Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hegemony Crumbling

Overturning capitalist rule in the West is still largely a theoretical proposition. That is not to discount the many positive efforts which currently exist, only to say that a "popular front" and focused praxis is still a long ways off. Not so in Latin America, where movements across the continent are engaged at this very moment in a life or death struggle with Right-Wing forces. While the worlds ( and much of the Lefts) attention is focused on the Middle East or Eastern Europe, the battle over control of resources and the distribution of power and wealth in the other America is entering a crucially decisive stage.

The most fascinating aspect of this struggle is it's historic confluence with the democratic revolution as it takes place not on the old field of armed insurrection but in the new territory of majority building through a mostly indigenous and working- poor based awakening. This is not to say violence is not present (especially in relation to reactionary forces), but only that political models are mostly liberal and have converged with social or collective-based economic models. This reality springs from both the failure of neo-liberal capitalist policies and the concrete demonstration by China of the lie that democracy "necessarily" follows capitalism. ( witness Americas heightened, nervous efforts recently to perpetuate the myth) The Right is very familiar, large landholders of mostly European descent using their political power and wealth to maintain an unjust and often barbaric system of priviledge over the indigenous and mestizo majority. The petite bourgeois and new urban rich hope to moderate and social-democratize the process (maintaining markets and current property relations) but they understand that the power of this democratic wave is immense.

The Western media which served as cheerleaders for the "rainbow revolutions" of the old soviet republics purposefully ignores the explosion of bottom-up democracy in countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and to a lesser extent Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. Peoples movements are on the march in much of Cental America and Mexico but they go largely unreported. Would you know from reading the NY Times that Lopez Obrador and the National Movement in Defense of Oil are organizing an unauthorized plebiscite on privitizing oil production? Or that Peruvian Pres. Alan Garcia's approval rating is in "free fall" (less than 20%) after signing a free trade deal with US? Do our candidates for President understand the nature of these movements so close to our own border? Their statements would suggest not. Mc Cain just blinks and mumbles while Obama gives a hard edged speech in Miami where he panderingly called Chavez a "demagogue" who "does not govern democratically" and runs an "authoritarian government". As opposed to the friendly relations he hopes to keep with Colombias Uribe : "We'll work with the government to end the reign of terror from right-wing paramilitaries." Either he does not know the connection between the government and the death squads or he is ignoring them, either way it is inexcusable. It is mostly Clintonesque boilerplate about "development aid" and "drug security" yet liberals ,such as Laura Carlson of Foreign Policy in Focus continue to "believe" in change. When she states that "nobody really believes that campaign rhetoric is the same as applied policy" she without irony points out the hollow nature of US style "democracy".

A real dilemna for supposed revolutionaries (such as myself), sitting here in safety, is how can I simply be a spectator, a commentator, while this decisive struggle takes place so near to my home? Like those who went to Spain in 1936 or to Algeria or Cuba or Nicaragua, real solidarity would be demonstrated by showing up in person.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Neighborhood Bully

Man, I really miss Hunter Thompson! This convention show is post-Gonzo, delving into a whole new realm of surreal. The mixture of piety, beligerence and smarmy sentimentality mingled with an Academy Awardish pop style should win it a Booker Prize for new fiction! I was trying to keep track of the threats, Iran ,Russia, Venezuela, Pakistan,N. Korea, Saudi Arabia, "Third World Thugs" (?) , only the greatest country in the history of the universe could get away with so much smack talk.

I just wonder if Biden is as concerned with Bolivias unity as he is about Georgias? Or Serbias? Being a good catholic, I wonder if he supports the new President of Paraguay, Father Fernando Lugo? Did you catch the Representative from Boca Raton Fla? He mentioned Israels safety, defense , right to exist, sanctity, etc etc..about twelve times in five minutes, smashing Liebermans old record. Hardly a word about immigrant round-ups ( targeting Hondurans for their signing of ALBA?) but the "new green economy" figured prominently. I don't know that it will arrive soon enough for the polar bears swimming 65 miles off the coast of Alaska looking for the shrinking Arctic ice shelf. Maybe the Olympic swimmer ( I've already forgotten his name!) could lead them .(oh yeah, Phelps). Hunter, how could you leave us?

I'm so looking forward now to the Repub Convention, especially that first nights line-up of Tom Delay, Scott Mc Clellan, Bob Ney (if he gets his furlough) ,Larry Craig, and Ted Stevens (if he can post-pone the trial). Now that fighting Terrifying Evil is "the transcendent issue of our time" Mc Cain picks a soccer mom for his VP. A God fearing NRA member, if she has a picture of her with a moose she killed, she will definately lock up Montana and Idaho.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Wow, going straight from the Olympics to the Democratic Convention is an overdose of Spectacular Infomercial for the Wholesome Empire. ( Again I blame my wife and daughter for so much boob tube but I cannot resist it's magnetic pull). You have to love the irony of all this Hope and Change We Can Believe In going on inside the Pepsi Dome and Blue Cube! How many times have the speakers mentioned "hard work"as the virtue propelling them, their family, the country to realizing dreams? So far 71. And counting.

Meanwhile, from the Milo Minderbinder School of Economics and Warfare: " United States commanders say the practice of paying the guerrillas (the Awakening) has saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers." Well of course, Money Talks! Why didn't we just ask Sadaam Hussien how much he wanted to destroy his "weapons of mass destruction" and act more civil towards Shiias? All thse conflicts can be solved with large personal checks. At $300 per head/ per month how much would it cost to hire the Taliban to attack Russia? It's a win-win.

Sonia has a piece from Robert Kagan on how successful US intervention has been and how well the Empire building is going. It's like asking Jeffrey Dahmer to do a piece on babysitting. Alberto Gonzales could do a piece on Ethical Treatment of Prisoners with an intro by private Lindsey.

Getting back to The Great Game, we have uber-RealPoliticker Brzenzinsky saying that "an independent Georgia is critical to the international flow of oil" and that Russia must repect the rules of "our post-imperial age." Rules? Post-imperial? Where does Polish missle "defense" fit in? Is an independent Kosovo "critical"? Kashmir? Palestine? Kurdistan? The only rule to this game is he with the most oil wins. Hence, the Iraqis are selling the oil WE liberated to China. Chavez is practically giving it to Honduras. This may be what Fareed Zakaria refers to as the "Post-American World".

We went Monday night to hear author Loretta Napoleoni discuss her new book Rogue Economics and she was more inclined to call it the "post-Western world" because "capitalism's new reality" includes Europe as well. Basically, the West has had to resort to non-productive wealth generation (financialization) while China and India make STUFF. Of course they use slavery to make it but such is the logic of capitalism. Then there is the small issue of food. As the NY Times spins it " Aug.9 Even as it recieves a billion pounds of free food from international donors, Sudan is growing and selling vast quantities of it's own crops to other countries, capitalizing on high global food prices at a time when millions of people in it's war-riddled region of Darfur barely have enough to eat."

Then they give you the "reason", just so there is no confusion: "Somalia, Ethiopia, Niger and Zimbabwe are all recent examples of how war, natural disasters or GROSS MISMANAGEMENT can cut deep into food production..."
They all just happen to be mismanaged by Black people,that is, interventionist policies by world powers, historical factors, ideologically based development aid, capitalist logic, none of these matter. Why can't they be more like Brazil?

24 By means of the spectacle, the ruling order discourses endlessly upon itself in an uninterrupted monologue of self-praise.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Don't Think, Period

I sat through a little lecture by George "Don't Think of an Elephant " Lakoff on Book TV last night, which inspired my dear wife to confront me about my inability to find a "language" with which to more effectively connect with people about radical politics. In his theoretical construction (he is a linguist and cognitive scientist) , my style of argumentation and debate is so"18th century Enlightenment", and instead I need to incorporate the findings of new cognitive research which stresses "framing" and emotive response. In other words, (in Lakoffian- speak) , reason and logic are passe and repetitive, subliminal, subconscious programming technique is in. As he defines success, this is what the right-wing found "35 or 40 years ago" to be so effective. My wife thought this scientific approach could help me get the revolution into gear a little faster than my "talking over peoples heads". I have heard this sentiment expressed on numerous occasions of late.

She is a smart lady but I still think both her and George, though very sincere, are totally wrong. If we accept that communicating is simply the nuerological act of shortening synapses in the brain between relating concepts (framing) , we have reduced communication to marketing. Are humans susceptible to brainwashing, to pure stimulus response manipulation? Certainly, but this is hardly news. Nor is it a way to develop revolutionary consciousness that is confident and determined and committed for the long haul. Talking someone into buying dishsoap and talking them into seeing the need for deep societal change are two totally different processes and I think this is why the "Reagan revolution" has always been so shallow and fragile. Dumbing people down and destroying historical memory is possible for a hegemonic power which controls education, culture, and media, no question, but to insist the Left can compete on that front by simply out- selling the Right with glossier ads (perhaps large breasted spokespeople?) is to succumb to a short term solution which is as condescending as it is frightening.

I know , I know (Lichanos, Char, others) Debord is a tad obtuse and the New Left Review is not something most waitresses are going to pick up after working a ten hour shift but at what point in this "talking to the masses" are we simply caving in to the dominant paradigm that people will only consume "easy" information? Is my job to make my critique more comforting? Was Nixon right that only "effete, elitist, intellectuals" do theory, are smart, read three syllable words? Fuck no. If I have to become less radical to become more palatable, I automatically concede that discursive territory I had hoped to expand. I lose before beginning.

If you have to read a sentence twice it aint no thing. If you have to look a word up in the dictionary, it did you good. We want to stretch the mind by having folks ponder new concepts, to understand dialectics, to get good and practiced at logic and not to just repeat jingoes like mantras but to discuss and debate and express themselves well. Workers can do all this just as they can manage society far better than it's being managed right now.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More Magic

In my continuing exploration of how we are separated from an authentic life I turn next to Theodore Adorno. Preceding Debords work by fifteen years, Minima Moralia was an attempt to explain alienation after the horror of world war. He begins the dedication with these relevent reflections:
"What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of material production, without autonomy or substance of it's own."

Though it pre-dates the post-industrial "Information Age" spectacles that so horrified Debord, it foreshadows his critique and points accusingly at many of the same culprits.

"Reduced and degraded essence tenaciously resists the magic that transforms it into a facade."

While Adorno uses the term "magic", he actually explores the nature of the process in extremely objective terms. In terms of style, it is written in short , numbered essays, not unlike Society of the Spectacle and we are left with intrigueing little aphorisms which he describes as "points of attack" or "models for a future exertion of thought". In this, and in his use of the word "resist", he allows room for hope, which Debords totalitarian vision seems almost to renounce. It can at times seem that at least some of the overwhelming forces arrayed against authentic human existence are somehow supernatural but as I tried to explain in the last post, this too needs to be resisted, de-constructed, rationalized (without succumbing to rationalism). The whole (plugged in ) world sat on it's couches the last couple of weeks and watched the Olympics. One World , One Dream. We had a million messages inserted into our collective consciousness, none of it random. Some could observe the process and comment on it. Some have no idea there is a design to all of this. These types of cultural critiques help us to understand why. They do indeed present "points of attack"!

A great attack by Lewis Lapham in the new Harpers on the Spectacle that was The Death of Tim Russert. Rejecting the dominant bathos, he does what Russert never did, speaks truth to power. Russert was "an attentive and accomodating head waiter" and Lapham asks , "Why a requiem for a pet canary?"

Sunday, August 10, 2008


"By a sort-of magical normative transubstantiation, the fact that armed aggression has succeded, setting in place the military occupation, produces an immediate amnesty of the 'supreme crime' itself and legitimates it's outcome."
Danilo Zolo
The obvious point he makes is that the victors write the history and therefore establish the dominant narrative. No big secret. What is more interesting is this description of hegemonic production as "magical", or somehow defying a rational explanation. I would submit that "normative substantiation" is just what Debord was getting at with his exploration of the Spectacle. It is a lot of syllables but look at it closely: 1: to change into another substance; transmute 2: the change in the eucharistic elements at their consecration in the mass from the substance of bread and wine to the substance of the body of Christ.

"22 The fact that the practical power of modern society has detached itself from itself and established itself in the spectacle as an independent realm can only be explained by the self-cleavage and self-contradictoriness already present in that powerful practice." Guy Debord

Far from being "magical" (or mystical, sacred) , this process is directly explainable through an analysis of power relations and the devices and processes used to separate people from both truth and reality. In their stead modern society is shown the image, the illusion, which they have come to fetishize.

"But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence...illusion only is sacred, truth profane."
Fuerbach ( prefacing the first chapter of the Society of the Spectacle)

The task before us is to unpeel the layers and expose the "illusionists" who have up to now been so successful in separating men from their power and alienating men from themselves. Draw back the curtain and the Great Oz is a sniveling salesman, bread is just bread, wine just wine. Coke will stop being "the real thing" and our labor will stop being "good for the team".

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Off-shore Joe

Lieberman isn't evil, but he is filthy. Pandering to the public or selling his mother swamp land in Florida is just a days work for the ultimate symbol of Spectacular Capitalism and his giving the keynote at the Republican Convention will be a great tribute to our historical Moment. It's all about the Perfect Lie. Where many politicians would see the publics disdain as a cause for reform, Joe more fully engages and embraces slime to a point beyond parody, beyond hypocricy, to what is an almost artistic realm. Being the Master of Sleaze provides celebrity and a positive feedback loop of filth and fame. As with our fascination with car wrecks, watching totalitarianism perfected is weirdly sublime.

"These low-wage workers (from a survey of 1350 people who put in at least 30 hrs weekly and earn less than $ 27,000) account for nearly one quarter of all US adults. Not only do they recieve low pay, but their jobs frequently come with no health care coverage, vacations or even sick days. Yet the vast majority say they like or even love their jobs and they believe in the power of hard work to transform lives."

People say one thing on the phone to pollsters but I suspect as they lie on their beds after a fast food dinner and a couple of Bud Lights, thinking of the next days grind and humiliation, just before they slip into American Dreamland, other perhaps less optimistic thoughts may creep in.

One of my favorite bloggers, Helmut over at phronesisaical, weighs in on politics: "reimagining politics in all it's honesty and deciept, coherence and incoherence, change and ingrained habits, illusions ,confusions and contusions,is the route towards understanding what's good about it and towards being societies that truly want to be better than they have been."
A sort of Emersonian buddhist approach I admire.