Monday, December 17, 2018

More Rupture and Slime


"there needs to be a qualitative moment of rupture, to break with its treaties and the austerity measures, the privatization, the Semester process [European Commission checks on national budgets] they impose" Peter Merten, leader of the Belgian PTB Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Andreas Malm uses the term "induced implosion" and quotes Benjamin 'The destructive character has the consciousness of historical man, whose deepest emotion is an insuperable mistrust of the course of things and a readiness at all times to recognize that everything can go wrong...What exists he reduces to rubble- not for the sake of the rubble but for that of the way leading through it....It is Nature that dictates his tempo, indirectly at least, for he must forestall her. Otherwise she will take over the destruction herself."

The title of Malm's book; "The Progress of This Storm", refers to Benjamin's thesis around Angelus Novalis,and it is mostly a broadside aimed at Bruno Latour and other "Hybrid" philosophers (most I had never heard of). Instead he re-enforces the ecosocialist arguments put forth by Bellamy-Foster, Clark and York. My only knowledge of Latour comes from TRYING to read Timothy Morton and understand his OOO Object Oriented Ontology and I now feel better about my confusion.

Malm's text is far more accessible' "Devolution in ecosystems- say,'the rise of slime' in the oceans: the ascent of jellyfish and toxic algae, the descent of coral reefs and apex species- has a fitting counterpart in the current state of Western politics."

He quotes Donna Orange: "Blindness to our ancestor's (colonial) crimes, and the way we 'whites' continue to live from these crimes, keeps the suffering of those already exposed to the devestation of climate crisis impossible for us to see or feel".

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Solidarity

The contortions of organized labor when confronting climate change are difficult to watch. It was inevitable that the Grand Bargain they had entered with Capital, labor peace for middle class lifestyles, would unravel at some point. Globalization was that point. But the contradiction of industrial production ecological stability is putting the nail in the coffin. All these miners and drillers and refiners and auto workers and pipeline construction workers, the list goes on and on, must have seen the writing on the wall. So they turned a blind eye. A strategy which only gets you so far. Here is a report from COP 24 in Poland, a country dependent on coal fired energy:

"Just hours after Frick invokes 1980s Solidarity as a model for activism, the current Solidarity—whose union headquarters are just blocks from the conference center—releases a joint press release with the Heartland Institute, an American think tank dedicated to climate denialism. The release calls climate science an “international dogma of the United Nations” and affirms Solidarity’s commitment to protecting its workers and the coal they mine."

And of course we know how organized labor is reacting here in the US; totally schizophrenic. On the one hand the leadership is using the language of "just transition" to try to appease the extractors. But if you start to add up the jobs that are linked to the fossil economy you start to see the enormity of the problem. And the old question "which side are you on" takes on new meaning.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Street Fighting Man

The Yellow Vests, like Occupy, are yet another post-modern example of what Mark Fisher described as "ideological rubble" and the images coming out of Paris coincide perfectly with this descriptor. For several days none of the commentariat was willing to hazard an analysis; interviews of participants made clear it was mostly carnivalesque riot in the old French tradition, but because it ostensibly stemmed from a raise in gas taxes, a little political meaning could be attached. depending. Like Occupy, it is the perfect empty signifier, a revolt or rebellion based on wide-ranging grievances, lacking unified manifestos or spokesmen and any consensus is arrived post-event by pundits with their own cause to promote.

The leftist Edourd Louis sees a popular rather than populist formation, but what are these "popular classes" he sees,and does this "rural poor" display any more class-belonging than they do here in the US? Noting the instances of racist and homophobic speech, Louis claims it is "our responsibility to transform this language" into something emancipatory, but this is tricky business at best. It takes slogans and coalescing around demands. Those who still find hope in a vague "horizontalism" or the fact the yellow vests haven't been "hijacked" by established political parties could find the movement disappears as rapidly as it formed.

Less optimistic observers like Daniel Cohn-Bendit see a populist right revolt against "the political class", whatever that is. This would be in line with global trends of rising resentment and fear of the unknown. In either case, it is a movement against. Maybe the problem is the "1%", maybe it is migrants, maybe it is access to credit. Maybe it just feels good to smash something on the weekend, before going back to some bullshit job.

In any case, I can imagine the cops taking this as a practice run for when the real food riots break out. It is increasingly a shadowy line between order and breakdown and I wonder if the fact that in the US the "rural poor" are so well armed that it actually contains and subdues them in some strange, counter-intuitive way?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Master's House

Ruth Frankenberg writes: "Yet the challenge has remained that of how to, in Audre Lorde's terms, 'dismantle the master's house' while, not only do we live in it but it, by some architectural trick, lives in us" The author is speaking about race and identity but the analogy works for ideology writ large. This is a great way to think of the operation of hegemony, the internalization of various logics and discourses to the point they constitute consent. In this sense, capitalism "lives in us", and yet the task of dismantling remains.

And the process, the path of disidentification with what appears to be, is often throughout life a traumatic rupture, a process that leaves scars. It would be nice if someone came up with a way to treat these psychosocial maladies on a mass scale and better yet if they did it fast. Like yesterday. I remember discussions back in the day of putting LSD in the water supply and crazy shit like that to "turn everyone on". Of course Religion is a form of this mass effect, if not healing at least palliative care and The Church a site for mass therapy of a sort. But disabusing Homo Economicus of the wonders of Free Enterprise is going to be tricky; folks identify as entrepreneurs, as hard workers, and they believe all the shit about competition and incentives and moral hazard in a simplistic, social Darwinian way.

The Master's House is also wrapped in Whiteness. As James Baldwin wrote: "No one was white before he/she came to America". So now you have two unmarked categories; white Christian, in need of marking. As Frankenberg says: "We need a more complex understanding of the process of "whitening'. And of free market identity.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Medicare For All

Having turned 65 last September I can now laze around enjoying my first entitlement from Big Government, Medicare. It definitely has sapped most of the initiative the Free Enterprise system had previously installed and I can't wait to get my social security check this coming birthday so I can stop innovating altogether. I can be a walking moral hazard, waiting for others to do things for me as I sloth around.

But seriously, for the Democratic Socialists to place Medicare for All as their priority policy position seems like an attempt to make "democratic" capitalism more bearable, rather than less. The assumption is that the masses will see that making health insurance a public provision will cause them to question other for-profit sectors, leading them to question the profit motive altogether. Then we can have some form of democratic socialism. But is there any evidence to support this hypothesis? Have social democracies in other parts of the world advanced to true worker ownership of the means of production?

I think such social provision has allowed capital to expand into new sectors and gain increased legitimacy in the mind of workers. Along with the Google-ization of the workplace (relaxed atmosphere, good wages, worker buy-in, etc) this is capital's revolutionary ability to morph and insinuate itself into every cultural and psychological niche.

So if your day is starting to go a little too well you can check out the article on global coal development and then read some of the comments people have posted. The extent to which people can pull the wool over their own eyes is truly remarkable. And along with the ideological rubble there is the total lack of agency; everyone looking to someone else to solve the problem or encouraging us to vote for the right candidate. I'm sure the folks at the Aspen Institute have a plan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Storm of Progress

I woke the other morning from a vague vision/ dreamscape of Paul Klee's Angelus Novus and Walter Benjamin's prophetic take from his Thesis on the Philosophy of History. Weird, right? I hadn't read the thing in years and then barely understood the basic premise. But then I realized I had been reading about the California fires and wondered if my subconscious was trying to work something out. Benjamin writes:

"a storm is blowing in from Paradise, it has caught in his (Klee;s Angel) wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them."

This is the storm of progress and now a whole town and dozens, perhaps hundreds of corpses turned to ash, are part of the "wreckage" piling up at the angel's feet. The wind is that generated by a fire storm so fierce everyone remains stunned just trying to imagine it. We are in what the prophetic thinker called "a moment of danger", a place where "the state of emergency is not the exception but the rule." These fires and floods will be a first world problem but it is unlikely to lead to the kind of food riots we will see in poorer parts of the world. I agree with Benjamin's prescription that "it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency", one which threatens the ruling order.

I really have trouble, therefore, with this emphasis climate groups place on the fossil fuel industry. Framing the conflict as one between them and their customers is a way not to have to confront the actual system of production and its perverse logics, logics which go way beyond a particular economic sector. Are we to believe that it was only Exxon scientists who made the connection between emissions and global warming? That's absurd on its face. Do we expect the corporations to do anything but dissemble and lobby and produce slick campaigns and front groups?


Then there are the true believers who still think the system can deliver justice:
"The central demand of Tuesday's "Green New Deal Day of Action" is for Democratic lawmakers to champion Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-N.Y.) proposed Green New Deal select committee and "create a climate plan in line with what science and justice demand."
So far they have nine congresspeople out of how many? 535? How much time will they put into this?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Going Nowhere Fast

The oil industry is in a state of incredible volatility right now with last month's high price of crude suddenly crashing. Record amounts are being produced by the 'majors' USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia with other OPEC partners also going great guns. What's goin on? Geo-political intrigue? Drunken speculators, total chaos, a sign of America's new-found greatness? Who the fuck knows. I thought we were supposed to be running out of oil but they are pumping it as fast as they can. Whatever.

Speaking of crude, Bill McKibben ( can't help it, more Bill Bashing) has a piece in the NY Review of Books where he re-states the standard, worn-out claim that the climate crisis can be traced back to "the power of the fossil fuel industry". And then he ironically goes on to say "we need a major shift in our thinking". This is his idea of a "major shift": turn to "civil society" to "pressure" the policy makers. Whoa! So outside of the box! And so "in an era when politics seems at least temporarily broken" he imagines a "Green New Deal". I suspect this looks a lot like Norway with solar panels, a return to Keynesian "common sense" and a touch of RE-distribution.

But let's not get too nostalgic for a past that never was; the New Deal didn't end the depression (that took war) and it depended on a top-down command and control process, your basic Leviathan, with minimal popular participation. It also saved capitalism from some revolutionary forces which were building real steam. It was "social containment to avoid 'a world transformed'". Which fits into Mc Kibben's agenda as well.

Liberals continue to believe "policy makers", to "provide incentives", thereby managing a transition without a lot of upheaval and turmoil. That ain't how it works. It's a con that they get taken on over and over due to willful blindness and a lack of imagination and desire. Remember: don't be afraid to want what you truly desire.