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.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From Frankfurt with Love

From Frankfurt with Love

By William Hawes

(Scene)

Axel Honneth paces in a lavish office on an upper floor of a building overlooking the Main. In the middle of the room, a Ouija board sits on a table next to a bust of Vater Karl with papers strewn about. A pamphlet lies on top of the mess, entitled SMUSH: Special Methods Upholding Socialist Hegemony. The ghosts of Lukács and Gramsci shuffle around the room, sullen yet dignified. Behind the professor’s desk sits Rosa Luxembourg, water from the Landwehr mixing with her tears and dripping onto the carpet. In a dark corner Habermas is slumped over asleep in a captain’s chair, snoring loudly under a portrait of Max and Teddy. Surrounded by candles, Angela Davis sits cross-legged on the floor reciting incantations from Walter Benjamin’s personal notes on Kabbalah. On a far wall is an evidence board and under a subheading of Enemies is written: God, Country, Western Civilization.

(End Scene)

Such are the flights of fancy envisioned by today’s deluded, hysterical fascist lunatics. Many label anyone mildly socialist as treasonous, spouting vague platitudes about “cultural Marxists” or “postmodernists” while not understanding that the first phrase is completely meaningless, or having any comprehension of the second.

The undertones of racism, homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism of many of these wannabe blood and soil influencers are obvious. They have no shame or ethics.

Their goal is to cement and enshrine a Eurocentric patriarchal updated version of fascism with all of the segregated, structurally racist, and hierarchical elements. In public spaces fascists hide under the banner of “far-right” or “ethno-nationalist populists”. They should be confronted, physically if necessary. They should not be given outlets to the media, as the New York Times and many other publications did last year. They should be shunned, ignored- shown tough love.

On the flip side, we should encourage the teachings of and engagement with many of the German Jewish Marxist thinkers, including the Frankfurt School, their colleagues and intellectual descendants.

The historical amnesia is appalling. Who in mainstream media can recall the origins of Antifa? The lessons of the critical theorists? The lives and fates of Luxembourg and Liebknecht? Anyone? Bueller? We gave you the Art of Loving and all you did was hate on us. The One Dimensional Man (and woman, as Nina Power shows) continues to do everything in his/her power to Escape from Freedom.

Today the global situation is perilous. There is an overwhelming inertia at play here and the momentum is leading us off the rails. Or, rather, on the rails to 21st century concentration camps…as the threats of global warming, nuclear war, and worldwide pollution hang overhead as a modern-day sword of Damocles. To repeat a Benjamin quote which many have noticed for its prescience: “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.”

Recall what Adorno said: “Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.” Exactly as Krishnamurti put it: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” The elites are planning to turn the biosphere into a technosphere (I prefer the term Chaosphere) which is really a Death Star-like non-future (Space Force! Pew pew!) of total control and genocide.

Keep moving, they say. Live Work Work Work Die. They might as well hang “work will set you free” over our places of employment. There can be no true “free time” or “recreation” in our system, only “spare time” or “recovery time” as Alex Thomson points out, explaining good ole’ Teddy’s thoughts on the subject.

Don’t look down, you might notice how the West has become enriched by genocide, slavery, and global exploitation of workers and nature. They don’t want to know that under the cobblestones lies the beach. That’s why I like to say resist rhizomatically. They certainly don’t want you to notice the Stolpersteine everywhere in the USA and the West.

It might seem tempting for some to toss much of the so-called doomerism here and elsewhere into a ready-made Grand Hotel Abyss category, as Lukács said, but that is missing the point. Rather, the aim is to prepare a fertile soil unencumbered by ideology, alienation, propaganda, etc. Put another way, the ingredients for revolution must be healthy for the Proustian madeleine moment to occur. As George Monbiot wrote last month, “remembering is a radical act.” Marcuse pointed this out as well in One Dimensional Man: “Remembrance of the past may give rise to dangerous insights, and the established society seems to be apprehensive of the subversive contents of memory.”

Of course, for many of those with no historical memory and no “feels” for a deep connection with world cultures and the natural world, the immense problems lie unresolved. Most people in the USA are content politically with a binary fight between Democrats and Republicans, two sides of the same coin of corporate rule and ecocide. Debating those fools is nearly an impossible task: listening to mainstream media’s black and white bullshit, I am constantly thinking of TV star Rachel Bloom’s epic line: “The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.”

Regarding today’s digital, social media driven entertainment, it’s the old curmudgeon Adorno for the win in Minima Moralia: “Every visit to the cinema, despite the utmost watchfulness, leaves me dumber and worse than before.” In today’s world, the stupefication does not stop at the movie theater: nearly every social media outlet, TV channel, mainstream news source, public school, every pop art installation and music group is attempting to hypnotize, stupefy, and pacify us.

To be comfortable with life is to be comfortable with paradox, contradiction, and compromise. It’s no wonder that Marcuse was the guru of the New Left and the student movements in the 60s: he understood the forces of oppression were increasing as well as the forces for liberation. He thought dialectically; he spoke directly to civil society, and not in dogmatic orthodox terminology.

I must admit I (smugly? ruefully?) chuckle when I read of academics confess to not reading the members of the Frankfurt School until grad school, for instance. What insulation, what openly stated provincialism. For some of us it was a matter of necessity; a compulsion to understand what had happened.

Thus, directly after 9/11, sixteen years old, I understood deep in my bones what was occurring with the anti-Muslim propaganda to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq: it had already happened two generations ago, and I had already scoured over the blueprints of the masters, gleaning what I could at that age. The mock outrage in my insulated suburban town made me sick: I was surrounded by weak liberals or worse, the new Gestapo imperialists planning and supporting genocide in the Middle East.

Recall Wesley Clark’s admission that directly after 9/11 the goal was to take out seven countries. The immediacy of that genocidal position being taken means that the plans were already made and taken off the shelf in response to the attack. Just the same, the Patriot Act and NDAA were taken right out of the pages of the Garden Plot and Rex-84 plans to detain mass amounts of citizens in response to “civil disturbances”, just as plans to assassinate Occupy leaders were already in place and copied from COINTELPRO.

Today, the words of Max and Teddy, Herbert, Erich, and all of their friends and heirs still haunt us: US citizens haven’t learned a thing. Mass murderer Bush Jr. is paraded around the media circuit, Obama is idol-worshipped after drone-bombing tens of thousands. Trump has increased the drone program dramatically. Tens of millions have died directly or indirectly through war, coups, proxy terror, “structural adjustment programs”, CIA backed death squads, etc.

As Adorno wrote, “the splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass”. The suffering of a slave-labor precariat, global war, mass refugees, and the poor and oppressed can no longer be ignored in late capitalism. Our world has been smashed by totalitarianism and a loss of meaning, yet those broken shards still possess the possibility to “project negatively”, to illuminate the chance for a better world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ecology: The Keystone Science

Published online at CounterPunch.org and Countercurrents.org

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American, or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back.

The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way. Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and  farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion and growing humans.

Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

Theirs is a sort of one-dimensional, infantile distortion of Vishnu-consciousness (preservation, in their minds at all costs), an unadulterated cogito, which does not let in the wisdom of his partner Lakshmi (true prosperity) or the harbinger of change and the symbol of death and rebirth, Shiva. Industrial life must be dismantled from the core for a new order to arise. Instead of clinging to this techno-dystopian model of the elites, we must replace it with what I call a Planetary Vision.

The Stone that the Builders Refuse

Only a serious education in ecology for a significant minority of the globe’s workforce can allow for a return to naturally abundant and life-enhancing complex habitats for humanity and all species to thrive. Understandably, fields such as botany, zoology, and conservationism are not for everyone, as much of humanity has been and continue to be more interested in technological fields, the arts, music, sports, religion, etc. It would only take perhaps 10% of the globe to be critically informed, and to be able to act, deliberatively and democratically, about subjects relating to ecosystem preservation and all the attendant sub-fields for a functional, ecocentric culture to flourish.

Thankfully, the foundation of such an ecological vision has been laid by millennia of indigenous cultures, as well as modern prophets and science whizzes such as Rachel Carson, Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Barry Commoner, Donella Meadows, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, and many others.

Even Marx and Engels observed the basic deteriorating nature of advanced agriculture in what they termed “metabolic rift”, where they learned from European scientists of the overwhelming degradation of soil fertility on the continent due to poor farming techniques, razing of forests, and heavy industry.

Despite its current limitations, the United Nations offers a model of supra-national regulation and governance, especially the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the almost totally forgotten Brundtland report of 1987.

The Deep Wisdom of Ecology

Modern nations, corporations, vertical hierarchies, and industrial civilization does not serve human health or well-being. It excludes the majority, cuts them from a connection to their neighbors and the land, and privileges an elite rentier class who sponges and sucks the marrow out of the bowels of the Earth and those born without money, property, privilege, without a silver spoon in hand.

Ecological thinking, on the other hand, imparts us with the deep truth that we are all connected to each other, and the planet.

Permaculture farming has managed to match and even outpace productivity on giant agribusiness farms using low-impact or even no-till methods.

Food forests can be created around the globe using layers of edible plants at high densities to allow for the growth fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial shrubs, groundcover, and herbs. This is the real meaning of the Garden of Eden, an agroforestry model which ancient people lived off of for millennia alongside responsible crop rotation, seasonal burns, biochar, animal herding, hunting and foraging, and obtaining protein from fish and shellfish.

Arid, barren lands have been reforested by planting native trees: in Assam, India, one man recovered over 1300 acres by planting just one sapling a day for 30 years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been ongoing for years to help improve water quality. Just one adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a single day.

An average acre of boreal forest can hold over 100 tons of carbon above and below ground in soil and biomass. As more forests burn carbon is instantly released, and as temperatures rise soils thaw out, leading to increased soil respiration and thus increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With 1,400 gigatons of methane stored in the Earth’s permafrost, any significant release into the atmosphere could ramp up warming even faster.

Wildlife corridors must be funded at multiples of current levels and substantially increased in size to allow for keystone, threatened, and endangered species to maintain population sizes and spread over increasingly patchy and unsustainable habitat due to urban growth, roads, and industry. Millions of acres of land should be reforested (some say 500 million total) to provide carbon sinks to offset the coming effects of global warming. Currently 18 million acres of forest are lost per year due to deforestation for grazing and corporate agriculture.

National parks, forests, monuments, as well as coastal, marine, and wildlife refuges as well as state-run areas should be coordinated at the highest levels of national and international regulation. I say coordinated, but I do not mean controlled by in a vertical hierarchy. Responsibility should “telescope” (borrowing a term from political scientist Robyn Eckersley) according to the size of the problem at hand: local deliberative councils may work best for bioregional approaches, whereas some framework of a supra-national structure will be needed for the mega-problems of climate change, plastic pollution, and GMO proliferation, just to name a few.

We have all heard terms such as “apex predator” or “top of the food chain” which capitalists and social Darwinists have misconstrued and adopted to fit their own hierarchical, fascistic beliefs. Yet anyone who has examined a food web knows there are interrelationships and mutualistic interdependencies between myriad species which dwarf and blow away any notion of rigid, calcified structures of permanent dominance of any species or eco-biome.

A systemic examination of global trade would teach the same lesson. There is no way to make any one country “great again” at the expense of other nations. This is a false binary embedded in Western culture that goes by the name of the “Either/Or”.  Rather, we must adopt the “And/Both” model of cultures synergistically and mutually thriving.

(Trickster/Provocateur homework for US citizens: Welcome or respond to someone on our upcoming 4th of July with a cheery greeting of “Happy Interdependence Day!”)

This false dichotomy has insidiously found its way into the Earth sciences, with the categorization and response to “invasive species”. Human disturbance accounts for upwards of 95% of invasives causing harm to new ecosystems, yet even within the academy, detailed plans for shifting our lifestyles are few and far between, and predictably ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere has this sort of milquetoast-iness been more visceral for me than in listening to a guest lecturer years ago in a conservation biology class, when, at the outset of the lecture and without prompting, she announced that she would not tolerate any questions about humans as “invasive species”. This was perhaps understandable given the narrow definition of the term by some, or the aim and scope of her forthcoming talk, yet still, the rigid reactionary nature and tone of her dictum managed to produce a chill.

Further, the steps involved in combating invasive, non-woody plants do not usually involve more than a tractor mower or a backpack sprayer and Round-up, in public and private operations. Little is done to thwart the habitat systemically disturbed by human activity, the nutrient-depleted soil, over-salinization, etc. No thought given to the notion that the invasives in many cases are the only plants able to germinate and tolerate nutrient-starved soil and edge habitat which falls outside the purview of agricultural land, or the delusional urge within forestry management to preserve wooded or grassland areas in some pre-colonial or pre-industrial chrysalis.

We all observed this duplicitous portrayal of those evil invasives for many years following the media-driven and pseudo-scientific outrage and mania of the kudzu vine in the South. Covering roadsides and disturbed, recently deforested areas, the vine was portrayed with puritanical hatred. The loathed vine cannot penetrate into shaded forest and acted as a projection of our own fears, malicious intent, and ignorance.

The Revolution as Poetic Enchantment

There is also the problem of revolutionary activity where organization and specific roles are needed. We’ve been told that any and all organizing inevitably leads to corruption, hierarchy, greed, and ego inflation. Yet nature has managed to organize and spontaneously birth everything we depend on for sustenance and pleasure. The works of Mauss, Sahlins, and others have shown human behavior to be mostly peaceful, based on reciprocity, lived in balance with a naturally abundant environment.

The succession of a habitat, from the first pioneer species advancing to a climax community in dynamic equilibrium, is poetry in motion, an endless cycle of community relations where the dead provide for the living, just as the winds of history continue to shape our present, the lessons of our ancestors provide the courage to persevere, and the very real trauma and torment of past generations continues to stalk humanity, perhaps even epigenetically in our cells.

Nature’s ability to play freely and its tendency for creative, regenerative self-discovery offers a model attractive to the public where traditional approaches to ideology, mainstream politics, and moral exhortation have failed. Ecology uniquely offers an approach to our self-interest, with pragmatic and deep ethical implications, and in our nuclear and fossil fuel age, to our very survival.

Recent uprisings in Zucotti Park, South Dakota, Tahrir and Taksim Squares, Tunisia, and many other places demonstrate the organic, spontaneous nature of our ability to resist the systemic oppression endemic to our neoliberal, colonial, imperial world order.

The question of what comes after a successful revolt undoubtedly plagues many people, considering the bloody sectarianism that followed in many historical instances. Yet one of the root causes of such post-revolutionary failings necessarily includes the loss of jouissance, the senses of optimism, exuberance, and mutual aid which erupted throughout history in Paris communes, military barracks and factories in Petrograd, communes in Catalonia, etc.

Many progressives and so-called radicals in the US today seem more interested in internecine bickering and petty squabbling over turf than in implementing an authentic plan to re-enchant a comatose public. A citizenry, mind you, which has become exhausted and disillusioned from politics and any notion of defending the public sphere and commons due to relentless propaganda, neoliberal economics, structural racism, and a perverse imperial edict of global warfare which knows no bounds and sees no end.

Such small-mindedness and insularity is only compounded by a geographically isolated, narcissistic, spectacle craving media, celebrity-worshiping culture, and chattering class smugness which has robotized, dehumanized, and intoxicated a public which no longer seems to have the psychic or physiological energy and stamina to resist. This can be countered by providing material and intellectual nourishment, especially to our youth, through wholesome organic farming, natural medicines, and alternative education systems which promote and instill environmentalism, forms of direct democracy, and critical thinking skills, as well as continuing education for adults and seniors.

Much of our culture’s confusion is reinforced by a digital, social media driven, an ahistorical narrative, and a dematerialized market in the West where information and leisure is metered out to the poor, elderly, disabled, and working classes in a slow drip of bandwidth, bytes, pixels: poisonous cups of soma which we believe must all imbibe to partake in our “culture”.

Yet so many are now beginning to rattle their cages. Part of the reason being that savings and material wealth for the majority has declined, life expectancy dropping in neglected areas, suicide and addictive behaviors are increasing, inequality and gentrification skyrocketing. Yet also partly because creativity has been stifled, free time is eaten up by a gig economy relentlessly eating up our leisure, wild open spaces are diminishing, and the effects of a polluted, over-crowded world where alienation appears to reign and many see No Exit.

Digital technology, trickle-down finance, and media narratives are pushed so hard by the powers-that-be, in a pyramid scheme Ponzi economy bound to collapse. And data-driven, quantifiable, “objective” information doused on the public is losing its effect. Masses can now see through the high priests of officialdom, because their policies do not relate to any place or time, it is not embodied in the commons. The deluge of “empirical” statistics and innovation spouting out of mainstream media, government bureaucracies, and non-profit policy centers borders on absurd, and one could summarize their work as Informationism, for it truly represents an ideology. These are the apologists and court historians for the grand viziers of capital. They have created their own veritable echo-chamber ecology within the former swamplands of the Potomac basin.

How can the hegemony of corporate and state rule be further undermined? By acknowledging how they employ words, propaganda, ideology, and a false version of history as weapons, to create a habitat of hate and fear. As the Situationists wrote: “Words work — on behalf of the dominant organizations of life…Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words.”

As the SI further noted:

“Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution — indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry — but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has “world enough and time,” seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.”

Part of poetic resistance simply is awareness. We are not going to save the world without learning how to actually live in the world. Here words fall far short, they “float”, are too abstract. At the level of ontological awareness helpful concepts like “Dasein” and “existence precedes essence” can only show the doorway, yet the point is to walk through it. This is why I don’t consider, for example, Leary’s words of “Find the others” to be an escapist fantasy: they are a call to mytho-poetic revolution, for only in collective struggle can one transcend a selfish ego and a sick, dying culture. Communal living will be a big part of this, especially as the world economy seems very likely to fall into depression or outright collapse within a couple decades at most.

Initiation into adulthood, a model of dying and rebirth, is of utmost importance, as Barry Spector and Martin Prechtel, among others, have shown. Without this, the modern world is stuck in an infantile state, forever craving more, never satisfied.

The domination of man by man and nature by man now reaches global proportions. In our Anthropocene Age all boundaries between human and nature collapse, as we come to understand the web we are enmeshed in. Studies in modern psychics prove on the cosmological scale (relativity) and sub-atomic scales (quantum entanglement, superposition, double-slit experiment) have all proven definitely what ancient traditions have understood for millennia. Andre Malraux was correct when he prophesized that: “The 21st century will be spiritual or will not be.”

All major religions hold ecological balance, love of your neighbor, and conservation as a core truth. Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, Hindu concepts of ahimsa and karma, Buddhist right livelihood, Islam’s tawhid, khilafa, and akhirah all have shown this, as well as indigenous mythology.

Sadly, most of the dissenters in our culture have been totally marginalized. The best minds of our generation have no longer fallen to madness; they are ignored, imprisoned, killed, or shipped off to a permanent “Desolation Row”. Consider the great works of Gary Snyder, Arne Naess, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Berry, as well as environmentalists such as Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Sylvia Earle: the collective brilliance is astounding, yet industrialism allows no avenues for a praxis, for their ideas to be put to work or play.

Only an understanding of relationship and interdependencies can account for how our policy at the border, for instance, is connected to environmental destruction, factory farming, resource extraction, habitat destruction, the killings overseas in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on. It goes on for so long that the mind grows numb. Yet, we must counter this. Our government is the primary driver of the perpetual crimes of total warfare, planetary destruction, neo-feudal debt-based serfdom and global immiseration, and most of us have been complicit in varying degrees.

Have no doubt, many in power around the world, consciously or not, are waiting to start a new Kristallnacht against minorities and the poor which they will use to further the next stage of their privatized, totalitarian, surveillance-laden brave new world. It’s already started here in the US and in Italy against the Roma among other places. Theirs is an aesthetic of terror and brainwashing which knows no bounds.

Yet their individual pathologies only tell us part of the story: it is the system of alienation which breeds hate and must be dismantled, not replacing one figurehead leader with another seemingly benign one, as we did with Obama. Only a culture which understands the connections of how capitalism ultimately leads to fascism, one which comprehends the Earth’s limits, our own psycho-somatic frailties, and our bio-social relationships with each other and with flora and fauna can provide the resistance needed in this perilous age.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Radio Interview on Keeping Democracy Alive

Today I was interviewed about my essay “American Rage” by radio host Burt Cohen on his live show, Keeping Democracy Alive. It was a lot of fun and Burt is a really knowledgeable guy, with lots of experience in activism as well as being a seven-time state senator in New Hampshire. You can listen to our talk at his website, under the Latest Podcasts headline:

Keepingdemocracyalive.com

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

American Rage

 

“The Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary, but the conservative peasant; not the peasant who strikes out beyond the condition of his social existence, the small holding, but rather one who wants to consolidate his holding; not the countryfolk who in alliance with the towns want to overthrow the old order through their own energies, but on the contrary those who, in solid seclusion within this old order, want to see themselves and their small holdings saved and favored by the ghost of the Empire. It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant; not his judgment but his prejudice; not his future but his past…”

-Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

There is a certain sense of smallness, as well as meanness at the heart of American life. It typically gets projected onto the villain of the day, and for the last two years, it has happened to be Donald Trump. The president’s vile beliefs and behavior are not in question, but what is more interesting to me is just how much Trump has become a convenient scapegoat. There are millions of Trumps in this country, as seen by his approval ratings hovering around 40% through his entire presidency.

The undercurrents of seething rage, anger, racism and sexism are not exclusively a Republican or conservative trait. Millions turned out for Clinton either in spite of, or ignorance of, her bellicosity towards Iran, Russia, and Syria. Clinton’s resentment of the “basket of deplorables” is nothing new, either. Obama admitted as much when referring to voters clinging to their guns and religion. Thus, the polarization of US politics and culture continues, framed as a binary between coastal liberals and heartland conservatives.

This narrative, set by mainstream media, is very convenient for capital. Wealth has skyrocketed for elites yet most people’s economic status has become increasingly precarious. The restructuring of the economy towards the service sector, the internet, and finance, insurance, and real estate corporations has hollowed out the middle classes. Urban cores have gentrified and the rich see or hear little of ordinary people’s problems. As real estate prices rise the working class must commute longer and longer from the suburbs to downtown, increasing traffic, stress, and reliance on cars.

Therefore the petit-bourgeois and white working class have seen either a stagnation or loss in their salaries and wages. Relatively speaking many are well-off (the average Trump voter was above the median income) but many deluded citizens see their conditions as deteriorating and react hysterically. In many ways the Baby Boomers were the original participation-trophy generation: free college from the GI bill, super-affordable housing, the highest relative incomes in US history, and both liberals and conservatives now act like cry-babies when asked to pay higher taxes for universal health care, free higher education, more investment in childhood education, and initiatives for climate change.

Economic prosperity in the US is not linked to “American exceptionalism”: white Americans lied, cheated, stole, murdered, conned, and legislated their way to the top of the global hierarchy. Economic protectionism via high tariffs on imports helped grow domestic companies in industry, agriculture, and other fields. The devastation of Europe, Japan, China, and many other nations during WWII gave a huge advantage to US corporations, with nearly 50% of world heavy industry and manufacturing occurring in the US in the late 1940s through the 1950s, despite America only having about 5% of the world’s population.

These undercurrents of resentment and privilege are not going away. They are the remnants of a white supremacist narrative which either ignores or disputes the impact of how whites have gained economic hegemony on a continent stolen by genocide, its populations fed and clothed by chattel slaves, a land pillaged of resources, its natural beauty desecrated.

The school shooters and mass killers exemplify these sorts of delusions, along with terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh or, in Norway, Anders Breivik. All of these violent thugs see themselves as victims, outsiders, saviors in a world devolving into multiculturalism and hedonism. Just as the poverty-stricken banlieues of France and outside Brussels bred the conditions for the Paris terrorists in 2015, the emptiness and social alienation of life in suburban America creates a backdrop for the attacker’s dehumanization of their victims.

Of course, this rage and hatred of the “other” by no means is confined to America. It is a sort of virulent contagion that has mutated and spread across Europe due to the migrant crisis caused by the US and NATO allies, infecting the minds of such people and parties like: Marine Le Pen; Nigel Farage; Norbert Hofer, the German AfD, Polish Law & Justice Party, Viktor Orban, etc. The creep of conservative nationalism into fascism is also seen in Turkey’s AKP under Erdogan, India’s Modi using the BJP and RSS as his tools to wage war on Muslims, Dalits, and minorities via Hindutva, and the mobster mentality of leaders such as Duterte, Putin, and Xi.

Capitalism has picked up where the feudal system died out, cementing social hierarchies with myths of meritocracy and the invisible hand of the market. Whereas centuries ago feudalism saw petty fiefdoms war with neighbors, now both dictatorships and “liberal democracies” lord over the globe using media brainwashing, gaslighting, lobbying and outright bribery, as well as increasingly coercive and violent police and military forces.

A comprehensive list of people, parties, proxy terrorists and death squads, and social justice groups killed, infiltrated by FBI or overseas by CIA, would fill volumes; and the evidence is in top secret files in the bowels of the J. Edgar Hoover Building and Langley, whatever is left that has not been burned or destroyed, that is.

Insofar as pre-capitalist societies were allowed to choose the duration and time of day when labor was to be performed, now our jobs are surveilled by legions of corporate stooge middle management, over-zealous bureaucrats, and micro-managing business school know-nothings. Both Yanis Varoufakis and Ajamu Baraka have dubbed our system “liberal totalitarianism” for good reason.

This breeds alienation, inequality, and poverty on a scale never seen before. The ruling classes around the world use an updated form of Gilded Age Social Darwinism to maintain and strengthen their own wealth and power. Despite advances in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, the US and EU combined maintain approximately 47% of global GDP and own 57% of the Fortune 500 companies, despite the US plus EU total of 11.1% of global population.

This digital and service-oriented rentier economy, along with the militarization of the globe, leaves US citizens increasingly atomized and yet arrogant regarding their privileged position. The middle classes in the US complain about taxes or the inability to own a second home yet cannot understand that capitalism is leading towards a leveling which is underway, a proletariatization of the world. They cannot do the simple math where under capitalism 7.5 billion people must compete or die for the 75 trillion in global annual GDP, which translates to $10,000 per person per year.

This system of artificial scarcity pits each other as enemies, whether by race, gender, ethnicity, region, or nation, just as modern education forces children into a war for access to higher education and fair-paying jobs. Where Keynes, Gorz and others foresaw a 21th century with shortened work weeks and an end to the drudgery of soul-crushing labor, today the high priests of finance and internet technology subscribe to the ideology of neoliberalism, with a dash of Ayn Rand here, a pinch of Milton Friedman there.

You could feel the seething rage when Reagan spoke of welfare queens, when Hillary Clinton spoke of young black men as “superpredators”, and today, when Trump talks about anyone, well, not white or rich. Trump, like many Americans, loathes any and everyone who is deemed as “weak”, any ethnic groups that resists and protests our immoral foreign policy, our addiction to fossil fuels, endemic police brutality, and our structurally racist criminal justice system.

I have no paeans to offer to any real resistance in the US anytime soon. Dissidents and leftists have been unceremoniously kicked out of any say in determining policy or influencing a mass base. Political paradigm shifts may occur just as in science, where Max Planck noted that: “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What We’ve Been Avoiding: Ramblings on Apocalypse, ’60s Counterculture, Antifa

 “In a society that has abolished all adventures; the only adventure left is to abolish society.” –slogan in France, May 1968

Apocalypse: We can see what’s coming, the Truth will be Unveiled

What we don’t want to face: maybe it is too late. Maybe we are way past the tipping point in a world where global warming, overpopulation, threats of nuclear war, artificial intelligence, genetic modifications, and many more interlocking crises overwhelm us. Maybe the center doesn’t hold after all.

Maybe we should throw an end of the world party. Not that anyone can know for sure what’s going to happen, but maybe for one day it would feel nice to get out of our skin and lose our egos for a change. Considering the almost complete denial of death our culture engages in, seems like it wouldn’t hurt.

Critics of the “radical left” (for lack of a better term) always like to point out that we are great at pointing out the problems in society, but fall short on solutions. Rather, we should consider the inverse: many of us are great regarding solutions yet are at a loss as how to cause problems for the power elite.

What I’m driving at is there’s way too much Vishnu-thinking going around and not enough Shiva-consciousness. The current system must be smashed to bits if there is to be a new world free from racism, sexism, warfare, and capitalism.  This inertia to act stems in part, methinks, from a misunderstanding of what chaos is. For what would the chaos be like in an anarchic, non-statist modern world (we don’t know because it hasn’t been allowed) compared to the structural violence created by neoliberal hegemony via a lawless, genocidal, and ecocidal order of nation-states without any supranational governance?

If mainstream Western Sandernistas and Corbynistas simply want to preserve industrial civilization through higher taxes, adding regulations, universal health care, and a basic income, well, that ain’t going to cut it: this must be expanded worldwide, and energy usage and heavy industries will have to decline to allow for the growth of an ecocentric world culture. Not to mention that renewable energy must not be allowed to operate via a market system dubbed “green capitalism”, or else millions of acres of land will be further bulldozed, blasted, and mined for more “green energy”. Otherwise, the nonsense of voting for Bernie over Clinton or even Trump amounts to a decision of whether our civilization will collapse in ten as opposed to fifteen years, or 20 as opposed to 30, whatever the timeline may be. Paul Erhlich had a good one in The Guardian of all places recently about collapse. Of course, what goes mostly unmentioned is that the developing world has been plundered and has been in a state of collapse for the past 500 years. We must redistribute aid to the Global South now or it will be too late.

Consider Chomsky’s recent comment that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. While that may be true, what’s the 2nd most dangerous? The Democratic Party, whose leaders funded the invention and later dropping of atomic weapons, started genocidal wars in Korea and Southeast Asia, as well as numerous proxy wars, coups, and funding of terrorists throughout the Cold War and afterwards. This is a minor quantitative difference, not a sincere qualitative separation between the two parties’ destructive modes of operating.  While Clinton may have been slightly more humane regarding minorities and immigrants, a Clinton presidency would have only embolden the far-right fascists even more. It is the neoliberal Clintons and Obama who help create the conditions for slimeballs like Trump to get elected.

Only an international Marshall Plan to fund a global Manhattan project to create adopt, and promote decentralized, low-impact renewable energy grids will be enough to effectively fight climate change. If the electorate remains insular and uninformed about global issues, then these quasi-progressives will only help build a gilded cage for the West and a continued bleak, Hobbesian state for the developing world via neoliberalism.

It’s time for those who want a prosperous future for our children and grandchildren to get on the damn train together. We can continue to repeat like parrots in our own echo-chambers, preaching to the choir sort-of-way of the vast devastation caused by war, habitat, destruction, global warming, and deregulation of the federal government which contributes to the ongoing immiseration of the world, or we can join forces on the streets and do something about it. “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” (Alan Watts)

Of course, part of the problem with many in our so-called rational civilization is not being comfortable in our bodies, or with the Earth. Go have an encounter with a tree, a lover, a mushroom, work out those muscles, let your twitter-war go. This is where communal agriculture and celebration can help. It is an uniquely alienating time in human existence for each of us to have become our own web-based, individualistic, social-media addicted, wannabe flâneurs.

Not only that, but it’s an internet driven by fossil fuels, where we now are forced to deal with such ridiculous and harmful activities as bitcoin mining and tax subsidies for huge corporations like Amazon, where cities are advertising with arms wide open for developers to build warehouses of servers to “create jobs” for people to watch over computers using vast amounts of electricity, or people worked like dogs on concrete floors for a pittance as they scan, move, and deliver us whatever whimsical nonsense was advertised to us online.

Let me know when a critical mass is ready to organize effectively. Not using outdated models, not glorifying industrial labor, not discounting women’s labor in the workforce or at home, and certainly not marginalizing people of color in favor of overwhelmingly white faux-saviors like Sanders (supports never-ending global war on terror), Corbyn (supports renewing Trident), Melenchon (many comments leaning against immigration).

I’ll be around, though I’ll be outside every day, maybe tending to the garden, or lazing in my hammock, or bird-watching, hiking, or foraging, or some other activity discounted or deemed frivolous by modern consumer culture. I might even venture online now and again and read your hundredth piece on why Trump is an imminent danger to our country. Pretty sure anyone with half a brain already knows this. Let me know when we’re ready to collectively confront our culture of death, however hard it may be to stare down.

Resist rhizomatically people. Use the web, spyphones, and see-eye-androids as needed but be cognizant of what’s coming down: a location on a screen in a “fusion center” for each of us, accessible in real time to authorities, for starters.

Please, be impeccable with your words (Don Miguel Ruiz). If you’re white and middle-class, please stop throwing around the word “fascism” unless you’re referring to the treatment of minorities, immigrants and refugees, or the truly poor in this country. (Umberto Eco’s essay “Ur-Fascism” is helpful for a definition). Liberal totalitarianism seems like a more useful term; both Yanis Varoufakis and Ajamu Baraka have used this phrase recently.

A good work that I may get around to if I have time soon is David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. I think it’s fair to say that everyone has had some job with at least a little bit of bullshit mixed in. There’s a decent review in LA Review of Books. The reviewer quotes Graeber- “It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.” Yes, capitalism seems to do this extremely well, and there’s no conspiracy needed to imagine how this got started. At this point in late-stage neoliberalism, however, I wouldn’t put it out of the question for executives at the large tech companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, Tesla, Microsoft, etc.) to literally, consciously be hiring engineers and computer programmers for just that- to keep them all working, not for the competition, and not working for themselves. It keeps them busy and exhausted so that the workers will not have the time/energy/inspiration to come up with their own ideas/startups/inventions. This is straight up biopolitical capitalism, give the workers just enough carrots to convince them to stay, when on their own or in their own self-made cooperatives the amount of creativity and inventiveness would blow these monopolistic dung-heaps out of the water. Death by a thousand cuts capital.

We have to destroy the super-ego culture which supports this Cruel Optimism, and examine our Ugly Feelings no matter how much it hurts. As Sianne Ngai points out, aesthetic judgement is to some degree responsible for what we choose, and how we choose what we choose. As a reviewer of Ngai points out:

“Usually, we also want to know whether a book is worth our time, how to value it, whether it’s good. By this, we often mean something like “will it be to my taste?”

Substitute the word “book” above with “revolutionary party”, and the question of why real change hasn’t yet occurred becomes slightly clearer. No mass party or group in the West has been able to sustain radical changes to society because they have decayed into bureaucratic nightmares, or let ego or corruption destroy the transformational aspects of the organization. Average citizens ask, “will this be to my taste?” or “is this for me, will it be enjoyable or fulfilling to take part in?” and decide, well, no, even if it will be in their short-term economic interest.

Two things. First, the obvious point that for the majority of people sludging through dense tracts of theory is not, and will probably never be, to their taste, and that spoken word always will trump abstract writing.  The second is that, although the media blackout may be the main reason for a lack of success for a revolutionary party in the US or elsewhere, the divisions between rank and file members and party leaders, the materialist teleology embedded in the high priests of the orthodoxy, even of workers owning the factories is disaffecting and profoundly alienating. Too many weekends (Wilde) and all that. Maybe people actually just don’t want to work in factories? Perhaps the false dualism between work and play itself must be reinvented and overcome, reconfigured as a dynamic work-play hybrid.

Nostalgia for 60s Counterculture and Impactful Works

There are many different ways to start revolutions. Start a community garden, cultivate a mind and body spiritual practice with friends and neighbors. Get a million people to march on DC for an end to war and capitalism. Organize mass wildcat strikes and boycotts. Organize with your colleagues and don’t go to work.

Blaze up that herb of peace cannabis; “Legalize it and we will advertise it.” (Peter Tosh) And we will advertise the myriad uses for hemp as well. Get on the psychedelic bus and let’s take this Furthur (honoring the one decent thing bigoted blowhard snob Tom Wolfe (rip) put out, ok ok, Bonfire was alright too): “Keseyians of the world unite!”

Even Michael Pollan is getting on the bus, he’s got a new book out: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Not that I’ll be reading this seemingly boorish dude’s book, but hopefully a sea change is starting.

It’s really hard dealing with the straight-edge socialists out there, any and everybody’s 2 cents on what an authentic radical movement should look like, and the denunciation of good people by calling them “lifestyle anarchists” or “anarchist liberals.” You know who you are.  It’s a collective endeavor, and all the jockeying, ego, obscurantism, and endless commentary ultimately distracts us from authentic connection with real people and community. “Your politics are boring as fuck” (Crimthinc), and I suppose many do know it, unconsciously or not. I suspect the Situationists would agree. As for the “serious Left”, here’s Norman Mailer, perhaps exaggerating, in an old interview with the infamous William Buckley:

“I’ve always found the left to be as stuffy as the right…in other words the extreme left is as boring as the extreme right…and I think both suffer terribly from this. It’s exactly because their lives [of the Left] are so middle-class and full of propriety…the disease of the Left is excessive obedience to all the small laws of daily life…they think of overturning society because they don’t know how to break a few small rules and mores…”

So, I’ve been getting nostalgic for my 13-14 year old self lately. You know, when you used to read certain mind-blowing stuff and thought to yourself, yeah, maybe just maybe a revolution could happen again like in the 60s. Contrasting with today where teens eat Tide-pods.

Anyways, Wolfe’s death brought me back to reading about Kesey and the Pranksters, and the whole scene back then. Here’s a small slice of what was giving me some hope for the human race in approximately 1999, when it comes to 60s lore: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer, The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, and The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda.

All of these works are pretty amazing. As a young teen I wasn’t aware of all the horror stories in the authors’ personal lives, to be clear. All of these authors were pretty fucked up people, not giving any of them a pass.

Thoughts on Antifa

So, you may have heard in the last year or so a bunch of “lefties” shitting on Antifa. Their actions “mirror” the hard-right nonsense, blah blah. What a crock of shit. I’m not associated with any Antifa group. But some of us aren’t in, never have joined, but we are still supportive. Because you know for some of us we were born and raised Antifa, in a way. And it’s really hard, and funny in an absurd way laughing not to cry, and downright depressing to see so-called “radicals” denigrating people who are trying to deter violence against minorities from actual fucking Nazis.

You people have no fucking idea. When you’re a kid and you’re told horrible gut-wrenching stories of what happened to your family, you become, metaphorically speaking, a child soldier. Damn, this can never happen again. We will fight and resist. Some of us actually have emotions about actual oppression that happened to our families, friends. This isn’t some ivory tower bullshit about being totally rational and pacifist no matter what, non-violent no matter what. Fighting these jackboots is the last tactic after all the other ways have failed, as many have noted.

In Closing

The sad truth of the matter is that so many of us feel like inmates in a lunatic asylum. Our world is run by insane people for insane objectives. John Lennon said that. And there is no way out at the moment. Huis Clos.

The only way out is to embrace the model of indigenous cultures, “the original affluent society” (Sahlins, countering Galbraith).

I took a listen to Highway 61 Revisited again recently. I quoted “Ballad of a Thin Man” in my “Something is Happening” essay from last year. It’s got some pretty remarkable lyrics. But my favorite on the album has always been “Desolation Row”. I could go on and on about my interpretation and the works cited within, but I won’t. The last lines have been resonating with me recently:

“Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row”

I’ll leave you with another slogan from the May 1968 revolt:

“Be realistic, demand the impossible.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Global Weirding

Published online at CounterPunch and Countercurrents.org, 4/20/2018

 

Oh, what fun it truly was to experience the “bomb cyclone” in January in New England: the snowfall gave a sense of peace and calm, the winds were less strong than predicted, and the snow, while heavy, was not dense enough to take down trees and power lines in most areas. The following period of intense cold through February and March in the eastern half of the US, on the other hand, seems a harbinger of climate instability which will most likely worsen in upcoming years. As the jet stream weakens and buckles due to climate change, storm intensity and temperature fluctuations are certain to get worse.

The biggest danger for East coasters will remain the hurricane, as September 2017 registered as the most active month in recorded history for the Atlantic.

On the West coast, things are getting a bit Biblical: raging fires alternate with intense flooding and mudslides in Montecito and southern California a few months ago. The 2017 fire season set aflame over eight million acres mainly in the Western states. It’s not just a domestic issue: Portugal faced an epic firestorm in June of last year, killing close to 100, partly due to the monocultures of eucalyptus trees planted across the country. Millions face conditions of famine and drought worldwide.

Sadly, most reporting and discussion of global warming and climate change serves to abstract the issues into a diversionary attitude that the Earth is in crisis. Well, the planet, as a self-regulating super-organism, will do just fine without us, even if it takes millennia to recover from our misdeeds. It is stable and abundance-providing ecosystems that are in crisis, species that are going extinct at 1000 times the background rate, and humanity is the culprit.

Even though man-made global warming is acknowledged by most people, there is still a conflation going on in the West that the all-devouring Earth-mother is out to get us. Rather, it is Western civilization which is stalking any chance for future generations to live and prosper.

Ecosystems in Crisis

In Germany, a study was done measuring insect populations in nature reserves, and it was discovered that there was a 75% drop in total insects collected in only 25 years. Scientists estimate that 30-50% of all species may become extinct by 2050.

Tragically, regarding honeybees, scientists have discovered an important link between fungicide use and the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), showing a negatively synergistic effect on bee colonies and resistance to fungal infection. Bees seem to actually prefer honey set in traps with a small percentage of Roundup or fungicides added. Humans are not the only species to enjoy mind-altering drugs, even poisonous ones.

All of our problems involving the destruction of habitat are ultimately bound up in the fact that there are too many of us, conditioned to respond in violent outbursts, consuming too many resources, leading to stress, war, and unimaginable acts of cruelty. These acts are often sanctioned by the state or the corporation or religion or patriarchal vertical hierarchies.

The exponential population growth from the industrial revolution is already slowing and bound to top off at anywhere from 10-12 billion people by 2050-2100, if we manage to avoid the many catastrophes hurtling our way. Thus the growth curve will resemble an S-curve barring unforeseeable circumstances, with small waves and ripples due to the complexities of changing times, food sources, and a multitude of variables. In theory this population model could then lead to a steady decrease in total population due to a voluntary decision by humanity to slowly and carefully have fewer children due to stresses on ecosystems and natural resources. If we don’t convert to decentralized renewable energy and organic, communal-based agriculture, however, there is another model we may follow, and it’s not pretty one. Fossil fuel use is the habit that must be kicked for humanity to help recreate a sustainable world.

One of the most famous examples from studying mammalian populations is the debacle of St. Matthew Island, a warning to humanity. A tiny island located in the Bering Strait, with no carnivores, some lonely US coast guard officers decided to introduce reindeer onto the island. From a starting population of 29 in 1944, the hungry caribou ate through the entire island’s many lichen species, ballooning to 6,000 by 1963. Within two years and no other food source, the die-off was drastic, and only 42 remained in 1965. The entire population vanished by the 1980s. If our coal, gas, and oil run out without a democratic and scientific plan to make the leap to renewables, we are doomed to the same path.

The Unspoken Links

It would be simplistic to relegate these new and unprecedented levels of strangeness to the spheres of ecology and climate science. The deep wounds Western man has inflicted on fellow species and the planet are also inflicted on ourselves. From everything to decreased attention spans, the rise of xenophobia and mistrust towards minorities and immigrants, and billions living in poverty, these are by and large self-inflicted wounds. We must learn to see ourselves in the other, and see the other in ourselves.

Cell phone, TV, tablet, and computer use, dubbed “screen time”, can now be understood to have a net-negative effect on human communities when consumed in vast quantities, as it drives anti-social behavior and isolation from the wider community. A recent study concluded the average screen time for US adults was around 70 hours per week. Keep in mind, that means for every person getting 40 hours of screen time there is another getting 100 hours per week.

The rising rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions may be partly due to the stressors and conditions of modern life, including longer lifespans, but they do not account for the majority. Our polluted world and environmental crises play a mostly invisible role in the West, as our federal agencies such as the EPA and FDA have become corrupted by pharmaceutical and corporate interests.

With no way to systemically study or properly account for the rise of ill health and mental stupefaction of the public, medical and health professionals, shackled in their dim caves staring at shadows, have designated the “genetic” component to dis-ease as the Holy Grail. There is some truth to this: undoubtedly certain forms of breast cancer are linked to specific areas on chromosomes, etc. The idea, however, that billions of dollars in research must be shunted into the reductionist model of DNA manipulation and gene therapy is a huge waste of time, resources, and brainpower. (No, I don’t have mainstream “credentials” or a PhD, but I was happy to have my suspicions about targeted gene therapy confirmed straight out of the mouth of a former top researcher at the National Cancer Institute.)

The best way I’ve heard it phrased, regarding chronic disease and our toxified world, is like this: genetics is the loaded gun, and the environment is the finger pulling the trigger. Yes, many people are at risk due to genetic inheritance for many forms of cancers, diabetes, and the list goes on, but magnifying the capacities of the double helix as the primal cause of these conditions is not only dubious, it’s intellectually dishonest and dangerous. One may be at higher risks for certain disorders, but a healthy lifestyle can often slow, negate, or reverse chronic disease.

Many of today’s chemical dangers are invisible and thus fly under the radar of doctors and scientists. Yet, there are visible changes in our bodies that have manifested with the rise of industrial agriculture after World War Two. One change being the rise in obesity worldwide. Yes, we have increased meal portion sizes and live more sedentary lifestyles, and yes, food serves as a palliative for depression and anxiety.

Yet, this does not explain the study (summarized in an Atlantic article here)which concluded that, between 1988 and 2006, a person with the same diet, nutrient and exercise routines would be 10% heavier in 2006. This is a historic finding, and I can find nothing in the literature which reports a change in size of any other species in such short a time frame (18 years), other than weight gain in the abhorrent factory farming conditions of chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problem is, as the authors of the study note, there are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to determine what the culprit is. There are persistent organic pollutants, hormones in our food which act as endocrine disruptors, prescription drug overuse which leads to weight gain, and the possibility of a change in our gut bacteria due to mass antibiotic use in animal produce. In all likelihood, it is a combination of all of these factors that is driving the obesity and cancer epidemics. While many researchers are waking up to effects from increasing use of digital technology and social media, hardly anyone in the scientific community and academia have bothered to think about the huge changes to our bodies in the past few decades.

For every one human cell in our bodies, there are about 10 symbiotic bacterial cells. We are in very real sense super-organisms, and the huge influx of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in our food is forming a negatively synergistic effect on our ability to reason, to exercise, to relax, and to resist these new forms of genetic-biologic oppression.

This comes down to the nexus of corporate agribusiness, complicit federal health “experts”, lack of funding for research and grants for responsible scientists, and a poisoned food and water supply which has hijacked and somehow rewired our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune-response pathways. Have no doubt, this is an uncontrolled experiment being run on us all, without our permission.

The rise in cancer in particular can be tied to the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, as I and many others have posited. Estimates range that anywhere from 1 million to 50 million or even higher have already died/may die in the coming century earlier than they otherwise would have, because of cancer due to nuclear radiation from these tests.

The chance of getting cancer in one’s lifetime is expected to rise to a 33% chance for women and a 50% chance for men by 2050. This is the microcosm within the macrocosm of a world system based on infinite growth on a finite planet. The ideology of capitalism is death, and there should be no mystification as to why the clear unhealthiness of the hegemonic socio-economic system has been transported into our very bodies via cancer.

A major problem is that modern medicine has become ideological and insular, with predictably deadly results. There can be no patents for plants, herbs, mushrooms, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices, thus no conglomerate, multinational, corporate money to be made.

If it becomes clear on a mass scale that traditional practices including, but not limited to, herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, holistic traditional healing, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine has immense value beyond the instrumental rationality of allopathic medicine, the gig is up for mainstream pill-pushers. Most health professionals would be unveiled as the educated fools that they are, drug pushers promoting dangerous drugs for children and the elderly, not to mention endless unnecessary tests and procedures which make billions for Big Pharma and medical technology companies.

Let me be clear here: I am not by any means trying to scapegoat every medical professional, as researchers and people who treat medical emergencies, trauma, surgeons, and doctors dealing with acute medical conditions do amazing work every day. What I’m driving at is the allopathic way of treating most chronic conditions is a farce, and our society should return to promoting preventative, holistic treatments.

Thanato-politics

Sadly, there is a legitimate reason why so much of society is organized around ignorance, fear, violence, denial of the body, and consumption: the death-drive. One does not have to subscribe to Freud’s exposition of thanatos to understand this: the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desertification of our world, the razing of habitat shows this quite clearly.

Modern civilization does not only lead to obedience, submission, and structural violence, but also to a certain form of captivity. Humans tend to rebel against such a depraved social order, even if only symbolically, with varying amounts of success. Some do so constructively, forming social movements and protests, yet masses have fallen prey to the siren-songs of nationalism, consumerism, addiction, and war. Along with the enclosure of public land and the destruction of the commons (“There is no such thing as society”) comes a culture of fear, cruelty, and ultimately projections of the outer world as scary and downright evil.

Captivity in action: consider the recent missile alert in Hawai’i. Was this not an example of a captive audience, doomed by elites to worry and scatter over a phantom nuke over the horizon? None of us asked for this. Most of humanity simply wants to be left alone from the vagaries of government and corporate rule to live stable, happy lives. Yet the sad truth of the matter is the elites are not going to leave us alone. Their appetite is insatiable, and they will in fact drag down the entire biosphere, because in their current state of mind, they hate life, and want to transcend this world, either to heaven (the Christian fundamentalists) or have their consciousness uploaded or bodies cryogenically frozen for future immortality (the Kurzweillian techno-futurists).

Evil, or rather, a disdain for authentic living, is banal in many senses: one of these is the utter unimaginativeness resting in the dark hearts of our political leaders. Evil is a lack, a poverty of the soul. It is incapacity to create, an absence of imagination, spontaneous creativity, and compassion. You can sense this in our “technocratic” leadership, pushing us ever closer to the abyss of economic depression and ecological ruin.

It often conjures up a chuckle when I remind people of David Graeber’s comments (paraphrasing here) on the elitist corporate/managerial/bureaucratic mindset: “These are the most unimaginative people ever.” This is basically a gallows humor, as the elite are numbing citizens of the will, mental capacities, and physical abilities to organize and resist effectively, and are setting up the masses for collapse of our civilization.

Reclaiming Eros

If there does exist some sort of death drive (most explicitly recognized in Nazi, Italian, and Spanish fascist ideology: “¡Viva la muerte!”) that modern civilization is imposing on us, is there a countervailing force?

Countering the bleak pessimism of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization offers clues. We can extrapolate and widen their focus on libido to consider Eros as an analogy for life-force or life-energy, similar to Eastern notions of prana and chi. If modern society has in fact regimented our lives around a Marcuse-esque performance principle, it does so at the cost of our very souls. It was no mythological coincidence that the ancient Greeks wedded the god Eros in immortal bliss with Psyche. One cannot exist without the other.

Alienation in the workplace is so all-pervasive it often goes unnoticed or unremarked upon. Perhaps this orientation around surplus repression is most visible in leisure activities such as today’s gyms, the insular form of physical exercise for the corporate workers and bosses. Regimenting the mind in the office is not enough: bodies must be splayed across endless rows of treadmills and metal strength-enhancing machines like legions of marching ants, with the requisite phone or Ipod and headphones attached. As for the flabby and out-of-shape, it is once again a lack of discipline and failure to take individual responsibility, rather than any oppressive social structure which is the causal factor.

These are the pod people, exemplified in a New York Times piece about a former Nike exec and artist who has refused to watch or read any news since Donald Trump became elected, who even goes to far as to use noise-canceling headphones blaring white noise in coffee shops to not overhear any chatter about world affairs. Why not just play music? “Stray conversation can creep in between songs.” The same game goes for the power elite: stray news about the poor and oppressed, and any possibilities of social transformation, are simply shushed away.

Thus, when the business and political elite blurt the snide “Be reasonable!” they are at the same time using the cynical trope of “no grand ideologies” (read: Marxism) which, of course, hides behind the moral relativism and lack of conception of the good life which liberal democracy has always played at, which is ideology at its purest: “the end of history”, “there is no such thing as society”, “there is no alternative”.

These people, whose ideas simply parrot the cultural hegemonic ruling class framework, are asserting the “logic of domination”. Drawing on Arendt and Orwell, Alexander Stern has dubbed this “Bingespeak”. Following Marcuse:

“Reason is to insure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of the human potentialities. But in the process the end seems to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs- and defines the needs themselves. The Logos shows forth as the logic of domination. When logic then reduces the units of thought to signs and symbols, the laws of thought have finally become techniques of calculation and manipulation.” (1)

This corrupted Logos seems to have pushed aside Eros in the modern world. Nietzsche would call it Apollonian overtaking the Dionysian. As the socially-constructed ego has developed under patriarchy, civilization, and capitalism, it has done so with the fear of the maternal-based clan, and the Earth-based tribal modes of life. Returning to Marcuse:

“The Narcissistic phase of individual pre-genitality ‘recalls the maternal phase of the history of the human race. Both constitute a reality to which the ego responds with an attitude, not of defense and submission, but of integral identification with the ‘environment.’ But in the light of the paternal reality principle, the ‘maternal concept’ of reality here emerging is immediately turned into something dreadful, negative. The impulse to re-establish the lost Narcissistic-maternal unity is interpreted as a ‘threat,’ namely, the threat of ‘maternal engulfment’ by the overpowering womb. The hostile father is exonerated and reappears as savior who…protects the ego from its annihilation in the mother.” (2)

Does this fear not play out between the lines of today’s discourse around the environment? It cannot be the patriarchal, murderous version of global capitalism which is at fault, but rather, an all-consuming mother planet bent on destroying us all (even though it’s all our own fault due to rampant fossil fuel use). In fact, the father figure of global capital now swoops in to act as a savior for everything he has destroyed.

Contrast, for example, the rush to space and immortality that the Silicon Valley techno-utopian folk seem to prefer, or even the “pragmatism” of Steward “we are as gods and have to get good at it” Brand; with the ecocentric approach of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, co-creators of Gaia theory. Corporate funded mainstream environmentalists would have us geo-engineer the planet and proliferate dangerous 5G technology via an internet-of-things around the globe. Rather, we should convert to small scale, decentralized renewable tech, and attempt to live in harmony with the biosphere by adhering to an ecological precautionary principle.

Thus, the “primal father” version of the future which Brand and his “green capitalist” (an oxymoron) acolytes believe in necessarily involves sacrifice of the masses and more exploitation of natural resources. We are told this everyday: “austerity” is needed for economic recovery; delay gratification to pay off debts; foreigners must be killed and are simply collateral damage to protect the world from terrorism, public land is off-limits or only for recreation, not sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; etc.

Reconciling Apollo and Dionysus, Logos and Eros, a less repressive society would not simply focus on what we must sacrifice, but allow space for passion, imagination, and desire. A democratic society would allow for collective decision-making regarding the scale and scope of a host of socioeconomic issues, including sustainable agriculture, genetic research, preventative medicine, animal testing, as well as chemical use in farming and industry.

With a healthy balance between Logos and Eros, we can transcend the deadly framework of instrumental reason and positivism to build a livable future. Some like to call this a “supra-rational” outlook, a transpersonal and holistic view of the world, where emotional intelligence is blended with the analytic, intuition with abstract logic.

What lessons can we draw here? There must be a concerted effort to blend work and play, especially in regards to communal farming, collective homebuilding, and low-scale renewable energy, to create the grounds for authentic liberation from capitalism.

Sustained and coordinated efforts to build autonomous zones free from governmental and hierarchical organization are paramount: indigenous movements throughout South America and worldwide, the mass strikes in France, Christiania in København, freedom fighters in Chiapas and Rojava, and the MST in Brazil offer models of resistance.

We are going to have to adopt a type of bricolage (Levi-Strauss) culture, scavenging what has not been absorbed by global capital, to create beauty in the ruins of empire. Thus, we can begin the Herculean effort to deterritorialize (as in Deleuze and Guattari) and thus reassemble a heterogeneous, co-evolving, transformational commons; to decolonize our minds from a simulated, mechanical mode of life; to detach from the Spectacle; to unlearn and deschool ourselves (Illich) from the oppressive social systems designed to rob and eventually destroy everything we know and care for.

 

Notes:

  1. Marcuse, Herbert. (1974) Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. Originally published 1955. pp. 111-112.
  2. Ibid., p. 230.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment