Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stepping It Up A Notch

I have been a critic of Bill Mc Kibben and the timid approach of 350.org but with the DC protests and civil disobedience I think they are finally understanding the necessity of militancy and direct action more generally. This may lead to the critical radicalization of analysis and tactics which the "environmental movement" has been avoiding for far too long. The reason I pick on Bill is he actually came here to little old Hamilton Montana a few years back and he seems like the quintessential "progressive" environmentalist. If someone like him could be turned....

As usual, the enormous problem of the Tar Sands development has been confronted too late, after the 120 billion of private investment has gone into it. This means corporate interests and the governments which serve them are prepared to use lethal force to protect this outlay. Arresting a few protesters is child's play and the publicity will be easy to handle. What is crucial is the next step. The media/State complex can easily convince ideologues like Pagan that this is Commie Hippies Against American Jobs. The unions will join in, protecting their own turf. All the "experts" will crow about America's energy independence and security and how this can be done cleanly and safely and cheaply and again, Pagan will believe every word.

But those who operate from a less fear-based world view may begin to see the Munchausen syndrome-like quality of our collective relationship with the Market system. The more it tries to destroy us the more it wants us to believe it loves us.

I expect Obama to throw these environmentalists under the bus (as he did organized labor and every other "progressive" constituency) and approve the XL Pipeline.In fact he will back away from regulating carbon in any form, fracking for natural gas, offshore drilling, our own tar sands development in Utah, etc etc.. This will present Mc Kibben, Robert Kennedy Jr., Naomi Klien and company with an interesting dilemma.

Because I also expect hurricanes to keep getting worse.Meanwhile, those here in Missoula that "Stopped the Big Haul" will celebrate as the processing equipment is shipped silently to the north.

UPDATE: I just watched McKibben on Newshour and Democracy Now. He is trapped by his need to sound "reasonable" ie accepting of market logic. And you can see in his eyes that he knows it.Hard to watch.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fatal Contamination

From Mark Kingwell's review of The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama in Harpers Aug.25

"The reduction of all fines to prices and all obligations to tax burdens (for instance the requirement that all Australians must vote) shows just how comprehensive is the transactional contamination of democracy. If citizens are really consumers, forever negotiating the shoals of tax evasion, then it is rational to game the system. Smarter players will take the contest up a level and realize that you can game the system's DOMINANT MYTHS as well as it's materialist realities. From this vantage the American Dream is the biggest long con in the history of politics...."

Fukuyama has had trouble being taken seriously since his whole "End of History" bit and support for the Iraq invasion (he should run for president!) but now he wants to try small idea scholarship by writing big, serious books. Unfortunately he fails to notice the system is a political ECONOMY.

Again Kingwell's trenchant analysis: "An untenable system like democracy under capitalism colonizes aspects of our own desire and experience to stitch together a narrative of legitimation, even as it generates numerous incentives for citizen-consumers to game the system."

True believers buy the myths and narratives lock stock and barrel ( I won't mention any names) and so are not burdened by doubt. Those of us who see the veil and hope to develop more just incentives and outcomes have to answer for desire and envy and other Freudian layers. As I have been writing lately, democracy is not the magic key to the end of history and beginning of Nirvana. I just think it would be better than this carnival.

As for Libya, this also falls into the "not a perfect world" category but it is just as pathetic to see those on the left force themselves not to be happy as it is to see those on the right back away from support because it happened on Obama's watch. Yes it is a NATO intervention, yes it saved widespread death and destruction, yes it is an incomplete revolution. Just as I said months ago.

Same with Wisconsin. The recall was a bust. All radical momentum was crushed by the Democrats and the mainstream unions. Now Verizon strike is proving the final nail in the coffin of organized labor because they cling to the same myths and narratives. Just as I warned.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Even More Spectacular, if Volatile

You read it here first: There will be an eventual run-off between Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman determined by a Galaxy Wide mud wrestling match. Monster Truck rally/ cage fighting preliminary with Randy Travis and Hucka bee doing the half-time show. I've got fifty bucks on sarah.

We anxiously await the Monday opening of the NY Stock Exchange. The Markets are despondent yet weary.Is there Zoloft for Markets? What if they go on a violent rampage, like those "feral" Brits? Can markets be kettled? Stay tuned for answers to these and other questions.

I guess the unions did not get the Senate majority they desired in the Wisconsin recall effort. They aren't getting much of anything they want. You read that here first as well. Like the Markets, I am getting weary of predicting disaster but what are the choices?

Meanwhile Southern Christian Americans pray, Mid-Western Christian Americans eat and us Montanans continue to fish and drink.Having been Welcomed to the Desert of the Real, I just don't feel like I fit in anymore, as if I am waking from a dream inside a dream, or as if that peyote lasted much much longer than it was supposed to.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Demos + cracy

Truth In Advertising? Or: How We marketed Away Our Democracy

In order for a democratic culture to develop and function, there must be some degree of consensus on the meaning of language or at least some process to reach that consensus. That's not to suggest that there won't always be tension, but it is necessary for there to be agreement that at the very least, shared meaning is something positive, something to be striven for. I contend that in modern society both that agreement and that process have been shattered. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, the profit system has done to language what it has done to labor and goods, abstracted it beyond mere ambiguity into the realm of amphibology.
Since the time of Plato, humans have realized the power of language and the overt efforts for control; Caesar dominus est supra grammaticam: Caesar is lord over grammar says it well. In a modern warning, George Orwell told of a Big Brother convincing the people that 'War is Peace'. As capitalism matured and the “art” of salesmanship developed customers were told snake-oil would cure everything from depression to corns and when it actually did, the art turned to science, the conscious pitch converted to the subliminal or subconscious suggestion and a dangerous split occurred. Now a soft drink became The Real Thing; the lie became purposefully obvious and “Truth in Advertising” now came surrounded by scare quotes. Everything was done with a wink and a nod, the ironic twist and an acknowledged indeterminancy. What could that even mean; Real Thing? We knew consciously we would not be surrounded by beautiful friends simply by purchasing that fast car and yet... It was enough just to doubt, to think “perhaps..”
But of course the power of this form of marketing was not lost on those for whom social control was a goal. If a docile work force or gullible voters could be helpful in maintaining power, then the marketing of privitization as “liberty or of competitiveness as “freedom” was simply a matter of application. Suffrage could become Democracy. These floating signifiers could be pushed from corporate boardrooms , media outlets and the mouths of politicians like so many balloons; sent to drift about the now poisoned atmosphere, to grab new meaning like hydrogen molecules grab oxygen.

With each word now abstracted, ironic or thoroughly polysemic, for instance, “equality” now in quotes and having a different meaning for each person, discourse could only be circular. All debate would now talk past itself. Politics itself became muffled abstractions in a roomful of gauze. Talking Heads pronounce the latest Talking Points but they only exist till that channel is switched where they twitter into cyberspace and are absorbed along with deoderant commercials and tabloid “news”.
It is within this aporia, these Strawberry Fields, that power finds the perfect vacuum,that de-politicization is veiled and the slowest, subtlest exploitation can proceed under the aegis of liberal democratic capitalism. With the worker now an “associate”, he/she gladly works overtime for free. She picks her “representative” as she would her toothpaste, based on the best commercials, the “feelings” he is able to produce.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Spare A Dime Time

I wondered why my client kept looking at his Blackberry yesterday. Of course, we are being assured, the run to cash and Treasuries is "not another Lehman type sell off" but when the Gods, I mean the Markets, get angry, there is no telling where they will direct their scorn.

Conservatives call for austerity, liberals call for stimulating consumption, average people know it's just another one of capitalisms cyclical smack downs and that they are in for a world of hurt. Tighten the belt, cut back wherever we can, try to get through it once again. It is how we have been trained. After all, people don't have any control over their own destinies- they are subjected to the whims of forces larger than themselves. Normally you might call that tyranny but we call it democracy, even freedom! As Jacques Ranciere puts it: "The political struggle is also the struggle for the appropriation of words" but I fear Jacques fails to comprehend the degree of de-politicization which has already occurred.

And what if this is more than just another cyclical smack down? This is the dilemma for the radical, seeing the trend beyond the Event and presenting a reasoned analysis. CNN calls it "volatility" but I believe we are witnessing a capitalist strike. America's largest industries have 1.5 trillion dollars ( Canada's GDP) "under the mattress" but they are not going to invest until their demands are met. That is called power. They want the end of unionism. regulation, global justice or environmental activism, that is, any limits to their profit making ability.

I suspect a few of those capitalists, those with some vision, are starting to see the structural limits over which even they have no control. In the short run they have to decide whether to stick with neoliberalism and try to manage the social unrest. But the longer term is much, much fuzzier.