Author: James Livingston

Tin Star: Revenge, Renunciation and Desire

There’s great pleasure in the renunciation of desire. I know this because for thirty years I refused to eat dead mammals, I dressed like an impoverished graduate student, I acted as if the world were a juvenile detention facility—that’s what they call them, really—and I cut my own hair with scissors, mirrors, and electric razors. Meanwhile, I was the Ideal Dad, Mister Mom, the father who did all the cooking, went to every extracurricular event, and helped with the homework, too. I’m not like that anymore. I left my marriage ten years ago, moved to New York, got a...

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Tied to the Mast

I went to Montana last weekend, to address the Montana Education Association courtesy of James Bruggeman, and, outside of my official duties, I spent a lot of time with Jim on the road, in a big old red Toyota truck that seemed one story high, but with just enough horsepower to get us past the tractor trailers that crowded the passes, as he called them, those crevices in the mountains where you might sneak through to the other side. They’re actually named for the people who found them, and used them, God knows how or why. Now Jim is...

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Bateson in Yellowstone

I’m a fallen vegetarian—I’ve renounced my renunciation, I’ll eat anything—and I’m on the road in Yellowstone National Park with James Bruggeman, a friend who shoots deer, elk, sheep, whatever, with a high-powered rifle, and has since he was a kid.  But as we’re watching out for the animals we want to see (wolves, especially, but elk and buffalo will do), he’s the one who opens the inevitable conversation on hunting with a dissertation on sentience that would make Gregory Bateson proud, or James Lovelock blush. Herewith a transcript of that conversation. ____________ James Bruggeman: “These are moral beings. They...

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We are Live!

Politics/Letters Live is, well… live! This is where we’ll experiment with new formats and new voices, with podcasts, interviews, and plainly weird shit between the “official” editions of the quarterly magazine.  Who knows?  Maybe next year the podcast is old hat, and Chapo Trap House brays from the dustbin of history. We feature three new voices.  Mark Bray, the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook(Melville House), talks with Bruce Robbins and me about the extreme politics of our time. Tune in to part two of our interview when it goes online on Saturday. Natalie Frazier, who was only last year a film student at Northwestern,...

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Jumping the Ship: The Revenge of the Shallow State

Do Stephen Bannon and the CEOs who abandoned the sinking ship of Trump have something in common, aside from the timing of their well-publicized exits? I think so—notwithstanding Bannon’s anti-corporate (thus genuinely populist) rhetoric, the secret ingredient in Trump’s recipe for political success. Read David Gelles today on “The Moral Voice of Corporate America,” and you might begin to think so, too. In view of the diversity of their constituents—their shareholders, customers, and local politicians of different parties—the author wonders how CEOs found their progressive voice, especially since 2015, when they took on the Indiana state legislature’s ban on same sex or transgender public restrooms. He also wonders why. I got some answers for him, and some follow-up questions as well. To begin with, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (558 U.S. 1 [2010]) revoked a major premise of all precedent on corporate personhood and freedom of speech—which was precisely that any corporation’s shareholders were wildly diverse in their political opinions, and so could not be adequately represented in the unitary, anodyne voice of its board or its CEO. Corporate politics can now be more easily personified and articulated because, after Citizens United, CEOs aren’t constrained by legally mandated attention to the variegated political concerns of their shareholders. Accordingly, the “social responsibility” of corporations comes to mean bottom-line attention to a broader constituency—the consumers of their products—and this new...

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