Interview with Balkans Post on Yemen

Below is my interview published today (March 3rd 2019) with The Balkans Post on the war in Yemen. Here is the link to the original:

http://www.balkanspost.com/article/795/saudi-led-coalition-failed-to-achieve-goals-in-yemen

Balkans Post: It is almost four years since the Saudi-led coalition began its aggression against Yemen with the support of Western countries. How do you assess their current level of support? Has it changed since the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the kingdom?

William Hawes: The support seems to be dropping. Germany has recently cut off arm sales. In the U.S. Congress bills will shortly be voted on to end arms sales and support to Saudi Arabia. Pressure is building in the UK to cut off arming the Kingdom as well. Definitely, it was the murder of Khashoggi that caused a shift in perception in the U.S. and the UK. What is revealing is how the death of one journalist somehow is more important than the U.S.-backed mass killings, drone warfare, starvation, and outbreak of preventable diseases, most significantly cholera.

BP: The United Nations has recently warned that the situation in war-ravaged Yemen is further deteriorating as the Arab country is facing the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. What countries are responsible for this crisis?

William Hawes: I mean, it’s certainly obvious with those that have eyes to see, yes? Obviously Saudi Arabia is responsible as the primary aggressor, along with their lapdog the UAE, and also, the U.S., NATO, Israel, the GCC, and the assorted countries which provide the Saudis with weapons. Crucially, it is U.S. support which the Saudis depend on. If the U.S. decides to pull out of the conflict, the Saudis would most likely seek an end to the conflict.

BP: What do you think of the international community’s pressure on Saudi Arabia for its protracted war in Yemen? Can we expect any change in the kingdom’s behavior?

William Hawes: The international community’s pressure can be summed up as too little, too late. The one positive development recently was the ceasefire signed in Stockholm in December 2018. This called for an end to fighting in the port cities of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa. If humanitarian aid, food, medicine, supplies, etc. are allowed to be distributed properly that would be a positive development, but as of this date (March 1st, 2019) that remains to be seen. The pressure to force sides to a ceasefire around Taiz hasn’t nearly been enough. The only way I see a change in behavior, as noted above, is with the U.S. withdrawing support.

BP: Have Saudi Arabia and its allies been successful in achieving their goals?

William Hawes: The fact remains that many defense companies have been successful in taking in massive profits. The military-industrial complex always seems to win as ordinary people around the globe continue to suffer.

As for the strategic goals of the allied nation-states, you’d have to give a resounding no. Houthis fire missiles onto Saudi territory semi-regularly, even reaching Riyadh last year. As for the U.S., again no, because destabilizing countries always causes blowback, and AQAP and even ISIL still has a foothold in Yemen even after four years.

If you look since 2001, any goodwill that Western nations had in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia is gone except for the countries where the leaders are controlled by the U.S. The absolute hubris and moral rot is endemic, when you look at the political, corporate, and military leadership of the USA and Saudi Arabia.

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The Green Old Deal

There are a lot of things to like about the recent resolution for the Green New Deal. The commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the acknowledgment of the catastrophic events that will occur if the world does not act soon- these are all healthy signs. Like Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign which removed many stigmas about socialism, raising public consciousness about the structural changes needed to lessen the impacts of global warming are to be commended.

However, there are very serious problems with the language of the resolution, as well as the underlying assumptions, biases, and ideology which pervades the text.

Starting with an obvious problem, the “Green New Deal” is based on the political and economic mobilization of FDR’s New Deal. It was the New Deal, essentially, which saved capitalism from collapse in the US in the 1930s. If the Green New Deal is saying anything, it is offering cover to the ruling class- here is your propaganda model out of this mess you’ve created; here is another chance to save capitalism from itself. It’s a false promise of course, as no purely technological scheme based in a capitalist economy will be able to fix what’s coming, but it’s a very convenient narrative for capitalist elites to cling to.

Roosevelt’s New Deal  placated workers and bought time for the bourgeoisie to rally, but it was the combined forces of post-WWII macroeconomic Keynesian economic stability, high taxes on the wealthy, the Bretton Woods agreement, the Marshall Plan and reconstruction of Japan which helped grow the middle classes in the mid-20th century.

Indeed, the Green New Deal (GND) mimics the mainline liberal/reformist agenda when it pledges to try: “directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry and business in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation…”

That’s about as boilerplate as one can get. You’d expect to hear this blather from anywhere on the mainstream spectrum, out of the mouth of a Chamber of Commerce hack or a College Republican newsletter.

Another issue of basic civil decency is that the GND is blatantly cribbing from the Green Party’s own ideas, and then watering them down, without any reference to their origins. The limitations of the GPUS do not need to be run through here, but the point remains: stealing policies from others who have been campaigning on this platform for decades, without offering even a token of acknowledgement, is not a good look.

I mean, this is all so obvious, and frankly, it’s disheartening and embarrassing to live in a country with such little common sense.

There’s more. The resolution calls for “net-zero global emissions by 2050”. This sounds great, except it leaves the foot in the door for a carbon trading scheme, where polluters will pay to offset their emissions with money, “investments in technology”, false promises to plant tree farms which they can renege on in court battles, etc.

Further, the GND states that it supports:

“to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth”

It calls for:

“[The] Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses…”

First, who in Congress is talking about implementing the kind of direct democratic practices alluded to here, or drawing on the expertise of community leaders, local governments, etc? Nobody. Who in Congress is calling for actually concrete material reparations, reconciliation, and public methods to heal the intergenerational traumas, inequities, and systemic racism and classism which continue to punish vulnerable communities? No one.  Who in Congress is calling for an end to our intervention in Venezuela and supporting the Maduro government from the obvious covert and military-corporate machinations currently underway? Not a soul.

I understand that this resolution is a first sketch, a very early draft which may go through many changes. I am not interested in demeaning people who are serious about fighting climate change; or scoring points by being “more radical” than others; or by igniting controversy around a critical “hot take” of the GND.

What I am curious about is how those in Congress foresee the types of jobs being created. Are we going to have millions of people planting trees (the best way to slow down climate change) or millions toiling in wind and solar factories? The most effective way to slow global warming would be to support the Trillion Tree Campaign.

Another ridiculous oversight is the lack of acknowledgement in the resolution of quite possibly the 2nd most pressing issue regarding humankinds’ survival, the threat of nuclear war and militarism. Obviously only international cooperation can determine the nuclear states relinquishing their arsenals, as well as shut down all reactors worldwide. Further, the huge budget of the military and the interests of the defense companies in promoting endless wars are not called out.

The only way a GND can work is through international collaboration. Asking other countries with far fewer resources, infrastructure, and technology at their disposal to “follow our lead” as we undergo a purely domestic New Deal within our 50 states and territories is cruel, shortsighted, and disingenuous. It would be the 21st century analogy to socialism in one country, expecting other nations to simply deal with the wreckage of climate disasters after we’ve fucked over the entire world.

What I’m attempting to sketch out is that to even put a dent in global warming in the 21st century and beyond, the feeble approaches by bourgeois democrats must be denounced for what they are. A GND for the USA as the “leader” is not in the cards; the analogy I’d use is more like a fully international Green Manhattan Project.

This would mean councils of expert indigenous peoples, climate scientists, ecologists, and socio-psychological experts in conflict resolution and ecological and cultural mediation worldwide would begin directing and implementing structural transformations of society, by addressing the separation from nature, historical amnesia, and emotional numbness endemic to Western society.

Natural building methods would have to take prominence over Green-washed corporate-approved LEED standards, massive conservation, ecological and restoration projects would have to get underway, along with the relocation of millions globally who live in unsustainably arid or resource hungry areas, and programs for regenerative organic agriculture would need to begin being taught to our youth right now. Is anything like this happening or being talked about in the mainstream?

These supporters in Congress as well as most progressives are assuming we still have twelve years to act, which the latest IPCC report warned was the maximum amount of time left. Perhaps people should be reminded that 12 years is just an estimate. We might have two years. We may be already over the tipping point.

Really, this is all just bullshit for Democrats to get each other reelected by LARPing as progressives and social democrats, and anyone with half a brain can see that. There can be no mass green transportation system unless urban cores get significantly denser, because as of now, perhaps half the country is still based on a post-WWII design to accommodate the whimsies of suburban property developers who only cared for profit and segregated communities, city planners with no conception of the consequences of rising energy demand, and homeowners in the fifties who likewise did not understand the devastation that sprawl, large energy-hogging single family homes, inefficient energy transmission, and long commutes would contribute to global warming.

How many mountains would need to be mined and blasted, how many wild plants and animals killed and desecrated, and rivers and waterways polluted would it take to get every soccer mom and Joe six-pack a new electric vehicle?

It is possible that only a mass relocation to urban cores with public infrastructure and fair compensation for citizens to move would allow for a green transportation and energy network to work properly. If not explained properly, these positive ideas for change would only feed into conservative far-right paranoia.

There are two people in Congress out of 535 that identify as anti-capitalist. The evidence even for these two is lacking, and we don’t have time to wait electing the other 270 or so. The military, financial institutions, defense companies, fossil fuel multinationals, intelligence sectors, and mainstream media are in total lockstep on the march towards societal and economic collapse and continued ecological degradation. Can anyone see the Pentagon, Halliburton, Shell and BP, and any Democrat or Republican giving away the equivalent of trillions of dollars in renewable technology, resources, IT networks, medicine, etc., to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia? I didn’t think so.

If even self-proclaimed socialists like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez don’t have the guts to speak out against imperial mechanized drone warfare and the CIA literally fomenting a coup in Venezuela, and the majority of citizens having no problem with this, it just goes to show the lack of empathy and education in this country. Both of them are childish and uneducated; and should be treated as such, even if we should show conditional support for this preliminary GND, if only because it could theoretically morph into something promising.

In short, this first draft GND is “old” for a couple reasons:  first, the economic model and the signaling in the language come directly from the liberal-bourgeois-reformism of the FDR administration. Second, it is old in the sense of being behind the times environmentally; it doesn’t keep up with what science proves is necessary for humanity to thrive: the GND does not call for economic degrowth, a reduction in energy demand, a sharp reduction in obtaining protein from meat, and a thoroughly anti-capitalist method to regenerate civic life and the public commons.

The flip side is that to thrive in a truly green future, we will have to re-examine truly ancient “old” Green methods to balance the “new” methods of technological innovation: the ancient ways of working with nature that indigenous traditions have honed, which has provided humanity with abundance for tens of thousands of years.

Natural building, creating and promoting existing holistic, alternative medicine, localizing energy and agricultural production, and growing food forests must be at the top of any agenda for humankind in the 21st century. This might seem impossible to our Congress because these methods do not cater to “marketplace solutions”, do not rely on factories and financialization, do not use patents to create monopolies, i.e., because these priorities do not put more power in the hands of capitalists.

Here are a few final thoughts. The first is the whole premise of the GND is based on a very reductionist, analytical, and Anglo style of thinking. Basically, this resolution is insinuating that we can change everything about the economy and forestall climate change without taking apart the financial sectors, the war machine, etc.

The second thought follows form the first, which is that the Continental thinkers offer a more grounded, immanent approach which examines how capital itself has warped human nature. Specifically, many important researchers demonstrated how the culture industry has manufactured ignorance, false needs, and ennui on a mass basis.

For instance, in a US context, to put it in very crude stereotypes, how are we going to convince one half of the country to stop eating red meat, give up their pickup trucks, put their guns in a neighborhood public depot, and stop electing outright racists and sexists. On the other hand, how can we convince the other half to give up their Starbucks on every corner, give up their plane travel to exotic locations, not buy that 2nd posh home to rent out on Airbnb which leads to gentrification, etc.

Basically, most middle class people in the US don’t want to fundamentally change as of yet, and this resolution won’t have the force to confront the utterly fake, conformist, and escapist lifestyles most US citizens continue to choose at least partially of their own volition.

Simple, clear language is important to energize citizens and can lead to catalyzing change. The concept of the Green New Deal could very well be that theme which unites us. One hundred and two years ago, it was those three special words “Peace, land, bread” which helped unite a nation and sparked a revolution.

Here’s one last thing to chew on. In the 21st century, the nation-state has proven that its time is over, as it provides a vehicle which centralizes corporate and military power that now threatens the existence of life on this planet. The Green New Deal calls for:

“obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples…”

Although it is clear the writers meant this in a very general and vague kind of way, as obviously not a single agreement has been “honored” going back 500 years by invading settler-colonialists, enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples would mean the abolition of the USA. That’s a Green New Deal I can work with.

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Discipline Will Remain…or Will It?

Last October, Philip Hammond, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the annual federal budget speech to the UK Parliament, said this: “Austerity is coming to an end, but discipline will remain.”

Talk about Orwellian doublespeak. The truth about austerity is that it is a means of social control, or as Hammond put it, discipline. Hammond’s recent comment is completely illogical. Austerity is economic discipline. Really, it’s just a way of making the poor suffer more, while continuing to bail out the rich every time they implode the economy.

It’s rare that the titans of finance slip up so well, and so egregiously with their language, but it happens, this being an excellent case study. Now we know, straight from the source, just what economic experts, being mouthpieces of multinational corporations, really want, just as much or even more than “austerity”: discipline! Or, another way of putting it, they want austerity, except we aren’t supposed to realize that we live in austerity anymore…or at least don’t try and resist. These people want a normalization of austerity, until we just accept that this is the way it is.

A cursory look at the upcoming UK budget shows more of the same: billions to update the nuclear weapon systems, continued cuts for many government ministries, cuts to Scotland when considering inflation rates, a cap on total welfare spending, with a few crumbs for their Universal Credit benefits, etc. All of this is happening while homelessness is rising dramatically (up 169% since 2010).

So what kind of discipline is Mr. Hammond really talking about? A writer for VICE (one Simon Childs) succinctly summed it up:

“In the end, Spreadsheet Phil went with ‘Austerity is coming to an end but discipline will remain’. So it’s not ‘over’, it’s ‘coming to an end’, at some point. But ‘discipline’ will remain – for which you can read ‘austerity’. So really, that’s, ‘Austerity is coming to an end but austerity will remain.’ If that sounds contradictory, that’s because it is. Austerity is a decade-long ideological project which has seen poor and working class people pay for the financial crash through cutting the supposed largesse of the welfare state. The government is trying to loosen spending up a bit while the effects of that project become even more stark.”

As many commentators have pointed out, austerity is not based on any rational sense of finance or macroeconomic forces: it is an ideological mission, a moral argument stemming back to the Puritan/Calvinist and social Darwinist worldview. If you’re poor, it’s your fault, and all one has to do is pull oneself up by your bootstraps. Societal and systemic forces which consistently lead to high unemployment, substandard education, lack of social support structures, and stagnant wages are never addressed. What better way to keep people “disciplined” than to offload public spending onto the citizenry? Thus forcing private citizen, especially the poor and middle class, to pay more for essential services: this has predictably led to an explosion in college and personal debt.

The super-ego always judging itself produces a type of mental enslavement and has now engulfed the globe in late-stage capitalism. We are taught to always blame ourselves because we are not marketable, don’t keep up with technology, aren’t innovating or learning life skills to keep up in a gig/service economy with rising rates of poverty, which also is hollowing out all social forms of purpose and collective belonging.

The US educational system is complicit in this, since this is the first public institution most of us enter- a regimented oppressive nightmare of one-size-fits-all deluges of mostly useless information, where children are always competing and one-upping each other with grades, achievements, etc. As long as we were obedient little drones who raised our hands to ask questions, sat when told to, repeated the pledge of allegiance every day, and in general were (with our parent’s complicity) spoon-fed lies, omissions, and distortions of historical, scientific, and sociological facts, we could one day participate in adult life successfully. Of course the more obvious sites for adult coercion and brainwashing barely need mention: jails, churches, mental institutions, large corporations, federal bureaucracies, etc.

The history of public education in our country is a history of indoctrination, or something worse, of which the horrors are so great they cannot be put into words, if one examines the African American or Indigenous histories of schooling. Modern schooling is freaking twelve years of boot-camp for the adult world of bio-psycho-social alienated labor. There is no use denying or getting around this fact.

The psycho-somatic beatings endured become embedded in our minds and the trauma is relived and has been passed down, generation to generation. This has created a militaristic society yet also a pacified and slavish one, which submissively bows down before capitalist/imperialist/colonialist systems of hierarchy. We are the “docile bodies” that Foucault spoke of.

We’ve been molded for the purpose of fitting into (increasingly mentally damaging) forms of labor. The stress of daily work in the US has almost completely precluded any serious resistance. I cannot stress this enough: as bodies synchronizing the finely-tuned engine of capital, we are poised to destroy ourselves and the majority of species on the planet if we continue down this path.

Once again, surprise surprise, the language we use has been beaten into us, and is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of capital. There’s a humorous anecdote in this Monthly Review article by Rebecca Stoner, spotlighting John Patrick Leary:

“When General Motors laid off more than 6,000 workers days after Thanksgiving, John Patrick Leary, the author of the new book Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, tweeted out part of GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement: ‘The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,’ she said. Leary added a line of commentary to Barra’s statement:

‘Language was pronounced dead at the scene.’”

As Stoner explains, when it comes to words like “entrepreneur”:

When we talk about “entrepreneurs” with an uncritical acceptance, we implicitly accept [the] view that wealth was created by entrepreneurs via a process of innovation and creative destruction—rather than Marx’s belief that wealth is appropriated to the bourgeois class by exploitation.”

This is why I always think of don Miguel Ruiz’s first agreement: “Be impeccable with your word.” So, Phillip Hammond was being perfect with his wording, really: he wants discipline, dammit!

Others take a more, well, mendacious approach to their phraseology. When people say that jail will “rehabilitate” prisoners or that “innovation”, “increased productivity”, and “hard work” will provide the tools to lead a 21st century economy, I am skeptical. Especially with regard our carceral-industrial complex, how obviously and openly corrupt and racist the prison system is in our country, where length of sentences are absurdly long compared to other nations, and rates of jailing are exponentially higher for black and brown peoples, with 10 cent an hour wages metered out for a smoke, snack foods, or a cell phone call while the largest corporations make billions off of what amounts to slave labor, which, mind you, the Chinese have been replicating with the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province. I’d rather those in power tell us how they really feel. In a lecture on Nietzsche (with a nod to Foucault), Rick Roderick put it quite well:

“The idea that we would send someone to prison in order to rehabilitate them…now we’re getting to be more honest about that. We’re getting a little more barbaric, and for Nietzsche that’d be better, it’d be a little more honest. We’re sending them to prison because we’re scared of them and we know if they go there really bad things will happen to them and it will ruin their lives and that will make us happy. That’s what we should say when we send one to prison.”

That is what it comes down to for today’s centers of power. Kill, jail, torture, or condemn those lower on the totem pole to lives of penury, marginalization, and unpleasant labor. The chthonic chant from Trump’s base is connected to this impulse: “Lock her up!”… “Build the wall!” Whoever you can’t control so easily, ply them with media, drugs, fame, money, power.

This is how the system was designed from the early days of the Enlightenment. As Foucault asks rhetorically in Disciple and Punish: The Birth of the Prison: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” Architecturally one of the more famous blueprints for constant surveillance, interrogations, examinations, and constant monitoring of the social body came from Bentham’s design of the panopticon. We notice the ones under surveillance, or even those who think their being watched, increasingly self-censor and self-monitor themselves to avoid untoward further investigation or physical violence from state authorities, whether inside an institution or outside in the public sphere.

Rather than rehabilitation, the modern notion of discipline is to induce punishment, and goshdarnit, our culture sure does know how to punish those less fortunate. On any given year between 10 and 20 million people worldwide die of starvation, even as silos of food lie full all over the USA and Europe. Preventable childhood diseases kills perhaps another 10 million kids a year. A mobilization of food, medicine, and competent medical professionals along with a logistics network to access hard-to-reach rural areas in the Global South could solve these crises within a short time frame.

Today we see disciplinarian methods used as a general principle, a blunt instrument applied to daily life, where conformism, homogenization, and compliance to authority dictate modern culture in work and the home. Also, people avoid vocalizing their internal critiques of the state, authority, or the economy for fear of social reprisal, becoming an outcast, and basic issues of self-survival (in minority communities under attack from police brutality) in an atmosphere of generalized anxiety, suspicion, and paranoia.

Here we begin to uncover the archaeological, or rather, genealogical evidence and the ideological underpinnings of centers of power. Ideologues, economists, and capitalists do not need to explicitly promote “austerity” (they can just change the name), but they do need a certain type of discipline, and the contrived system of artificial scarcity which keeps the multitude desperate. This destructive economic system which we dub “neoliberal” stymies thought, kills dreams, exploits labor, and reaches into all facets of political and daily life.

In such an authoritarian state, today, just as in ages ago, women and children bear the worst forms of abuse and punishment even as they do most of the work, either unpaid in the home or in professional employment. Women still must deal with performing emotional labor for men in the West that have not self-analyzed, and cannot see how they directly benefit from patriarchal institutions of power that filter down into the workplace, community, home, etc.

The sociological make-up of the middle classes, constantly under threat of falling into penury until European and North American capitalist states, underwent a significant shift in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Constant competition, the modern factory, and striving for status and material affluence shifted the previous belief in a “Protestant work ethic” towards one of Social Darwinism, and from there to a consumer-based age of affluence, where the might of economic powers to exploit becomes an inherent right, where monopolistic corporations use advertising to continually encourage consumptive, addictive, and childish behavioral patterns.

Coupled with eugenics and the westward spread of US territories under the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the genocidal policies of Social Darwinism and racist medical practices spread worldwide. The professional classes were fascism’s most slavish disciples: medical doctors joined the Nazi Party at a higher rate (some say 7 times the rate of joining as the average job) than any other profession in Germany.

The harsh, unrelenting regime of discipline inherent in such bourgeois values creates a new form of human behavior and outlook towards society: one which Erich Fromm called the “marketing orientation.” As he wrote:

“The mature and productive individual derives his feeling of identity from the experience of himself as the agent who is one with his powers, this feeling of self can be briefly described as meaning ‘I am what I do.’ In the marketing orientation man encounters his own powers as commodities alienated from him. He is not one with them but they are masked from him because what matters is not his self-realization in the process of using them but his success in the process of selling them. Both his powers and what they create become estranged, something different from himself, something for others to judge and to use; thus his feeling of identity becomes as shaky as his self-esteem; it is constituted by the sum total of roles one can play: ‘I am as you desire me.’”

It is worth remembering that mainstream economists such as Philip Hammond (or before him, fools such as Milton Friedman or Alan Greenspan in the US) are not basing their budgets or speeches or interest rates or stupid Powerpoint presentations for corrupt elites on any rational model, any shred of common sense, to help working classes or even middle class citizens. These people are PR spokespeople for capitalists, nothing more. They are as the multinational corporations and financial sector desire them.

We are all sort of becoming who the centers of power want us to be. Pliable, obedient, cowed, desperate. Also more hardened, isolated, commodified, and easier to control. The social conditioning is so deep here in the US.

When Philip Hammond says, “discipline will remain”, the capitalist and colonialist policies he and his elite associates pursue have global consequences. The effect of his words may be hidden from many Western eyes, but they are not any different from the direct violence in previous eras of the corrupt town sheriff, the racist prison warden, the sadistic psychiatrist, the violent headmaster of a school, the conquistador, the slave owner, the SS officer.

This is, in fact, exactly what modern day discipline is. Words, ideas, images, stock markets, debt ratios, and the concepts of the ruling classes become material life-threatening issues which undergird our system of artificial scarcity.

The spreading of this dark cloud of Western civilization, with all the concomitant issues of technology worship, reification, and commodification of the human spirit and creativity continues to tell us: be disciplined, be rational, be good citizens, even to be human (in a specific sense passed down by Enlightenment figures). It is unsurprising that many decades ago the first theoretical models for the post-human age were underway: since the beginning of the so-called Anthropocene era, we have seen how the artificial divisions of nature and culture have been exposed. Even today, much postmodern art and critique, which opens up new avenues for research by exploring ideas surrounding intersubjectivity, depthlessness, waning of affect, etc., still indulges in the fantasy of isolated, separate, urban-centered, and rational humans as a given.

Despite the push by liberal democracies to spread  a certain type of modern propaganda reminding us of our so-called secular, materialist, cosmopolitan, consumer society, the urge for spirituality, for raising of consciousness, still remains strong in contemporary culture via the rapidly expanding interest in yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices, psychedelics (another term is entheogens) and even paganism in the West. Yet even many of these basic self-exploratory and self-coping mechanisms are increasingly and continually mediated through corporations or at least small businesses and hierarchies, at the expense of cooperative and communal forms of organization.

What I think would be beneficial for people to think about is a return to a notion popular in 60s counterculture- the idea of a new sensibility (or sense-abilities, as it were). Readers may know about the ideas of/fury generated towards its most vocal theoretical promoters: Susan Sontag, Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown. I believe it would be worthwhile to revisit those concepts.

In his speech “Liberation from the Affluent Society”, Marcuse said:

“Let us give one illustration of…the need for such a total rupture [which] was present in some of the great social struggles of our period. Walter Benjamin quotes reports that during the Paris Commune, in all corners of the city there were people shooting at clocks on the towers of churches, palaces and so on, thereby consciously of half-consciously expressing the need that somehow time has to be arrested; that at least the prevailing, established time continuum has to be arrested, and that a new time has to begin…”

He continues:

“This situation presupposes the emergence of new needs, qualitatively different and even opposed to the prevailing aggressive and repressive needs: the emergence of a new type of human, with a vital, biological drive for liberation, and with a consciousness capable of breaking through the material as well as ideological veil of the affluent society…society has invaded even the deepest roots of individual existence, even the unconscious of man…We must get at the roots of society in the individuals themselves…who, because of social engineering, constantly reproduce the continuum of repression…”

Further on, he states:

…to give sensitivity and sensibility their own right, is, I think, one of the basic goals of integral socialism…They presuppose…a total trans-valuation of values, a new anthropology…we may say that today qualitative change, liberation, involves organic, instinctual, biological changes at the same time as political and social changes…no longer subject to the dictates of capitalist profitability and of efficiency…socially necessary labor, material production, would and could become increasingly scientific…it means that the creative imagination…would become a productive force applied to the transformation of the social and natural universe…”

Quite clearly and perhaps being a tad self-conscious, he later says: “And now I throw in a terrible concept: it would mean an ‘aesthetic’ reality- society as a work of art.” Indeed. Marcuse goes on to cite, in the Western tradition, hippies, Diggers, and Provos as groups (we can think of many more today, especially indigenous cultures) who offered “a new sensibility against efficient and insane reasonableness.”

It is intense “social engineering” and “insane reasonableness” which we are loath to stand up against due to our own relative affluence. Today that affluence is disappearing especially in the developing world as climate change and ecological devastation threatens all. In the West the stores may be open, and the planes may run on time, but late capitalism is running on fumes. The “veil” remains, along with elitist media manipulation which distracts and diverts public attention, but various anti-capitalist forces are arrayed at its edges, preparing to draw in the masses. Discipline has been unmasked for what it really is- a one way ticket to an early grave for the poor; or a lifetime of spiritual turmoil for the ruling class and the collaborating professional/managerial class flunkies and sycophants.

Yet again, the violence of words such as productivity, efficiency, free markets, national sovereignty, etc., all contribute to the intolerable living conditions for large portions of the world’s population. This is the metaphysics of capital, where abstract business concepts have very real, and deadly, consequences. Jason Read writes in Crisis and Critique:

“Labor power must be made virtual, and then productive. The foundation of the capitalist relationship is the separation of workers form the means of production, and thus the potential of labor power as a potential. Once this potential is sold, enters into the workplace, it must be actualized, transformed into actual productive acts.”

He goes on to cite Pierre Macherey, student of Althusser:

“From this point of view, we could say that when the capitalist occupies himself with his workers’ labor-power, which he has acquired the right to employ in exchange for a wage, treating it as a ‘productive power’ whose productivity he intends to increase in order to produce relative surplus value – he practices metaphysics not in a theoretical but in a practical way. He practices this peculiar sort of metaphysics not during his leisure time, as a distraction or mental exercise, as he would a crossword puzzle, but throughout the entire working day dedicated to production. By opening up his company to notions such as ‘power,’ ‘capacity’ and ‘causation,’ he thereby makes them a reality, realizing these fictions, these products of the mind, which he then employs with daunting efficacy. In this way, with payrolls and charts of organizational tasks at hand, he shows, better than a philosopher’s abstract proofs, that the work of metaphysics could not be more material, provided that one knows how to put it to good use in introducing it into the factory. One could, incidentally, derive from this a new and caustic definition of metaphysics: in this rather specific context, it boils down to a mechanism for profit-making, which is no small matter. This means that, amongst other inventions that have changed the course of history, capitalism has found the means, the procedure, the ‘trick’ enabling it to put abstract concepts into practice – the hallmark of its ‘genius.’”

More bluntly, the contributors at the website Endnotes put it like this:

“The abstract universal — value — whose existence is posited by the exchange abstraction, acquires a real existence vis-à-vis particular concrete labours, which are subsumed under it. The real existence of abstractions, which acquire the ability to subsume the concrete world of production under them — and posit themselves as the truth of this world — is for Marx nothing other than a perverted, enchanted, ontologically inverted reality. The absurdity and violence which Hegel perceives in a relation of subsumption applies not only to Hegel’s system itself, but also to the actual social relations of capitalist society.”

As one can see, it takes a very specific sort of discipline to deploy this type of thought- as well as to mouth the PR Double-plus good Newspeak that Philip Hammond and the GM executive spoke of above. As we have seen through history, the consequences are not pretty. This shackling of the human spirit molds workers in a totalitarian way, and becomes the baseline ideology for accessing elite institutions of knowledge and power. Hence, this is why some today speak of “total subsumption.”

In this sense, production via exploitation of labor power only speaks of half of the problem: the flip side is that humans are produced as cogs, or, put another way; the social reproduction of the masses is instilled by the constant reminder under capitalism to be productive, market yourself, speak appropriately in every varied situation, etc. Thus, humans are molded to believe in the need for police, tax collection agencies, borders, and industrial civilization. As usual, the unwaged labor of care work in the home continues to oppress women around the globe, as feminists such as Martha Gimenez, Kathi Weeks, Nancy Fraser, Silvia Federici, and many others have shown.

Words cannot express how far capitalism extends into daily life; or the amount of harmful and hateful behavior it has led to. Humans are valued only insofar as they are productive: productive in a myopic framework designed to narrow consciousness, reduce potentialities, blight the human condition, and destroy and degrade wildlife and ecosystems. People all over the world are simply being “farmed” for their labor power, their creativity, their social media posts, to pay taxes, the various licenses, fees, and insurances needed to secure a bare means of existence. Not only are the elite thriving economically, the 1% are estimated to live 10 years longer than the average of the 99%, as Danny Dorling explains in Inequality and the 1%.

The modern calendar and clock also regiment, divides, and orients our perception around the holy grail of productivity, turning human potentialities for creativity, for organic agriculture, for art, for useful crafts, for efficient renewable energy systems, for basic joy, and destroy those possibilities. Instead, we find abstract notions of labor and value, which are then actualized and concretized into power- “paving the way” for progress. Our time system, essentially from the very beginning of Western civilization in Mesopotamia, started with set dates for repaying debts, which eventually morphed into regularly scheduled time frames for starting wars, shackling us all to a five day work week, etc. Our time system is the operating system for Empire, its software; hence the Parisians desire to end it.

Solutions lie in listening to indigenous peoples worldwide who have been living sustainably for millennia, via processes of trust-building, of starting truth and reconciliation for past atrocities and modern day dispossession, of growing communities based on non-profit cooperatives, etc. Tight-knit indigenous livelihoods counter the growth of destructive forms of modern discipline, an unnatural system of time, instrumental reason, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy; through power structures distributed horizontally, with deliberative bodies and direct democratic practices.

Authentic resistance against our system should therefore question and dispel the lies embedded in what the rulers and functionaries of capital call “discipline.” Our interior lives have been colonized, our jobs are alienating and exploitative, and our social media and data are now “harvested” for wealth. The abstractions of capital must be abandoned. Perhaps only by returning to the “integral”, the holistic, something closer to the Earth, by finding something elemental, by reigniting desire, can the vast utopian dreams and potentialities, which for many lie dormant, lead us to find some sort of joy and sustainable methods of living to transform this mad society.

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Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

Published online at Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, Nov. 15-16, 2018.

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via Cointelpro, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner. The first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

“A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’”

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

“The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.”

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

“As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.”

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to Create. May contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

“Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.”

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of History, Benjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson & Crick, Margulis & Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws.

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do in fact create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently, i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the Sept. 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

“The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.”

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

“After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty”

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern though and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of Physics. Exploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rd edition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rainforests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

“…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.”

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

“[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.”

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults who’s conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climactically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of Authenticity. As Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

“…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.”

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

“One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.”

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song, i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

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Old Essay: The Reawakening of Tribal Consciousness

(Hey everyone, I thought I’d post this older essay from 2016 on my site for readers who may be unfamiliar with it. It’s included in my ebook as well as the 3rd edition of A Beautiful Resistance, the journal of Gods & Radicals.

The past few months have been busy here in New England, but I should have new content out soon- another long-form essay, as well as upcoming podcasts with Jason from Reason Bowl.)

First published on the website Countercurrents.org, Jan 28th, 2016.

THE REAWAKENING OF TRIBAL CONSCIOUSNESS:

The Spread of Ecological Wisdom and Confronting the Artifice of Capitalism

When we learn to come together we are whole
when we learn to recognize the enemy
we will know what we need to know
to learn to come together
to learn to weave and mend.

— Anne Cameron, Daughters of Copper Woman

I am the guardian of life
and death
all my children come back to me
I call you
conjure you
hide you in my breast
you nourish me with your bones
and live again.
I am your Mother Earth
your dark Mother Earth.
If you insist on destroying me
you will destroy yourselves.
Wake up
my children
listen to my cry.

— Claribel Alegría, “Gaia’s Cry”

Recent world events are playing out a drama unseen since the mid-17th century. When the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, European borders were drawn so that sovereign states would establish the sole rule of law within their own respective territories. Today, transnational capitalism, huge waves of immigrants from war-torn and poverty-stricken regions, instant globe-spanning internet communication, and the threat of fundamentalist terrorism are dissolving borders at a rapid pace. In its wake, the notions of duty, respect for environmental rights, citizenship, and nations are being reformed to shape this rapidly forming interconnected global culture. Leaders of modern nation-states are proving less and less adept at handling crises and managing world affairs: they turn to various technocrats within the maze of various government ministries, powerful businesspeople whose lobbyists write the laws for the legislature, non-profits and NGOs who carry out needed health and infrastructure projects, and community leaders from civil society who are able to wade through ethnic and tribal antagonisms with ease.

As nations falter due to weak links of shared identity between citizens, new ecologically and culturally conscious groups of people are linking together, as globe-spanning tribes based on tradition, ritual, spirituality, reciprocity, and love of the environment are gathering to create the most important movement of the 21st century. As refugees from the Middle East flee warfare, as Latin Americans leave their homelands due to little or no job security, and as highly educated East and South Asians emigrate to pursue advanced careers in engineering, science, and more, global tribes are forming that transcend the modern nation-state. Millions of people now have dual citizenship and conflicting allegiances between their nation of birth and their new homes.

The Western state is now collapsing under the weight of its own bloated bureaucracies; its satiated, anesthetized, and myopic views of politics; and its inability, its unwillingness, to confront the environmental destruction and social ennui endemic to capitalism. The predatory nature of the state and its capacity for resource extraction and organized violence is becoming all too clear for globally oriented people, those who adhere to a one-world philosophy and a desire to eliminate borders. Many young people are beginning to consider themselves as world citizens or at least as member of larger regions, just as people in the EU refer to European citizenship and the European community. In the Islamic world, a similar concept has been used for centuries: Muslims are members of the ummah, the collective community of believers in Islam.

The Vision of Global Tribes

These questions surrounding transnational violence, religious fundamentalism, world citizenship, and social backgrounds are explored in depth in Amin Maaolouf’s In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. Maalouf traces his personal background, explains why having numerous tribal and ethnic allegiances does not inevitably have to lead to conflict, how modern Western nations react to “the other”, and most importantly, explains his notion of global tribes. He asserts that in contemporary life we have reached “The Age of Global Tribes”, a new era in which a patchwork of shifting ethnic, religious, and tribal allegiances compete with nation-states for glory, the need for social identity, and power.

Maalouf focuses on the Arab world due to his dual French-Lebanese background. For Maalouf, fundamentalist Islamism gives disaffected individuals in undemocratic, dictatorial regimes a stable identity, despite the possibility of fomenting hatred and nihilism that fundamentalism can lead to. The corollaries in Western society would be people like Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, the Unabomber, and the odd racist or militia group that advocates violence. While it would be tidy to lay all the blame on a nihilistic outlook, on the death drive (Freud’s Thanatos), this seems an oversimplification. For the young, well-educated, and politically-oriented men in Arab nations, but those not rich enough to emigrate to the West or enjoy the simulacra consumer “paradise” that Arab nations try to copy, there are few options for social belonging. Fifty years ago, Marxist groups would have provided an outlet for social belonging; thirty years ago, the examples of Nasser, Sadat, and Khomeini led youths towards pan-Arab or nationalist organizations. Today, with the failure of both, and the covert support of the Gulf monarchies and their Western backers for jihadi terror, Islamist groups provide the need for social belonging in a very small percentage of young Arabs. Maalouf explains: “In [Islamism] they find satisfaction for their need for identity, for affiliation to a group, for spirituality, for a simple interpretation of too-complex realities and for action and revolt.”1

The need to find affiliation for young people is due to the loss of power of the modern nation-state, which has exploited various ideologies to cling to power over the last few centuries. The construct of the nation-state, and its right to exist, has been delegitimized by the failed ideologies of Marxism in Eastern Europe, Maoism in East Asia, permanent ethnic conflict in Africa, dictatorships in the Mideast, unregulated capitalism in North America and Western Europe, and the machismo populism prevalent in parts of Latin America. Thus it is no surprise to Maalouf and others that religion is what groups will fall back on in the modern era of crony capitalism and ecological disaster. Maalouf’s solution is language: if we all learn to adopt three (or more) languages, cultural differences and tensions will relax, and a true world community where religious belief no longer coincides with group violence and mob rule can flourish.

Neo-Tribal Consciousness and Organization

What is missing from Maalouf’s analysis is the organization of this future society. For author Daniel Quinn, it is the tribe that will become the backbone of our emerging culture. He explores these ideals in his book Beyond Civilization where he calls for a “New Tribal Revolution”. And in many ways the neo-tribal group seems the best option: tribes which share the work and share the profit of collective endeavors will inevitably have much less inequality and are likely be much more peaceful. As Quinn explains:

Tribal life is not in fact perfect, idyllic, noble, or wonderful, but wherever it’s found intact, it’s found to be working well – as well as the life of lizards, raccoons, geese, or beetles – with the result that the members of the tribe are not generally enraged, rebellious, desperate, stressed-out borderline psychotics being torn apart by crime, hatred, and violence. What anthropologists find is that tribal peoples, far from being nobler, sweeter, or wiser than us, are as capable as we are of being mean, unkind, short-sighted, selfish, insensitive, stubborn, and short-tempered. The tribal life doesn’t turn people into saints; it enables ordinary people to make a living together with a minimum of stress year after year, generation after generation.2

A new form of tribe is emerging, not the suffocating, tyrannical, stereotypical, monotype tribe of the kind we read about in school history books: new groups where tradition does not dictate every action of the individual, where individuals feel free to express their spirituality without the needed to conform to a group religion. An egalitarian tribe, where merit matters, not rigid hierarchy or nepotism. Most importantly, neo-tribal wisdom accepts the idea that ecocentrism is central: the idea that humanity is not center stage in a drama located on planet Earth; the idea that we are all part of a cosmic web, a sacred hoop in Native American terms; that the environment does not derive its worth from human value, but has innate value and should be protected from short-term exploitation. For Quinn, the new tribal revolution is distinctly post-modern: it signifies the end of meta-narratives, the end of the idea that, in his words “There is only one right way to live”: the end of the superficial, spiritually myopic way of the modern techno-capitalist state.

The Delusion of Left vs. Right

Viewing the world from the holistic, ecocentrist way, the futile arguments over liberal versus conservative beliefs are unmasked for what they are: a distraction, a carnival. The antagonism of Liberal/Conservative is thus a collective hallucination designed by elites to divide and conquer the people, as well as destroy ecosystems and pillage resources. Capitalist and Marxist-Leninist communist societies controlled by oligarchies have both ravaged environments immensely, and both have had industrial growth at the heart of their belief system. They both constitute, for author Jonathon Porritt, a super-ideology: industrialism. Here’s Porritt:

[Capitalism and Communism] are dedicated to industrial growth, to the expansion of the means of production, to a materialist ethic as the best means of meeting people’s needs, and to unimpeded technological development. Both rely on increasing centralization and large-scale bureaucratic control and coordination. From a viewpoint of narrow scientific rationalism, both insist that the planet is there to be conquered, that big is self-evidently beautiful, and that what cannot be measured is of no importance.3

The most pertinent politics to our survival that matters is how the human race uses and protects its lands and waters for the betterment of our own societies, our future children, and our fellow plant and animal species. How we can in small groups, clans, tribes, and perhaps even bioregional city-states grow enough food, collect enough clean water, gather materials for shelter, use appropriately scaled technology, and foster a vibrant culture among peaceable citizens. This philosophy goes by many names: sustainability, deep ecology, ecocentrism, etc. Indigenous cultures have been practicing these skills for millennia, passing on oral traditions and ecological and agricultural knowledge so detailed it would make the Library of Congress look insignificant in comparison. Much of this knowledge and ancient wisdom has been lost to the sands of time, victim of the uprooting of cultures because of colonial wars, epidemic diseases, the techno-reductionism of modern health and science, capitalism, and Christianity’s missionary engulfment over entire continents, and more.

Ideas surrounding ecocentric politics, liberty, and democracy are being questioned from new radical perspectives, although Western media blacks out massive progress; in Ecuador and Bolivia, the socialist parties in power are immensely raising standards of living and education, while improving rights for the environment and indigenous groups. In Spain, Podemos’ combination of direct and digital democracy, and its citizen circles used to debate local and municipal issues are redefining European politics. In the state of Chiapas, Mexico, Zapatistas led by the EZLN group have been busy for the past twenty-one years opening schools and hospitals, redistributing farmland for struggling farmers, saving diverse rainforests from logging and grazing, and imparting deep ecological values to its youths. Also, the EZLN are committed to passing on their own traditional Mayan culture within a framework of egalitarian deals, communalism, and socialist beliefs, distancing themselves from the whirlwind of neo-colonial capitalism that lords over most of North, Central, and South America.

What is also interesting is that many of these new perspectives and leaders are not committed to the ossifying processes that soon results from traditional political parties and the levels of bureaucracy that ensue. Groups like Bolivia’s MAS party, and the EZLN, have begun to embody the ideal of direct, grassroots participatory democracy. This is because it is only the people of a nation, its citizens, and not the faceless multinationals and their political figureheads, who are able to understand that inequality, injustice, and environmental degradation are a direct result of corporate-induced poverty, resource consumption, a loss of choices in the public sphere, and lack of regulations and care for the Earth.

The Paradox of Modern Education: Liberation versus Indoctrination

Today, modern Western education systems are playing a dual and contradictory role: edifying our youth and steeping them in critical ecological knowledge and value systems, while at the same time indoctrinating them into a corporate and conformist lifestyle by teaching them to obey and buy the products of the multinational companies pillaging the Earth.

Possibly the most intelligent tract concerning modern-day mindlessness when it comes to education is Paul Goodman’s devastatingly accurate Growing Up Absurd. Written back in 1960, Goodman torched the official out-of-touch education system, and laments the disaffected youths who feel excluded from capitalism and the anomie that emerges. Still immensely relevant today, Goodman explains the sheer naivety and blind spots of western pedagogical methods:

Social scientists … have begun to think that ‘social animal’ means ‘harmoniously belonging.’ They do not like to think that fighting and dissenting are proper social functions, nor that rebelling or initiating fundamental change is a social function. Rather, if something does not run smoothly, they say it has been improperly socialized; there has been a failure in communication. … But perhaps there has not been a failure in communication. Perhaps the social message has been communicated clearly…and is unacceptable. … We must ask the question, ‘Is the harmonious organization to which the young are inadequately socialized perhaps against human nature, or not worthy of human nature, and therefore there is difficulty in growing up?’4

Goodman’s analysis of juvenile delinquency, the lack of hope and prospects for young people, as well as his treatment on many issues including the structural racism of the prison system, and the missed revolutions in modern society are devastatingly accurate today. Education which focuses on world cultures, equality, indigenous beliefs, sustainability, and love of nature for its own sake and not human instrumental needs, teachings outside the Eurocentric worldview, will foster an ecocentric outlook, and progress then can be made towards a peaceful world community.

The Anatomy of Power

The modern nation-state faces a series of contradictions, not just in health, agriculture, and education. It simply is becoming more impotent as solving problems in mass society due to layers of bureaucracy, inflation of the currency which makes every social service more expensive to implement, the hollowing out of community services due to privatizations, etc. And problems of an interconnected, interdependent, globalized world lie outside the reach of the state. In Daniel Bell’s words, nations “have become too small to solve big problems, too big to solve small problems.”

States in the 21st century are most likely to function and thrive by governing horizontally: with many connections between workers unions, local politicians, civic groups, environmental non-profits, etc. In this way, local production takes precedence over mass-manufactured goods from China and places halfway across the world, lowering greenhouse emissions. Thus practices of bioregionalism are employed, and what experts might call the “topology of power relations” is changed to include environmental concerns and forms of eco-cultural restoration. Culture can then recreate itself around annual agricultural and ethical-responsible means of production, and recreate its connection to time and space: rather than continuing exclusively under the atomized Gregorian time system and borders imposed by conniving politicians, our world culture can work, play, and sink into the ever-present moment, what the Aborigines called the Dreaming.

If power is already beginning to be dispersed tribally, and through bioregional processes, are there any examples we can point to? Certainly, in the West, the case of the breakup of Yugoslavia, referendums in Quebec, Scotland, the fight for a referendum in Catalonia, all qualify as sub-national tribal entities reasserting their right to self-rule. Further, in the region of the former Soviet Union, the cases of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, East Ukraine, and Crimea, while they are often vilified as a form of ethno-nationalist fascism originating in the Kremlin, are undoubtedly due to the tribal allegiances shared between these fragile mini-states and the Russian motherland.

There are even wannabe theorists in the US who claim to have identified the tribal identities in the USA, such as Colin Woodward and Joel Garreau. You can find the facile representations of their findings here and here. Both authors appear to be older, white, privileged, and seemingly unaware that US culture is very homogeneous, and perhaps they didn’t consider that there are vastly less cultural differences between New York and California — a 3,000 mile trek — than, say, the short hop between Brussels and Amsterdam. Further, unsurprisingly, Garreau does not even have any territory set aside for the First Nations, the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived here for millennia, while Woodward only includes land in Northern Canada and Alaska for First Nation status, apparently oblivious to the 333 federally recognized Indigenous Nations in the US that are not in Alaska.

Badiou’s Rebirth of History

The most striking examples of tribal, sub-national, mass movement intuitive wisdom towards rebellion and revolution against corrupt nations can be found in the 2011 Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Spain’s Indignados. In all three instances, it was an activist minority who ignited popular dissatisfaction against corrupt regimes: in the West, oligarchic capitalism, in the Arab world, the figure of the Western-backed strongman, the dictator. For philosopher Alain Badiou, each of these dedicated protests represents a historical riot: an attempt to portray a political Truth to the world. Further, these acts showed that they represented the true will of the people, in the most general and universal terms: even though they accounted for a tiny minority, mainstream media regularly referred to Egyptian protesters at Tahrir Square as democratic, as representing the will of the people.

Of course, in the Middle East and North Africa the Arab Spring was about much more than democracy in any representative, parliamentarian sense: besides throwing out dictators like Mubarak and Ben Ali, social justice, dignity, equality, and freedom from Western hegemony were among key issues. The state should not have total power to determine law, taxes, industrial organization: civil society and direct democracy has a role to play as well. For the state, this is non-negotiable. As Badiou puts it:

A massive popular event creates a de-statification of the issue of what is possible. In general, and especially in recent decades, the state has arrogated to itself the right to say what is possible in the political order and what is not. It is thus possible to ‘humanize ‘ capitalism and ‘develop’ democracy. But to construct a productive, institutional social order normed by equality and genuine popular command – that is completely impossible, a fatal utopia.5

To Badiou, the instincts of these protesters are correct in the sense that they tend towards universality: the values expressed (freedom, justice, forcing dictators to step down, etc.) not only apply to the nations involved, but are political truths the whole world must accept. This marks our age as an interregnum, or as Badiou says, an intervallic period, a stage between crony capitalism and a possible future world order of justice and egalitarianism. History is being born again out of the Thatcherite-Reagan period of hyper-capitalism from approximately 1980-2011, where greed was good, deregulation and privatization ruled, and the World Bank and IMF plundered the developing nations. The rise of civil society and grassroots democracy will lead to the withering away of the state, to Communism, in Badiou’s mind. For other theorists, ecologism is the preferred term to refer to the future era of politics, for others, bioregionalism, or environmental democracy.

Despite the differences in the symbolic nomenclature, in ideology, there are key similarities between theorists of leftist political thought, and though they are hesitant to use terminology of the tribe, their principles often align with indigenous groups: smaller organizations of well-integrated peoples living and working together, with forms of consensus, direct democracy, horizontal civic groups, and yes, even tribal and religious elders who will uphold essential traditions, rituals, and spirituality necessary for group survival and cultural enrichment.

Lessons from Anthropology

For cultural anthropologist John H. Bodley, there are three cultural worlds: the tribal, the imperial, and the commercial. Most 21st century states are commercial states, dependent on industrialization, fossil fuels, high technology, global markets and cities, and representative government. Yet as he points out, “Commercialization co-opts both humanization and politicization processes to promote economic growth and the accumulation of financial capital.”6 Political “elites” agree, although they use vague and convoluted arguments, threats, rhetoric, and would demur from ever saying so in such a blunt manner. For instance, the humanism of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is now seen as idealistic and unworkable by most “modern” Western states. The politicization process begun in the Enlightenment now begins and ends with liberal democracy, which today only buys time for authoritarian capitalism and the oligarchy that funnels money to the one-percent and their multinationals.

The commercial (liberal) arguments that restricting personal freedoms and thinning out the social commons are necessary for civilization are simply cases of falling for one’s own propaganda. The most glaring and infamous recent example being Fukuyama’s The End of History, in which he posits free-market capitalism, liberal democracy, and globalization marked the end of world conflict, the rising of standards of living globally, and that liberal capitalism was the last and greatest socioeconomic ideology. These are “Delusions of Progress” according to Bodley. Bodley rejects the materialist technological, epidemiological, and geographical reasons for Eurocentric dominance (Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel argument) in the imperial and commercial worlds, and for him:

“The fate of humanity is determined by three variables…the scale at which people organize their sociocultural systems…how people control social power…and their deceptive use of culture to control perception.”7

In the imperial states of the 16th century through the commercial states in the 21st, the Westphalian states meet all three criteria for domination of weaker tribes and small nations. Recall the huge organizational scale of Spanish, Dutch, British, and French empires; the figure of the leader, replaced by rulers and later parliaments who demand tribute in the form of taxes to control social power; and the use of culture for dark purposes (consider the hypocritical and murderous rhetoric of Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, Bush’s “War on Terror”, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, etc.).

The Global System, Political Ecologism, and Their Limits

Global institutions like the UN, World Trade Organization, the EU, and their associated NGOs are simply not equipped to handle the flood of crises that scientific and social experts are predicting. And the nation-state will not be ready to handle issues when the floodgates open either. There are calls from a few (mostly ignored) expert theorists to begin planning for what they call the Eco-state, or the Green State,8 which will delegate responsibility of the bottom-up duties of social welfare and assign them to civil society, non-profits, and grassroots citizen groups; and the top-down, streamlined hierarchy of government responsible for natural disasters, tax collection, defense, and integrating trade within the global architecture. Green political ecologism does impart an especially important lesson, one that tribal societies understand implicitly: to expand the moral community to provide political protection for the rights of future human generations, non-human life forms, and the biosphere as a whole.

Political elites are not interested in imparting these deep ecological values: the elites instead appeal to the darkest, craven, lowest-common-denominator voter who refuses to consider lowering their habits of consumption. Everything could be changed by sharply limiting what we buy, lowering meat and especially beef consumption, rationing fossil fuel use, etc.; quality of life would vastly improve, average lifespan would increase, the arts would be rejuvenated, and morally responsible technology would develop.

As long as elites are bought by lobbyists pushing corporate agendas, and electorates are unwilling to see that the “standard of living” does not equate with the amount of things one owns, the green state and the interlocking global framework it requires seems far off. Perhaps the late 21st or the 22nd century will provide the state system needed for ecological stability and interdependence. For now, the smaller scale of the tribe will have to suffice.

Tribal Seeds: Reproducing Culture from Time Immemorial

While great philosophers like Badiou extol communism, and green theorists such as Dobson and Eckersely promote ecological politics, the annals of history and examples of indigenous tribes today can provide a model for the future. As Bodley shows, it is the tribal world that knows how to reproduce culture. Small-scale tribes are less likely to use organize violence as a tool for coercive and deadly clashes with rival nations, and much more likely to use sustainable farming and technology. A sharing and bartering society, with organic agricultural practices nourishing people materially and spiritually, would go a long way towards healing the open wounds of our mother Earth and the ethnic and sectarian tensions plaguing most nations. Rather than keeping food, housing, material and intellectual property under lock and key, a culture of abundance would allow unparalleled access to health, education, and scale-appropriate technology.

All the while, transnational notions of identity allow numerous chances for the cross-fertilization of sub-national groups and tribes. Civic engagement is slowly regaining strength as citizens want to expand communal gardening and agricultural practices, energy-efficient housing and irrigation, and renewable energy projects. As mass movements rally for social justice and direct democracy, the idea of what a tribal nation can be will spark a change in the public, and the struggle for liberation from suicidal capitalism and respect for universal human rights dissolve people’s delusions that a tribe must be xenophobic and anti-democratic.

Tribal society can be insular when it comes to one issue, however: the idea of reproducing culture. Certain rituals and rites of passage remain a closely guarded secret for many tribes, because of their profound mystical and spiritual implications. Shamans and chieftains in indigenous society are trained their whole lives to guide and groom the next generation: there are risks involved when passing through stages of life, and traveling through spiritual realms. Similarly, the industrialized nations face similar risks today, which can only be solved by a tribe, a village, a community. We must invent ways where we can initiate youths and adolescents, mothers and fathers, so that they can develop harmoniously within the social fabric. We must confront the ennui and malaise that the consumer culture has spawned. And hopefully, then we can learn the holy, sacred secrets to reproducing and recreating ecosystems and cultures worth passing on to the next generation.

  1. Amin Maalouf. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. p. 90. Penguin Books, New York, 2000. []
  2. Daniel Quinn. Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure. p. 61. Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999. []
  3. Quoted in Andrew Dobson. Green Political Thought (4th ed.). Routledge, New York, 2007. p. 18. []
  4. Paul Goodman. Growing Up Absurd. p. 10-11. Vintage, New York, 1960. []
  5. Badiou Riots and Uprisings p. 94. []
  6. John H. Bodley. Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System. (5th ed.) p. 17. Altamira, Plymouth, 2011. []
  7. Ibid, Bodley. p. 19. []
  8. Robyn Eckersely. The Green State. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004. []

 

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Reason Bowl Radio: Jobs: The Normalized Exploitation of the People

I spoke with my friend Jason Holland recently about the nature of compulsory/wage work in today’s world. One of our inspirations for this episode is Bob Black’s great essay, “The Abolition of Work”

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/bob-black-the-abolition-of-work

Please comment and share this video if you’d like to see more videos, and consider donating to Jason’s Patreon at: www.patreon.com/ReasonBowlRadio

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Review: American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism by Henry Giroux

Published 8/15/2018 at New York Journal of Books.

As one of the greatest dissidents and public intellectuals of our time, Henry Giroux continues to excoriate the declining state of US politics and civic life in this new work. As an academic and leader in the field of critical pedagogy, Giroux is an expert on the United States’ descent into unrestrained economic neoliberalism and political authoritarianism, which he now correctly claims is converging into neo-fascism with the election of Donald Trump.

In this work, Giroux comprehensively documents the Trump regime’s anti-democratic trappings, yet he wisely focuses these proto-fascist tendencies within the framework of US history and political culture. Still, most of the material here documents the changes in US policy since Trump’s election, which while stomach-churning and nauseating, can get repetitive for avid news junkies who have already heard many of these scandals and pay close attention to current events.

Most interesting are Giroux’s forays early in the book at describing the Orwellian character of Trump and his administration, which, as he notes:

“Dynastic politics, official lying, and militant nationalism all occur openly under Donald Trump’s rule. Democracy is under attack. Americans are expected not to behave as empowered citizens, but as obedient subjects and grateful consumers who should repeat slogans and cheer for the supreme leader no matter what. This is the brave new surveillance/punishing state that merges Orwell’s Big Brother with Huxley’s mind-altering modes of entertainment, education, and propaganda.”

The middle portion of American Nightmare continues with a tour-de-force exposing the Trump regime for the cruel and plutocratic grifters that they are: Giroux documents the increasing military budget, Trump encouraging police brutality, lowering taxes on the rich, demonizing minorities, slashing budgets for social services, ignoring the plight of Puerto Ricans, and many more hideous policies of the administration.

What sets Giroux apart from many political commentators is his obvious erudition, unflinching critical perspective, and global analysis of the perils of neoliberal ideology and its infiltration into education, the media, and society. Giroux writes with flair and has his own unique style, as devout readers of his books and online columns at outlets such as Counterpunch, Truthout, Alternet, and Salon well know.  Some may find some passages in this book long-winded or repetitive, and less-favorable readers might even say turgid, but the importance of his arguments cannot be denied.

Giroux brings American Nightmare to a close by imagining his concepts of a “Politics of Ungovernability” and “Democracy in Exile.” Giroux draws on the serious scholarship of people like Nancy Fraser, Michael Lerner, David Harvey, and many others. Giroux asks:

“In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic impulses and the erasure of historical memory, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to learn from the past and understand the present in order to challenge rabid, unbridled authority and hold power accountable?”

Giroux cites important intellectuals and activists such as Timothy Synder, Geoge Lakoff, Robin D.G. Kelley and more, yet his analysis of what a democracy in exile would look like in the US is thin. As he notes, “Young people, workers, and those now considered disposable, especially, are the driving forces of the future, and we have to learn from them, support them, contribute where possible, and join in their struggles.” He continues: “This would suggest building up unions again and putting their control in the hands of workers, fostering the conditions for the creation of a massive student movement, and working to build sanctuary cities and institutions that would protect…immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, and others considered disposable.” Practical , detailed advice is hard to come by here, as progressives have been repeating these mantras ad nausea for decades.

Giroux is perceptive regarding the lack of vision among the activist and progressive Left. He accepts how:

“For many progressives, their political landscape lacks connections to…single issue movements…they exist in a fractured political environment that impedes a broader ethical and radical movement to harness the energies of progressives, liberals, and leftists under one political tent and to fight for a comprehensive politics in the name of a radical democracy or form of democratic socialism.”

He goes on to suggest US citizens can learn from the anti-war movement of the 60s, the lives and work of Martin Luther King Jr., Vaclav Havel, the Black Panthers, and even Spain’s Podemos. No doubt these examples are inspirational, but acceptance of these radical ideas and thinkers has always been in a small minority in the US.

This reviewer would suggest Giroux is somewhat overly optimistic regarding the short-term future of the US. Giroux claims: “Despite everything, optimism and resistance are in the air, and the urgency of mass action has a renewed relevance.” Although public polling does indicate that citizens tend to endorse policies to the left of mainstream Democrats, we still live in a nation full of false consciousness that elected Reagan, George W. Bush, and Trump.

For further thought, since Giroux mentions his sincere and welcome support for an authentic democratic socialism, we should reflect on the two most prominent in the US today: Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While we must leave the door somewhat open regarding various policy positions of Ocasio-Cortez, we should be mindful that they are both mild social democrats and tack to the right of FDR or even Eisenhower, center-left in today’s European context, and both have limited knowledge of, and have equivocated on deadly serious foreign policy issues. Ultimately, capitalism finds a way to tolerate, co-opt, make palatable, and market “outsider radicals” for its own ends, similar to how Carter and Obama were framed as progressive reformers trying to fight the system from within.

Here is another salient point to consider. Giroux writes that: “Couple [Trump’s] political interventions with the unprecedented attack on the media and the barring of the New York Times, CNN, and other ‘fake news’ media outlets from press conferences and what becomes clear is that the professional institutions that make democracy possible are not only under siege but face the threat of being abolished.” Giroux continues: “Trumpists’ constant cry of ‘fake news’ to discredit critical media outlets is part of a massive disinformation campaign…”

Well, yes, Trump is a disinfo specialist extraordinaire. Yet, is Giroux implying that the NYT and CNN “make democracy possible” and can honestly be considered “critical media outlets?” These are exactly the outlets, along with obvious hate-spewing right-wing media like Fox News and others, which provide the backdrop of an ahistorical “Disney dreamscape” that Giroux mentions in the text. This began in the Cold War under the CIA program “Operation Mockingbird” and there is no reason to believe it has stopped. All of the mainstream media outlets are part of a “massive disinformation campaign” and Giroux should have made that clearer, as he is well aware of the media’s complicity. All of the above outlets should be condemned for distracting, hypnotizing, brainwashing the historical memory and general sense of empathy and humanity of US citizens. If radical democracy is to spring up in the US, Giroux should be more cognizant and recognize that capitalist, intelligence agency-penetrated media has no place in its future.

Overall, this work is a highly articulate demolition of the Trump agenda, which comprehensively and briskly covers the many high crimes and propaganda tactics of an avowedly plutocratic, authoritarian administration.

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