The World Turned Upside Down Feed

Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov

If you are foolish enough to read Gifthub, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this book: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, by a Russian emigre, Dmitry Orlov.  It belongs to a genre of satire that might be called Utopia/Dystopia.  Orlov draws lessons from the collapse of one impressive empire for the coming collapse of another. His orientation is towards survival, good humor, and making do without gasoline, heat, electricity, running water, televsion, for that matter, illusions. A sample of his extraordinary prose is below. Every paragraph is as well made as this one:

People in the United States and the Soviet Union have had broadly similar attitudes towards politics. In the United States this is often referred to as "voter apathy," but it might be more accurately described as non-voter indifference. The Soviet Union had a single , entrenched, and systematically corrupt political party, which held a monopoly on power. The US has two entrenched, systematically corrupt political parties, whose positions are often indistinguishable and which together hold a monopoly on power. In either case, there is or was, a single governing elite, but in the United States it has organized itself into opposing teams to make its stranglehold on power seem more sportsmanlike.

After the coming collapse, gift culture, or favor trading, will thrive as will blackmarkets, war lords, private security operations, and moonshine stills. Suburban lawns will sprout tomatoes. Nomads will roam a landscape much like our inner cities today, with buildings stripped of their wiring and copper plumbing.  The best career options will be repo man,  auctioneer, or undertaker. A sense of black humor is the best defense against despair, when the Prozac runs out. Via.

The Role of Philanthropy in a Security State

Headinsand The comment on an earlier post by my old nemisis, Captain Blowtorch, raises certain life and death issues for philanthropists. May I expound upon them? (Hop in and be so kind as to pull the lid closed on the dumpster. Not all messages are for all ears. This is strictly need to know. You never know these days who is listening or for what purpose or how what you say may be used against you in a court of law, or in some dark alley for that matter.)

The world we have is all screwed up. The world we want is very different. But the world we have is owned and operated by people with money and power who will defend their own interests by fair means and foul, up to and including rewriting our Constitution, torturing people, and having them assassinated. We all know this, right? And that is why we are silent about it? We know it, but we know not to talk about it? We know it is now to late to resist? There is no alternative?

Anyway, let's say that we are in fact still committed to the world we want, a world characterized by the rule of law, openness, transparency, freedom, economic opportunity, and justice for all. How, then do we work towards that world when it is anathema to those who profit from being above or outside the rule of law, and who benefit from operating by force and guile in secret and with impunity, while hurling down edicts, propaganda, laws and and swat teams on those who want nothing more than to have America's promise restored through loving and peaceful means?

What action items come to mind for the good people in this country to take our country back against the forces of darkness, including but not limited to Captain Blowtorch, and his compatriots in Wealth Bondage, a front some say, for the CIA? How about these steps?

  • "Many pieces loosely joined," or a network for a loving and peaceful version of  "net war."
  • Not secrecy, but brazen openness - loving kindness expressed openly in thought, word, and deed.
  • Awards and prizes and honors for whistle-blowers, truth tellers and dissidents
  • Think tanks with real thinkers in them
  • Political organizing outside the party system by all citizens to retore our Constitution
  • Media specializing in investigative journalism
  • A database of dissidents and whistle-blowers to track their mortality and morbidity against societal averages. The longitudinal data to serve as a starting point for further investigations if the population of dissidents and truth tellers proves more than normally susceptible to accident, disease or suicide.
  • Scholarship programs for budding young satirists
  • Investment programs that bypass Wall Street and put money to work on Main Street
  • Advisors who work with high capacity clients to determine how much capital the client can put to work for social good in imaginative ways, hedged against potential counter-measures.
  • Broad-based communications networks to activate citizens who are slowly waking up the the new realities of life in a security state.
  • Civic dialogues, formal and informal, online and off, to make us more at ease in discussing such things as dirty tricks, wet work, death squads, suicide teams, torture, lies in high places,  and how to turn that around to love, justice, and peace.
  • Artists, dramatists, novelists, singers, to help us form a shared consciousness, living in truth.
  • Philosophers, historians, critics, sociologists, and critical theorists to teach us how the weapons of the weak have been used in ages past to keep hope alive under oppression.

Now, look, let me make myself clear. I am not declaring war on Wealth Bondage, not even a covert or cold war. That would be suicide. I am as dependent upon the forces of Wealth Bondage as anyone else. I am deeply implicated in the status quo. Every dollar I have invested, every dollar I make, circulates around inside one or another institution of Wealth Bondage, or goes in taxes to Wealth Bondage projects, or piddles about in various Wealth Bondage philanthropies.  If Wealth Bondage goes down, so does my pension, my mutual funds, everything I have, as little as that might be. My clients are mostly Wealth Bondage bigshots. My generous patron is the CEO of Wealth Bondage; she who rules us all. I do not in any way want to jeopardize what little I have, and the little credibility I have earned by being a Faithful Servant and Trusted Advisor to Wealth Bondage Private Banking Clients. I have always been loyal to Wealth Bondage.  I buy into the concept. I have drunk the Koolaid. I am on board.  I pledge allegiance to Wealth Bondage.  I have no desire to become a lightning rod for whatever Wealth Bondage does to retain its control if challenged. Those people are morally insane. They will stop at nothing here or abroad. They creep me out. So, don't get me wrong. I am a happy camper. I am really just thinking that promoting civic philanthropy might be a good double bottom line social investment opportunity, catering to the needs of those wealth holders in Wealth Bondage who prefer democracy, or a more credible simulation of it.  The pro-democracy movement is a niche, a small one, but maybe profitable? High risk for high return? A piece at least of a prudent philanthropic social venture portfolio, if only as a hedge against the possibility that democracy and the rule of law might one day be restored, and the malefactors brought to justice? Surely, in Wealth Bondage there is room for a brand of philanthropy catering to a taste for even a niche product like democracy? It wouldn't change anything, it would keep trouble-makers occupied, and it would be good for business?

I am going to pitch Candidia, and see what she says. With any luck she will be my first investor.

(Tag, Catherine, you are it.)

The Happy Tutor at Council on Foundations

I was attending Council on Foundations, as as honored guest, when to my horror, I saw that the Happy Tutor was on the agenda for the Evening Plenary Session: "Making the Most of Wealth Bondage:  Mastering Social Change Before It Masters You." I see him walk, or really, swagger, in the front door of the Biltmore. I had been afraid he would come naked, his normal business attire, but no, he has on that god-awful white bell bottom leisure suit, with the rayon shirt open to his waist, and those gold chains, or gold-plated chains, over his hairy chest. He has shades on that looked like they had belonged to Sony Bono.  He flashes me a sign with both hands raised high, index fingers and pinky extended - Hook 'em Horns

I follow him into the packed ballroom, acting like we are strangers.  Down the aisle he goes, doing that Chuck Berry air guitar act of his, with the splits, every third chord. By the time, he gets to to the podium, he is wiping his brow with a scarf, like Elvis, "Thank you, that you very much...."  When he starts his lecture, or really it was more like karaoke, the red-jackets were serving the baked Alaska. Within 10 minutes, he had them all on the dance floor. The dowager in the low cut dress was waving her waffled arms, and doing the hokey-pokey. The waiters were doing the monkey with trustees in pin stripes.  Admiral Harlan Proctor, head of the finance committee,  was doing the samba with his daughter, Missy.  Senator Dick Minim (D. MA) was slow dancing with Smoky Joe, Senior Public Relations Counsel for Wealth Bondage. Joe McPatriot, drunk as a skunk, was running around saluting all the flag lapel pins, and there were hundreds. Even Sister Lucy was smiling. She may have taken a vow of silence, but it didn't stop her from tapping her foot. The little kids in their Sunday Best were tearing around the tables throwing water as their parents chased them.  I didn't have the heart to stick around and see what kind of party this all degenerated into. I went back to my room and watched one of those cable movies.

Next morning checking out, there was Tutor, buck naked, dragging a garbage bag he had borrowed from the maid to use as luggage. I asked him how it had turned out. "Phil, he said, it was going good until someone lit the table cloth on the dais on fire. That set off the sprinklers, the police showed up, Missy was arrested for public indecency,  and the Convener got tazed and dragged off in cuffs. They pulled her by her hair all the way down that hall. I think they are trying to bail the two of them out now."  I asked if he had accomplished his objectives. "Yes, he said, "we turned the world upside down pretty good. Do you know that our esteemed Founder, Diogenes, asked to be buried faced down so that that when the world was turned upside down, he would be right side up? Well, the world keeps turning over. This morning the guests were eating their omelets and reading the Wall Street Journal, same as ever. The wait staff was as invisible as ever, and I am out of here.   We don't any of us really want social change, not until the check clears anyway."

The Cynics, the real ones, were actually a serio-comic school of moral philosophers. Serio ludere, "play seriously" was their motto, or so I am told, by Dr. Amrit Chadwallah, Senior Adjunct in Charge of Hidden Meaning, but I wish that foolish tradition had died out for good. The last thing we need is a real Morals Tutor in a field like this. For those of you saw me with the Happy Tutor, forgive me. I do not know the man. Philanthropy is a serious businesses.  I cannot stress enough the importance of being earnest

A Thanksgiving Day Wish for Lord Conrad Black

May you enjoy this day with family; may you be spared further trials and tribulations; may you bear whatever the future brings with dignity and grace;  may your advisors touch your heart; and may you turn the world upside down and inside out, using your great wealth and connections to show us how the fabric is stitched, whether in politics, the media or at Hudson, so that we, who are not Lords, nor subjects to a Queen or King, might have our democracy back again. Now, let's eat.

The Feast of Fools: Jesus Circumcised

Fools The Catholic Encyclopedia on The Feast of Fools:

The central idea seems always to have been that of the old Saturnalia, i.e. a brief social revolution, in which power, dignity or impunity is conferred for a few hours upon those ordinarily in a subordinate position. Whether it took the form of the  boy bishop or the subdeacon conducting the cathedral office, the parody must always have trembled on the brink of burlesque, if not of the profane. We can trace the same idea at St. Gall in the tenth century, where a student, on the thirteenth of December each year, enacted the part of the abbot. It will be sufficient here to notice that the continuance of the celebration of the Feast of Fools was finally forbidden under the very severest penalties by the Council of Basle in 1435, and that this condemnation was supported by a strongly-worded document issued by the theological faculty of the University of Paris in 1444, as well as by numerous decrees of various provincial councils. In this way it seems that the abuse had practically disappeared before the time of the Council of Trent.

The Feast of Fools took place, it seems, on the date of Jesus's circumcision, providing, I am sure, much material for pantomime, tomfoolery, and obscene mirth. Apparently, the Lord of Misrule entered the Church  to invert the social order, letting the worst possible taste reign. Erotic frenzy and overt violence, replaced for one day the disguised violence and covert pleasures of solemn hierarchy. What have we gained and what have we lost,  in making our religion so humorless, so life denying and so responsive, or even subordinate, to the worldly powers that be? 

Satire, I think,  the most moral and obscene of the literary arts, is rooted in the saturnalian or Dionysian spirit, one that makes its own moral points about humanity, equality, justice, dirt, and fecundity.   "Come let us drink!" as Rabelais said, raising high the chalice in blasphemous parody of all that is holy.  "Come, let us celebrate the Circumcision of our Lord," says he making slicing off a wafer from the long loaf of  sacred bread. "Come let us eat!," says, he as the whore kneels before him dressed as Nun. Jonathan Swift is perhaps in the same company. On Saturday he throws excrement in a madhouse among the politicians chained to the walls. On Sunday he preaches a plain sensible sermon. How better to help us appreciate that we are all, the mighty and the commoner,  just so much clay or dust? When you hold yourself out as a morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, the highest art would be as a Lord of Misrule. If only I  could rise to that, rather than paltering about as a pennyante moralist in the dour spirit of Bill Bennett.

Where does philanthropy fit? Surely, some generous soul will fund a Feast of Fools? We could stage it at Hudson Institute with Lord Black as the Lord of Misrule, with a Lapsed Priest, a Trusted Advisor, an Attorney, a Trained Monkey, a Fundraiser, a Philanthropic Consultant, and a troupe of Think Tank Thinkers, dancing about on Lord Black's leash while Old Nick (or a retainer costumed as him) plays the bagpipes. We might as well learn to laugh, else who knows where it would end, short of jail or a Dungeon for one and all. I am no better. When the rich man calls me Whore,  I answer, "How may I serve you, Sir?"   As long as your money is good, your morals are fine with me.

We are just playing here, appearances to the contrary. Serio ludere. Mingling delight with instruction, secreting  medicine in candy, as Horace said we poets must if are are to inculcate morals in the higher ups, as the nursemaid does with a child. "So kiss my boots," as my Mistress Candidia said to the Pope, banqueting  in his private quarters, on peacocks' tongue. "Kiss my ring," laughed he, raising his jocund glass, as the mitre tipped from his head into the suet pudding.  We all know that money rules and religion follows with philanthropy and politics on all fours. "Let us drink to the Market!" And we all raise our glass, the golden chains dangling from our wrists.  Who will stand against it? (Jesus, you died in vain.)

The Role of the Holy Fool

A Ministry of Fools who sleep on the street with the homeless.  Kevin, what has that got to do with triple bottom line social ventures, or Life Coaching, or Inspired Philanthropy, or The World We Want, or Success to Significance, or Values-Based Planning? Everything. Unless you realize how dead are our cliches, how moribund our "paradigm," how sick  our concept of normal,  how debased our concept of success and how asinine our concept of significance, how can you ever become a true Fool? We are engaged in the cure of souls. Clerics in the Houses of Worship seldom even attempt it anymore. The consider it presumptuous. Parishioners like clients and World Leaders are content to be corrupt.  They are feeling no pain on that score. Their need is not  felt.  If the Priest or Rabbi does have the temerity to seize a Parishioner, much less a President, and attempt to drive out demons,  those of  Self-Deception, Hubris, and Vanity, those of Brands and Propaganda,  he might be arrested for assault or treated as an Enemy of the State.  If we are to cure the souls of our clients, or victims, much less our leaders, we must first cure ourselves of vanity, and of fear. The first sign of wisdom is Motley.  Anyone who thinks that The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people and the like are enough is a Fool, and bad one, lacking humor. Ignorance, dogma, and complacency, bourgeois striving for measurable results denominated in inches, ounces, or dollars are virtues up to a point because they connect you to the mass market and the mass mind in a society devoted to base enjoyments.  But to cure yourself and others you must go a lonelier way. From which study and self creation you must appear mad. Only then, under the aspect of a Madman, might you offer moral counsel to a  King, a CEO, or a President, and even then at your own risk. 

Post-Mortem America and the Hard Way Ahead

 Criminal means once tolerated are soon preferred, Edmund Burke, from Reflections on the Revolution in France

Chris Floyd on how democracy died in America while we were discussing giving, or the Super Bowl, or whatever it was that preoccupied us as consumers and citizens over these years since 9/11. The hard way ahead will have few philanthropists, I am afraid, but many givers. Those who create a new currency of conversation and show us how to live in truth without paying a high price for it will be the most valuable.  I have no idea what I am talking about and would suggest that you have no idea either.  By way of bibliography you might find these helpful.

To this list I might append the life and works of Paul deMan.  My fellow citizens, we are all collaborators now. In the spirit of the liberal arts, the arts of liberty, let us collaborate for the world we want.   

Moral Decline in a Late Capitalist Economy

For a few months now, I have been reading and enjoying a highly intelligent libertarian blog, Arcadia. A recent post sounds just like me, railing against moral decline, although the political polarities are reversed:

Paul Weyrich, Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson recently announced that the culture wars are lost, that most people don’t defend, or even necessarily believe in, the values that characterized the Moral Majority and the Reagan revolution. They say social conservatives have failed politically since virtually none of their agenda items have seen the light of day in seven years.

I think we all have lost the culture wars, not right to left or left to right, but we all as decent human beings have all lost to the Machiavels, the think tank thinkers, the marketers, the pundits, the propagandists, the media for whom news is a product shaped by advertisers, the crowd for whom "getting results" for your own side, or company, is a justification for treating other human beings as means to your own ends. We have to stop playing Punch and Judy in a sideshow where others pull our strings.  Spare your fellow citizens, and join me in tarring and feathering all those who invest for political return, or use the arts of rhetoric to divide us and deceive us. Since we cannot change the world, let us at least ape it. Dress as a paid liar and pretend you are telling the truth. I will be Rove and you can be Clinton, whichever Clinton you prefer. We can do it as light opera.

The liar we must perfect is in every one of us. Each of us is capable of art, or at least Carnival.  Come, my fellow Arcadians! Let us join the Masquerade! The world is always upside down. It looks better when we are drunk and standing on our heads.