Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Two

(Read Part One first.)

Can I Still Get Filthy Rich?

It seems to me that the crux of the debate around Universal Basic Income is the following question: Can I still get filthy rich after UBI is implemented? The short answer—I hope—is hell no. And this is in direct opposition to >the Silicon Valley libertarian conception of Basic Income.

I’m continually struck by the degree to which mainstream discussions of UBI avoid the discussion of redistributive tax policy, nevermind wealth ceilings. Consider an essay written by one of UBI’s most prolific advocates, Scott Santens, in which he lays out the case for why a universal basic income would not cause inflation. His tortuous avoidance of the word “tax” is nearly comical: Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Two”

Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part One

Something strange has occurred lately, where the embrace of the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been adopted by libertarians, and particularly by Silicon Valley luminaries, and in response the backlash to the idea has grown more furtive on the left. This is not to say that there hasn’t always been some leftists cynical of the idea of UBI. It’s been a perennial punching bag at Chapo Trap House, for example. But it strikes me that now more than ever the question has to be “what kind of UBI do we want?” rather than simply if its a good or a bad idea.

So here I thought I might put down some words in defense of a particular kind of vision of UBI, or at least in defense of the intellectual project of imagining UBI. But before I get into my particular my points, I want to lay out a single axiom for the discussion. Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part One”

Gramsci Again

Following the Georgia special election in which Karen Handel, a Republican, defeated Jon Ossoff, a Democrat (as expected in the heavily Republican district), the hand-wringing over the direction and strategy of the Democratic Party has begun anew. I’m particularly struck how the discussion has become suddenly narrower this time. Whereas before the debate might have centered around whether or not the party should focus on long term strategy versus short term tactics, now it is solely revolving around the question of how to best win elections. And I think this is worth teasing out a bit.

To be certain, not every circle after the election was arguing for a reorientation of the Democratic Party (or its progressive wing). But there was some talk of what Gramsci called a “passive revolution,” a battle for cultural hegemony that would play out in the world of ideas and discourse. The analog to a hypothetical left war of ideas is of course that which the libertarian right began soon after World War II. Out of organizations like the Mont Pelerin Society and the Heritage Foundation, neoliberals believed that in order to win elections, they couldn’t so much as find or target the voters that they needed. They had to create them. Their decades long war bore fruit slowly. (And yes, they called themselves neoliberal.) Continue reading “Gramsci Again”

A Quick Thought on Wonder Woman

The worst part about superhero movies is always the villains. (There is one exception, the greatest and most underrated superhero movie of all time, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Seriously.)

My problem with superhero villains tends to be their generic and over-exaggerated evilness. The problem is that there’s nothing inherently interesting or even real about pure evil. It needs to augmented by motives, brought down to earth by context, or at the very least, given new life by a particularly good or idiosyncratic performance. The problem of villains exceeds superhero movies narrowly defined; we find the same issues in recent James Bond films, or in crime dramas like Sherlock or Hannibal. (I will confess to have watched very little of the latter.) Continue reading “A Quick Thought on Wonder Woman”

What Is Revolutionary Narrative Art?

Last week I published an essay about Moonlight that is a bit tricky, or so people tell me. It’s an exploration of the movie through the lens of posthumanism, which I argue might be released from its bounds as an ethics of non-human animal relations, or as an exploration of cyborg hybridity, by returning to its roots in antihumanist theory. Check it out, but definitely watch Moonlight first; it hit Amazon Prime last month, and it might be the only movie in Academy Award history that both won the Best Picture prize and deserved to do so. It’s a rich film and I hope we’ll all be writing about it for a while.

I’ve written pieces of contemporary filmic criticism before but never anything quite so theory-driven. In hindsight, there are a couple reasons why I must have felt compelled to do so. First, I had been working on an analysis of films of the 1950s through the category of liberal humanism, which was brought to my attention by Mark Greif’s excellent book, The Age of the Crisis of Man. And I’ll have more writings on 1950s liberal humanism in popular culture soon enough. Last week’s essay was actually cut for length, and at one point it had a lengthy section on the racial liberalism of cinema in the late forties and fifties. I suggest that we might think of this approach as “racial liberal humanism,” for these old films tended to pose racism as a psychic problem, one to be defeated by strong individual wills, rather than social or state institutions, and they neglected the role of social experience in shaping identities and material realities. I even cut out a whole bit about Hidden Figures, which though I greatly enjoyed and admired the film, was clearly rooted in a model that I argue owes much to a liberal humanist episteme. Continue reading “What Is Revolutionary Narrative Art?”

Against Centrism

Well it’s not like I’ve ever been accused of being a centrist. But this isn’t an argument against centrism per se, but rather an argument against the idea of a center. It’s something I tend to think about whenever I receive reader comments. I’ve found several times that my anonymous peer-review readers, through no fault of their own, approach my work within a certain paradigm that sees liberalism as a center.

This presents a couple of interrelated concerns. First, that liberalism is understood only as the in-between of the left and right. (This itself can manifest in one of two ways: that which sees liberalism as a common-sense leftism, or one that sees liberalism as the dead-center bisection between left and right.) The problem here is that political culture is necessarily then understood on a flat, two-dimensional spectrum with immutable sets of beliefs or policy positions on each end. For example, one assumes that if one is anti-racist, he/she is also a civil libertarian suspicious of state power. (I’ve written about the ways this particular conflation manifests here.)

Continue reading “Against Centrism”

Petrified Politics and Cosmopolitanism

Continuing my tour of Cultural Front filmic cosmopolitanism, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1936 Warner Brothers film, The Petrified Forest. Like many of the Warners’ movies in the 1930s, The Petrified Forest (which was based on a 1935 play) was attentive to the social reality of the 1930s. But it wasn’t a “message” picture in the sense that it explored a social issue in order to find some kind of resolution; it’s more oblique than that. Instead, by offering a desolate western diner and gas station for a setting, and placing it on the outskirts of Arizona’s Petrified Forest, it poses a metaphor for the decaying status of America itself. Furthermore, because its two protagonists are not American-born, it suggests a cosmopolitan perspective that would be erased a decade later with the onset of the cold war and Hollywood’s red scare.

The Petrified Forest takes place almost entirely at a diner populated by its weary owner, his somewhat senile and alcoholic father—who is obsessed with the mythic west—and his daughter, Gabrielle, who is played by Bette Davis. Much of the film’s commentary is provided by European traveler Alan Squier who arrives at the diner, a disillusioned writer and intellectual from England played by Leslie Howard. Squier and Gabrielle fall in love, although the Brit is nearly too intent on giving up on life to pay much attention. They bond over her having been born in Paris, and her pining to return to France to see her mother. But importantly, the film suggests Europe is decaying nearly as America is; after all, in 1936, Spain had erupted in Civil War and Hitler was preparing to invade eastwards. As Squier explains, “world chaos” was being wrought because powerful men thought they could master the globe. “Nature,” he tells Gabrielle, is “hitting back.” Continue reading “Petrified Politics and Cosmopolitanism”