Sunday, December 18, 2016

Convergence: How it Could Go Down

Someone (I'm too lazy to dig up citation) said "It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism". Lots of people I know express a rational fear that any major systemic rupture will simply unleash anarchy,a Hollywood-enhanced vision of rednecks with guns out raiding the Hobbesian-each-against-all dystopia in some mad frenzy. Trumps election has, if anything, magnified this sense of potential victim-hood and violent upheaval. Without going all Rebecca Solnit on y'all, I dispute this notion of the nation's "balance of forces", and believe that while certainly dangerous, these prepper/survivalist types have managed to blow our perception of them way out of proportion. Nor do I think the vast majority of Trump voters, despite their arsenals, are as dangerous as all that. Of course this is just a guess with nothing empirical to back it up.

But let's imagine another end of capitalism: It is Springtime in America, all the "Not My President" protests and marches and failed vote recounts and inquiries into Russian hacking and electoral college challenges have come and gone. Trump has sworn on the Bible to uphold the Capitalist Constitution and cherry blossoms begin blooming in DC (three weeks early). Soon a steady stream of executive orders ooze from the White House, each undoing the well-intentioned-if-a-bit-late regulatory protections Obama put in place and further inflaming progressives (while filling the coffers of non-profits).

As the right-wing base fist pumps each tweet about "excellent new jobs" and corporate boards get ready to increase dividends and CEO salaries, confrontations break out between "water protectors" and cops at coal mines, fracking fields and oil refineries around the country. Until the Big Storm hits. One hurricane hits Houston and works its way slowly up the Gulf Coast destroying everything in its path, making Katrina and Sandy look like summer showers. Another one simultaneously hits Miami and heads up the eastern seaboard, wreaking devastation clear to DC. Because the government has been hollowed out ( or stranded at Trumps's golf course in Florida) there is no emergency response and tens of thousands perish.

The catastrophe swells the ranks of the climate justice movement with newly radicalized working class and middle class dissidents and calls are put out to converge on both Washington and Wall Street to force the phased closure of all coal fired power plants, end all shale gas and oil drilling as well as the import of tar sands. As the stock market begins to react, demands are made for State spending on new energy infrastructure, for carbon sequestration through massive reforestation and organic agriculture projects- all managed through local cooperatives and paid for by ( here is where it gets tricky) a tax on wealth? Deficit spending? War bonds perhaps? Scrip? What happens to the monetary system depends on how the descent is managed....anyway....

Understanding that it will be necessary to jettison Market-based incentives and institute planning in order to save the remaining sliver of democracy, liberal pundits, celebrities and politicians, pushed by massive popular movements, use the crash of the Finance and Insurance industries to call for a total re-structuring of the economy. Rather than panic ensuing, communities turn toward local networks of barter and small markets to trade necessities.

The climate change denying conservatives who have not been tarred and feathered (or worse) slink into anonymity along with fossil fuel execs. The administration, faced with the decision between ordering all-out violent repression and saving some personal assets,(and their lives) chooses the latter. Cops and soldiers see the writing on the wall and grab some tar. A Constitutional convention is convened.

A system of councils and assemblies is established along with new institutions and political structures. Why not? Ain't like the reactionaries got anything once the illusion is shattered.Inspired by this unlikely rebellion, populations around the globe (seeing oceans rise on their own shores) depose their own elites and put them to work weeding.

Friday, December 9, 2016


I am actually something of an expert on lemonade but that is another story. This post is about taking the lemons of Trumpism and turning them into something thirst quenching and delicious. There is so much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth as each cabinet or advisory position gets announced, each General or uber-capitalist put in charge of some agency. That Trump and his team are masters of the new media landscape is indisputable, the Trump Show is ever present and ever lasting. The new narratives ( the fascist alt-righter, the crazy tweeter, the stealth Republican Establishment Insider, the Unpredictable One, etc..) are all amazing brands that have America on the edge of its seat, waiting breathlessly for the next installment. It is a brilliant production utilizing post-modern techniques while exploiting perfectly the shallowest concerns of the New Transactional Man, homo economicus. Hints of sex and violence and family pathology round out the irresistible Spectacle.

But I, along with Mr. Zizek, insist the opportunity, the "conditions of possibility" for radical change, have in fact never been brighter. Much brighter than they would have been had a Hillary or even a Bernie won. Clinton was death by attrition, doing just enough superficial reform to keep liberals happy, building sea walls instead of border walls. And Bernie would have led the left into a box canyon of denouncing "billionaires" while propping up GDP and consumption levels of "the middle class". But Trump will take us careening on a drunken midnight run through the pitch black night in a souped up speed boat. Hang on tight folks! Rocky shoals ahead!

At the moment "citizens" are still in shock so actions are lame, a march here, some banner waving there. No real strategic thinking yet. But the combined depravity of the Democrats and outlandish burlesque of Trumps "new administration" make the capitalist-democracy critique super accessible to anyone with even a slight left leaning. One need only point out how the one truly consistent, defining feature of all Trumps picks is rabid market fundamentalism,they are all ideologues for whom externalities simply don't/can't exist.

Except they do. Because physics doesn't care how much Milton Friedman you have read. The crisis of late capitalism is manifold but again I will insist that the most glaring contradiction is the one between capital and physics which manifests as climate change. This total market failure is also the most pressing and this is the Achilles Heel that could destroy liberal conservative ideology if "we" can seize the moment. It will not last and may not come again- so it is time to get crackin. Talk climate debt and carbon budget. Stop focusing on pipelines and look at investment and production. With reality upended, it's time to get Real.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Victory? Black Snake or Hydra

Looking for some novel way to become even less popular in your "progressive community"? Try being critical of the Standing Rock Sioux. On Sept. 13 I wrote:"I fear No DAPL is a step backwards (from Breakfree) to localized NIMBY actions with mixed messaging and no mention of systemic change. A movement that lurches from action camp to action camp, re-acting to each new fossil fuel proposal, is not building momentum."

I will be the first to admit I totally underestimated the ability of Standing Rock to draw crowds. The allure is a fascinating subject for another day. I will also admit there has been of late some messaging around systemic change, but it exists in direct tension with the main narratives around Water and Sovereignty. That said, taking the announcement by the Army Corp that they will consider re-routing the pipe as a victory affirms my earlier opinion. By not thinking strategically and playing by Regulatory State rules (EIS), the tribal leadership boxed themselves into a corner and all that time, money and effort will result in a moved pipe full of poisonous bitumen.These are things I can only say on this obscure unread blog because white sympathy, Trump trauma, etc. etc.

In his statement Sioux spokesperson Dave Archambault said they took their "stand against the pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We are not opposed to energy independence...and economic development." They made a huge point of not being labeled protesters, as though they had transcended mere protest, as though ceremony and prayer were far superior to political action, and all their white allies went along, "listening" for ancient wisdom and hoping the "deeper connection" to Mother Nature might somehow rub off. Springsteen and Neil Young and all the other green celebs can parachute in for some connection and the vets can show up for protection but where are they when black lives need some of that juice?

This also morphed into a struggle over sovereignty and autonomy and disputed treaty obligations. Muddy territory on numerous levels. Did the white man conquer the aboriginal nations or did they reach a settlement? Do Natives want all the "un-ceded" land back, and will that happen through the courts? You can look up maps from the 1851 and 1864 treaties (Fort Laramie) and you can walk the Dakotas looking for "sacred sites" but mostly what you will find is shopping malls and fast food franchises, churches and liquor stores, Cabellas outlets and truckstops. And wind. Lots of wind.

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network also took on a spokesperson role (through some process?) and he tried to straddle the divide between moderate tribal leadership and more radical elements, saying: "We cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated and our water AND CLIMATE are safe." Tom Goldtooth (unclear if this is same as Dallas?) is unafraid to mention capitalism and system change but Archambault said everybody could "return home". The giddy progressive media, desperate for SOME good news, used phrases like "overcome one of the most powerful political and economic forces in the world" and claimed the Standing Rock Sioux "got the justice they deserved." But Canadian PM Trudeau just OK'd the Kinder Morgan pipeline to the BC coast and expansion of the Enbridge Line 3 to US midwest. So the hydra just keeps growing new snakes. Shouldn't we be trying to cut off the head?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Just Listen

The standard, post-election "progressive" meme is that liberals need to listen to the working class, to really hear their grievances and not make assumptions about racism, sexism or xenophobia. I find this to be an especially subtle form of condescension. Liberals can feel righteous about accepting blame and redeem themselves by taking a little extra time out of their busy schedules to hear what the proles have been trying desperately to get across. And workers can't just be wrong; no, due to their innate "common sense" and "historical duty" they, like Native Americans, are intuitively wise and those grievances valid. The only problem is they lack the ability to articulate this wisdom. So we must listen harder. The racism, sexism, xenophobia etc.. is just a result of progressives not listening. I say bullshit.

As a laborer who has done plenty of listening, I have bad news. The "working class" is mostly clueless. It is not just a case of being ignored, nor even a disempowered inarticulation that is the problem. They just generally have no historical knowledge, mis-recognize their own interests and lie buried beneath tons of ideological rubble. So you can listen, sure, listen and scratch your head, and probe the bizarre logics (if you dare) but you will find cognitive dissonance, circular reasoning, contradiction and ignorance with every utterance. And let them be to blame. It is their fault. They can own it and not be patted on the head with sympathetic cooing. Guess what, there were no "weapons of mass destruction". Own your blunder.

The "working class" fucked up the labor movement and sold their souls for a few shiny trinkets and a seat at the Smart People's table. Oops. Now unionists are brandishing fancy new slogans that reflect all their innovative thinking, slogans like "Don't Mourn, Organize!" And the reason I put working class in scare quotes is because the categorical performativity of this word is hollowed out. As subjectivity or identity it is reduced to some income level or vague cultural cues that I defy anyone to list coherently. This is their fault as well. They succumbed and lost the class struggle and this is the new reality that is being ignored (or denied or disavowed or mis-recognized or...)Remember, the cops at Standing Rock or shooting unarmed black folk are "working class". Those pumping tar sands around the planet are "working class". Or possibly "middle class"? if they have some college and make a certain amount of money? And go to certain restaurants? Whatever.

So these are the folks Bernie Sanders and the Democrats and the labor unions want to bring back into the fold, the same folks a smarmy actor like Ronald Reagan lured away and a smooth Negro like Obama lured back and now a pathological comedian like Trump lured away again. "Come to our tent" say the smiling faces, "we have shinier trinkets, better jobs, bigger televisions, faster cars." Welcome back. We missed you.

Am I saying the left should not bother to try to organize folks who work for a living into a radical movement? No. I'm saying rather than making promises you can't keep ( New pickup in every garage!) try treating them like adults. Calling them out on the massive gaps in their arguments. They don't like history or science or math? Too bad. Dignify them by holding them to the same rigorous standard you hold any grown person and confront them straight on, as practice for the day we have real politics in a real democracy. You show people respect they might show you some.