A different kind of Marxist

 

To be a Leninist today is to be an anachronism. So why Marxism? What even is Marxism?

To be a Marxist today is to recognize the structural violence of the global economic system and to want to change it. The problem, however, is the same is in our time as it was in Vladimir Lenin’s time- What is to be Done?

Many today are fed up with the democratic system, and believe it can never deliver the promises of a better society. They believe that without changing the fundamentals of the economic system, our society will perpetuate inequality and violence. It is tempting therefore to view the entire concept of democracy itself as suspect, a bourgeois ideal, and nothing more.

It is this Marxian orthodoxy of the 19th century that we should reject, along with the concept of the dictatorship of the proleteriat. We must own up to the fact that the legacy of 20th century communism was one of abject failure.

The pundits on Fox News like to say the “Left” are dictator apologists, from Nicolas Maduro to King Jong Un, while forgetting to mention that the US currently backs dictatorial regimes and war criminals around the world such as the Saudi kingdom and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. It is tempting to go the route of “naive realpolitik” and believe, like Henry Kissinger does, that democracy is just a word, and believe that the ideal of democracy is in practice unattainable, because the majority of society can decide to democratically oppress the minority, as was the case in Hitler’s Germany.

Therefore, I have to argue against some of the claims made by Zizek himself in his book Did Someone Say Totalitarianism? Zizek is admirable for pointing out the hypocrisy of the West, particularly America, in claiming to support freedom and democracy, while maintaining always that 20th century communism was a miserable failure. However, in this book, he makes to many concessions to actually-existing socialism, such as the argument that the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe lived a decent life except for lack of political freedom, etc. Of course I am somewhat oversimplifying his argument here, but I find it strange that Zizek seems to oscillate between outright defense of the Soviet Union and Maoist China and complete and total anti-Stalinism. This article he wrote on Tibet illustrates what is wrong with his conception of the reality under actually-existing socialism:

http://zizek.uk/tibet-dream-and-reality/

In this article, Zizek repeats the old adage that Tibet was a feudal economy probably better off under China anyway, and that most of the violence that occurred in Tibet derived from Tibetans themselves. This falls in line with his narrative that one should stay away from Orientalism and “dreams of utopia” if we want to get closer to the truth.

The reality is much more complicated. This empirically false statement exemplifies what is wrong with Zizek’s critique:

“The Cultural Revolution which ravaged the Tibetan monasteries in the 1960s was not imported by the Chinese. Fewer than a hundred of the Red Guards came to Tibet with the revolution, and the young mobs burning the monasteries were almost exclusively Tibetan”.

It is sad to see Zizek himself fall to such obvious Maoist propaganda, when he see is so deft in seeing through Stalinist propaganda. Elsewhere, Zizek is critical of Mao Zedong, and believes its problematic to view “Eastern communism” or “Latin American communism” or Third World communism in general in a kind of fetishized way. Therefore, it is doubly surprising he didn’t fact-check this story, also given his consistent critiques of the Khmer Rouge, another Communist regime that oppressed and committed genocide against a majority Buddhist populous.

The reality is, as actual scholars of Tibetan history have pointed out time and again, that most of the monasteries were destroyed directly by the PLA during the initial invasion, as demonstrated by forensic evidence from the mass graves. It is here worth quoting Tsering Shakya, author of “Blood in the Snows”, at length for the actual historical evidence:

Wang’s assertion that most of the destruction in Tibet took place during the Cultural Revolution also fails to tally with the historical record. As he himself admits, the monasteries and temples had been emptied long before, and ‘the PLA had bombed them as it re-established control’ after the 1959 Rebellion. In fact, the destruction of religious sites in Eastern Tibet—outside the TAR—had begun in 1956, under the guise of suppressing local uprisings in Gansu, Qinghai, Yunnan and Sichuan. In May 1962, the Panchen Rinpoche submitted a long memorandum to the Party Central Committee, detailing the terrible failures of Chinese government policies throughout the entire Tibetan region. Two passages prove categorically that much of Tibet’s cultural heritage had already been destroyed. The Panchen Rinpoche writes:

Our Han cadres produced a plan, our Tibetan cadres mobilized, and some people among the activists who did not understand reason played the part of executors of the plan. They usurped the name of the masses, they put on the mask [mianju] of the masses, and stirred up a great flood of waves to eliminate statues of the Buddha, scriptures and stupas [reliquaries]. They burned countless statues of the Buddha, scriptures and stupas, threw them into the water, threw them onto the ground, broke them and melted them. Recklessly, they carried out a wild and hasty [fengxiang chuangru] destruction of monasteries, halls, ‘mani’ walls and stupas, and stole many ornaments from the statues and precious things from the stupas.

Referring only to the area within the boundaries of the TAR when he speaks of ‘Tibet’—the situation was probably worse in other Tibetan districts—the Panchen Rinpoche goes on:

Before democratic reform, there were more than 2,500 large, medium and small monasteries in Tibet. After democratic reform, only 70 or so monasteries were kept in existence by the government. This was a reduction of more than 97 per cent. Because there were no people living in most of the monasteries, there was no-one to look after their Great Prayer Halls [da jing tang] and other divine halls, or the lodgings of the monks. There was great damage and destruction, both by man and otherwise, and they were reduced to the point of collapse, or beyond. [2]

This memorandum to the Central Committee was written four years before the Cultural Revolution.

There is no need to resort to the kind of cheap psychological analysis Wang adduces to explain why Tibetans turned against the sacred symbols of their religion during the Cultural Revolution. The real reasons are far more straightforward. One of these lay in the Party’s need to restrict the inter-factional struggle in an area which, as we have seen, was highly sensitive militarily. As soon as things looked like getting out of hand the Central Committee issued an order that, in these zones, the struggle should not be formulated as a fight between the ‘two lines’. Such conflict was thus essentially confined to the towns, especially Lhasa. The result was that, in most rural areas of Tibet, the ferocity of the Cultural Revolution was shifted away from the battle between the two factions and directed instead towards an attack on tradition, under the call to smash ‘The Four Olds’. In this effort, no stone was left unturned. The Red Guards may not have entered far into the countryside but CCP rule penetrated every crevice of the vast Himalayan landscape. The Party’s hegemony was so deeply entrenched at this time that even the way a peasant slept was said to indicate ideological orientation—someone who lay with their head towards the west was accused of turning away from Chairman Mao, since he was ‘the Sun that rises in the East’. One of the crimes of which the Panchen Rinpoche was accused during his trial by Red Guards in Beijing was of having anti-Party and reactionary dreams. (The Red Guards here, it should be noted, were not Tibetans but Chinese students.)

 

It is Zizek who here demonstrates his own implicit bias against traditional societies, believing the only thing about Tibetan society that is true was that it was a virtual hell on Earth. This is obviously a different kind of Orientalism, but Zizek, in his infinite wisdom about how we should dispel all illusions, has obviously never talked with an actual survivor of the Tibetan diaspora, or talked with actual Tibetan scholars.

It is inconceivable to him that the Dalai Lama legitimately inspires people around the world, or that Buddhist spirituality is deeply felt by believers and native Tibetans. He can only conceive of it in gross orthodox Marxist sense of “false consciousness”.

So the question continues to be, still, why Marxism?

If Marxism can embrace a truly non-violent spirit, and forget its ideology of “the ends justifying the means”, then maybe true structural violence can be eliminated in a peaceful way. Given Zizek’s embrace of redefining Marxism, revolution, and old Marxist lexicon, it is surprising and painful that he does not apply the same standard to Maoist China. 20th century communism failed to protect ethnic minorities, failed to protect political freedom, and in general failed to deliver to the utopia of equality it promised. If we are to change our economic system for the betterment of humanity, we must not allow demagogues and strongmen to lead us down the road of repressive regimes like the USSR, North Korea, and China, where currently they have almost abandoned any pretense of creating economic equality. I continue to argue Tibet is the theoretical cornerstone of realizing the problem with 20th century Communism.

 

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Great video “The Libertarian to Alt-Right Pipeline”

 

This video by “ScotchOikos” is very well done, goes through a lot of angles to the connections between the libertarian movement and the Alt-Right today. I’ve always had the opinion that libertarians are conservatives who are fine with weed. This video makes some strong arguments that the face of the libertarian movement has always had “dark precursors” with white identity politics and proto-fascist tendencies. He mentions Milton Friedman and his support for Pinochet- the only thing I would add is that Milton Friedman also was instrumental in Pinochet’s installment as dictator in Chile, as well as an economic adviser to the Pinochet regime. He mentions briefly something about Marxist dialectics, but I want to connect this discussion to the inherent connections between capitalism and imperialism, and the inherently racist connotations of imperialism or neocolonialism. American imperialism has an inherently supremacist character, and the doctrine of American supremacy is built on a foundation of white supremacy. Now, one of the most appealing aspects of the modern Libertarian Party is an “anti-imperialist”, or more properly, an isolationist foreign policy. However this isolationism, the Ron Paulian foreign policy, is not on moral grounds, but strictly on a pragmatic basis if you look at the arguments being employed, particularly when it comes to bankrupting the American state. Libertarians take the idea of Big Government seriously, and want a full scale recall of the welfare state and the American security state. However, as the video rightly points out, a principled libertarian is not an alt-righter, however there are certain tendencies in libertarianism that lend themselves for co-opting by the alt-right, or conservative reactionaries in general. The first of these principally is their stance on the welfare state, which relies on racist caricature and Reaganesque assumptions about “welfare queens”. I’ve personally heard these kind of arguments being made by a libertarian and former right-wing militia member- these connections are real.

Secondly, in terms of demographics, it is definitely true that most libertarians are white (although certain black and Asian bourgeois entrepreneurial types are being co-opted into the fold). I want to make this argument pretty clearly- capitalism, in its essential dynamics, as people like Cornel West and bell hooks have argued, are inherently connected to structural racism and patriarchy. There is a reason why the Republican Party today is anti-abortion and anti-minimum wage- they are systematically targeting the most vulnerable among us. It is reminds what Muhammad Ali said about the Vietnam War- the war is white people sending brown and red people to fight yellow people. The racial dynamics of capitalism are here factored into the division between the First and Third Worlds. Thus, a Maoist perspective is definitely necessary to accurately understand how these seemingly stable ideological universes coexist and mingle. I use Maoism here to signify Mao Zedong’s breakthroughs in Marxist theory, not an apology for all of his actions (see my posts on Tibet). However I do believe that to understand Capitalism today, one must understand the global division of wealth between rich and poor nations as a systematic extension of economic imperialism. This is how a person like Milton Friedman can be in principle in favor of free markets, but in practice in favor of US interference in the internal affairs, economic or otherwise, of a sovereign nation. Finally, it is sufficient to say that the formation of capitalism as an economic system is based in the African slave trade, as well as the colonial conquest of most of the world by European powers, establishing a one-world economy dominated by Western countries. The modern extension of this is therefore the IMF and World Bank, Western-controlled entities that ensure the exploitation of the poor countries by keeping them in a cycle of debt.

Going back to the video, I wish the creator had spent more time calling out specific ideologues like Dave Rubin, the “classical liberal” Trump apologist in chief on the internet, who just recently tried to co-opt Martin Luther King and erase his socialist beliefs and smear socialism using one line of the “I have a dream” speech- the usual tactic by conservatives, completely overplayed, but then again, his followers have already been brainwashed, so it must not take much effort on his part. So I’ll end, fittingly, with a reference to my favorite speech by Martin Luther King, the “Three Evils of Society” Speech. Those three evils he was referring to are Capitalism, Imperialism, and Racism, and yes, he uses those exact terms in his speech. MLK understood the inherent connection between these things, and in his prophetic way, was able to tie it together like this:

We cry out against welfare hand outs to the poor but generously approve an oil depletion allowance tomake the rich, richer…What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism for the poor…
King continues:
We must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power. We must further recognize that the ghetto is adomestic colony. Black people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into thehands of residence of the ghetto so that they may in reality control their own destinies. This is the meaning of  New Politics. People of will in the larger community, must support the black man in this effort.”
King continues with a stinging critique of the Vietnam War and a call to end it entirely. King’s rhetoric is not completely Marxist in character, but he uses the people’s voice. He substitutes capitalism at times for materialism, but the call for redistribution is clear enough. Only a radical redistribution of political and economic power can save our world from the Three Evils. We must remember to never punch down, but to look into the corridors of power to see how ideological manipulation is being engineered, how discourses are manufactured, and then tear apart the machine of exploitation.
So tell a friend who is interested in Libetarianism- do you know anything about Milton Friedman and Pinochet? Let us combat catchy phrases and meme culture with rational argumentation and compassion for the plight of the suffering millions who continue to form the global working class- those who make our t-shirts in the sweatshops of Bangladesh and those who mine the minerals in our laptops in sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s move away from a politics of social media and “trending hashtags”, and lets get serious about the problems facing the world, and our complicity in an economic system that continues to be the source of problems for most of the worlds poor.

Against the Double Blackmail: Stalinism and Anarchism

In contemporary leftism, popularly and online, there seems to be only two poles, two possibilities, a kind of dualistic way of thinking without any synthesis or true dialecticism. For both of the aforementioned groups, Stalinists/Marxist-Leninists and Anarchists, if you are a Democratic Socialist you are a liberal, and if you are not a Democratic Socialist, then you must be in favor of complete violent revolution in the vein of a Marxist-Leninist. There is some truth to this, however when it comes to the actual polices favored by a Democratic Socialist (not a Social Democrat!) one can see how they don’t disagree with the Marxist-Leninist, but their philosophy for how to accomplish this differs.

The Marxist-Leninist will argue that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie can only be overtaken by the dictatorship of the proleteriat. This kind of orthodox Marxism belongs in the 19th century, as it opens the door wide open, obviously, for totalitarian regimes whose crimes outweigh the benefits they provide for the people. Sometimes, historically, these totalitarian regimes have drastically increased living standards, but nevertheless, what I will call the anarchist impulse, the impulse to distrust power in any form, whether corporate or state, or what one could call the libertarian socialist impulse, I believe is a good impulse, and keeps one from being so blinded in one’s hatred for capitalism that one is willing to overlook the obvious horrors of 20th century communism, horrors which I believe are so obvious, like the show trials under Stalin, that they don’t deserve debate anymore. See my posts on Tibet for more details.

However, theoretically, I also disagree with the idea that the only thing needed for a truly non-authoritarian liberating political movement and society is the non-existence of the state. One can find historical examples of “anarcho-communist” societies like Catalonia in the 1930s, which largely functioned, but here I will provide a genuine defense of Zizek’s theory he puts forward in “A Plea for Bureaucratic Socialism”.

Zizek’s theory seems at first to be a defense of a kind of neo-Stalinism, a centrally planned economy. However, this could be further from the case. Zizek recognizes the degree to which government institutions, and yes, that dreaded word bureaucracy, which is NOT the same as career politicians, are already necessary for the existence of advanced industrial society. Things that run perfectly smoothly today, things like the Post Office, or the NHS in Britain (before the spending cuts by the Tories), are all government administered. Could these institutions be “further democratized” under a Socialist government? Of course! The wealth of these companies could be more equally distributed. But one has to recognize that layers of unnecessary bureaucratic exist only when the profit motive is involved, or there has been a mistake in organization- the profit motive is not involved in the NHS, and thus they have fewer managers than a privately-run hospital. Administration costs are drastically cut under a socialized medicine system- everyone knows this, yet even Marxist economists like Richard Wolff are so enraptured with the idea of cooperatives that these simple macroeconomic/comparative facts seem lost on them.

So let me be perfectly clear- I’m not interested in a theoretical defense of anarchism, in the sense that it could “also provide the necessary means of organizing society, could provide power to houses, etc.” Without tax dollars collected by an efficient state, there are no highways, period. There won’t be volunteer armies building the roads and bridges, and neither will I volunteer for such a system. In this sense, Zizek’s defense of alienation serves as a necessary foil of contemporary Marxist or Leftist orthodoxy. The larger infrastructural/productive problems of society still linger in a society where everything is democratically-run- this is what the Soviet Union clearly saw.

The top down approach of the Soviet Union to production wasn’t the only problem that existed in the Soviet economy. The problem was primarily a “developmentality” where the State felt it had to rush industrial production as fast as possible, to the detriment of the rural population. As such it was industrialization, not bureaucracy, that was the Soviet Union’s main problem, aside from sheer corruption and the perpetration of political atrocities. It wasn’t the non-existence of competition that was the Soviet Union’s problem- it was Stalin’s desire to catch up with the West so fast that he didn’t care how many lives would be lost in the process. Critiques of socialist bureaucracy with the Soviet Union in mind are usually quite ahistorical and rely on a thesis that state planning itself is inherently the issue. While I can definitely agree that the state should not plan every aspect of the economy, this is not a coherent argument against any aspect of state socialization of the economy, for example, say oil production. Neither is the Venezuelan economy, which largely collapsed due to lack of foreign investment and the dip in oil prices caused by over-reliance on oil, causing massive hyperinflation.

Zizek is interested far more in getting concrete political gains HERE AND NOW then in the hypothetical speculation on what the future socialist society will look like. This kind of building of a utopia amounts to nothing in the end. Yet, one can understand that the defense of a stateless society IS just such a hypothetical speculation! We are nowhere close to, nor should we, abolish the state apparatus. Just because the State works against the people’s interests when certain parties are in power, doesn’t mean that is necessarily so. It’s just that the corporate stranglehold over real power makes such a change almost unimaginable.

Does that mean that change has to be forced violently? No, and here I disagree with Zizek in his defenses of Leninism. Global capitalism has a way of punishing democratic socialist regimes and revolutionary regimes. But if we are to take Zizek’s theories about internationalism seriously, one can see how, in order to beat the influence of something like the World Bank or the IMF, massive change on a global scale must occur. That change must occur first in the US, the epicenter of power. Only when true anti-imperialist and anti-free trade policies take root in the US can we begin to confront global capitalism. But this does not require some sort of infantile game about strategy and planning the armed revolution. The time for rebellion against the Czar is over. We do not live in that era. We must at the same time be faithful to our critique and struggle against the current economic system, recognize the exploitation that takes place, primarily in the Third World, and continue to try to dismantle the epicenters of global corporate power. In order to do that, a Red Tide, a movement like the Arab Spring, but much larger, must sweep the developed world, and finally carry it forward- peacefully and democratically. And it must not be allowed to backslide into demagoguery. But before that happens, concrete battles must be won, first against the liberal establishment, then on specific issues such as Medicare for All, ending the wars, ending monopolies, and climate change.

Finally, my defense of electoral politics is not a defense of establishment politics. I will never vote for another neoliberal politician, ever in my life, even to beat Donald Trump. We don’t have a choice anymore, considering the sorry state of the Democratic Party.

 

Normativity inside normativity…an endless spiral

My girlfriend commented recently that she thought the word “normie” that is now being used is itself mainstream. Is this endless navel gazing, or does this touch on a deeper point? Angela Nagle, a columnist at Jacobin Magazine, has put out a book called “Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right”, and its that book idea or reference point that I’d like to discuss (spoiler: I haven’t read the book, just the synopsis). Interestingly enough, a leftist cultural commentator has to engage in the same “shock value” marketing tactics that her ideological foes do. As I will say time and time again, yes, I am a socialist. But here I want to make the case that engaging or diving into the “culture wars” that has become so commonplace, as Nagle argues, is itself counterproductive, because it itself is a part of the larger sphere of normativity.

Now, one could argue that this is Nagle’s project itself, that she is attempting an objective view of online media cultures both on the left and the right to reveal their relationship and how, in her view, the politically-correct Left enables the alt-right through “the author’s insistence on the culpability of the left in creating the vacuum in which the Alt-Right expanded.” While I actually share this opinion, I don’t want to engage in these kind of liberal-bashing polemics and critiques of safe-spaces. Why? Am I just being contrarian?

Because I witness in my daily online interactions with actual leftist online communities how ideologies and culture wars are perpetuated and sustained. Factions emerge, ideological fights ensue. There are big divides between arguably Stalinist factions and anarcho-coms. The internet is a big place, and yes, socialists have their versions of 4chan. Its a hallmark of our generation. If the real point of this book is to gain attention to very problematic political dynamics going on in the country, how the alt-right connects to Donald Trump (as the media endlessly drones on about) then it should be done in a vigorous and anthropological manner, not a New York Times bestseller fashion.

“But won’t that alienate the type of people Nagle is trying to convince?”

I think that type of reasoning underestimates the extent to which ideological sub-communities truly are isolated. There is very little room for true convincing in our public discourse. Nagle is engaging in a sexy topic at the right time- I’m sure the deliberately inflammatory title will appeal to a certain segment of the population. Maybe she will convince some of them who were previously not left leaning to be left-leaning. But is this truly the way we should convince other people our cause is right- by appealing a misanthropic sentiment?

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen coffee mugs that say “I hate everything” or “Leave me alone”. It has now become commonplace, even normative, to be edgy and say one hates other people. This has been recognized by the corporate establishment and recuperated by the capitalist system in order to sell trendy merchandise. The sad part is, these types of products are only funny *to other people*, they are bought in order to be shared in the office, etc. therefore undermining any “real” claim to being a misanthrope. Of course, these are “ironic” joke products I’m talking about, but a simple google search of “I hate people coffee mug” getting 19 million hits reveals the extent of the cultural problem. Fashion can reproduce itself in a myriad of ways.

In a way, I’m writing this because I’m frustrated at the state of the political discourse in America. Its overly saturated with continual references to pop culture (see my previous blog posts on Pop politics here: https://amorinoblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/04/the-problem-with-pop-politics-articles/). One could generalize and call this phenomenon “pop politics”, and my argument is that the pop politics Nagle herself is so critical of, she simultaneously has to engage with and enter into a dialogue with. To be fair to the author, she may be using the title as an ironic reference that someone, possibly on the Right, said on 4chan, but my guess is that its completely “unironically ironic”. In other words, she really does hate normies. On a different level of irony, this is exactly the kind of hate-fueled rhetoric the alt-right is gaining traction with. Every political stripe has their share of insults and slogans: “libtard” “bootlicker”, etc. But perhaps we could get beyond a politics of hatred, even hatred of intolerance, because it still manifests as endless chatter. Now, I’m not advocating a naive liberalism or centrism of “why can’t we all just get along?” but it is interesting that centrists gain political capital by appealing to the divisive state of American political discourse. People are genuinely upset about the level of heatedness of the debate- what centrists fail to realize is that there are genuine things to be upset about (and consequently, non-genuine things as well). The whole landscape of American politics is so complex that sometimes I wish to escape it entirely. Another interesting tidbit is that this entire debate only  applies directly to America, but this isn’t explicitly said, it goes unnoticed on the cover of Nagle’s book or elsewhere. This is because place, for many Americans, is largely something unconscious I would argue, but that is for another post.

This reflection is also inspired by what Michel Foucault said about transgression and normativity, in that they are related to one another by an endless spiral. Nagle engages in that kind of dialectical thinking, but I would argue, does not escape the dialectic, and instead argues for a kind of “true transgression”. Instead, what one must do is forget the cultural war entirely, disengage, seek solitude…but America would not be able to do that. No, the Last Man, as Nietzsche would have it, has already penetrated so deep , its probably impossible. Hope for a truly emancipatory movement remains dim. One should not put faith in movements, always only critical engagement.

 

 

The implications of Obama’s immigration policies for socialist strategy

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hard-truths-about-obamas-deportation-priorities_us_58b3c9e7e4b0658fc20f979e

Above, I’ve linked to the article I will be talking about today. I am very encouraged to see this level of journalism coming out of the Huffington Post, although the contributor to the magazine is, somewhat unsurprisingly, an academic, namely a professor of history at Lewis and Clark college. The article reveals what I have been saying over and over- that the oft-quoted statistic that Obama deported “90% criminals” is a flat-out falsehood when you consider the fact that according to ICE and Department of Homeland Security statistics (their own statistics!) only in 2016 were 90% of interior deportations of those with a criminal record. This doesn’t count deportations at the border at all. As the article reveals, this also obscures what kinds of crimes were committed. Only 19% of 2014 deportations were of people with “violent or potentially violent” convictions. That is an appalling statistic. The war on immigrants has been going long before Trump.

Many people now know or at least have to acknowledge the record amount of deportations Obama made during his presidency, but they then try to obfuscate that fact with misleading statistics and the argument that Obama tried to “concentrate on deporting felons”. The fact is the majority of those deported who had criminal convictions were not felons, but the crimes committed had something to do with immigration violations. As always, the Obama administration is being disingenuous and actively fooling people into thinking they are humane and care about human rights. This is the case when it comes to drone strikes (which I did an entire statistical project on, and the amount of civilian casualties under the Obama administration that are recorded is a shocking statistic, but that’s another story).

We must, as Cornel West continues to vigorously and courageously argue, oppose the Obama administration’s narrative that they were allies and protectors of people of color. When it comes to immigrants, yes Obama did pass the DAPA and DACA exemptions, but their record when it comes to immigration and deportation is clear. When it comes to the record on indigenous rights, on the rights of Native Americans, we know what Obama did with the Keystone and DAPL pipelines (until the very last minute when it could be overturned by Trump). We know what Obama’s record overseas was, a continued policy of more and more war, a continuation of Bush era foreign policy with a “human face”. Obama is the black face of American Empire. Last but no least, Obama’s progress when it comes to the prison-industrial complex, private prisons, and mass incarceration (and police brutality!) was minimal. As always, the definition of liberal Obama-era policies are HALF MEASURES.

It’s time to put an end to half-measures. It’s time to stop defending Obamacare, instead view it in light of what other countries actually have. It’s time to never vote for a neoliberal centrist Democrat ever again, in the primary OR in the general election. The time is NOW to send a message to Washington, enough with the corporatism, and enough with establishment politics. And its also time to put a name to what we want- democratic socialism. Yes, socialism, that dreaded word. Not Stalinism, but actual policies that redistribute wealth and put an end to American imperialist foreign policy. This intersection between economic and foreign policy is why immigration policy is so important, because illegal immigration is impacted primarily by the existence of horrible free trade policies like NAFTA which deregulates the market and floods foreign markets with cheap American goods, destabilizing Latin American economies and causing mass immigration crises. The immigration crisis in Europe is caused primarily by American empire in terms of our Middle East policy, a legacy of the Iraq War, and the immigration crisis here at home is primarily caused by Clinton era neoliberalism. This is a stark reality if you think about it, that many major problems in the world can be traced to American imperialism, but it makes sense when you look at the legacy of America in Guatemala, in Iran, in Indonesia, indeed everywhere. The legacy of the 20th century, the latter half of it, is the moral failure of American capitalism to deliver the promise of human rights, and it has continued to fail in the 21st century, and the “Hope and Change” promised by the Obama administration, something I sincerely wished for as a young 18 year old first time voter, failed to materialize. I was fooled by the smile of a politician once- never will I be fooled again. I am a proud socialist, and my heart belongs to the international movement of workers and people of all stripes against capitalist imperialist hegemony.

 

The trouble with Buddhism: parallels between the Rohingya and the Lhotshampa refugees

 

http://nepalitimes.com/regular-columns/On-the-way-up/Nepal-lhotshampa-rohingya,1046

Unfortunately, the situation in Myanmar/Burma parallels what happened with the Lhotshampa in Bhutan, the ethnic Nepali/Hindu minority that was forcibly expelled from Bhutan in the 1990s. Many Lhotshampa refugees reside to this day in camps in Nepal, and many have made the journey to live in the United States. A peaceful “Shangri-La” is how Bhutan sells itself to the world, and it may be true that Bhutan is a relatively peaceful country, but not for the Lhotshampa in the 1990s, who suffered many human rights abuses. This issue did not receive as much traction as the Rohingya issue because there wasn’t the same scale of ethnic cleansing. But believe me- I have no illusions about Bhutan, and am willing to speak out against the injustices perpetrated there. The Lhotshampa refugee crisis is something even highly respected Tibetan Buddhist teachers do not speak out against enough, including unfortunately the Dalai Lama.

In the words of the article I linked to from the Nepali Times:

“The Rohingya people are looking into an abyss of statelessness, within Burma as well as in the Bangladesh refugee camps. The international reaction is muted. While the Dalai Lama has spoken on the basis of humanitarian principle, Buddhistic societies by and large are silent, be they Mahayan or Theravad adherents. The West is in geopolitical confusion ever since the advent of Donald Trump in the international arena, even as crimes against humanity are committed by the Burmese security forces. If one were to look to India as the largest regional democracy, we have the shocking absence of empathy that has state functionaries talk brazenly of ‘refoulment’ (forcible return of refugees to where they are apt to face persecution).

The Lhotshampa, faced with Thimphu’s rejection of repatriation, were lucky that the international geopolitical configuration made third country re-settlement available. No such luck for the ten times more numerous Rohingya. One of their ‘faults’ – being born Muslim.”

To be perfectly clear, in the 1990s the Lhotshampa did face violence and killings by the Bhutanese military. And as in the case of Burma, there was complicity on the part of a portion of the Buddhist population to this violence, based on a growing sense of nationalism in Bhutan.

The video I link to above is the antithesis of the kind of complicity in human rights abuses that is seen among other Buddhists- Burmese-American Buddhist young people speaking out against the persecution of the Rohingya. I particularly like the ending quote of the video: “Our Buddhism is meant to liberate, not oppress. Our Buddhism is not fearful. Our Buddhism is not prejudiced. Our Buddhism is not passive”.

Unfortunately, there is, as the video describes, even prejudice among older members of the Burmese-American community towards Muslims. This video makes a strong case for political awareness above any kind of ethno-nationalism in general, as well Burmese ethno-nationalism. There is a strong case to be made that the values of Buddhism never truly superseded, historically speaking, sentiments of cultural superiority or led to any kind of antecedent to modern liberal tolerance in many parts of Asia. This is possibly not the case in China. It has to be said that there has been a complicity on the part of Buddhism culturally to patriarchal authoritarian culture in Asia, chiefly due to the “Confucianistic” belief to the respect one’s elders (and therefore superiors) above all else. This is reflected in the high popular opinion of the Army in Burma, even after military atrocities that occurred in the late 20th century- against Buddhists!

It is time for us not only to think deeply about issues of religious fundamentalism in other parts of the world, and introspect- it is imperative that we call out injustice, not be PC, culturally sensitive to a fault, or so culturally relativistic that we ignore basic human values, universal human rights. It is imperative that Western readers, ignorant of the plight of the Rohingya, do their research on this new ethnic cleansing of our generation and donate to charities like the UNHCR, which are badly in need of funding to help the massive influx of refugees to neighboring countries. In particular, the Rohingya has mostly fled to Bangladesh, one of the most destitute countries on the planet. This cannot stand! We must put pressure on politicians to do something active about this crisis, and kick Presidents and Congress-people out of office who don’t give two damns about human rights, starting with Donald Trump- the biggest inflamer of anti-Muslim sentiment in the world. The Trump administration has talked tough on the Rohingya crisis and pays lip service to it, but has not pressed for sanctions, UN-backed or otherwise, on Burma. While sanctions do have unwanted economic consequences for the population, sanctions were placed on Burma prior to 2016, when they were lifted actually by Obama. So Obama also has some culpability in this (shocker).

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya-usa/u-s-says-identified-target-for-sanctions-over-myanmar-crackdown-idUSKBN1E92RA

“Targeted sanctions” may be in the works, Reuters reports as of yesterday. But they do not target the entire Burmese military, and are definitely not widespread economic sanctions.

I’m not an expert on sanctions, and I actually generally oppose economic sanctions on countries like North Korea because they are greatly harmful to the people. However situations of ethnic cleansing are fundamentally different.

Capitalism and Schizophrenia: a book for our century

THE text, the seminal text, written about our society, industrial and digital society, modern society, especially American society, in the 20th century, is not the Postmodern Condition. It is not Dialectic of Enlightenment. It is not even One Dimensional Man, or Empire by Antonio Negri. The seminal text, the Das Kapital of the 20th century, is not Civilization and its Discontents. That is THE text to be opposed. It is Capitalism and Schizophrenia by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Philosopher Michel Foucault agreed, “the 21st century will be the Deleuzian century”.

In an era of mass incarceration, of mass shootings, of one day of depressing news after another with no end in sight, why do we need to read a book written by an eccentric French philosopher with unkempt hair? Why not, as Marxists argue, should we not continue to comb the archives of a communism that failed? Why not Lenin? Well, we should read Lenin. We should read everything else I mentioned as well, and not be exclusive. Because at the heart, Deleuze is the philosopher of addition, not of subtraction or opposition, which is the dialectical logic. Are “dialectics” (whatever that means) still useful? They are one tool in our arsenal, our assault against the forces of oppression, which has begun to tear away at the fabric of social reality itself, and has begun to convince people that their servitude is their only chance at freedom. Deleuze offers us a theory for thinking the Whole, for rethinking what Being itself is, that offers us also a pragmatics of the possible.

Those who scoff at the idea of revolution will always tell you- “the banks are too big to fail”, “not in my lifetime will that happen”. They have accepted life as it is- for how can they not? They don’t want to live a dreamlike reality. Deleuze takes the schizophrenic, who already lives in a dreamlike reality, the crazy, as the model of the subversive, as the model of a person who imminently fights against the capitalist model of a lifetime of servitude to work, because they truly have no other choice. Deleuze proposes that instead of going to “resolve your problems”, going to therapy or on the psychoanalyst’s couch will only put a band-aid on a problem that emanates fundamentally from the social field. This is what Freud missed, and this is why Deleuze titles the first book of Capitalism and Schizophrenia Anti-Oedipus. 

Deleuze starts by talking about schizophrenia in the abstract, and moves on to conceive of how we could remake the whole “socius”- we need a psychoanalysis of the social itself, society itself needs to go to therapy! Who would be the psychoanalyst for that? Well, we, each other, would be. Schizoanalysis is born- we realize we are all crazy together, and we can do something about it. Because before the father beats the son, the father is beaten by the system every day at work, by the boss, by the check out line, by the debt collectors, by his whole life. This is no justification of the way things are- it is a way to get out of the moralism that traditionally plagues psychology, the moralism attached to what are essentially just the norms of bourgeois society. And as Foucault and Deleuze realized, though Marx is the towering thinker of the 19th century, he still swims like a fish in 19th century water. The 21st century is here, Mao is dead, Marx is dead, and we have to carry on, with only the record and ghostly trails left in the tracks.

How do we make sense of reality, Deleuze claims, when one is constantly fed information by way of digital feedback? When the advertisers know exactly what to show you at any given time on your computer screen, how do you escape from the digital prison? Deleuze not only shows, like Guy Debord in the Society of the Spectacle, that modern subjectivity is formed by the media, but how they form an inseparable whole, how they together form a person-media-technology assemblage. Why is this important? Because it portrays reality the way it actually is, where two things that look separate actually are not. Deleuze’s conclusions start out looking like common sense, but put together, they challenge the fundamental wisdom of Capitalism. Put together, like the main character in They Live, we are able to see through the prison of how we were conditioned to see the world, and a whole new world of potentiality emerges, almost visible, sometimes perceptible on the margins.

Deleuze continues his saga in A Thousand Plateaus, considered in postmodern philosophy a conceptual breakthrough and a work of towering genius. It must be said at this junction that Deleuze co-wrote the book with anti-psychiatric radical Felix Guatarri, to whom I have not given enough credit. The only reason Deleuze has been marked here as the genius is because we are pre-programmed to prefer the work of One over many, even though there have been many productive intellectual pairs- Watson and Crick, Marx and Engels, Sartre and Beauvoir, and not enough women pairs. Deleuze is the philosopher of addition, of multiplication- we need new assemblages, new becomings. It is here that Deleuze elaborates on the concept of becoming. This may be too much of a poetic concept for those hardened political and social thinkers who are concerned about the value of the GDP, materialism. But Deleuze is also a materialist, and becoming is essentially material. There is materially a becoming that we experience concretely when we take a walk in the woods, we become more like the animals themselves. We don’t want to be told anymore about logic and maxims and means of production- feeling matters to us. We don’t want to be told our culture doesn’t matter, our traditions don’t matter- they do, and capitalism has been stripping them away from us, and we are continually alienated from ourselves. Of course there are material processes going on, and I could quote statistics about world hunger. But I could also tell you about the story of one woman who contracted AIDS from a soldier in Haiti she thought loved her, and before that worked as a maid in the capital city for pennies while her rich clients engorged themselves. That is what we aim to do! Our suffering is real, and also our happiness!

This is why Deleuze and Guatarri are important to me, and important to the world, and self-respecting “experts” on Deleuze should not look to his more “rigorous” books on Kant and Hume as examples of his “true genius”, for they are perpetuating the logocentric model of thinking that has driven people away from academia, from thinking, as yet another example of “disconnected elitism”. Philosophy can matter to our lives, so much so that can shape history. D&G can shape history, and should, or we may face even darker times

Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and the physical limits on human knowledge

It seems that the universe itself has limits on how much humans can know. It is well known that string theory, in order to be proven definitively and empirically, requires energies trillions of times more than what we are currently capable of producing. Gödel famously proved not that the axioms of mathematics are inconsistent, but it is impossible to prove them definitively within the realm of logic itself (a priori proofs, without reference to the empirical world). If there are any mathematics experts in the house, tell me why this might be an oversimplification, but based on my understanding this is what Gödel’s incompleteness theorem means for mathematical reasoning. It is an astounding theorem- a theorem that proves un-provability. At bottom it suggests that the rules of mathematics are derived from the empirical universe itself- or at least that’s what it suggests to me.

In addition, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that it is impossible to determine simultaneously the position and velocity of one elementary particle. Even perfect knowledge of one elementary particle is denied to us lowly humans. Another limit on knowledge in the realm of physics is the cosmic horizon, an area of the universe that is inaccessible to the gaze of our telescopes because the universe is expanding too fast beyond that point for light from that distant corner to reach us.

So, in terms of scientific knowledge, it seems that the vast majority of the universe is off limits to our telescopes, describing fundamental nature of the microscopic world is currently impossible, and even describing mathematics consistently using math alone is impossible. That’s a lot of impossibles. Add to this the cosmic speed limit of 300,000 m/s for any particle, and it seems that as humans, we have hit a kind of dead end to what we can achieve. Is this true?

Well, in a temporal sense, no, because we have not achieved all that we can achieve given our current knowledge. We have not, for instance, transferred to 100% renewable energy, even though it is completely feasible socially. But will we have to take into account these inherent technological and epistemological limits? In some sense, we do. Humanity has had to realize over the course of many centuries that our almost Olympian rational powers, that kind of Greek conception of the human as close to God, as being a fantasy, and that we are not even in God’s chosen place in the universe. The world is more inhospitable than we could have imagined, humanity is not able to do whatever it pleases. The Earth itself has limitations on how much pollution can go into its skies, and so do the oceans. In this sense, humans have had to rediscover over and over again not only our finitude, but our limits.

We have parables and stories for the dangers of wanting knowledge of everything, within a Biblical frame of reference. But I am not trying to reproduce this kind of transcendental limit on knowledge, in which knowledge of the universe is limited to God, and God is inscrutable, this definitely antiquated way of thinking. It is just a supreme irony that in mankind’s Faustian dream to know everything, to have physical and mathematical theories of everything, we are confronted within our own human limits. And of course, the question has to be posed- where does this ultimate desire for knowledge come from? This Will to Truth- is a function, as Nietzsche believed, of the Will to Power, the will to dominate life and control it?

I would say that, following Deleuze, we have to go even further and reassert any kind of familiarity or “home base”, a reterritorialization. We should not become comfortable with the idea that “we cannot know everything”, and therefore give up. We should rather expand our philosophical knowledge to include these categories. Following Zizek and Lacan, we can divide knowledge into 4 categories, represented as 4 quadrants on a Cartesian plane: Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns, and unknown knowns. Known knowns are what we definitively know, unknown unknowns are things we have not even conceived of yet. Known unknowns are things we know we don’t have an answer to- something like Godel’s incompleteness theorem. Unknown knowns are things we forgot we knew, or things we repressed in psychoanalytic terms. I would add a fifth category to this typology of knowledge, to be a subcategory of the known unknowns: known unknowables, things we know we cannot answer. Just by knowing we cannot answer them, we may approach something approximating the relative truth.

Perhaps what the Buddhists said is true after all, and the absolute truth is only knowable to an Omniscient being, and only relative truth is accessible to us. Perhaps it is true that we should be satisfied with the relative truth. But we should also realize, following string theory, that there are levels of relative truth, and different levels of precision at which something can be described.

Addendum:

Another way to think about limitations on knowledge using Godel’s incompleteness theorem is to interpret the theorem to say that any set of axioms that describe mathematics is incomplete in the sense that there are an infinite set of axioms that describe mathematics. As such, one cannot prove that certain statements derive from the known axioms because one would need an infinite amount of rules or axioms! This is just another way of saying that what we can know is infinite, and humans are by nature finite beings, and therefore “complete” and total knowledge of the infinite is impossible.

That doesn’t mean we should stop looking! It only means we should venture forward, into the infinite abyss, looking, ever looking, not looking for any resting point. An Ultimate Theory of Everything in this sense may be impossible, as Stephen Hawking actually suggests

P.S.S: Some of these kind of themes might be explored in Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach, particularly in terms of what Godel means. However, despite having not read the book, I’m skeptical of the book’s neurobiological perspective. GEB in my mind seems to be the kind of antecedent to pop philosophy books, leading ultimately to the king of pop philosophy Sam Harris. Continental philosophy forever! Down with the analytical instrumental rationalists!

The political obsession with electoral politics and the Society of the Spectacle

Perhaps I’m just suffering from overload of watching too many political opinion shows on youtube, but I think I’ve stumbled onto something true. In America, we have an inability to think structurally, so much so that it hinders our ability to think critically about things. So many channels on youtube that are political, even if I agree with them about a specific issue, are focused on the here-and-now of American electoral politics- whats the latest trending story? What did Bernie say today? What about Donna Brazile? (and the worst) What did Trump tweet today? What about that political commentator I don’t like- did they say something I disagree with again?

The focus, in our day and age, should always be on the systemic nature of power and its connection to capital. Without this essential Marxist insight proper perspective cannot be gained into any geopolitical or national event of any consequence.

American politics has become one giant soap opera. Wannabee-political commentators take to social media and get into “beefs” with other commentators like they are rappers. Now, I’m not saying “let’s all get along”, but look at things like the debates at Politicon- its become one big theater!

Guy Debord, in the Society of the Spectacle, said this about the commodification of culture:

“When culture becomes nothing more than a commodity, it must also become the star commodity of the spectacular society.”

This parallels what Lyotard said later about the commodification of information and the prediction that knowledge would become the leading form of capital. In simplest terms, of course, this means that knowledge itself becomes the most valued thing to be bought and sold.

And so of course, the news media, or rather the production of “information” about the world, becomes also one of the biggest industries in the world. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, is one of the richest men in the world with a net worth of $12.9 billion dollars.

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-30-biggest-media-owners-in-the-world-2016-5/#5-facebook–1149-billion-26

Could even Debord have foreseen the explosion of the corporate sector with regards to the media? The proliferation of images that is so thorough that it has consumed all of our lives?

Of course, the largest media company of all is the one that allows them all to function within the space of the internet, that allows you to find anything in the first place, the proverbial link in the chain- Google.

Google, or its parent company Alphabet, is the largest media company in the world, proving Debord’s prophecy about the value of information. Now, Google doesn’t even crack the top 10 most profitable corporations in the world, those spots still go to multinational corporations that make and sell actual physical commodities like food, oil, and computers (WalMart, Exxon, and Apple are in the top 10). But the difference between $50 billion and $200 billion in profits in terms of the power it can buy you is minimal- Google still has more money than many poor African nations.

Can you prove this has an actual influence? In the case of Google, they are complicit in the Chinese government’s internet censorship of its people- a well known fact, but one that does not stop us from using Google and using Bing instead.

I’ve gotten a little sidetracked, but my original question was- why are Americans obsessed with electoral politics? Because in the media space of “Breaking News!” the only thing that matters is the spectacle of the now. “The Comey hearing!” “Trump’s trip to Asia!”

My thesis is this- the mainstream media acts in a way that it constructs time itself. In choosing what to cover, it makes the moment itself, it chooses what the Now actually is. It takes advantage of the fact that you can only speak one word at a time. By the time they’ve covered the “important” stuff (Trump’s latest tweet) they don’t have the “time” (read money) to get to global warming or the war in Syria. But in constructing the now, they do the work of revealing their own bias for those of us who can use Google.

My point is this- youtube commentators, independent political journalists, what have you- forget the mainstream media! There is only so much to be gained from a deconstruction of Fox News. Instead, we should offering alternative narratives for how to see the world.

Outlets that I feel are already doing this kind of journalism are Democracy Now, the Intercept, Vice News (sometimes), but even more so, I think its critical that Americans listen to non-American news outlets about non-mainstream subjects. I’m not even talking about the BBC America or RT. Americans are so caught in their own bubble that they aren’t aware of what’s happening in Greece, in Poland, in France, or even right across the border in Mexico! The best thing that an American can ever do to gain a picture of what’s actually going on in the world is to just travel to another country and watch the news. Then we won’t be so myopically focused on our own problems- America’s central problem has been and always will be our size- we are so large that many never need to escape the cupola of the wonderland we have created- the Happy Meal paradise.

Of course, my advice goes for those of you with the money to travel. But many people just don’t think they have the money to travel, when in fact they spend too much money on Starbucks coffee. (Just make your coffee at home!)

One last thing- this internal gazing at our one’s own nation’s politics also occurs in every other country, but I believe to a lesser degree because of the geopolitical space they occupy- America is the dominant country in the geopolitical sphere, it is the Empire, and therefore we are on average the least informed about other country’s politics, etc.