Saturday, November 26, 2016

Scaling Down

Every politician, no matter the ideology, promises jobs and economic growth to the disaffected voter. This is the very essence of what the pundits are calling "populism" but it's basically just tried and trued,vote-buying pandering, as old as capitalist "politics" itself. The disavowed reality, that is, at some level most people FEEL this to be true, is that those jobs are never coming back. For a variety of reasons. But this account from the blog of Paul Abair is compelling:

"As there are growing signs that we might be in a crisis of complexity caused by rising biophysical constraints and characterised by diminishing returns of investments in societal complexity, we are entering an era when circumstances will trump personalities and institutions. What we now need, hence, is not so much to find new political ‘leaders’ capable of designing and enacting grand plans to lead us further up the complexity pathway, but to ensure that we can make collective choices that are fit and appropriate for an age of scaling-down expectations. There is no sign that this could happen anytime soon, or even that it might be possible. It is therefore entirely reasonable to expect that our economic, technical, political and social systems might continue to become increasingly dysfunctional and drift towards breakup point. The journey to that point will probably continue to leave most of us puzzled, and will most likely be filled with the disturbing clamour of populist caudillos."

Jurgen Habermas also speaks to this 'crisis of complexity" in an interview with Eurozine:"Our societies (the West) must come to terms with this global decline together with the technology-induced explosive growth in the complexity of everyday life...' I have argued that complexity, as a feature of modernity,doesn't just leave us "puzzled". It is a major cause of deep existential anxiety, that an alienated "helplessness" is manifested as xenophobic nationalism combined with a malevolent shaedenfrued ( "I may be fucked, but at least I don't live in Yemen!") over-expressed as exceptionalism. But the current crisis of capitalist "democracy" calls even that into question; a strange lingering feeling that it is all kubuki theatre ( elaborately costumed performers use stylized movements to enact tragedies and comedies), that our reality is mediated as popular entertainment, that we all are acting in a Truman show within a Truman show. The Big Other is that bored.

This is something Thomas Mann wrote as he bore witness to Hitler's rise:(hat tip to Lichanos)
(We )"realize that despite all the psychoanalysis, all the progress we have made in learning how the human being’s mind works, there is still absolutely no limit to the extent the unconscious can go in effective projection of itself upon reality.

We see this truth illustrated by the state of Europe today; the reduction to the primitive to which she has consciously and deliberately submitted herself. Indeed, the conscious and willing surrender, the treachery to the spirit and to the upper levels at which it had arrived, are themselves the severest possible indictment of the prevailing primitivism. For this primitivism is shameless. It is a wanton self-glorification, in the face of the developed civilization of our age. It is shameless as a philosophy, however much condoned as a reaction against arid intellectualism. It is, in the Old Testament phrase, a folly and an abomination. Even the artist, despite his position as ironic partisan of life, must turn away in disgust from the spectacle of such an utter collapse and betrayal."

The paradox is that in order to defeat the forces of civilizational collapse and primitivism, humanity will need to think and act to scale, to a global scale in fact. And yet to survive beyond the crisis, we will have to understand entropy and limits and learn to live lower on the "complexity pathway".

Friday, November 11, 2016

So there you have it: Our New Leader

Twenty thousand articles on "what just happened" later... let's get down to the bone, crack it open, suck a little marrow. OK. The crisis has only intensified. So naturally, folks create some new hashtags and rush out to re- ACT. Why waste time with a lot of abstract theorizing! It is enough to be in OPPOSITION (again). But jumping into the streets saying Trump is not your president is not a plan. It is more ideological rubble piled onto the smoldering heap. It clearly demonstrates your weakness and total lack of consideration. What does it even mean, "not my president"?

If you just have to DO something, why not tar and feather Bill Clinton? Or flash mob Chuck Schumer's house? If you are hunting deer, what you want to do to be successful is "pattern" your quarry. Figure out its habits and reliable movements. Well, progressive activists have been 'patterned', believe me, as Trump would say. Soon they will build an encampment and fight for campaign finance reform. Hashtag stop big money.

So what is to be done? How about if you just pose this question to everyone you meet? Do you want capitalism or do you want democracy? Ask every pundit out there currently screaming about their democracy: oh, you mean the capitalist democracy? Isn't that the mangled mess to which you so sincerely refer? Time to pick up on one and let the other one ride (JS).

Is this then the revolution? One meme? OK, if you need that fair share of abuse (JR) go ahead and chain yourself to something or whatever, I'm sure some cop would love to use his pepper spray right about now, but my point is: your sign needs to posit the contradiction. The sign needs to say: you have been bullshitted for too long, the Demos, as Wendy Brown explains it, has been undone. You've come undone. Next we explain how the Market has failed, the energy market and its externalities but the labor market as well, how the cost of social reproduction, of caring, has been ignored, like the cost to Nature. So there is that. Explanations, arguing, convincing, proposing.

And then of course, the vision thing. Oh, and if there are any lingering doubts as to whether I have my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, this is what I wrote in Sept.:

Hearing a lot about "the angry white male" recently, mostly with a condescending tone. These are Trump supporters and Fox News listeners and Rush's Ditto Heads and by the Jesus, they have plenty to be angry about. How would you feel if you lost your your wife! And now she expects orgasms and her very own President! This is Ralph Cramden and Archie Bunker and Homer Simpson clinging desperately to the last vestiges of traditional masculinity and if that means identifying with some Alpha-wise-guy-billionaire from New York, so be it.

Breadwinner is a big deal.