Pay Attention: The Police State is Here

CounterPunch, June 8, 2017

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and the realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

-Rachel Carson

“We are who we are waiting for

We can make a change”

-the author, singing to his daughter recently

 

There’s a storm coming, folks. The police state has already been with us awhile now. The two attacks in the UK could be a preview of things to come, even across the pond, here in the US.

Just two weeks before the UK elections, we’ve seen two horrific incidents in Manchester and London. Is this a coincidence? One wonders whether these attacks have been orchestrated or allowed to happen by the US-UK intelligence services to swing the vote towards Theresa May. The most recent attack on June 3rd could even be a distraction from Trump’s reneging on the Paris Agreement. Or perhaps the play is to ratchet up public fear for a possible US-UK-backed war against Syria or Iran. How deep down the rabbit hole are you prepared to look?

In a recent essay, John Pilger destroys the UK official narrative that Abedi, the supposed perpetrator of the Manchester bombing, wasn’t well known among intelligence agencies. If Abedi, his father, and other Libyan jihadis were allowed travel all over the UK and Europe, it’s fairly certain they were some sort of patsies or agents of UK spymasters and their military-corporate overlords. At least one of the London attackers was also reported to the authorities, who apparently did nothing.

Don’t be so naïve to think that it couldn’t happen this way. Since WWII, the Anglo-American axis has destroyed North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and the list goes on. US-UK black ops have been coordinating and killing anti-capitalists, revolutionaries such as Che Guevara, and human rights activists like Oscar Romero for decades. US intelligence has in the past cooked up such treachery and villainy as Operation Northwoods, the attack on the USS Liberty, almost certainly was involved in JFK’s assassination, and has overthrown and killed elected leaders in Guatemala, Iran, Chile, the Congo, Haiti, and more.

Soon, there could easily be a lockdown in London, perhaps in other UK cities, in France and/or Germany, and possibly even here in the US if things deteriorate. The blowback from our wars in the Middle East and North Africa region are coming back to haunt us with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the necessary urgency among many self-described Leftists, activists, and journalists, even those in the alternative media.

I don’t mean to scare, my aim is to prepare. We all have to start making preparations to transform our lives, individually and collectively.

For starters, peace activists must form a movement to remove all NATO troops from the most severe conflict areas: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Further, we must vacate all US bases from overseas, and put an end to the multiplying special operations around the world and increasingly in Africa, as Nick Turse explains here.

The media is going to do everything it can to spook us into submission, into obeying the orders of our politicians. We must resist this mainstream “culture of fear”. This fear is pervasive in mainstream politics.

There is a sort of sixth sense that we all have, observing the energies that different people give off, which cannot be quantified or empirically observed by science, yet exists nonetheless. There’s a sort of ominous aura that emanates from mainstream talking heads as well as our political and military leaders.

There is very low frequency energy; fearful, dark, unstable energetic vibrations occurring when you watch a blowhard imperialist on CNN or Fox News, or watch a leader such as Trump, Obama, Bush, or Clinton speak. The same applies to foreign leaders like Xi, Duterte, Putin, Erdogan. They worship power and money. Passively viewed by millions who accept their arguments based on authority, this dark energy is disseminated and transferred, the populace inculcated to support the leader’s worldview, and compassionate humanitarian instincts atrophy.

Power is given to an unaccountable few, trauma is transmitted, societies become divided, democracy is shattered, the fear and blood-craving is reproduced, and you’ve created an obedient mass of killers, and those too cowardly to speak out against the atrocities. There are so many little Eichmanns now, around the world.

To rise above this, anti-war activists and non-violent protestors must continue the epic struggle to raise consciousness, to continue to give off “good vibrations”. Part of that means not being frustrated and outraged over every political fiasco: there is nothing new here, those in power are simply doing what they’ve always done, spreading chaos and death.

Activists must begin to hold attention. The technocratic neoliberal era is waning, and right-wing authoritarians are ascending power worldwide. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event of our planet, with species disappearing at about 1000 times the background rate. Overpopulation and lack of resources are fueling ethnic conflicts in Syria and South Sudan, most notably. There must be a voluntary worldwide acknowledgment to begin lowering the world’s population right now, to avoid ecosystem destruction and present and future human generations from the ever-increasing chances of mass devastation.

This year, twenty million people are at risk of starving, the highest since WWII. The world is soon headed for another large-scale recession at the least, despite what the Wall Street lucre-worshippers may say. Most of the developing world has been dealing with imperialism and colonialism for centuries. They know collapse, because they’ve always been living in it, as have their ancestors.

The predictable repressive and authoritarian response to come by the UK government in response to these attacks can be viewed as a form of social collapse. It reveals a cultural deafness, and a lack of critical thought in regard to the plight of those killed, maimed, and traumatized by war. It also reveals a wide-ranging ignorance of how Western-NATO backed war fans the flames of hatred and terrorism. Immigrants, refugees, minorities, and terrorists are denounced as invaders, as inherently “evil”, with no social or historical analysis as to the root causes.

Neoliberalism now lies in ruins. The oppressive propaganda of mainstream media is no longer working, and Western populaces are revolting, although the true enemies, sexism, racism, class warfare, poverty, and militarism, are not addressed. The real issues have been displaced by the elite one-percenters and their quislings, who conjure up pseudo-conflicts in order to distract from the real issues of our age.

This is the sort of social disintegration that Nietzsche foresaw when he defined the “Last Man”, the coward who will always choose comfort, security, and material affluence over the hard struggle for liberation of the human spirit. With the socio-cultural collapse already well underway, and no left movement to hit the brakes on neoliberal globalization, the material and economic collapse is the next logical step, and nearly inevitable at this point.

Of course, the crumbling of the empire will fall hardest on the developing world, and if systemic change doesn’t occur, the West will continue to lie, turn its eyes away, obfuscate, and give token gestures to those less fortunate in order to assuage its own guilt.

Another aspect to consider is that presidents and prime ministers get what they want, if not in the legislature, but in the realm of geopolitics. Many times, it would seem they don’t even have to ask. Thus, we can imagine that just as some statements are dog-whistles for voters, other public speeches could be considered dog-whistles for the military and intelligence communities.

When May calls for a “strong and stable” country, when Trump tweets that “if we don’t get smart it will only get worse” regarding terrorism, one can imagine fascist spooks and military officers would be willing, if not outright excited, to conspire to carry out false flags on behalf of their authoritarian masters.

Only a civically engaged and vigilant, united public can combat such barbarism. It must be acknowledged that if the US and UK governments are willing to commit mass atrocities abroad; there is no reason to believe they haven’t and will not try it domestically, to rally support for an ever-expanding police state.

There isn’t time to wait around to elect a new congress or president: our representatives are controlled by corporations and lobbyists in the current system. Only a mass protest movement, coordinated in all major cities and Washington DC, practicing nonviolence and civil disobedience, and promoting egalitarian democracy, social justice, and ecological wisdom, will be able to smash the power structure.

The time to act is now, the stakes have never been higher, and there are no superhero saviors waiting in the wings: we are who we’ve been waiting for.

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Where Are Your Minds?: An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU

CounterPunch, May 24, 2017

I am not sure if you realize what you have done, Herr de Maiziere, but your recent talk of a German leading/dominant culture (leitkultur) in the tabloid Bild has proven very divisive. Many observers around the world are disgusted at your ignorance. Are you capable of understanding why?

Let us give credit where it is due: Germany did a great thing by opening up its borders for approximately one million refugees in 2015. The fact that there are integration problems is not surprising. However, what you are calling for is assimilation, pure and simple. You are afraid, and your words betray your fear.

You claim to be promoting an “open society”, yet when you say things like “we show our faces” and “we are not the burqa”, it’s very clear that your rhetoric is targeted against Muslims. You are playing with the notion of being “more German” than others, as somehow being an ideal political goal. Instead of promoting a society of tolerance and multiculturalism, you are dividing people based on your dangerous, arbitrary, and vacuous notions of patriotism.

Leitkultur as a political term was coined by Bassam Tibi, and referred to pan-European, not specifically German, notions of pluralism, religious freedom, universality, and a true multicultural society. In short, Tibi was referring to cherished Enlightenment values which are worth saving.

You, au contraire, have misconstrued the term for your own political ends. You will now have to lie in the bed you’ve chosen, and the CDU will be judged based on its associations. Notice how the AfD did not criticize your ideas, only your opportunism before a regional election, to score votes from the “right-wing populists” (a dubious political identity if there ever was one). One wonders what the horror show that is PEGIDA thinks of your ideas.

Your words act as a dog-whistle, unsubtly racially coded, are an obvious incitement towards discrimination, and may result in violence. They are inflammatory, hurtful, and clearly promote a malignant form of German nationalism. There are similarities between your talk of a “dominant/core/leading culture”, however well-intentioned you claim to be, with the ideology of fascism.

The CDU continues to disgrace itself, with its support of NATO’s endless wars, submission to NSA spying, and now this. Your version of leitkultur leads to the sort of thinking behind “American exceptionalism”, which has wrought disastrous consequences for centuries. In fact, your notions are only slightly less xenophobic and redneck than when white Americans are overheard insulting Latinos to “speaka tha English”.

Many around the world would like to possibly visit Germany, to study there, to live there. However, your views will clearly give many second thoughts.

Many others, millions of people, have seen their lives, or those of their loved ones and ancestors, hurt or outright destroyed by past German notions of supremacy.

Therefore, I cannot stand by silently as you denigrate others because they have not integrated well enough to your parties’ liking. Therefore, I stand ever vigilant against such minority and religious-bashing, having seen what has come before.

Only sincere tolerance, openness, and mutual respect will heal divides between communities. Only by providing immigrants and refugees with a dignified life, with jobs, decent housing, and a vibrant, accepting society, will tensions and disagreements cease.

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Reason Bowl Radio

Here is the second video I’ve done with Jason Holland for Reason Bowl, we dive into psychedelics and the nature of consciousness:

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Rewilding America

Counterpunch, May 11 2017

It’s time for us as a people to come together, to form an understanding about our natural environment, and our connection to it. If we are to survive long into this century and beyond, our society will have to learn to re-indigenize itself. This will be a painful process for those dependent on creature comforts, on the electrical grid’s continuous power supply, on the streams of TV, Netflix, even the internet itself, on factory-made pharmaceuticals, etc. It will be difficult for those whose illusions are about to be shattered, for those who thought they could live for so long and have it so good at the expense of others and to the detriment of their natural, wild surroundings.

We aren’t going anywhere. There will be no moon and Mars colonies to flee to. Isn’t it suspicious, though, how little talk there is about the parallels between the past colonialists of North America and the sci-fi dream of future colonies in space? Any potential future space colony wouldn’t be a glitzy affair: it would be similar to past and present immigrants and refugees streaming across continents, trying to escape death, privation, despair. In short, the dream of human habitation of the solar system exists because of the utter destruction of landscapes and the indecency of human societies in many parts of our planet.

Imagine if we actually decided to collectively care for our own world instead of having day-dreams and wasting billions on rockets and gadgets to propel us towards the “final frontier”. Doesn’t that sound nice? Luckily for us, the resiliency of our planet towards habitat degradation is very, very strong. That is why a policy of rewilding must be introduced into mainstream thinking and politics. Coined by David Foreman, rewilding refers to conservation methods that strengthen and maintain wildlife corridors and large-scale wilderness areas, with an emphasis placed on carnivores and keystone species which act as linchpins for ecosystem stability. Rewilding leads to increased connectedness across previously fragmented habitat due to roads, railways, urban sprawl, etc.

In the Americas, please consider educating yourself and others about these issues, and donating to a few of the fine organizations promoting wildlife corridors, such as: the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, the Paseo del Jaguar program led by Panthera, and the American Prairie Reserve.

Strengthening our ecosystems will provide a higher quality of life for future generations, as well as your children and grandchildren. Now that’s a return on investment. Forget about yourself, your fragile ego, and your “standards of living”, for a moment. Western capitalism and colonialism has been degrading habitats for centuries, with benefits mostly accruing to white, older men. Only by giving back to the land, and in many cases, non-intervening and letting our soils and waterways heal on their own, will allow for a more equal distribution of wealth. It is natural resources, not money, which are the real inheritance we will leave behind to our youth.

The distribution of the “common-wealth”, by the way, used to be far more equitable hundreds of years ago, when land was freely available for hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. Yes, there is less abject poverty in Europe and the US today compared to centuries ago, but it has come at a steep cost: there is no self-reliance, no collectively and culturally stored traditions of farming, crafts, weaving, pottery, home-building. Corporations have swallowed all this, citing the “need” for specialized divisions of labor. Self-sufficiency and homesteading are looked upon with scorn, and we are told to buy everything we could ever need (and desire), instead of co-producing tools, clothes, food, and more.

Sharing of community resources needs to be re-instilled in the populace. The average garage, shed, or extra closet of today’s Westerner is filled with useless crap used maybe a few times a year, all purchased from a few companies. Recycling usable equipment and renting for small fees throughout the communities will significantly decrease consumption and foster closer neighborhood ties.

Today, the legal webs and labyrinths of “property laws” and low-wage work have imprisoned the average person. So has the spread of capitalism and unequal distribution of money, division of labor, separation of classes. The lives of masses of working people, the precariat, are just as unstable and misery-inducing as they were centuries ago, when Frederick Douglas said:

“Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and rushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”

This all underscores the need for rewilding the American people, not simply expanding our National Forests and wildlife refuges. It calls for a transformation in consciousness, to promote understanding of different cultures, openness towards change, and advocating for compassion and peace. We can begin by starting to support a 15 dollar wage, to fight for climate science funding, to promote renewable energy. Yet there needs to be an understanding that those actions, while a good start, are simply a few first baby-steps towards re-orienting our culture.

Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse. Longing, in all actuality, is too mild a term; actually, there is an intense craving for unique and authentic notions of identity, for belonging to a caring culture, for sharing and cultural blending. There is also, to an extent, evolutionary reasons and epigenetic possibilities for the deep desires, for instance, to want to sing and dance around a fire, to go on long walks to calm the mind, to talk to plants and animals, to feel the Earth’s joys and pains, to partake of psychedelic plants. It’s what our species has done for millennia, and no freeways, high-rises, fluorescent-lit malls, or gated communities can possibly make up for these urges.

Inner calmness and contentedness, feeling joy at other’s successes, altruistic actions of bravery, spontaneity, the creative act, and transpersonal experiences all teach us that our egos are illusions. The drive of the ego is the drive of civilization, with all its life-denying baggage. It is this ego-based desire to dominate, to harness and pillage nature, which expands outwards to include all life-forms, including even our close loved ones. The judgments and pain inflicted on others are projections of our own, deep inner hurting. The ego shifts the blame, projecting, always outwards onto others, always disguising and rationalizing its selfish deeds.  Indigenous life is not without problems, but it recognizes and integrates the shadow-side of ourselves: there was no need for modern psychology until modern, Western man ramped up the process of destroying the world, all in order to fill the gaping void within the soul.

Thus, rewilding our psyches will mean dissolving the ego, recognizing it as a small part of the mind, occasionally useful in survival-enhancing or problem solving situations, but not as an absolute master of our sense of self. In short, it must be acknowledged that there are many aspects to individual minds, spectrums of ways of thinking, just as specific brain-waves exist, and differing states of sleep and dreaming.

Shrinking the ego will re-establish our commitment to protecting the Earth. As creator and protector of life, our planet, along with crops, animals, mountains and rivers, all have been venerated and deified across history. Thus, the sacredness of life and its continuity can be seen for the miracle it truly is. New spiritual and religious groups will be founded, with cross-fertilization and syncretism causing an explosion of kaleidoscopic cultures. Shrinking petty individual desires and grievances enlarges our view of nature: it allows for free living and amicable relations, promoting an idea of an Unconquerable World which can triumph over the capitalist-dominated, chaotic, absolutist, totalitarian impulses of modern life.

This has serious implications. What cannot be used, i.e. extra physical products, food, and extra income must be given away to less fortunate countries. Open-source medicine and technology will have to be distributed to developing nations to stave off the worst symptoms of global warming and habitat degradation. In the wealthy West, the rich should look to the example of the indigenous, where in some tribes the chieftains distributed their personal wealth among their tribe, often to be rewarded in kind at a later ceremonial/seasonal time of the year. Companies that produce weapons or various useless waste will be forced to shut down. Education will be reoriented to focus on the potentialities of each individual student, not as a one-size-fits-all indoctrination mill, churning out damaged, submissive, domesticated youth.

Green constitutions will have to be drafted to provide regulations to protect humans and wildlife from unnecessary pollution and production. It’s not just the West that will lead: the Chinese must realize, and be planning for, the eventuality that the demand for crappy plastic goods and gadgetry at big-box stores is going to decline, worldwide, in the coming decades. A new international order based on the UN, or otherwise, will be needed to uphold climate change commitments, speedily develop renewable energy tech, sustainable agriculture plans, and distribution of resources. Basically, this requires a shift from an anthropocentric outlook to an ecocentric outlook.

This will require a global awakening, and a moral/spiritual transformation of consciousness. It is the only way for our societies to move forward. Adaptability and having a broad range of skills and a wider knowledge base will be preferred over the narrow, technological elitism we see today in the corporate world and reflected in culture and the media. Ultimately, rewilding ourselves means learning how to live free, i.e., unlearning what our consumer-based culture has brainwashed us into believing.

I don’t intend to shy away from the hard political questions of what the world and the US could look like in the near future, if the above steps are taken. Most likely, the modern nation-state will perish, America included. Our national experiment has been blood-drenched and steeped in genocide, slavery, domination by capitalists, and structural racism from the very beginning. A new era of cooperation is called for, with true democratic consensus and citizen involvement in governance as well as the workplace. Smaller areas based on bioregionalism and the city-state will replace the nation-state (which Gore Vidal, among others, spoke out in favor of) and will be more likely to prosper, as they will be more likely to provide for their citizens. Climate refugees and nomadic ways of life will increase for those fleeing disaster, or simply seeking better opportunities. Decentralization of power as well as a closer connection to the land will foster a reawakening of the tribal ways of life, where tight-knit communities care for the sick, the elderly, disabled, and troubled souls, instead of shunting them into various soul-crushing institutions like jail, mental hospitals, etc.

A new era of solidarity and care for the meek must begin. This will mean feeding the millions per year who die of starvation, drought, lack of medical care, etc. This will mean reprioritizing our lives, with no excuses. Radical egalitarianism and faith in the boundless potential of each and every person must be instilled in our societies. Some will denounce this as radical, utopian, unachievable. Those who say so are without hope, without faith, having been indoctrinated by mainstream media and enshackled by capitalist ideology. Recently, in an interview, China Mieville explained this quite well:

“We underestimate at our peril the kind of onslaught of received opinion from the media, from the sort of cultural establishment, basically kind of ruling out of court any notion of fundamental change. Ridiculing it as ridiculous, to the extent that, you know, when you start to talk about wanting a better world you see the eyes rolling. What kind of despicable pass have we come to, that that aspiration raises scorn? And yet that’s where we are, for huge numbers of the political establishment.”

What sort of ideology can replace this cynicism, this nihilism? What kind of world to we want to create? I defer to Carl Rogers:

“Let me summarize my own political ideology, if you will, in a very few words. I find that for myself, I am most satisfied politically when every person is helped to become aware of his or her own power and strength; when each person participates fully and responsibly in every decision which affects him or her; when group members learn that the sharing of power is more satisfying than endeavoring to use power to control others; when the group finds ways of making decisions which accommodate the needs and desires of each person; when every person of the group is aware of the consequences of a decision on its members and on the external world; when each person enforces the group decision through self-control of his or her own behavior; when each person feels increasingly empowered and strengthened; and when each person and the group as a whole is flexible, open to change, and regards previous decisions as being always open for reconsideration.” (1)

Notes:

1.) May, Rollo, et al. Politics and Innocence: A Humanistic Debate. Saybrook Publishers, 1986. P. 6

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World War Whatever

Dissident Voice, April 27, 2017

“Check out the real situation/Nation war against nation/

Where did it all begin?/When will it end?”

-Bob Marley, “Real Situation”, from the album Uprising

Where is the outrage regarding the Trump administration’s bellicose attitude towards North Korea? The past two weeks have been a blur of outright savagery towards other nations, with cruise missiles raining down on Syrians and one giant bomb on an ISIS “cave complex” in Afghanistan. Now, the Donald has promised to send his “armada” towards the Sea of Japan, after it was found heading the opposite direction a couple weeks ago.

This shifting of belligerent, callous violence and threats around the world could indicate a policy of distraction, orchestrated by the Deep State. Literally all that would have to be done is present Trump with manufactured “atrocities” by Assad, ISIS, or even the DPRK regime and wait for him to react. He can then show his “humanitarianism” by dropping bombs.

Perhaps having Ivanka crying in the room over some real or fake pictures of chemical attacks is what really convinced Trump to intervene in Syria. This game of playing on his loved ones’ emotions could be repeated ad infinitum, on whoever is the enemy of the day. Wag the dog, anyone? Although, in this theory, the public is not the direct object of manipulation: it is the President, his family and inner circle, who could very well be the object of cloak and dagger games played out by the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, or National Security Council.

This all goes back to understanding the President as a puppet. Sure, the elite will let him de-regulate certain fossil fuel industries, hollow out the EPA and education, but he won’t be allowed to touch foreign policy. I think this hypothesis does have some merit, as it has played out before in history: during the Roman Empire it was often the Praetorian Guard who exercised the real power behind the scenes, taking bribes to confirm new Emperors and deposing ones who didn’t conform.

Do Americans even care about our endless wars anymore? China literally warned the world that “conflict could break out at any moment,” and yet the press is treating this as just another day at the office. Apparently, it is cool not to care about the history of Korea, our involvement in the destruction of a nation, and the continued impoverishment of the North Korean people. North Korea has nuclear capabilities which are unknown, yet this topic is brushed off by mainstream talking heads. War is all around us, our financial system is mired in debt, the warning lights are flashing due to the coming catastrophes of global warming and habitat destruction, yet by and large, the public has been indoctrinated not to discuss the most important issues of our age.

When did the shift occur to Americans: that any world news outside of, say, the Anglosphere, along with Western Europe, is of lesser importance, or doesn’t matter? That it is somehow inappropriate to badmouth the government, to revolt, to collectively organize and resist against the US Empire? We are facing a Leviathan, and only a concerted effort can force the hand of our masters.

Do Americans have a broad internationalist outlook, as a significant minority did during the Cold War? The answer is no. US citizens have retreated to an insular, selfish attitude towards the rest of the world. How many can point to Iraq or Afghanistan on a map? How many view dead Middle Easterners as “collateral damage”? That type of outlook is pure barbarism, and must be changed fast, before our culture as well as our standard of living descends rapidly to levels of a full-blown dark age.

What kind of war are we even in now? We have proxy war, hybrid war, drone war: or are we approaching yet another World War? Whatever, the pundits swagger. Bring it on.

There have already been more than two world wars, despite what the official history books may say. The modern world, and the general psyche of untold millions, has in fact been shattered by world wars. The Cold War definitely can count as WWIII. Just ask citizens of both Koreas, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola. The list goes on. The global war on terror could count as a World War, as well. Of course, Obama told us it was over, although the carnage continues throughout the Middle East and North Africa. So is it world war four, or five? Pope Francis has warned of a “piecemeal” world war, and Pankaj Mishra writes of a “global civil war” in Age of Anger: A History of the Present, which I have reviewed here. Within the USA, where is the resistance against this imperial, mega-violent conflagration spreading across continents?

Americans had better wake up, quickly. Place of birth, international borders, and cultural differences are used by our elites to distract, divide, and conquer ordinary citizens’ minds, bodies, and souls. It’s time for our society to reevaluate our priorities, pay attention to the diabolical geopolitical games and schemes being hatched in our midst, and confront what we’ve been avoiding for so long. Public apathy must be called what it is, apathy. Resistance must begin in every neighborhood, every town, every city, with the acknowledgment that we have dragged our feet for too long. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in April of 1967:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social justice is approaching spiritual death.”

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Book Review: Age of Anger By Pankaj Mishra

New York Journal of Books, April 17, 2017

 

What are the forces at play behind the referendum for Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of political extremism and polarization, and the outbursts of violence we see in the world today? In Age of Anger: A History of the Present, author Pankaj Mishra searches through the minefield of modernity to find the answers.

Mishra shows that the nationalistic, populist, and xenophobic undercurrents of today’s politics are driven largely by ressentiment, a term from Kierkegaard and explored in depth later by Nietzsche. Ressentiment is simply a word for a combination of anger, envy, and a sense of inferiority—a smoldering form of resentment, really. What drives these emotions of anger and negativity, as Mishra notes, are the gleaming, false promises of global capitalism, which have gone unfulfilled for the majority of the world’s population, and the related uprooting of traditional modes of life, leaving many spiritually and physically unmoored in an unfamiliar world.

Despite the well-told story of liberal democracy as the greatest economic system ever invented, Mishra documents how the ideals of democracy, increasing material affluence, and progress have been unevenly shared around the globe. Many millions of peoples’ lives have worsened from the expansion of globalization and technological advancements.

As Mishra deftly weaves between obscure Eastern European novels, French philosophers, and even Dostoevsky’s prophetic Notes from Underground, he exposes the modern myth of a new era of expanding material possessions and intellectual, work-related, and cultural advancement as a false promise, sold to us by our financial masters and politicians.

As our economic elites and technocrats gained money and power, the general population has been missing out on the benefits of modernizations for centuries. Building up underneath the surface of society is an immense anger, fueled by a permanent, structural underclass dealing with broken dreams and lowered expectations for a better life and future.

Mishra explains the similarities between the drives of many of today’s Islamist terrorists, contemporary hate groups, Hindu supremacists, and lone-wolf attackers, with past killers such as Russian nihilists, the Italian fascists, and the Nazis, and the anarchist violence of the late 19th century. All these examples consist of groups of people united due to an intense frustration regarding their economic and cultural situations, whose answer was, and is still for many, to immorally dehumanize and commit violence against people with different ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds.

In modern times, these emotions are directed at our economic and political elites, thus the backlash and the support for demagogues and neo-fascists around the world, such as Turkey’s Erdogan and India’s Modi. In the West, Mishra explains, we have lighter versions, but still, overall populist/authoritarian-type leadership, with Trump, May, and National Front candidate Le Pen in France, among others.

For Mishra, today’s debate between the populist, bigoted nationalists and the privileged, cosmopolitan globalist elite mirrors the war of ideology between Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire in the 18th century. Rousseau instinctively distrusted the siren songs of the global capitalists, and in Paris he got to see up close the contrasts between a pampered and spoiled elite and the entrenched misery of the poor and working classes.

Voltaire, on the other hand, profited immensely from his private businesses and defended the stock markets as rational and scientific, providing intellectual heft to the mendacious field of economics and liberal, pro-capitalist ideology. Voltaire’s slavish and unflinching support for Russia’s Catherine the Great was further evidence for Rousseau of the financial elite’s ideological blinders, and foresaw the confluence of capitalism and bloody authoritarian leadership that we are dealing with to this day.

Living in an age of diminishing expectations leads the disaffected, dispossessed, and disenchanted toward irrational outbursts of violence, affecting fundamentalists of all religious persuasions. Whether writing about Hindu nationalists or Timothy McVeigh, Mishra explains how:

“Two phenomena much noted in nineteenth-century European society – anomie, or the malaise of the free-floating individual who is only loosely attached to surrounding social norms, and anarchist violence – are now strikingly widespread.”

Mishra’s book is a roller-coaster ride, and well worth the time spent. Mishra is extremely well read, and readers may find some references dizzying and overwrought, while others may find them fascinating and erudite. There are a few slow spots discussing esoteric European novels, but Mishra’s talent for storytelling pushes the reader through fairly easily.

The low point occurs at the end of the book. Mishra does clarify quite well that the rest of the world can only be expected to go through the birth pangs that Western Europe and the U.S. has had to go through to arrive in the “modern world.” However, he does little to explain how today’s anger and resentment are all that different from past centuries and millennia of violence, hatred, and racism. Hasn’t civilization always faced such barbaric and bloody conflicts between the haves and the have-not’s?

Mishra’s critique is extensive and systematic, yet not overly revelatory. Many people instinctively understand that today’s populist leaders are driven by the masses’ wish for a return to authoritarianism, religious fundamentalist dogma, and racist ideology.

In Age of Anger, Mishra leaves us with the impression that rising powers such as India and China are doomed to follow in the West’s footprints. Yet sociocultural dynamics are never so monolithic as to create a destiny for developing nations to exactly follow. There is a possibility that poorer, emerging countries can avoid the rising tides of intolerance and cruelty that the West has stoked.

Mishra, toward the very end, does note that:

“We need to examine our own role in the culture that stokes unappeasable vanity and shallow narcissism. We not only need to interpret, in order to make the future less grim, a world bereft of moral certitudes and metaphysical guarantees. Above all, we need to reflect more penetratingly on our complicity in everyday forms of violence and dispossession, and our callousness before the spectacle of suffering.”

Yet one wishes he would expand more on this, and offer more detailed guidance and solutions to these issues. Mishra gives no blueprint for social change and no message for hope, regarding:

“the great chasm . . . between an elite that seizes modernity’s choicest fruits while disdaining older truths and uprooted masses, who, on finding themselves cheated of the same fruits, recoil into cultural supremacism, populism, and rancorous brutality.”

While Mishra offers an excellent critique of liberal democracy’s inconsistencies and unequal nature, as well as providing a magnificent backdrop for understanding the currents of rage in modern society, one is left wishing for more practical advice and specific answers to help build a better future.

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Reason Bowl Radio: Discussing Terrence McKenna’s Meme

Here’s my first video with Jason Holland for Reason Bowl Radio. We discuss McKenna’s famous line “culture is not your friend”. Please share if you enjoy our blathering. We are hoping to make more episodes soon and this could possibly turn into a semi-regular thing, if enough people show interest.

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