CJR’s latest episode of its podcast The Kicker is a conversation with Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose 1619 Project at the NYT two years ago has been such an enduring occasion for foolish right-wing tantrum-throwing and abuse. Appreciating her thoughts here, addressing decisions she made in response to a big-donor-backed push to deny her tenure at UNC this spring, as I continue to ruminate on problems of organizing and re-ordering / re-centering.
This moment felt like a moment that I could — when people were trying to diminish me — that I could come into my power in a very particular way. That, instead of using whatever power I have to force my way into an institution, I could actually use that power in a way that builds up institutions that already exist to support people like me and students who are like I was. And to send, really, a message. You know, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that reading all of the things that Walter Hussman, the wealthy donor who I think obviously had some influence over what happened with my tenure situation, was saying about the type of journalism I do, what he considers the right way to do journalism — which I’ve long disavowed. It helped me understand that maybe my role was more than just teaching kids in a predominantly white school journalism in a classroom; that there needed to be a larger push-back and a larger effort to weigh in on the values of our profession and what should be our higher calling in this moment.
Someone told me, ‘It seems like the most powerful message you could have sent was to go to Duke.’ I actually think that would have been less of a powerful message, and the most powerful message is to say: At some point we have to stop deriving — as Black Americans, as members of marginalized groups — we have to stop deriving our power from these institutions.
The story of Birobidzhan resonates for Gessen because, born in Moscow in 1967, she grew up in a Soviet Union in which this dream had long been immolated and Jewishness was only a negative signifier — the school she could not attend, the job she could never have, the experience, she says, of ‘non-belonging.’ When her family decided to try and emigrate in the 1970s, she was thrust back into the same thinking about Jewish options that dominated the lives of Dubnow and Bergelson. There was Israel, an ideologically pure choice that appealed to her twelve-year-old self, and the West, which offered the possibility of normalcy, of no longer identifying as different, disappearing, and which appealed to her parents.
What she no longer had, the option that does not exist today, is Birobidzhan. The actual place, the experiment, was a mess. And on a visit in 2009, Gessen found that its Jewish character had long ago been trampled out of existence. Birobidzhan clearly teaches us not to count on dictators for autonomy. What they give, they can take away. It is a lesson that contains in it the rationale for Zionism, and a pretty convincing one.
Gessen doesn’t arrive at this conclusion herself, probably because, like many Jews, she prefers to inhabit a kind of Birobidzhan of the mind — a Jewish identity that resembles nationalism but with an allegiance not to flag or army but to culture and language, not to religion as faith but as the bearer of a long written tradition of thought and disputation and storytelling.
‘Prefers to inhabit a Birobidzhan of the mind,’ Gessen says in the talk in the video below, might be the highest compliment anyone’s ever paid them.
I’ve been (re-)listening to Timothy Snyder’s many recorded lectures on the Bloodlands and Black Earth themes / theses a good deal since posting the longer item here in May, and that’s led me to listening to Gessen as well.
Currently mid-way into the book (in audio format, via Scribd), put out by Schocken in 2016.
Something further — see brief item of March 30 — on John C. Calhoun, that peculiar(ly important) figure of the seven short decades between establishment of the U.S. as a nation and the conflict between South and North, known here as the Civil War, that redefined it.
To be clear, this is an episode much more about the twentieth century than the nineteenth, as you’d expect of Know Your Enemy. But it illuminates helpfully Calhoun’s significance as a theorist and shaper of American modernity.
A comment left this morning by my friend Laura on the last of these brief-item posts has had me revisiting two summer-of-COVID episodes of the Digiday podcast today, interviews with The Dispatch CEO Steve Hayes and Defector operations VP Jasper Wang — separately on the show to talk about their quite differently politics-oriented internet-based publications’ remarkably similar business schemes.
I’ve given a good deal more attention to Defector than to The Dispatch in the past year or so. But there’s no denying that the latter’s case lends the former’s a degree of the vividness and weight it has for me and (I suppose) many others right now, both of them read as phenomena of the moment’s ‘great media unbundling.’
It’s an especially curious thing to hear Hayes speaking, without trace of irony, from the position of a smaller market player concerned to protect the work he’s become invested in from destructive forces hyperconcentration in the financial order generates. Digiday host Morrissey’s repetitions of the expression notwithstanding, Hayes and crew are in no meaningful way ‘small-c conservatives.’ In respect to policy, these guys are simple ideologues of unrestrained capital. They share with a Paul Ryan the dream of a world where everything outside the bounds of an arbitrarily-conceived, always unstable space of ‘the private’ is reducible to commodity — ideal that a recently rising, no less dangerous modern U.S. right has taken, with good justification, to attacking as ‘dead consensus’ American conservatism. (Conflict much on my mind these days.)
Without quite acknowledging the trend they’re part of, these same embattled (for branding purposes, at least) Reagan-Thatcher-gospel believers are building something of a cooperative media enterprise together. It sure is interesting.
‘The impressive thing is the range of conversations he maintains, the catbird-seat view of a diverse and sometimes precipitously-changing small industry with outsize cultural impact. People do just like to talk to him, plainly enough, but I think he enjoys the wide respect and gets to pull so much story together, working alone, in large part because he’s built the thing out in a manifestly serious way. Not just being a swell fellow that’s earned all that trust. Anyway, for my part, this is what I’d love to hear him have occasion to talk about — building that up (and where he thinks he might go with it, insofar as the question applies).’
That’s from my note to Simon Owens suggesting that he invite David Harper, the guy who runs online comics journal SKTCHD and hosts linked weekly podcast Off Panel, to be a guest on his (previously mentioned) podcast The Business of Content.
Well, connection was made, and I indeed got to hear them have that chat. This was a couple of weeks ago, in fact; I’ve just been too busy to get in a post about it here.
There’s a degree of purely private satisfaction for me in listening to them talk, naturally. But it’s good to have a glimpse of Harper’s project through Owens’ viewfinder. Harper is maybe a little unusual as subject for Owens’ journalism — certainly not among the bigger media-pond fish he tackles, anyway. The total media marketplace in our digital age, though, obviously includes an awful lot of strictly organically-conceived and -grown, personality-driven ‘niche’ work that may well only ever amount to modest businesses. Harper’s is what I’d call a sweet example (as also in many respects is Owens’, for that matter). I know I’m far from alone in finding this layer of market ecosystem fascinating matter.
The immediately previous post might lead someone to guess that when it comes to political and economic alternatives, I’m only about the ‘third-way.’ That isn’t really true. I am wary of labels, but I’d be happy to be thought of as a socialist on some understandings of the word, especially if what can be called the ‘early socialism’ of two centuries ago is acknowledged as viable tradition. I’d much rather be lumped in with the left than the right, generally, if we’re being sloppy about it.
This post isn’t for sorting out my views on anything, though, it’s just for observing that the DSA — of which I’m not a member — holds an event on religion and socialism this Saturday and Sunday. (I only learned of it over the weekend.)
Presenters are to include representatives of the DSA Muslim Caucus. I think of this and the previous post as complementaries to a degree.
‘Yes, well, I’m neither capitalist nor socialist, I’m …’
In the circles I’ve moved in, the word you’d expect to follow is ’Catholic.’ The Catholics I know often readiest with something of a developed identity and a line of argument in this vein regard themselves as advocates of distributism, a term with some popularity a century ago, in the English-speaking world particularly, through the influence of G K Chesterton in association with his friend, Manchester M.P. Hilaire Belloc. If you know a bit about the history here, the term’s associations may be troubling. (It’s partly from acquaintance with this history over about a decade now that my own concerns about the problem of pinning down fascism have gradually grown.)
But it’s far from true that such a ‘neither capitalist nor socialist’ preface must come from a Christian perhaps on the slippery slope to one of the many forms of fascistic Western-civilizationism. The world’s more complicated than that.
I’m excited lately about a new podcast called Re-Envision Business, hosted by U.K.-based Sheeza Shah, whose roles include heading operations for the international anti-inequity business network Zebras United. For her most recent guest, Umar Nasser, it’s ‘I’m neither capitalist nor socialist, I’m a Muslim.’ Check out their conversation, which ended up long enough that it had to be presented in two parts.
(Update: See also the post that follows this one.)
Ed Piskor & Jim Rugg, the Cartoonist Kayfabe guys, play host to notable cartoon collector and SPX exec director Warren Bernard in their YouTube chats of the past week. I’m highlighting one here, their ~20-min. review of the history of the publishing business’s long-conventionalized but never very usefully defined category of the ‘graphic novel,’ illustrated with items from Bernard’s collection. You can learn plenty just by visiting Wikipedia’s page on the subject, but this is more fun.
Fueling my ruminations about liberal and fascist forms of social & political order in familial relation, lately, has been Robert Elder’s new biography of John C. Calhoun (1782 – 1850) of South Carolina. Reading the book itself will have to wait, in my case, sadly. Till then, getting to know Elder’s subject and thesis a bit in his own words isn’t hard to do.
I first learned about the book from Elder’s friend and mine, my Solidarity Hall associate Elias Crim. One of the links below is Elder’s conversation with Elias and co-host Pete Davis for Solidarity Hall’s Dorothy’s Place podcast. It’s good.
Until pretty recently, the conventional story about slavery and the states in accelerating conflict in America’s 19th century has set an industrially and societally progress-oriented North opposite a tradition-anchored agrarian South in relatively tidy contrast. That story is itself increasingly folded into subsequent period history now, a new consensus view replacing it. Elder’s Calhoun develops this view and offers, among other things, a sharpened picture of the U.S. alongside its variously urgently-modernizing European sister polities.
Calhoun’s America is a large subject, needless to say. Each conversation here draws out something different in Elder’s approach to it.
It shows how little on top of things I manage to stay that I wasn’t aware, until yesterday, of podcast (and Denver-Boulder-area radio show) Looks Like New, produced by U. Colorado Boulder’s MEDLab, which is directed by somebody I’m happy to know a little bit, Nathan Schneider. If I’d been listening to this show since it’s been on, I’d have known, for instance, of Ampled when I wrote about work and organizing in December. I might’ve learned about Ampled elsewhere, too, were I sharper-eyed, as they’ve gotten some decent press in the past year.
Ampled is a platform-cooperativist project in the vein of Comradery, designed to offer the services of a Patreon but on an altogether different model, one in which the service’s users are its owners. And this one’s up and running, serving a modest but growing number of musicians.
Check out Nathan’s interview with Ampled co-founder Austin Robey. These things aren’t easy to put together (as the Comradery team’s effort toward a yet-to-be-announced launch attests), but it’s well beyond concept at this stage. It’s being done.