Manufacturing Dissent Since 1996
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Posted by Alexander Jerri

A stairway rises from the floor. One step up. Two steps up, three, and so on. Then, at the ninth step, an abrupt end. A final step, only eight steps shy of the second floor. The pedestrian stands on the inadequate final step, some five feet off the ground, neither fully on the first floor, yet unable to attain the second.


What manner of half-assed structure is this? the abortive pedestrian asks. Did the architect fail to calculate the number the steps in the flight of stairs correctly? Did the building contractor run out of lumber at this point? The unfinished stairway is just complete enough for a person to fall from, but insufficient to use for ascending entirely from one floor to another.


Picture it, the incomplete stairway, standing on its own in a museum gallery or a sculpture garden, for it is in fact a work of art. It is an avant-garde stairway, refusing to answer the pedestrian’s desire, not out of spite, but from the simple instinct to be itself. It owes you no explanation, no more than it owes you its utility. It owes you nothing. It exists in defiance of humanity’s petty needs.


Does it not remind us of the words of Texas politician, Tim Boyd, who resigned as mayor of Colorado City, Texas after the weeklong deadly power outage two years ago. In response to frustrated constituents complaining about freezing to death, Boyd wrote: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!” A government and a utility service defying the people’s calls for something in exchange for their tax dollars? That’s called avant-garde government. [You can hear or read about that fiasco in my essay from March 4, 2021, here: “The Quiet Part Out Loud.”]


Are these not the hallmarks of a new aesthetic in the official philosophy of problem solving? Another municipal analog was last week’s record storm and flooding in South Florida. Broward County, where Fort Lauderdale is located, got over two feet of rain. This could be due to the trend of global atmospheric warming. Warmer air can hold more moisture, a commonly understood cause for storms dumping unusually destructive amounts of rain.


Whatever the reason for the massive amounts of water, they’re doing something about it in Broward County. The most rainfall in a single day Fort Lauderdale’s streets are built to manage right now is three inches. 25 or so inches of rain, needless to say, is going to complicate things.


Not to worry, however. Fort Lauderdale is on track to improve their ability to move stormwater out of the streets of the city. At the end of this current run of design improvements, instead of a mere three inches of stormwater, their new system will be able to handle a whole seven inches! Then a twenty-five inch rain would put them at only eighteen inches below adequate. If you’re going to get your house flooded, better to do it in a city submerged a mere eighteen inches deep instead of twenty-two.

That is some avant-garde improvement.


Ever been on welfare? Good luck surviving on it. Food stamps? You get almost enough to inadequately feed your family. But maybe you’re one of those model citizens who has a job and even health insurance. You will often find leave and treatment for illness or accident suffered by you or a family member, or leave for pregnancy, to offer insufficient time or services to care for yourself or your loved ones. And of course public education, public libraries, and most public services are notoriously, sardonically underfunded.


Even the US military doesn’t offer its troops sufficient food. And during the recent wars in the Persian Gulf, private companies pocketed taxpayer dollars rather than supply troops with the vehicles and body armor, facilities and food they’d been contracted to provide. Not stepping up to the job is the model of behavior set by corporations and the government cash cow they own and which lays golden cow pies for them.

And then they complain that “no one wants to work anymore.” Look in the mirror, oligarchs. Government is getting the people it deserves.


Half measures as official policy are a fascinating behavior, a theatrical way for the stewards of a society, whether elected or self-appointed, to resign themselves to incompetence and defeat. We'll surely see many more such absurdist Pyrrhic gestures worldwide as coastlines submerge, forests burn, mass shootings escalate, famines and wars drive mass migrations of peoples, etc. The wildest thing to me is how much effort and expense goes into doing that which is less than meaningful.

Even the bread and circuses are half-assed. The iPhone is buggy and unwieldy, and it tortures and exploits those who make it. Products routinely fail to deliver what they promise, and that is exactly what’s expected of them. Instead of bread, we work and obey for bitter, undercooked dough. Where circuses are advertised we are greeted by rusted scaffolding from which hang moth-eaten mildewed shreds of canvas. Acrobats tumble from shoddily-made equipment but continue to go through the motions of performing on crutches, in bandages, bone-setting hardware, and prosthetic limbs. It humbles me, your socialist leisure correspondent. It puts my small efforts and non-efforts to shame.


The rulers are proving to be true masters of half-assery as a mode of operation. The rulers are the avant-garde. We artists are merely the shadow trailing after them.