Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Albert King, Live 1970

Lately I’m entranced by the slashing wail of Albert King’s guitar playing.

What’s entrancing you of late?


The Dialectic of Job Creation

Scott Brown was asked recently to comment on Elizabeth Warren and he, predictably, refused. He said that he wasn’t going to weigh in on the field of Democratic candidates for the senate seat he now holds but, as a way of obliquely criticizing Warren, he also said that he wasn’t going to “beat up on job creators” either.

Brown was, of course, referring to Warren’s recent comments, construed by the Right as “a class warfare rant,” on taxation and the rich, but he was also simply demonstrating party discipline. Just as every Republican mechanically refers to “Obama’s job-killing healthcare plan,” thus replacing rational dispute about the pro’s and con’s of this latest attempt to address real problems with partisan nay-saying boiled down to a knee-jerk epithet, they are now responding to any discussion of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as an attack (“warfare”) on “job creators.”

While I find the equation of “the rich” and “job creators” problematic on many levels, the level I would like to focus on is that of the dialectic. Dialectical thinking, on which Elizabeth Warren relies in the comments under discussion, means putting things in context, focusing on complexity, and striving to understand how elements of any system influence and mutually define one another.

Consider the question, “Who creates jobs?” You could say, along with the Republicans (and devotees of Ayn Rand), that people who build companies create jobs. The logic behind this is not complicated: Companies can be seen as “a bunch of jobs,” so if you create a company, you have created jobs. QED.

But how do you “build a company”? Read the rest of this entry »

Review and Rehearsal

Several years ago I read J. Allan Hobson’s The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness and though I found the book somewhat frustrating, as I wrote in this review, I did learn a thing or two from it.

First of all, I learned a little about the neurochemical states that mark the transition from waking consciousness to sleeping and then dreaming consciousness. (The book is mainly an exercise in mapping the neurochemical footprint of alcohol and various drugs to various aspects of these states.)

Second of all, I learned that relatively little scientific research has focused on exactly what goes on in our heads while we are awake. One attempt at this that Hobson describes involved hooking subjects up to an electric pulse generator and, whenever the subject felt a pulse, he or she would write down what was going on in his or her head at the time.

Perusing the data thus collected, Hobson (or someone very much like him) concluded that most of waking consciousness consists of two activities: Review and Rehearsal. On the one hand, we are reviewing past events. On the other, we are rehearsing what we will say or do in future circumstances (I’m assuming that certain categories of fantasy would fit into this latter category).

So, what are you doing right now? Reviewing? or Rehearsing?

Fundamentalism vs. Liberalism

I just realized that in two recent posts, one on class warfare and the other on the Web, I raised the issue of “neutrality.”

In the first instance, I was considering the neutrality of the state and specifically the liberal, constitutional state. If “equality before the law” is the ideal behind this state form, then, at least theoretically, the state should be “neutral.” Of course, no state is ever neutral; its laws and actions ultimately betray some kind of bias towards this or that social group.

In the second instance, I was talking more about a “safe” place, imagining that the Web actually represents a space that escapes the exigencies and conflicts that characterize the physical or geographical space we as humans normally inhabit. While the web can offer a kind of anonymous way out of (or way around) this world, however, it is inevitably embedded in this world and its various flows can and are regularly re-directed, surveilled and blocked by worldly powers.

I point this out because it reminded me that this question of neutrality is ultimately the central question dividing fundamentalism and liberalism.

The fundamentalist view says, “No. There is no neutrality, no ambiguity. The world is divided between good and evil, the righteous and the wicked, God and Satan. You are either for me or against me. You must take a side.”

The liberal view, on the contrary, opines,”The world is ambiguous. There are grey areas and there is much that is as yet unknown. Therefore, rather than seeing the world and its conflicts in absolute terms, we will instead decide on a shared set of standards by which we will determine what is what. These standards are universal and neutral and can be applied in any circumstance and, in fact, the more people we can engage in the application of these standards and the rational discussion of the issues and challenges we as humans confront, the closer we will come to establishing a just and peaceful world.”

So, fundamentalism or liberalism: Which side are you on?

Elizabeth Warren, Class Warfare, and the Nature of Wealth

Elizabeth Warren has been enjoying a kind of viral popularity on Facebook due to some statements she made, apparently as part of her stump speech, which can be summed up with these words, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.”

Warren lays out the basic rational for taxation by pointing out that wealth is a social good. In order to make money, there has to be a monetary system in place; there have to be laws governing commerce and courts able to enforce such laws; there needs to be infrastructure allowing for the free distribution of goods and the free movement of the populace; there has to be an army providing for the common defense. Etc.

Long story short, if you are going to make money by pursuing free enterprise, you need to pay the government for services rendered.

Seen from this perspective, taxes are just a rational exchange between entrepreneurs and the civil authorities: I’ll pay you to keep the system running smoothly, and you’ll allow me to do my entrepreneurial thing.

The problem arises, of course, when you get into the nitty-gritty of how much exactly the one should pay the other.

Read the rest of this entry »

FM Radio: Gateway to the Unknown!

When I was in 7th grade, my brother started having trouble falling asleep. Turned out that the local easy listening station, KJOY, could help him settle into slumber, so that’s what we, who shared a room, listened to at bedtime.

In addition to cultivating in me an enduring fondness for low-key and lushly arranged instrumental pop, this meant we in fact had a radio in our room.

I had been listening to the radio for a while at that point, of course, but had always listened to AM. In fact, the first time I consciously became a fan of any radio station, it was an AM station:  KHJ. I remember listening to KHJ and, for some reason, distinctly remember hearing Coven’s “One Tin Soldier” on it.

So, I’m in 7th grade and nodding off every night to KJOY and my friend, Scott, asks me if I’ve ever listened to FM radio. I tell him I have not. He says that’s what he’s been doing and he likes this band called KISS. (As a direct result of this conversation, KISS Destroyer later became the first record I ever purchased.)

I was curious and thus, one morning, whilst lying in bed, I decided to check it out. I took the radio off the night table, flicked the switch from AM to FM, dialed around for a station, and heard this:

Having only listened to AM, having fairly square parents, and having no older siblings, I had never knowingly heard anything like the introduction to Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” The phased guitar and futuristic chanting sounded so alien, so weird, I could only think to myself, “Man. FM really is different.”

This experience had at least two long-lasting effects.

First, my undying belief that Zeppelin rules and that Presence is an under-appreciated masterpiece. (A friend once told me, “I think you have to be from California to like that album.”)

Secondly, and more significantly, when I first heard FM radio, it dawned on me that there was a world out there of which I was entirely unaware. I had to wonder, “What else was I missing?” For good or ill, I have never stopped wondering that.

Is There a “Neutral” Space in the World?

There are (at least) two worlds.

There is the physical world, the “real” world, where spatial distance makes a big difference. For example, depending on which side of the United States’ border with Mexico you live, you may actually find trucks filled with corpses blocking a major thoroughfare or disemboweled social media activists hanging from an overpass, or just read about it.

There is also the Web world, in which every point is equidistant from any other point (just a click away). This world is more like a shamanic spirit world that you can enter from any point in the physical world and always wind up in the same place.

Of course, a spirit world is a blessing and a curse. As Andres Monroy-Hernandez points on in this essay, the rise of social media and its promise (or at least appearance) of anonymity, can be very powerful when you are operating in and against a murderously dangerous environment. It allows people to speak out virtually and anonymously when they are too terrified to do so actually and in person.

But since this “speaking out” bursts into the real world wherever the internet can be accessed, it poses a real threat to the terrorizers, who then lash out, when they are not able to strike back directly.

The question that Monroy-Hernandez raises is this: What obligation do the private wardens of the Web have to protect the anonymity of its users/inhabitants?

This is a slightly different take on the question of “net neutrality.” While the current debate focuses on whether or not the owners of the “pipes” should be able, or not, to control the flow of information through them based on who owns the information, there is a broader, more political debate to be had about whether the pipe overseers should or should not take sides when the content flow is woven into a potentially or actually violent conflict.

If the overseers reveal identities, they are inevitably taking one side. If they refuse to do so, they are taking the other.

Does this mean that, in this world, there is no truly neutral space, but, instead, only the decision that each individual or corporate entity makes to take one side or another?


A Contradiction I Found in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”

John Galt says to Dagny Taggart, “Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever.”

So what does it mean that Rand uses a fictional character to express her philosophy (Galt’s epic and exhausting speech) as well as a fictional narrative depicting a fictional reality in order to illustrate it?

Either we are not meant to take the ideas at the center of this novel seriously, seeing them instead as a parody on par with her caricature of job-killing liberal democracy, or we are meant to take them seriously and, as it turns out, certain truths can only be spoken by faking reality.

While I am perfectly comfortable with this notion, it is anathema to “objectivism.” The world of A=A is for all intents and purposes devoid of irony.

Irony requires a subject as well as an object, and the process of speaking ironically and understanding, or not, something ironically spoken, can best—not to say “only”— be understood dialectically.

Having rejected the dialectic, however, Rand forces us to take her work at face value (like a coin of pure gold).

And thus effaces it.

Blogging Every Day

Somebody told me, “You could have it made/But you talk too much.” – from “Secret Face”

If I’m going to blog everyday, I’m going to have to keep this stuff mercifully brief. Which will mean going against my nature.

Does that mean I’m being “inauthentic” and thus running counter to the very essence of blogging?

Anything is possible, however improbable.

In Praise of Generic Music

Back in the old days, if someone asked me what kind of music I liked, I would generally answer, “Jazz, rock, and classical.”