Sunday, July 19, 2015

it’s coming apart

this article touches on points related to the Neocolonialism and Noise thing i wrote a few days ago, and which i continue to think about

Maybe the best thing to say is just that contemporary culture is complicated by a deep confusion about underdogs and bullies, that we can no longer identify insider or outsider easily, and that capital has undertaken a deliberate process of mystification about power. The linguistic and culture code I’m describing arose from an insurgent tendency, and indeed, those who use it do not occupy a seat of economic or political power. They have, instead, become part of a dominant cultural force that has been divided entirely from that base in material power. Capitalism has given us cool and kept power for itself, divorced the affect of resistance from actual resistance, and at this stage we have to merely remain alive to what is happening under our noses as we attempt to secure the inevitable next stage of human affairs.

on the main Kersplebedeb website:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Neocolonialism and Noise

The world has changed over the past fifty years. There are different names for this change — neoliberalism, postmodernism, postfordism, globalization. The term i prefer to use is “neocolonialism”. But despite this clear reference to one specific thing — colonialism, the relationship between oppressor and oppressed nations, which i would argue remains central — the change that has taken place encompasses much more than that, being not just about the fake integration of of colonized people as pretend “equal partners” in imperialism, but also about the fake integration of women as “equal partners” in patriarchy, and about all kinds of direct and indirect ways in which global capitalism was restructured to respond to the political challenge of the 20th century anticolonial movements.

Whatever you want to call it, one thing that is clear is that within the imperialist centers (countries like canada, the united states, etc.), there is a lot more mainstream cultural space allowed for rebellious noise, innovation, and “freedom” of a sort than there used to be in capitalism’s previous phase. Indeed, all kinds of cultural innovation, love it or hate it, is allowed to thrive as it can under these conditions, the sole condition being that it not frontally assault the system today. My guess is that partly this is because the constraints of old style colonialism were defeated, but also partly because this noise, innovation, and “freedom” has become a big moneymaker, not just a fringe niche. And partly, looking at the settler colonies and especially the united states as a trendsetter culturally as much as economically within the anglosphere, this can be seen as an immediate echo of the integration into “whiteness” of myriad non-WASP europeans in the early 20th century, followed by the integration/appropriation/commercialization on a world scale of various oppressed-nation cultures1 in the postwar period. Things opened up.

At the same time, under neocolonialism, there is less space for actual change which will make life better for the oppressed majority, by which i mean (speaking schematically) the world proletariat and peasantry, the overwhelming majority of whom are found in the oppressed nations, within which women play an increasingly prominent and critical part. Capitalism in the previous period, but especially after World War II, had a lot of wiggle room, and there were tangible victories that could be scored. (Was this “low lying fruit” in historical terms? i would say no, though maybe it appears that way looking back.)

Not only is there less room for improving the lives of the most oppressed under neocolonialism, but as there is less and less economic wiggle room in general, the memo has gone out to every nation and would-be-nation and class and collectivity out there: get ready to fight for what you have, or for what you want, or if for nothing else then at least for the crumbs. Because it is like a global game of musical chairs, who will be out next? Greece? Spain? China? Wait and see … but know if you’re just sitting on your thumbs waiting, you might end up resembling that deer in the headlights …

In other words, whether it is the NDP or the Parti Quebecois, or QS or Syriza, this thing they call “austerity” is on the agenda, even for the global middle class. Less wiggle room all around.

At the same time, while there is less room for economic change or even consistent social bribery under neocolonialism (offbalanced by plenty of room still for sporadic and ad hoc bribery and privilege), the present world order incorporates a higher level2 of instability than old-style colonialism — not really unrelated to the aforementioned game of musical chairs — and this makes various conflicts and challenges appear super risky, and confusing — think Syria, Libya, Ukraine … ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. — there is no unified left position on these things, and even where bunches of us do agree, we neither know how to intervene, nor do we (in the imperialist west) have the capacity to intervene in a meaningful way.

It is all very discouraging. Add examples like Nepal and Palestine and the Dominican Republic into the mix, and it gets downright depressing.

So what to do, when there is extra space made for words, including angry words, but less space for real change … plus remember, more dangerous and daunting possibilities whenever even one of the system’s satraps is challenged?3

Lined up like a math equation that way, the answer isn’t a mystery: energies get spent developing those angry words, and the relationship of those words to real change becomes less and less important. Indeed, we think away from change, whenever we can.

i think it is rare on the activist left for people to do this in a machiavellian or malevolent way. i don’t think people are saying to themselves “how can i opportunistically posture while not actually doing anything that would make me a target”. i think it generally happens on a more subtle, subconscious, diffused-through-the-global-middle-class-and-expressed-with-good-intentions kinda way. But that is what i see happening, in a process than affects me as much as anyone around me.

In this way the current economic-political setup which is neocolonialism structures even those movements that oppose it. And as this is done, they bring into being a particular emotional register, as all social structures do. The living consequence as people feel it, is movements in which there is a pressure to be judgmental and conformist, in which people feel unusual amounts of insecurity about saying or doing “the wrong thing” (often without anybody being able to articulate why it is wrong in a way that makes sense outside of the clique), in which we have lots of nice sounding words for people from oppressed nations or suffering gender oppression, but also in which we have few solutions which are both collective and real4 — in other words, despite our subjective intentions, we build movements with all the characteristics of neocolonialism itself. 


i wrote the above, in somewhat shorter form, in a facebook thread about the statement “men are the enemy”, which was defended on the grounds that it was some kind of syllogism to “white people are the enemy”. Statements which — as is usually the case in my experience — were being made by men and white people, amongst others. i was trying to explain why i objected to the statements, in that i do not feel such statements are “real”, i do not feel such statements are generally said with any kind of intention to act as if this were true, that such statements are more about staking out positions than anything else, and why i find that to be characteristic of radical movements in the imperialist centers during the neocolonial age.

But to be clear, i think the above applies to a whole range of practices and ideas which increase in their shiny impressive edgey radicalness5 just as they abandon any intersection with people’s lives or actual political choices. Following the rightward swing of the 1980s, pretty much anything coming out of academia seems to have to contend with this as an overwhelming temptation. In terms of identity politics … well, identity politics is often a prime example of this, but it should be kept in mind that it is not the root of it, and bashing identity politics can be just as much emblematic of the neocololonial grandstanding imperative. In fact, grandstanding is a big part of what this is all about.

Of course, all of this is a schematic look at how neocolonialism engenders this kind of attitude on a macro level. On a more intimate, more on-the-level-of-our-experiences, level, this stuff plays out according to its own identifiable mechanisms. But that is not specific to this, it is more how stuff operates in general. The macro level creates openings and opportunities which are then filled, generally autonomously, by things thought up or developed or chanced upon by actual people, and then generalized/popularized/institutionalized. For better or for worse. What i am trying to say here, is in this case it is for worse.

This is something i may return to in future posts. It is certainly something i have been thinking about. i don’t consider it to be a major strategic issue, or something that uncovers some big bad truth about capitalism or the world today. However, within sections of the radical left, i feel the most pressing issue facing us is to “get real”, and the noise described above is one of the first obstacles to us doing that.

  1. first and foremost amongst them being those of the internal colonies, esp. the Black/New Afrikan nation
  2. by this i don’t just mean “more”. i mean the instability occurs on a higher level, as in “higher” or “bigger” bodies of governance can break down, be contested, be overthrown but without overthrowing capitalism/imperialist or creating space for the oppressed to rebuild — think the so-called “failed states”, think zones of civil war
  3. is this really so? think the fall of the Paris Commune, think the Nazis, think the low-intensity wars against the national liberation movements … more daunting than that? but those weren’t the henchmen, the stand-ins, the compradors being challenged, that was — or appeared to be — the system’s sovereignty itself. Nowadays a mere changing of the neocolonial guard is often accompanied by genocide, whereas some “civil wars” and “failed states” are really themselves simply new permanent zones of what might be called primitive accumulation, not unstable from the perspective of capitalism just instable from the perspective of people living there.
  4. by “real”, i mean, which will actually work for people outside of our subcultures, in their daily lives, not just when they are in their early 20s and part of our clique, and not just when they have alternate forms of privilege to barter with or fall back on
  5. an oversimplification — what they increase in is a particular form of emotional energy. this often comes across as shrill, self-righteous, grandiose, but not only.

on the main Kersplebedeb website:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gerry Hannah on the Subhumans, Julie Belmas, and his solo album

It’s just that I’m really not that interested in playing punk rock anymore. I sometimes feel like punk rock, not necessarily the way the songs are supposed to go, but the way they end up going, live, for a lot of bands, in a lot of shows, they’re so fast that’s it’s really hard to dig the melody, because it just flies by, and you don’t have a chance to even grab onto it. The other thing is, the formula for writing lyrics in punk rock—and I’m a slave to the punk rock formula—is really in your face. There’s no ambiguity whatsoever. This is what we’re telling you, and it’s black and white, you know what I mean? And that’s not really where I’m at in terms of lyric-writing anymore. I want to move beyond that. I’m not saying I do move beyond that, but ideally I would like to. And I think the songs on Coming Home, there’s a little bit more room for the listener to move around in the lyrics without being hit over the head with a sledgehammer and told how to think.

on the main Kersplebedeb website:

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Rally and Hearing for Deepan in Montreal!


(/français ci-dessous/)

Rally and Hearing for Deepan in Montreal!

Monday, 13 July, 8am
Immigration and Refugee Board,
Guy Favreau Complex (200 René Lévesque Blvd.), Montreal

Deepan Budlakoti, our comrade and friend, will soon be in Montreal to challenge his conditions of release at the Immigration and Refugee Board. Deepan is under a deportation order to India, his parents’ country of birth. He spent months in immigration detention and was released under conditions that limit his freedoms. Because India does not recognize him as a citizen and is refusing his deportation, Deepan is under these conditions indefinitely, with no end in sight.

Deepan was born in Ottawa and his Canadian citizenship was never in question until a racist prison guard reported him to Immigration Canada. This initiated a process in which Canada arbitrarily decided that he was not a citizen on the pretext that his parents came to Canada to work as household help in the Indian Embassy and then proceeded to strip him of permanent residence because of his criminal record. More information on his struggle to have his citizenship recognized: www.

Join us on July 13th for a rally and then stay afterwards; we’ll try to fill the room with supporters if they allow us to attend the hearing.

NO to double punishment!
NO deportations!
NO detentions!

JUSTICE for Deepan!




Rassemblement et audience pour Deepan à Montréal !

Lundi, 13 juillet, à 8h
Commission de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié du Canada
Complexe Guy Favreau (200 boul. René-Lévesque), Montréal

Deepan Budlakoti, notre camarade et ami, sera bientôt à Montréal pour contester ses conditions de libération devant la Commission de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié du Canada. Deepan a reçu un ordre de déportation vers l’Inde, le pays de naissance de ses parents. Il a passé des mois en détention de l’immigration et a été libéré sous des conditions qui limitent ses libertés. Parce que l’Inde ne le reconnaît pas comme un citoyen et qu’il refuse sa déportation, Deepan est sous ces conditions indéfiniment, sans en voir la fin.

Deepan est né à Ottawa et sa citoyenneté canadienne n’avait jamais été remise en question jusqu’à ce qu’un gardien de prison raciste le dénonce à l’immigration. Cela a initié un processus durant lequel le Canada a décidé d’une manière arbitraire//qu’il n’était pas un citoyen canadien sous le pretexte que ses parents étaient venus ici pour travailler comme aides domestiques à l’ambassade indienne, puis il lui ont retiré sa résidence permanente à cause de son dossier criminel. Pour plus d’informations sur sa lutte pour faire reconnaître sa citoyenneté : www.

Joignez-vous à nous le 13 juillet pour un rassemblement et restez avec nous ensuite; nous essayerons de remplir la salle avec des alliéEs s’ils nous laissent assister à l’audience.

NON à la double peine !
NON aux déportations !
NON aux détentions !

JUSTICE pour Deepan !

on the main Kersplebedeb website:

Losing My Religion (by André Moncourt)

Recently one of those issues that arises constantly to tangle up leftists and liberals reared its head in my little world.  Some folks (all of European decent) in a band I know were in the studio and someone proposed using an aburukuwa, a Ghanian drum, I am told, to get just the right sound.  One of the young men in the band objected that that was “cultural appropriation.”

Although people who use this term rarely take time to define it, I presume that the issue with cultural appropriation is the apparent commodification of an oppressed culture’s artefacts to the advantage of an oppressor culture, or in layman’s terms:  ripping off other people’s shit – and maybe killing them in the process – for fun and profit. I personally consider the question of cultural appropriation to raise issues that are much messier and more complex than the young feller’s simple (perhaps simplistic) statement suggests.  I sort of think of it as the next-door neighbour of political correctness:  not quite as pointlessly guilt-ridden and paralyzing, but not as straight forward as its proponents suggest.

We’re talking about rock music here, so let’s just pause for a moment to think.  Let’s start with Elvis, who definitely didn’t create rock ‘n’ roll, but who, nonetheless, is the single figure most likely to leap to mind when one thinks about the genre – which has to do with media propensity for oversimplification, but I digress.  Chuck Berry is fond of being pissed off about not getting his dues (in the form of cash) as the fountainhead of rock ‘n’ roll.  Bo Diddley probably has an argument on his side as well, and he’s also got that real cool box-shaped guitar.  Me, personally I think the first rock ‘n’ roll song was Hot Tamales (They’re Red Hot) by Robert Johnson – and if we’re going to talk about appropriation and not getting your dues, I mean really, the man pretty much invented a genre that everyone and his/her dog has appropriated.

Anyway, back to Elvis.  Everyone knows Elvis stole black music.  Then, I think, well, what about the Sun Sessions? I mean, yeah, you can hear the impact of R&B, but you can also hear the impact of hillbilly music – some people might actually think that the idea of synthesizing those two styles and then spicing it with some this and that was actually pretty ingenious – apparently both Sammy Davis Jr. and James Brown thought the man rocked (as it were).1  Fucking sellouts – who’s black and proud now?

Of course, I also find myself wondering:  Would it have been a better world if Elvis had just stayed with the hillbilly music, rather than playing a role in creating a form of music that was one of the sparks for the youth revolt that became the mass uprising of the sixties?2  Let’s see what John Trudell, former national chairman of the American Indian Movement, has to say about it in a song entitled Baby Boom Ché, (he sings in a form distinctly integrating aspects of white rock music and white beat poetry with traditional Native drumming):

The first wave rebelled,
I mean, we danced even if we didn’t know how,
I mean Elvis made us move.
Instead of standing mute he raised our voice
And when we heard ourselves something was changing,
You know, like for the first time we made a collective decision
About choices.3

Fucking sellout!

Anyway, we all know how that ends:  Vegas gets Elvis, and a bunch of guys (mostly white) grow their hair long and learn how to make guitars feedback (I will ultimately lose a good deal of hearing listening to them do their various party tricks).  Rock is born in little shitholes in London and New York City and Hamburg and San Francisco … well, basically anywhere where there was a high concentration of European and Euro-American youth.  Now, we all know that these guys stole the blues – I mean the Rolling Stones (definitely the robber barons of the genre, as it were) named themselves after a Muddy Waters song.  My friend Phil says he advised them to adopt the name, but that’s another story – and undoubtedly a lie.

This round of appropriation all gets a bit confusing.  For example, Hendrix was routinely criticized for playing “white man’s music.”  So, was Hendrix appropriating white man’s music that had been appropriated from black folks – mostly men, actually – or was he re-appropriating black man’s music?  Fucking sellout … maybe … I can’t tell … I’m getting confused here …  What is the issue exactly?  Should everyone just make sure to never play anything that wasn’t played by dead people of their own pigmentation?  That would be boring – not to mention the fact (which I’m clearly about to mention), that culture has always grown by cross-pollination. I mean, arguably the major restaurant option in London is Indian food – which is often actually Pakistani food, but let’s keep things simple for the honkies.  Often, said Indian restaurants will curry up some local foodstuff that one wouldn’t find in India – are we appropriating them, or are they appropriating us? (Editorial comment:  This raises an interesting question – Why is there a hierarchy in emphasis around these issues which parallels the hierarchy of senses as it were – visual art gets the most heavy critiques for appropriation, music and poetry next in line, food never gets criticized for it. Like who would ever want to give up all the spices and comfort flavours they like, based on some political checklist?)  Right you are – that is an interesting question.

Enough of Indian food – I find it too heavy for summer, in any case – and back to rock music.  Fatigued of the 317-minute guitar solo played at the speed of light with $82,000 worth of technological distortion and manipulation – here come the punks (a goodly number of them being bored middle class kids who appropriated “white trash” sensibilities as a political statement of sorts).  Now, you couldn’t get a whiter music – well, not for the first year or so, in any event – then the Clash and the Slits and the Ruts… appropriated reggae music with the help of Adrian Sherwood.  Lo and behold, a genuine Jamaican Rastafarian named Mikey Dread soon gets involved – Did we appropriate him?  When Prince Far I, Mikey Dread and Bim Sherman – all Jamaicans – work with Adrian Sherwood, a white man, are they being appropriated?  I keep trying to find that fucking line.

Let’s move onto hip hop, the music that improbably took over the world – what a clusterfuck.  From that point on it’s an appropriation free for all.  Hip hop starts sampling white pop and rock hooks, white kids start rapping, rap metal is born, then trip hop … I mean, country stars like Brad Paisley are doing duets with people like LL Cool J – who’s appropriating who?  They don’t seem to care, so I guess I won’t either.

Am I saying that appropriation from other cultures and peoples is a non-issue?  Not at all.  I live in Montréal, ergo I live on unceded (i.e., appropriated – and pretty fucking violently so) Mohawk land.  That in effect means that every moment of every day of my life is part of an ongoing act of criminal and genocidal appropriation.  That seems to me to be the kind of appropriation that should get people’s panties in a bunch.  It is a source of a lot more human pain and suffering than beating on any drum could ever be – you can’t just shy away like you saw the ghost of George Custer eating Tašú?ke Witkó’s4 brain, you have to do something.

Back to cultural appropriation:  slowly I’m getting to my point – trust me (or don’t, I don’t really care).  Like the land we appropriated, what it is we ultimately appropriate is far more important than some drum most Europeans and Euro-Americans (oh, and those white folks down under) have never even heard of being played by a band they don’t know.  What we routinely and as a matter of course appropriate is the surplus labour of the people of the Third World or the Global South or the Three Continents (whatever ideological formulation works for you – in the end they’re all names for the same areas and the same process). Let me explain what I mean here.  Look down at your feet.  Those Nikes or Adidas or knockoffs you’re wearing were assembled in a Third World sweatshop by people making a few dollars a sixteen-hour day, maybe in one of those factories with the nets around it to keep people from committing suicide to escape their jobs.  In short, we in the First World spend all day walking around on the appropriated sweat and blood or super-exploited people.  Now that there’s some “killer” appropriation.

Now go to the mirror – that really rad t-shirt might have been produced in one of those factories where the doors are locked to prevent the slowly suffocating workers from escaping the 45° C heat.  It might even be one of the ones where the workers were immolated because they couldn’t get out when the substandard factory burst into flames.  Come to think of it, my air conditioner probably comes from a factory like that too.

You can see where I’m going here, right?  Your food – the appropriated labour of disenfranchised peasants forced to slave away in dangerously polluted conditions on agribusiness plantations so we can buy avocados and raspberries and kiwis… all year round (and bitch about how fruit and vegetables don’t taste like anything anymore – go figure!).  The dishes you’re eating that food off of – why do you think Dollarama’s so cheap?  (First clue:  the top 1% of the population is getting richer – and the top 0.1% even more so – and the rest of us are getting poorer.)  Then, there’s all those technological gewgaws that have replaced human relationships in your life – assembled by people who could probably not afford them in conditions that will cut many of their lives short.  When they break, which they usually do pretty quickly, or when they become “pseudo-obsolete” (who wants an iPhone 5 when the iPhone 6 is on the market?), they will be turned into toxic garbage mountains where the children of workers just like the ones who assembled this crap play. What’s our major reaction to all of this?  We’re pissed when we have trouble communicating with that egregiously underpaid woman in Lahore who answers our tech support call when one of the aforementioned gewgaws isn’t cooperating.  I mean, really, how thoughtless of her to have an accent we have difficulty with when she speaks a language the British imposed upon her and her country, a country where she has to take a crappy phone job or starve.

All of this has me thinking that what these folks might well like would be for us to stop appropriating their lifeforce and converting it into our vacuous lifestyle, and I rather doubt they give a fuck if we’re playing an aburukuwa when we do that.  In one sentence:  Not playing the aburukuwa is not enough – it’s not even really a start.

  2. All of that, of course, raises and interesting question.  I’ve been in the Appalachian area, I’ve been in Harlem, I’ve been in Newfoundland, and the fact of the matter is that Harlem shares far more cultural points of reference, music included, with the poor Irish Catholic neighbourhood I grew up in than either Appalachia or Newfoundland.  So, does that mean that if I play music from Harlem, it’s cultural appropriation, but if I play bluegrass or traditional Newfoundland music, it’s not cultural appropriation because we’re all white?  (Anyone who doesn’t think that there is any exploitation and oppression of whites that could possibly parallel that suffered by non-whites in North America really ought to go to Appalachia.)
  4. We stripped this man of his name and decided we’d call him Crazy Horse, effectively claiming the right to rename this man with a name that’s easier for us to pronounce – sort of like calling Beethoven “beet patch.”

on the main Kersplebedeb website: