This Thursday night at 7:00 (014 Demerest, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY) come hear the gadfly sent to torment conservatives, Corey Robin, author of "The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sara Palin."
With responses by Professors Iva Deutchman and Stephen Frug.
From the January 18, 2012 "New York Times":
“The Reactionary Mind” certainly cuts hard against the common view that the radical populist conservatism epitomized by Sarah Palin represents a sharp break with the cautious, reasonable, moderate, pragmatic conservatism inaugurated by the 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke. For Mr. Robin even Burke, that great critic of the French Revolution, wasn’t a Burkean moderate, but a reactionary who celebrated the sublimity of violence and denounced the inability of flabby traditional elites to defend the existing order.
This counterrevolutionary spirit, Mr. Robin argues, animates every conservative, from the Southern slaveholders to Ayn Rand to Antonin Scalia, to name just a few of the figures he pulls into his often slashing analysis. Commitment to a limited government, devotion to the free market, or a wariness of change, Mr. Robin writes, are not the essence of conservatism but mere “byproducts” of one essential idea — “that some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others.”
Cheerleaders, chants, and beach balls are barbaric responses to the announcement of a political assassination.
Political assassination is not an act of justice. It does not bring about justice in some kind of cosmic tit for tat. It is not the doing of justice. Justice is not done when another is killed in retaliation.
Retaliation, retribution, revenge--are these now the common terms through which justice is understood in the US? Do we think that victims are avenged when their assailant is killed? The victims are still dead, still gone, still mourned. Are they brought back in the acts of terror, torture, and imprisonment enacted in their name? Are they memorialized daily in airports as we take off our belts and shoes, as we put our hand behind are heads, spread-eagled, and searched, as we are x-rayed and scanned?
For a moment, the twenty minutes or so when the intertubes were alive with the news and before the president spoke, I felt something--something like relief, the sense of an end, perhaps even hope. It was, I think, the anticipation of an end to the disaster of the last ten years of ritualized humiliation, electronically stimulated fear, widespread surveillance, and the enjoyment of camps and torture.
The television media quickly made it clear that this sort of anticipation has no place: the war on terrorism is endless, total. It won't stop. We are not the same people. We have been reconfigured in a massive psycho-political experiment in transforming democracy into fascism, or a new barbarous variant of fascism, capitalist anarcho-fascism.
We are now the sort of people who cheer for death and murder, who repeat mindless lies, who glory in inequality--not bread and circuses but cheetos and reality tv. Everything is a game, yet we don't even recognize the levels on which it is played, the levels on which we aren't players at all but the targets captured or shot as the real players, hot shots, move on up.
Can we glimpse post-terrorism? Can we use it as an opening to something else, a focus not on war but on global capitalist exploitation? Can it be a chance to remake the decade's choice for barbarism into a new choice for socialism?
(The photo above is from here. I still haven't been able to get my photos off my phone--argh.)
I was in London last week to give some talks. Fortunately, this gave me the opportunity to join the march on Parliament Square in opposition to the cuts in the EMA and the tuition increase (as well as drop by the library sit-in at Goldsmiths).
A few things stay with me about the protests. The first is that the day started out with a large, upbeat, march. Surrounding the march and blocking the roads, though, were an astounding number of police. None of the marches I've been on in the US matched this one in terms of police response--which also included lots of fencing, barricades, and vans and cars to block roads.
The second aspect of the day that surprised me was how short the march route was--because of shield to shield police barriers. At the protest of Bush's first inauguration, we got closer to the motorcade than the British police let the protestors get to Parliament. It was wonderful, thrilling, and appropriate when a large group of intrepid souls were able to knock down some of the ill-positioned fencing and get in closer.
Third, early in the day, the police lines were about a block from the bulk of the crowd. That is, there were the barricade police, and then other large lines of police a few blocks away. I was near the Westminster tube station where there was a large, fabulous bunch of drummers encircled by the people dancing and jumping around. Slowly it became apparent that the lines of police were inching forward, slowly kettling the crowd. I saw the horses come in--large, imposing. We left around 3:30 or so to return to the symposium.
While we were gone: vote passes, police become more aggressive, charging the crowd with horses and clubs. Best tweet: from the crowd trying to defend itself from police violence: "use the fence as pikes!"
We got back out around 6:00 or 6:30 and headed to the National Gallery to try to join the occupation--too late. But a large crowd was trying to burn down the Christmas tree in front of it. At first it seemed like they were just trying to pull it down--some folks were climbing it. The police were just standing around. Then, after much effort, some folks were able to get a good sized fire started--much to the delight of the cheering crowd, some of whom then started to worry because some kids were still up in the tree. I was worried that the kids would suffocate from smoke inhalation before they could get down. Fortunately, they got down. And, having insured that the fire was going, the police then moved in with extinguishers to put it out. I'm certain they wanted to make sure the photo op of burning tree had been well established.
I've learned to admire and appreciate the anarchists--very brave and courageous. I also like the transmission vectors--crowd anarchy breeds more anarchy as the state responds with helicopters, sirens, and crazy cops driving around cluelessly. After they put out the tree, the crowd surged toward Leicester Square...and then became rather indistinguishable from crowds of tourists. This had advantages and disadvantages--the advantage is rather theoretical as state power is unable to discriminate between what it's protecting and what it's fighting. The disadvantage is the dissipation of energies--but maybe it was okay since by that time the royal car had already been encountered and addressed (I think there must be something deliberate in the police's allowing of Charles and Camilla to go down a route with hundreds of protesters already running all over the place).
The British state is responding with extreme force. It seems clear that it is doing so in order to intimidate people from future protests. It also seems clear that a ground war that combines the swarming advantage of the crowd with more organized tactics will be crucial.The state is defending its territory (many government businesses had armed guards/police in front of them all day--it was like being in an occupied territory in a war zone). What about taking over other parts of the city, liberating them from capital and the state? This would no doubt have high cost in lives.
A further question: what is the goal? Bringing down the coalition? Changing the laws? Building an alternative university? Seizing the state and taking control of the banks and corporations? I don't think the former options are really options without the last one.
And that's also the situation for us/US now that the Obama and the Senate have so clearly joined forces with the very rich--continued tax breaks for the very, very rich is a continued fuck you to the rest of us.
How long can people continue who view their lives in terms of appetites? If life is only acquisition, only pleasure, only the stimulation and feeding of appetites to transient and manufactured to be called desires, how long do we continue to persist in it? Can there be a society, that is, one that lasts more than a generation or two, with no concerns or values other than money?
Neoliberalism rots us to the core. For a couple of decades, the religious right obscured this rot, this truth of the pursuit of goods without end. But not anymore. We see the effects of the appetites all around us--the obese population, the closets stuffed with trash, the dumps and garbage that have replaced schools, farms, community centers. Towns and cities decay. The planet heats up. Media of distraction try to get us into a rhythm, a substitute for seasons--summer blockbusters, back to school, election, holidays. Once you ask whether any of it matters you are headed for trouble. It can only matter in kid time: the day to day concerns of the young. The sage at our local paint store told me yesterday: the days are interminable but the years fly by. Fast--and what mattered?
Why keep going? Neoliberalism can't answer the question. It doesn't provide any values--money isn't an end in itself. Neither are material goods or pleasures. A world without values eats away at our capacities to think about value, principle, purpose. Why bother? It doesn't pay the bills. Who cares? It's just another opinion, another post. Without value, everything seems to be waste. I said to my daughter that it might be fun to be a scientist. Her response: "No. That would be boring. All scientists do is sit around and discover stuff." We don't need more stuff. Why bother?
Private purposes are the privation of purpose, its evacuation from loci of meaning.
A couple of my favorite moments in last night's media injection: Howard Fineman telling Keith Olbermann he was under-reacting; Olbermann rightly pointing out that sci-fi (and cyberpunk) dystopias depend on this move, the open and legal subjection of the political system to corporations.
If corporations are persons, can they get the death penalty?
Particularly galling in the majority's construction of corporate interests as the same as identity interests (so regulating corporate 'speech' is the same as regulating a person's speech on the basic of an identity category) is its nearly seamless absorption of the worst tendencies of neoliberalism. I don't mean only the twisting of arguments, language, and history, their fragmentation and recombination into an ideological mash-up, but the too easy (and terribly dangerous) elision of capitalism and democracy. A few months ago I heard an abominable paper where the author collapsed Hannah Arendt's distinctions between public and private via the claim that creating a corporation could be an 'act' in her sense. This only makes sense if one extracts it from the entirety of the argument in The Human Condition, neglecting its fundamental point regarding the rise of the social and the loss of the political.
The conundrum Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission raises for me is that I already thought that corporations ruled the world, not in the sense that they were unified or didn't disagree but in the sense that laws in the US are interpreted in their interest and to their benefit more often than not. Even more fundamentally, my sense has been that our system of government is rooted in protecting and extending capitalism.
But maybe I didn't really think this. Maybe I still took some heart from the progressive tradition, the civil rights movements. So maybe underneath my cynical view was something more like a view of the state as not only an tool of the ruling class but also a terrain of class struggle, a terrain where sometimes the bad guys didn't win, sometimes corporate capital interests were not extended or elevated.
And here's the thing: it appears that this second view is the capitalist one. Capitalists think they need to control the state. Corporations think they need to extend their range and power. They want to use the state to secure their interests. We could even say that the majority on the Roberts Court believes in democracy more strongly than any Democrat or progressive: they believe it is so powerful that they need to kill it, control it, corrupt it, own it. Republicans are the ones concerned with the power of the people--hence they are the ones who don't lament its loss but want to eliminate its presence.
Some highlights from Stevens' dissent (opinion is here):
(on the relevant Constitutional history)
The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare. Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind. While individuals might join together to exercise their speech rights, business corporations, at least, were plainly not seen as facilitating such associational or expressive ends.
(on the impact of corporate money on the electoral process)
When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy. A Government captured by corporate interests, they may come to believe, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: an increased perception that large spenders “‘call the tune’” and a reduced “‘willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance.’”
(on the radicality of the majority opinion)
At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have foughtagainst the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majorityof this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.
Could anyone be surprised that the corporate lackeys parading around as Senators have dropped the public option? Should anyone believe that this is simply because the notorious Joe Lieberman couldn't support the pathetically watered down excuse for a public option, the one held up as both significant reform and meaningful compromise? It's a lie that they have no choice: this is what they choose--a massive give away to the insurance companies that continue to deny coverage and increase premium costs to extort every last cent out of us (my copays and emergency room visits just doubled). The bill reminds me of the food in Brazil, the disgusting mush accompanied by images of delicious dishes. The scandal is that the charade proceeds as if something important were at stake, when that was ditched long ago, by Obama himself when he took single-payer off the table.
Escalating war in Afghanistan (in the name of peace!), failure to prosecute torturers, failure to reign in Wall Street (in the name of helping Main Street!), failure to deliver on climate, support for the worst in Haiti, and failure to deliver adequate health care. And all this with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.
This means that the Democrats are the bad guys. Why assume that they can't get what they want when they control both Houses? The answer must be that they are getting precisely what they want--money from the insurance sector, the finance sector, the arms and security sector. (In this respect, increases in obesity may be our best current resistance--if people are too fat to serve in the military, the military collapses; if obsesity puts too much stress on hospitals, the health system collapses; on the one hand, this doesn't make life any better for the poor and obese; on the other, at least they aren't reinforcing the system that feeds on their sacrifice and humiliation. So it's like another version of Bartelby and refusal. In the face of an injuction, one says, in a complete non-sequitor, Supersize Me!).
Clinton ushered in the reforms necessary for the intensification of neoliberalism. Obama is enabling neoliberalism to do its worst without repercussion. He is intensifying the authoritarian and militarist elements that attempt to control, that continue to develop strategies and technologies for control, and intensifying the already extreme inequalities that make control necessary. What makes Obama worst than Bush is that Obama leveraged progressive, democratic, youthful, anti-racist, multicultural hope that politics could still work for the people, that government could still restrain the strong and protect the less fortunate. He held out the promise that unbridled self-assertion abroad and at home would end. Neither glutonous banks, mortgage brokers, and credit card companies nor war hungry oil companies, private contractors, and neo-cons would determine our futures.
It's not ironic that Obama gave a highly publicized speech on education at the same time the CA system is crumbling. It's 1984, just like under Bush: anything that is praised is falling apart; anything that is criticized is really supported, endorsed. The same thing occurs with respect to finance. Obama wants to 'shame' Wall Street? Please. We know they have no shame. Who needs shame when you make over a billion a year? 'Shame' is what Obama says when the truth is that he has done nothing but feed the gall and hubris of Wall Street.
Exploiting people's hope for change is key to the damage Obama has done and continues to do. Destroying any remaining sense of agency is crucial to ensuring total compliance. The thing is, last fall and winter, people were ready to make sacrifices, ready to be responsible, ready to grow up. The mood was almost one of relief that the pressures to enjoy, to consume, were over, that our decade long credit orgy had finally come to an end and that finding another way was possible. Green initiatives were not yet completely coopted. The financial system seemed broken nearly beyond repair, a clear indication of the ultimate failure of market fundamentalism--as even Alan Greenspan acknowledged: his entire world view was wrong. A reformed finance sector, green energy, single-payer health care, renewed public transportation and a shift away from car culture--these key programs for a new beginning seemed--and were--possible. Instead, the US of Goldman Sachs has chosen war and finance.
Maybe this collapse of our hope is the opportunity for its renewal. Maybe this collapse is the liberation from the fantasy that Democrats are democrats.
The newest surge isn't only in Afghanistan. It's here via the financial-military complex. And if Afghanistan will persevere (as we all expect it will, just like it has in the face of every foreign invasion), then we can too.
Yesterday's NYT picked up a story out of LA about a man left dead on his balcony for five days.
“I ran over there with my camera equipment,” he said. “There was blood on the balcony, and he was visible from the street. But it really did not look like a real person up there.”
Also reported in the NYT (in a recap from a blog) was that suicide has been increasing:
Worldwide, deaths from suicide now outnumber deaths from war and homicide together: the World Health Organization estimates that each year around one million people — predominantly men — kill themselves
We cannot tell the living from the dead. Many of us choose death.
Popular culture is overrun by the dead--vampires, ghosts, zombies. They are more alive than the living, demonstrating the kinds of freedom and agency (or, more precisely, the fantasy of freedom in the undead circuits of drive) we can only dream about. After all, no worries about health insurance here--it can't get any worse.
Do we fear them, these dead, these zombies or vampires? Do we seek in them a kind of release from our own entombment? So are they fantasies of agency or passivity? Or is part of the fantasy the very posing of a choice or opposition?
I read The Lovely Bones. The freedom of the dead narrator, the one at the center of the horror who as that very center escapes it. The contemporary tethering to the dead has replaced American dreams of progress, manifest destiny, hope, change, a better world. The zombie banks that are Obama's obscene underside are the truth of embrace of the dead, are failure to distinguish between living and dead (there are other elements of this as well: enthusiasm for Antigone, a new book on the blurring between life and death, everything written by Agamben).
Can we come back to life (especially a life that is not biopolitical--as I posted here a number of months ago, biopolitics is best understood in terms of the death drive). Can we engage living and the living, without having to talk about valuing life, and thereby inserting it into arguments over economies? Can we hold onto living as a necessary element of the axiom of equality, without getting dragged into ridiculous arguments over fetishization of the human? What is the fear of life? A fear of responsibility, agency, accountability, of the day to dayness of its processes and requirements?
Don't bring out your dead. Our dead are already here and they are enough.
Most of us have probably already seen the recent news regarding zombie warnings. For example:
The press hoopla proceeds as if this were a prank or a joke. What if the real joke is that its not a joke? From David Sirota, an account of zombies in the Obama administration:
That's not an oversight. From former federal officials like Robert Reich and Brooksley Born, to Nobel prize-winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, to business leaders like Leo Hindery Jr., there's no shortage of qualified experts who have challenged market fundamentalism. But they have been barred from an administration focused on ideological purity. In Hindery's case, the blacklisting was explicit. Despite this venture capitalist establishing a well-respected think tank and serving as a top economic adviser to Obama's campaign, Politico.com reports that "Obama's aides appear never to have taken his bid (for an administration post) seriously." Why? Because he "set himself up in opposition" to Wall Street's agenda.
The anecdote highlights how, regardless of election hoopla, Washington is the same one-party town it always has been - controlled not by Democrats or Republicans, but by Kleptocrats (i.e., thieves). Their ties to money make them the undead zombies in the slash-and-burn horror flick that is American politics: No matter how many times their discredited theologies are stabbed, torched and shot down by verifiable failure, their careers cannot be killed. Somehow, these political immortals are allowed to mindlessly lunge forward, never answering to rivals - even if that rival is the president himself.
and, from someone trying to prepare for the worst: