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

Advertisements

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.

 

A collection of aphorisms

I am going to do this post in Nietzschean aphorisms because, I feel like it. They are all connected, but cover a wide range of topics.

  1.  All paradoxes about the infinite are not really paradoxes- all seemingly illogical conclusions that come from infinities and the mathematics of infinite series only seem that way, but actually there is a deeper intuition at play. The infinite must contain all within itself and yet be able to add more- that is the definition after all of infinite. Correspondingly, all mathematics about infinities is not fascinating, just simply boring.
  2.  This is what Nietzsche meant by the fact that “mystical explanations are thought to be deep, the truth is they are not even shallow.” However this aphorism itself will be misunderstood by those who think that Nietzsche only thought that religion tricked the foolish. Nietzsche elsewhere in his corpus praised the surface of things, the shallowness, as opposed to pretensions of being “deep”. Therefore, paradoxically, Nietzsche’s statement is a praise of mysticism, or rather, a recognition that those who have “mystical insight” only have relative insight to the “herd”.
  3. One could misinterpret Nietzsche’s above-mentioned aphorism as pretentious, as a claim to immediate understanding of all metaphysical insights. But rather, Nietzsche understood that mystical understandings of the world precisely work from taking what is everyday ordinary experience and making it uncommon. We all have experienced those moments (which may be profoundly uncomfortable) where suddenly we see something we thought we knew very well and suddenly it seems frightening or strange.
  4. Human beings only learn through experience. The constant sensory flux of information, combined with the overwhelming amount of stuff that is in the world and the fact that the world is always changing, means we only learn through repetition. (Oh there’s that thing again- what was it called? Cow!)
  5. This is what Tantric Buddhism or Zen means by the fact that ordinary mind is the basis for everything, or rather, why the ordinary itself is brought out as something to be exalted. Because behind what we view everyday, if we alter our perception, are entire worlds. Like in the scene at the beginning of Blue Velvet by David Lynch, where a dead man is laying on the ground, and they gradually begin to zoom into his ear, and one begins to see the bugs crawling on the grass. Behind our normal human way of viewing the world, there are things that are normally beyond our perception.
  6. Much of the unseen world has been conquered by humanity, through microscopes, telescopes, infrared detectors, or simply exploring places that were ignored, forgotten, or previously uncharted in our own world, like the bottom of the ocean. Most of the world is now aware of things that are invisible- how incredible is that! Things like viruses, bacteria, etc. Therefore, one day, humanity will not only be aware of levels below that of the microbiological (the protein, DNA), but one day organic chemistry will also become ubiquitous, even though it is generally still specialized knowledge.
  7. Most of the world is aware of the atom, probably because of the advances in nuclear physics that led to nuclear reactors and the atomic bomb. But the quantum world is so new of a discovery, that humanity hasn’t had time to situate it into its understanding of the world. With discoveries of phenomena like the Planck length, we have seemingly hit the bottom of the barrel. History should show us that there is no bottom of the barrel. The human can transcend the human, but not through merging with technology. Humanity will simply no longer apply to what we have become.
  8. Through all of the change that humanity has undergone, we are still mortal beings of flesh and blood for whom death is no abstract concept, but an ever-pressing reality. Science will not save us from this. But perhaps now the difference is this- in days gone by humanity accepted the infinite, made peace with it. Now it stands as a dark chasm that is both threatening and a challenge waiting to be explored. The question now is- will we, or have we, already reached those limits? Is knowledge of humanity’s theoretical limitations a prerequisite for a full understanding of what it means to be human?
  9. Heidegger undertook a project of full ontological understanding of Being, through the lens of understanding humanity, or Dasein. One was necessary for the other. Dasein is fundamentally, for Heidegger, a being towards death. If this is Dasein’s fundamental nature, can other aspects of Dasein be changed? Our lifespan? The way we act in the world? The way we relate to each other as a species?
  10. I think of Star Trek every time I want to understand what humans could be someday. The Vulcans are just a picture of what we could become, a society wholly based on logic, with an understanding of who they are in the cosmos. As knowledge continues to build over time, could we not, in some sci-fi future, approximate the Vulcans? Couldn’t all of humanity be given, from the time of birth, the tools to go through the world and all knowledge from prior generations, like the Vulcans do in their Science Academy? In my mind, what humanity has yet to achieve is a kind of worldwide planetary society.
  11. A worldwide planetary society would not be homogeneous, or tell everyone what to do. But it would instead allow the entire world to thrive, and create an end to things like hunger through automatic restitution of lost crops due to natural disasters, etc. It would require basically a UN that we pay taxes to, and is fully functional with no dominance of one nation (cough cough the United States). Only then could humanity look back collectively on our dark past and basically say- what the hell happened?
  12. Zizek is right when we say we need to go further and not admire local organization. We need new international solutions to our problems- international laws with real teeth, levels above the state level that can coordinate things with a degree of actual consistency. As it is, our fledgling attempt at world order has failed- it did not stop Rwanda, it did not Bosnia, or Darfur. And it certainly won’t stop Syria, because we have yet to let go of the doctrine of national sovereignty

DINOS (Democrats in Name Only)- The Deathknell of America

 

Senator Dianne Feinstein votes with Trump a third of the time. I repeat, a third of the time! Her Joe Manchin, and company give new meaning to the term “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

The spotlight on Donald Trump has clothed the Republican party in an air of hypothetical “decency” in comparison, based purely on rhetoric alone. They are all just as corrupt. Every single one of them.

And I’m tired of the asinine, school-boyish type of politics, where Trump says a dirty word, or says something stupid, and we all gawk. Oooh, gasp! Grow up and read something about policy.

The defenders of the establishment will always come back and say “but Trump! The decorum, where’s our decency, o my lord!!” *Cue fainting* O my heavens, golly gee willakers!

Please.

That doesn’t mean we have to lower the terms of debate and become as crude as our opponents. But it means we have to seriously think about what’s actually wrong with our country, what’s BEEN wrong with our country, long before Trump came into office. We have to think about the structural reasons that gave us Trump! *Hint hint its the electoral college and gerrymandering*

On a serious note, the electoral college, gerrymandering, money in politics- all of these fall under one rubric, systemic corruption, or what my adviser likes to call structural corruption (as an analog for structural violence). If you know anything about structural violence, its the violence that is caused by those in power to keep the status quo the way it is, and violence is understood in a broader sense. Structural violence is the daily misery and poverty that we face in our inner cities, the exploding prison population, or so the buzzword goes, the “school to prison pipeline”.

The only candidate who was serious about ending funding and kickbacks for private prisons (and outlawing them) was Bernie Sanders. The military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex- all perpetuated by structural corruption.

In a Marxist framework, does the ideological-state apparatus, or hegemony, or whatever you want to call it, insure that the bourgeois state will always reproduce itself until there is revolution? Yes, but I’m not willing to accept that that revolution has to be violent, as the election of Salvador Allende in Chile showed (as long as its not undermined by the CIA).

Feinstein, just like Trump, and just like Clinton, is controlled by the elite, and everyone knows it, but some aren’t willing to admit the problem. I have yet to find a serious middle class Clinton supporter (or I should say anti-progressive Democrat) willing to admit that that isn’t the case. They just DON’T CARE. All history is the history of class struggle. I’m sorry if that scares the socks of the older elite, but I really don’t care!

They didn’t believe students when they protested the Vietnam War, they will always look down upon us. Elitism and snobbery is the name of the game in this country- poor whites look down on poor blacks, etc. Its what perpetuated segregation and Jim Crow. People like to feel they are superior to other people, even when they just profit off an unfair system, and found themselves in a good position in life. Class is always perpetuated by nepotism.

So once again, I tell my friends who are unwilling to embrace the socialist label- embrace it! Its what they fear the most! It has always been the hope of a true emancipatory politics, there is no shame in it, because socialism represents the vision of a society that takes care of all its people, not just in name only. It is a society that doesn’t let you, or your mother, go bankrupt when you get sick (which still happens in America- thanks Obama).

If you are frightened by what Trump represents, and what he means for your family, I ask you to extend your heart even further, to those innocent lives bombed by drone strikes that are kept in place by complicit Democrats, to those who were foreclosed on and became homeless through no fault of their own in 2008, to those in North Korea who still languish under the banner of “sane foreign policy” and are starved by an imperialist embargo.

A socialist vision is a world without oppression, a world where we take seriously what Martin Luther King said, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. A world where we no longer suffer under what MLK called the triple evils of our world: Racism, Imperialism, and Poverty (or Capitalism). Trump represents a strengthening of that first evil. But we should not ignore our complicity in the other two.

 

More socialist ramblings

http://www.leftvoice.org/From-Farce-to-Tragedy-Zizek-Endorses-Trump

The ad hominems continue…

If you follow that link, you will find another half-assed attempt to discredit Zizek and a bogus argument for why he is wrong about Trump and accelerationism. Here is just some of the genius:

“Trump is a loaded, unknown package for the ruling class which is precisely what has made Markets and most sections of the US ruling elite fear him. ”

So that’s why the Stock Market went up in value and continues to climb. Sure Trump represents a degree of instability in the market, but there is no elaboration, no citing of evidence in the critique. The predicted market crash has not come, even though the dollar is expected to lose value. And why? Well the market is based on speculation, like all predictions about Trump. Their guess is not a unified guess. Trump definitely represents a gain for Big Oil, symbolized by his unabashed support for the Keystone XL and DAPL pipelines and his appointment of Rex Tillerson. Considering that Big Oil represents some of the top 10 biggest companies in the world, including Exxon, I expect “most sections of the ruling elite” aren’t as anti-Trump as they think. The situation is perfect, the capitalist personified is power. Those who have the ability to see it have already seen it. The Koch Brothers represent an exception that may give the opposing argument a chance.

Misrepresenting Zizek’s position as “endorsing the far-right” notwithstanding, what does this kind of Leftist position mean, this idea of unified opposition to Trump? Is it the authentic moment we have been looking for? It certainly *feels* like that to some, but then again, politics has always been the realm of dashed hopes and dreams. The audacity of hope should always be questioned.

So the question is, is Zizek too optimistic? Will Trump lead to a resurgence of a radical Left in 2020 and beyond? It should be recognized that Trump is considered a deviation from the normal, and Americans do want change, but a kind of pseudo-change. A certain section of liberal voting class is quite comfortable without shaking things up. The only chance of success seems to be a sort of revenge motive, to get back at Hillary’s wing for letting Trump win, thereby letting the progressives win. These sort of psychodynamics drive American politics, ressentiment and resentment. If this feeling of genuine outrage can be channeled, a left-wing populism can emerge, one that is genuinely frustrated with the DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN parties for not delivering. Even Trump voters will switch over, if caught up in Bernie mania.

Of course, this isn’t enough, but its a start. A start to the end- a foreseeable end to adventurism. The glimmer of hope I see on the horizon- if Americans can protest in airports all across the nation in defense of foreigners who can’t enter the country, they can protest against our interventionism and endless war. They just need to be reminded of what has been there all along- and guilt, I find, is a good psychological tool for awakening this kind of consciousness.

What needs to happen subjectively in the minds of the populace? A kind of psychological shift from rage to compassion? A shared sense of struggle? Perhaps rage and compassion need to come together. Perhaps a politics based on fear and anger is what gives Zizek an ill feeling about the anti-Trumpers, with the accompanying feeling of paranoia. “Will he drop the nukes?” we all wonder. Maybe we need to question why we have nukes at all. We need to move from a political moment to a critique of the broader SYSTEM. Therefore, by definition, the anti-Trump movement as such cannot represent an authentic political revolution. It is only an attempt to return to the status quo as it is- and what we need to wake up to is the pressing reality that what allowed Trump to happen in the first place NEEDS TO BE ERASED

A diversity of struggles need to be integrated. The fight against the military-industrial complex, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Wall St.- in short, capitalism itself. In other words, the government is not the primary enemy. It is the pullers of the puppet strings- and we need to remember that

 

Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky: Moral Vectors in current politics

A recent half-debate or exchange of heated emails between atheist author and public intellectual Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith) and famous Leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky exploded over the internet this past year. Followers of Sam Harris’ intellectual career in the past couple years have noticed his resurgence as a popular opinion leader due to his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher in the months leading up to the election, his series of talks with Cenk Uygur, Maajid Nawaz, and his string of recent video blogs and blogs on political topics.

The crux of their half-debate was on the topic of Islamic terrorism, a topic chosen by Harris. Harris maintained that Islamic doctrine is the main cause for Islamic terrorism and tactics like suicide bombing are built into the logic of the Qu’ran. Chomsky tried shifting the debate to the terrain of US policy in the Middle East. Somewhere in there Harris called Chomsky an Islamic apologist, Chomsky called Harris ignorant about US history (in effect). Sam Harris’ argument against Chomsky is long and complicated, so I’ll link to it at the end of the article. Basically, Harris distinguishes between actors in Middle Eastern conflicts based on intention. Harris believes that one can say with certainty that Bush had “good misguided intentions”, and Hussein was an evil dictator in Iraq. Chomsky and Harris spend most of the email exchange arguing about the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan authorized by President Clinton. Harris is on the side of Clinton thinking that there were chemical weapons at this plant. Chomsky goes on to demonstrate, in delicious detail (already published!) why this is not the case.

For the amount of time Harris later spends claiming his detractors are moralizing, I find this argument nothing but moralizing. That term itself is cheap- its a moral debate, aren’t we inherently moralizing? Furthermore, Harris claims later that we should not foolishly label people racists or bigots and shut down the conversation. Harris’ idea that Bush’s intentions are completely pure in the Middle East seems to me to be naive, but I will humor his argument more. If on the basis of moral intentions, we judge these actors in the sphere of foreign policy, Hussein=bad, America=good. But does intention completely justify the actions that come after it? Harris at times comes off as a weird sort of utilitarian (I will get back to this point later). It seems that stupid justifications of imperialism come with the territory of Mill-style utilitarianism, so this is fitting.

In his article, Harris mentions the My Lai massacre to argue that what distinguishes us from our current enemies is that “as a culture, we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents. We would do well to realize that much of the world has not” (Harris blog). Clearly, given the fact that this blog post was written in 2015, after Guantanamo Bay and after evidence has clearly shown that orders from higher ups were given in for torture in Abu Ghraib, this argument rings hollow for many Americans. Which Americans have outgrown our tolerance for deliberate torture? Certainly not Trump supporters…

Harris throughout his debate seems intent on believing that America has the best of intentions, and our enemies only the worst. In terms of the My Lai massacre, this was certainly horrific, but it is prescient that Harris leaves out Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia and other acts of terrorism by the United States. These acts were so horrific that we can almost forgive Chomsky for thinking that reports of Pol Pot’s genocide were exaggerated US propaganda.

Here’s an idea- what if the moral terrain is NOT BLACK AND WHITE. What a concept.

Some background on Harris. Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, became well known for his hard hitting anti-theist stance, based on the idea that religion is based on an attempt to fool the public into believing things that are essentially irrational, and that religion is the cause of many ancient and modern problems. His central thesis is that fundamentalism is the only honest form of a religion, because any religion that admits the supernatural must take this literally or be hypocritical. He makes a series of accusations that Islam in particular is a religion based on a conquest narrative, although he says Christianity at certain points in its history also had this strain of belief.

These arguments of course are no more original than Feuerbach and even a certain strain of Marxism, although he delves into the neuroscience of belief and other topics. With current political events about Islamic terrorism being what they are, it is only natural that Sam reemerge as the “voice of reason” not afraid to denounce Islam for what it is: a warlike ideology fueled by irrational beliefs.

I read this book when I was fairly young: 13 or 14, and I found the arguments pretty convincing at the time. Although I was young, I still hold that Harris does not pull punches when it comes to his argument. The fundamentalism question is still an intriguing thought problem. However I think it rests upon an assumption: an assumption that there can’t be a “legitimate” interpretation of a religion that is non-dogmatic and open to questioning. It has been argued that early Buddhism, which was also non-theistic, had this kind of character, when Buddha talks about testing his words like the purity of gold to determine if they suit your mind.

The “ideological mystification”/superstructure argument upon which Harris’ argument is based lacks the cultural-historical or context dependent analysis which has challenged the standard rationalist idea of religion as superstition and means of deception. Harris even lacks the classic Marxist depth of assuming that religion is a tool used by the owning classes to control the proleteriat, or the soul of a heartless world. Harris’ argument isn’t so much anti-organized religion or anti-clerical as anti-religion in all its forms. This is where our opinions diverge. The Absolute primacy of the atheist argument over the deist argument philosophically is not self evident to me either (neither is the other way around). But I digress.

Harris is a part of the growing new school of New Atheism or militant atheism. This community of people, I claim, has taken Sam Harris as a thought leader in the field of politics as well as religion. His analysis about Islam and terrorism has found support among the ranks of people who find the “dominant” narrative about multiculturalism and the idea of religions all being peaceful to be a cheap lie told to the public, a PC fabrication meant to maintain the status quo. For these New Atheists, Islam is seen as a bastion of bad ideas, from backwards ideas about the role of women in society to how to treat members of religions other than Islam.

The proof is in the pudding of the Qu’ran for Harris. He cites passages that run the gamut from stoning the infidel to the right to have slaves. While these passages ARE atrocious, they also ignore the context of the era in which the Prophet Muhammad lived, not to mention the context of modern day Islam, in which, despite the human rights abuses against women in parts of the fundamentalist Islamic world, such as Saudi Arabia, slavery is no longer acceptable (unless it is forced labour in Dubai by migrants, but that has more to do with capitalism than Islam).

In effect, I think Sam Harris is a bad anthropologist. He ignores the context in which the mujahideen, which would later become Al Qaeda, arose (the Soviet-Afghan War, in which Osama bin Laden’s forces were trained famously by our CIA). He ignores the context of the revival of fundamentalism in Iran (again due to CIA-backed overthrow of a democratically elected government). The entire history of the Middle East is stained with the history of colonialism, so deep that the motivations of Islamist fighters against the “evil West” are not evident, maybe even to themselves.

It boggles my mind that when Sam Harris makes the moral argument that Islam is to blame when it comes to terrorist willingness to use suicide bombers, that when we do the same thing and allow civilians to be killed in an attack by drones, or wholesale bombing as in the case of the Iraq War, he does not blame our ideology, he does not blame Christianity for example. Or better yet, he does not blame the doctrine of American exceptionalism. In fact he leaves out our moral failures entirely, or brushes them off as irrelevant.

Now, Sam Harris makes the compelling argument that this is a false equivalency, but there are huge problems with this argument. One is that one can view ISIS tactics against the West as simple total war retaliation tactics against an occupying force. This is anathema in conservative circles to even mention, due to the horrific nature of the terrorist bombings, and they are horrific. But one must question the moral logic of a Just War and acceptable losses entirely to come to that conclusion. The moral weight of overwhelming civilian casualties by American forces in Iraq or Palestine seems not to have hit Sam Harris as deeply as bombings closer to his own place of abode.

It seems over and over that Sam Harris speaks from a positioned subjectivity, and his knowledge of politics is pidgeon-holed by the “popular” political discourse. Whatever is on CNN is the topic of the day. This is shoddy thinking at best, and get everything wrong at its worst. To ignore history and view any event is to be blind. It is all to easy to come to easy morally appealing conclusions about Islam and the clash of cultures. The only problem for Harris is that the Islamic world just needs to adopt our values. This smacks of colonialism to many people in the Middle East, from pan-Arabists to the small but still present community of radical Leftists.

But in Sam Harris-land, liberals ignore hard truths about different value systems in the Middle East that just aren’t compatible with our values. I could go ON AND ON about this debate, but it basically just boils down to Harris believing that liberals’ “PC culture” has eroded critical thinking about Islam. Bill Maher, normally a staunch liberal and quasi-progressive, has been lately the poster child for this kind of anti-PC liberalism. An atheist himself, he falls into Harris’ camp and has been for years on the question of Islamic fundamentalism. Frankly, this resonates with American voters for good reasons, because Islamist terrorism remains a real threat in the minds of American voters who seek security and peace.

Too often though have the desire for peace and security allowed us to use questionable tactics in the war on terror that have just fueled the fires of the enemy. Even Bill Maher, who most of the time is staunchly anti-war, has not taken Obama to ask enough for continuing the several wars he promised to pull out of. Our current bombing of Yemen and the hospital in Sana’a that was destroyed by American-funded Saudi Arabian bombers is continued proof of our less than noble role in the region. Obama not only did not fully pull out of the countries he was supposed to, he expanded the fight to Libya, where he took out Muammar Gaddafi in a move totally equivalent Bush’s deposition of Saddam Hussein. This pattern of regime change seems inescapable to those currently in power. Obama has served as a “neo-con lite” for liberals to feel not guilty about. In fact, conservatives should be ecstatic about President Obama, who dropped so many bombs over the course of his presidency in the Middle East the army ordered that they could not continue due to low supply.

Conservatives, neo-cons, and Harrisites continue to justify our engagement in the Middle East by the phrase “we are at war”. The phrase “we are at war” is not a neutral phrase. Far from being a statement of fact, it is a call to continued engagement. For neo-conservatives, if we aren’t on the offense in a fight against terrorism (which is by no means a war in the traditional sense of the word), we will never win. Chomskyian analysis of foreign policy in the Middle East leads to the conclusion that peace in the region, whether it is the conflict in Palestine or Yemen, has to be won *gasp* by de-escalation. Harris’ arguments for viewing Islam as the primary reason for the reason that these people fight against us is not a neutral argument in terms of the ontological question of what we should do in the Middle East. It assumes an uncompromising Other which must be defeated, instead of a complex process of radicalization that involves a complex interplay between economics, politics, and religion. Many Islamist resistance fighters in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East for example, are explicitly anti-imperialist, while maintaining their allegiance to an Islamist creed. In other words, they are desperate and driven into the hands of the radicals, who they see as courageous enough to defeat their enemy and a desperate chance at a better life. Islam also provides a sense of community and common culture for which to strive for and is deeply rooted in the everyday life of the people.

In my mind, we must Courageously do what is right, and that is refuse to bomb the Middle East in order to stop the bleeding. Peace through strength did not ended well in the 20th fight against communism, and I believe it will not against Islamic terrorism. Harris seems all too willing to ask “tough moral questions” in regards to people that he has never met, and has not dared to question the establishment narrative surrounding Middle Eastern conflicts. It does a disservice for him to pretend that he is in in any way a foreign policy expert, or “just trying to have a dialogue” with Chomsky, in order to push this anti-Islam narrative that has been latched onto by populist right wingers, the alt-right in particular, Trump supporters, and the anti-immigrant Right.

What does Harris get right? In my mind, Harris is right about some things for the wrong reasons. Just like many Americans, he has bought the conservative narrative anti-political correctness, an argument that should not be underestimated, because it narrowly won Trump the presidency. Harris makes the argument on his podcast that Trump won (partially) because of liberal political correctness. I have listened to people in polling stations, and random places around the country, and one theme I hear over and over for why someone voted Trump was fear of terrorism; in this respect Harris is correct. “He will defeat ISIS” they say. He does get something right- there is a certain culture on the Left that does not denounce human rights abuses in countries like Saudi Arabia as forcefully as it should. Harris is right about political correctness, but in a way only slightly more aware than conservatives.  Harris is channeling the anti-PC vector in current politics and has some interesting points to make. But I must in the end disagree with him in the end.

But Harris is wrong because the values he claims to defend are undermined by his willingness to entertain logic (such as his thought experiment about torturing terrorists in a ticking time bomb scenario in his End of Faith book) that goes against Western values, humanist and Christian values, and willing to go down the path of being a talking head about Islam and foreign policy, with no end in sight. Its almost as if Harris is shy about some of his political beliefs, that he is a closet anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic, and just does not want to alienate his liberal fanbase. I think he is simply confused about the matter, and decided to vote for Hillary Clinton, and probably thought that Bernie Sanders was a nutcase on foreign policy.

Harris needs to do some serious soul-searching about the direction of his career as a  public intellectual. Make no mistake Sam Harris: those that follow you on social media and repeat your arguments are not enraged anti-PC liberals, they are conservatives, alt-righters, and Trump supporters. They hound the comment sections of your videos. They dominate the conversation surrounding it. The stupid anti-PC anti-SJW culture on the internet has bred and attracted misogynists, racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and outright bigots. Those on the staunchly PC side sometimes aren’t the most politically savvy bunch (see my article on Pop Politics articles), but they can claim to staunchly defend the rights of minorities in a day where one religious minority, Muslims, have seen hate crimes against them SPIKE in the rise of Donald Trump.

Harris is one step from normalizing Donald Trump in this regard. In my mind,  the complete moral higher ground of the United States in the realm of the wars in the Middle East is a foolhardy assumption until we stop ALL BOMBING. If we truly want to be better than our enemies, pacifism is the standard we should hold ourselves to.

In my mind, current political narratives are always a double blackmail. “If you hate Trump, you have to like Hillary Clinton”. “If you like Trump, you must be against mainstream conservatives”. The narrative is confused because the ideological lens through which any story is presented is not always clear. In reality, the similarities between Trump and Clinton, or Republicans and Democrats, is too close for comfort for many to admit.

In my mind, in regard to being PC, Democrats and Republicans are both wrong. Liberals sometimes do underestimate our enemies (ISIS, etc.) while Republicans are not afraid to saber rattle. When Russia hacks into our election system, some liberals are quick to make excuses or deflect and not believe Putin is capable of this (our future President is under this assumption as well). But we also should not listen to the likes of Lindsey Graham and turn this situation into another Cold War. In a recent Senate hearing on the Russian hacks, Sen. Lindsey Graham said that “I would do much more than Obama”, and is “ready to throw a rock”. This kind of saber rattling is exactly the kind of thing that actually got Trump elected with regards to Russia. Russia is not and should not be at war with us, either by proxy in Syria or elsewhere. I do not think we should be allied with them either. I think Obama’s step toward sanctions is the right choice for some of the wrong reasons (where were the sanctions after Russia bombed civilians in Syria? Oh wait we are doing that too…).

Russia and America both do not have the higher moral ground here. The two sides of the Cold War are equally culpable for current historical trends in the Middle East. When it comes to the foreign policy of mainstream Democrats, mainstream Republicans, and Trump, give me NONE OF THE ABOVE. Trump is still far closer to a moderate Republican than many realize in terms of foreign policy. We should never normalize bigotry and racism. But if we truly want to not normalize him, we should acknowledge that we should never have normalized our imperialist aggression in the Middle East. Those lives can never be reclaimed.

I don’t expect Sam Harris to convert to Chomsky’s view on foreign policy. But I am of the opinion that he shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight again, because he got destroyed in that debate. However I do believe if Harris had a dialogue with Leftist intellectual Slavoj Zizek, they would have a more fruitful and productive debate, specifically about Islam, terrorism, and political correctness. Zizek has written extensively about problems regarding Western intentions in the Middle East and political correctness for example. There are more contradictions in this realm than meets the eye, particularly in regards to humanitarian justifications for intervention. I believe that Harris is probably too easily swayed by the humanitarian argument for intervention. I expect Harris to lean further to the Left if he is given a chance to stand on equal footing with someone, unlike the Chomsky debate. Chomsky was being somewhat uncharitable with him, but probably because Chomsky kept having to explain things that he had already published in detail. Then again, if Harris can’t see our clear moral failure in Iraq by now, I don’t know what will change his mind.

Sources: 

https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-limits-of-discourse

Electoral College Reform NOW

“We don’t want California and New York to decide our elections” they say. Nope, instead you want a couple of swing states to decide the elections. One vote should be one vote!!!

Thus a lone youtube commenter acts as the voice of reason against the army of troglodytes who refuse to think outside the bounds of established reason. I believe there are a basic set of principles that would make someone against electoral college reform, and is partly responsible for why it hasn’t happened yet. Hypothetically, if 100% of the American people were for it, there would be almost no likelihood that they would vote for a Congress who is opposed to it in majority. Sadly, we have some reactionaries who are actually for this outdated vestige of the era of slavery. Why? Let’s enumerate the reasons.

  1. Pure ignorance- I’m not talking about ignorance in terms of someone having the opposite opinion as me which automatically makes them more stupid than me. No, according to a Washington Post poll, 52% of Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote. Just outright won it. Not when you don’t count California or illegal immigrants (an outright lie by the way). No, just 52% of them BELIEVE he won the popular. Either they are completely ignorant of the electoral college, or living in a fantasy bubble whereby somehow Hillary manipulated the vote but Trump somehow won anyway? I chock it up to sheer ignorance, because 60% of non-college educated Republicans believe it as opposed to 31% of college educated Republicans.
  2. Self-interest- This is a reason I can’t really argue with on intellectual grounds. If you are a Republican, and you want the electoral college to stay because you know it gives more chance to Republicans, you are right. Just like how gerrymandering and purging voter lists also helps certain candidates. Problem is, you can’t claim to be for it intellectually and self-interestedly. Can’t have your cake and eat it too. So if you have one single shred of integrity, if you fall into this category, don’t claim that the electoral college is a good thing. Its just good for you
  3. Buying into crappy arguments/”the Founding Fathers”/”Federalism”- So I’ll chock this one up into a combination of crappy reasons and a sense of patriotism that involves never questioning authority. As one defender of the electoral college says, “its Civics 101 man, California and New York shouldn’t decide the election”. Ok: hypothetically, lets say New York and California each gained a million more people next year. Well the electoral college provides for them to get proportionally more electoral votes. Lets say California and New York each became so large that they would decide the election anyway. Well, do you still maintain that they shouldn’t decide the election if they have more people than majority of the country? Will you stand by your defense of rural states should matter, even if there is only 10 people in that state? Take Wyoming for example. Wyoming has a population of 584,153 people as of 2014. The city of El Paso has a larger population than Wyoming! I don’t see the state of El Paso getting 3 electoral votes anytime soon. **As it stands, the electoral college is nowhere near proportional to state population** If the number of electoral college votes was determined purely by proportion of population, Texas would have approximately 16% more electoral votes, and California would have 20% more. DO THE MATH. In short, the only reason people don’t accept that one vote should equal one vote in electing the highest office of our government is because they believe somehow “states rights” have to be protected. Sound familiar? Cough Cough the Confederacy. But in reality, they aren’t being infringed upon under a popular vote system. Their vote would count just as much as the next guy. In reality, the people whose votes don’t matter right now are- 1/6 of Texans, 1/5 of Californians, and arguably people that don’t vote for the majority party in non-swing states. That’s right! All you Republicans in California and Oregon, all the Northeastern Ivy League Republicans, all you Tennessee Democrats- your vote would actually matter! No wonder people feel as if their vote doesn’t matter- it doesn’t under the current system!
  4. Internet memes- this is a separate issue, but its pertinent. All of the sudden right after the election, I couldn’t believe. Hillary’s numbers kept rising and rising, provoking almost no outrage. Eventually she led in the popular vote by 2.5 million. Now it will just be a footnote in history. In fact this is a democratic outrage. Built into our system of democracy is a fundamentally undemocratic system. This would be the scandal of the century in Europe, where even Brexit had to be passed to respect the will of the majority. So how did people justify it 3-4 days later? Internet memes spread by right-wing news sites. Yes, you heard me correctly, internet memes. All of the sudden the old arguments start coming out in cut down internet meme format. “2 states shouldn’t decide an election” “If you come from these counties (shows map of rural states who vote Republican) you’ll understand why cities shouldn’t decide everything”. These memes basically are gut appeals to emotion- I’m from rural Kansas, that makes sense to me! In short, its parochialism writ large in 2016.
  5. No belief in democracy- There is also an argument I’ve heard defending the electoral college. “We were never meant to be a complete democracy, we are a representative democracy”. That’s right- you don’t make every foreign policy decision, the President, as our representative, does. That doesn’t mean the majority shouldn’t pick him! If you don’t believe in democracy, don’t defend the electoral college. It was made to satisfy Southern states, part of the same deal that got them the right to own slaves and the 3/5 compromise which gave them more representation equally 3/5 of the slave population. If you think the 3/5 compromise was unfair, then you should be against the electoral college, because everything the Founding Fathers put their hands on isn’t sacred. They were men, not gods.

In short, if the electoral college is abolished, your vote is exactly equivalent to anyone else’s vote. Not more, not less. Chances are, if you support it, it will give you even more voting power.

Don’t believe the establishment. Electoral College Reform NOW! I for one want my democracy back. If it continues, we live in a pseudo democracy. From a critical theory perspective, the electoral college is a system that maintains the current hegemony and gives people the illusion of power while simultaneously undermining it, an essential component of bourgeois democracy. That is how strongly I feel about this.

There will be those leftists among you who will say getting money out of politics or the class struggle is more important. Well, I say that you are probably correct, but this is an element of that struggle. By reforming these institutions, one can pave the way for larger social programs and efforts at reform. First, the people we elect truly have to be elected freely. We cannot sacrifice our will to the will of a party cadre. We must learn to live with American democratic institutions. Maybe someday we can get the Senate abolished as well and have only a House. Until that day, we must pick our battles wisely.

The problem with “pop politics” articles

Well I’ve done it already. I’m already going to write about Trump. No surprise there, he’s unavoidable.

Recently, I came across an article on the site “Everyday Feminism” that provoked a lot of questions for me. The article is titled “5 Gaslighting Phrases Donald Trump Used That Remind Me a Lot of My Abusive Ex”. Now I know what some of you are going to say. “But Stephen, why deliberately pick such easy targets of criticism?” As with any article from Salon or Buzzfeed, there’s more here than meets the eye in terms of the current zeitgeist.

This particular site has been a hub of popular Feminist writers, who pen articles on currently salient topics, often from an interesting range of perspectives. Sure, some of the writers may be amateur, but most of them have degrees and write for other magazines (this article in particular was written by Suzannah Weiss, “She is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Seventeen, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Bustle, and more.”). 

Nevertheless, the site, while aimed at a younger audience, often tries to tackle subjects such as sexism, racism, homophobia and trans issues, often with political undertones, but written from a “self-help” kind of perspective. Some article titles include “How to Compliment Women without Objectifying Them”, “5 Gender Neutral Alternatives to “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend”, and “But Seriously, Let’s Talk about Millenial Poverty”. Two things strike me about these articles when I read them- they are at once personal, and from a “social justice” perspective. They attempt to integrate lifestyle choices with a liberal/social justice mentality. Many people (critics of political correctness) will immediately dismiss these sites and communities as “social justice warriors” and be done with it. However, there is an emerging identity/community of people like this, many of them LGBT, people of color, or women in the US, who take this kind of thing very seriously. People are trying to apply concepts originally drawn from sociology like “intersectionality” and apply it to their lives. What’s the harm in that, my inner lib says?

The problems I see with these “social justice pop articles” that have recently been ubiquitous on the internet are multiple.

First, it perpetuates a certain standard liberal narrative without any introspection. In terms of this article about Trump, it focuses on the racism/sexism angle of Trump’s candidacy. While these are undeniable aspects of Trump’s candidacy, and the article provides provides effective counterarguments to Trump’s own arguments about why it wasn’t important to focus “pussygate”, several things in this article are very telling.

First of all, when addressing anticipated and real criticisms in the article, Weiss makes the following argument about political correctness. “Political correctness is just being considerate”, and denied accusations of being the “PC police”. This not only represents a heightened sense of awareness of exactly what type of discourse is being presented in these articles, it is interesting to see a defense of political correctness in and of itself (I’d be the first to guess that it would come from this site).

Is she right? To an extent. Critics of political correctness fail to remember that there are moral standards which we should hold people to in public discourse, most of all people in positions of power. Advocates of this PC culture also are correct in saying that sexism and misogyny have been so thoroughly internalized by the populace that they shut down any attempt to be considerate as being “politically correct”. I would go so far as to say every time Donald Trump has mentioned PC culture, he has used it as an excuse to target some minority group. This is hateful and frightfully alarming rhetoric.

But PC advocates also fail to recognize the complex political valences around the “political correctness” debate. This article is shoddy in its attempt to address current politics, first of all because it doesn’t attempt to be analytical, and was written from a personalistic perspective. The metaphor of gaslighting is supposed to carry over seamlessly into politics. She starts the article talking about how people are “traumatized” by this election. This is standard liberal waffling. Have hate crimes against Muslims gone up? Of course! I’m not attempting to delegitimize people’s feelings about this election. I too am VERY concerned about the direction this country is heading. But the sheer psychological impact of this election is reduced in this metaphor to a personalistic metaphor about an abusive relationship. First of all, let’s ignore the fact that a politician can’t “gaslight” in the normal sense of the word. Sure he can attempt to silence his critics (like every politician).

But how did Trump manage to pull out of his nosedive in the polls after “pussygate”? One reason may be that he controlled the policy narrative afterwards, while Clinton focused on Trump’s personal scandals. Just like Bill Clinton was able to get through his impeachment scandal and his poll numbers even went up, Trump was able to refocus the debate and appeal to voters on the basis of his ideas, not his character. Trump said “I’m not proud of my locker room talk. But this world has serious problems”. This resonated with many voters, working class people in Michigan and Wisconsin for example, who have been left behind by neoliberal policies. It sends the message- “I have my human failings, but I will be your defender in the halls of power”. Clinton could not have done more damage to herself by focusing on Trump’s scandals. Aside from quote “normalizing racism and sexism”, what impact could Trump’s words and actions those many years ago on a tour bus possibly have for a family of 5 in rural Kansas?

It is interesting that despite their apparent ideological difference, the writer of this article and Clintonites appeal to the same moral conservatism as Christian conservatives to discredit Trump. Whether this moral critique is true or not (and it certainly is true- Trump is a cancer to the state of decency in political speech), it is the populism of Trump’s message that is completely ignored in this article. Conservative voters or Trump voters will read the first line and think “oh the poor libs went crying to the hotlines after their candidate lost. They’ll get over it”. Simply put- this rhetorical strategy isn’t working. More talk about sexism and racism, mainstream media friendly topics (if it’s about a dirty word a politician said or a picture Anthony Weiner sent, it will make front page) will only serve to make Trump appear like the arbiter of common sense in politics who takes on out-of-control political correctness in public debate.

I do think liberals have to reclaim the side of morality and decency, and fight against sexism and racism. But taking such a complex political issue and reducing it to a metaphor about your relationship only serves to muddy the waters, and represents the problems with today’s mainstream liberal Left.

I’ll also say a quick word (and try not to be too harsh) about today’s “activist blogosphere”. Too often the articles seem to be aimed at an audience which already believes what they are saying. The debate around Trump in particular in social media has become hyperbolic, emotional, and lacks clarity or any attempt to be analytical. Forget comparisons of Trump’s win to Brexit- Trump is obviously winning because of my ex-boyfriend, racists, and other baddies.

 

http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/11/gaslighting-trump-abusive-ex/

What’s wrong with Social Democracy?

Take a look at this comic. It’s humorous (its actually very funny) I know, I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Even though it is a leftist comic, and I’m a Leftist, I believe it perfectly encapsulates what Ideology is.

What is Ideology?

Let’s take a few somewhat amorphous quotes from Slavoj Zizek:

“The stepping out of (what we experience as) ideology is the very form of our enslavement to it”

“Every ideology attaches itself to some kernel of jouissance which, however, retains the status of an ambiguous excess”

“The form of consciousness that fits late-capitalist “post-ideological” society – the cynical, “sober” attitude that advocates liberal “openness” in the matter of “opinions” (everybody is free to believe whatever she or he wants; this concerns only his or her privacy”

Let’s take the first quote. First of all, in and of itself, it’s very profound. Let’s say you have a political ideology. When you view things through the lens of your political ideology, and try to subject another’s ideology to your lens, then you are just enslaved to Ideology IN GENERAL.As in, if you say to yourself, “I have a viewpoint”, that viewpoint is fixed, solid, immutable. You are now trapped by ideology, you can now never question your dogmatic beliefs.

Now you chime in and say, “now Stephen, that’s quite unfair, anyone has the right to their opinion!”. This is a typical American statement. The third quote captures the problems with this belief. You can believe whatever you want! Ultimate freedom! What a great society we live in when we get to express and believe whatever we want! Underlying that whole belief structure is the belief that the society we live in has allowed us to form opinions that are rational in the first place. This is Foucault’s “Regime of Truth” problem if you will. At every moment, you have chosen to believe that what you believe is ultimately true and comes from yourself, without recognizing the ways society has influenced you to have a certain belief.

Now let’s ideologically analyze the comic using this method:

The cartoon is titled “Social Democracy in one Senate seat”. You see some young people watching Bernie Sanders speak. They have a preformed idea of what socialism is. The funny part comes from the juxtaposition of them being excited about “real” socialist ideas, then hearing old cranky Bernie talk about Norway and Sweden (which are still capitalist countries, strictly speaking). They walk away feeling depressed.

Here’s where you should start getting suspicious of this comic: the underlying message is- where’s the excitement??? I wanted real Socialism, not Larry David talking about how great the Scandinavian welfare state is! This is the “ideological kernel of jouissance [enjoyment]” Zizek talks about. Why were they disappointed? Bernie wasn’t ideologically pure! He wants a model from a country with a working economy and the highest standard of living in the world- what a sellout!

It’s almost as if the students were expecting him to say “Long live the Soviet Socialist Republic!” or something to that effect (I’m being unfair to the creator of this comic, I know that’s not the socialism he envisions). But it gives the reader with no knowledge of Leftism the impression…”what do those students actually want?”. This is the “Occupy Wall Street” problem, or the day after the revolution problem. Even though the comic does not go on, say to a different panel where they explain what kind of socialism they actually envision, you are left with the impression, “ok they disagree with Bernie because of his support of the invasion of Yugoslavia, and that jobs need to stay in America, and the military jets thing”. But that’s not what makes the comic funny. The underlying funniness is that Bernie is a lame old guy, he’s not “with” the real Leftism of the students.

So what about the positions Bernie advocates for on the podium. “Let’s keep jobs in America”. Well what’s wrong with that?

The problem with that statement in today’s PC culture is that it smacks of jingoism. The fact that Bernie is running for President of the US doesn’t make a difference. The fact that it would be a completely socialist policy of economic protectionism and intervention in the free market doesn’t make a difference. The reason it’s not a “pure enough” belief for the students is its all about America. The policy doesn’t “care” about the Third World enough. Now there’s a lot of ins and outs to what happens to other countries when free trade is adopted, but in general when companies outsource jobs, it exploits horrible labor laws in other countries and moves their factories over there. It kills jobs in the US, and overseas creates an economy based sometimes virtually on slave labor. It’s like when those on the far-left criticize Bernie for not being open borders- that position is very easy to take when you ignore the American economy. It is a position of extreme hypocrisy, where you claim to have the morally righteous position- the poor immigrants! All the while, a permanent underclass grows in America…that could be topic of a whole other long post on the immigration debate in the US. I’m willing to consider arguments from open borders people, but it seems to me that its too idealistic. And there would be nothing the capitalists would like more than for cheap labor to be able to migrate across borders at will. That’s not good for immigrants, its not good for us.

So either the students are pro-free trade socialists, because at least the poor Chinese children have jobs that way (an obvious contradiction), or they don’t think at all.

Let’s move on to the intervention in Yugoslavia. A true Leftist would never use the military!…would they? Obviously, from a hardcore non-interventionist perspective, the intervention was unjustified by its very nature. Unfortunately, this removes all context about the war in Yugoslavia (which I may write a whole other post about). The war in Yugoslavia was a war of aggression waged by a genocidal Serbian regime. Everyone agrees about that (if you are a sane person, and not brainwashed by the Serbian government). However, over the course of my internet adventures, I have encountered some strange pseudo-Leftists who argue that the intervention in Yugoslavia was a pretext by NATO against the completely innocent Serbian regime, who was actually going after Islamic terrorists. Ayiyi! I don’t have time to explain why that’s a complete crock of shit, anyone with any knowledge or time to watch an hour long documentary would know Milosevic was a genocidal maniac who wanted nothing more than to incorporate Bosnia into a greater Serbian state. The problem is, the people who that advocate position do so from a position of, “the American government is evil and has to be doing something wrong”. There are some who even claim NATO bombings killed more people than Milosevic! Do some research man!! These sort of gross ideological mystifications are the same sort of problems Chomsky ran into when he claimed the Khmer Rouge was being unfairly persecuted by the imperialist West and the genocide figures were inflated. It is true that the secret bombings of Cambodia were horrific. The problem comes when one equates that action under the Nixon administration, by all accounts a criminal administration, to the actions of the Clinton administration. “It’s all just imperialism” is a cop out.

Now would I have supported the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia? No, with some caveats. I think retroactively some sort of stronger UN intervention was necessary instead. But it is interesting how it is THAT issue that comes up over and over. It always seems to return to the Balkans, that bastion of ideological confusion. There were some who even claimed that the NATO intervention would just strengthen Milosevic’s hold on power- that didn’t end up occurring, but the fierce partisans of non-intervention in Serbia (coming at just the right time of an ethnic cleansing) seem to have held their tongues after the fact. No surprise that an actual committed leftist from the former Yugoslavia, was not as critical of the NATO intervention. He criticized NATO for depoliticizing the conflict on “humanitarian” grounds, but here’s what he said about its opponents:

“But it’s not only NATO that depoliticized the conflict. So has its opponents on the pseudo-Left. For them, the bombing of Yugoslavia played out the last act of the dismemberment of Tito’s Yugoslavia. It acted out the end of a promise, the collapse of a Utopia of multi-ethnic and authentic socialism into the confusion of an ethnic war. Even so sharp-sighted a political philosopher as Alain Badiou still maintains that all sides are equally guilty. There were ethnic cleansers on all sides, he says, among the Serbs, the Slovenes and the Bosnians. “Serbian nationalism is worthless. But in what respect is it worse than the others? It is more popular and it goes back further in time, it has more weapons at its disposal and in the past it doubtless had more opportunities to act out its criminal passions . . Certainly, Milosevic is a brutal nationalist, just as much as his colleagues in Croatia, Bosnia or Albania . . . From the beginning of the conflict the West has been on the side of the weaker nationalisms (the Bosnian, the Kosovar) and against the stronger nationalisms (the Serbian and, by means of subtraction, the Croatian).” (Zizek, NATO, the Left Hand of God).

So here, the specter of nostalgia for the old Communist bloc (or Tito’s Yugoslavia, which was outside Soviet influence) rears its ugly head. It begs the question: are the students in the comic secret Titoists who would throw Bernie in the gulag?

Here is where there is a kernel of truth in the comic for me. Social Democracy, in Europe, has failed to always not intervene in unjustified wars (Tony Blair invading Iraq), and has only promised to retain the welfare state, while all too often capitulating to the Right in their austerity policies. It’s “program” has failed to galvanize support- even the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour Party has not attracted enough support in Britain. So what is to be done, in the words of Lenin?

What is to be done is to recognize that Bernie Sanders represents a REAL alternative to the extremely conservative ideological atmosphere in the United States, in the Democratic and Republican party. And not to judge him on the basis of so-called purist principles and subject him to ridiculous ideological purity tests.

We should also to recognize that Social Democracy is not a cure-all alternative, and it has its own problems, but I believe they are largely the result of neoliberal influence into those parties. REAL social democracy, like in Norway and Finland, does and should work. That’s my view. The Left of today should not be so quick to judge those who fight the existing powers that be, completely removed from solving the concrete problems of today.