The Great Indoors
Issue #29, November 1996
When we originally sat down to plan this issue, our intention was to go where Bad Subjects had never gone before: outdoors. What, after all, did we really have to say about saving trees, recycling, and defending nature? While some of us have spent a great deal of time and energy working on these pursuits in the past-toiling in the environmental movement, working in the timber industry (a.k.a. the National Forest Service), our current lives as members of the Bad Subjects Production Team don't often bring us into contact with Nature (capital N) anymore. We felt a certain distance from our topics here-that is, until we discovered how we all subjectively defined the particular environments in which we work, we play and live out our lives.
Given that stretch, we were pleasantly surprised to discover the personal tone of many of these essays. The varying concepts of "environment" represented here extend far beyond the realm of mountain biking, REI and endless supplies of stale trail mix left over from Rainbow Family gatherings. Each of our contributors has spoken eloquently of the ways in which they are daily affected by their environments, whether work environments, learning environments, social environments, political environments and last but not least, natural environments. If there is a single theme which unites these articles it is the notion that in almost every case labor constitutes the connecting thread between ourselves and the world. Each writer seeks to make sense out of these environments in order to better understand themselves, as well as the screwed up, out of whack world that we all live and labor in.
That's why we chose to begin this issue with excerpts from recent debates on the Bad List about some of the marginal political parties which participated in the recent North American elections, and why list members chose to vote in favor of or against particular candidates and parties not considered part of the political mainstream. Production Team member Jonathan Sterne discusses why he voted for the Labor Party candidate, while The Left Business Observer's Doug Henwood tells us why he doesn't think Ralph Nader's Green Party anti-candidacy was a break from Business as Usual. Graham Cook of the New School weighs in with a brief on The Natural Law Party's magic carpet solutions to the decline of the Canadian welfare state and Reason and Democracy's Paul Rosenberg tells us about the party's origins in the pocket books of Guru Maharaja and his philosophy of Transcendental Meditation.
With this absurd political context in mind, we begin the twenty ninth issue of Bad Subjects with a special supplement honoring and supporting current student unrest on American university campuses. Berkeley union representative Lily Khadjavi begins by providing us with an overview of the Berkeley Association of Graduate Student Employees platform, describing the graduate student union's goals and its call for recognition of graduate student instructors as legitimate employees of the university. Annalee Newitz tells us what she discovered about the nature of the university as she reflects upon the bitter lessons she learned about free market education during the 1992 graduate student strike at UC Berkeley. Jonathan Sterne offers a description of the graduate student movement at the University of Illinois, explaining to us that the goals of graduate student unionization extend far beyond simply achieving recognition of graduate students as teachers. Taking stock of the bigger picture, Jonathan argues that the ultimate goal of unionization is the democratization of labor relations in the academy.
Production Team members Kim Nicolini and Cynthia Hoffman take on the issue of "sick" environments. In "Notes from Cyburbia," Kim describes how her workplace literally makes her sick-the building she works in, like hundreds of office buildings across the country, seems to foster illness and disease. Kim explains how this built environment embodies some of the most toxic aspects of capitalist social relations. Cynthia's lifelong struggle with asthma forms the basis for her meditations on the meaning and nature of environmental disease and the technologies that are used to control and ameliorate the symptoms of those diseases. The irony is that, in order to stay healthy, we must rely on the very technologies that spawn the toxins that pollute our air and our bodies, resulting in illnesses such as asthma.
In "Ranger Rick and Revolution," Charlie Bertsch recalls what it was like to learn about ecology during the 1970s in rural Pennsylvania. Charlie reminisces about the early days of the ecology movement, when Americans were encouraged to conserve energy, recycle their garbage, and stop littering. Recalling an equally conservative time, Matthias Regan reflects on the role of Nature in the contemporary men's movement, led by figures such as Robert Bly. Matthias argues that the attempt to recover an "original" male essence (lost through generational struggles over modernization and feminism) is an ideological falsehood, one that leads men to confuse political liberation with male supremacy.
Finally, this issue marks the beginning of a new regular column- "From Bad To Worse." From now on (well, for a while at least — until we get bored with it!), we'll be devoting the final page of Bad Subjects to short thought pieces from our readers around the world. This space will be reserved for articles which articulate how local and regional issues have global implications. We inaugurate this column with a collective statement from the Production Team deploring the passage of California's Proposition 209, the so-called California Civil Rights Initiative, a proposition that will reverse the civil rights gains of the past thirty years and create hostile environments for white women and minorities. We encourage you, our readers, to send us your ideas and commentaries for this column.
Cynthia Hoffman is attempting to complete her graduate degree in English literature. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joel Schalit is a doctoral candidate in the Programme in Social and Political Thought at York University. He's also proud to announce the release of The Christal Methodists' most recent CD New World Odour on Goy Division. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Matt Wray is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. He's looking forward to going camping in the rain and redwoods. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drawing: "Refinery Town"© Mike Mosher 1996.