Friday, August 18, 2017

Nostalgic Yearnings

I continue to explore this deep yearning to return to a time that never was, to transform the myth into reality through lived experience. ISIS is the obvious case in point, as is the globally resurgent reactionary Right now making headlines. I would even include the Indigenous inspired yearning to return to a pre-modern Eden. In each case I perceive a desire to return to a more connected state- connected to nature, connected to the tribe, connected to the breast. In our atomized, alienated state of perpetual, accelerated motion, we think going back is a way to slow down or even be still.

Modernity is a paradox and I have argued the gap between technological progress and cultural meaning is a great stressor- no one wants to be adrift, alone, impotent, trying to make sense of the last decade's innovations as "everything solid turns into air". I include these neo/Nazi/Fascist/ Militia types as nostalgic, powerless wanderers, grasping at explanations for their abandonment, their angst and terrible loneliness. It is easy to mock their rage at victimhood, but surely they are victims and slaves and the sad detritus of a system that has little use for them except as divisive tools. Useful idiots.

I also understand that this deep sense of estrangement wouldn't magically disappear with the replacement of capitalist social relations, that more universal psychological factors are in play. But losing capitalism would help immensely. Unfortunately that means taking a frightening leap forward, into the unknown, needing a strength and imagination few have had nurtured.

The South isn't going to rise again, guys, sorry. The Dukes of Hazard was the high point and now it's all downhill. And there isn't going to be a New Caliphate either. Ronald Reagan will not rise from the grave and I'm not waiting for Jesus or Woody Guthrie to help us out.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Top Down

Tomorrow at the Big Picture roundtable we will confront the question: should we ban gasoline powered cars? The real question however, is could we? Even if a huge majority were somehow convinced to support a ban, could capitalist democracy allow it to happen?

In the first place, even the liberal media which supports climate action would condemn the concept of "ban" as top-down and authoritarian. Think of the push-back if the government banned cigarettes. While it is true the government was able to ban CFC's in order to stop ozone deterioration, it was only because there was little economic disruption, effective coolant options already existed. So it would be difficult to build that majority. Even many in the climate movement would complain it is government over-reach, that we should work at the local level for local solutions blah blah. That the Market needs to decide, not "Big Brother".

But even in the unlikely chance you achieved a majority, there would be Constitutional challenges and international trade violations to deal with. And surviving those (years later as it wound through the courts), capitalists would then go on strike and purposely depress the economy, raising unemployment and eliminating services, so that your public support would vanish before your eyes.

The point being, in the current "democratic capitalist" system, the only measures to slow global warming that are allowed are the ones that don't slow economic growth. And those half-measures are sure to be ineffective (or at least not to scale). So yes, the climate movement should definitely support the policy knowing full well it can't be enacted. But it does so to point out the contradiction, to de-legitimize the system and struggle on that crucial terrain of ideology.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Yet More Harping

So now folks are gathered in Nebraska to fight the Keystone XL (again) and I heard the spokesperson for the Indigenous Environmental Network say on NPR that the major issue for them was "consultation". Really? That's the BIG ISSUE? No matter how much or how often these people get fucked over, there seems to be no limit to how much they believe in the arcane procedures of the regulatory/administrative state. Yeah, if only we can "consult" with them, we will feel so much better. Cause it's all about getting some respect- some consult!

So wouldn't the big issue be saving what's left of the ecosystem from capitalist depredation? Why are these people in charge of messaging anyway? It's no wonder that the masses remain paralyzed on this existential issue- they can't tell if it's real or not because "The Movement" keeps talking about Water and Consultation and Sovereignty. No one's going to get excited over consultation, even if it's the poor fucked over Indians. Only Amy Goodman will care.

We are in the middle of a mass extinction and you want to be CONSULTED?
One last thought: Why not just surrender to North Korea? Just send a tweet to Kim Jong that he won and he can take possession next Tuesday. Balls in his court. Good night.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Waiting For 2018 and Godot

Yo, Climate Movement, where is everybody? Summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the streets. But no fighting. It is almost as if Standing Rock signaled The End, as if the post-Trump Climate March on DC sucked all the energy into a small plastic bag along with a half-eaten tuna sandwich. All eyes are on Poor Bill and but they are obviously lost in space, unable to mobilize anything resembling an adequate response- turned into another cog in the non-profit industrial complex- locked into an obviously failed strategy around an obviously flawed analysis- flailing as ice shelves calve and species vanish.

But wait, Native Americans were going to "lead the movement", right? Perhaps there are plans afoot, meetings being held, details being worked out. Somewhere. Our local climate folks have been swallowed by the regulatory state bureaucracy, stymied at every turn as they try to make the case for increased economic growth through an enlightened capitalism. Liberals remained glued to the Trump Saga, desperate to make him pay, to bring him down, to set the world right again. To avenge Hillary.

Capitalism reproduces itself partly through the production of amazingly compliant "subjects". So used to being mugged, they can be told almost anything; for instance, "you are a citizen, and can participate in deciding your own future come the next election". Like a battered spouse they can accept that a neurotic, demented salesman is now the leader of the USA because of "politics" and "democracy" and yeah.

But it's not politics or democracy. It's not even decent theatre anymore. Not even soap opera. It is vaudeville, burlesque. The plot is about as interesting as your average porn film ( not that I'd know). I had vague, slim hopes that the whole election farce would awaken many people to the terrible illusion. This hasn't happened. Any opposition has been channeled back into "winning the next election". It's all people can imagine.

Meanwhile we are told to celebrate the good economic news, the index showing sustained growth, the record gains in the stock market, people out spending again. Happy days are here.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Yes to What?

Having just finished Naomi Klein's newest "No Is Not Enough", I am left wondering. The book is mainly a promotion of the Leap Manifesto, a document produced by Canadian activists, academics and politicos to be a model platform for political parties of the left. As such it is optimistic and rousing, mixing abstract principles and values (such as "caring") with concrete policy proposals (democratic control of energy production).

When I say optimistic I mean the vision is one of continued prosperity and minor disruption. Workers are transitioned out of dirty dirty jobs into good paying clean ones, migrants are welcomed into communities, people become more satisfied seeking "quality of life" and are less consumptive. All through a peaceful leap of consciousness.

But I'm pretty sure we are facing some major disruption. Since the first Earth Day, since the first showing of Inconvenient Truth, since Silent Spring first hit the stands, Westerners, especially Americans, have only increased their per capita consumption of every and anything. I could break out the stats of the trajectory (Hansen et al just published a call for goal of .5 C warming) and the impossible time-line for meeting that goal unless their is a major economic contraction leading to major re-distribution. The "Haves" are not going to give up peacefully,right? When have they ever gone silently into the night when all their toys have been taken away?

And all those "stranded assets" will be disruptive to the financial system. And without investment those new "green jobs" will be a mere drop in a very leaky bucket. Naomi seems to think if you and I run for office we can vote in socialism ( or some expanded welfare state) but I'm pretty sure that "create innovative ownership structures, democratically run..." are fighting words to lots of Montanans. I'm not saying don't try it; just don't try to make it sound like a walk in the park.

Friday, July 14, 2017

What , me worry?

Why is nobody worried? This is the enigma inside a conundrum, the thing historians will one day truly puzzle over. Why did they all just sit there as if nothing was wrong? How was such mass denial possible?

There is the obvious psycho-social pathology that accompanies every instance of collective cultural denial; the disavowal, the ideology, the sublimated and repressed trauma. There is the pervasive anti-intellectualism and religiosity, the supremely confident paranoids with their fantastic meta-conspiracies, and then there is the post post-modern cynicism and nihilism that sees mass extinction as another cartoon or reality tv show. So there is that...

But there is also the tragic failure of The Movement to communicate in a coherent fashion. When Trump says he might or might not re-consider pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, as if he were having trouble deciding which sandwich to order (The reuben would be OK but if I had the meatballs, that would be ok too), it probably reflects their own general ambivalence- it might even sound rational and "balanced"! This is because Movement messaging has been ambivalent, vague, and has too often lost relevance in an attempt to achieve "balance" (not too alarmist, not too casual).

But here's the deal: If you call 911 to report your house on fire, you can't ask the firemen to stop off at the convenience store for a pack of smokes. And expect to be taken seriously. This is the messaging failure of the Movement; they want us to "Do the Math" and understand the unfolding crisis, or catastrophe, or emergency but then they ask us to sign a petition of march holding a sign. Your children's lives are threatened, mass extinction and civilization collapse loom... so you should write a letter to the editor and go to a public utilities commission meeting. The disconnect is not just confusing, it is self-defeating.

This was the problem with the Standing Rock slogan Water Is Life. And all the concern with sovereignty and treaty rights. Or making dust coming off coal trains a big issue. For those trying to get a grip on the actual severity of the crisis this is a signal not to get too worried. We can deal with coal dust, we can deal with Native rights, there are plenty of processes in place, no big emergency. Messaging needs to be consistent and plenty alarming. People need clarity around the scope and scale of the crisis. Honest, clear, consistent messaging.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Another Bill

Every so often we watch Bill Maher do his liberal rants and last night he was all set to confront a Senator from Nebraska who supports Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Accord. So this slick, handsome Harvard grad Senator starts in on a "cost-benefit" analysis, saying we won't get enough cooling for all the lost economic growth. And Maher buys right into the argument, claiming green growth is the next great stage of capitalism and the smart money should get on board.

This was exactly Naomi Klein's point when she wrote : "the Right is right". These conservatives understand that keeping us below 3C degrees of warming means the end of GDP growth. It's the deluded liberals who insist renewable energy and "retrofitting" can keep it all humming along as usual. Maher should instead have agreed with the corporate lackey that there was not enough force in the agreement to really make the changes we need. He should have insisted the Accord be strengthened and fuck the "cost"; what is the "cost" of sea level rise? How many US jobs do we trade for the coral reefs or endangered species or civilizational break-down? Do you want to attach a dollar figure to our children's future?

Neoliberalism has reduced every human interaction to a "cost-benefit" calculation.It is, to quote Wendy Brown from her book Undoing the Demos, "the undermining of democracy through the normative economization of political life and usurpation of homo politicus by homo economicus." Unfortunately, liberals are just as complicit in this project as conservatives, they just believe, wrongly, despite all the mountains of evidence, that we can have "capitalism with a human face".