Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Failure of Capitalist Democracy

Of course being inundated with election "politics" American-style makes one prone to the apocalyptic to begin with, but I believe a case can be made that the system, institutions and ideology of capitalist democracy are at a real crisis point. And while one can find plenty of commentary on the deplorable state of human rights or violent conflict in failing states, austerity and neoliberalism,or the impending crisis of climate chaos, there is little in the way of attempted linkage between these narratives, that is, between late capitalism and late democracy. There is a reason critical theory looks at political economy as an amalgamated subject; they are symbiotic and wholly intertwined. A crisis in one sphere reflects a crisis in the other. Yet this type of analysis remains the exception rather than the rule. We read articles on the growing authoritarianism of governments and rise of xenophobic nationalism in populations of eastern Europe, but rarely do we see attempts to link this crisis of liberal democracy with the rise of neoliberal economics. Three of the so-called Visegrad Four, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, are in the grip of reactionary, border-line fascist Parties while many of the more "enlightened" western nations of the EU also face threats from the far right; Le Pen in France, UKIP in Great Britian, the NDP in Germany, racist skin heads and disaffected proles reacting to increased migration and Islamophobia. But what else is happening as the workforce is "modernized" and the crisis of debt becomes permanent? What generation will stand idly by as its prospects are diminished, as it does worse than its parents generation? And then we have all the ink spilled on the Middle East; witness the failed Arab Spring, the 60 million displaced by war or repression, the ultra-conservative Petro States ruthlessly driving out competitors in a price war over a fossil fuel causing ecocide, etc... Not a pretty picture. Turkey in sectarian war with Kurds and the left, Israel mocking the concept of a two-state solution, the rise of ISIS, the failures of Empire building in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Yemen, the list is actually quite insane when you start to compile it. Democracy can only be spoken of ironically in this context, always with scare quotes. Elections and voting, sure, even women candidates in Saudi Arabia,but it is both farce and tragedy, with limits on speech and a powerful surveillance state always keeping tabs. Economically, however, they are totally integrated into the neoliberal global order, signing trade deals and shipping goods and borrowing from World Banks and international development funds. Even with all this back-sliding toward the totalitarian abyss (we didn't mention Russia), the strange configuration of Communist Party Capitalism in China and the bizzaro rise of right-wing populism (even among union members) a la Trump in the US, the most troubling contradiction and failure of Capitalist Democracy has to be climate change and the inability of markets or government to confront the issue. While every one of those candidates speaks of "free markets" as a sacred emblem, as something Jesus Christ himself proclaimed, at the same time they both denounce democracy and praise it, the true ideological operation par excellance. Faith in the private sector is combined with faith in the "common sense" of the Exceptional American People ( White/ Christian and rural) This faith is profoundly anti-intellectual and wholly dogmatic, relying on a few select (fundamental) texts read literally and interpreted by the prophets of popular culture. liberals shake their heads at such "irrational" behavior and urge centrism. Anarchists Occupy Wall Street or remote wildlife refuges, positive The People will rise up to throw off their fetters and surprised when they are left lonely.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tech Genius to the Rescue

Over dinner last night my friends and neighbors presented an opinion about climate change which I believe to be ubiquitous: They think that when things start to get bad, the tech gurus like Gates and Zuckerberg will step in to save the day. "They won't allow the world to be destroyed" my liberal neighbor stated and she implied they would be incentivized by a mix of self-interest and altruism. In this dominant belief system, (also expressed by my father a while ago), a technical solution exists just beyond the horizon. It is being developed quietly by the technical-industrial complex (academia, entrepreneurial start-ups, global markets, etc) that has been producing magic since Guttenberg and only requires our continual investment in "infrastructure" and the ideology. It could be a new way to produce energy or store it or use it or remove and sequester CO2. We won't know till it arrives! The beauty of this belief system is it requires so little from the average person. Leave it to the rich and powerful and super-smart ones, after all, they have the most to lose. And all that talent.(And adulation to gain). All of us on the outside need only continue participating in the daily rituals, voting and working (or not, my neighbors and dad are retired) and paying taxes and sorting through all the information on NPR and PBS. Filtering it for the nuggets that enhance our faith. This also means rejecting "doom and gloom" negativity and those reports from the periphery where things are already "getting bad", it means living in a state of disavowal, where we hold a mental critique of political economy but act as if that critique does not exist. Kneel down and pray AS IF you believed, and your faith will be restored. Or hang your prayer flags and let the breeze do your praying for you. Anyway, Bill and Mark and the rest of you celebrity tech genius types, I hope you are listening. Cause when shit hits the fan it might be you they blame for everything, you they hunt down.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Low Oil Volatility

I spend quite a bit of time reading the capitalist press such as the Economist and the Wall Street Journal and what is fascinating is the way the ideological can be given a little lipstick and called rationality. Currently we see crazed market swings (though trending downwards)with empirical contingencies such as slowing global growth, an oil glut and power plays by Saudi Arabia. A whole generation of pundits trained in neoclassical economics has built an industry around "man splaining" these intricate mechanisms to the average rube, disguising the fact that what they do is part of a broad political project of transferring power. They are assisted in this project by a movement within academia, especially those teaching economics. Students go in thinking they are receiving some pure form of objective knowledge, because they have been conditioned towards this naive belief. But as Finlyson, Lyson, Pleasant et.alli(2005) explain quite clearly: "[C]ontrary to claims of value neutrality, neoclassical economics functions as a master social narrative, or a technology of power, that concentrates power by transferring socioeconomic decision making from multiple sites to the centralized nodes of global economic and political institutions. This transfer occurs through the domination of the discursive space. The ‘invisible hand’ is power" It is this sense that the Tea Party and the Libertarians and the "true conservatives" join forces with liberals as astro-turf place-holders for Capital, whether old money or new, mega-corporate or "mainstreet" small business. The ideology and the power is what unites them and to have an army of blue collar knuckleheads and Iowa farmer Evangelicals and latte loving techno-geeks do the grunt work for them is simply glaze on their creme brulee.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

No Cigar

Using direct action, a group of climate activists stopped an oil train in Washington in Sept. and got arrested. They hoped to use the "necessity" defense in their trial, asserting their illegal action was the only way to stop a greater harm from occurring. The judge, who has discretion, decided not to allow the defense then changed his mind, causing quite a kerfluffel. Unfortunately, two days into the trial he declared the defense had failed to prove the necessity of the actions and the protesters were found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing. The judge and jury sympathized with the cause of saving the planet but the Law is Real. The classic example of necessity is an inmate finding it necessary to escape a burning jail cell. Any judge allowing the necessity defense is in effect saying we are inmates with no legal effective legal channels and the planet is on fire. He would be admitting the system of government is corrupt and/or totally useless, that Constitutional democracy and jurisprudence channeling power to the people and creating legal recourse is a sham. And what judge is going to admit that? There is a temporal question of "immanence" as well, that the wheels of justice turn quick enough to prevent the harm ( the burning) in time. Ah yes, Time. This week oil prices continued their plunge, dragging stock markets along with it. Coal giant Arch declared bankruptcy and sluffed off billions in debt. Capitalism being what is, there will be a barbaric, bloody frenzy of mergers and acquisitions as the big swallow the small. Obama threw a little fuel on the fire by putting a moratorium on coal leasing on public lands. Expect more Bundy occupations. Meanwhile I have been reaching out to various climate groups urging we strike big while the iron is hot, proposing a unified action of mass civil disobedience this summer; "filling the jails". All the big groups are proposing escalation, but unity goes against a certain anarchist strain which is prevalent in the movement and so far no one has gotten back to me to even argue it.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Price Signals

Big economic news today (besides insane China stock market and "good" Jobs Report) is that US auto makers had a record year,propped up by sales of trucks and SUV's. High fives all around! The expert on NPR explained it as the result of "price signals". With gas prices so low consumers want bigger vehicles and those pesky CAFE miles per gallon, well, they have been dropping. The Expert kept his commentary value neutral, giving the impression the signals sent by The Invisible Hand are inviolable, and by inference, rational. But as I have written about ad nauseum, these signals are actually distorted and create perverse incentives, like spewing more poison into the atmosphere and contributing to ecocide. Oh yeah, that. They are distorted because parties affected by the exchange (money for gas) have no say, are invisible or "external", and so that information is not included as a"cost" by the consumer. But not to worry, or Our High Tech Billionaire Saviors are lining up at the trough. From an article by Michael Klare : Joining Gates and Bezos in this venture are a host of super-rich investors, including Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant; Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chairman of Facebook; George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management; and Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of India’s giant Tata Sons conglomerate. While seeking to speed the progress of green technology, these investors also see a huge potential for future profits in this field and, as the venture claims, “will certainly be motivated partly by the possibility of making big returns over the long-term, but also by the criticality of an energy transition.” Do good AND do well! I feel better already.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Imaginary and Symbolic Cowboys

My comrade has brought Tragedy, Farce and Lacan into the discussion so let's unpack the Bundys a bit further. On the surface we have the basic Bitterroot Freeman Patriot whose ideological foundations go clear back to the timber wars and "multiple use" and printing their own "script" etc. Being a Bitterrooter I am something of an expert and have even included one of these characters in my novel (for all you publishers looking for the next best seller!)It is basically the politics of resentment with a fierce spiritual dimension (LOVE their country and Constitution, would DIE for it, etc) It is really quite beautiful aesthetically, in a Quentin Tarantino sort of way. Islam and the New World Order and Waco and it just goes on and on. But I want to go a little deeper, get into a little murkier water as it were, and propose that on the mythological level these patriots are a reaction to modernity and at the subconscious level they play a role similar to Donald Trump as a reaction to feminism and the deeper anxiety/disavowal/repression/ transference of emasculation/castration. These psychological categories are a little hard to incorporate into our political project but unless they are acknowledged that project will remain...frustrated. Trump is just the largest incarnation but notice how all the conservative candidates for President are putting a greater stress on toughness, hardness, endurance, etc. you get the picture, Chuck Norris could win the primary in an instant. For the guys with guns and white hats and deep nostalgia for that which never was, "local control" is both hating socialism and hating all the new genders (which feminism opened up) which demolish the strict order they found refuge in. Exposing the lack, their true powerlessness in the face of the Big Other. Locally their are no "Queers", no commies, no vegetarians and the good old Missionary position. Because everything is moving too fast. Enough pop psycho babble for one day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Feel Their Pain

The occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge by a right-wing militia invokes feelings of sympathy. These misguided revolutionaries ( their analysis,critique and theory are junk) run into some very familiar problems as they try to effect change of the status quo. Much like left-wing "occupiers", they can gather sympathizers willing to voice a little generalized dissent against the perceived power structure (Big Government), but when attempt to employ a tactic that is proportional to the threat, they suddenly find themselves isolated. In other words, even with the right-wing there is a huge disconnect between the fear people express and the actions they are willing to take to address it. They march and chant about losing their precious freedom and liberty and property rights (the basis for the sacred free market capitalism they worship) but when the masses don't rally around their revolution, they drift back to their regular jobs and routines and comfortable lives, leaving it to the few real radicals to take a stand and face the heat. Like the Left, they have a critique of the State and its un-democratic nature. For them it is "jack-booted thugs" enforcing a dangerous drift towards socialism. For the Left, the "thugs" are seen to enforce the state/ Capital power alignment. For the Right, the Constitution holds the guarantees to a well-ordered Republic and they have a deep, spiritual nostalgia for that which never was.(their History is junk as well). The Left says little about the Constitution, but generally wants to transcend the regime of limited "rights" and focus on the much more ambitious, emancipatory and enlarged concept of justice. Rather than grabbing their guns and survival gear, I wonder what might happen if they organized mass civil disobedience?