Dissonant Notes

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Manufacturing Dissent: Conformity as Rebellion

"Only the man who says 'no' is free"

Herman Melville

"If you want to serve the age, betray it"

Brendan Kennelly

As far as legendary moments in the history of popular music go, what happened at Manchester Free Trade Hall in May '66 is one that still reverberates, in part because it really happened. The subject of many an article and music discussion, the actions of John Cordwell have created more mileage for the Dylan myth-making machine than any other event, other than perhaps the supposed motorcycle crash which sent him into retreat a mere two months later. John Cordwell was one of the many youths of the early '60's who felt an almost religious reverence for the work of Bob Dylan, particularly those early protest anthems that seemed to speak an unquestionable truth, a folk-spun wisdom that nevertheless blazed with a righteous indignation more befitting a preacher than a popular music singer. Put simply, Dylan's songs emitted an ethical charge that hypnotised his fans, providing for them intellectual nourishment amid a climate of what they saw as compromised ideals and commercialised jingles. When Dylan went electric and moved the focus of his lyrics away from indignation and towards a poetic, at times impenetrable, exploration of personal emotions, many felt betrayed. So it was that in Manchester John Cordwell stood up in a quiet moment between songs and yelled out "Judas". Dylan, master of cool and seemingly unflappable, blurts out "I don't believe you". He is then stunned into silence, managing only to retort "You're a liar" before launching into his next song. History has judged Dylan the victor and Cordwell to be just another woolly-jumpered folk fanatic whose desperate moment of protest was merely the whimpering of a man caught on the wrong side of popular culture's great earthquake. Stranded and confused, his shout is instructive now merely as an example of a certain closed-minded resistance to change. We shake our heads in disbelief, knowing that we would have accepted Dylan's artistic changes with a mixture of excitement and expectation, ever eager to embrace the new. Is there a price to pay, though, for this spirit of acceptance that pervades our times? I think so, and I intend to explain just what that is.

A recent phenomenon designed to cash in on the hardcore music fan's rabid curiosity for anything related to an artist or album they like is the "Under Review" DVD. Supposed experts, and the occasional person connected with events being described, talk at length about what they know and before long an hour of your time has been filled up. Needless to say I've watched many of them. While browsing in the music section of my local DVD rental establishment I happened upon an "Under Review" entitled "The Berlin Trilogy". Unable to help myself I took it home and settled in for some uninterrupted Bowie jibber-jabber. One of the things that caught my attention was that the various talking heads vying for screen time all seemed to want to talk about the critical reaction to "Low"-- contemporary reviewers were confused, some going so far as to call it unlistenable. Amongst the various opinions contained on this particular "Under Review" one could hear a certain smugness rising up to the surface, an air of "Look how wrong those critics were. They weren't ready for 'Low' and now they look stupid cos they gave it a bad review". If modern times has a commandment, it is surely "Though shalt embrace everything new, lest ye look foolish and obsolete in retrospect". No judgment is more scornful than the one heaped upon the fearful artistic conservative. From Impressionism's disdain for the Académie to hip-hop's challenge to rock, one's credibility is measured historically in terms of how early and how strongly one embraced these changes. Artists are the fearless pioneers of our times, visionary geniuses whose works may only be appreciated by the most open of minds, the most subtle and complex of thinkers. The red carpet is forever laid out, and any failure to understand a new artistic development is our fault, never theirs. With each aesthetic victory, however, the ranks of the supposed enemy grows thinner, the result being that oftentimes there is no conservative stodginess standing in the way of mass acceptance. When this happens, reviewers create a phantom to pit their open-minded approach against.

The release of "Kid A" by Radiohead is perhaps the greatest example of the phantom conservative music fan. Almost every review was glowing, and the album went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. Scan through the reviews, though, and you'll see many critics referring to the album as "challenging" and "difficult". So an album that is embraced wholeheartedly by critics and public alike is both challenging and difficult? For whom exactly? It seems like the critics were reviewing themselves, not the album, and giving themselves five stars. Was the album challenging for them? Clearly not as they were keen to declare it a masterpiece in a very short space of time. No, what was being indicated was that the album would be a difficult listen for other people, you know, those phantom conservative listeners. The critics got it, boy did they get it, but those people would not. What followed was the biggest critical and public display of self-initiated backslapping imaginable. "Radiohead are challenging, they are before their time, they are miles ahead of every other band and you know what? I get it". In truth there was the occasional bad review, Nick Hornby's springs to mind, but taken overall the album could not have been better received. Apparently the world at large had been challenged by "Kid A" and had boldly passed the test. These critics were no stick-in-the-mud classicists, no sir. They were ready for the future and all the weird electronic dissonance that came with it.

What happened between the cry of "Judas" and "Kid A"? A lot, the main thing being that Pop Culture went from being an exhilarating celebration of the new to a gargantuan edifice of such size, scope and influence that it is all-pervasive and all-encompassing in its reach. For some reason, though, it has retained its status as untouchable among many. Try criticising the state of the music charts these days and before you know it you're an old grandfather looking for his pipe and slippers. Embracing the new has become passive acceptance of whatever direction popular music has taken. When punk drew fresh battle lines the new enemy was the classic rock fan, clutching in fear their copy of "Music From Big Pink" and scowling at all these noisy bands. Electronic music was embraced knowing full well that many rock fans were cursing its supposed soullessness and longing for a return to proper musicianship. What's changed since then? Not much really. From post-punk to synth-pop to hip-hop to dance all new sounds have been embraced by the alternative press and in a larger sense the public too. Since the early '90's, though, nothing truly revolutionary has occurred. By the time of Kurt Cobain's death and the transformation of Oasis from indie darlings to world conquering rock stars the alternative press had all but died. Dwindling circulation meant even left-of-centre publications had to follow the money. Major label pressure and demands from the marketplace overtly influenced what acts should be covered and in what manner, meaning that dissenting voices became thin on the ground (Lack of favourable coverage for a prized major label act often meant denial of press access to all of that label's acts, a situation that would all but destroy a magazine seeking high circulation and heavy advertising revenue). Soon enough, all that's left are those writers willing to toe the line but who deep down don't feel like they are selling-out. If these same writers can convince themselves that by embracing mainstream music they are actually rebelling then it can help quieten the uneasiness of being compromised. Given this predicament, the writer who can show the inherent danger (or lack of ambition) resulting from a narrow-minded indie outlook can recast their championing of the mainstream as both an act of open-minded heroism and a display of tough-minded realism. Meanwhile all that remains of the so-called alternative press is mostly stuck in an early '80's mindset, championing some indie acts but also aggressively pushing the idea that to complain about the standards of mainstream music is to throw your lot in with the classic rock fans snapping up the latest issue of "Mojo". In other words, to rebel against the mainstream is an act of almost unforgivable ignorance.

For this reason, we get the phantom "Kid A" detractors. Reviewers got a chance at last to show that they weren't stuck in classic rock mode but were actually on the cutting edge. The bigger question is, what do artists themselves have to kick back against? Creative spirits often need a challenge, an enemy, a direction that could ruffle some feathers. The nature of modern music criticism is such that almost any direction taken by an artist, barring a stab at classic rock, is viewed in the most sympathetic light possible, especially among newer artists. As if haunted by the idea of another "Low"-like episode, reviewers are at pains not to appear behind the times. What could be more embarrassing, after all, than being wrong about some new and important development in music? So fear is, at heart, one of the main drives behind bland acceptance and self-congratulatory open-mindedness. Ask yourself this, though; when was the last time there was any real controversy in music? Keep in mind music critics for the most part reacted to the upsurge in misogyny and homophobia among hip-hop artists in the '90's with what can only be described as moral cowardice. The controversy raged outside of the pages of the music press, who merely reported on the controversy. When was the last time somebody did something that would have merited the cry of "Judas"? To be honest, it's hard to think of anything that could incite real anger amongst devotees. We have become passive consumers rather than passionate fans, admiring our own eclecticism and open-mindedness about music rather than our engagement with the art (Or is it merely entertainment? We'll save that for another time). The focus is on what the music says about you, not to you. We are encouraged to approach pop culture like rapacious neoliberals, forever worshiping technological developments and congratulating artists for savvy media manipulation. The world is flat and we gaze transfixed at the shimmering surface, exhilarated to catch sight of our own reflection amid the varnished sheen. We feel modern. We belong. The end result is that musicians have almost nothing to rebel against. Fans are accepting of everything, with bands more than aware of their market and as such making all the necessary noises and dropping the right names. Fans then feel part of a rebellious continuum that marks them out as the cultural pioneers pushing things forward. Culture trundles on regardless as marketing strategies pinpoint our innermost needs and deliver them to our in-box. In the meantime nobody notices that nothing very interesting has gone on for years, and the post-punk stratagem of a bold leap for the mainstream is still the ultimate act of rebellion.

So what is the price we pay for passivity? The death of the critical voice. It has become the unwanted guest at every dinner table, the devil to be exorcised so that we may find our place in the world without apprehension. At the same time, nobody feels comfortable with the idea of conformity. So the critical voice that finds fault with new popular music developments becomes the surrogate John Cordwell, yelling at things they cannot accept, not knowing that these very same things represent the future and that soon their anguish will be viewed as a laughable moth-eaten vision of times gone by. Placed in opposition to such future fear, the conformist becomes the rebel casting off the shackles of an unwanted past, forever ready to embrace the challenges of a technologically dominated global culture. All morals, tastes and scruples must be committed to the flames lest we appear unready. We must be pliable, and we must be forever vigilant against the critical voice that tells us that we are being short-changed by the march of culture. In other words we must be the very model of the modern neoliberal. The contradiction that lies at the heart of such a reality, though, is that the very same cultural commentators that fit the above description to a tee believe themselves to be the opposite of the neoliberal. Instead they picture themselves as post-modern leftists laying bare the dark heart of globalism's cultural colonialism. That they choose to do battle with globalism's grim march by embracing all of popular culture's latest output is akin to fighting global warming by snapping up the biggest gas guzzling SUV imaginable (Perhaps to problematise the issue? To embrace the inconsistencies inherent in the modern dialectic? To have their cake and eat it too?). Members of the "alternative press" continuously push mainstream success as an artistic ideal, with the all-powerful Pitchfork recently beginning a review with the observation "The people making the best pop music in the world are typically also among the world's biggest pop stars". That Pitchfork itself is, philosophically speaking, a slapdash copy and paste of the British alternative press of 1982 that championed New Pop has apparently gone completely unnoticed. Though secondhand, the principles favoured by Pitchfork promote the unarguable idea that to embrace mainstream pop is a revolutionary accomplishment.

Meanwhile on the other side of history remains John Cordwell. That he was wrong about Dylan's direction is perhaps now beside the point. In the larger sense he showed extreme tenacity in challenging counter-culture's poet god, and the fact that two months later Dylan crashed out of life altogether and only returned to the music scene in '68 with an almost all acoustic album awash in Biblical allegory suggests that perhaps Cordwell had a bigger impact than even he imagined. Artists demand to be challenged, and we do them a disservice by meekly fawning over each new creation. On the other side of the coin, artists do society a disservice by not laying bare the darkest secrets of the age. If our future is dancing to popular culture's puppet strings and Art a mere pretentious memory of older times then I fear for notions of individuality and humanity. The corrosive nature of the ironic persona has already allowed multitudes of substandard products to be embraced, treasured and even intellectualised. Our willingness to appear gleefully unperturbed plays in perfectly with the idea that to be overtly critical or unhappy with any turn of events is the ultimate communal buzz-kill and sign of an individuals impending obsolescence. Step outside of this mindset, however, and it's possible to see that there are worse things than being wrong. Going all the way back to Art's first modern rebellion, the painters herded into the category of Impressionist's tended, for the most part, to view each others works with disdain. Not to say that there was not some admiration, but there was certainly no all-for-one stand against the establishment. No, each in their own way was wrong about history's forward trajectory, but right in their own exploration of individual technique. Scan through all revolutionary artistic periods and you'll find the same sniping and backbiting, the same jealous denouncements. What saved each in turn was their willingness to take a stand. So it's easy to see that there is indeed something worse than being wrong, and that is being spineless. John Cordwell could hardly be accused of cowardice in the face of an overpowering cultural movement. Who amongst us could say the same?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swallowed by the Cosmic Joke - Devendra Banhart: Missing In Action

"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."

Søren Kierkegaard

Sometime in late 2002 a friend recommended that I give a listen to a new album out on Young God Records. Knowing that I was not a big fan of their output, he made sure to mention that this was not a Swans-like musical attack, more a Marc Bolanesque slice of folk weirdness. Intrigued, I picked up "Oh Me Oh My..." by Devendra Banhart and was almost instantly charmed. Everything about the album emitted an otherworldly hum, from the lo-fi production to the combination of home-made scribble and disquieting detail that constituted the artwork. The songs themselves mostly stuck to simple two-chord finger-picking techniques or folky strumming that managed to pull off the same trick time and again, as the tensions of the melodies were relieved by a return to the root of the main chord / finger-picking pattern. The magic lay in Banhart's delivery and words, both of which overflowed with a certain polymorphic-perverse sexuality as Devendra found a childlike sensuality and eroticism in flesh, words, trees, him, her, them; all situations were open to touch and play. Many of the songs were appealing fragments while others, like "The Charles C. Leary", "Michigan State", "Hey Miss Cane", "Soon Is Good" and "Pumpkin Seeds" emerged as fully formed entities, discharging a forceful, spontaneous wisdom that reveled in naive delight at the sheer joyous fascination of being alive, of actually existing. Banhart was only 21 when the album came out and when it began to develop a well deserved but nevertheless ominous buzz expectations were high for a follow-up.

In 2004 it was announced that two new Banhart albums would be released that same year, both being the result of a highly productive recording session. First came "Rejoicing In The Hands". The appeal of lo-fi recordings can mean that an immediate skepticism is present when an artist decides to upgrade to a studio. With "Rejoicing In The Hands" though, all doubts were swept aside. With Michael Gira at the helm, the emphasis remained on the songs and finding the correct setting for their appreciation. With this in mind a home recording studio was selected where the singer could feel comfortable and at ease. Perhaps because of this, the results were a triumph. The lo-fi buzz was gone, but in its place was an intimate warmth and a more assured sense of song-craft. Banhart bloomed in his new setting, with the opening trio of songs "This is the Way", "A Sight to Behold" and "The Body Breaks" being so strong that they threatened to overshadow the rest of the album. As it is the album more than succeeds as a whole, with Devendra's lyrical impishness and childlike wisdom present and correct but this time with a certain adult sadness making its way to the surface, puncturing the naivety but adding a layer of hard won maturity. Its sister album "Niño Rojo" was, as should have been expected, more of the same. While not quite as strong as "Rejoicing In The Hands" it nevertheless had many moments of genuine brilliance, with infectious effervescence and autumnal reverie blending into a satisfying whole. With his position as hippie boy-genius seemingly unassailable Banhart retreated to the sidelines once more, only to reemerge in 2005 with another new album, this time released on British label XL Recordings instead of Young God Records. One would perhaps expect business as usual, but this was not to be. It is at this moment that Devendra's recording career began to unravel. How and why? Let's examine the details.

While on Young God, Michael Gira commented that he could make Devendra the Nick Drake of his generation. Banhart balked at the idea, and it is here that we can perhaps see the reason for his split from Young God. Michael Gira clearly had definite ideas about how Banhart should be presented and I can imagine that this overflowed into the recording studio. It's conceivable that Banhart was restricted from indulging in anything too nonsensical while on Young God, with Michael Gira demanding a certain tastefulness from the recordings. With this in mind Devendra making the leap to XL is somewhat understandable. Something else happened when he made the leap though. Not only did he allow himself to indulge in many previously unthinkable musical excursions, his quality control all but evaporated. On first picking up the album, the first thing we notice about "Cripple Crow" is the cover. Gone is Devendra's art and in its place is a tiresome "Sgt. Pepper..." knock-off. It seems that without Michael Gira's firm hand Devendra felt free to entertain every hippie cliche that would have invoked Gira's ire while on Young God. It begins with "Now That I Know" and it remains the high point of the album. It's no coincidence that as a song it's the most reminiscent of his previous efforts. Importantly, though, Gira's natural sounding production is replaced by a studio sheen of echo and Eagles-like finish. Worse still, on the vast majority of the album Banhart's words have managed to transform themselves into the worst kind of hippie-lite nonsense, the songs languishing in a humourless, clumsy anything-goes morass. Mischievous and inventive wordplay has given way to a full on celebration of the Cosmic Giggle, the rot that eats away at the base of much hippie philosophising. This philosophy implies that all actions, emotions and interactions are just one big meaningless game and as such nothing particularly matters. Its relationship to post-modern philosophy's moral relativism and spiteful irony deserves to be scrutinised. The Cosmic Giggle's main thrust is abhorrence at taking anything seriously. Why get hung up? Existence is merely a valueless game and to get uptight is to misunderstand how empty the whole charade really is.

The end result of believing such guff (apparently I cannot give my life meaning, it can only be thrust upon me from an outside source) is written all over "Cripple Crow". Jokes and giggles abound, with almost every song coming off as an obvious imitation or caricature. Even the better songs suffer, and the inordinate length of the album makes it drag as we have to hold our breath for another senseless exercise in banality along the lines of "Chinese Children". Suddenly Banhart's persona is childish instead of childlike, irritating and hackneyed where once it was charming and refreshing. I remember distinctly defending Banhart in the face of criticism when "Cripple Crow" was released, while privately nursing doubts. This was something he needed to get out of his system I reasoned, and he would surely return to form on his next release. I could not have been more wrong. The follow-up "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" was a complete travesty from start to finish. The old Devendra was now completely gone, and in his place was a feeble mimic who got by on cheap cosmic goof-offs and eccentric behaviour. Soon after "Smokey..." he signed to Warner Brothers. Having learned my lesson I refused to even touch his first album for Warner Brothers. While shopping for CDs one day, though, it came blasting out of the store speakers. I literally felt ill, barely able to believe that the same person who recorded "Rejoicing In The Hands" was responsible for the dross I was currently hearing. Every note of every song was an homage to a pastiche of a parody. In interviews Banhart talked of the joys of being on a major label, that despite all of our closed-minded indie misconceptions people who worked for major labels were really genuine people who treated him with respect. He was happy.

That Banhart was and is happy is probably true. The fact is, though, that his songs are devoid of any kind of tension or drive. These comfortable parodies are the artistic creations of somebody who clearly cares for nothing more than a laid-back existence. Now, that does not make him a bad human being and I wish him all the best in terms of the choices he has made. It does, though, make him a bad artist. I am not Devendra Banhart's friend. I know him as an artist who releases music and as such I rate his success in terms of his artistic output, not his personal happiness. I am not suggesting artists have to suffer, but I am saying that their work must have some sense of tension, some clue that there is an active mind working through problems. For Devendra it seems that such notions are simply laughable. Pull that stick out of your behind and stop being so uptight. So he's on a major label? So what! So his artistic output has declined to the point of embarrassment? So what! I'm probably just jealous, right? If anyone can make it through an hour of the smarmy self-congratulatory meanderings that constitute Banhart's current output they have a stronger constitution than me. The Cosmic Giggle embraces pointlessness and as such renders its adherents pointless. Worse still, it is used as a shield to deflect any kind of criticism. Is signing to a major label wrong? Who cares. Is the notion of selling out redundant? I don't know, but maybe if I strip naked and wear a phony native American headdress we can just laugh at that instead. Seriousness is a drag. That's why wars happen because people act all grown-up and serious. Let's all just revel in a value-free universe and we'll all feel better. Neither the Cosmic Giggle nor post-modern philosophy's studious embrace of the low-brow have done anything to shake the pillars of finance. On the contrary, the slop that they both serve up helps the marketing world to dish out mediocrity to all levels of society. We can all live in a crass, class-free existence where nobody takes anything seriously and all thoughts of criticism have been put to bed. If that's your idea of paradise then you're welcome to it. I continue to hold onto the idea that something matters, that our actions yield real-life repercussions that cannot and should not be reasoned away by a casual shrug. As such I find Banhart's betrayal of his talents to be a disgrace. The sad thing is, it seems like he's already been forgotten. His sell-out did not give him Rod Stewart levels of fame and for this reason he already feels like an afterthought. I want to remind people, though, that he was once a great artist and that people really did care about his music. Keep that in mind if you happen to see him shirtless at a music festival, jamming out to another 70's rock parody. Michael Gira, perhaps foolishly, thought this man could be his generation's Nick Drake. Instead we got an indie Jimmy Buffett that we never asked for.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Counterculture Envy-The Right Finally Gets To Have Its Own '60s, and What It Could Mean

"I’m frequently seen in the conservative press as being out there on the barricades shouting: Down with capitalism! I do see it in the end as really the most workable system we’ve produced. So what we’re talking about is not the system itself, but its abuses, I don’t mean criminal but the abundant abuses just within the letter of the law. The essential question is whether it can survive these abuses given free rein and whether these abuses are inherent in the system itself."

William Gaddis

The mythology of the 1960's is so ingrained in our culture that its events can sometimes be seen as epic and otherworldly compared to our supposedly mundane times. People taking to the streets in anger, calls for armed insurrection and government take down, outrageous conspiracy theories; it seemed to, for a short amount of time, almost alter the course of Western Civilisation. Taking a stand against such outrageous behaviour was the silent majority, those God fearing, blue collar everyday folks who looked on aghast at Woodstock and feared for the purity of their daughters. They didn't smoke marijuana, and they certainly didn't take no trips on LSD. Given time, the silent majority prevailed and by the '80's Reagan was in power, and all was right with the world. Something must have been eating away at that silent majority mindset though. Tired of being painted as uptight moral guardians instead of the individualistic pioneers that they imagined themselves to be, the Right had to invent an authority to rebel against. They came up with the liberal media. Don't be fooled by this seemingly innocuous phrase. Behind it lies intimations of 1984 style mind control, of the befuddled masses being fooled by its insinuations and accusations, of a helpless populace forever enslaved by its propaganda. Who can free us from these mind-forged manacles? Who else but that rough-hewn pioneer forever alert to the nefarious servants of tyranny, that individualist champion of the ordinary person, that untamed rebel of the political jungle....the right wing suburbanite. With an enemy now in place, right wingers everywhere could feel more at ease with themselves. Unthinking servants of the American government? Never. Protectors of liberty and truth? You betcha. The fallacies of the liberal media theory have been dealt with elsewhere. That the media conglomerates themselves are billion dollar businesses owned by card carrying right wingers is apparently of no interest whatsoever. Let us not dwell on such matters though. Since the medias "betrayal" of America in their coverage of Vietnam, news outlets have been viewed as servants of the enemy by freedom loving suburban dwellers of the right wing variety. Apparently, though, this was not enough. The Right wanted a riot of their own, and with the election of Barack Hussein Obama, they got it.

Turn on the news and you'll hear talk of armed insurrection, of outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the President, of fighting for the real America. It's a show about the '60's, right? No, it's a show about the 2010 Right. The silent majority's counterculture envy has finally been unleashed. Now they get to be the rebels standing up to a "totalitarian" government. Now we have the birthers, spouting claims that would fit nicely into the pages of "The Illuminatus! Trilogy". Now we have Sharron Angle talking about a "second amendment solution". Everything that the silent majority rejected in the '60's is now being embraced wholeheartedly. Let's remind ourselves, though, of what most of the protests from the '60's focused on. The Vietnam War. What are the Right angry about? Health Care that supposedly ensures coverage for the poorest elements of society.(Can I add that it actualy ensures nothing of the kind? Yes I can) Apparently this is the single greatest threat to our freedom that currently exists and the first step on the road to Socialism. It begs the question, whose freedom is being threatened? Who are the people funding the Tea Party marches who are angry about Health Care? As everyone who's been brainwashed by the liberal media knows, it is the ultra-rich and ultra-right elements of the business world, who see any attempt at regulation by the government as a threat to their pay check. The problem is, they are stirring up a witches cauldron that may cause more trouble than even they can imagine. Telling a large group of powerful affluent individuals that they are under attack and peppering it with violent rhetoric is beyond irresponsible. Unlike the protesters of the '60's, many elements of the Tea Party movement and its affiliates have real power and influence, and what they seem to be asking for would lead to the dissolution of individual rights and replacement of government with business entities.

First off, let us rid ourselves of any illusions and make one fact perfectly clear. Individual rights exist because of government. The nature of Western politics is such that any advancements in individual rights are soon taken for granted and seen as being indisputable. Without government, though, we only have individual rights in principle. With no rule of law or appeal to a higher power those rights would be meaningless. They are not a permanent entity and many visitors to Western countries are shocked by the amount of liberties that we take for granted. The protection we are afforded by the existence of our governments is incalculable. Now, this is not going down the path of "Leviathan" and claiming that a totalitarian government is better than none. I hold in high regard those individuals who have risked their lives in order that governments would accept their rights and give them the necessary protection, which in many cases is simply the right to be left alone to live their lives. Many would point out that our individual rights were in fact given to us by a different kind of higher power, namely God. This is dangerous for two reasons. One, any government based on the belief of a particular god would have no incentive to protect the rights of non-believers or worshipers of a different god. Two, religious governments can and will go beyond merely being indifferent to the rights of non-believers to claiming divine reasoning for limiting the rights of all it's individuals, religious or not. Government must be secular regardless of the beliefs of those implementing the laws. Which leaves us with two options: individual rights as vouchsafed by a government (be it large or small), or the law of the jungle. Now, the law of the jungle in this case may not refer to outright lawlessness, but it may still reward the strong and punish the weak if they have no recourse to a greater power. This would be the case if the government's power were reduced so thoroughly and an even greater power (or powers) had usurped it. The power I'm alluding to is that of Corporations.

Right now, the only thing stopping Corporations from deciding the fate of planet earth is governments. Now, I know many would say  that the fate of the planet is in the hands of Corporations as it is, but the fact is that governments are a nuisance to Corporations. They charge tax and implement laws that demand minimum wage and worker's rights. If these same Corporations line the pockets of enough politicians they get what they want for the most part. The thing is, though, they want more. It is the law that Corporations must do everything in their power to make a profit, and often times that means butting heads with government officials. Government and Corporations have one crucial difference. Corporations are not democratic in any way. They are under no incentive to protect the rights of individuals, and the further Right you go, you find more people stating that ultimately the individual has no rights other than those he or she can secure in the marketplace. In other words, much Tea Party rhetoric involving less government and more "freedom" is simply right wing phrasing for the freedoms granted by the marketplace, the freedoms you yourself can secure, not those given to you by a government. Their version of freedom is that everyone is entitled to compete for their freedom, this is indeed their right, but that nothing more is guaranteed.

In real terms, it is the equivalent of climbing up a rope to the top of a cliff then cutting the rope when you reach the top and making others struggle. Peek behind the Tea Party bombast and you'll find many individuals convinced that their riches were the result of that "pioneering spirit" that birthed America. The market for them is the jungle, and they have slayed the beast. It is a fantasy world of affluence and arrogance, of delusions so strong that they threaten to unleash a firestorm of anger from many who are looking for real reasons as to why the American economy is failing. The answer that should be given to them, which is that American Corporations do not care one iota for the entity called America and therefore will go anywhere in the world where worker's rights are close to nil to ensure healthy profits for the shareholders (remember, it's the law) and the end result being that there is no industry in America, is not one CEO's and business leaders are likely to admit. No, the problem is big government and government spending. Never mind that Corporations will do everything in their power to starve the nation of taxes (again, I repeat, they are legally required to do anything it takes to turn a profit) and that real wages have been stagnant for decades. Never mind that many business leaders and Tea Party financiers would like to see a roll back of workers rights. This is all immaterial. The fault is always with government and never with the market. Which is not to say that I am anti-capitalist or endorse Communism in any way. I do not, and in fact see Communism's aims, whether carried out in good faith or not, to be detrimental to both the human spirit and individual freedoms. Individual rights involve a fusion of protection and being left alone. The right to mingle with our fellow beings or the right to be a recluse. The right to be generous or the right to be selfish. The problem, as it stands, is that Corporations have the power to reduce all our rights to their terms. In the teeth of such a monster we have only one hope, and that is government. Not an abusive or totalitarian one, but one that may curb the power of Corporations if they threaten our individual rights. Not always a wise government, most likely a messy frustrating one that does not please everyone, or even most, but nevertheless provides us with the rights and protections that many in the West gave their lives for, and that although we take for granted, could disappear in the blink of an eye if we misunderstand the nature of the "rights" and "freedoms" currently being pursued by many elements of American society.