“Games are literally a pass-time for me: I tend to play them as a break from work. I would count programming as a hobby, not a pastime because it’s got an outcome, like a crossword puzzle that once you’re finished you can use for something. When programming, I feel like I’m doing something, even though mostly what I work on are utilities that cost me hundreds of hours and by the time I die will have saved me minutes. Games simply fill the gaps in my interest.
So, why is it embarrassing to me? For one thing, many games support values that I detest. The most obvious is violence, but I haven’t found that a lifetime of killing screen-based enemies has inured me to real violence or has led me to favor violence over peaceful solutions.
The hypermasculinity of action games concerns me more because few people are going to be convinced by games that shooting hordes of aliens is normal, but many will be further confirmed that men are the real heroes of life’s narratives.”
“10:38am: I read a review of N.B. that complains about typos, among other things. I paid someone to copyedit Prostitute Laundry, and I re-read it twice, and Max caught dozens of slip-ups, but there are still errors that snuck through the first edition and probably the second as well. Even mass-market books often have one typo or omitted word. That’s not a defense, just me marveling at how hard it is to catch those mistakes. (It’s hard.)
Someone left a three star review of Prostitute Laundry on Goodreads saying only, “man, she’d be fun with an editor.” I think about last night’s discussion with Jenny. Someone asked how we deal with having written things that embarrass us, and Jenny said it’s good to be embarrassed because it means you tried, that embarrassment is the domain of people who do things, not people who don’t. Only she said it better than that, in the Jenny way.
I know it’s better to do the thing than to not do the thing but these reviews hurt me anyway, and then I feel bad about being hurt. I didn’t want to name the cities I visit for work in N.B. because the places don’t matter. I wanted all the “he”s to blur together, to make the reader deduce if I’m talking about my boyfriend or a client, and then for them to think about what it means if they can’t tell the difference without a name. Maybe those are bad choices but they were choices, not accidents.
I’m still waiting to poop.
11:15am: It occurs to me that the no editor complaint is really just a reader’s way of saying the writing isn’t what they wanted to read, and perhaps it seems nicer to assume an editor could have changed that than to decide my writing isn’t right for them at all. I keep thinking about the non-self published books I don’t like and all the non-self published books I do like but many other people don’t, and how one day I’m sure I’ll find an editor who makes my subsequent books better, so much better that they become entirely different books than they were. But I want my two books that exist in the world right now to be left as they are, without any apologies or excuses.”
“Rumpus: I thought, as a character in your essays, you came across as an anti-hero, and I was trying to formulate a question based on the discussions of likeability and women in literature, but I failed because I had the feeling you didn’t really care whether your readers liked you—whatever that means—or not.
Crispin: Yeah, I don’t think I care and I think that is part of the weird position that Bookslut has been in for so long and the position I, as a writer, have been in for so long. I tried for a while to be taken seriously and to do that thing.
Rumpus: What exactly does it mean to be taken seriously?
Crispin: To get the jobs, to have your opinion tweeted a lot, to be referred back to, to get paid for what you do, to get sponsorship, to get advertising, to get institutional support. But somewhere along the road—and thank god I learned this lesson—in order to get that shit, you have to flatten yourself a tremendous amount. Your opinions have to line up either exactly with what the institution wants you to say or it has to be some sort of insincere, clickbait kind of bullshit and you have to professionalize: you have to cover the books they want you to cover, you have to have the opinions they want you to have, you have to have clean, flashy design, you have to pretend that you give a shit about American literature when you don’t. It just wasn’t worth it. Maybe if it were more money, I would’ve done it. Now I just don’t give a fuck. And so, fine, whatever, I have a really good life and I really like it. I don’t behave the way people necessarily want me to, but I tried behaving that other way for a short period of time and it didn’t take. At this point, I’m in my late thirties, it’s too late for me. I’ve hardened into this particular character and people can either take it or leave it.”
“A Ugandan and a Liberian New Yorker let a Senegalese girl with a DC accent talk them into making Ensenada tacos in a kitchen outside Kampala. Two years after fate threw us together in Monrovia, we had gathered in Entebbe for a girls’ weekend. No one had mentioned that it would take two days to find the ingredients, and rightly so, for we would surely have done something else instead. We made four trips to the same Kenyan supermarket chain and several fruitless treks to local grocers. Ground coriander was abundant, but cilantro remained elusive. The word “tortilla” was predictably met with furrowed brows; once, a shopkeeper shuffled down an aisle and, hopeful, held out a bag of Doritos.
We were no ordinary ladies, however: We were ambitious and we were stubborn, so we boarded a boat floating on lily pads, determined to catch fish on Lake Victoria. The captain opened a bottle of red with a screwdriver as the trawlers dragged behind us. Halfway to our destination, we received a distress call from a stranded boat, so we sped back and towed the ingrates ashore. The sun was heavy in the evening sky when we reached the island on the equator; we watched the crew reel nothing in with their fancy poles while the local boy with a wooden switch caught fish after fish after fish. We conceded defeat and motored back to dry land in the dark, empty-handed. We bought frozen tilapia and fresh chicken, which Nuba marinated overnight.”
“I’m surprised i’m even writing this but Global Activism: Art and Conflict in the 21st Century has brought back my faith in the perceptivity of the art world. I feel like i’ve been reading books and visiting exhibition about art and activism almost every week over these past few years. It reminds me a bit of 2008 when suddenly most art institutions were organizing exhibitions and conferences about ecology while printing magnificent catalogues and shipping installations, artists and critics at huge (ecological) costs. Nowadays it’s activism, artivism and hacktivism everywhere you look. There is a lot of genuinely intelligent and meaningful ‘artivism’ works. But there are even more works that fall into the -consciously or not- opportunistic trap. If you’re an artist or even a designer then you want to produce some ‘socially-engaged’ works. It is hip, comfortably subversive and almost bound to earn you all kinds of accolades: a mention at art festivals, the attention of journalists and bloggers (myself included) and the approval of your peers. It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone outside of the art institutions actually gets to experience your work or whether it efficiently challenges any of the issues you’re trying to raise. You’re preaching to your own choir and that’s the good enough for the art world.
Global Activism breaks the mold of art’s self-complacency and pretend solicitude for the miseries of the world. The publication not only looks at creative interventions that have had a real impact on consciences, media and political status quo, it also gives equal credits to the ‘man on the street’ and to the artist for the way they challenge established power systems and express their dissatisfaction with the way governments handle immigration, climate change, corruption, growing social inequality, access to health care and other ongoing issues.
Another outstanding quality of the book is the way it brings together and without any hierarchy the usual art suspects (The Yes Men, Pussy Riot, The Surveillance Camera Players, Adbusters or Oliver Ressler, for example), the big NGOs (Amnesty International or Greenpeace) but also actors who are not so well-known internationally such as Ed Hall and his magnificent protest banners as well as many artists and citizen initiatives from Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East. The African continent remains, as often, under represented though.”
“Arthur DeGrave: Back in 2011, you were among the initiators of the Occupy movement. Several similar social movements have happened since, but it seems none of them managed to stay alive long enough to reach their objective. Why such failures?
David Graeber: I don’t think social movements failed. I have a theory about that: it’s called the “3.5 years historical lag”. After the financial crisis hit, back in 2008, security forces all around the world started gearing up for the inevitable protest movements. Yet, after a year or two, it felt like nothing was going to happen after all. And suddenly, in 2011 – though nothing particular had happened that year — it started. Like in 1848 or in 1968, the social movements are not about seizing power right away: it’s about changing the way we think about politics. And at this level, I think there has been a profound change. Many expected Occupy to take a formal political form. True, it did not happen, but look at where we are 3.5 years later: in most countries where substantial popular movements happened, left parties are now switching to embrace these movements’ sensibilities (Greece, Spain, United States, etc.). Maybe it will take another 3.5 years for them to have an actual impact on policy making, but it seems to me like the natural path of things.
You see, we live in a society of instant gratification: we expect that we are going to click and that something will happen. That’s not the way social movements work. Change does not happen overnight. It took a generation for the abolitionist or the feminist movement to reach their objective, and both managed to remove institutions that had been around for centuries!
But can grassroot movements become structured political organisations? The recent example in Greece does not look very encouraging.
First, I don’t see how Syriza could have won: they were in a very difficult strategic position. On the other hand, if such a political coalition could happen in the UK, for instance, that would be a completely different story. Right now, the most important thing for anti-authoritarian and horizontal movements is to learn how to enter an alliance with those who are willing to work within the political system without compromising their own integrity. This is something we clearly underestimated with Occupy: we trusted our Democrat allies and the institutional Left to have some common sense about their strategic interest. You see, you need to have your radicals in order to be seen as the reasonable alternative. This is something the Right wing and Republicans understand well. If the Democrats were as absolute in their defense of the 1st amendment as the Right wing is about the 2nd amendment, Occupy would probably still be around, and we wouldn’t be arguing about balancing the budget, but about people’s actual problems.
Still, I believe it is necessary to come up with a positive synergy between the radical Left and the institutional Left. We don’t necessarily have to like each other, but we do have to find a way to reinforce each other. The radical Left itself should be more concerned about winning than playing a game of moral superiority.”
“The failure of George McGovern had a major impact on a generation of Democrats, who believed they’d faced a painful reality about the limits of idealism in American politics. Jann sums it up: “Those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings.”
But it would be a shame if we disqualified every honest politician, or forever disavowed the judgment of young people, just because George McGovern lost an election four decades ago.
That ’72 loss hovered like a raincloud over the Democrats until Bill Clinton came along. He took the White House using a formula engineered by a think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was created in response to losses by McGovern and Walter Mondale.
The new strategy was a party that was socially liberal but fiscally conservative. It counterattacked Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, a racially themed appeal to disaffected whites Nixon tabbed the “Silent Majority,” by subtly taking positions against the Democrats’ own left flank.
In 1992 and in 1996, Clinton recaptured some of Nixon’s territory through a mix of populist positions (like a middle-class tax cut) and the “triangulating” technique of pushing back against the Democrats’ own liberal legacy on issues like welfare, crime and trade.
And that was the point. No more McGoverns. The chief moral argument of the Clinton revolution was not about striving for an end to the war or poverty or racism or inequality, but keeping the far worse Republicans out of power.
The new Democratic version of idealism came in a package called “transactional politics.” It was about getting the best deal possible given the political realities, which we were led to believe were hopelessly stacked against the hopes and dreams of the young.”
“Activists flourished as people moved away from what they felt were dated political ideologies—the anti-imperialist Marxist Leninism that captivated the Weathermen went out of vogue, as the Communist Party had before it—and embraced emerging radical identities. In the wake of the sixties, people also, understandably, wanted to be less beholden to charismatic leadership, which put movements at risk of being sabotaged when figureheads were assassinated (Martin Luther King Jr.), acted unaccountably (Eldridge Cleaver), or switched sides (Jerry Rubin). Over the years, as unions lost their edge and became overrun by cautious or corrupt bureaucrats, cynicism about social change as an occupation took root, at least within certain idealistic circles. (When I recently heard the phrase “professional organizer,” it was a slur, not a compliment.)
Notably, too, this was the era of the right-wing backlash, the toxic blast of union bashing, deregulation, and financialization that led to the explosion of income inequality that the left has been incapable of mitigating—incapable in part because of the turn away from economic justice to other causes, but also because the left has been up against an extraordinary adversary. Conservatives were busy executing organizational strategies during the last third of the twentieth century—launching think tanks and business associations buoyed by corporate largesse, inflaming the ground troops of the Moral Majority, and laying the foundation for a permanent tax revolt by the 1 percent—even as the left was abandoning its organizing roots.
Yet organizing is what the left must cultivate to make its activism more durable and effective, to sustain and advance our causes when the galvanizing intensity of occupations or street protests subsides. It is what the left needs in order to roll back the conservative resurgence and cut down the plutocracy it enabled. That means founding political organizations, hashing out long-term strategies, cultivating leaders (of the accountable, not charismatic, variety), and figuring out how to support them financially. No doubt the thriving of activism in recent decades is a good thing, and activism is something we want more of. The problem, rather, is that the organizing that made earlier movements successful has failed to grow apace.
“Mike Davis Squatting has been one of the principal safety-valves of third-world urbanism for several generations but, increasingly, informal housing has been privatized, replaced by so-called “pirate urbanization.” Everywhere, including here, across the border in Tijuana, peripheral land is now a commodity, controlled by landowners, speculators, and politically connected individuals. Meanwhile, for former squatters often the most viable economic strategy is mini-landlordism: building a shack behind your shack and renting it to poorer newcomers.
Lucy Raven Are there basically no free extant spots to squat?
MD Squatting continues, but it’s been driven into the terrain that’s most vulnerable to disaster; the areas least convertible into real estate. In Tijuana, for instance, classical squatting—once the principal metabolism of housing in the city—is now confined to the edges of arroyos and streams, and, especially, on the higher slopes of hills, near the angle of repose, where it’s most hazardous to build. In wet years, entire neighborhoods are washed away. Indeed the “golden age” of squatting in Tijuana ended during the 1978 El Niño, when tens of thousands of people were flooded out of the Tijuana River plain. Their colonias were then reclaimed for today’s maquiladoras and industrial parks.
LR This is the river whose estuary comes out on the other side of the border with San Diego?
MD Yes, a wonderfully promiscuous stream that originates on the U.S. side, absconds to Baja, then crosses the border again to reach the Pacific.
LR I saw the sewage treatment plants down near the fence and was wondering if the U.S. government pays for that.
MD Yes. However insufficient to deal with a population of four million, San Diego/Tijuana is the most advanced example of a binational urban infrastructure—it has to be. During storms, Tijuana’s sewage ends up on the world-famous beach in front of San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado. San Diego reciprocates by sending its air pollution as well as polluting industries to Mexico.”
“Today, every sovereign nation in the world has a protected-area system of some kind. All together the reserves number about 161,000 on land and 6,500 over marine waters. According to the World Database on Protected Areas, a joint project of the United Nations Environmental Program and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they occupied by 2015 a little less than 15 per cent of Earth’s land area and 2.8 per cent of Earth’s ocean area. The coverage is increasing gradually. This trend is encouraging. To have reached the existing level is a tribute to those who have led and participated in the global conservation effort.
But is the level enough to halt the acceleration of species extinction? Unfortunately, it is in fact nowhere close to enough. The declining world of biodiversity cannot be saved by the piecemeal operations in current use alone. The extinction rate our behaviour is now imposing on the rest of life, and seems destined to continue, is more correctly viewed as the equivalent of a Chicxulub-sized asteroid strike played out over several human generations.
The only hope for the species still living is a human effort commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. The ongoing mass extinction of species, and with it the extinction of genes and ecosystems, ranks with pandemics, world war, and climate change as among the deadliest threats that humanity has imposed on itself. To those who feel content to let the Anthropocene evolve toward whatever destiny it mindlessly drifts, I say please take time to reconsider. To those who are steering the growth of reserves worldwide, let me make an earnest request: don’t stop, just aim a lot higher.”