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’ “

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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

Manufacturing Silence: The #Resistance and the build up to war in Syria

 

The headline right now on CNN’s website is “Comey Just Went to War with Trump”. Nowhere As Glenn Greenwald and people like Jimmy Dore continually point out, the Russiagate manufactured scandal is effectively functioning as a mechanism to suppress dissent and distract from real issues. The only thing on TV every day is “Russia Russia Russia”. What propaganda looks like in the 21st century is not express support for war- the anti-war movement could actually take hold if that were the case! But the media bets on the American public’s lack of awareness and notorious bad memory.

A majority of Americans now have a favorable view of George W. Bush, the President with the lowest approval rating in modern Presidential history. The reason why is because Bush has allied himself with the pundits who attack Trump from the Right, the neocons who say he is too soft on Russia. The only critique any of these people have against going to war in Syria- “you are Russia’s puppet!” Meanwhile, it seems that under the influence of John Bolton, Hillary Clinton is getting her way and Assad will be toppled in the near future. No Congressional or UN authorization needed- the conversation in the media is non-existent- except on Fox News!!

The Russia story has completely eroded fair and open debate in this country, and brought back the Cold War mental tendencies of the American populous. It encourages every gross ideological distortion imaginable- party tribalism, lack of skepticism for government claims (especially from the FBI and CIA), and worst of all- lack of interest in anything approaching real issues.

Sadly, even the gun debate that has resurfaced (while I am a huge supporter of gun control) seems to fall in line with the primary contradiction of American politics- ignoring imperialism.

Why war? Why now? These are all questions only a sufficiently Marxist anti-imperialist analysis can answer.

To anyone who claims to be the defender of liberal humanitarianism in the case of Syria, one should simply respond- WHAT ABOUT YEMEN?

Aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen seems to be the unthinkable kernel, the traumatic truth in Lacanian terminology, that the American people can’t currently grasp. Only when the gaze of the media and therefore the attention of the people is on a certain subject is that subject given due consideration. There has been psychoanalytically a complete transference of the gaze of the populous to the mainstream corporate television media. Independent journalism, sought out only by activists and political junkies, is becoming stronger, but largely is still ignored by the largely reactionary American people.

Why do I say largely reactionary when most people support gay marriage? Look at the rise of the alt-right, of punching down, the pure definition of “reactionary”- reactive responses to politics, not proactive critical thinking.

Is Baudrillard right? Is our late capitalist moment really the death of history- has the spectacle of the simulacrum really triumphed? The answer to that question is a definitive YES. The Simulacrum, the “post-apocalyptic” nightmare, has come to pass.

So when Kyle Kulinski says the media is on board, what I would say is- their silence is the tacit assent. Largely, I see NPR very quietly whispering about how we should be pro-intervention. I see CNN and MSNBC caring about nothing but the Mueller probe. And the storm clouds gathering before the war have been seemingly ignored.

The moment is NOW. HANDS OFF SYRIA

Lacan at his best: The “arid era of scientism” and its relation to mass culture

A quote from Jacques Lacan’s Écrits, from the essay “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis: 

The list of disciplines Freud considered important sister sciences for an ideal Department of Psychoanalysis is well known. Alongside psychiatry and sexology we find ‘the history of civilization, mythology, the psychology of religion, literary history, and literary criticism’. This whole group of subjects, determining the curriculum for instruction in technique, can be easily accommodated in the epistemological triangle I have described, and would provide an advanced level of instruction in analytic theory and technique with its primer. 

For my part, I would be inclined to add: rhetoric, dialectic, (in the technical sense this term takes on in Aristotle’s Topics), grammar, and poetics-the supreme pinnacle of the aesthetics of language-which would include the neglected technique of witticisms. 

While these subject headings may sound somewhat old-fashioned to certain people, I would not hesitate to endorse them as a return to our sources. For psychoanalysis in its early development, intimately linked to the discovery and study of symbols, went so far as to partake in the structure of what was called ‘the liberal arts’ in the Middle Ages. Deprived, like them, of a true formalization, psychoanalysis became organized, like them, into a body of privileged problems, each one promoted by some felicitous relation of man to his own measure, taking on a charm and a humanity owing to this particularity that in our eyes might well make up for their somewhat recreational appearance. But let us not disdain this appearance in the early developments of psychoanalysis; indeed, it expresses nothing less than the re-creation of human meaning in an arid era of scientism”. 

Before we follow up on this important observation, let me relate an incredibly interesting finding, one which I will write an entire article about. There is a function on Google dictionary where one can look up any word, and see immediately below the graph of its usage over time. Now I challenge you, the reader: take any word upwards of three syllables and look at its use over time. In my experiment, I could not find a single complex word that went up over time- there was always a decline in the later part of the 20th century. Some words, if you look them up, chart exactly as one would expect: the word “communism” finds its peak in the 1960s, and then returns back down, rising with the counterculture and anti-war movement. More descriptive words like “covetous” just show a general trend of decline. Simple words with the same meaning like “greedy”, meanwhile, have risen.

There are some outliers, like the word “reclusive”, which skyrocketed in the 1950s, but words like “solitary” show the characteristic decline trend. For this experiment, I purposefully chose words that weren’t archaisms, but merely words that we would associate as “literary” words, colorful words, words not used in common speech. Even so, we see general trends of decline for these literary words. “Apathetic” has declined, but “lazy” has gone up since 1950. Perhaps most interestingly, the word “self” has steadily increased in usage since 1900, perhaps reflecting our self-absorbed individualistic society…

What does this actually demonstrate? It represents the poverty of our current intellectual culture, or rather, the takeover of intellectual and literary culture by rapacious scientism. 

Lacan emphasizes that Freud, far from biologizing the mind, in fact introduces the idea that the unconscious is primarily related to discourse in texts such as the Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. For Freud, unlike Jung, the study of mythology has far less to do with “archetypes” and “innate ideas” and far more to do with history. In this sense, when Lacan emphasizes the historicity of Freud’s theories, he is really emphasizing its relation to that concept anthropologists would call culture.

In David Harvey’s excellent book on Tolkien, The Song of Middle Earth, Harvey emphasizes that mythology is primarily a part of the literary tradition of a society- whether it be the Vedas and the Mahabharata for Indian society or Homer’s Iliad for Western Europe. When Lacan emphasizes that we should go back to the study of rhetoric, we are reminded of the difference between “classical” education of the 19th century and earlier and modern education. Rhetoric formed a part of the curriculum that emphasized what is now called the Classics, or philology- reading the writings of Horace or Cicero formed a part of the pre-modern European education not just in the formation of the “sensible and Enlightened” individual, but also one’s introduction into what has been called the “Western tradition”, the philosophical and literary culture which formerly was not voluntary.

Higher education has obviously abandoned these “liberal arts” ideals to which they still profess: even disciplines like philosophy have been “mathematicized” and scientized. And not that they shouldn’t talk about the philosophy of mathematics or science! But in their very character, analytical philosophy’s sensibility has colonized the terrain of the “literary”, and Nietzsche’s profound warnings about the Last Man, who echoes the assumptions of his age, have possibly come to pass. The Last Man is Nietzsche’s formulation of what Adorno called mass culture, or manufactured culture. It is a cliche to say that television and movies have replaced book reading, but the process is accelerating at an alarming rate: now the video game industry has surpassed the television and movie industry in terms of revenue, as well as the music industry! (link: https://www.nasdaq.com/article/investing-in-video-games-this-industry-pulls-in-more-revenue-than-movies-music-cm634585).

What even Adorno could not contemplate is what was considered “low brow” in his era (jazz) has become high culture, and we see a process of gradual “dumbing down” that is now becoming widely observed even in popular culture: the chords progressions of songs becoming more simple, etc. The connections are already made, the same ones Adorno made: the profit motive creates a kind of mass production of culture, of music, of television. The remake is overtaking the original production, the copy more successful than the original. Even the “indie” genre has been co-opted and marketed, everywhere the colonization of mass culture imminent to our very psyche- hell, even I like a good Blockbuster now and again- love me some Star Wars! But the cracks are starting to show: don’t believe I’ll be going to see the new Han Solo movie- the gimmick is too apparent.

What does all of this have to do with scientism? Scientism, for lack of a better word, is today’s intellectual zeitgeist. The popular “intellectuals” of the day, the ones doing the most harm, masquerade as simple arbiters of objectivity. The Sam Harrises and Jordan Petersons of the world offer their watered down versions of “race realism” and Social Darwinism to the internet, and the masses eat it up in droves. Never mind that “The Bell Curve” is junk science proved a million times over- the new motto of the Last Man is “facts are facts!” This manifests itself as a literal worship of Reason and Science, with science being synonymous with technology.

The 50s fascination for new technology has not dwindled, in fact it has only gotten worse with the advent of the computer age. No one is immune to it, but the obvious commodity fetishism and consumerism it generates is unprecedented. The lines for Apple products, and everything associated with “computer culture”: emojis, text lingo: these are the shared substance of our society.

Is there a kind of elitism in assuming that people should simply “read more Shakespeare” and get off their iPhones? On the contrary! It would be elitist to assume that Shakespeare is only for the elite! It would be elitist to assume that Shakespeare shouldn’t be made accessible to everyone from diverse backgrounds! Shakespeare in its day was the common man’s play. This is what our education system, to its credit, tries to do, but generally fails miserably to do, continually trying to “adapt” the curriculum to the needs of the time, introducing more computer coding classes. Is this inevitable? Am I being a kind of cultural grouch? Here’s the problem- you train all of our kids to be computer programmers, what happens when they all apply for those limited computer jobs? Who among them will be trained to be the next authors, the next Shakespeares? Will anyone care if they are?

One can take postmodern relativism too far in this case, saying that because Shakespeare and the Tale of Genji are equivalent, we should therefore teach neither. In fact, both are equivalent to Saturday morning cartoons! This is the road we are going down, and its not a pretty one.

And for the postmodern anthropologists in the crowd who point out my argument is somewhat “logocentric” in assuming that literary culture is the crowning achievement of society, I would merely point out that the oral high traditions of traditional societies are too being lost to the endless process of commoditization and the advance consumer capitalism that is eating away at the foundations of non-industrial societies. It would be great if we had any oral traditions to fall back on.

We live in an era of ever-expanding access to almost complete entertainment- 24/7 television, video games, and music on demand at our fingertips. The internet should be a tool to expand our access to the archive of classics: Project Gutenberg is a great resource to access all of the great works of literature which no longer have any kind of copyright. Unfortunately, if you compare the numbers of Project Gutenberg hits to videos of Lady Gaga, I’m sure the picture won’t be pretty.

I’m advocating for a new kind of entertainment, for a world in which one can seamlessly switch from rap to high literature, without any kind of stigma. As a huge contrast to my previous article, the “defense” of anti-intellectualism, in the sense of recognizing the value of “proleterian” and peasant values of hard work and the reproduction of society materially, here I’m offering a full throated endorsement of intellectualism, of the reclaiming of “mass education”, and not in the outdated Marxist sense of only being educated about Marxist orthodoxy. But as Marx stated, along with the alienation of the individual from the means of production, there is also a more fundamental alienation which accompanies capitalist material poverty that results in spiritual and intellectual poverty. These problems are just as real in our era of mass consumption. Never before has there been such an era of consumption for consumption’s sake: a kind of gilded prosperity where even the poor can live like king’s for a day, provided they go into heaping amounts of credit card debt. Once again, we see the value in Martin Luther King’s prophetic words about the Three Evils of Society: militarism, racism, and (MLK’s original wording) materialism, which he used interchangeably with poverty and capitalism.

We shouldn’t moralize this term materialism, but we should realize the structural problem that is materialist individualism in our late capitalist society, and realize its connection to intellectual poverty and the “mass culture” phenomenon. Rather than the endless postmodern process of combing through the classics for “racist and sexist” overtones, we should look for what is universal: stories of heroism, tragedy, loss, longing, belonging, and most of all, compassion, a word that too has declined in usage since the 1800s.

 

 

 

A defense of anti-intellectualism?

Without even resorting to French postmodernist terms like “logocentrism”, what was Mao Zedong’s point in singling out intellectuals who don’t go along with the revolution? Part of the logic behind the “Down to the Countryside Movement” was certainly to take student intellectuals who would be critics of the regime and send them to do farm labor in the countryside. But it would reductive of Mao’s thinking here to assume that that was his primary motivation. Mao genuinely believed that certain forms of intellectualism can be just pure “book learning” with no connection to everyday reality. A quote from Mao:

“In order to have a real grasp of Marxism, one must learn it not only from books, but mainly through class struggle, through practical work and close contact with the masses of workers and peasants. When in addition to reading some Marxist books our intellectuals have gained some understanding through close contact with the masses of workers and peasants and through their own practical work, we will all be speaking the same language, not only the common language of patriotism and the common language of the socialist system, but probably even the common language of the communist world outlook. If that happens, all of us will certainly work much better.” 

In the Battle for China’s Past by historian Mobo Gao, Gao talks about how Western portrayals of the Cultural Revolution focus only on the struggle sessions and the persecutions of the era, not on movements like the Barefoot Doctors which were hugely beneficial for the average Chinese peasant.

But is there not an “idolization of the life of the working class and the peasant” inherent in this kind of model? On the contrary, Mao was hugely critical of so-called “backwards” beliefs among the peasantry in China. Of course, this backfired in a major way, causing the destruction of many parts of the cultural legacy of China, as well as the persecution of monks and nuns in Tibet, even by those of Tibetan ethnicity. And as I have written about in other contexts, the persecution of the Tibetan minority didn’t start with the Cultural Revolution, and was not mainly done by those of Tibetan ethnicity. This is a hugely complicated subject, and that’s all I will say about it for now.

But let’s go back to the 1930s in China. Manchuria was being occupied by the Japanese, and people have real decisions to make. Mao’s motto that “power flows out of the barrel of a gun” is not a defense of authoritarian tactics, as many would like to think. Its a realistic portrayal of how power actually works. The Nanking Massacre was motive enough for the average peasant to fight back with their own bodies, their own lives. Any study of history that doesn’t recognize that real people made life or death decisions, and writes from a detached “God’s eye” view, does not understand the stakes. But normal Western portrayals of the situation in China before the expulsion of the Japanese and the founding of the PRC will normally make some kind of narrative in which the Communists used the atrocities of the Japanese to their advantage in seizing power, implying nefarious intent, etc.

The epithet “tankie” used by the radical (usually anarchist) Left describes an apologist of authoritarian communism. Apologists for these regimes will normally reply that building up their military was necessary for the defense of these actually-existing socialist states against American and European imperialism and the early 20th century threat of fascism. While not falling into the trap of “horseshoe” theory with respect to Socialism as an ideal versus Fascism, it should be recognized that Stalinism did employ the model of Party as infallible, the State as supreme embodiment of the People, just as Fascism did, but in the case of Fascism, the People was the ethnic Volk. One could somehow justify this model, as Zizek does, by stating that fascism is a distortion of the working class movement, which is definitely true in its own right. However this doesn’t imply that the movement toward ending class has to be based on the militaristic model, on the model of the vanguard or the model of the “militant”.

Even Deleuze makes apologetics for the “war machine” as a kind of egalitarian principle which is then subsumed by the State and its hierarchy. But I don’t believe the question from a purely ethical perspective is whether an Army can be “non-hierarchized”, the real question is- to what degree is hierarchy in a modern industrial society necessary? The Barefoot Doctors succeeded in raising health standards for poor Chinese peasantry by “conscripting” youth for training.

But isn’t this model of the “humanitarian military” also used by the US Armed Forces to justify interventionism? And to what extent was it justified? Despite claims to the contrary, Milosevic in Yugoslavia would not have been stopped without NATO intervention, which came too slow, and yes, NATO bombing did cause massive damage to the countryside. But imagine if somehow, the argument in the United States was not whether or not we should aid the Saudis in their war against Yemen, but to stop the Saudis from committing atrocities, to send NATO troops to stop Saudi Arabia- would the right answer still be to not intervene? Only those who support a pacifist view of war as “never the answer” (one which most Leftists, if pressed, don’t support) should say the answer is no. If tough sanctions were the easy answer, we would have to justify the effect of sanctions on the Saudi people. Stopping arms sales to the Saudis is one thing- taking an active role in a conflict like that, actual armed military intervention *against* the Saudi regime, seems like the point of the impossible sine qua non of our current situation. And yet, we did the exact same thing in Yugoslavia, because the intention in this case was geopolitical, not humanitarian. Therefore, the moniker “liberal humanitarian interventionism” as applied to something like Iraq is a horrible misnomer, concocted by academics to refer to neoliberalism, failing to distinguish between neoconservativism and neoliberalism. Failing to see how Hillary Clinton is just a neocon, who thinks in terms of her buddy Henry Kissinger, can have disastrous consequences. And just so you know, I believe going to war with Saudi Arabia would be a terrible idea- it would just be more morally defensible than what we are doing now. In other words- just because the UN failed to protect people in Rwanda, and supported the war in Korea, doesn’t mean the ideal of internationalism should die. In an ideal world, the UN security council would not be dominated by the superpowers, and could clearly discern what is a justified act of intervention versus a pre-emptive imperialist act. The excuse of the “humanitarian military” is not justified in its current form- but was that really the excuse that was given for the start of the Iraq War? It was the excuse given for its continuation, but not its beginning. Afghanistan was simple enough- the excuse was the global War on Terror. Then, the accusation was that Saddam Hussein funded jihadis and was a rogue nation that could sell “weapons of mass destruction” to terrorists. It was only humanitarian as it pertained nakedly to the threat against the US and Western powers. The lives of Iraqis was merely an afterthought. “We will be greeted as liberators”- isn’t this just a prime example of afterthought? Was the Iraq War a crime, not a mistake? No, we should emphasize that it was also a tragic miscalculation.

As a simple counterfactual- what if the WMDs were actually true, instead of a lie concocted by the Bush administration and Dick Cheney? Would it be justified to intervene? Did the Bush administration somehow ignore the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction? Did they bet that they would find something despite the evidence, as an ad hoc justification? It seems like the Bush administration was guided by an extraordinary naivete- that they could admit to the American people that no weapons were found, and they would keep on going regardless. And that’s precisely what happened! It seems that the American people are just as naive as their leaders. This is what ideology means.

My point is precisely that the logic of non-interventionism that we have to use should not be conditional, insofar as it pertains to the US military and NATO. We should, however, not throw out the baby with the bath water and throw out the idea of humanitarian intervention as an ill-conceived liberal fantasy. We should not be faux-intellectuals who look at what’s happening in Yemen or Burma, something we could accurately label genocide, and equate them to what’s happening in Syria, which is a multi-pronged civil war. At the same time, we shouldn’t be convinced simply by appeals to emotion.

But this is something that the full moral weight of needs to be grasped- sometimes, for evil reasons, good can come about. A true consequentialist, a Utilitarian (in a strong or weak form) must sometimes back things he knows are being done for the wrong reasons. This is how I feel about Trump’s attitude toward Russia. Trump is obviously friendly toward Putin for the same reason he’s friendly toward Rodrigo Duterte, nonetheless if it prevents armed conflict, the lives of potential innocent people outweights a “principled stance against authoritarian dictators”. The logic of detente, the logic of making allies out of people you hate- this is the logic of war, and unfortunately, when it comes to the truly hard ethical questions of our time, we still have to make these kinds of judgments. Take the current debate on the tactical choice of voting against Trump and voting for Hillary, or voting your conscience and voting for the Green Party, or not voting at all because the system itself is rigged. (I’ll leave voting for Trump based on the intention to vote for him out of the realm of conceivably good choices). What if the “real right choice” isn’t known until after the fact? I understand the motivations behind all of these choices, and find myself vacillating between them on a regular basis. Although I’ve moved in the direction of “we shouldn’t vote out of fear any longer, and its time to break out of the Two Party system”, and I hate blaming people for voting their conscience, I don’t blame regular people who voted for Hillary either. In fact, I don’t blame people who voted for Trump! Ultimately, I don’t blame anyone, except perhaps the war profiteers and the leaders of the Big Banks, etc. I blame the system, I blame the system that forces us apart and makes us vote for people who are obviously ethically questionable, or in bed with people who are ethically compromised. Politics is a game for many average everyday people, and for many the trajectory of history is outside the scope of their power because of the erosion of truly mass collective movements for liberation that are actually viable. People turn to the Republican and Democratic parties partly for reasons of stability, something I think is lost in the attacks against the “status quo”. Those who live precarious lives don’t have time to think about rocking the boat.

But it should be recognized that at the end of the day, many people want the boat rocked, because the ship is sinking anyway, and the captain is asleep at the wheel. Those who don’t want the boat rocked largely won’t live to see the boat capsized (its sinking slow enough), and the party on deck is great! For those of us on the lower decks, who want to get on those lifeboats, we should realize we are all in this together. Let’s reclaim the spirit of Woody Guthrie, a truly American man of the people, who spoke common words for common folk. Let’s combat elements in ourselves, if we are members of the educated, privileged elite, the “petty bourgeois”, to remove ourselves forever in the ivory tower. This doesn’t mean we have to change ourselves into different people, or go take a job on a farm to “get back to our roots”, but we should recognize how, in the words of Chomsky, higher education is meant to perpetuate a certain class.

So this is not a defense of anti-intellectualism, but a reminder that knowledge of what happened in the USSR in the 1930s, or this or that member of the Frankfurt School, won’t do anything for that man who lives on a bench outside your local library. However, if you truly want to do something structurally, think, but for a purpose, and then try to do something about it every day. The choice between thinking and action is a false choice. I choose both!

http://www.lacan.com/zizek-nato.htm

Resist the double blackmail