few, and hands down, Americans – business people, the rank and file of precarious workers, the intellects, and anyone – are some of the dumbest clowns on earth. That is, one on one, you get much more depth of history and global cultural understanding from a truck driver from Edinburgh or clerk in Mexico City than you might ever get from a college educated worker from Amazon.com. What is this about? How is it this country with all the money, all the colleges, churns out people who are so ignorant? Riff with:
I am astonished each time I come to the U.S. by the ignorance of a high percentage of the population, which knows almost nothing about Latin America or about the world. It’s quite blind and deaf to anything that may happen outside the frontiers of the U.S. — Eduardo Galeano
John — I want to segue into the second question by discussing a final aspect of that first question. We live in a society in which two borderline personalities were running for president. One can barely read and one is a sociopath. The subliterate won. And remember that U.S. democracy is highly mediated by difficult polling locations, impossible registration requirements and outright voter suppression. This was always a nation run by the rich. Originally only landowners could vote and most of them were slave owners. Not much has changed, really. Democracy is antagonistic to capitalism.
The U.S. has a faux democracy in which only millionaires need apply. Look at how marginalized was the Green Party ticket last election. Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka couldn’t even get on stage. And those debates were not debates. They were scripted performances and those faux journalists asking questions were literally aware of the scripting and openly participating in this sham. How can these same people make fun of Soviet era news when the U.S. news apparatus is actually much worse?
Capitalism manufactures poverty because it needs poverty.
The second question is part of a conversation I have all the time because I live as an ex pat in Norway. And what Galeano says is absolutely true. And I am reminded of Nicholson Baker’s new book on teaching and public education, Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. This data-driven notion of education is one pushed by Bill Gates (when he’s not pushing his eugenics policies for the Third World). And it breeds a certain very specific sort of ignorance. A distracted splintered individual, and from this comes a further deadening of curiosity and a justification for mass chemical warehousing.
The numbers of people in the US on anti-depressants is stunning. What does that say? Is Capitalism the engine of happiness? I think not. And yet defenders will point at Communist societies as repressive and ignore the ways in which their own society is repressive, and not just repressive but starkly irrational and profoundly unhappy. There is something increasingly disturbing occurring in the psyches of many, if not most, Americans. A kind of eroded affect, and psychoanalysts like Joyce McDougall, sensed this generalized regression. I mean even Guy Louis Debord wrote of it in the ‘60s- a generalized autism.
There is an important book, if were speak of psychoanalysis, by Russell Jacoby, Social Amnesia. It is important to track the neutralizing of radicalism in psychoanalysis after Freud. And look the rejection of Freud today is hardly surprising. Remember that that first generation of Freudians were far more politically radical than people are led to believe. The migration of psychoanalysis to the U.S. included a medicalizing of it and a removal of political content. It is why Wilhelm Reich is so summarily dismissed today. Capitalism breeds mental illness. However one wants to define that. One cannot push back against the madness forever. It takes a huge toll on people.
When I lived in Poland and worked at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, I would hear older people say all the time how much they missed communism. But they said it under their breath. As if it was not all right to have these feelings. And again, there were enormous problems with the over industrialization of the USSR. Huge. Visit Nowa Huta outside Krakow if you have any doubt. And there is also another issue with leftists I know. And that is a kind of authoritarian policing of thought. I’ve had vicious arguments with leftists because I said something they would disagree with. I remember writing Syria was a colonial creation. What ensured was this huge very contentious argument.
Now, it is easy enough to misunderstand what I was saying. I only meant the borders of the current nation of Syria were drawn up by European states. And that Syria had to endure the weight of colonial infrastructure and legislative apparatuses. I did not say that made Syria illegitimate. Which is of course one of the arguments of the Hasbara. The point is that there is a deep reflexive and authoritarian rage in much of the left and its highly problematic. And I suspect, as it was in the case of this Syria debate, a kind of projection of feelings of inferiority. A way to deal with always being seen as on the losing side of history. And so you get this rigid terminology and fetishizing of grammar. And there is a decided distrust of culture and art on much of the left. A residue of factory Marxism. And its self-defeating. Many people I know in the social justice movement avoid old party communists like the plague. And that’s very sad and very problematic. Many of these older leftists are just intractable and have a kind of very unappealing tunnel vision.
But back to ignorance in the U.S. Yes, of course, and it’s also a shockingly conformist society today. Shocking. The white bourgeoisie has perhaps never been this conformist in all of U.S. history.
Paul — Think about this contrast, this devaluing of an elite, Jewish, non-intellectual, Horowitz, on socialism, compared to Fidel. What accounts for this divergence of reality coming from the vaunted American shyster?
They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America? — Fidel Castro
In practice, socialism didn’t work. But socialism could never have worked because it is based on false premises about human psychology and society, and gross ignorance of human economy. David Horowitz
John – The third question I already answered before getting to it.
Paul — The very premise in America is tacit or de facto support of this most violent of regimes. Just the daily plodding, even in minor revolts, we are still paying for the violence through structural financial napalm and with the tools of the war lords. Every cent and every dime and every municipality and state sucked dry by the bankers, each and every school shuttered and downtown boarded up, all the tools of capitalism eroding each new generation through the products of obesity-autism-brain fog, this is the premise of America, and always has been – boom and bust, survival of the richest or most deceptive. Why do we even go on critiquing anything in this country when it is burdened with original sin of genocide and repetitive crimes against humanity?
John — On the 4th question. I think it’s important to take note that antisemitism is on the rise. That it is on the rise even, if not mostly, on the left. And this suits Israel very well. But it is the product of historical revisionism and basic lack of education. There is no question though that one must face the reality of antisemitism. It’s very dangerous and it undermines the credibility of people whenever it surfaces. Israel promotes this of course. And it is, in a sense, their last bastion to control of the narrative. Israel controlled the narrative for four decades but now it is unraveling. Miko Peled is a great voice for the truth of Israeli history. But an anti-Semitic response to Israeli crimes is a sign of ignorance, basically. One has to understand the colonial nature of the Zionist project. It was never meant to be otherwise. And the idea of “Greater Israel” was laid out in the early 1950s. But once the Likud Party assumed power the settler culture began to eclipse Israeli domestic culture. And the military became a sort of settler militia. But Zionism was never a response to the Nazi exterminationist policies, but rather itself a colonial settler project based on racial/religious purity. That said….it’s useful to read Raul Hilberg’s Destruction of the European Jews. Whenever I hear the name Rothschild, I know I am going to have a debate riddled with anti-Semitic mythology. But there needs to be the reading of other voices to the mainstream, in history overall. Howard Zinn, but also Dominic Losurdo and Enzo Traverso. And these are all writers who even if not radicals politically, are educated in way that provides that imprimatur of authority. Of wisdom, somehow.
And understand, too, that the popularity of frauds like Zizek is no accident. With him, he is the perfect foil for Imperialism and the perfect anti-Marxist masquerading as a Marxist. He is not just Islamophobic, but anti-Semitic, too. Anyone still not seeing the obvious truth of this is willfully blind. Honestly. Now, the brutality of US militarism and Imperialism has grown — if that’s even possible. Look at the destruction of Yemen. What fucking reason does the U.S. have to help Saudi Arabia destroy the poorest Arab country in the world? But the US public doesn’t care in the least. Look at Libya. It is now a failed state with open air slave markets. All in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s targeting of Qadaffi. But Americans don’t care. The destruction of Syria, and the clear targeting of Assad, is simply out in the open. And yet many on the left remain profoundly reactionary about Syria. Joshua Frank has a shocking piece at Counterpunch this last week. How can anyone believe that gas attack, if that’s what it was, came from Assad’s forces? After the victories, after Allepo and all the clear sighted reporting of Eve Bartlett or Vanessa Beasley, or Tim Anderson. And the writing of Stephen Gowans for example. It’s a wonder to me and its very depressing. This goes back to seeing the resentments and defensiveness in much of neo-left. Or faux left. What Ed Herman years ago called “the cruise missile left.” If you do not side with the Syrian state and people then you are a charter Imperialist. And it is an exact repeat of the propaganda used against Milosevic during the destruction of Yugoslavia. Exactly the same. But I’ve read other articles just as bad on Syria. And then take Nick Kristoff at the NY Times. Applauding Trumps tomahawk party against Syria. I mean do these people WANT world war three? The answer is that they don’t think that way. They see America global hegemon. And that is as god meant it to be. And they see a logic, capitalist logic, in splitting Germany from Russia and Iran, and recouping the lead in international currency, and trade. They don’t imagine a nuclear holocaust. They should, but they don’t. The liberal class today has an investment in the status quo.
Paul — Unpack one of your quotes on art:
There is a sense that from the 1970s on, and particularly from the mid-‘80s on, the affluent upper classes, and certainly the very wealthy white ownership class, had begun a process of appropriation of art. Of all culture, in fact. The working-class sense of identity, fragile enough in the U.S., was eviscerated further. But none of this fell out of the sky. This was and is the logic of capital, the start of a financialized capitalism. The postmodern posture and theory was only accommodating itself and shaping its opinions to the forces of advanced capital. – Truthout, March 21. 2015
John — Now part of this is a kind of tone deafness in these apologists for Imperial plunder and savagery. A tone deafness that segues into your questions about art and those quotes of mine. A nation that thinks “The Affair”, HBO, is good writing, and not Crime and Punishment or Melville or Graham Greene, or even, I don’t know, Djuna Barnes or Patricia Highsmith or Raymond Chandler….if you cannot tell the difference. A profound fundamental difference then you are going to not have the necessary sensitivity to language and tone necessary for sensing the presence of western educated propagandists ….Syrian or from wherever, who are parroting the US State Department line. I mean literally, if you do cannot hear that *sound*, the sound of the counterfeit, then, yes, its likely you will be fooled. It is also I suspect just a certain innate propensity in many white people raised in this culture to be xenophobic and Orientalist.
The white bourgeoisie, the affluent 30%…today maybe 20%….controls mass culture. These are the gallery owners, the Hollywood executives, the museum curators and all the rest. The opinion makers. These people, NONE of them, and i mean NONE of them are working class and almost none have ever been workers. Of any sort. A few become professors maybe but that’s a very privileged end of the labor spectrum. And these people have absolutely exiled working class voices. Where are today’s Genets or Jim Thompsons or even Eddie Bunkers? And with the death of the University, where are the Herman Brochs or Thomas Bernhards? That level of literacy is gone. It’s over. Extinct. Go read Kenneth Burke or William Empson or Leavis. That level of discernment is all but extinct, too. I mean there are political writers out there…Edward Curtin, or CJ Hopkins and a number of others, my friend Hiroyuki Hamada, the artist, or my pal Phil Rockstroh. And a dozen others at Counterpunch and Black Agenda Report. Glen Ford and Margaret Kimberley and Ajamu Baraka. These are important voices. But all of us are getting a bit long in the tooth. Danny Haiphong is younger I think, but in general I start to feel this is a last generation of some sort. These are all people who hold the idea of culture as valuable. They can tell the difference. And that sensitivity, for lack of a better word, is what allows them to read the barbarism of U.S. society so clearly.
Paul — You mention how anyone 22 or younger have not seen anything in mass media or culture critical of U.S Imperialism. It’s never been easy to criticize the Imperialism of this nation – unless you go back to Mark Twain or the socialists of the 1930s.
Riff with– “I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” – quoted in A Pen Warmed Up in Hell Mark Twain
Back to Twain – I am not seeing anything of this caliber in 2017. Are you aware of any writers that have a no holds barred way of seeing this rotten country, and others tied to Imperialism and capitalism? Discuss:
On Dec. 30, 1900, the New York Herald published Mark Twain’s commentary — “A Greeting from the 19th Century to the 20th Century” — denouncing the blood-drenched colonial forays of England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. “I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonored from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her the soap and a towel, but hide the looking-glass.”
John — And finally that great quote of Twain. It’s remarkable how much of the socialist history of the United States has been erased. The system turns Twain into an avuncular old Uncle, and not the fierce angry socialist warrior that he was. Martin Luther King is made safe and palatable. You hear nothing of the Wobblies, just as you hear nothing about the Levellers in England.
What you do hear is this fatuous bullshit about the ‘Founding Fathers.’ Erasing their slave owning propensities, and general ruling class sympathies. You hear nothing of the Black Panthers except that they were criminals. Look at Viet Nam is being rewritten. Look at how Bush is being rehabilitated. It’s amazing. The turnaround is shorter and shorter. But see, to take this back to culture. I think it’s very very important to tweeze out this hostility to art that exists on both the right and left.
The left love the idea that somehow Abstract Expressionism was a CIA invention. It wasn’t. There was a minor propaganda mission to make these painters symbols of US prosperity and freedom. It has zero effect on their work. But most leftists hate Pollock and Rothko and love Diego Rivera. That’s pathetic, actually. Rivera is fine, but minor. And it’s like go to any left meeting of any sort and if they want to show films they show “Battle of Algiers” (or pick about ten others of officially accepted political opinion).
Well, okay, good film but why isn’t Fassbinder shown or Pasolini or even Bresson. Do these people want to be parodies of themselves? To fail to understand why Bresson is revolutionary is to fail profoundly in cultural terms. Adorno said the radical nature of art was not in its opinions but in its form. And that is critical to understand. But this need to have art provide moral instruction is deeply ingrained on the left. In liberal circles there has been a very regressive embrace of a new form of populism. Who was it said oh, the greatest artist of the 20th century was Fred Astaire. But I see this tendency growing. A fear of the difficult. And its complicated, and I don’t want to be reductive. I think one has to be a touch suspicious of anything that is too popular.
I love Tarkovsky for example, but he has become too accepted, too …well…popular. And when one returns to him now there is that faint whisper of a bourgeois sensibility at work. Kubrick, too, whom I love, really, but….but….I have some hesitation. I never had with Fassbinder, for example. Or Genet. And I don’t want to make lists, but this Fred Astaire syndrome is a part of a fabric of infantalizing the proles out there. American society is ever more infantile.
Paul — You have just become a father of twins. How has that changed you and redirected you in a world of pre-nuclear winter and climate change and unforgiving gaps in those who have and the majority who have not? What gives you hope? What gives you pause?
a. You critique liberals and liberalism a lot in your writing. Reframe all of those pithy comments and vivid depictions for your readers here.
b. You are being asked more and more to comment on Trump and US policies abroad. Why do you think that is, soliciting from a playwright and ex-pat?
c. What are some of the key changes you have embraced in your vision and way of framing the world now that you’ve lived in Norway for how many years?
John — Finally, you ask how living in Norway has changed me. Well, being a father again last month with identical twin boys…that changes one. But I guess it is that I can look back at how exiled I was from institutional theater, for example. Hollywood was more ready to hire me than big institutional theaters. I was simply not allowed. And I was naive to ever think I had a chance to get on those stages.
I was fortunate in the sense I was able to see and participate in the coda to off-off Broadway. To participate in the last of that kind of energy, that anarchic radical scream. Today that is all gone. I was there as it ended but at the time I didn’t see it. So I have a lot of contempt for the bourgeois artist in America, today. I admit that.
I hate the constant recycling of white people problems, neurotic affluent white people. And the sort of sentimental bathos that passes for drama. And that fact that the culture in general has retreated behind the representational banality of what you see in most big theaters. And Christ, the horror of MFA writing programs. It is just so deadly to the creative spirit.
The AIDS crises wiped out a generation of artists, not just in theatre, in mostly NYC. And one might ask where today’s Charles Ludlums are, where are the Jack Smiths and Richard Foremans of today? Europe had Pinter of course, and Muller and Kroetz. And Peter Brook still toils away. But there is precious little in the US and what is most sad is that a good many artists I once worked with and respected are now turning out increasingly trivial hobby plays or skits. The commitment is to career. And career is controlled by those rich white people in the towers of Capital.
Understand Trump is not an anomaly. He is the logical end game that began with plantations and slave owning rulers and aristocracy, that committed the genocide of 600 tribes and of Manifest Destiny.
Understand Trump is not an anomaly. He is the logical end game that began with plantations and slave owning rulers and aristocracy, that committed the genocide of 600 tribes and of Manifest Destiny.
I always ask students why is there a first class? I get blank looks. I ask, “Why should money allow you better service?” In fact, why can’t you wait on yourself? Carry your own bags? Servitude is not natural. God did not decree there shall be servants. There is a dullness in people today in the West. A kind of psychic burnout. A quality of the walking shells of humans, rather than actual humans. I wrote recently of Reich’s Listen Little Man. It’s a good book to reread today I think. But understand Trump is not an anomaly. He is the logical end game that began with plantations and slave owning rulers and aristocracy, that committed the genocide of 600 tribes and of Manifest Destiny. That saw Jim Crow and now sees the new Jim Crow. That manufactured a US gulag that is the largest and most sadistic in the world. A gulag of the poor and of mostly black and brown poor. American Exceptionalism …..it’s not just far right Republicans who believe this. It is liberals, too. I saw someone who had created a Kickstarter program to end hunger in Somalia and Sudan and Yemen. I mean, fucking seriously? White saviors. And yet, how about not voting for those that created that starvation??
There’s an idea. Or, more importantly, start to question authority and the prevailing wisdom of institutions, or media. Stop listening to that crap. Reject that shit. Because otherwise the end is nigh, I fear. Otherwise we are looking at a global conflagration and ecological catastrophe. And it is likely at least partly too late for the latter. And let me add, finally, that this tone deafness I spoke of, is related to the way *green* policies are being sold. The way the entire narrative of climate change is being marketed now. It’s very hard for non-scientists to know anything. And while I think it is clear there are critical ecological problems, crises, really, I am equally sure there is a new Capitalist narrative being layered over all this that serves as a justification for further class segregation and repressions, globally, on the poor.
One must learn to read that stuff with a more critical eye. Group think now exists regarding global warming and the like. One can substitute climate change denier for genocide denier. And yet, the narrative for Rwanda was completely backward. It was completely backward for the former Yugoslavia. For Milosevic. It is backward on Syria. On Libya and Venezuela. So you have to be very careful. This society is one of consensus. People want agreement. Want to feel their opinions are validated. Never mind the truth. Do not ever doubt that the ruling elite will look to depress dissent and resistance, and to manipulate people into being their own jailers. This is one of history’s most indelible lessons.
No, I think often of one of my favorite quotes from Milton. From Lycidas:
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoll’n with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said,
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more