THE RADICAL UTOPIAN - AN INTERVIEW WITH JOEL SCHALIT
"People need to read Machiavelli more often to understand that. It's just as valid to explain why religion is used to achieve a political end as Marxism. But the reason they are used as such is that religious narratives are highly politicized to begin with."
3am Political Editor Charles Shaw interviews Joel Schalit, Co-Editor of Punk Planet and author of Jerusalem Calling
COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
There are only a few moments in our lives when we can say that we have read something that transcends the boundaries of our understanding and creates a wholesale transformative experience, something that permeates every part of our thinking mind. More important might be the organic way in which we come across this stuff, harkening strongly towards the lazy Buddhist idea that when student is ready master will appear. Well, as I believe life is a mixture of interchangeable, simultaneously undertaken roles of learning from one while teaching another, it seemed appropriate that when I needed more clarity than I could find about the interconnectivity of Religion, Politics, and Culture, I happened by chance to receive a promotional copy of a book named Jerusalem Calling by a guy named Joel Schalit who wrote for a magazine called Punk Planet. I had only a vague familiarity of the magazine, and had never heard of the author or the book. At first glance, from the book jacket, this guy Schalit seemed like he was trying to fill the void vacated by Karl Marx a hundred odd years ago: the European Marxist Zionist transplanted to America to undermine the establishment through clichéd Punk Rock ideology. His bald head and black turtleneck and smug half-profile face assured me this guy was probably another tirading punk asshole complaining about the "Fascists." I only opened the book because the press release said he was coming to Chicago a week later, and I noticed he was published through Akashic Books, of whom I was beginning to develop some level of respect.
I was never so wrong about anyone in my life as I was about Joel Schalit. I should have known when I found out Punk Planet's office is a block away from my apartment.
I point to three books that have affected me to such a degree that my ideological life after reading them bore little resemblance to that of its predecessor. The first was at a rather old 21, when I read Camus' The Stranger and first sashayed across the metaphysical dance floor with the concept of Modern Existentialism, a stilted dance that, at the far reaches of anyone's particular cosmic cynicism, ends too soon and leaves one looking hither and thither for something with more meat to it, something that moves beyond the idea of a meaningless existence.
The second was Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn, which was the metaphorical carry-permit I had sought to reinforce my growing feelings of being marginalized by a culture that had forgotten how to live, and the ratification of my burgeoning social and artistic consciousness. The opening paragraph, which begins with the invocation, "Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos", and closes with "…and if there were a God, I often said, I would greet him warmly…and spit in his face" gave me the courage to acknowledge and own my growing beliefs that the rules and realities of life bore no resemblance to what my parents had told me.
The third such experience was when I read Joel Shalit's Jerusalem Calling.
Never before (at least for me, as a Political Editor and Activist) have Politics, Religion, and Popular Culture been so honestly and accessibly espoused as they were in this book. What's more, never before have the three been conveyed in such an interrelated manner without the baggage, inflammatory rhetoric or diatribing of what I have come to call the "Poutraged Liberal", the one true enemy of the Left in the public forum, the one true impediment to progress. Shalit is a tiny, unassuming man by appearance, but you would never delineate that perception of him from reading Jerusalem Calling. It is a big voice that radiates off the page, but not from being loud but from being true, something that is a Dodo in our modern world, as even the Revolutionary rhetoric is done for profit margins, market share, and media exposure. Rather, as the book jacket so deftly states, Jerusalem Calling signals the emergence of a new breed of public intellectual, one that gives voice to "A Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World."
3AM: I think I'd like to start by having you tell us a bit about your background, which is so unique and fascinating? You identify yourself as an international child, someone who was raised in the Middle East and has an international point of view.
JS: Yes, I was born in the US, and lived in Israel, Italy, and England as a child before coming back to the US to go to school in Portland. My father had an office in Italy for most of the first part of the Cold War. I think, however, I spent far too much time in the Portland area.
3AM: Which is where, I imagine, you got your calm, relaxed demeanor.
JS: (laughs, grinning ear to ear). Thank you. Yeah, Portland was nice, the opportunity to go to High School and College there was tremendous, but I wouldn't want to live there now. It's too small. I still have that reactive need to live in larger cities.
3AM: So, what did your father do?
JS: He was a ship broker and shipping expert, and also did things like pioneer new methods of shipping for timber and tuna. He was also Chief of Transport for the Haganah, the provisional military government after the war, through Independence.
3AM: So, do you feel like your father or your family interests and their travel had a significant impact on what you became…what your interests became?
JS: Oh yeah, absolutely. My autobiography is by numbers in terms of how my interests and my worldview was determined by how I was raised, particularly by my father. My Parents were very committed Zionists and always spoke politics. I guess now it makes sense for me working in a Punk community considering how many relationships are built along political lines. Like any alternative political movement…and Zionism was once an alternative movement…my parents lived highly politicized private lives. It was not unusual for Jews of my generation to have parents who were Zionists. Now, bear in mind I'm a little young for all this I that my parents were much older, and I am their youngest child. My mother would be 77 now, and my father is 81.n All my siblings are Boomers, old enough to be my parents. What I have in common with Boomers is that I have WWII parents.
3AM: In the introduction to Jerusalem Calling you talk about arriving in Portland at age 15 to attend an Episcopalian boarding school…mind you after you came from London and saw, as a child, the emergence of the Punk movement (1977-1980), which is amazing in it's own right. Setting aside the surreal nature of that particular leap, what was the impetus behind that?
JS: And we lived near Kings Road as well. What made it all the more of a spectacle and so amazing was that we moved there from Tel Aviv, and in the late 1970's Israel-despite always partaking in some form of Western Culture-was very different from what is now. You had this strange mixture of the Beatles and Socialist Campfire sing-alongs. I think the culture shock, being introduced to Western popular culture in 1977 through the punk explosion, was extraordinary. The way it problematized political authority in England at the time…I remember hearing "God Save The Queen" by the Sex Pistols within a few months of moving to London and thought, "Wow, they talk about the government like that?" Surreal is right!
3AM: Did you have an awareness of the Anarchist movement? Were you aware of what it symbolized back then?
JS: No, not in the least, and I'm sure the Sex Pistols didn't really have an awareness of it either. I'm not an Anarchist and I never have been and I didn't really pay any attention to the Anarchist symbols that the Pistols were employing, and I don't think a lot of people did at the time. Anarchism became a political tag that became affixed to punk culture in the early '80s during the Reagan/Thatcher era, but not at that point. At that point it appeared to be more of an expressionistic fashion statement and a legitimate adolescent rebellion by British teenagers against both Conservative British culture and the Hippie movement.
3AM: So, what about the oft-mentioned rebellion against the British Class structure and this idea of stifling Post-Victorian social repression? In America we were taught-or told--that Punk arose out of a kind of violent and dramatic and demonstrative reaction against the Class structure, and the notion of hatred or disgust towards the landed aristocracy, and antithetical to the mass-formality of the British people that had been parodied to death by the Monty Python guys during the '70's
JS: But it wasn't thought of as such by the people who were doing it. It was far more spontaneous and less thought out in that regard. Analytically, from a sociological perspective, yes, that was exactly what they were doing.
3AM: So, interestingly enough, while you were in London watching the Punk movement erupt as antithesis to Corporate Rock, I was here in Chicago surrounded by and force-fed the worst of the late '70's-early '80's Corporate Rock acts through my father, who was an executive with Warner Brothers and did all the major concert bookings in Chicago through Flip Side Records. Personally, I think you got the better end of the deal. I remember seeing all these shows-Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Foghat, Ted Nugent, Kiss, Rush-and running around in the backstage and the dressing rooms and having no real idea who these people were until I was about twelve and saw REO Speedwagon, because I had heard them on the radio. You didn't listen to radio in my house because we had more vinyl than most radio stations, so I listened to what my parents listened to. That was until a friend of mind played "London Calling" and I was totally blown away! Did you ever have a chance to see any of these emerging, seminal punk bands?
JS: No, but they were all on "Top of the Pops", which I watched every week. I saw the Bill Grundy appearance of the Pistols. That was amazing. I saw the Buzzcocks singing "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" and the Skids singing "Into the Valley" and Siousxie and the Banshees and Blondie and The Clash…but I never went out to see those bands live. I think the first band I saw live was Motorhead in New York in 1981..they were warming up for Triumph. It was a punk event at that point… Many punk bands at that time - like those appearing on the "Punk and Disorderly" compilations were wearing Motorhead t-shirts, if you can imagine that. It was the first and last show I went to where everyone was spitting…just gobbing! I didn't take it that seriously as a political event at the time, but that was definitely my introduction to Punk.
3AM: When did you know unequivocally that you wanted to write?
JS: I started writing in earnest I 1982. I was living with my sister who had just graduated from college, in San Francisco. Some friends of my sister gave me a diary. I stared writing regularly, and we did some travelling, so I did basic travel writing. By the time I was a sophomore in High School, I remember filling out a questionnaire about what I wanted to do with my life. My sister was becoming the great journalist she is now, and I thought, okay, I want to be a journalist. I wrote some poetry, won some awards that helped me get into college, but I didn't write formally until after college. I was a very bad student in High School and the only thing that kept my self-esteem was the praise I would get about my writing from the few people to whom it mattered.
3AM: Being acutely aware of politics as a child, and having that be regular discourse in your household, how did you react to American children, who are-especially then-largely unaware of any form of true politics or of any political systems outside the bipartisan road show that they got to view on TV every four years?
JS: It was incredibly shocking. And I say this from the point of view of someone who had not received a formal Elementary School education. It bummed me out. I was really surprised, and it was part of the renewed culture shock of moving back to the United States.
3AM: Were you aware of Anti-Semitism on a personal level before you came to America?
JS: Only as an ideological construct that was behind my family explaining to me why we had to have a State of Israel. Prior to my moving back to the States at age 12, I had never experienced anything even remotely like Anti-Semitism, quite the opposite. Living in London in the late '70's was a lot like living in a Utopia in a lot of respects. The school I went to was full of Arabs, children of Saudi businessmen, and a couple of Iraqi and Syrian families. I became close friends in 5th and 6th grade with a Saudi boy who my father always received warmly. He was being raised by a butler, one of the many wealthy Arab children who had been sent away to get their education while their parents remained back home. London was full of them. In the Fall of '78, when the Iranian revolution kicked into high gear, my school filled up with Iranian kids. So, London was this ideal multicultural world in Elementary School where being a Jew and Israeli was just another identity among equals. Bear in mind, again, the Late '70's marked the beginning of the institutional rising of the new Israeli Right, and the Jewish New Right here in America who were intent on resurrecting new ethnic and cultural distinctions in response to the liberalizing social trends in North America and Western Europe in the 1960's. So, coming back here and running into that for the first time really depressed me...American Jews really depressed me quite a bit. The made Israeli Jews seem positively Radical by comparison. They [American Jews] were religious, which was something I had never encountered in Israel.
3AM: Please explain that.
JS: The Socialist traditions that guided Israel culturally for the first thirty years or so was largely secular in its outward appearance. It was not explicitly "religious", it was religious on a national level, but in no way approached the level of national religiosity that was given birth by the Zionist Revisionist movement, which now takes the form of a national religions movement, and bounces back and forth between Right Wing Zionism and Religious Zionism. This was not part of the landscape at that point in time. It was, particularly to my parents, a cultural and political way of being Jewish which didn't involve going to synagogue or observing any kind of rituals. We didn't keep Kosher, we were annoyed that we couldn't go shopping on Saturdays. So, in 1977 after Menachem Begin's election, all of a sudden we changed the name of the Israeli currency from the pound to the shekel, and we were not allowed to take public transportation in Saturday, etc.
3AM: So then being outside the pale of religion as the prevailing doctrine of your life, what brought you to religion as a field of study?
JS: Trying to figure out what was religious about Jewish Socialism and secular Zionism. The idea of feeling like you belonged in Israel comes from being raised with a religious notion of where you came from, having some form of Messianic expectations in one's own life, which gives you a destiny. So the idea of one living in Israel rather than remaining in the Diaspora, regardless of the historical emergency which forced us to make those kinds of decisions starting in the late 19th Century, were still rooted in religious narratives and education, in the Torah. These political ideas still have their root in the Jewish Religion. More than anything my interest in religion as an adolescent and college student was motivated by my interest in Nationalism. For many Jews and non-Jews alike, Religion and Nationalism are inseparable.
3AM: You say in your book, "At one point in my life I would have felt no need to justify my interest in religion. But now that I am older and more patient, I do try to explain. Unfortunately, this usually doesn't work too well. Religion is one of those subjects people simply aren't prepared to talk about. I'm forever annoyed by individuals who assume that my preoccupation is in some way pathological, as if adopting a critical stance toward religion were a tell-tale sign of madness." Please expound on that point.
JS: This is about being in the US. That passage was meant to address two experiences of dissonance I have had in my life where my political interest in religion and the criticisms I have had of religion have been problematized by Leftist friends, particularly those of the orthodox Marxist persuasion. They always attacked my religious approach to things as being bourgeois, they though it was symptomatic that I was preoccupied with ideology and not economic or political injustice, which is tangible and can be grasped onto.
3AM: Logically, then, you understand the concept of religion being used as a scapegoat rather than being the foundational principles from which their actions spring?
JS: Yes, this remains a problem for progressives as a whole, a particular brand of progressives who refuse to take things like religion and culture seriously, that it is always political economy all the time. The point is not to abandon political economy altogether but to have a political economy of culture and a political economy of religion, something that the American Left has done a terrible job of addressing. The second half of that quotation addresses persons of liberal religious disposition, particularly American Liberals, who do not see faith as having any political manifestations. It's all about seeking out a personal, pleasurable experience of interiority, reflection, and healing. They have no analytic appreciation of religion.
3AM: So what of Fundamentalists of any breed who choose to pervert religious dogma to serve their particular agendas, knowing full well that they are decontextualizing it in order to make the dogma serve a specific purpose?
JS: People need to read Machiavelli more often to understand that. It's just as valid to explain why religion is used to achieve a political end as Marxism. But the reason they are used as such is that religious narratives are highly politicised to begin with.
3AM: So, I want to hear your take on the role and impact, and more importantly, the unseen impact, of Christian Fundamentalism in American government today.
JS: The success of the New Right over the last 25 years-they really started mobilizing after Ford's loss to Carter in the 1977-I prefer to view this period of American History as being very interesting for Progressives merely because of the way in which Establishment Right Wingers managed to impose upon themselves cultural, political, and institutional disciplines, and engage in strategic thinking, which allowed them to present a coherent and unified worldview which American's needed to encounter in order to feel as though their country could be run properly by an organization such as theirs, capable of translating ideology into political practice. Americans by their very nature are motivated by doctrine. They are very Conservative by nature, even when they are practicing Leftist politics. The Republicans have successfully offered for a generation something quite remarkable, and this packaged commodity resonated within a certain subset of the population who bought it and voted for it.
3AM: So, donning our conspiratorial caps here, how do you explain the reconciling of agendas between the so-called Illuminati and the Christian Coalition so that they worked to serve each other. This becomes most apparent when considering the Reagan/Bush ticket in 1980, Reagan's near-assassination, and the radical shift in policy he implemented following his assassination attempt by John Hinckley, which conspiracists believe was organized by the Bush camp. Explain that, if you care to.
JS: (laughs, grinning ear to ear). My feeling is that there was very little institutional opposition to Reagan. Carter was having a hard time dealing with the Iran hostage situation, and the Democrats didn't have anything new to offer ideologically. And the Republicans had found a bete noire in anti-welfare state rhetoric, even though the highest amount of people who have ever received welfare in this country has hovered around 5%. These people, who received proportionally the smallest amount of money in our budget, were vilified and blown so terribly out of proportion. Obviously, Hinckley was acting out and expressing a certain form of political anxiety that the extreme left was feeling about Reagan's ascendancy. Whether or not he was crazy was immaterial. He pathologically expressed and acted out the anxiety of about 40% of the country, and his action has to be read as such. The fact that people want to believe that he was acting on behalf of the Illuminati just serves to mystify the fact that he engaged in an attempted political assassination for what in then end were very political reasons. What's more interesting about that is the fact that Reagan is going through an intellectual revival amongst conservative political scientists.
3AM: Yes, well, that all appears to me to be some half-assed, furtive attempt by the Right to canonize a man that is largely viewed by the American Left as nothing but a puppet who was controlled by purient business interests.
JS: Well, he's not an intellectual, but he was passionate about his ideas and he tended to assimilate and integrate the conservative intellectual currents around him, which makes him much more dangerous than either of the Bush men. Bush, Sr. came out to be more liberal than Reagan in many respects. But I think Reagan's importance was that he laid the ideological foundations for both neo-liberalism and the New Right over the last 25 years along with people like Barry Goldwater. He needs to be regarded as such, but I am reluctant to make Reagan too important, to place him on too much of a pedestal, if only because he is a fetish for the Right in this country right now.
3AM: Do you think he played a significant role in the downfall of Communism?
JS: I think State Socialism, as practiced by countries in the former Eastern Block, was so internally inconsistent and irrational and problematic that it was inevitable that it would fail. It was authoritarian in a way that defied the superior authoritarianism of market economies and it could not survive having a monopoly on power. But that's not to say that America's conflict with the Soviet Union did have a significant influence. I think it fell as a result as a combination of circumstances: external pressure from the west, Western market economics combined with the posturing of the United States military, and the fact that the Soviets were terrible economic planners who could never take care of their people.
3AM: Now…the role of the Military-Industrial Complex, the big bad man whispering underneath the door. How you feel about how it is portrayed? Do you feel its influence is commensurate with its image? Or do you think that, again, it is another red herring tossed out there for the "Poutraged Liberal" on which he can spin his heels and rant and rave over the real chicanery goes on elsewhere?
JS: The Military-Industrial Complex was a term used by Leftists to describe the old warfare state that Herbert Marcuse spoke of as the primary economic engine in the US during the Cold War, and for a long time the M-I Complex was what kept America prosperous by providing work across many different industries and was absolutely essential to maintaining America's world wide economic and military hegemony during the Cold War. It ceased to be as important during the 1990's when defense spending was drastically reduced and American economic power was shifted to the high-tech industry and the outsourcing of industrial production to third world nations. And so the resuscitation of the MI Complex in the last two years, in a way, is an anachronistic and backward-looking means of re-igniting economic productivity. This irrationality is not without real rational objectives, to enforce real old school American Imperialism. It's something that even Clinton was begrudgingly coming around to himself.
3AM: What incites me is that we incur our military all over the world like some modern Roman Praetorian guard under the guise of going to liberate the subjugated and preserve Democracy, when it becomes quite apparent, with the slightest effort towards research and keeping an open mind, that every incursion whether the Gulf War or Somalia or Afghanistan is about keeping the petrodollars flowing from east to west.
JS: Oh, sure. Absolutely. But I think we'd be better off invading Venezuela. The oil is better there, and it would make more sense. Part of America's interest in maintaining a military and colonial presence in the Middle East stems from a cultural and religious interest as it does to dominate an area of the world designated as petroleum rich.
3AM: I know you make it a practice not to offer explanations for American Foreign policy, but you must be assailed about alternate theories behind 9/11? I myself have been known to purport a few in my SIGNS column, and oh MY they get quite a heated response. The day I ran a piece on Thierry Meyssan's so called "theory" about the US Truck bombing the Pentagon itself, by the time the smoke cleared and I cleaned out my Inbox, I was half-expecting Ashcroft to kick down my door. How do you respond?
JS: One of American Progressive thinking's strongest points is its analysis of American Foreign Policy and its political and military interactions with the Third World. And the whole Nation/South End school of analytical thinking does an amazing job of uncovering these kinds of linkages. It is the high culture of American Leftist intellectual life, and to a great extent is far more interesting than the commentary and criticism that one finds in American Leftist political circles.
3AM: But it's the iceberg effect, and no one wants to examine all that lay underneath the surface, despite the obvious fact that that is where the bulk of the real answers lie.
JS: And no one wants to read these kinds of factual based analyses as being metaphors for larger political and cultural problems with this county is burdened with. But it has it roots in political economism that believes you provide the public with all the relevant information and allow them to make informed decisions based upon that. My disposition on that is that I don't think that giving people the facts and information will persuade them to make reasoned political judgements.
3AM: No, not when in America the adage of being able to lead a horse to water but being unable to make him drink typifies the bulk of our nation's approach to politics. American's just don't want to be bothered, they act put-upon when asked to decipher their own politics, and what's worse, react with at best scorn and at worst violence towards those of us who do make it our business to ask the important questions and ferret out the important issues. I mean, without regressing back to the stance of the "Poutraged Liberal", it seems that Americans, even in the face of overwhelming evidence towards some form of social or political ill, and with access to unprecedented amounts of information at the click of a mouse, still choose to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to entertain cause and effect analysis. Why is that? And why has this fanaticism arisen around all these tissues-social, cultural political, and religious-used with palpable hatred as a form of exclusionary politics?
JS: That's a very complicated question. America has a very strong Egalitarian ethos, despite being anything resembling an Egalitarian state, and there are certain discursive prohibitions upon discriminating and persecuting people on the grounds of class. So Americans are encouraged to find ways to disguise economic discrimination by being given religious frameworks through which to carry on the act of class warfare without having to say so. Religion, at its core, is always about class. And yet it is in absolute denial that it possesses any economic meaning whatsoever.
3AM: Yes, despite the fact that the Vatican remains the world's largest landlord.
JS: (laughs). Yes, the Vatican remains so.
3AM: It seems that this alleged separation of Church and State, while being present in the Constitution, is not present in the collective unconscious of its constituents.
JS: That's absolutely correct..
3AM: And everything is "God Bless America" and "In God We Trust", and of course, the speech Bush Jr. gave the day he was inaugurated, which you deconstruct in detail in your book. It makes my hair stand up.
JS: As it rightfully should.
3AM: And I think that I, as representative of a certain area of the Left, react with as much vehemence towards "those people", as I often call them, as any Fundamentalist reacts to those they designate as "heathen". This fuels an irrational rage that permeates, and ultimately serves at times to undermine my public platform. I guess I'm asking, how did you come to this spiritual balance with politics, which is such a rare and beautiful skill? How do you remove the knee-jerk emotional response to religion and politics?
JS: I spent years being outraged by racism and discrimination and the expression of political sentiments of those with whom I did not agree. But I was always raised by my sister Naomi and my father Elie to never take the opposition so seriously that it confounded my ability to grapple with and understand where they were coming from. You can depersonalise those ideas which you dislike and which hurt your feelings by trying to grasp their roots, rather than their surface expression. And that is the most empowering thing in the world for someone who is being discriminated against so that when one hears these feeling and beliefs belief expressed, it allows you to understand their rational origins, which is something that "they" can't do.
3AM: But I'm torn. Most of my platform comes from personal experience: seeing the so-called "war on drugs" from the street level and watching kids get gunned down, seeing families torn apart by addiction and poverty. Holding friends as they died of AIDS in the late '80's and early '90's. Being the victim of the agenda of the Religious Right when they booted "Reality Check" off the airwaves because we told people the truth of about John Ashcroft, whatever it may be. I am torn between the passive, discursive approach you utilize so well…which I admire immensely…and an impassioned approach that springs from the mortal seriousness of some of these issues. How do you reconcile that conflict?
JS: Wendy Brown, a political philosopher makes this incredibly cool argument that in order for the Left to be more effective, the left needs to look at the way it presents its politics as if it were an argument, not just as statements of fact or truth. Humanism is not possible right now. Discourse about everyday life, the non-intellectual glory, has been so intensely corrupted by the mainstream media that all you see or read in the news these days are innocuous "human interest" stories. There is only 10% of hard news, and 20 minutes of how a lady in Kansas saved her dog from a well. We need to reappropriate the media and the discourse about what constitutes a legitimate human-interest story. It's not about suburban homeowners and their battles against lawn-mower incursions, or a poor church in the ghetto facing eviction. We need to recast these stories in a more political sense. The real human interest stories are ghettoised in the Leftist press and will remain so, and this is read by only a tiny percentage of the population because the Leftist press still continues to invoke this revolutionary stance, which immediately excludes 90% of the reading public because the Leftist press exudes political opinion. Regardless of the verity of the belief, the CBS Evening News, the public feels, is objective and does not infuse their reporting with a political slant. Americans and Europeans are news junkies, and their primary political education, for the most part takes place in this context…which is in fact quite biased reporting. Either way, in the West the news media acts as a legitimating force to allow people to be critical. Market economies are inherently irrational, and because of that the media outlets of these market economies express that irrationality. It would be great if the media was non-profit, and thereby objective. The BBC is an excellent example of that.
3AM: I watch the French news show Le Journal every night at 11. It's the only remotely objective opinion I feel I can get here. So, taking into account that you and I are editors of Internet publications, and seem to be on the forefront of this new media movement, do you think or feel the Internet is becoming or should become the place where objective media is reported.
JS: Absolutely not! I think the Internet is so saturated with corporate this and business that that the Internet is simply going to be a replication of print and broadcast media. The only distinction that it will have is the possibility of creating your own news outlets without having to seek extraordinary financing. That's what has allowed Bad Subjects to flourish. But again Bad Subjects has been supported by a grant from the State of California for (nearly) 10 years. We live off of foundation grants from UC Berkeley. We're a non-profit, but we barely get any money, and what we do get only covers out print costs. Our server space is donated by the University of Washington, a state school, so essentially we are subsidized by the taxpayers of the State of Washington. In that regard, to a certain extent, we are a state-run institution. Because of that we don't have to take out banner ads or the like, and we have something on the order of 150,000 readers. We were one of the first three internet publications, and we are the sole survivor of this first generation.
3AM: Have you been fending off people that have been trying to buy you out and take you commercial?
JS: Absolutely, but we're so idiosyncratic and have this terrible reputation for not returning mail that I think nobody is really interested. We are considered part of the Establishment Leftist Media landscape, we get a ton of reprints elsewhere, and have this Graduate Student/Academic vibe, so we'll never be regarded like The Nation but that's not what we're after. Whether it lives another 10 years remains to be seen, but it will always be online as long as our webmaster sees to it.
3AM: What do you envision for the Internet in 10 years?
JS: It's just going to be an amplification of what exists right now. To a large extent it has been fully rationalized for its possible productive purposes. The next thing is acquiring Broadband on a wide scale so that streaming, real time media is accessible. The web has exhausted itself as a Utopian publishing and broadcasting space. The only thing that remains to be seen is the extent to which the Leftists will use it to disseminate ideas. It's still a baby, it's less than a decade old.
3AM: So, you suggest people still avail themselves to it now?
JS: Sure. Secure a spot now. If you have a unique idea and the resources to make it happen, you should do it. There's always space for that in any publishing or broadcast business. But it will not be a universally fantastic medium until everybody has access to it, which is contingent on the standardization of Broadband.
3AM: SO what do you think is going to happen to the world in general in the next few years? What about the rise of Radicals regarding the WTO and the heightened security state of the world now?
JS: It depends on what you want to see happen. Things look good for the Left. A recent anti-EU demonstration in Barcelona recently drew 250,000 protestors. The health of the Left looks good, even though I am concerned with the intellectual development of the Left. There's a lot to fear in terms of state security and state infiltration of the Left, especially since Seattle in '99, but that comes with the territory. Bear in mind I do not agree with the WTO rioters. I unilaterally condemn violence in any form. There is no room on the Left for violence or smashing windows of stores. People make a living at Starbucks and the GAP. You take one of these stores out, you deprive someone of a week's wages or more, and that's fucked up! Violence does not serve the Left whatsoever because it replicates on a smaller scale the level of violence that the state has a monopoly on. It cannot be tolerated. It's morally wrong, it discredits us, and the people most affected are not the corporate people to whom it is directed but the working class people who get caught in the crossfire. That type of behaviour should be actively discouraged and those types of people should be kept far away from any mobilization effort. Their hearts may be in the right places, but their hands are not. I'm not a Revolutionary. Revolution is a tired concept and it presupposes a capacity to position oneself outside the system. We need political transformation, which ultimately is a collective notion of emancipation. Liberation is a far superior term to Revolution. Violent overthrow of the State not only isn't going to happen, but shouldn't happen because you always have the problem of replicating what was there before. Violence in and of itself is Reactionary and begets more violence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is associate editor at the Utne Award-winning Punk Planet Magazine
, and co-director of the politics and culture journal Bad Subjects
, the longest running publication on the Internet. He is a contributor to the San Francisco Bay Guardian
, and is editor of the forthcoming Anti-Capitalism Reader
. Schalit currently lives in San Francisco, where he is also a member of the beats and noise agit-prop band Elders of Zion.