Maxie Jackson, Pacifica, & the politics of technique – a tragedy for both

[This is a comment published by Ken Mills at his blog, Spark News, on Tu23July, remarking upon his post the day before, ‘Pacifica alert: Maxie Jackson is out & Grace Aaron has taken over’ https://acrnewsfeed.blogspot.com/2019/07/pacifica-alert-maxie-jackson-is-out.html. Mr Mills also published a two-part comment I made F19July, the same length as this one, & mostly included in the ‘Welcome!’ post starting this blog; it was a response to his report that Maxie had left. https://acrnewsfeed.blogspot.com/2019/07/maxie-jackson-out-as-pacifica-executive.html]

Most of the Th18July Grace Aaron statement that you carry at the top of your article, & published in your Friday piece, re-appeared on Pacifica’s homepage, in a statement dated Sa20July. https://pacifica.org/

‘Most’ because there was crucial new info: “[t]he PNB has agreed to hire a media professional as interim Executive Director. His name will be made public when the contract between him and the Pacifica Foundation has been fully executed.” Executed. Ms Aaron just couldn’t stop the non-conscious word association, the effervescence, here spilling out as ink onto the page – red ink.

The speed of this new appointment process shows two things. First, the successor was already chosen. Second, the Pacifica National Board is much more politically homogeneous than a year ago: nothing has replaced the largely timed-out group spearheaded by Casenave-Diaz-Heerwagen-Lark. For quite a few months, ED Tom Livingston had used his recruitment firm to do an ED search, placing Maxie on a shortlist. Why bother to replicate that when it’s obvious who’s best for the job? 

The Saturday statement was another missed opportunity to explain why Maxie Jackson left. The PNB majority, even with upcoming elections, feel so impregnable that they act as unaccountable to no-one, least of all to Pacifica listeners & Pacifica staff, least of all to Pacifica members. Their arrogance & contempt seems to know no bounds. In their view, all that listeners are good for is to be milked for cash.

Crucially, what Maxie Jackson stumbled into wasn’t just a vipers’ nest but the politics of technique. In the case of Pacifica there were two main expressions, one ordinary, the other extraordinary: how to diffuse technical competence within an organisation; how to tailor technique to valued peculiarities of Pacifica. Maxie came across far too often, abstractly, as a management consultant, &, concretely, as an agent of NPR-lite. That’s what happens when a technician speaks to those who fundamentally fear what they’re hearing. Even in a communications industry, communication is less about what one says than how one is heard.

For far too many Pacificans the messenger was an interloper, a foreign body, an ideologue of the ‘soft’ MSM, the mainstream media of NPR, of MSNBC, of CNN on a pinko day. Morning Maxie would have brought in strip programming, kicking the quiltpatch programming out of the Pacifica playpen. That cherished one hour a week would have been liquidised into a predictable thematic schedule, perhaps even standardised across the five-station network, promoting the Pacifica brand, not the station. This was revolution – & Maxie is no Sanderista Bernie Bro. The messenger had to go.

Technique. Technical competence is the basis of substantively rational human organisation, of the attempt to satisfy needs & perceived wants. Ends are one thing, but the means have to be not just compatible but efficacious. It means that what one wants to achieve politically can only spring rationally from sound foundations. Maxie was fully aware of this, as illustrated by the final words of his presentation to the KPFK Local Station Board, in LA, Su23June, his very last LSB recording. Remember, nine days later he supposedly resigned: bunkum. No, he was ousted:

“[b]est practices need not keep you from your mission, OK. Just because we employ best practices does not mean we can’t be the most radical, progressive, liberal, whatever you want to call yourself, content creators in the system. It just means that we’re applying proven methods to attract audience & keep ’em.” (2:34:56, https://kpftx.org/archives/pnb/kpfk/190623/kpfk190623a.mp3)

By contrast, far too many in Pacifica, & throughout the so-called left, fail to understand this. They fail to understand not just the utility but the necessity for competence, even expertise – and that this requires a great deal of learning, of effort, of dedication. A requirement is that one is aware of one’s lack, of one’s ignorance. It requires humility.

Maxie had been misunderstood. There is a fundamental difference between a technocratic approach & a technical one: the first is a mode of ruling, the second is competent performance & its enabling conditions. Unfortunately, all too often it is those who haven’t mastered an organised set of skills, a competence, who fail to recognise what is lacking in current endeavours. Ignorance is bliss. Pervasive wishful thinking only helps those who have brought us all to this place, it protects them from justifiable criticism of their irresponsibility.

But far too many incumbents resent the suggestion that they need to improve, to change their ways. And as the tensions intensify within the organisation, rather than face reality, rather than engage with the pain of change, it’s always much easier to get rid of the irritant, to get rid of the messenger.

The ousting of Maxie is a tragedy for Pacifica, a tragedy very few are aware of.

Finally, note that ‘interim’ – interim ED, interim CFO – is meaningless in PacificaWorld. As Eugen Leviné said in a different context, at his final trial in Munich, “wir Kommunisten sind alle Tote auf Urlaub”, ‘dead men walking’. (‘Auf Urlaub’, ‘on holiday’ as the martial ‘on leave’.)

One thought on “Maxie Jackson, Pacifica, & the politics of technique – a tragedy for both

  1. Hazel Pinder 27 October, 2019 / 11:51

    I thought Maxie was terrific, just what Pacifica needed. I also think the powers that be were afraid of his new ideas. So sad. It’s time for a change. The old guard has to pass the baton. Sorry Maxie, you could have really made a difference.

    Like

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