Links and Citations and Thoughts Vol.2017.1

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

The following is composed largely of links, citations and notes that I make on almost everything I read. I’ve expanded my notes slightly and cleaned them up for public consumption. Instead of letting these notes moulder in an unpublished draft (as I’ve done many times), I’ve put together a format that I think might be useful for readers but that doesn’t take as much time as individual articles on each topic would.

Mobiles are Huxley’s Soma

tl;dr: I’m trying out a new format that lets me publish more regularly and that better fits my time constraints.

A friend of mine sent me this video depicting the tragedy of our modern age in the style of early 20-century cartoons. The title’s in German, but there’s no text to understand.

The Warped Lens of Identitarianism

What is happening with the Baffler? They seem to have been invaded by lesser writing talents of late, pushing a considerably different agenda than erstwhile authors like Thomas Frank.

The article The Never-ending Story by Anne Elizabeth Moore (The Baffler) starts off well enough, asking whether we will be able to actually address the giant problem of which Harvey Weinstein’s alleged actions are just a symptom, then goes on to indict anyone and everyone who’s ever worked with him and anyone who would be willing to watch any movie made by his production company, now that we know those movies were produced by a(n alleged) monster. For example

“All this would be egregious enough were it only a labor concern, but the influence of Miramax and the Weinstein Company as media entities must be accounted for, and the cultural products they released reviewed in the context in which they were created. How are we to parse the nuanced gender dynamics of films like Pulp Fiction (1994) and Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) now that we know they were brewed in a cauldron of sexualized violence?”

We absolutely don’t have to parse those movies any differently. That’s a stupid thing to think. You are wasting everyone’s time with such investigations. There are several other avenues more important to pursue. She continues,

“The laughable travails of a woman whose boss takes credit for her labor in Working Girl (1988) makes more sense in a industry that granted virtually no serious power to women; the unacknowledgeable intelligence of the sex worker at the heart of Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (produced by Miramax in 1995) is also, suddenly, explicable (as is the continued ability of Allen to work in the industry).”

Are you trying to say we all just found out about sexism? This lens she’s using through which to view everything distorts too much. Weinstein has been “prosecuted” in the sense that the industry has ejected him now that it no longer has anything to gain from him. I don’t really care about Harvey Weinstein, but I do care about justice. And justice doesn’t just include Weinstein’s alleged victims getting their day in court, but also Weinstein not getting smeared unfairly. Or Woody Allen, though it’s a bit unclear which smear the author is going for, exactly.

“But Weinstein’s legacy—decades of films in which his politics became embedded in our lives—has yet to perish. Here’s hoping I’m proven wrong when I loft this prediction, too: It never will.”

Nor should it be. Why should they? He didn’t make these movies alone. He was barely involved in the creative side of it. Why punish everyone involved in those movies with such a scorched-earth policy? Ah, because that’s how people think justice works near the end of the second decade of the 21st century. What makes us unhappy must be eradicated not only from our vision, but from history. Anyone who does not comply is a thought criminal.

Moving right along to the next article is The Hannah Arendt Center’s Dark Thinking by John Ganz (The Baffler), which writes about German politics,

“In January, AfD state leader in Thuringia Björn Höcke called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, which is flanked by Hannah-Arendt-Strasse, a “monument of shame.””

But that’s exactly what it was meant to be, isn’t it? Calling it what it is can hardly be deemed anti-Semitic. Part of its purpose is to remind Germans of what they did—the definition of shame. I can see several reasons for condemning what AfD member think and say, but it’s utterly uninteresting to have to defend them when others take a scorched-earth policy to absolutely every statement they’ve ever made. This is similar to the way that people still pile on absolutely every statement that Trump makes—as if his stupid ones are still particularly interesting as additional evidence of his inadequacy for the office and as if his more salient ones are stupid when they’re not.

While the Baffler seems to be stumbling of late (in my opinion), the article The Weinstein Empire: Extreme as Normal by Barbara Nimri Aziz (CounterPunch) addresses the same issue in a more interesting and historical context, starting off with the following citation,

“A serious problem in America is the gap between academe and the mass media, which is our culture. Professors of humanities, with all their leftist fantasies, have little direct knowledge of American life and no impact whatever on public policy.”
Camille Paglia, author of Sexual Personae (1990) and Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992)

This is an excellent point to make, especially in light of the Baffler articles above: many people live in a bubble and don’t realize what the rest of the world is doing. That’s not to say that they’re wrong, in principle, but that their tactics are doomed to failure. Aziz offers the following much-more-useful advice for making something lasting out of the Weinstein revelations (even if nothing official ever comes out of it).

“What might help reform the entrenched misogyny that’s been exposed in the Weinstein scandal is this: explore how and why we– young men as well as women– are attracted to power; why our self esteem depends so much on our beauty, being gazed at. Why do we dash after anything that ‘goes viral’? Why do we want far more money than we need to live? Why can we not say “No” to a cleric’s advances, to a sport star’s invitation, to a boss’ wink, to promises of greater success?”

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that Aziz is blaming the victim. That’s a facile interpretation. The interesting point that she’s making is that, instead of protecting the victim from the vagaries of the world, we should change the world so that it no longer creates victims. Take away the power that the world has over such potential victims not by transferring that power, but by banishing it from the world. If you don’t want what abusers have then you’re no longer a potential victim. Instead of trying to beat them at their own game, you can win by not playing at all.

“Camille Paglia boldly took on mainstream feminists. In a sustained series of exchanges, many of which appear in her 1992 collection Sex, Art and American Culture she declares, “Feminists keeps saying the sexes are the same…telling women they can do anything, go anywhere, say anything or wear anything. “No they can’t.” Paglia exclaims. She attacks what she sees as mostly white, educated feminists for their “pie-in-the-sky fantasies about the perfect world (that) keep young women from seeing life as it is.” As a result, she argues, “Women want all the freedoms won, but they don’t want to acknowledge the risk. That’s the problem”.”

Antifa is part of the Problem

Next up is the article The Harmful Effects of Antifa by Diane Johnstone (CounterPunch), which continues Johnstone’s nuanced discussion of the new, young and purported left. She sees a similar problem to the one I point out above with the Baffler articles: this tendency to black-and-white-ism, to espousing Bush Jr.‘s simplistic philosophy of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”. To that end, they posit a world in which the thing they’re against is everywhere,

“This fantasy of omnipresent neo-fascism is as necessary to Antifa as the fantasy of omnipresent anti-Semitism is to Israel.”

And then associate everyone who disagrees in any way whatsoever with that evil, delineating “teams”.

“Antifa rhetoric specializes in non sequitur. If you agree with some conservative or libertarian that it was wrong to destroy Libya, then you are not only guilty of association with a pre-fascist, you are a supporter of dictators and thus probably a fascist yourself. This has been happening in France for years and it’s just getting started in the United States.”

Johnstone refers to another article she wrote, Antifa in Theory and Practice by Diane Johnstone (CounterPunch), in which she offered her initial analysis of that movement. The following are citations that I found interesting. The first two point out that the tactics of Antifa play right into the hands of the state.

“I am not suggesting that all, or most, Antifa are agents of the establishment. But they can be manipulated, infiltrated or impersonated precisely because they are self-anointed”
“The moral of this story is simple. Self-appointed radical revolutionaries can be the most useful thought police for the neoliberal war party. I am not suggesting that all, or most, Antifa are agents of the establishment. But they can be manipulated, infiltrated or impersonated precisely because they are self-anointed and usually more or less disguised.”

Johnstone continues, noting that Antifa’s “purity tests” are not only ironically fascist tools, but are highly counterproductive. Establishing a policy of ruthless scouring of contrary opinion will always turn around and bite you.

“[…] even the most justifiable emotional concerns do not necessarily contribute to wise counsel. Violent reactions to fear may seem to be strong and effective when in reality they are morally weak and practically ineffectual. We are in a period of great political confusion. Labeling every manifestation of “political incorrectness” as fascism impedes clarification of debate over issues that very much need to be defined and clarified.”
“In another vein, Antifa follows the trend of current Identity Politics excesses that are squelching free speech in what should be its citadel, academia. Words are considered so dangerous that “safe spaces” must be established to protect people from them. This extreme vulnerability to injury from words is strangely linked to tolerance of real physical violence.”
“In the United States, the worst thing about Antifa is the effort to lead the disoriented American left into a wild goose chase, tracking down imaginary “fascists” instead of getting together openly to work out a coherent positive program.”

Much of this debate is distracting. And the real enemies (hint: those who are and have been happily and cozily in power) are happy to see so many potential party-crashers wasting their time. As Johnstone puts it,

“The truly dangerous people in the United States are safely ensconced in Wall Street, in Washington Think Tanks, in the executive suites of the sprawling military industry, not to mention the editorial offices of some of the mainstream media currently adopting a benevolent attitude toward “anti-fascists” simply because they are useful in focusing on the maverick Trump instead of themselves.”
“The facile use of the term “fascist” gets in the way of thoughtful identification and definition of the real enemy of humanity today. In the contemporary chaos, the greatest and most dangerous upheavals in the world all stem from the same source, which is hard to name, but which we might give the provisional simplified label of Globalized Imperialism. This amounts to a multifaceted project to reshape the world to satisfy the demands of financial capitalism, the military industrial complex, United States ideological vanity and the megalomania of leaders of lesser “Western” powers, notably Israel. It could be called simply “imperialism”, except that it is much vaster and more destructive than the historic imperialism of previous centuries. It is also much more disguised. And since it bears no clear label such as “fascism”, it is difficult to denounce in simple terms. (emphasis added.)”
“The fixation on preventing a form of tyranny that arose over 80 years ago, under very different circumstances, obstructs recognition of the monstrous tyranny of today. Fighting the previous war leads to defeat.”

Johnstone’s characterization is eloquent and not at all hyperbolic. Above, we chastise those wasting their time fighting the wrong enemy, chasing chimeras of suspected heresy in pockets of potential supporters. But those of us who see where the dangers really lie must soberly acknowledge that we are also forced to waste our time. Instead of actually fighting the enemy, we expend nearly all of our energy merely trying to convince anyone other than a tiny minority that the enemy even exists. We face resistance on even this front from all sides, including—sometimes, especially—those we seek to recruit to our cause. We have basically lost this war and must look to the next one, if we’re to be at all honest with ourselves.

And that’s where Johnstone points out the most destructive feature of Antifa:

“Antifa has gone on the offensive against the one weapon still in the hands of the people: the right to free speech and assembly.”

This is more than shooting yourself in the foot—it’s shooting potential insurrection in the head and setting back any potential cause by years, if not decades. How are you supposed to sow dissent and build insurrection if even your supposed ideological compatriots are undermining your right to even discuss possibly subversive topics? A nearly hopelessly difficult slog is made even harder by such tactics.

The Rest of the World

And what of the now-nearly-year-long propaganda push to blame everything on the Russians? As reported in The Anti-Empire Report #152 by William Blum, as recently as June 2017, that opinion is oddly not shared by the Pentagon.

“The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report in June entitled “Russia: Military Power: Building a military to support great power aspirations”. Here’s an excerpt: Moscow seeks to promote a multi-polar world predicated on the principles of respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in other states’ internal affairs, the primacy of the United Nations, and a careful balance of power preventing one state or group of states from dominating the international order. To support these great power ambitions, Moscow has sought to build a robust military able to project power, add credibility to Russian diplomacy, and ensure that Russian interests can no longer be summarily dismissed without consequence. … Russia also has a deep and abiding distrust of U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a U.S. campaign to impose a single set of global values.”

The Pentagon used quite flowery language, but they are basically saying that Russia’s only mistake is not granting primacy to U.S. interests. For that, they must be eliminated.

The U.S. is stuck in a mindset that will no longer be tenable once we’ve burned out our resources. The climate is shifting already. It will be a different type of society from our soft, privileged and somnambulant one to survive it. The article Making Ourselves Small That We May Be Large by Kim C. Domenico (CounterPunch) discusses the transition from what we have now to what we must become.

“My husband chides the climate activists whose proposals suggest the pending climate disaster can be turned around by tweaking our technology, without giving up our western, “de-sensed” world. These voices are less marginalized than the more radical ones who aren’t inclined to “mince words.” Those who see the catastrophe headed straight for us, those acting as our elders “leaving out flattery and retaining the criticism,” point the way we must go in for the collective good, not for the short term good of those currently profiting/profiteering/plundering. They recognize that everything has to change; our much convenienced way of life must return to its basis in relatedness, for life as we know it is coming to an end.”
“From this perspective, catastrophe is the necessary defeat that can return one to being human, which I am calling “making ourselves small,” or as Powys expressed it, “sinking into ourselves and into Nature.””

The article The Serious Price of the Hyperconvenient Economy by Ralph Nader (CounterPunch) pleads with us to try to control our fates, to not be fooled into wanting that which is offered by our would-be enslavers.

“Technology driven by narrow commercial interests needs to provoke us into asking, “What’s all this convenience doing over the long run? What kind of community and society is coming out of this unassessed marketing?” For a better future, we must mobilize, community by community, for some inconvenient thoughts and organization. Unless, that is, the corporate future doesn’t need us.”

In that sense, other concerns shrink to insignificance. When a handful of tech and media companies control most people’s thoughts from dawn ‘til dusk, elections have become mostly moot and climate catastrophes are piling up, what exactly is the point of something like nation states? Won’t we see an increasing balkanization? It’s hard to care specifically about a single one, like the one in the ostensibly quite-wealthy Catalan. The article Catalan Independence Flounders on the Rocks of Reality by John Wight (CounterPunch) discusses how even that effort is receding into the mists of public memory, much as the various Arab Springs did.

“In politics, as in war, knowing when to retreat is as important as knowing when to advance; with the former often more difficult and requiring of more courage than the latter due to the challenge it brings of managing the unrealistic expectations and demands of some within your own ranks – those for whom any backward step is tantamount to betrayal. With this in mind, it is clear that Puigdemont, faced with the choice of acting sensibly in the face of the aforementioned balance of forces militating against UDI, or succumbing to the pressure exerted against his leadership from within his own movement, opted to succumb.”

It is a shame that we can’t pay enough attention, because there is a deeper battle to be fought: against the poisonous neoliberalism that sucks the remaining life from humanity’s failing husk, feeding a tiny group of the privileged. The longer we let them continue, the more difficult any transition will be. But revolution always comes late, not early and nearly always catastrophic, by definition. The overthrown will burn the world rather than give up their throne.

“Moreover, it bears repeating that its underlying is the same one that has fuelled support for Scottish independence in recent years; the same one that drove Brexit and which is behind the emergence and traction of anti-EU parties across Europe. That cause is an economic model, neoliberalism, whose sustainability was shattered irrevocably by the global financial crash and ensuing recession, starting in 2008. (Emphasis added.)”
“Yet instead of burying the corpse of neoliberalism, as they should have, political elites have for purely ideological reasons extended themselves in trying to breath life back into it with the imposition of austerity programs that have sown even more misery and dislocation in the lives of millions of their own citizens. Thus they are authors of their own demise.”

The key takeaway here is: they are the “authors of their own demise”—and most of them know it, but don’t care. They will fail upwards, as they always have and will suffer little.

The article By Killing ISIS Fighters Instead of Bringing Them to Justice, We Become as Guilty as Our Enemies by Robert Fisk (CounterPunch) discusses the untenable attitude toward justice in modern discussions. Some people just have to die, right?

“When George W Bush talked about bringing the bad guys to justice after 9/11, I wrote that I very much doubted if any justice would be coming Osama bin Laden’s way. And I was right. He was assassinated by the Americans. And nobody, naturally enough, complained about it. Live by the sword, die by the sword. But bin Laden’s death – and the ocean of drone attacks that followed – gave a gently, dark signal that it’s OK to murder these bad guys. Forget about courts, evidence, trials, justice and the rest. Just obliterate them. Who is going to complain?”

This applies just as well to the various pillory-by-media stories we’ve been reading of late. An uncomfortably large number of people seem to be just fine with letting Twitter and Facebook and the media decide who is guilty and deciding which punishment is fitting. This is vigilante justice and no different than witch trials. The initial (and alleged) perpetrators may feel deserving, but we will be ill-equipped to notice—or be able to complain—when the people on trial’s crimes are less clear-cut. The precedent will have been established and the power of judgment will have landed securely in the hands of an unelected, mercurial and extremely vindictive minority.

But the article The End of Empire by Chris Hedges (TruthDig) is much better at describing the way the world looks to the 99% (most of whom do not live in the U.S. or Europe, by the way). Hedges is an inspiring speaker, but his conclusions are often sobering to the point of depressing, even as you find yourself unable to disagree in more than minor details.

“Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia.”

What will happen after the U.S. finally burns itself out in a supernova of hubris and stupidity? The ersatz nation-states called multinationals that were born in the crucible of its neoliberal policies will smoothly take over, with nary a whimper from their pliable and mostly willing citizens. See All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization for a visual overview of how large certain individuals and corporations have become relative to nations and their money supplies.

“[…] perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.””

Our new multinational rulers’ brand of bullshit may have an even shorter half-life than that of the U.S., which has survived for a long time on the inertia of the world’s misplaced gratitude after World War II. It will be painful to be around when it crumbles and the next rulers step in. They are unlikely to be more benevolent, cut as they are from the same cloth as their progenitors. We can already see traces of their power in the ongoing transition from national to corporate power today.

“England was able to hold its empire together from 1815 to 1914 before being forced into a steady retreat. America’s high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War II. Behind the scenes, of course, the CIA used its bag of dirty tricks to orchestrate coups, fix elections and carry out assassinations, black propaganda campaigns, bribery, blackmail, intimidation and torture. But none of this works anymore.”

The article The Simulacra Democracy by John Steppling (CounterPunch) is long and somewhat rambling, but included several eminently quotable bits. It discusses the massive propaganda machine that is the mainstream media. It discusses how this media is—and always has been—an arm of the Pentagon and the government’s secret agencies, if not in name, then in spirit. The U.S. government could not have wished for a more supportive and compliant media over the decades.

“[…] a nation in which 87 percent of eighteen- to twenty-four year olds (according to a 2002 National Geographic Society/Roper Poll survey) cannot locate Iran or Iraq on a world map and 11 percent cannot locate the United States (!) is not merely “intellectually sluggish.” It would be more accurate to call it moronic, capable of being fooled into believing anything …” — Morris Berman”
“If one only gets one’s news from MSNBC or FOX or CNN then one will take away mostly pure propaganda. Rachel Maddow has a career based on craven parroting of DNC approved talking points and conclusions. Bill Maher, whose show is on HBO, is of late pimping for war. Sunday news talk shows do not invite radical voices, not ever.”
“But Americans are discouraged from thinking in terms of class. They see individualism and identity. Get me more women directors they cry….which would give us more versions of Zero Dark Thirty, I guess. Gender equality matters, something every single socialist country in history has emphasized. Something Chavez saw fit to write into the Bolivarian constitution on day one. Chavez, who liberal avatar Bernie Sanders dismissed as a “dead communist dictator”. Chavez, who feminist avatar Hillary Clinton worked overtime to oust from power. (Emphasis added.)”

What did Trump say about Chavez? Who cares? Could it have been worse than what the supposed leading lights of liberal democracy said about him? Essentially promulgating state lies? Do they honestly believe it? Or are they cynically repeating what the Pentagon and deep state wants to hear in order to get closer to the nexus of power? Who cares? It doesn’t matter to those of out here, in the cold. To us, they are part of the problem, no matter their reasons.

“Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, recently stated that his agency would become a “much more vicious agency” in fighting its enemies. Its actually hard to imagine what that might look like given CIA history. More vicious than rendition, drone killing and black site torture? Remember it was the U.S. and its School of the Americas that trained those death squads in Central America. Hollywood makes comedies about this. In any event nobody in Hollywood complains. Just as none of the actresses assaulted by Weinstein (and countless others) said anything lest they lose career opportunities. Just as nobody complains about the racism and demonizing of Muslims or Serbs or North Koreans or Russians lest they not get the job. Coercion is silent and a given. It is also absolute. Most actors and directors simply don’t think about it, and most know little beyond what they hear on corporate news or read in the NYTimes. (Emphasis added.)”
“A good rule of thumb is if the U.S. targets a country or leader, then its worth questioning the western-generated propagated propaganda in mainstream media about said country or leader (think Syria, Gadaffi, Aristide, Milosovic, Iran, North Korea). The U.S. does not go after countries who welcome western capital.”

Our national amnesia leads to our doom. Our poor understanding of history—or our internalization of government propaganda as real history—makes us easily manipulated. As Steppling concludes:

“It is a world created by writers under thirty, largely, and certainly under forty. These are worlds created by people who themselves know very little of the world. They know even less about having to work for a living. The entire universe of film is absent any class awareness. History is simplified the better to appeal to a wider audience. Everything feels and sounds the same. And it is stultifying. There are films and TV from Europe, even from the U.K. that have merit, have heterogeneous sensibilities, but not from Hollywood.”

And Hollywood controls a great deal of what people see and hear, when they’re just relaxing and trying get away from news. It is then that they are most pliable, most easily brainwashed. It is then that pick up what they will come to think of as their “own” opinions. It is difficult to think of a way of fighting such an insidious, gigantic and omnipresent machine.