25 Nov 2015, 7:21am
Zero Squared

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Zero Squared #46: Political Determinism


C Derick Varn is a poet, teacher, and theorist. He currently lives in Cairo, Egypt and has previously taught in South Korea and Northern Mexico. He is a lecturer in English Literature, Composition, and Intercultural communication. Even though I have never met in him in person I consider Varn to be, at this point, an old friend. He is a reader at Zero Books and a regular guest on the Zero Squared podcast.

This week we return to discussing Russell Jacoby’s Dialectic of Defeat and end up discussing the problem of “political determinism.” Political determinism is the one sided idea that political will rather than economic necessity shapes the world.

An easy way to understand what political determinism is to consider conspiracy theories, or more accurately the conspiracy theory of history. From the perspective of the deep conspiracy theorist, history is determined by willful acts. There is no such thing as an accident. All plans work out as they are envisioned. If there are poor people in the world it is because somebody, somewhere, wants it that way. The radical alternative to this conspiracy theory version of history is one that admits for unintended, but not acausal, consequences.

If you’re a regular listener to this podcast I have two requests for you. The first is to ask you to check out Zero Books new youtube channel. Just search for Zero Books at youtube to find it. Also, if you like this little show you might leave a review at iTunes. If you like the press take a look at our website. Zero Books has six new titles coming in December: Slave States, The Space of Writing, Drone Apocalypse, Against Capitalist Education, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism, and Positive Realism. These books make great Holiday gifts for the grad student or communist in the family. Okay, so that was three requests.

In this episode you’ll hear from Mister Speedy Delivery, Mister Rogers, a Walmart factory worker, a clip from Sam Cooke’s hit “Chain Gang” and Dan Lett’s “Green Sharpie.”

Zero Squared #45: Psychology or Progress?


Ashley Frawley is the author of the Semiotics of Happiness from Bloomsbury, a Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University, and a reader for Zero Books. She recently debated Zero Books author Mark Fisher on the subject of the importance of personal psychology to left organizing and spoke about the immigration crisis at the Battle of Ideas. Topics covered in our conversation include the pessimism of the left, revitalizing the Enlightenment, and left-wing attitudes towards Islam.

The back of the jacket copy from her first book includes the following paragraph:

Emerging from the analysis is the observation that, while apparently positive and light-hearted, the concern with happiness implicitly affirms a ‘vulnerability’ model of human functioning, encourages a morality of low expectations, and in spite of the radical language used to describe it, is ultimately conservative and ideally suited to an era of ‘no alternative’ (to capitalism).

In this episode you’ll hear a collage of pop music from 1970-2010 that took me three hours to assemble to what I must admit might be a less than fully realized result, the Tinkler’s “The Future is Not as Good as it Used to Be,” Charles Manson’s advice on how to get out a tough stain, Dan Lett’s “Gravy,” and a bunch of other noise and clips.

Zero Squared #44: COINTELPRO and American Maoism in the 60s


Aaron Leonard is a writer and historian. He is a regular contributor to Truthout, Rabble.ca, the History News Network, PhysicsWorld, and Canadian Dimension magazine. His book Heavy Radicals was published by Zero Books in February of this year and he returns to the podcast to talk about COINTELPRO and American Maoism.

Joshua Moufawad-Paul reviewed the book in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books this way: Leonard and Gallagher’s historiography reads as a grand political tragedy: it is the story of an organization that, despite significant state interference, temporarily became the primary force of revolution in the United States, and then, also despite state interference, imploded and became a marginal grouplet. Apprehending this tragedy should provide the contemporary left with several useful lessons.

In this episode you’ll hear a cut up of a documentary on Mao, a songified speech from Bob Avakian, and Andrew Kliman and Raya Dunayevskaya explaining the negation of the negation. Right now you’re listening to the March of the Volunteers but in just a moment you’ll be listening to Aaron Leonard and I discuss the history of some heavy radicals.

Zero Squared #43: Talking to Coffeen


Daniel Coffeen is a rhetor and a philosopher — if by philosopher you mean somebody who plays with concepts and ideas. He formally taught at UC Berkeley and the SF Art Institute but now spends his time writing and consulting. Coffeen is a frequent guest to the Zero Squared podcast.

In a recent blog post entitled The Technology of Making Sense Coffeen wrote:

Sense making is not a natural thing per se. It is constructed in the same way that Deleuze and Guattari suggest that desire is constructed. There are what they call fluxes — emergent flows — that are cut and distributed by machines. The act of making sense by categorizing or knowing something is just such a machine. It’s a kind of technology that is taught in schools as just how we do things. Now, Bobby, can you put all the red blocks in the red bucket?

In this episode we discussed, among other things nominalism, Platonism, and philosophy in the academy. You’ll also hear the voice of the youtube star Numberphile as well as well as Michael Levy performing A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit on the lyre.