Uncontacted tribes: Dispelling exoticized misconceptions

With the North Sentinelese uncontacted tribe being in the news recently because of the high-profile killing of the missionary who foolishly tried to go to the island, I feel as an anthropology student who knows a fair amount about “uncontacted” tribes that I should try to get rid of the mystique and the exoticism surrounding the label “uncontacted”.

The North Sentinelese are perfectly aware of the outside world. An anthropologist actually briefly was allowed on the island in the 1970s. They choose to be isolated from the outside world to maintain their traditional way of life. Furthermore, they are some of the most vulnerable populations on earth due to lack of exposure to viruses like influenza, and are threatened by complete demographic collapse if they are contacted again.

Amazonian uncontacted tribes in particular have had more contact than they desire with predatory loggers and cattle ranchers. Survival International states about the Akuntsu tribe that, “Just five Akuntsu survive. One of the men, Pupak, has lead shot still buried in his back, and mimes the gunmen who pursued him on horseback. He and his small band of survivors now live alone in a fragment of forest – all that remains of their land, and their people.” Pupak’s wound is a daily reminder to him of how the outside world is pressing in on “uncontacted” tribes more every day. Often times, we never hear the stories of Pupak or other members of tribes that were previously “uncontacted”, tribes like the Guayaki or Atchei-Gatu that Pierre Clastres so beautifully renders in his ethnography Chronicle of the Guayaki. 

Therefore, it is unfortunate that just when a story about an uncontacted tribe makes front page headlines, one witnesses the same exoticization and sensationalism being perpetrated by the American media. Take a look at the difference between these headlines, one by CNN and one by the BBC:

‘You guys might think I’m crazy’: Diary of US ‘missionary’ reveals last days in remote island

Andamans: US man’s death puts spotlight on ‘tribal tourism’

It is evident that the second headline from the BBC avoids the sensationalism of spotlighting the diary of the missionary and focuses on the meaning behind the death and the plight of the people who killed this man. For some reason, CNN feels compelled to emphasize the “remoteness” of the island and immediately puts the reader in the position of the white Western missionary rather than the uncontacted tribe. While tragic, this positionality is disturbed by the BBC headline and instead goes deeper than the isolated incident by framing the issue of the Andaman Islands, this tribe, and this killing within the perspective of exploitative “tribal tourism”. Tribal tourism is just one extension of the exoticization of this high-profile tribe that eventually led this man to feel the need to bring the Gospel of Jesus to these “heathens”. While one could analyze at length what this means for contemporary evangelical Christianity or its relation to the history of evangelizing indigenous tribes and colonialism, one should not forget the specifically 21st century nature of this problem and the role the media plays in perpetuating it. Exoticization of tribal people is now demonstrably a deadly thing, and outlets like CNN should be more careful with how they portray sensitive and serious subjects such as these. CNN may be 24/7 news outlet that covers entertainment stories and serious news stories, but they should not sacrifice good journalism for eye-catching headlines and lack of rigorous analysis. Unfortunately, this is par for the course for an outlet like CNN, which has been criticized for being, like Fox News, “infotainment”. All credit to the BBC for writing an excellent piece on this subject. The BBC highlights that the North Sentinelese are continually put at risk by high levels of tourism to the Andaman Islands, with over 500,000 visitors to the island per year, and meanwhile this death reveals an ongoing problem with loosening restricted permit laws for tourists on the Andaman Islands.

If you would like to learn more about uncontacted tribes, visit this link from the leading tribal rights organization in the world, Survival International. The leader of Survival International also released a statement about the Andaman Island killing, stating:

““Tribes like the Sentinelese face catastrophe unless their land is protected. I hope this tragedy acts as a wake up call to the Indian authorities to avert another disaster and properly protect the lands of both the Sentinelese, and the other Andaman tribes, from further invaders.”

Finally, one should read about the Jarawa tribe of the Andamans to understand what the North Sentinelese could become. The “human safaris” that plague the indigenous tribes of the Andamans that have stopped resisting contact have introduced more than just diseases. Rapes by tourists, poaching, and logging now all threaten the way of life of the Jarawa. Further, attempts by the Indian government to completely assimilate the tribe into “mainstream” society are underway. In conclusion, when one writes an article about the North Sentinelese without mention of the Jarawa, like CNN did but the BBC thankfully did not, you are complicit in the destruction of this tribe. Shame on you, CNN.

 

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Politics as herd mentality: stepping back from the crowd

Can even an empancipatory political movement stifle the growth and development of an individual? Can microfascisms in a social group develop and completely dominate a particular subjectivity? I argue that particularly in terms of authoritarian socialism and to some extent in any political mass movement, this is not only encouraged but the modus operandi.

While not falling into Nietzschean extremes of denigrating the ideology of socialism as inherently a “slave morality”, the concept of the herd mentality should be resuscitated  by the critical philosophical project. Why? Because for many people caught in the snare of mass culture, politics is just part and parcel of that grand project of creating a mass culture. Liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism: these are all more than just political leanings. They are cultures, pastimes, and more importantly ways of life. They are modes of subjectivity that furthermore aim to completely take over the individual.

Above all, they are simply diversions, illusions of creating a perfect world. Sure, one of them (in my view non-authoritarian socialism) holds the keys to creating a structurally sound society, but often fixing society’s problems is the end-all and be-all of a political person’s life. But what do I mean when I say diversions?

I mean that when libidinal energy is invested in a political structure, the motive of that libidinal energy can not only be compassionate, but also a kind of dangerous ressentiment no matter what side of the political aisle you are on. Politics can make people do terrible things: it can warp and twist the mind to do things normally unthinkable in the name of “the greater good”. Perhaps we need to revitalize the “smaller good”. In this way, I partly disagree with Zizek’s re-prioritization of the global as opposed to the local. While issues like climate change certainly require global action and cooperation, one of the reasons why I believe the “postmodern condition” has been exacerbated is because of the continuing abstraction of daily life. The politicization of every aspect of life and the continuing complete totalization of life into the mediascape must be fought. Other, pre-modern forms of subjectivity should be encouraged and revitalized to this effect. In particular, attachment to the land, locality, folk belief, and religion is the last thing that the capitalist world order wants. The capitalist world order wants to eventually drown the entire world in one monoculture: it will not just adapt as Zizek believes. While there is a danger of new ethnic folk nationalisms, these are fast becoming anachronisms. The preservation of life as it has been, “folk life”, is a necessity to counteract the effects of globalizing monoculture. Politics is just one way in which one can become ensnared and forget life outside the comings and goings of Power.

When the comings and goings of History and Power seem too much for you- LET GO. Let go of it all. Watch it as the effervescent shadow play of kabuki theater. It is all impermanent, it means nothing. If you feel called to act, act, but still recognize that your actions are like drops of water on an endless beach: they will be washed away by the unrelenting tide of eternity.

This may seem nihilistic or defeatist, and I’m sure some will accuse of “New Age” ramblings, or worse of having the “privilege” to look at everything from a cosmic perspective. But more than that, I want people to be able to look at the rush and hustle and bustle and take a minute to go beyond the troubles of their lives or the world. Step back, and see what can be accomplished when you aren’t a part of a group or a crowd. Let life happen. Listen: be aware of the sights. I address this those I know in my generation who I would describe as brilliant, political people: let go. Find yourself. Stop trying for a moment to save the world. This generation has many troubles, and one of them I feel is the inability to really be with themselves. I hope- no, I pray- that they find some kind of spiritual life. To me, it does not matter what that is, but that is one reason why I feel that something is lacking in this generation compared to say the Boomer Generation. The Boomers tried to find themselves: the Beatniks, the hippies, the Eastern religious acolytes. Our generation seems only lost in comparison. Perhaps I am too quick to judge, but I feel that one of the culprits may be the overpoliticization of our lives. As part of the Iraq War generation, we feel that we have an obligation to rid ourselves of the bad politics of our forbears. I assent to this feeling. But there is a latent problem in this mentality as well, and that is the lack of inward focus necessary to achieving true individual development. When I look around, I see Deleuze’s prophecy coming true all the same, even if problem isn’t consumerism:

Dividuals. No individuals to be found

Trump is a symptom, not the disease

Why is Trump so terrifying for many people? Because he represents the ascendancy of the anti-immigrant far right to mainstream American politics. He is an almost openly racist President, as opposed to a closeted one.
But what is different about Trump that wasn’t already embodied in someone like Ted Cruz or the Tea Party? What’s scary about Trump is that he represents the non-“moderate” wing of the Republican party winning. McCain was a notorious “maverick” and spoke softly, and Mitt Romney also presented himself as a moderate. But those were lies.
Furthermore, past US presidents were also notoriously racist, and in recent memory Nixon particularly comes to mind. The war in Vietnam was a fundamentally racist endeavor. Reagan’s anti-welfare campaign was racist at its core (he popularized the term ‘welfare queen’).
And yet its the anti-immigrant xenophobic rhetoric and actions that make Trump the pariah in the mainstream media (CNN) and has polarized the nation. And yet, when Obama became dubbed “deporter in chief” it barely got any news coverage.
I’ve seen Trump top the list of worst presidents of all time after only 2 years in office. But it would be a victory for the right and for Trump if he managed to make us lose our collective historical memory and forget the horrible policies of the Bush and Reagan administrations. The scandals, the corruption, the racism: now its all out in the open. This is a boon for the left, not a doomsday scenario. The worst possible take from this is that we need to return to the “moderate center”. It was the moderate center that gave us Trump in the first place by their continual failures.
A hardline immigration stance has been a mainstay of Republican politics for many years. So why is Trump such an abominable figure? Why do people continue to absolve people like John McCain, who voted with Trump 83% of the time? If Trump is a nightmare, and McCain is a hero, then by that logic Trump is 83% hero.
The problem is, to the media, its style over substance, rhetoric over policy, sound bytes over reality. McCain was no leader of the resistance, and neither is Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi, who continue to kow tow to Trump’s demands for greater military spending and refused to fight when it came to his nominations for significant positions.
Trump is the symptom of the rot in American society, not the cause.
The veiled rhetoric of the Reagan administration (welfare queens) is being gradually replaced by overtly racist messaging. But at the same time, we should understand that the actions of the Trump administration fall under the historical category of protectionism, which has a long history in the US as well. It is not the first time immigration policy has been the focus of US politics (the Chinese exclusion act) nor will it be the last. As hard as it is for liberals to admit, illegal immigration is a problem, and as much we must be committed to the human rights of refugees and international migrants escaping poverty and war from third world countries, we must see it as a problem so we can attack the problem at its source. Illegal immigration is driven partly by US policies on trade and past US interference in Central and Latin American governments. This has continued to this day, with Hillary Clinton supporting a coup in Honduras in 2009 that drove instability in the region and caused a wave of migration from Honduras.
So in a bizarre way, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama helped get Trump elected!
Perhaps it was even more direct than that. Wikileaks released cables that provide evidence that Clinton ran what is known as the pied piper strategy because Clinton polled more favorably against far right candidates than moderates (because there isn’t that big of a difference between them).
To astute political historians and avid leftists, this all comes as no shock. What may come as a shock is that despite all this, we still need to work within the confines of the existing democratic system. That is where the legitimate fight is, and if you care about short-term policy victories as well as long-term political strategy, we still need to play the political game and defeat Trump electorally. Somehow, we should not kow tow to the “lesser of two evils” mantra that brought us to the situation we are in today. Nevertheless, we should realize that leftists can’t win every battle, and sometimes the ideological ground is not ripe for success. The majority of Americans supported the Vietnam War, for instance: there was a massive protest movement, but politics reflect the ideological state of a country. A revolution will never work if there is not the cultural groundwork for it.
Therefore, the ascendancy of social democrats and social democracy (and even the term “democratic socialism” is an immensely positive trend in American politics today. Not only does it represent a real political alternative to the politics of yesteryear, it is a starting point from which to achieve real radical change.
The recognition that the Trump administration represents something new and dangerous is a good thing for the previously “apolitical” American mind, but it is based fundamentally on an ideological obscuring of the real problems. Perhaps that is why Al Jazeera ran an opinion piece on the new Spike Lee movie BlackKKKlansmen that was a very strident and vehement critique. To some extent, the movie does feed into the larger liberal mentality of “Trump bad, Democrats good”. But the problem is that we shouldn’t completely dismiss what the Trump administration is: it is the ascendancy of the far-right. David Duke did endorse Trump. It is frustrating that blockbuster movies can’t focus on Palestine or other more disturbing human rights issues, but that simply wouldn’t make good material for a hit political comedy.
The truth is, Americans always look at their own problems first. Trump dominates every headline of CNN and MSNBC, and meanwhile Yemen is in tatters. World news simply doesn’t matter as much to the insular and largely content American populous. If Al Jazeera and a professor of Iranian studies is frustrated by lack of focus on imperialism, he should recognize that that is the uphill ideological battle that America has been fighting for a century. Imperialism is one of the fundamental contradictions of modern global politics: it is our collective blindspot, and this isn’t a uniquely American problem. Europe is also to blame. Tony Blair shares the blame with Bush for Iraq.
So as bad as Trump is, we should recognize that when viewed through the lens of foreign policy, there is no recognizable difference between him and any other administration. In fact, Trump may even be slightly better when it comes appeasement of North Korea, preventing conflict with Russia, etc.
The Trump-Russia story is the pinnacle of what is wrong with liberal politics today. A long and worn out legal battle involving Trump administration officials and an unlikely impeachment over “meddling” obscures the actual policies of Trump vis-a-vis Russia, which are largely hawkish. In Lacanian-Zizekian terminology, Trump-Russia represents the objet-petit-a, the unattainable desire, of the liberal establishment, and the traumatic kernel of the Real that America refuses to recognize continues to be our involvement in the Middle East during the Bush administration and beyond. The true weight of the moral atrocities that occurred there, and continue to occur there, due to the US and our imperialist meddling, have yet to be fully realized. Therefore, the “political awakening” to the Trump administration, and the rise in activism around it, is a mixed blessing, because it represents the possibility for further collective forgetting and mis-remembering.
To use a spatial analogy, things that occur in our own backyard, such as mass shootings, far right hate group protests, have a direct traumatic impact because they are imprinted into the American collective memory because of literal spatial proximity. The deaths of hundreds of thousands overseas, on the other hand, remain a statistic, separated by oceans and borders, only made real by TV broadcasts. The American collective imagination always lags by a few decades: the reason 911 was so traumatic was not only did it kill so many people, but America was open to outside attack after so many decades. Our lashing out at this king of offenses in Afghanistan and Iraq was the typical hysterical reaction: an eye for a leg. It is the logic of revenge writ large, born out by America’s fundamentally xenophobic ethos. Our borders are sacred, our sovereignty is supremely sacred, so much so that we can violate other countries sovereignty to maintain our own. In short, it is the logic of America First. 
Thus, we should recognize that while Trump is vocalizing the axiomatic of American exceptionalism and supremacy, this logic was inherent to American politics and history, perhaps since the beginning (Manifest Destiny). Trump is a rule, not an exception, the logical culmination of centuries of American history. It is traumatic only because it is subjectively experienced as a present reality and because it is not viewed in the proper historical context. The present is always more shocking than the past: the immigration crisis is more worrying than Vietnam, because it already happened. But if we want to get out of this mess, we need a properly materialist and firm grasp of history (perhaps even a dialectical one).
Is Trump a fascist? Yes, but Nixon was a fascist, and Reagan was a fascist, and so was Obama and Clinton too. They are all fascists of one form or another, if we are going to play lose with terminology. More aptly put, the American system is more fundamentally authoritarian than the establishment would like you to believe. This should not create more political apathy, but a truly revolutionary change from within: within our consciousnesses and minds, in order to break the chains of mental enslavement to the status quo

Skeptic Magazine’s beef with Sam Harris’ view on torture

Skeptic Magazine’s “Torture Doesn’t Work”

You would expect that an avowedly atheist magazine editor would have “hawkish” views on terrorism and torture like the current guru of the New Atheists, Sam Harris. However, in this video, Skeptic Magazine’s Michael Shermer presents a morally courageous view on torture. My problem with the “New Atheists”, particularly Harris, have always been their conflation of their particular politics and with their notion of being heirs to the Enlightenment and their self-proclaimed rationalism. Nothing screams “Enlightenment” more than apologetics for the Iraq War, the biggest disaster and human rights violation of the 20th century, am I right?

Now, obviously Skeptic Magazine isn’t going to go full leftist and start calling out all the wars, incessantly saying why what the US is enabling (and doing) in Yemen is a violation of everything that makes us human. But at least they haven’t hit rock bottom and start making “Jack Bauer” analogies for why torture is a good thing. I think that combating pseudoscience and religious crackpots is a worthy goal, particularly in terms of calling out fundamentalism and its ties with the right-wing. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski, who frequently talks about the issue of right-wing fundamentalism in America.

The problem is you can’t divorce pure rationality from politics. Fundamentalism landed its biggest touchdown in the Bush administration, when “God” spoke to George W. on how there is a new “evil empire” and blind faith in American exceptionalism causes unheard-of carnage in the Middle East. It’s good to see that Skeptic Magazine is at least butting the status quo a little bit and isn’t doing non-stop Trump bashing at the expense of real issues. Now, I don’t read the magazine, they could be doing that, but at least this segment seems to disagree with that notion.

I have become more endeared to the idea that certain “superstitions” can lead to becoming detached from reality altogether. Belief in the paranormal is extremely high in the US while belief in our military is even higher. The two are correlated- both are ideological fantasies based on mistaken conceptions of reality. However, as Marx said a long time ago in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the critique of religion should evolve into the critique of political economy. The “skeptic” community has yet to evolve from necessarily 18th and 19th century polemics on rationality and Reason.

From Marx:

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.” 

Therefore, the criticism of religion still plays a valid role in being a precursor to the infinitely more important material critique of embodied practices, such as torture.

However, can we establish a critique of something like torture without a moral foundation? That moral foundation does not have to be religious, but science itself cannot offer it. One can use data to find out that torture does not work, but I prefer the interpretation of the Catholic Church, who in their recent doctrinal change on the death penalty, say it is “an affront to the fundamental dignity of the human being [sic]”. It is this basic moral reasoning that, a priori and not a posteriori, that seems to be lacking in our culture. Perhaps this is where Buddhist philosophy can step in to talk about the role of unlimited compassion as the highest possible ideal.

Here we enter the long-trodden philosophical terrain of moral philosophy and the sophomoric debates surrounding utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative. Perhaps we should not seek to establish a “true” a priori moral ultimate in the supremely Western fashion of searching for the correct “theory” or “origin”, but rather simply take certain rules, like “the fundamental dignity of the human being” as being a starting point, an assumption of our system. In fact, if we begin to question or “deconstruct” these values, it can lead to all sorts of reactionary critiques of “humanism”.

As an anthropologist, despite the diversity of moral systems in cultures and my belief in cultural relativity, I do not espouse moral relativism even if I fervently believe that emphasizing cultural relativity can lead to a positive moral outcome. That is because the moral is always the foundation of any anthropologist’s endeavors, whether they like it or not.

And that seems to be the problem. The debate rages on in anthropology about female genital mutilation, and the debate rages on in international relations about the value of military intervention. Facts are employed by sides of these moral debates, but no consensus is possible. There seems to be only way to reconcile these debates: a dialectical process of viewing the world in totality which takes account of the major historical dynamics of the past few centuries, namely colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and imperialism. The FGM debate is seen in a new light through this historical lens, as is the value of military intervention. The history of nations and their power games strangely makes many moral problems clearer and provides (I believe) strong answers to these “dilemmas” if seem in the correct historical framework which recognizes the overriding power of capitalism and imperialism in the modern world system. Torture can be seen in this light as well. However, one could argue that capitalism and imperialism itself is in violation of this “fundamental dignity of the human person”, and they would be correct.

That is why Sam Harris basically bugs me. His ignorance of history knows no bounds, as his debate with Noam Chomsky makes extremely evident (see my prior post on the subject: Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky: Moral Vectors in current politics. His arguments in favor of intervention ignore historical precedent, ignore the biggest catastrophes of his lifetime (Vietnam) and betray a quintessentially American “we can never be wrong” mentality. It is the inability to morally scrutinize one’s own country that seems to be a failing of many Americans, who overwhelmingly support their own military. Trust in the military is the highest of any American institution, despite the fact that its the one that is robbing us blind. As Jimmy Dore says, we are a nation of adult alcoholics who keep making excuses for our abusive relationship. We are most attached to those who exploit us the most. Our biggest moral failures (our foreign policy coupled with our domestic policy on poverty) lie in plain sight, so close that they become almost the “background” or “wall paper” from which everything else emerges.

Some people may feel powerless in the face of such extreme moral poverty of our leaders or our institutions. But I would argue an even larger group of people is simply ignorant. What would Buddha have to say about political ignorance? More on that in another post.

For now I will continue to point to the massive failures of our leaders in foreign policy and our moral bankruptcy:

Yemen: The Forgotten War

 

Reform or Revolution: Do we need a Third Party?

According to Marxist-Leninists, only direct action and hostile revolution from below can accomplish the goals of socialism (defined according to orthodox ML terms). I disregard this tactical strategy as feasible in America. Anyone who wants real change should realize that electoral politics and seizing power this way is the main way to achieve change outside of real grassroots mobilization like strike action.

But the real “reformist” debate is whether America needs a third party or not. And there is a good case to be made that America, despite the upsurge of support for progressive takeover of the Democratic Party, needs long-term to completely reform the two party system. This is because it is simply too difficult to reform the Democratic Party, with its superdelegates and ties to corporate PACs, to be reformed in a meaningful way. I believe it can be done- the Progressive Caucus is already the largest caucus in the Democratic Party. But real meaningful change in policy can only occur by completely redefining the policies of the entire party, or by taking that momentum and forming a Third Party.

There will come a time in American electoral politics where the decision to support a progressive/socialist electoral party will come. It may be 10 years, it may be 20 years, but it will come. For now, I believe the right strategy is hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. Long-term, I believe it is third party formation, regardless of potential splits of the liberal vote. Sea changes are occurring in people’s viewpoints and demographics that I believe will eventually result in complete electoral reform and the transformation of America’s electoral politics into a true parliamentary democracy with well over 3 major parties. The sooner this starts to happen the better.

Too much attention I believe is given to the tactics debate on the Left. At the end of the day, whether you as a progressive voted for the “lesser of two evils” against Trump or voted third party in 2016, or even didn’t vote out of disgust, doesn’t mean much to me, but its important that the discourse started in the first place. Far from personalizing the politics of it, one should recognize that members of the Left of all stripes were divided on this difficult question. Now, our long-term horizon in the rapidly changing face of American politics post-Bernie Sanders and post-Trump should accommodate new developments, particularly when it comes to strategic support of democratic socialist candidates.

If you count yourself as a radical Leftist, let me address you as someone who shares your commitments theoretically and politically. One should realize the historical window of opportunity that is taking place politically and tactically support democratic socialist candidates even if you believe their politics are not radical enough. This is because I believe too many people in my generation have quickly become enamored with socialism through disillusion with our system and in haste have disregarded the real possibilities for bettering people’s lives through electoral politics. A true “revolution” is under way that can only be described as unprecedented in the US: our backwards and reactionary politics are finally being challenged in a genuine movement for change. From foreign policy to universal healthcare and education, these polices are desperately needed now, not in a hypothetical future under a revolutionary government.

However, to members of the DSA and progressive movement, I believe the radical Left needs to be given greater a voice in the movement when it comes to policy. It is true that historically the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements. There is a reason to be skeptical of electoral politics when there is no public financing of elections. The policy platform of the DSA and other democratic socialist groups needs to be pushed even further left to accommodate policies such as complete redress of imperialism and the scaling back of America’s military by a huge margin. Part of the reason why no social programs like Medicare for All are able to be pursued right now is that the government’s finances are apportioned to extremely wasteful military spending.

https://www.dsausa.org/where_we_stand#global

The DSA, while it generally has a very progressive agenda, still uses vague language like “major cuts in military spending” along with rhetoric around imperialism, I have yet to find a policy document that gives a number. The fear is that using a number like this will either pidgeonhole the party into a definite number or expose them to attacks by members of the opposite side. Well, I for one, and many Americans, want a number. What about 50%? 60%? Any number you can possibly think of that is “too high” may surprise you given the exorbitant historical amount of waste in the DoD.

The domestic priorities of an organization like the DSA I believe are mostly right on the mark and have wide popular support. Things like Medicare for All are outlined in almost painstaking detail in terms of facts and figures. However, when it comes to how much we will shrink the military budget, this seems to be the “unconscious” of the democratic socialist movement. Addressing something that directly, as something that can actually be changed instead of theoretical terms like “imperialism” seem to be almost impossible. Using words like “climate change” and “transitioning to a green energy economy” seem to be equally likely nowadays, but using words like “getting rid of oil subsidies” seem to be too “wonky”. Follow the money, always follow the money.

I believe a broad combination of strategies will eventually transition the US into a modern welfare state that is on par with the rest of the developed world. We should realize the immense struggle that is ahead of us relative to much of Europe. We should also realize that there are challenges that have only just begun: the climate crisis being one of them. To those of you that currently reflexively vote Democrat, I challenge you to keep an open mind in the years ahead. “The times they are a changin’ “

The commodification of emotion and its paradoxical authenticity: An anime review

Music is the most dangerous thing on the planet. As Zizek has recognized, music can be a powerful ideological tool to mobilize armies, to inspire patriotism, but also to give hope to those who need it. It often helps people through horrible periods in their life.

This is the ending title song for the anime Attack on Titan, an “apocalyptic” show with genuine pathos and exciting plot and story development, one of the most popular anime television shows in the world that somewhat transcends the genre and approaches the level of, say, a Hiyao Miyazaki movie. And yet, it is vaguely reminiscent of corny monster movies. But there is something genuinely uncanny and unnerving about seeing building-sized cannibalistic humanoids devour the helpless population of a rural society armed only with cannons and primitive c. 18th century devices. Set it what looks like rural Bavaria or Germany, the show makes one wonder “what would I do in a situation where I fight or die? Would it take the easy path or fight for my life? Would I be strong enough?” There are some real dark turns in this show, its definitely for children.

http://www.wisecrack.co/shows/wisecrackedition/philosophy-of-attack-on-titan/

The link above explains how Attack on Titan may explore, directly or indirectly, philosophical themes from controversial Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt, leading some to claim the show as veiled endorsement of Japanese nationalism. I believe this is a misinterpretation. What the authors of the show seeks to address are partly themes of totalitarianism and how in dire situations it may be necessary, or how a created common enemy can unite a people. I also believe the show is simply about war and death.

A world war, a war of truly total proportions, is an existential threat that requires one to choose sides, and ultimately fight for one’s life and those of others. It is through an analysis of how power intersects with ordinary people’s decisions where we realize that people who do things that are evil felt as if they had no choice, even if they had one.

This is where commodification and authenticity come into play. The primary reference here, aside from Adorno and Heidegger, is oddly The Banality of Evil. Capitalism, in all its insidious, spreads its tentacles over the globe and creates a consumer culture that is not only totalizing- it is addicting. Video game addiction. Netflix binging. Don’t tell me if you are a leftist you haven’t done it.

And why bother moralizing? It’s fun! Pieces of art that are genuinely moving, even if they are engineered by a group of smart producers and marketers, are still moving. And that’s the problem. The evils of the market are kept in place ideologically by things that make us feel good. Big Macs. Coca-Cola. Chips.

In moderation, these are things that make us feel good. And they remain problematic because, in my view, these things eventually can consume us. Consumption-based society creates a society of couch potatoes, endless consumption. It is essentially the problematic of Infinite Jest.

When we long for a simpler time, in movies, in music, we forget that elements of mass culture and consumer society improves living standards around the world. But a total takeover is ultimately catastrophic to the psychic well-being of humanity.

We need to find a balance. A Middle Way. In our own habits and collectively.

If you are a Marxist: its OK if Hollywood made you cry. It’s OK if you like Coca-Cola. But ultimately, we should embark on something that looks less like the Jetsons and looks more like…well, the way things already are (to a certain extent).

High speed rail isn’t the answer to all of our problems. But modern convenience is a luxury that many would kill for.

It’s scary to think about, but in 50 years we will look back nostalgically on the temperature. Conservation is fundamentally…conservative. We have a right to feel a sense of entitlement of preserving that forest by your house, even the air we breathe.

The heroic struggle that is before us is principally an transformative one: it is a battle against ourselves. Can we create a new way of life that saves us and the planet? Let us continue to be inspired by the art and fantasy of the age. We can continue to daydream about being our favorite heroes: perhaps that is how we will get through the coming years, and have the courage to make the tough decisions.

Why does Jordan Peterson exist- SJWs or crowdfunding?

Social Justice Warriors. SJWs. Is the term valid? As a progressive, I have an instinctive gut reaction against the “anti-SJW industry” or people like Jordan Peterson who make their living making “podcasts” or other internet drivel ranting. I swear to Buddha, I’ll drop dead before I accept cash for my opinion over the internet.

But do social justice warriors exist? Is it a caricature? I think something is developing that is far more disturbing- the SJW industry. What the liberal left and right fail to comprehend is that everything can be commodified. There is an SJW industry, a network of “passionate social justice activists” who put their opinions online for money in the name of justice, and then there are anti-feminists who…end up doing the exact same thing.

My hypothesis is that what fuels the creation of people like Jordan Peterson is not just “the internet” or “social media”. The fact that Peterson is crowdfunded by Patreon is a significant development. What does it mean?

I believe it means that the model of news/infotainment that was perfected by the cable news industry, now that it has moved online, has transformed into an infotainment “a la carte” menu, where people pick their opinion and fund it directly. In turn, people are increasingly driven to make their opinion or felt subjectivity into their career; they are programmed to commodify themselves ceaselessly. Peterson is the example of a success-story. The endless self-commodification of our culture (one could argue I’m also a victim, I’m “advertising myself” in some fashion right now) has managed to permeate discourse to the degree where speech itself, in a Deleuzian fashion, has become rotten. Meaningful speech has ceased to exist. There is always just an underlying profit motive.

If that’s not depressing enough, if discourse itself hasn’t just become one big farce, if we aren’t just talking past each other in a giant Tower of Babel (credit to Landzek at Constructive Undoing blog), then consider this:

We can now commodify things that have never been commodified before: feelings, thoughts, experiences, emotions. All virtual, all simulated, everything empty, shallow, and meaningless.

On a sidenote: crowdfunding is a byproduct of consumer capitalism, specifically of what Marx called the production of new needs, or even more specifically, the need to “fulfill your dream”. Want to become a successful rapper? Cook? Need to pay off your credit card debt? Indiegogo baby!

When you were a kid and you wouldn’t eat your peas, your mom told you there were starving kids in Africa. Millennial moms will just say “oh my poor precious baby, you don’t have to eat anything, you are my little precious angel!”

Do I believe that millennials are all completely narcissistic and entitled? No. But I do think you feed into conservative propaganda when you refuse to take your inherent First World economic privilege into account. Unless you are homeless or terminal, don’t come crying to me, we all have problems.

What created Jordan Peterson?

  1. Identity politics and a refusal to look at class as a primary determinant of life
  2. The modern “gender studies” focus on “transformative identity” which reinforces narcissistic individualism in today’s activist culture
  3. A dynamic of increasing self-promotion in modern cybercapitalism

Perhaps Zizek is right that we need to become more alienated from each other first to fix these problems.

 

Do Zizek and Peterson agree on religion?

Spoiler: no they do not.

Jordan Peterson is so fundamentally bad at making arguments that he can’t help but make the naturalistic fallacy every time he opens his mouth. Hierarchy is natural and good, religion is natural and therefore good- that’s his whole spiel, as many authors and columnists have pointed out explicitly. It’s pretty obvious when he engages in these kind of religious apologetics that his ultimate agenda is propping up conservative ideology and politics, but why does it appear in this video that Peterson is making a similar argument to one that Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek often repeats about God and the unconscious? Is it because Zizek is a closet fascist like his detractors claim?

What exactly is Zizek’s argument? Here’s a good video clip summarizing Zizek’s position on religion:

Zizek states in his works many times that the Dostoyevskyian assertion that “If God does not exist, than everything is permitted” is actually true in reverse: “If God does not exist, nothing is permitted”. Why? Because true believers or fundamentalists can violate seemingly inviolable moral law if they “fulfill God’s will” (think jihadists who martyr themselves for the cause of Islam). But why is nothing permitted to those that do not believe? Because for Zizek, they still unconsciously believe in a Big Other.

This bears a strange resemblance to Peterson’s argument that non-believers secretly believe, but not all is as it seems. Peterson is simply falling back on the old “no atheists in foxholes” argument: non-believers unconsciously believe they may be punished in the afterlife if they commit a sin.

Here Peterson commits a fundamental misreading of Christianity. As Zizek argues following Hegel, in Christianity God literally dies on the cross in the act of kenosis or becoming fully man. Thus for Christ, one’s fate in the afterlife should be inconsequential to you when considering what is right and wrong. Thus, atheists, in their conception of a moral law that is higher than God himself (if he exists at all) are more faithful to the spirit of Christianity than Christianity itself. This may seem just as obscurantist as Peterson’s claim, but it is clearly different. For Zizek, atheists who hold certain ethical standards as absolute do not do so because they believe in God, but they simply have been raised in a culture steeped in Christian history.

If Zizek were to raise this point to Peterson, Peterson might do a victory lap and claim religion, irrespective of whether it is right or not, invented art, morality, etc. However, notice how Peterson would attach a value judgement to the idea of absolute ethical standards being good. Absolute ethical standards have sometimes led to draconian laws and a perverted sense of justice – one need only mention the Inquisition. Peterson also, in proper New Age fashion, collapse in his apologetics of religion all religions into one, despite the fact that they hold vastly different moral codes. He would possibly claim that they share certain common elements, but one need only look at the moral system held by the Jains when it comes to food consumption and compare that to any religion that does not promote vegetarianism to conclude that there are complete incompatibilities between religions. If he were to claim that all religions promote love for mankind and certain basic ethical principles, I would actually agree with him- religion’s essential dimensions are the ethical and metaphysical or cosmological, which then concatenate with the social or cultural. But Peterson’s utter lack of nuance makes all of his pithy comebacks about everyone being religious “on the inside” ring hollow to avid atheists. If he were to claim that a central aspect of being human is spirituality, anthropologically I would have to agree with him. I would also agree with him if he couched his language in historicism, by claiming that the main source of inspiration for art and poetry for most of human history was the spiritual or religious traditions that were kept in a particular place and time. However, what Peterson fails to do is differentiate the existential dimension of being human from spirituality or spirituality from organized religion, thus rendering his naturalistic argument, which seems to make a claim about all future, as well as past, art and poetry, a moot point.

The problem is I know exactly where he’s coming from, from a Jungian perspective, and its actually somewhat refreshing to see the New Atheist crowd taken to task and asked some tough questions. The dialogue is actually somewhat interesting, and I’m trying to lay my political prejudices aside in this theoretical debate. But everything, every intellectual terrain, is micropolitics. There is a micropolitics inside of linguistics, inside of anthropology – perhaps to the inside observer they are more than micro!

Peterson fails to understand the lingering legacy of the European Enlightenment. The man is definitive product of reactionary elements in the Romantic movement – Peterson would fit right at home in 19th century Europe, taking what he will from disparate cultures in a hodge-podge manner and filling it out with sophistry. Peterson reminds me most of armchair anthropologists and psychologists of the 19th century like James Frazer, author of the Golden Bough and one of the primary influences of Carl Jung.

One of the gifts of the Enlightenment and German idealism is that rational thought can be decoupled from tradition. Tradition and social custom, as even Diogenes the Cynic knew in ancient Greece, are the antithesis of free thinking. Organicist defenses of social custom and tradition divorced from the content of that tradition ignores many of the ills that have been created by art and poetry throughout the ages. Art has been the most useful tool for propagandists since the rule of Hammurabi, since the dawn of the first empires on Earth. One need only read the Mahabharata or the Iliad to realize that, as Walter Benjamin said in his Theses on the Philosophy of History:

“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” 

I think we haven’t grappled with the true weight of Benjamin’s realization.

 

The war begins: problems in framing the anti-war argument

 

The argument that is being used on progressive and Russian channels is summarized in the video above from RT: “the strike on Syria could cause World War III”.

Is this a believable argument? A hot war with Russia, in the sense of Russia supporting the Syrian regime, seems a definite possibility. The actual argument is as we speak being used by the fringe as well- Alex Jones just released a clickbait video with WWIII in the title. Should the anti-war movement continue to rely on the “slippery slope” argument to deter intervention in Syria? In addition, the anti-war position is being compromised by its association with the anti-Semitic position that the “global Zionists” are behind the attack.

We shouldn’t resort to hypothetical scenarios to argue against US and European involvement in Syria. The arguments we should fall back on should be based in anti-imperialism: the idea that in principle, the US should not start an offensive war against the Syrian regime, because in reality, the motive stated for the attack does not match up with the facts. It is true that an independent investigation into the chemical attacks has not been conducted. The body in charge of the upcoming investigation, the OPCW, was scheduled to arrive in Damascus tomorrow. The timing of the attack is not coincidental, and neither is the target- Damascus, the heart of Syria. This is a calculated psychological blow to the Syrian regime. If it is a one time attack, the propaganda message is clear- we can attack whenever we want without any sort of authorization.

The involvement of the UK and France is especially troubling, but maybe not all that surprising considering the current leadership of Theresa May and Macron. The almost naked way the war is being spun as “vital to US interest” demonstrates that the action is a clear violation of international law. And of course, the Democratic party does not oppose the strikes in principle- in fact, many believe the actions are “for show”, a ploy of Trump’s to distract against the Russia investigation (!).

Even if this doesn’t lead to further bloodshed, we should oppose these kind of actions in principle, as a clear act of aggression by a foreign power intervening in the civil war of another sovereign power, not to mention the civilian casualties that will inevitably result from bombing the capital of that sovereign country.

My prediction: regime change is on the way, in the next couple of months for Syria