Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Power Corrupts

I won't rush to judgement on the IMF chief's legal guilt or innocence ( charged with sexual assault) but for the "socialist" to be staying in a $3000 dollar a night room requires a disconnect at the practical level. In an article by Steve Clemons (hat tip to Phronesisaical) we learn the Frenchman is respected because he has a genuine concern for "the people". Clemons leaves us with this:

"..the meaning of Straus-Kahn- is vital to a world that is still trying to sort out what form of capitalism it can live with."

There is currently all kinds of emphasis on "form", neoliberal,late,state,monopoly,conscious, green.etc.. The result of all this hyper-particularizing is obfuscation and is based on the false belief capitalisms contradictions can be isolated and neutralized. These are just different blends of tobacco, some light, some mentholated,filtered, smokeless.. "Socialist capitalism" is a Virginia Slim while Greenspans is a Camel straight but they are both poison.

Since everybody likes talking about candidates, it turns out the Newt is Not Nutty Enough. Newt told Meet The Press he supports mandatory health insurance and that Ryan's plan is "social engineering from the Right". How times have changed. Next thing you know he will be saying humans affect the climate! The Old Flamethrower knows he cannot possibly outflank on the Right any more, can't out-Bachman Bachman. Let's see where he comes down on tort reform, see if that 7th Amendment means anything to our Tea party Patriots.

It started when I picked up an eight page magazine published locally called The First Edition. The cover article was titled Class Warfare and described the way "Democrats use class warfare as a tool to hold onto political power." Written by the publisher/editor, a staunch Tea Party conservative who interjects himself forcefully into local politics, the articles logic devolves after that opening salvo but I still felt compelled to write a letter to the editor to covey my own critique of the Democrats from the far left. It started an interesting exchange.

The publisher phoned me upon receipt of my letter to ask "what is a libertarian socialist?" and after a long, civil chat, he sent me a three page reply and some further questions. The first one was: "Are you saying that private property is antithetical to democracy?" He then wonders where I got the idea that "upward mobility in America is mostly a myth." He then wanted to know if I am "under the impression that everyone should have the same amount of wealth?"

The fact is, class warfare as both a term and a program have pretty much been emptied of meaning. To the extend Democrats or progressives do bring it up, it is distorted into a Common Man vs The Banksters sort of narrative or The Workers vs The Bad Politicians as in Wisconsin recently. For some it becomes a way to describe vast inequities in wealth and income or to frame this whole Pay Your Share of Taxes movement. Some speak of the Ruling Class, some speak of the Owning Class. Nobody really calls themself a prole any more.

Identity is tricky and simple subjectivization is a thing of the past. Nobody even admits to being a worker and all these vague categorizations and groupings only serve to confuse the basic antagonism into oblivion. But this doesn't mean basic exploitation has suddenly vanished.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Clown King

"Europe itself would do well not to be complacent about the Little Mussolini of Arcore. For many years now, it has focused on his cabaret-style behaviour at international summits, on the ridiculousness of his hair transplants and facelifts, on the wishful boasting of a third-rate Casanova, on the banality and vulgarity of his jokes. Since the personage is not serious, Europe thought it did not have to take seriously the democratic destruction being accomplished by "the clown of Europe"..But when a farcical character can amass enormous power.., the prank has become a calamity."

Paulo Flores d'Arcais' description of Berlusconi reminds me that the The Donald here in the US is part of a wider trend. Americans are perhaps to be congratulated for having largely rejected Trump but perhaps it was just circumstances. If Donald owned the kind of media Berlusconi controlled, if he was Murdoch-Meets-Koch Brothers for instance, perhaps we too would be as far down the rabbit hole as Italy. Of course the Catholic church has always played an important role in distorting Italian "democratic politics" as such, but I think capitalist corruption, in both it's particular and more general sense, is also a culprit.

As Flores points out: "Berlusconi is the paladin only of a shadow-freedom, in which only those with the most have the right to protection. The only freedom Berlusconi knows is that of the animal spirits of unregulated capitalism: a cannibal freedom, homo homini lupus.I

Though Flores uses the term "little Mussolini" he is careful not to call Berlusconi truly fascist ( supplanted armed gangs with clients) and I think what we see here in the US, sometimes labeled fascist, only uses some of the stylistic flourishes. It could certainly devolve in that direction as authoritarian hardness/meanness becomes the post-ironic signature for the media-entranced audience. Our own Evangelical tradition and nativist tendencies play into this as well.

Most of all, I am dreading the necrotic fascination of the up-coming election season, like watching a plane crash into a high-rise over and over. Like watching Rodney King being clubbed. Destruction porn. So hard to turn away, so hard to watch.Banality and vulgarity sells, what can you say?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

On The Res

A group of us white folk went up to the Flathead reservation yesterday to see a film called Idaho's Forgotten War and to listen to old Russell Means give a talk about "what is next for Indian activism". The so-called war occurred in the 1970s when a small band of Kootenai indians who had not signed the Hellgate Treaty found themselves starving in northern Idaho ( Means called it genocide) and made some demands on the US government by officially declaring war. They specified it was non-violent "war" to be fought with "pens and paper". After a giant over-reaction by Idaho State troopers, the Big White Father ended up giving the band a casino and a little land to build a tribal headquarters.They have grown from 67 to 140 or so.

Russell Means described the woman elders behind the movement (who were there being honored) as greater heroes than Ghandi, Mandela or MLKing. In fact everything he said was hyperbole delivered in over-dramatic style. In my view, Means mostly rambled incoherently about all the same old themes. His only advice about the future of Indian Activism was that young braves should become responsible fathers if they get women pregnant, sort of the Bill Cosby approach.And that language/culture must be preserved.

Interestingly, all of the liberal/leftists I went up there with thought he was nothing short of brilliant, mesmerized,in my view, by the persona and celebrity. If he still has a radical critique he didn't share it with that crowd but he did sell a lot of autobiographies about his AIM glory days. He glorified Evo Morales as well, obviously unaware of his administrations conflict with indigenous people over natural resource extraction.

The question which never was asked, much less answered, is: How does an American Indian movement( if there is such a thing) fit into a global struggle by indigenous peoples? What destructive practices are they resisting and how? And then somebody needs to ask: How does that indigenous resistance here, in Mexico and Latin America, in Hawaii and Australia and Canada, anywhere, fit into the even broader struggle for human liberation?

Saturday, May 07, 2011


It is dawning on most environmentalists that what would appear logically to be a high priority (maintaining life support systems) has in fact dropped to a third or fourth level crisis. This is George Monbiot facing his own angst about the subject:

"All of us in the environment movement, in other words – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order."

This no doubt stems from a post-BP-oil-spill recognition that just as no birth certificate or picture of bin Laden is Real, no environmental crisis is Real either. The heart of "magical thinking" is the suspension of reality. Plus, Monbiot had high hopes nuclear power was going to help humanity buy time (nice phrase,that) till reason was restored. After Fukishima he has been in a funk. As Bill Mc Kibben and most thinking people should be.

The magical thinking he refers to is the radical back-to-the-land simplicity of certain primitivists but I think Mr. Mainstream Guru David Korten fits this bill as well:

"Like the biosphere, the living economies we seek will self-organize within a framework of market rules."

It appears even The Noam has fallen under the spell of "market rules", as demonstrated by this strange piece of historical interpretation:

"..throughout the whole period of very rapid and pretty egalitarian growth of the next couple of decades (50's and 60s) there were no financial crises because the regulatory mechanisms interfered with the market."

He means international mechanisms like Bretton-Woods as well as national structures like banking regulation but some degree of historicism would be a good thing here. This was a unique time and those same conditions no longer exist. The same prescriptions no longer work. Re-regulation will not save us now, even if some global consensus of elites could be resurrected. Davos shows us that now there is a final race on for the last energy reserves, no matter how costly or damaging they are. They have internalized Thatchers famous quote and retroactively made it true: There is no alternative.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Ding Dong

Obama finally gets the news cycle of his dreams, calling The Donald and fellow birthers clowns, being a good Big Brother in the southern states whacked by tornadoes and now putting a bullet through bin Ladens head ( overshadowing the nasty bombing of Gaddafi's compound). Pretty good week (and the Dow is up again).

I'm glad the fucker is dead but not as glad as the revellers in Times Square! Wow, those folks (mostly college age according to reports) have been traumatized! If the shooter of Osama is halfway articulate and/or good looking he will soon have his own talk show or run for President, easily crushing Sarah who can only kill defenceless moose. I can only imagine the number of youngsters applying for the Navy Seals today. America needs heroes like our stomachs need bacteria.

Canada has just confirmed what I and others have been saying: Liberalism doesn't just smell bad, it is dead. (Apologies to Frank Zappa RIP) Right wing hegemony continues it's march, guided by fear and anti-intellectualism but ideological battle lines are at least clearer now and I hope it is a model for the USA. Let's have it out. Good riddance to the mealy mouthed, accommodating liberals who stood for Nothing.

In most discussions over social transformation someone will suggest that what is REALLY needed is spiritual change.I touched on this in the last post but have been thinking more about how problematic the whole discourse of Spirit is. At it's worst, the New Age approach suggests an evolutionary hierarchy wherein the Enlightened Ones enforce a unity around their privileged insight about Man's Relationship to Nature and Man's Fall into Civilization. These discourses have just as much totalitarian potential as the Nietzschean if left critically unchallenged. In the same way I never liked the slogan : The Ruling Class and the Working Class Have Nothing In Common , I don't like the slogan; Let The Spirit Guide You. They both suggest a false Unity based on a false dualism.

Far better to let the authentically political guide us. Proposals debated and decisions reached.No pretensions about Unity over the Good and Beautiful.