Time for a good polemic
Tumultuous days like these call for expert agitation, for fighting words to defend the bike-locked bodies, for articulate expressions of collective frustration.
Matt Taibbi can churn out a fantastic polemic. And although not all situations call for a rhetorical baseball bat, sometimes he hits the perfect balance of anger, humor, and pointed criticism. The piece he wrote recently in Rolling Stone is one of the best articulations of the Occupy movement I have read. Taibbi writes,
“This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it.”
My fist rises in the air as I read it. It’s an anger that inspires.
If you don’t know about the publication where Matt Taibbi got his polemical sea legs, you should. The Exile, started by Mark Ames with Matt Taibbi in 1997 was an English-language newspaper published weekly in Moscow until 2008, when it was shut down by the Russian government, something its editors had long expected. Full of machismo, always seeking to offend, the Exile embodied a particular kind of bitterness bred in Russia better than anywhere else. I used to read it when I studied abroad in Moscow in 2007, and its takedowns of Putin and the Siloviki, of raging post-Soviet Capitalism, its furious exposure of Moscow’s underbelly, was often as infuriating as it was cathartic. A fascinating piece in Vanity Fair describes the newspaper’s birth this way:
“Ames had put out the first issue in a torrent of outrage at the sharpies and frauds who insisted that post-Communist Russia was a new democratic paradise, at the liars in the Kremlin, the dreamers in Washington, the academic careerists, Wall Street, the World Bank…”
Somehow all that outrage feels hauntingly familiar. The Exile did anger like nobody else, and it’s nice to have Taibbi on Occupy Wall Street’s side.
But speaking of tumult, Cairo is in chaos. When I walked home Saturday evening through the quiet winding streets of Garden City, the central Cairo neighborhood where I live, a faint teargas-filled breeze made my eyes water and my throat close. There was a distant echo of canisters being fired, some people running towards the corniche.
When I got home I closed all my windows to keep out the gas. In my apartment all I could hear was the buzz of the building water pump and some stray cats whining outside.
I stay far away when there are clashes. I’m not very brave, and the battles in the streets are also not mine to fight. But reading about friends in the United States, like Full Stop editors Jesse Montgomery and Max Rivlin-Nadler, who have gotten their hands dirty Occupying America, I wish I could join them. For now I’ll just lend my support in words.