Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Origins

After going off on Woodrow Wilson ( I forgot to even mention my source, The WilsonianMoment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anti-Colonial Nationalism by Erez Manela ) I go to a lecture last night called "The Global War on Terrorism: It's Origins and Likely Outcomes" by Prof. Richard Drake and he right away identifies Wilsons part and Versaille in general as seminal moments of "origin". While journalist/author Robert Fisk and others have been treated as heretics by the capitalist media and those invested in the dominant narrative for suggesting "chickens coming home to roost" or "blowback", history manifests itself and the mostly liberal crowd was squirming a bit as Drake drove this point home again and again. Quoting Fisk at length (yes, I WAS suprprised!), the prof talked of Balfour and Wilsonian rhetoric and European treachery and all their links to the manifesto of Osama bin Laden and general Arab outrage. What will our children and their children see manifested in their lifetimes as a result of our generations actions and policies?

When I say treachery I'm thinking the whole "Lawrence of Arabia" thing, of all those encouraged to fight the Turks and Germans and thinking they were fighting for their own independence. Im thinking of the Palestinians finding out where the new Jewish "homeland" was going to be. Im thinking of British Petroleum and those Mesopotanian oil deposits and the whole cynical, greedy project of divveying up the spoils.

Drake also courageously de-constructed the "linguistic drapery" such as "War on Terror" now used to veil the same greed and power projection and I eagerly await next Tuesdays lecture. (And his new study on Trotskyism and the Italian left.) Right here in Missoula Montana, home of the new Two Rivers General Membership Branch of the IWW. Yeah!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Obfuscating Rhetoric

Che bob made a comment about rhetoric in the last post. This language from long ago is relevent to our current experience and to the leaders currently being "chosen":

"We are chosen, and prominently chosen, to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the path of liberty." Woodrow Wilson

As an expression of arrogant exceptionalism it would stand out as instructive but we might even accept that somewhere in his heart a complex and confused individual like Wilson believed such hyperbole. Unfortunately his actions demonstrated how shallow his notion of liberty was. Remembered as an idealist with his League of Nations and Fourteen Point Plan for social justice, he was a child of his times and his rhetoric as hollow as that we hear today about "self-determination, popular governments, reduction of arms and spreading democracy". When I say child of his times I mean reflexively racist, as were most Americans who believed the dark peoples to be "children and we are men in these deep matters of government and justice".

What about good old hypocricy? Plenty of that to go with the ignorance and arrogance. After all, America was in the Philipines, had annexed Mexico and was currently imposing military protectorates on Haiti and Nicaragua when he is spouting this rhetoric about "liberal internationalism". Sound familiar Beak? There was also that strange mix of missionary zeal I mentioned (in the last post) when Wilson claimed the US was "ordained as a nation to lead erring brothers toward the light of liberty and democracy." Reagan borrowed all this bullshit and piled it on thick. Who carries the torch today?

Undortunately, his actions leading up to the Paris Peace Conference were not just naive or rhetorically hypocritical but duplicitous and history making in setting the stage for violent conflict throughout the modern era. Words have consequences. Young democrats in burgeoning movements throughout the globe, Egypt, India, Syria, Persia, Korea, believed Wilsons talk of "self-determination" and freedom from colonial powers. Unfortunately the colonial powers, Britian, Italy, France and Japan had secretly divvied up these territories, undermining all these democratic ambitions and the secular liberalism beginning to take hold in Muslim countries. Wilson learned of the deal and had a choice. He chose the Empires.

I believe he suffered from the same delusion and confusion which prevails today, equating democracy with capitalism instead of recognizing the fatal contradiction between them and it's inevitable product, imperialism. Im not saying that all post-colonial violent upheaval could have been avoided but what if Wilsons words had been backed by conviction, what if the Senate had endorsed a League of Nations, what if autonomy had been granted in Paris?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fear of Emptiness?

In the Texas debate Barack Obama said that US foreign policy had neglected Latin America, something he would right. By not providing "aid" and establishing a dominant presence "people like Hugo Chavez or the Chinese fill the void". Maybe he's being schooled by Beakerkin on global hegemony or maybe he was just pandering to a crowd that believes what it reads in Time magazine or The Wall Street Journal, but either way it's a sad contradiction from the man who said about Iraq ,"We need to change the mindset that got us there in the first place." Same damn mindset. He knows what USAID and the NED really do, doesn't he?



When you view regions of the world as places that are either occupied or a "void" instead of places filled with people, people with complex histories and societies that have their own trajectories and aspirations, you have bought into that whole "Great Game" view that has characterized every modern Empire. Soft power means trade and debt, aid and militarization, resource extraction and Coca Cola. All the mainstream candidates and policy wonks who they listen to think of the globe as a volume which becomes filled with " capitalist-democracy" and the American Way of Life. Throw in a little Christian zeal and White Mans Burden. ( we're going to have to come up with a new term considering Barack, Condi and Colin )It's the Missionary Position and Kissinger, Albright, Baker, Holbrooke, Brzezinski, Lake, Dennis Ross and the whole crew are on top, sweating away, filling that void. (apologies to Freud)

I don't imagine the economic advisors spending much time talking about overaccumulation either. They concentrate on the micro - oil prices, bubbles, stimulus packages and tax rates- things where they believe they can have some direct control, but someone should start paying a little attention to Mr. Bellow:

"The stagnation of the real economy is related to the condition of overproduction or over-accumulation that has plagued the international economy since the mid-1970s. Stemming from global productive capacity outstripping global demand as a result of deep inequalities, this condition has eroded profitability in the industrial sector. One escape route from this crisis has been “financialization,” or the channeling of investment toward financial speculation, where greater profits could be had. This was, however, illusory in the long run since, unlike industry, speculative finance boiled down to an effort to squeeze out more “value” from already created value instead of creating new value."

Walden Bellow doesn't mention that ever-popular method of wealth creation known as primitive accumulation. Screw the soft power and go get what you want. Devote your budget to militarization! "Fill that void" with bases and embassies and the United Fruit Company.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's Totally Academic!

Went to see Prof. Paul Lauren give the second in a series of lectures titled Behind the Headlines: Human Rights and the World Today. He is adored by the alumni, fellow staff and mostly grey haired liberals who attend these sorts of things and he responds with a mixture of self-deprecation, personal anecdotes about his stature and the fame and celebrity he has rubbed elbows with as well as penetrating and profound tidbits of liberal moral wisdom such as; "torture is just wrong!"

The audience of self satisfied, educated , well-to-do "progressives" just eat this stuff up, clucking with approval when the Prof starts dissing the record of the current administration regarding its record on human rights and international law. Missoula liberals get to feel a special mixture of pride and prejudice, feeling both surrounded and besieged (Montana is a very conservative place generally) yet superior in taste, knowledge ,tolerance and understanding. So when Prof. Lauren spoke of "natural law" and the "inherent rights of man"they could think,"ah yes, if only all others were so enlightened!" The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations, the various conventions against torture and collective punishment, habeous corpus, the International Criminal Court, protocols, laws, institutions and diplomats, all of this Shining City on a Hill to which Prof. Lauren has dedicated his career formed and unformed out of the aether as audience members asked "So why is there still so much injustice?" or "Do you see less global conflict in the coming decades?" or "What is to be done?" His answer was always the same: "I don't know." Twenty years of schoolin and they put you on the day shift. Look out kid.

For four hours over the two nights Prof. Lauren went on brilliantly about justice and power and rights and norms without ever once mentioning the historical antagonism between labor and capital. He included class along with race, gender, religion and ethnicity in one point about balancing diversity but he did not venture to asign different weights to any factors, and in a sense ,I think, the audience was relieved that this renowned scholar had only critiques and no solutions. In this regard he was reassuring, because if the Brilliant Professor didn't have any answers, their own mystification about "all the terrible problems in the world" was at least a little less unsettling.

Next week we start covering The War on Terror and the last two lectures cover Islam and the West. We'll see if the word profit ever comes up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Must Read

Im a huge fan of Thomas Pynchon and his newest , Against The Day, does not dissapoint. At a thousand eighty three pages it is a little dangerous for bedtime reading (you don't want to drop this thing on your head) but I am already reading passages over twice, wishing it never had to end. In these dangerous times, I think reading fiction is a luxury we can barely afford, but this work speaks directly to our cause and our time. Meet Mr. Scarsdale Vibe, Capitalist Christian:

"Doesn't account for this strange fury I feel in my heart, this desire to kill off every damned socialist and so on leftward, without any more mercy than I'd show a damned microbe."

He didn't get to fight in the Civil War but he dreams of "escaping into the freedom of bloodletting unrestrained, the dark promise revealed to Americans during the Civil War, obeying since then it's own terrible inertia, as the Republican victors kept after Plains Indians, strikers, Red immigrants, any who were not likely docile material for the mills of the newly empowered order."

Iv'e never really thought about the rage the Civil War unleashed and the trauma never reconciled, but only compounded and on it's own trajectory. ( Perhaps festering still, just beneath the surface of each of us?) Scarsdale again:

"My civil war was yet to come. And here we are in it now, in the thick, no end in sight. The Invasion of Chicago, the battles of Homestead, the Coeur d'Alene, the San Juans. These communards speak a garble of foreign tongues, their armies are the damnable labor syndicates, their artillery is dynamite, they assisinate our great men and bomb our cities, and their aim is to despoil us of our hardwon goods, to divide and subdivide among their hordes our lands and our houses, to pull us down, our lives ,all we love, until they become as demeaned and soiled as their own.O Christ..."

Pynchon takes us on a wild ride across the Universe between the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893 to the years just after WWI, up in balloons, down in mine shafts, and through the double refraction of Icelandic spar. Here is Flaco, Anarchist survivor of Barcelona in the 90s:

"We look at the world, at governments, across the spectrum, some with more freedom ,some with less.And we observe that the more repressive the State is, the closer life under it resembles Death. If dying is a deliverance into a condition of non-freedom, then the State tends, in the limit, to Death.The only way to address the problem of the State is with counter-Death, also known as Chemistry."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Modernity and Pepper

Lots of narratives about the origins of modernity talk about new forms of governance, commerce, the projection of power, or talk about the rise of philosophical rationality, new knowledge and the scientific revolution of the 17th century. The story of the Dutch East India Company is the perfect vehicle for weaving these various threads into whole cloth.

"...it was a shared risk public stock issuing company; it sought to manage competition and realise economies of scale; it was a state creation but it exercised enormous, often brutal military power, functioning on the world stage as a quasi-state entity; and it was arguably the world's first multinational corporation, with stock held by foreigners..."
From Steven Shapins review of Matters of Exchange:Commerce ,Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age by Harold Cook

Following the creation of the British East India Company, this model still exists quite successfully today in the form of Halliburton or any number of state/capital joint ventures. In its day the Company moved a lot of spice (and other wealth) but think of what it meant in terms globalised action: property rights, including knowledge, networks of world wide information exchange, the development of technical and commercial standards as well as mobilising new scientific knowledge, astronomical, instumental, mathematical and, importantly , medicinal.
With an arsenal of gunpowder and newly established "property right" law which established ownership for those who put land to "beneficial use"( colonies), the rival empires created unimanagable wealth and a system still being replicated today. The new "pepper" is petroleum and it is still the merchant/ state alliance which manages and controls the flow. In this sense we are not really as "post-modern" as many would suppose.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The More Things Change...

The more they don't. From the 1892 platform of the Populist Party:

"We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box, Legislatures, Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench...The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists!"

I'm not sure where the idea of "moral ruin" comes from, I can't imagine why early Americans thought they had achieved some sort of state of grace, considering all the forms of oppression they both brought with them and continued to invent. There is almost a unique lack of comprehension of the ironical in the American consciousness, how else explain the Christian slave shippers or land stealing "pioneers"? Or George Bush, or your neighbor across the street? Masters of self-delusion,both the liberals who send their check to Darfur, sip their "fair-trade" coffee and sit back for some E-trading and the working stiff being evicted from his home who just voted for Mitt Romney. Both of their comfortable- if- irrational realities are about to get a wake up call from the Wobbly on his soapbox, from the pamphlet sliped into their hands, from the pissed off student sitting at their dinner table. Real change is gonna come!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Virtual Conditioning

I remember not that long ago when I would visit an arcade there would be a little airgun on a chain and you would try to shoot little ducks or something for an insanely cheap and tacky "prize". Those innocent diversions have been replaced by video games such as Halo 3 ,Assassin's Creed or Eternal Forces, which adds an "evangelical thrill to the marriage of technology and annihilation". Now I personally have never touched a video game, not so much as a pac-man, but according to the recent review of two new "war" books by Andrew O'Hagan in the London Review of Books, "a quiet revolution appears to have taken place-quiet because of headphones ,pehaps-in the Jerry Springer generations attitude to death and violence".

It was easy to explain the poor, the minority, the immigrant soldier looking for citizenship or a way out of the inner city or hardscrabble farm but I always wondered about the white, middle class ones so eager to "fight evil" or perform a duty of civilization. "Tough young men up to their eyeballs in fantasy" (sound like anyone we know?) (Beak?) ,"They were a new breed of warrior...,Soldiers raised on hip hop,internet porn and video games, a disparate band of born-again Christians, dopers, Buddhists and New Agers who gleaned their precepts from kung-fu movies and Oprah Winfrey". I would add death metal music and put Buddhist in qoutation marks.

This is simply a sophisticated adaptation in the long running project to colonize the minds of the young but like everything , there is the issue of blowback. In the new game Manhunt 2, "players direct the progress of an asylum inmate inmate with a split personality. You can choose to 'be' either 'Danny' or 'Leo': Leo is a psychotic killer, an expert in 'combat', evasion, infiltration and assassination techniques."