All posts by William Hawes

Nathan J. Robinson’s Why You Should Be a Socialist: Useful and Misleading

There are only a few introductory texts on socialism that manage to be accessible, witty, and broad enough to survey its history as well as contemporary thought on the subject. Nathan J. Robinson’s new book, Why You Should Be a Socialist is able to do just that by weaving together a compelling narrative and excellent arguments that cover the rich practical and theoretical implications of socialism in a down to earth, entertaining way. There are serious holes in the book’s content with regards to theory, however, as well as a reluctance to demonstrate if contemporary “democratic socialism” is up to the task of revolution. On the whole, the text provides many convincing arguments to win over skeptical progressives, centrists, and even conservative readers who perhaps have never deeply considered the case for socialism.

Robinson begins the book by addressing the fundamental impulses that socialists share: revulsion at gross inequalities and inhumane conditions that are the direct consequences of our dominant socio-economic system, capitalism. This is where Robinson’s work truly shines. He is able to clearly show how socialist or least anti-capitalist thought is permeated by the notion that mainstream politics and finance are anything but normal in regards to human decency and meeting basic needs. What socialism contends, and what Robinson easily and deftly spells out, is that our economic system is not simply unfair or “the way things have to be”. Rather, capitalist institutions are set up to perpetuate systemic injustices including mass poverty, institutional racism, and imperial wars and foreign conflicts.

Part One of the book (Chapters one through three) dives into the failures of capitalism in detail, and the author cites many common studies and figures which bolster the arguments for socialism. What Robinson hits on over and over, to his credit, is to explain how completely arbitrary and cruel contemporary capitalism is. It is important to note that socialist thinking does not have to come from theoretical teachings or ideology. Instead, innate curiosity and what Robinson calls a “moral instinct” provides the natural tendency which grounds socialist thought. Here we can see clear articulations as to how and why capital relies on human immiseration for continual self-expansion, and how it chooses profits over people time and time again. This section does have convincing arguments to persuade open-minded liberals and skeptics.

Part Two dives into defining principles and terms associated with the left tradition, as well as expanding on modern utopian ideals and pragmatic agendas that socialists of today advocate for. At its core, socialism is about expanding democratic values and empowering workers, and Robinson’s analysis reflects this. Yet he seems to continually pepper his own belief system with the common qualifiers such as “libertarian socialist” and “democratic socialist.” Robinson also errs by unduly misrepresenting Marx and Lenin, even throwing in a baseless quote from Murray Bookchin about Marx as if to prove his point. A few pages later, Robinson is quick to cite Hellen Keller’s importance to American socialism, and rightly so; yet this reviewer is left to wonder if he is aware that Keller repeatedly praised Lenin throughout her life.

Part Three demolishes the usual conservative and liberal arguments and opposition to socialism. It’s quite an entertaining read and Robinson deftly dismisses both the intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism and the inadequate wishy-washiness of liberal thought. The section “Response to Criticisms” also does a good job explaining the bad faith mainstream critics use in lame attempts to discredit socialist thought. There is one notable exception, however, in which the author seriously errs in his attempt to bolster his argument by relying on discredited propaganda.

Robinson tries to explain how the capitalists’ talking point: “if you want socialism you’ll end up with Venezuela” is an absolute canard. Capitalists love to point to economic hardships in the developing world as being caused by socialism no matter what, obviously.

What’s bewildering, however, is the author’s insistence that Venezuela cannot be an example of socialist failure because, in fact, Venezuela does not have socialist policies. Amazingly, Robinson repeats mainstream lies and distortions, and attributes the crisis almost solely to internal “poor economic policies,” “authoritarian government,” and a “corrupt kleptocracy.” This is an uneducated viewpoint, one that does not take into account the worldwide drop in oil prices which hurt the spending power of the government; the sanctions, covert action, and economic sabotage from the US; and purposeful withholding of household goods and supplies by Venezuelan corporations and oligarchs who support the US-backed opposition. This is a prime example of what some humorously refer to as “State Department Socialism,” and was cringe-inducing to read. There are only three types of people who cite the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post as credible sources on Venezuela: the educated fool, the sycophantic quisling, or the total sociopath; and Robinson appears to fall into the first category in this instance.

As founder and editor of Current Affairs, the leftist/progressive website and magazine, Robinson’s ideas are passed around the admittedly tiny socialist community and this book cannot be disentangled from his wider media footprint. Current Affairs does have some good content for socialists and younger “baby leftists,” and poses itself as more down-to-earth and irreverent compared to venues like Dissent or Jacobin.

Robinson is even maligned online, perhaps a bit unfairly, for his (possibly?) affected accent and his fashion sense; in his book he correctly identifies these sorts of criticisms as liberal tendencies. In his section on the inadequacy of liberals, he describes the way a “politics of attributes” is invoked, which is a good way of summing up the superficiality of liberal identity politics and woke political correctness. The ranks of lefties and socialists have a long, proud tradition of being filled with eccentrics, after all.

More to the point, valid critiques of this work as well as the wider milieu of Current Affairs and the above mentioned outlets focus around immature and indecisive ideology and policy proposals. Robinson’s own brand of libertarian socialism in the book is never really developed or expanded upon, and he does not bother to delve in and explain how he reconciles his own beliefs with democratic socialism. His passing references to Marx are, frankly, embarrassing, as even Jacobin’s review noted. The paucity of references to leftist movements internationally and in developing nations is a problem. The criticisms of Venezuela are unfounded; he attempts to attack from the left but uses mainstream arguments and sources from the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud.

This book reflects a lot of tendencies of younger democratic socialists and millennial left politics. It’s immature, brilliant, clumsy, utopian, sentimental, geeky in an endearing way, out of touch, starry-eyed, short on history. It’s at turns sprawling and ambitious; it’s also characteristically insular and, again, mostly bereft of historical materialism and internationalist influences. Like the wider projects of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Robinson’s own work elides the issue of his own privilege and how it is being leveraged to network and strengthen the “pragmatic” opportunism of socialists and social democrats trying to work within the inherently corrupt Democratic Party.

The text does exhibit some elements of salesmanship that can be at different points irritable or likeable, with a witty joke here, a silly pop culture reference there. In spite of the laid back prose, there is a sort of striving, overachieving tone. It does appear that the author wants to be seen as a very serious person: see Current Affairs’ interviews with very important people, rock stars of US “progressivism” such as Noam Chomsky, Ilhan Omar, Naomi Klein, but no one, well, too subversive. The bio in the book jacket (“Robinson is a leading voice of millennial left politics”) even mimics Jacobin’s byline: “Jacobin is a leading voice of the American left.” For those being introduced to leftist thinking, the book does a good job explaining some of the moral and practical reasons in favor of socialism. Those already steeped in theory and practice will find much familiar ground covered, as well as having to deal with the frustration of imprecise and immature reasoning from a self-proclaimed “leading voice.”

“You Can’t Fix Stupid”

Robert Reich’s new work, The System: Who Rigged it, How We Fix it offers a wide-ranging critique of our nation’s contemporary political and economic ills. Reich does a brilliant job succinctly reminding us of the scale and scope of corporate corruption, economic inequality, and political spinelessness in America.

Reich’s diagnosis is on point and there is not much to quibble with. He focuses the first half of the book on the finance sector and the arrogant, misguided, debauched behavior of one of its leaders, Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase Bank. Reich relentlessly demolishes the arguments of neoliberal capitalists such as Dimon and their insane drive to privatize, deregulate, and put profits and stock prices over the needs of the people.

He reveals how banking institutions, unethical lobbying, and the revolving door phenomenon of politicians and regulators entering the private sector to profiteer has eroded democracy and left us with a tiny oligarchy of super-rich who buy off our political system. Reich rightly points out that most Americans understand this, especially as corporate profits and CEO pay skyrockets as wages stagnate for the majority of citizens.

Let’s give the man credit where it’s due: Reich does a great job in this book documenting the demented history of finance capital of the last decade or so. Reich should stick to history, because while he may be popular due to his work in government and journalistic forays, his economic and social policies are little more than your standard boiler-plate liberal/progressive proposals.

My problem lies with his prognosis. Reich is a proud progressive type, but his dyed-in-the-wool liberal economic background exposes him as a relic of a bygone era. For instance, one of Reich’s previous books is titled Saving Capitalism. The majority of young people (Gen Z and Millennials) increasingly favor socialism over capitalism, because they are in the thick of the post-2008 perma-recession economy which shows no hope of getting better since the Covid-19 pandemic has started, not to mention systemic racist policies which have exploded into a national uprising. (Reich’s book was published in March 2020, and so was probably finished in mid-late 2019, which explains the lack of mentions.)

Capitalism ultimately cannot exist with democracy; they are mutually exclusive. Rather it must evolve into something better either through revolution or non-violent mass protests and worker strikes, with working class movements at the base of any such paradigm shift. It’s a very common delusion among republicans, centrists and liberal democrats that capitalism can be saved, which is what Reich leans back on towards the conclusion of this book, unfortunately, and it’s not an original or compelling argument.

Reading Reich is a bit unsettling because it sounds like listening to Elizabeth Warren speak: “If we just have the right policies, a wealth tax, and regulate those banks!” If only it were that simple, Robert.

Time has passed Reich by. Being a Clinton official (ahem, lackey) is no longer seen as a positive thing in progressive circles, never mind leftist ones. The country has moved on from the elitist liberal perspective and there are basically three popular political archetypes today: the nationalist conservative faux-populist (Trump being the current avatar), the neoliberal centrists (Biden, but also Clinton, Jeb Bush, Kasich, Klobuchar, Buttigieg), and the populist democratic socialists (Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

“The System” Reich has spent so much time trying to save is hopeless. Let’s just take his subtitle, “Who Rigged It, How We Fix It”, as an example. This type of thinking is the liberal version of Make America Great Again: things were going well in the post-WWII Keynesian economy, then somehow it fell apart due to a few bad actors that brought us neoliberal policies and not the nature of capitalist political economy, and all we have to do is repair it through technocratic economic policy adjustments Well, yes, the more distributive policies and higher taxation from FDR through the mid-seventies were better, certainly, but capital has moved on from this “stakeholder” model as Reich calls it; and it is fundamentally against returning to empowering unions and instituting social-democratic governance in the US.

This type of wishy-washy have your cake and it eat too thinking, again, is basically what Elizabeth Warren was saying in her 2020 presidential campaign. Most American progressives are on board with Sanders’ more radical vision of democratic socialism and that’s simply not going to change; if anything, progressives will advocate for even more radical policies in the face of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and economic depression. What’s confusing, and frankly disappointing, is that Reich endorsed Sanders for president, yet many of the quite good policy proposals are barely mentioned in the text.

Reich certainly does mimic and emulate the professional-managerial class policies and affect of Warren, but another figure is even more apt. About halfway through the book, a different comparison became clear to me: Reich is much like a modern-day John Kenneth Galbraith, a liberal establishment economist who became famous in the 1950s and 60s. Old heads know that Galbraith’s The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State were essential reading, as they were for yours truly in my late-teen/early twenties political bildungsroman as a wannabe social theorist/political philosopher, as well as for many more theory nerds and leftists. I imagine trying to wrap one’s head around Galbraith back then is similar to reading Reich now: a frustrating endeavor when it is readily apparent Galbraith/Reich are clearly, in some respects, smart enough to know better regarding how hard “the system” will fight back to preserve its privileges (like Obama), but simply blinded by capitalist ideology and possibly personal issues (lust for status/social capital/power) which hold them back. As I finished the book, I chuckled: Warren and Galbraith are both included in the acknowledgements!

Let’s return to the subtitle again. Consider an example of something we can all agree is “rigged”: a casino. Can one “fix” a casino? Not really, because it’s a perfectly legal business even if it is shady and unethical, makes a ton of profit and therefore has immense power behind it, and is backed by all sorts of financial and lobbying interests. Sound familiar? That’s capitalism in a nutshell. The solution to the casino question, and thus capitalism, is to stop playing the game.

Reich has benefitted from immense privilege and it is no surprise that his rosy optimistic view on capitalism is what allows him to retain a professorship, remained ensconced in a liberal bubble, and maintain a national audience for his literary and journalistic forays. In essence, he makes a living telling people exactly like him (urbane, liberal, upper-middle class professionals) what they want to hear: that the system can be saved.

Like many other political commentators, however, popularity is no evidence of profundity or wisdom. Reich fails to consider what “The System” really is. The system we call the USA is really an empire, in our case a modern empire not sustained through territorial conquests, but driven by cheap fossil fuels, by controlling the global money supply, by exploiting cheap foreign labor and supply chains; and empires do not get fixed. They rise, they plateau, they decline, and they eventually collapse.

What’s just plain sad is that for someone who endorsed Bernie Sanders for President in 2020, Reich does not give much more than a passing nod to the passionate base and social movements which underlie and bolstered the Sanders campaign. As an eminent public intellectual, Reich is simply shirking in his duty to educate and foster class consciousness among his many avid liberal readership; some of whom are on the cusp of radicalization.

Serious progressives want the American empire dismantled, and that task is simply not compatible with attempting to fix a capitalist system that is broken well beyond the point of repair. Capitalism relies on alienation and exploitation of workers to produce surplus value-profits- for corporations, and there is no work-around, amount of magical thinking, or deus ex machina that will save it and make it ethical and equitable. Propping up capitalism, or repairing it as Reich implies, would necessarily involve maintaining the empire and all the advantages it brings in, which is ecological and financially unsustainable in the long run, but more importantly is immoral and unjust to the majority of the world’s population. If Reich were to step out of his self-imposed bubble, he could see this.

Moderately Liberal, Extremely Dystopian: Establishment Democrats and Big Brained Centrism

As we approach the middle of March 2020 with Super Tuesday behind us, the moderate candidacy of Joe Biden has gained momentum, notching ten victories. The recent spat of moderate candidates dropping out (Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, Steyer) alongside Elizabeth Warren’s decision to stay in for Super Tuesday (and dropping out right after) boosted Biden into the lead in delegate count, but it is unclear going forward whether he will be able to gain ground or maintain his advantage.

His campaign is essentially a redux of Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, a dystopian offering of neoliberal establishment ideas: essentially the most harmful, bland, out-of-touch, uninspiring, and ignorant set of centrist policies. Biden offers nothing new, substantial, or exciting; and he himself stated to donors last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency. By continuing to go with “moderate”, centrist agendas, the Democratic Party establishment, corporate America, and mainstream media reveal they would rather lose to Trump than get behind the progressive choice, Bernie Sanders.

Support for Bernie Sanders is strong across all national polling, yet in past debates, his moderate rivals continued to shoot themselves in the foot by offering up the most ridiculous arguments against progressive causes. Regardless of his success, Biden has learned nothing and absorbed no lessons from his fellow moderates’ failures or the excitement and promise offered by the progressive wing of his party. He is a living fossil. Like his corporate-backed counterpart moderates, his whole shtick is based on presenting himself as the lesser of two evils, offering the most milquetoast set of policies, and attempting to make voters fearful of Sanders’ incremental reforms by casting them as socialist and authoritarian.

By representing Sanders’ social democratic policies as “dangerous” as well as his supporters as being rude on social media because they actually care and are passionate about changing the direction of this country, the centrist hydra of campaign rhetoric and establishment media devolved into offering an infantile, McCarthyite debating style.

Much like the centrist triad of Biden, Buttigieg (who suspended his campaign March 1st), and Klobuchar (also suspended March 2nd), who are equal parts sell-outs, windbags, and sycophantic brown-nosers to the ruling class, the professional class choice, technocrat, pseudo-progressive Elizabeth Warren as well as what I’d call the “Silicon Valley candidate” Andrew Yang also represent the epitome of “big-brained centrist” thought.

Basically, this term represents the attitude of mainstream liberal as well as conservative candidates, commentators, and their supporters who believe they truly understand the world better than anyone else due to what they consider their meritocratic success, and use all sorts of neoliberal fallacies, deliver paeans to pragmatism and bipartisanship, mock social democratic reforms with calls to be “reasonable”, and generally act as puppets of corporate and imperial power. Of course, it should be obvious that those who harp on achieving “realistic goals” are those that view anything involving a transformation of society involving redistribution of wealth from the rich to the working classes as prima facie unrealistic.

As for Steyer and Bloomberg, they too fall prey to neoliberal notions of rugged individualism; i.e., that their economic success is due to their own “hard work”, and were so completely out of touch that they cannot realize the electorate is not prepared to substitute one billionaire for another, no matter what party they represent, or what good they claim they’ve been able to accomplish in their philanthropic endeavors.

All of the candidates, except for Bernie Sanders, completely debased themselves when asked if the candidate with the most delegates should get the Democratic nomination. That’s how democracy is supposed to work, right? The person with the most votes should win, no? Not if you want to suck up to the ruling class, who are deathly afraid of Sanders’ redistributive agenda.

Climbing corporate and political hierarchies as well as the fake meritocracy in this country inflates politicians’ egos and warped the ability to self-reflect on their own abilities and intelligence. In psychology, this is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, defined as: “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their skills.”

Terrifyingly, one of the consequences of this effect is that many of the afflicted exude rare confidence due to their overestimation of their skills that can be mistaken for dedication, passion, expertise, and conviction. While truly intelligent people constantly question and doubt their own ideas and preconceived notions, lesser intellects rigidly cling to dogmas in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This was summed up best by Yeats, when he wrote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

In politics and social relations, this effect is compounded because the awareness of the suffering of others is blunted the higher you go on the socio-economic scale. The effect of ascending political hierarchies is not much different in a capitalist economy, because the higher you go the more beholden you are to elite interests. As studies have shown, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) declines significantly the higher you look on the corporate ladder. CEOs and business owners tend to have more sociopathic, narcissistic, and psychopathic traits.

This is why it is so hard to change the minds of the privileged and affluent: it is not simply a matter of intellect and rational argumentation to help bring change to another’s belief system. If only logical persuasion worked that effectively! One must also help cultivate awareness, a sense of interconnectedness with the less fortunate, the environment and the universe, and a way to empathize with poor, vulnerable, and minority communities. One can prove empirically over and over how a socialist economy, universal healthcare, and a society of free association of producers would significantly improve the lives of people around the world. Those in denial still won’t believe you, because their self-awareness and sense of empathy for the poor, dispossessed, and vulnerable has atrophied.

It is at this stage in history that the nihilism of rich liberals and conservatives as well as the professional-managerial class reaches truly epic proportions, threatening the survival of humanity and most species on the planet. The real material conditions and problems of working people are abstracted as inequality rises. The obvious cause of the immiseration of the population and the devastation of the environment, capitalism, is obscured. Conservatives and republicans are even more delusional due to their slavish devotion to the status quo and political and economic hierarchies, as well as their mythical belief that the capitalist “free market” can solve all manner of problems. Further, conservatives view any government intervention to regulate corporate monopoly power and lessen environmental degradation as an infringement on their rights, or inane arguments that sensible environmental regulation will hurt the economy are used.

The only option left for moderate liberals is to succumb to the dystopian vision of neoliberal thought which dominates center-left and center-right thinking, because it is all-pervasive. Even mild progressives who stray even a bit to the left (such as Warren) are instantly and predictably vilified by the press, by billionaires who literally cry in public in protestation of her wealth tax. This leads the opportunistic and ambitious (Warren, just like Obama before her) to tack to the center in order to secure donors to stay in politics and keep their jobs.

The moderate candidates know their ideas are viewed as trash by a significant amount of voters, so identity politics, as well as rhetoric and euphemisms about “structural change” are predictably trotted out. Neoliberal is now a dirty word, so liberal politicians deflect as much as possible and claim their policies are “pragmatic” and are willing to work across the aisle and compromise, in contrast to the “uncompromising” style of Sanders. These are the big-brained centrists, who let their ruling class donors do all their thinking for them as to what constitutes an acceptable and “realistic” policy.

Big-brain centrism is also a term to describe a type of neoliberal wonkery which emphasizes that only technocratic policy, which echoes the Third Way of Blair and Clinton, a centrism in which the patina of “progressivism”, economic “pragmatism”, and the appearance of caring for marginalized groups dominates. Increased political representation of minorities is a wonderful thing, but the moderate democrats will never grow a spine and ask for economic redistribution from billionaires to poor people of color. Only “moderates” can deliver the best model for liberal democracy, and everyone to their left, even the mild-mannered reformism of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is an “extremist” or a “populist”. Of course, this hodge-podge of power-hungry politicians, clueless think-tank sycophants, and conniving corporate vampires are totally beholden to elite interests, as they represent a class of smug affluent liberals and republicans who pray to the Almighty Dollar.

The big-brained liberals are hypnotized by the concept of bipartisanship, which is what Obama tried and failed to do for eight years. For the centrists, the idea that the two-party system is become more polarized is an unmitigated disaster, leaving only “far-left” politics in fashion (we wish!) alongside far-right politics (accurate). True progress can only be made “in the middle”, what some like to call “radical centrism” and politicians should not pander to their constituents with “empty promises” and “populist rhetoric.” What this radical centrism misses is the rightward shift in economics and federal policy which has been underway for 40+ years, and the consequent shift in the Overton Window: the range of ideas that are considered acceptable in US politics. In the 1960s, for instance, Sanders’ reformism would have been seen as standard, middle-of-the-road liberal set of policies, rather than today, where social democratic agendas induce shrieking from rich know-nothings and talking heads who insist that Bernie is an authoritarian communist.

In this Beltway bubble-world, Sanders is simply the converse of Trump, a dangerous left-wing populist, who, in words of Buttigieg, “wants to burn this party down.” What Sanders simply wants is to bring the US into the 21st century by adopting the social democratic policies of Scandinavia and most European nations. Yet, this is unacceptable to the “realistic” and “electability” thought-police. Big brain centrism is what it would look like to put Thomas Friedman and David Brooks in a room together and let them try to come up with federal policies. Their policies and worldview probably would not look very different from some of the ideas and concepts of each of the recent candidates, presented below.

The main thing to recognize is that all the moderate candidates, Warren included, are careerists. It’s not about helping others, it’s about them. If and when politics no longer is a viable career path for them, they will be happy to sell themselves as consultants, lobbyists, mainstream media propagandists, sit on corporate boards, and rack up speaking fees to parrot back to the ruling classes what acceptable discourse and policy is, within a capitalist and imperialist framework.

To see more examples of what I mean by Big-Brained Centrism, we will look at a statement, tweet, or policy idea from many of the moderate candidates, even the ones who have dropped out. We’ll start with a statement from Andrew Yang, because it might be one of the best examples of big-brained idiocy.

Yangonomics: “Beware the Technocracy”, The Accelerationist Candidate

Andrew Yang’s entire campaign and many of his tech/start-up supporters represent exquisite examples of the big-brain mindset. In his final debate, he stated:

The entire capitalism/socialism dichotomy is completely out of date. The fact is when people were talking about these economic models they did not foresee the technology getting stronger, more powerful, and capable of doing the work of thousands of humans…what we have to do is get the markets working to improve our way of life…instead of following GDP and corporate profits off a cliff, we should be measuring our own health and wellness…the way forward is a new human-centered version of capitalism that actually uses the markets to improve our families lives.

This is absolute garbage, cloaked within the progressive notion of redefining national well-being and taking easy shots at corporate greed. Capitalism is utterly and inexorably based on over-consumption and chasing profits over everything else; there is no way to make it “human-centered”

If we were to take him at his word of meeting in the middle, a fair response would be that the closest version of a compromise solution for the “outdated dichotomy” is the social democratic and redistributive agenda of Bernie Sanders. More importantly, Yang is attempting to erase two hundred years of public debate as to the distinctions between two radically different economic models and the invaluable contributions of generations of activists, scholars, and citizens. Perhaps he believes that by virtue of being a “successful entrepreneur” and business owner, he can see things the rest of us can’t.

As for the “no one could have foreseen technology getting stronger…” give me a fucking break. You have to be drop-dead naïve or just plain ignorant to think this. You don’t think people who built the first trains, light bulbs, cars, worked in the first mills and factories, etc., couldn’t see how these inventions and new methods of production would reshape the world? Indigenous peoples, radical artists, environmentalists, communists, and anarchists have been warning about the negative impacts of industrial-scale technology for generations. In Western literature, towering figures like William Blake and Henry David Thoreau as well as many others prophetically warned of the dangers posed by the Industrial Revolution.

What happened, of course, is that the monopoly power of capital never allowed for the more efficient distribution of resources to make lives better for the working classes, because there is little money to be made by helping and caring for people and the environment. Capitalism relies on parasitical master-servant relationships, exploiting nature and the working classes for as many resources and as much labor as possible in order to produce the most profit in the shortest amount of time.

Contrary to Yang’s ahistorical word salad and his implicit assumption that people in the past were stupid, those who lived hundreds of years ago were just as intelligent as today (if not more so) and realized exactly where this was leading. In a very good piece for The Guardian, Yanis Varoufakis explains how Marx and Engels predicted our crisis over 150 years ago:

Anyone reading the [Communist] manifesto today will be surprised to discover a picture of a world much like our own, teetering fearfully on the edge of technological innovation. In the manifesto’s time, it was the steam engine that posed the greatest challenge to the rhythms and routines of feudal life. The peasantry was swept into the cogs and wheels of this machinery and a new class of masters, the factory owners and the merchants usurped the landed gentry’s control over society. Now, it is artificial intelligence and automation that loom as disruptive threats, promising to sweep away ‘all fixed, fast-frozen relations’. ‘Constantly revolutionising … instruments of production,’ the manifesto proclaims, transform ‘the whole relations of society’, bringing about ‘constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation’.

Like the rest of the moderate candidates, Yang is a product of his insular milieu, his ideology molded by anti-communist/Cold War/red scare propaganda and the fevered dreams of Tech-mogul capitalists. Being an entrepreneur apparently means one does not have to read or understand political economy, or basic history; one is a political expert simply based on the ability to “create jobs.” He is the Silicon Valley candidate, those true believers in unrestrained automation who believe they understand the economy better than everyone else because they’ve spent the most time sitting through meetings about “corporate synergy.”

“Sensible” policy must be in the center, as one of his slogans suggests: “Not Left, Not Right, Forward.”  Yang, Warren, and Mayor Pete were considered “the smart candidates” by the media and many liberals. Primarily because they mirror back upper-middle class narcissism and promise not to disturb the security and comfort of the affluent.  This just goes to show how simpleminded and anti-intellectual mainstream political commentary has become. Capitalism has had over 200 years to develop the chance to become “human centered.” It cannot because it is fundamentally set up to serve the profit motive over basic needs of people. Capitalist markets have always skewed the vast majority of benefits to the upper classes, with pipe dreams of wealth “trickling down” to the masses.

Yang could have made much more progress had he tacked harder to the left, but instead he falls prey to his belief in “human-centered capitalism.” His UBI proposal was popular; yet as an affluent business owner and stand-in for the entrepreneur class, he could not manage to go against his donors as well as his own interests by creating a framework for price controls to fight against inflation and parasitical price-gouging. Despite his concern over AI and automation leading to massive job loss, he does not fundamentally address the exploitative relationship between employer and employees, or understand how increased digital and robot-led production will lead to new levels of coercive labor monopolization of the means of production.

One Mike Weinstein explains Yang’s worldview quite well here, in a piece titled “Beware the Technocracy”:

Yang speaks the language of the ruling class, one of inscrutable economics to uphold the narrative of technology as savior. His aim is cloak this in popular socialist ideas such as universal healthcare and income. Yang promotes this package as a self-proclaimed ‘human-centered economy’. It’s worth noting that the robot antagonists in The Matrix had a human-centered economy, too.

Andrew Yang is a privileged tech-bro, but he had one thing going for him, he was earnest, somewhat open-minded, and willing to listen to others. In this piece, his interviewer sketches out the basics of accelerationism to Yang, implying that this is the first time Yang has heard of the idea, and Yang responds with interest, wanting to know more. Yang, unlike the rest of the moderates, might be a know-nothing; but at least he can have a human conversation, and is at least open to learning about new ideas.

His refusal to include a social safety net for the needy, disabled, and elderly that could stand to lose under his UBI, as well as his refusal to endorse Medicare for All, is further proof of his myopia, however. See this summary of his thought, published in Big Think, or this one, at Ted.com, both of which specialize in big-brain centrism. Yang also proposed to raise revenue for the UBI via a value-added tax, which is a tax on consumption and disproportionately hurts low-income workers, rather than a more sensible wealth tax.

Warren: Feel-good candidate for the Professional-Managerial Class

Elizabeth Warren also tacked to the center, repeatedly describing herself as “capitalist to her bones”. While the act of adopting progressive liberal values and rhetoric mixed with pro-capitalist corporate-speak worked in the past, for instance, for Obama and even for Jimmy Carter before him, there is no popular “middle ground” to occupy now in the Democratic Party. The 2008 economic crisis advanced political consciousness in such a way that mainstream liberals now see the ground shifting underneath them. Either you are a firm Democratic establishment centrist, or you’re in the progressive/social democratic/democratic socialist camp.

Warren, straddling both sides of this fault line, could not seem to pick a lane. Her attacks on the banks and her wealth tax proposal would seem to mark her as a progressive, but her professional-managerial class (PMC) background pulls her to support the Clinton/Obama technocratic way of governing. Politics is about having big ideas and pointing out the systemic problems in society (which Bernie Sanders has, and does) and finding ways to implement them; not about having a series of band-aid solutions and incoherent plans for “structural change” without examining the root cause of our maladies: capitalism. No one wants to hear flip-flopping about a “transition plan” to shift to Medicare for All in three years. People want to know that you will fight for them on day one, because every day that you hesitate poor and homeless people literally die in the streets because of lack of access to health care; also men, women, and children are killed each day due to our imperial and frankly genocidal foreign policy, which she demonstrated hardly any basic knowledge of, or real interest towards.

Both Warren’s wealth tax and her climate plan were considerable tamer than Sanders’ plans. If you’re going to challenge corporate power, even within the confines of US electoral politics, you can’t excite the “populist” liberal-left with halfway measures. Voters were canny enough to see through her fence-sitting, hence her relative lack of support, even within her home state of Massachusetts.

One of Warren’s most glaringly dystopian plans was for “fighting digital disinformation”. There is a glimmer of a good idea hidden in the concept, in that she proposed penalties for those who engage in voter suppression. The real doozy is that she plans to criminalize “disinformation” and wants the corporate social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter to censor and moderate political speech, as well as leaving the door open for government censorship of news. In this she parrots the desires of the Democratic establishment who, of course, are deeply entwined with the Military-Industrial-Intelligence complex. Liberal establishment figures have become emboldened since 2016: for instance Hillary Clinton views anyone who disturbs her as being aided by Russia; such as Trump, but also Jill Stein and Tulsi Gabbard, absurdly. Liberals such as Warren aim to increase paranoia in the populace, consciously or not, surrounding the idea of “foreign meddling” and seek to weaponize the election interference narrative against any politicians who do not support the ruling class. This is why Bernie Sanders was told his campaign was being aided by Russia, in effect to smear his entire campaign. The real targets in the “interference” narrative are leftists who want to redistribute wealth.

Agent Pete

Pete Buttigieg represents a special type of stupid. First, Buttigieg’s policies (or lack thereof) show just how worthless a Rhodes scholar-level education truly is, just like it showed for Cory Booker. Just like Kamala Harris, Buttigieg is the offspring of a worldly and erudite Marxist professor who didn’t learn a thing; in Mayor Pete’s case, he decided to rebel against his father and work for the machine in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the corrupt scandal-ridden firm McKinsey.

There is much more to the Mayor Pete back-story regarding his intelligence and national security connections. He worked in Naval Intelligence in Afghanistan alongside the CIA. He penned an op-ed in The New York Times with a friend about visiting Somaliland and meeting with “local leaders.” He keeps a map of Afghanistan displaying its mineral resources in his study (the alarm bells should be going off). He wrote in his book about visiting a “safehouse” in Iraq. Many foreign policy and national security figures backed his candidacy. And yes, thanks to Left Twitter, #CIAPete was blowing up on social media.

Whether or not Mayor Pete is a spy asset or not does not really matter. What matters is he thinks like them, and shares their worldview of supporting US imperial and economic domination at all costs.

How do we know this is true? Buttigieg had a line in a recent debate about “being inclusive” by taking donations from billionaires. Who honestly thinks taking money from billionaires is to make society more inclusive? Only a little slug willing to completely debase himself to his ruling-class overlords would admit this publicly; even Biden at his most incoherent would never blurt this out.

Listening to Pete talk in general was just bewildering. He imitates Obama’s style at every turn, yet cannot match his soaring oratory and simply does not answer questions or deliver any tangible idea of what he will offer. He is the platitude candidate; every time he speaks it’s like opening a fortune cookie, as he’s full of vague truisms.

One of the most dystopian plans of Pete was a “National Service Program”.  Predictably, it is framed with patriotic, nationalistic rhetoric. The goal would be to increase the service program with the end goal being a “universal, national expectation of service” (from his website) while also claiming it will be “strictly optional”. High school and college students are already exploited enough in the classroom and at their jobs, and funding a plan so that young people can put a gold star on their resume pretty much sums up Pete in a nutshell. Here’s his justification:

In the great unwinding of American civic society underway, and at a time when Americans are experiencing record-low trust in fellow citizens and American institutions, few — if any — single policy solutions carry the promise of democratic renewal more than national service.

A simple rebuttal would be to ask what is causing the “unwinding” and “record-low trust”. It’s obviously inequality, corruption in government, corporations which are legally bound to choose profits over people, little to no regulation of technology and fossil fuel corporations, monopolization in virtually every sector of the economy, lack of health care and a living wage. There is no indication that this plan would solve any of these issues, because the Oxford-educated Mayor cannot be bothered to think critically. Or, rather, an Oxford education blinds one to the fact that capitalism is the root cause of our systemic crises. Typical of elites, he confuses class conflict with national frailty and disunity, much like Trump. He is a true believer in the system, and projects his privileged fake-meritocratic upbringing onto everyone around him with a call to service. Any national service plan with Pete at the helm feels like a plan for assimilating youth into our Death Star corporate-driven empire; for creating a “McKinsey Youth” for America.

Steyer and Bloomberg: Upholding a Nation Run for Plutocrats, by Plutocrats

Today one must be for the poor and working classes to gain mass political popularity, like Sanders; or conversely offer a proto-fascist program of a return to national greatness, like the racist, money-worshipping, chauvinist Twitter troll, like Trump. That is why the elites are even more afraid of Sanders, because he and more crucially his base offer a clean break and a qualitatively better and more egalitarian organization of society.

The super-rich must be excluded from the political process because they will always put the interests of capital above the common good, and refuse to see how their actions directly contribute to the impoverishment of workers and the degradation of the environment. Any intervention by them, in the name of philanthropy or donations to politicians, proves that their money buys political power, social control, and makes a mockery of any notion of “democracy” in this nation. This is called an oligarchy. Which reminds me, Mike Bloomberg should no longer be addressed as “Mayor Bloomberg”; “Plutocrat Bloomberg” or “Oligarch Bloomberg” would be more appropriate.

Amy’s Rage

Amy Klobuchar is a lot of things. She is undoubtedly driven, hard-working, and passionate about her work. The problem is the work she does is inherently bad for most people and she did not have any good policy ideas that differentiated her from the other centrists. Her other problem is that she has extreme anger issues.

Klobuchar is an abusive boss and her employees described her offices in Minnesota and D.C. as a “hostile work environment.” The most she’s addressed this is by stating she’s “tough” and has “high expectations” for her staff. The clues to her barely-bottled rage are under the surface, as this article in The Atlantic opines: her childhood spent with a neglectful, alcoholic father severely messed her up.

This is not an uncommon situation, with a subset of leaders put into positions of power that were traumatized in childhood. Many become highly-driven over-achievers in the corporate and political worlds: it’s easier to run from the ghosts when you’re showered with accolades and money. Many also burn with rage, are vengeful and prone to irrational outbursts, consider any slight or unavoidable accident a personal affront, and crave domination and control over others. Much like management in large corporations, her former staff describes a brutal hierarchical and tyrannical environment where the smallest mistake could set her off into tantrums or the throwing of office supplies, forcing staff to do demeaning work involving her personal effects, and would regularly condescend and shame her employees openly in person and through email. We already have an authoritarian in the White House who needs psychological counseling. Klobuchar should not be attempting to seek power: like the rest of the corporate and political ruling classes, she should be seeking professional help.

Biden: Senior Moments

Let’s just get it out of the way: Joe Biden is seriously slipping upstairs. I suppose that’s not an anomaly anymore for presidential politics, as we have dealt with cognitive decline before with Reagan in his second term. We’ve dealt with not-so-bright presidents too: the entire George W. Bush presidency, and now Trump. If Biden becomes the nominee and president it will be a national, collective senior moment. I don’t really have the words to describe a head-to-head Biden-Trump debate, other than it being extremely depressing, and that I would predict an increase in sales of alcohol. It would break the country on some visceral level. Nominating Biden could end the Democratic Party for good, so maybe there would be a silver lining.

Interestingly, Biden spoke to donors in 2019 and stated that “no one’s standard of living would change” and “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became elected. It would make for an honest slogan, at least. Vote Biden in 2020: Nothing will change.

When moderate democrats say “be realistic”, say it back to them: be realistic, Biden would surely lose to Trump. Only Sanders has a shot at defeating him, as Trump would absolutely eviscerate Biden and run circles around him. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Trump is as broken a person as they come; but he is smart enough to harp on Biden’s mental decline and his son’s shady job as a board member of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, a position he had absolutely no expertise in.

Oh Canada!?: Trudeau Marches for Climate

The most ridiculous and absurd example of big-brain centrism comes from our neighbor to the North, however. In September of 2019, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in a climate protest in Montreal. He tweeted: “Today we marched for our planet, our kids, and for their future.” It did not seem to dawn on him that his fellow citizens were marching to protest the lack of action his government was taking to battle global warming. You’re their leader, Justin. If you want to take action, use every available mechanism in your own government to make a change. The people put you in power to do exactly that. Was he protesting himself? Was he admitting that even as PM he is as powerless as the average citizen to fight the fossil fuel industries? Under his administration, Albertan oil sands continue to be extracted, and new pipeline expansion is in place against the will of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations tribe who are currently protesting.

The Moderates Serve the Ruling Class

Just to stick with Trudeau’s nastiness for a moment, everyone should read this article on the First Nation protestors in Canada fighting the Coastal GasLink Pipeline expansion. If you feel called, watch the embedded video. The RMCP point their rifles at nonviolent protestors- police who operate under the orders of Justin Trudeau. Make no mistake, Biden would be no different in the US. He serves at the behest of the ruling classes. It doesn’t matter if it’s Obama with Occupy Wall Street and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trump, Trudeau, or a possible Biden regime: they all will intimidate and if necessary kill their own citizens who use direct action to resist fossil fuel expansion and corporate rule. It’s all a sick twisted game to protect the property of the rich for the “sensible”, “highly-esteemed”, blue-check mark politicians and media flunkies.

Even if the moderate liberals gave one single solitary fuck about average working people, the environment, future generations, and the citizenry they pander to, they are too weak-minded because they insist everything be done at the glacial pace (as glaciers are now in rapid retreat in many parts of the world this metaphor may no longer be useful, thanks to them) of bipartisan electoral politics, and will compromise with conservatives at every turn to water-down absolutely any and every possible progressive or radical legislative reforms.

Like Trudeau, they all want to have it both ways: to be seen as a progressive, “woke” politician; a radical climate protestor in his case, while at the same time being central figures of the establishment, upholding an inhumane system, walking corpses who prop up the status quo, absolute tools of corporate and imperial rule. Which in the end means that they really only care about themselves: their fame, power, glory, and their money.

Bernie Sanders has his own serious flaws, most especially in regards to foreign policy. Yet he is the only candidate who speaks to the need to create a better, kinder, more reasonable and egalitarian nation; and the best chance to popularize socialism right now, however ill-suited he may be to the task.

Even Hillary Clinton weighed in on Sanders recently and said “nobody likes him, no one wants to work with him.” It might be worthwhile for citizens and neoliberal imperialists like Clinton, Biden, Trudeau, and the rest to question what it means to be “popular” and what positive “work” has actually been accomplished in a Congress which hasn’t cracked a 30% approval rating in over 10 years.

There are a couple of references from pop culture which sum up the sad but true nature of the centrist liberal and conservative politicians. Their commitment to strengthening capitalism at all costs leads to a hollow shell of a life. The first quote is from the movie Casino Jack, a fictionalized version of the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s life. When the walls are closing in on him, his wife reminds him there will be no one to help: “We have no friends, Jack, none. All we have are people we do business with.”

The second set of quotes, which I’ll end with, are from rap legend Tupac Shakur. In the song “Holler If You Hear Me”, 2pac warns of the perils of compromising one’s beliefs for material gain:

To the sellouts livin’ it up/

One way or another you’ll be givin’ it up.

In the last verse, 2pac has a prophetic line, alluding to black militancy, manufacturing consent and the return of the repressed in American society. His words remain eerily prescient, and remind me of the way moderate liberals and conservatives view the rise of Bernie Sanders and socialism in the US today as dangerous:

And now I’m like a major threat/

‘Cause I remind you of the things you were made to forget

What “That’s Not Realistic” Really Means: Bernie Sanders, Social Democracy, and Capitalist Apologetics

When discussing politics, or listening to pundits in the mainstream media in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, you’ve probably heard a common refrain: certain policies are “not realistic.” It’s similar to the close-minded remark that certain politicians, such as Bernie Sanders, have issues regarding their “electability”. What are these elites and people who continually parrot these media narratives actually saying?

The most obvious translation of “that’s not realistic” is this: we the people are powerless to change things. Of course, most of those who use the “unrealistic” fallacy conveniently have power and money, which has disillusioned them from imagining any possibilities for transformative changes, and blunted their ability to feel empathy for those less fortunate. It makes zero sense to call Sanders’ policies unrealistic when nearly all of Europe maintains core social democratic institutions with mass public approval.

The question of “how can we pay” for programs like Medicare for All, free college, debt relief, and a Green New Deal always comes up. This is hilarious, of course, because no one asks the elites to justify the annual $750 billion US military budget. Drastically cutting the military budget and redistributing the surplus is how you pay for these social programs.

Another accurate and blunter rendering of what the unrealistic/unelectable memes mean would be: “Don’t ask for too much. Know your place, peasants.” Notice how you don’t see poor people claiming that socialism or “democratic socialist” policies are unrealistic. I’m fairly certain slaves were told their freedom was unrealistic, the suffragettes were told their right to vote was unrealistic, JFK was told by many of the “smartest” people that a moon landing before 1970 was unrealistic. We can go on and on.

Then there are others who are somewhat “progressive”, sympathetic but disillusioned and cynical, and many will say that socialism or even social democracy sounds nice, but we all know the powers that be will never go down without a fight and allow for a systematic reconfiguration of society. In other words, it’s not so much that socialism is unrealistic; but rather, the threat of the elites turning up the authoritarian dial to full-blown neo-fascism is real; therefore, we still cannot afford to nominate a reformist social democrat. Egalitarian, humane, and fair policies are too much to ask for: the best we can do is tinker around the edges and reform capitalism incrementally and very slowly.

This is a blatant falsehood. It’s nothing more than a media-blasted form of collective hive-mind Stockholm syndrome, your basic case of false consciousness. There is a kernel of truth here, and that is the elites will never voluntarily allow for a transfer of power to the masses. The point of electing Sanders (despite his severe foreign policy limitations and reformist inclinations) is the potential of elevating working class consciousness and activating a mass base that will fight, protest, and strike when the ruling classes attempt to drop the hammer on him, his allies, the citizenry, and his policy and legislative agenda.

Just like with any other massive whopper, if enough people in the media parrot that Sanders is “unelectable”, it takes on a life of its own. The “unrealistic” narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and perception becomes paramount over reality. Material facts count for nothing, what matters are the feelings and ideological fables of pro-capitalist apologists. Only gradual change can occur, don’t ask for too much or you risk collapsing the whole system, because a Sanders presidency upholding democratic socialist principles would somehow turn the US into another Venezuela. Which, by the way, Venezuela is a democracy, and was a rapidly developing and improving nation before the combination of the drop in oil prices, sanctions, and US imperial meddling took its toll. A tragic example of how perception “trumps” reality in our new game show upside-down world.

Somehow changing things too fast will “rock the boat” and gulags and purges will come back into fashion. Promoting democracy will somehow work against citizens’ interests and do the opposite. It’s quite telling how the elites and the media view the prospect of the masses actually having power, no?

Isn’t it obvious how screwed up things are, and that the primary culprits are capitalists? Just consider global warming for a moment. Only one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. If just those one hundred companies invested their profits in renewable energy technology, they could potentially mitigate the worst effects of future warming on their own starting right now. Not to mention that even the smallest green tech breakthroughs in the sector could generate massive federal subsidies to help with the high cost of research and development. Rather than that, however, these one hundred companies continually choose short-term profits over the health of the planet; hire some of the best and brightest scientists and engineers from all over the globe, all in order to divert their brainpower into constructing the most destructive industry the world has ever seen.

What kind of nation is so cowed and beaten down that the moderate reforms offered by Sanders are viewed as impossible to achieve? What about the millions of others who view his economic and social priorities with such fear, hatred, and derision?

Policies such as a Green New Deal, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, universal healthcare, a universal jobs program, and student debt relief are extremely popular. These are simply the next logical steps to blunt the worst effects of capitalism on a path towards social democratic governance. The ideas promoted by Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar have a democratic mandate with many policies that have over 70% support. If centrist liberals and conservatives want to fight the will of the people, not only are they showing their true colors (as promoters of oligarchy), they are going to lose in the long run. If the Democratic Party had any intelligence and backbone, which of course they don’t, they would put Sanders and “the Squad” at the center of a new progressive agenda.

The undercurrent that is worth returning to in the “it’s not realistic” argument is that most of those who trot out this sort of thing are comfortable, well-off, if not just filthy rich. It’s the elites, but also crucially the conservative and liberal middle to upper-middle classes, the professional-managerial classes (PMCs), as well as small to medium size business owners, those who have climbed our fake “meritocracy” who don’t want to rock the boat.

Many have achieved some sort of professional “success” and secure middle class economic status, and to see a portion of that wealth given back to the poor and working classes makes the PMC class extremely uncomfortable. Of course it’s no surprise that most of these voters are white, unable to see how the structural and generational racism helped their families secure wealth and privilege, and catapulted them into their cushy jobs, while minorities, the poor, and younger voters overwhelmingly support Sanders.

Let’s just take one example: doctors. Doctors are not your typical PMCs, as they frankly do not have to climb a corporate hierarchy which gives them a bit more “freedom” to think and live without completely debasing themselves. One would think they’d be more progressive than your average bank executive or middle manager, and most probably are. Yet, as this survey shows, only 49% of MDs support Medicare for All (M4A below). Medical professionals are supposed to be the “best and brightest” in our society, so this a pitiful figure, really. It turns out they are just another specialist class which cannot see beyond their own narrow material interests, and refuse to make the connections as to how poverty and lack of health care leads to worse health outcomes for the whole of society.

A healthier population would mean less work for doctors, who are constantly putting in long hours. You’d think they’d be all for M4A. Yet the same study confirms the obvious suspicion that it’s all about the money, with 59% being concerned that M4A would reduce physician compensation. Doctors are very highly paid anyways, so the idea that they’d be making a little less should not be a deal breaker. But, yet again, there class interests dictate to them to want to work more, and want to hold a less healthy population captive to our horrible and inhumane health system.

Economic repercussions of a potential President Sanders are in the back of the upper-middle classes’ minds. These folks are worried about their 401k, the stock market dipping, or a that recession could begin. The upper quintile (top 20% of wage earners) or so would probably pay marginally more taxes to fund social programs, and somehow giving back to those less fortunate (as well as accruing the civic benefits of living in a happier and healthier nation) is seen as dangerous. However, the PMCs are so myopic that they can’t see the blinding truth that the vast majority of any tax increase would be paid by the top 1-5%, and that the marginal tax increases they might face would drastically improve the whole of society.

The key thing to remember is that these professional class lackeys of the elite view their wealth as paramount, which they never refer to as such; instead using euphemisms like having “security”, “freedom from worrying about money”, and a “comfortable lifestyle”. Don’t rock the boat or their lifestyles might be impacted, and they might have to share the best doctors in town, rub elbows with the rabble at their favorite café or upscale gym or yoga studio, and generally interact with what they see as the wretched of the Earth. The PMCs also all vote, and though they may lean slightly Democratic, there is a large contingent of Trump supporters as well. Yet the PMCs who vote Democrat are mostly older (40+) and will lean towards those who reflect their beliefs in climbing the “meritocracy,” such as the technocratic doofuses Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete in the primaries.

It’s true that imploding the economy via capital flight might be the first thing elites would try to do to undermine a Sanders presidency. Yet that would not be his fault. In this hypothetical situation, the cynical moderate liberal and conservative PMCs would rather pin the blame on the wrong person (Sanders) than try to understand the structural failures of capitalism, and how malevolent and vindictive the elites are.

Another undercurrent of the PMCs and petit bourgeois class is related to the uniquely harsh sado-masochistic traits in US society. I sometimes refer to this phenomenon as “cultural Puritanism.” It was best summed up by H.L. Mencken, when he stated: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”1

In other words, many in the middle classes and petit bourgeois get off on the suffering of their lower income neighbors and work colleagues, as well as finding perverse enjoyment in being exploited by their ruling class bosses and administrators. Brutal hierarchies in work and public life somehow validates and reinforces this cruel behavior in the bourgeois and PMC mind, rather than being viscerally repulsed by the crushing alienation and domination of social and economic life by elite one-percenters. So, universal healthcare, free college, and debt relief aren’t fair, as the poor aren’t “working for it” and “paying their fair share.”

The redistributive policies fundamentally clashes with the PMC worldview, because democratic socialist policies make clear that the poor and working classes built the modern world and deserve better treatment in a vastly unequal capitalist system. The implicit ideology of the “moderate” liberals is ultimately a conservative worldview: the poor are stupid, lazy, and crucially, they didn’t suffer in the right sort of ways; for instance by getting an MBA, by going to law school, by wasting their lives in boardrooms and management meetings, flying around the globe to sell useless products and giving PowerPoint presentations, and whatever else the corporate drones of the world do to convince themselves that they’ve “earned” their riches solely through their own “hard work.”

It’s quite visible when conversing with pro-capitalists, and you can see it on TV all the time when mainstream talking heads discuss Sanders’ policies, whether it’s on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. I call it the Tucker Carlson look, although his facial expressions are just the most ridiculous of the bunch. He’ll invite a guest on, say a morally decent person like Cornel West, who’ll spell out their ideas to make the world a better place, or at least a slightly less shitty one; and the brow becomes slightly furrowed, mouth goes a bit agape, a look of a mix of befuddlement and incredulity appears, following by either a snide, condescending, dismissive attitude and/or apoplectic rage. These people instantly become either confused, angry, or both at the thought of structurally changing society to help people in need.

What they seem to be thinking, but find it impossible to come to terms with, is this:

“Wait, you’re saying that my actions and lifestyle are implicated in hurting people? You’re making me self-reflect on my empty, hollow concepts of how to care for people and how my bankrupt worldview has made society demonstrably worse? And even though you’re not necessarily blaming me personally, you’re claiming my ideas are not my own, but rather the result of capitalist cultural hegemony which shapes, distorts, and filters my own ideological beliefs to suit capitalism? In the freest and greatest country ever to exist? I refuse to believe this! This is an outrage!”

The whole idea of trying to talk with people who are that far gone is absurd. The good news is conservatives, centrists, and progressive liberals do not always resemble the caricatures that leftists often stereotype them as. Most people are far too normal, boring, and trying to cope with their own problems to rigidly accept capitalist dogmas. Many more are fundamentally uninterested with politics beyond what serves their immediate needs and those of their family and friends, and that’s ok. What’s important is to keep trying to show that the publics’ needs can be better met under a socialist system. There is no nice way to tell someone that their views are ignorant, and it’s extremely difficult to do so without encountering the type of reaction shown above. It’s very difficult, but not impossible. This is the task we are faced with.

It can get depressing when confronting mass ignorance. It’s important to remember that the ultra-rich and their PMC lackeys are in the minority, however. I believe part of what’s been overlooked is that while the elites would be reigned in economically in a social democracy, the PMCs would not lose out much at all, as alluded to above. Rather, they would be hit with a loss in social capital. This is because many, but not all, will be exposed as the selfish burghers they are, for these are the little piggies that helped construct the system for their corporate overlords. It’s very much like in the military, where the officer classes attempt to justify their war crimes by stating they were just following orders.

Like little Eichmanns, they probably know this excuse will not work when the working classes become fully cognizant of their betrayals. Just like US military officers today, who are war criminals for their actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other nations, many of the PMCs are white-collar criminals, upholding a rotten system and implementing neoliberal austerity, structural racism, medical malfeasance, intellectual property theft, and gentrification. Even if their jobs or actions are technically legal, many of them at least can intuit to varying degrees that their work is just plain wrong. They are traitors to their fellow citizens and they know it. They serve the oligarchy and they know it. Therefore, their only hope is to cling to capitalist politicians as their saviors. These people believe that electing the technocrat Warren or the empty sloganeer Buttigieg can clear their conscience, and stop those dark voices in the back of their mind telling them that they are sell-outs, because they voted for a “progressive.”

Perhaps mostly unconsciously, some upper-middle class and elite liberals and conservatives want income inequality, economic stratification, and gentrification to increase, so as not to have to deal with, talk to, or even be forced to interact and look upon the poor and downtrodden, as they are to varying degrees responsible for their plight.

Most people, however, are not getting a fat paycheck from corporate oligarchs, and therefore the unstated and explicit narratives to support this god-forsaken system don’t work. Most citizen are at least willing to listen with an open mind, and the only people who really try to vouch for capitalism are economists, mainstream politicians, or affluent PMC sycophants and business owners who directly benefit from upholding the status quo. This has always been about 20-25% of the populace, a pitiful minority, really. Dismantling the horrible, inhumane system of capitalism will require tact and a sustained effort to repeat the fact that the onus is on those who construct the system to defend and prove its worth. Clearly, capitalism has outlived its usefulness, and the only ones who are unrealistic are those who want to uphold the status quo and insist that everything can stay the same. The only realistic solution is to go beyond capitalism and evolve into a democratic system that works for everyone.

  1. In “A Few Pages of Notes,” The Smart Set (January 1915).

We Work, They Scam: The Art of the Con in Terminal-Stage Capitalism

Recently, the ridiculous real estate company WeWork has faced intense scrutiny after their business model was absurdly overvalued and their CEO, one Adam Neumann, was exposed as an abusive boss as well as an overall crazy person. Investors from the Saudi royal family, companies like SoftBank and J.P. Morgan, and numerous venture capitalists poured vast sums of money into the company, fueling its overvaluation, which ran as high as 47 billion dollars. Unfortunately, mainstream media continues to trot out this story, as well as other famous instances of corporate fraud, corruption, and malfeasance as anomalies, aberrations. Somehow, absurd corporate business models, outright fraudulent behavior, and speculative overvaluations are seen as exceptions to the rule.

The bare truth of the matter is that various forms of fraud and cons are the rule for the vast majority of large corporations.  WeWork is basically a tiny fish in the ocean when we step back and consider the scale of cons from various transnational corporations. For more recent and humorous examples, check out Current Affairs 2019 “Griftie” Awards.

All the signs of brazen criminality are in front of us. We have to do no more than look at the public figurehead of the con economy, our own president. His personality is the distillation of the elite grifter, a hollow shell of a human, heir to a fortune which has created a uniquely toxic mix of entitlement, hubris, ignorance, and malignant narcissism; a truly pathetic man molded by late capitalism, celebrity and TV culture. His wealth bequeathed by inheritance, profits acquired through real estate scandals and “university” scams; his brain is addled by a diet of fast food; and his worldview warped by utterly deluded conservative media.

For instance, the spurious idea that 1.5 trillion in tax cuts will help grow our economy through job creation, or new business ventures, is a fraud on its face, but represents an exquisite example of capitalist propaganda. This is a lie that millions of US citizens either sincerely believe or acquiesce to due to generations of mainstream media indoctrination. As for the corporate scams cited below, there are similar factors involving coercion and propaganda, and they are similarly undemocratic: the ownership class and upper management dictate narratives in the media, how the labor is done, how the con will play out, and workers carry out immoral orders against their better judgment.

For instance, take Boeing and the two tragic crashes involving its 737 Max 8 jet. The market valuation of the company fluctuates today at around 200 billion dollars, even as it knowingly and deliberately sold its newest model without the needed software updates (MCAS), as well as without the needed sensor reading and indicator light to multiple foreign airlines, and in many cases without training pilots on the new system. Now, you might think that the software needed to keep a plane from nose-diving might come standard with the purchase of a multimillion dollar passenger jet, but you’d be wrong. In its infinite wisdom, Boeing decided to not to include the computer programmed safety features, selling them for extra and deeming them “optional.” Internal Boeing emails make clear there was systemic negligence and incompetence with the implementation of the MCAS program.

Let’s take another somewhat dated example, the behemoth Volkswagen, which had a huge emissions scandal in regard to its diesel vehicles produced from 2009-2015. Volkswagen installed “cheat software” to fool emissions tests in 11 million of its diesel cars, which, when driven for real world road tests, pumped out up to 40 times the permissible amount of nitrogen oxides. Further studies with other car manufacturers showed that many other brands were also well above the allowable limit for diesel emissions. One air pollution expert confided that the added pollution in European cities would result in “thousands of deaths.”  Volkswagen was forced to fork out 2.8 billion dollars to the US for their troubles. That might seem like a lot, but with 11 million cars sold in the process, and taking a guess and using a round number of $20,000 for each new car sold, it adds up to 220 billion in car sales just for these diesel automobiles.

Let’s shift to finance, a sector just filled with the most outlandish, craven, and fraudulent criminal activity. We could go on and on down the line from Bank of America to Wells Fargo to Deutsche Bank. By the way, media devoted to following the practices of these hallowed institutions have “scandal timelines” and lists of the “biggest scandals” just to help us make sense of the dizzying and insane levels of depravity these corporations have reached. One might think that encyclopedic chronologies and compendiums documenting these bank scams would shame and humble these corporations into adopting a semblance of corporate responsibility, but no.

Recently, Goldman Sachs has been in the news for their involvement in the 1MBD scandal. Haven’t heard of it? This was a massive scheme involving the Malaysian government and Goldman Sachs executives to sell billions of dollars worth of bonds to a giant Malaysian shell company functioning effectively as a Ponzi scheme, a “massive, international conspiracy to embezzle billions of dollars,” in the words of a wealth fund which was bilked in the process. Seventeen Goldman Sachs employees face charges in Malaysia, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein met with the disgraced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the mastermind of the scam, one Jho Low, who is now believed to be on the run in China (check the Chinese wine caves?).

In all likelihood, these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if someone like Blankfein did time for his involvement in 1MBD, it might be analogous to Al Capone doing time for tax evasion. The amount of immoral criminality is staggering when one attempts to tally how many countries have been ripped off and commons privatized, how much land and assets seized, how many poor and vulnerable people have had benefits cut and prices of necessities jacked up to benefit a tiny elite, how many desperate people have died to serve neoliberal business models. These untold atrocities are barely hidden, and all one has to do is scratch the surface of our system to reveal the sordid deeds which must stay hidden for the economy to stay afloat and for public morale not to wane and stir folks to revolution. No one is ever held responsible for financial crimes under capitalism, just like our war criminals, even though the culprits roam free in broad daylight, and even though these crimes have devastating real world consequences.

No corporate media will ever acknowledge that these are just the cases we know about. What else lies under the surface? Who among us has the means and the guts to find out if the mainstream media won’t? If these companies are willing to go to these lengths to defraud their customers, there is really nothing they won’t do. If we knew the full scope of the Mafioso-like corruption and barbaric behavior of these multinationals, people might actually revolt and overthrow our inhumane capitalist system. Mainstream media thus has a distinct role, and performs excellently for the transnational corporations (TNCs), by not investigating and not pushing for prosecution of guilty parties. This “balanced” approach to news is justified in the name of being “objective,” and trying to show “both sides of the issues.”

It’s not just corporate leaders, politicians, and the media who are shirking their duties. The judicial system is just as complicit. On January 17th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a case (Juliana vs. United States) brought by twenty one young plaintiffs who argued that “the US government acts as a barrier to climate action” and quite rightly pointed out that “the US government [is] violating their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by enacting policies that contribute to the climate crisis.” The majority 2-1 ruling “reluctantly concluded that the plaintiff’s case must be made to the political branches or the electorate at large.” Isn’t it revealing that these judges view the judicial system as somehow above politics?

The dissenting judge called her fellow colleagues out for their cowardice:

It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation…my colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary.

Here we can clearly see the Kafkaesque institutional evasion of responsibility. Everyone in these elite institutions is to blame, so no one can be blamed, for it risks exposing the system as the root cause. In the West, we are stuck in a time where no one accepts a public duty to do anything regarding climate change, corporate criminality, etc. As Mark Fisher succinctly explained in Capitalist Realism:

The supreme genius of Kafka was to have explored the negative atheology proper to Capital: the center is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there – it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility.

As Fisher and others have shown, the lack of responsibility taken and lack of corporate and governmental transparency, and lack of differentiation between the corporate, judicial, legislative, and media bodies is a defining feature of late capitalism. We can view the contours and delineate between the modern and postmodern periods, in terms of the sea change from a Foucauldian disciplinary society to a Deleuzian society of control. In the modern period, there were bounded, separate domains of work, home life, recreation, public and private, etc. In our late-stage dystopia, it becomes exceedingly obvious that “all that is holy is profaned,” for instance, judges (supposed impartial arbiters of fairness and democratic values) who are supposedly duty-bound to uphold basic issues of social, environmental, and economic justice, yet do not have the temerity to overturn the death-grip fossil fuel multinationals have over our country.

Whereas before disciplinary action – punishment and jail time – could act as a bit of leverage to limit outright corporate crimes, now we have interconnected, networked, embedded elite coteries who can no longer be distinguished as serving private or public functions: the “revolving door” phenomenon. Today, our elites also cannot distinguish or internalize their own actions and take responsibility for them. Internal checks could at least possibly prevent catastrophes, or lead to feelings of shame and regret for past actions in the old-fashioned, modern way. For this reason, we can view someone like Robert McNamara as perhaps the last modernist public servant in the old-school disciplinary age. His actions were unconscionable, but it is well known he at least regretted his part in the Vietnam War afterwards. The bizarre but true story of McNamara almost getting thrown off a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard in deep ocean in 1972 by an enraged anti-war citizen with family who had served in Vietnam confirms this. Afterwards, McNamara refused to press charges, making clear he knew on some level he deserved punishment.

On the contrary, take the figures of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld today. They are insulated by layers of ideology (and bodyguards), inebriated by luxurious lifestyles and sycophantic think tanks who parrot their every word, and interwoven within the framework and institutions of imperialist and conservative power who no longer have the capacity for self-reflection. Their perceptions and self-image, in other words, are managed by a network of power, control, and domination, in this example the interests of the national security state. Figures such as Bush, Obama, and Trump operate under the aegis of the capitalist/imperial postmodern society of control, which has continually formulated, modulated, subdued and attenuated any tension, any tendency to self-doubt, or any capacity to think critically and examine the atrocities committed by their orders.

It is a world where instantaneous feedback can assuage and soothe the troubled nerves of the elites, by providing media and/or classified reports that justify their grotesque barbarism in real time. We can observe this on a smaller scale when examining how social media algorithms create echo chambers and polarize those with opposing belief systems. The type of worldview our war-criminal presidents are subject to is a “higher immorality” as C. Wright Mills put it. It was best summed up by an unnamed senior Bush regime official, supposedly Karl Rove, speaking to journalist Ron Suskind:

People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

The commonality between all these absolutely absurd scams is that, unlike the relatively small size and bumbling ineptitude of a WeWork, the fetishization of and overvaluation of hare-brained tech with a company like Theranos, the pyramid scheme of a Bernie Madoff, or the cooking-the-books accounting of an Enron, companies such as Boeing, Volkswagen, and Goldman Sachs form the commanding heights of the world economy. These are supposedly the bona fide, respectable “blue-chip companies” which many middle class investors look to for stable, steady growth of their wealth. These companies and their corporate owners cannot clearly view “reality,” (who can? but still) and the public is simply “left to just study what they do.”

Another aspect is the proliferation of marketing and advertising, which hypnotizes the middle classes, which in the West are approaching comatose status in regards to the scale of these interlocking crises of corporate greed and climate disruption. Abject submission and conformity are the key features of the professional-managerial class, who hype new trends and fads, and even business models (such as WeWork). Pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than research and development, which lead the most sycophantic employees to top positions with deadly repercussions (for example, in the Vioxx scandal) and leads to modern pharmacological advances being in many cases guided by snake-oil peddling quack researchers and their corporate overlords.

Individuals, as well as our artistic preferences, and urban spaces, increasingly are modulated by these corporate structures, leading to a flattened consumerist aesthetic. In a brilliant essay, Andru Okun explains using quotes from author Oli Mould:

As Mould argues, ‘Neoliberalism is about the marketization of everything, the imprinting of economic rationalities into the deepest recesses of everyday life’ … [Mould] posits that 21st-century capitalism, ‘turbocharged by neoliberalism,’ has co-opted the conceptual framework of creativity in the interest of endless growth. Even movements interested in destabilizing capitalism can be ‘viewed as a potential market to exploit,’ subsumed by the very world they seek to transform. ‘Creativity under capitalism is not creative at all… it merely replicates existing capitalist registers into ever-deeper recesses of socioeconomic life,’ writes Mould.

This form of “imprinting” becomes clear when examining the professional-managerial classes and the petit-bourgeois class. Class locations, as Erik Olin Wright pointed out, invariably determine the psychological states of the middle classes, who exert exploitative pressure upon their subordinates as well as pressure from above. When advances and promotions are made within the confines of the professional class structure, one can view the accommodation to capital with near-empirical precision: “Individual consciousness is related to position within the class structure.  That is, the attitudes and behaviour of individuals has a connection to the location they occupy within the division of labour and the contradictory locations that exist in capitalism.” Thus, Mark Fisher explains how the individual actions of managers to change corporate culture are futile:

The delusion that many who enter into management with high hopes is precisely that they, the individual, can change things, that they will not repeat what their managers had done, that things will be different this time; but watch someone step up to management and it’s usually not long before the grey petrification of power starts to subsume them. It is here that the structure is palpable – you can practically see it taking people over, hear its deadened/deadening judgments speaking through them.

Again, the activities of these huge conglomerates which dictate the global economy, public discourse, and private and individual aesthetic preferences are not exceptions; they represent the rule when it comes to the behavior of TNCs and international finance. Scamming is what they do best, whether by illegal software or the TV commercial, and the scam-ees quite often turn out to be other elite venture capital and banking firms hoodwinked by the allure of profit no matter the unseemly source or the ridiculousness of the business model. Climate denialism is also a very profitable scam for its elite adherents in the fossil fuel industries and the media, one that plays a key role by influencing public opinion just enough to convince judges, politicians, and CEOs that nothing can be done within their hallowed institutions.

The assertion I’ll lay out here, and it’s admittedly not a particularly original or insightful one, is simply that the falling rate of profit as we approach what we might call terminal-stage capitalism has convinced these TNCs to slightly adjust their calculus. The adjustment is to supplement the neoliberal grip on power with the brazenness of the scam.

The neoliberal era, stretching from approximately the mid-1970s until now, can be defined quite rightly by David Harvey as being driven by a process of “accumulation by dispossession.” In his brilliant 2004 essay “The New Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession”, Harvey explains the four main policies which drive this process as privatization (selling out the commons to private interests), financialization (the penetration of all parts of the economy by banks, loans, institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the WTO, excessive debt, etc), management and manipulation of crises (for instance, see Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine), and state redistributions (huge subsidies and contracts for the fossil fuel and military-industrial corporations, “socialism for the rich”, as it were).

Perhaps today we can add a fifth category: accumulation by the scam. If a Volkswagen or Boeing or Goldman Sachs stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars by swindling their customers, and can somewhat accurately guess that the level of future fines will be small or negligible; that lobbyists can protect future interests; that their teams of corporate lawyers can derail federal investigations; that federal regulators will be hamstrung due to lack of expertise, power, and/or resources; and that their customer base and supply chains will remain relatively stable, there is more of an incentive to cheat than ever before.

If the gravediggers of capital ultimately end up being a united working class, and/or the ecological crises combined with global warming-induced climactic Armageddon, perhaps it’d be helpful to think of these corporate grifters as the grave robbers, exhuming and reanimating whatever scam du jour they deem necessary to circulate capital. Not only does this reliance on fraud betray the moral failings of the people and institutions implicated, but it reinforces that Marx was right: the falling rate of profit over time and over-accumulation continues to force new methods of creative destruction to enter our midst to necessitate continuous expansion. Neoliberal economics officially saw its death-knell during the 2008 recession, but twelve years later this undead ideology maintains hegemony in a world teetering on the brink of disaster. Zombie Economics, if you will.

Profit and GDP growth at all costs to line elites’ pockets and increase national tax bases is killing the planet and working classes. Put another way, from a humorous statement by @Anarchopac on twitter: “The problem with capitalism is eventually you run out of planet to destroy to maximize short-term profit.” Put yet another way, John Maynard Keynes pointed out: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

In our late capitalist reality, there are barely any new frontiers to shift capital and production to, and the possibility of opening new markets in underdeveloped nations is also limited. The colonialist frontiers have been tapped and the system begins to cannibalize itself. A rentier economy coalesces and the contours of a neo-feudal regime based on debt and precarity are readily apparent now. Speculation and passive income from the FIRE sectors (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) are near all-time highs, but their assets are so overvalued that sooner or later it will spur on an economic downturn that at this point is unavoidable. Consider, for instance, that the Dow Jones at its low point in March 2009 stood at around 6,600. Here in 2020, we find the average hovering over 29,000. No one can legitimately say that our markets or average families are four times as well off or any more resilient and economically secure than ten years ago. The next crash could very well make terms like “housing bubble” and “tech bubble” seem quaint. The entire US economy is a bubble, a rigged casino designed to implode.

Since financial, real estate, and stock speculation has in some sense reached a tipping point of limited returns on investment, our hypothesized 5th category, accumulation via fraud, is implemented. It fits into our upside-down world nicely: since what is productive for one class is often unproductive for another, one-percenters elide reality to maintain their own class interests at all costs, and block any real public discussion in the media of what constitutes productive versus unproductive labor. The masters know what is good for us. Capitalist elites see no moral qualms in the most debased forms of wealth acquisition. It’s all relative to them, and where previous Taylorist models focused on planned obsolescence of products, now we construct products that do not even work initially; i.e., jets that literally fall out of the sky without the necessary software updates.

In all likelihood these examples are just harbingers of things to come, as the structural instability of capital demands new avenues for expansion even as it teeters before the inevitable collapse. The brazen criminality and fraudulence of the system bubbles to the surface and can no longer be rationalized away as an “aberration.” As real material conditions deteriorate for the multitudes, resistance to capitalism must intensify as it enters its final death throes.

Translating Neoliberal-Speak: Your 2020 Democratic Candidates

Presented here is a short list of some of the most ridiculous statements, absolute gems really, from some of the hopefuls for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. These are all either verbatim quotes from speeches, interviews, or official Twitter posts from the candidates. After I was initially rendered catatonic by examining the collective ignorance, I got it together to provide some clarity and rough translations to try and tease out the not-so-hidden agendas of each politician.

There was a lot to choose from, but I specifically picked each of these remarks because they are all exquisite examples of each candidate’s specific brand of delusional ideology and idiosyncrasy distilled down to their bare essences.

Unlike most campaign double-plus-good speech and blather where nothing of any significance is uttered, most of these instances unintentionally display veiled truths as well as display astounding naiveté and immorality, and shine an extra bit of light on each candidate’s personal quirks, beliefs, and foibles. These quotes unintentionally illuminate each candidate’s depravity and the modus operandi of neoliberal economics, and capitalism more broadly. They reveal how every vice is paraded as virtue, how class is never addressed meaningfully, how rhetoric is used to cover up the immorality, the endemic rot and corruption, the omissions, distortions, and obfuscations, basically the general Weltanschauung of late-capitalist culture.

Each quote here either unconsciously or deliberately attempts to obscure deeper issues and cover up the failures of our economic and political systems, yet backfires spectacularly, because it is so painfully obvious what the deeper implications are. My interpretations here are simply the brutally honest versions of their own words, taking the logic of their arguments, life choices, policies, and ideological beliefs to their final conclusions. Let’s dive in.

Kamala Harris: “Yesterday I announced that, as President, I’ll establish a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell Grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.”

Translation: “How can I maximize the appearance of doing something good while in actuality helping the least amount of people without anyone noticing? No one’s actually going to crunch the numbers on this, right? My billionaire donors are totally not OK with canceling student debt or really anything that won’t line their own pockets, but I need to appeal to pseudo-progressives who can’t be bothered to research for two minutes and realize this program would help about ten whole people in the entire country.”

Pete Buttigieg: “I did not carry an assault weapon around a foreign country so I could come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen.”

Translation: “It’s totally OK to massacre innocent people halfway around the world, but please, just don’t do it here. I literally see no connection between our foreign policy and mass shooters in the United States. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Elizabeth Warren: “We don’t have to choose between a green military and an effective one. My plan will improve our service members’ readiness and safety, and achieve cost savings for American taxpayers. Together-we can fight climate change-and win.”

Translation: “Have you always wanted to see a solar-powered drone rain death upon those scary terrorists? I’m your gal for a sustainably genocidal globe-spanning 21st century military! Ever wondered what a biodiesel tank would look like? I have all the best plans. Pick me in 2020 and help us build an eco-friendly empire!”

Andrew Yang: “I understand the spirit and appeal of a wealth tax. It makes sense that those who enjoy vast fortunes should pay back into the system, particularly given the concentrations of wealth in our winner-take-all economy. But the implementation would be impractical and problematic.”

Translation: “My only friends are venture capitalists and wealthy business owners, so it would be impractical and problematic for me to piss them off: I really don’t want my three billionaire friends to stop liking me and donating to my campaign. I am smart enough to know better, but I just can’t bring myself to back a common-sense solution as it goes against my own class interests. Plus, do you know how many jobs entrepreneurs create? Nothing gets me going more than being a total wonk with fellow entrepreneurs to discuss how to create new business opportunities and grow the pie for American families. Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy, don’t you know. I have lots of fake statistics that prove it. Have I mentioned how much I love entrepreneurs? I may have a few progressive ideas and good intentions, but I’m basically a slightly left of center, techno-libertarian version of Milton Friedman, who also supported UBI.”

Beto O’Rourke: “Man, I’m just born to be in it.” (Referring to the 2020 election race.)

Translation: “There is no reason for me to be in the race anymore as I have no chance of winning, no original ideas of my own, and my whole campaign is predicated on vapid PR centrist bullshit. I was well off before marrying into money, but now I can really let my sense of privilege shine and spread my wings of entitlement. I can’t just be a normal rich asshole having a mid-life crisis who buys a third home or gets a mistress, I don’t have the self-awareness to just go away, so I’ll have to bore you all to death with my insipid blatherings in the media. I’m kind of a poster-boy for a bougie generic type of gen-X slacker, except not even the semi-interesting kind who joined the Peace Corps or lived in Europe for a bit; I’m more of an aimless dilettante with delusions of grandeur. Before I was a Congressman I attempted to sell-off parts of El Paso to gentrify the city for my sleazy real-estate developer father-in-law. Actually, I’m a lot like George W. Bush, another rich Texan with daddy issues and past problems with alcohol. Did you know I was in a punk band? Punk rock is a lot like politics, actually, you have to be authentic to succeed, and my DIY credentials are unparalleled, man.”

Joe Biden: “I remember when we had a president our children could look up to.”

Translation: “I’m not referring to children of undocumented immigrants who saw their parents unjustly deported under the Obama administration. I’m not referring to children whose parents have been locked away and immorally jailed for non-violent crimes all so I can pander to a regressive center-left and center-right and placate my elite reactionary, authoritarian donors. Nor am I referring to the countless children killed and even more who’ve been terrorized by endless wars and constant drone bombing stretching from North Africa through the Middle East to Central Asia. Brown kids are just as bright as white kids, but they’re going to grow up to either steal our jobs or become terrorists or both and we can’t have that. Even though I’m a doddering fossil, my handlers will ensure I’m able to fake the appearance of competence and pander to a return to the good old times when America was united. Make America Normal Again, am I right?!”

Amy Klobuchar: “When you’re out there on the world stage and dealing with people like Vladimir Putin, yeah, you want someone who’s tough…you want someone that demands the answers and that’s going to get things done, and that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

Translation: “The rumors you’ve heard about me are true. I may be a stone-cold psycho who throws office supplies at my staff, berates, takes advantage of, and verbally abuses them, but America, you’re going to need me to deal with all those big Boogeymen and scary threats we are facing as a nation. See, unlike Trump, when I treat people like dirt it’s because I earned the right to do so by getting things done. That’s how our meritocracy works after all, right? I was exploited and abused when I climbed the corporate and political ladders, which helped me learn to demand answers and made me tough, so this justifies the hurt I now inflict on others, which I derive a sick form of pleasure from.  My insane and sociopathic use of using leverage on the less powerful, my coercive behavior and bullying my employees in my campaign office will work great for dealing with fellow world leaders…that’s what makes America exceptional, after all, humiliating and forcing others to do your bidding against their will.”

Tulsi Gabbard: “In short, when it comes to war against terrorists, I’m a hawk. When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

Translation: “First, notice the counterproductive. See, I want our nation to get back to launching productive wars of regime change. Despite my professed anti-interventionism, I’m not intelligent enough to understand that regime change was always predicated on and justified by the appeal to a ‘war on terror’, and that the military-industrial-intelligence complex will always label foreign leaders or groups who they want destroyed as ‘terrorists’, whether they pose an actual threat or not. There is no indication from my background that I would have the backbone or strong anti-war belief system to stand up to the national-security state. This is why many moderates and ‘independents’, as well as liberals, find my superficial isolationism appealing: it covers for the same noxious nationalism and malignant imperialism endemic to our politics. When it comes to Islamic religion and culture which I’ve regularly demeaned and slandered as promoting ‘radical extremism’, I’m a hawk. When it comes to my wonderful friend Narendra Modi, I’m a dove. There’s nothing weird about that, right? No contradictions to see here.”

Cory Booker: “When discouraged, choose hope. When criticized, choose humility. When hurt, choose forgiveness. When dreams are dashed, dream again.”

Translation: “Let me be clear: yeah, I really do talk like this all the time. I’m your very earnest, cheesy, woke slam-poetry candidate. Look, I know many of you see me a pompous windbag full of platitudes and oozing pablum, but let me dissuade you of that notion. I know you’re discouraged because we chose ‘hope’ in 2008 and it didn’t work out so well, but trust me, this time it’ll be different. When I’m criticized for being a sellout, I always think back to my billionaire donors on Wall Street and in the pharmaceutical industry, and it humbles me because I know I couldn’t be where I am today without them. I may have gotten hurt by taking too many shots to the head playing college football, because I often quote W.E.B. Du Bois and MLK Jr. without any deep understanding of their actual political beliefs, but I know you’ll all forgive me for Disney-fying their legacy. I know many people’s dreams have been dashed by our economic system, but my dreams, like the dreams of my ruling class buddies, are so completely enveloped by our affluence and vainglorious drive for power that we are ready and willing to dash your dreams again.”

Bernie Sanders: “The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent. The economy is a disaster and millions are migrating.”

Translation: “Here lies proof that neoliberal thought infects everyone and everything, and it’s no surprise that this includes reformist social democrats like me. I supported the Sandinistas, Cuba and Castro, but I parrot State Department propaganda on Venezuela to a T. It would be so easy for me to gain genuine, stalwart socialist allies if I reached out to people, and they could help me see through the disinformation swirling around Maduro’s government and various foreign policy issues, but I am either too stubborn or prideful to acknowledge their existence and learn from them.”

Death by a Thousand Trumps: The Logical End Point of Capitalism

The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?

— Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Ant-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1972

There is a fairly typical and recurrent notion among many Americans that Donald Trump and his administration is some sort of aberration. As if his brutal, venal, racist, and bullying nature is something new, or different from previous leaders. For those not inclined to look at the historical record; one only has to look beyond our borders to view the authoritarian personality type that Trump represents in power all over the world: Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Jinping, Duterte, and Bolsonaro being the most obvious comparisons.

Our president is not an exception but the logical culmination of a nation built on genocide, slavery, empire, and capitalism. His virulent nationalism, his racist and sexist attitudes, and unbelievably fragile ego are all undisputable proof that millions of people enjoy, tolerate, or acquiesce to his behavior. Liberal pieties and paeans towards restoring normalcy don’t move the needle for most center-left voters either, as it is at least tacitly/subconsciously understood that after Trump and Brexit there is no going back towards “liberal democratic” rule. A threshold has been crossed.

Trump and his billionaire cronies are simply doing what capitalists do best: doling out more death and destruction, which many US citizens are all too comfortable eliding; except for the understandable shock and anger over the most outrageous travesties, such as the burning of the Amazon or children in concentration camps on our southern border. Even then, there is no programmatic analysis of what caused the problem (capitalism and empire) and very little visionary leadership with any social power or pop-cultural relevancy to propose realistic solutions.

It’s crucial to look outside the borders of the US to see how capital really operates. Western multinationals pay foreign governments to murder, ethnically cleanse, pillage, rape, and despoil entire nations and natural habitats. US transnational corporations as well as federal funding for various authoritarian regimes (notably Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.) pay for their militaries, private security forces, death squads, proxy terrorists and spies, as well as corporate espionage.

For these reasons and many more it cannot be considered hyperbole to call the USA a fascist state. For those unconvinced, I suggest reading Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay  “Ur-Fascism” to understand why. Henry Giroux uses the term “neoliberal fascism” and his recent book American Nightmare, which I reviewed for New York Journal of Books, spells out in detail the deepening spirals of violence and ignorance American society is succumbing to.

The near total focus on purely domestic policies in mainstream media and by our politicians is excruciating, maddening, and cringe-inducing. The constant domestic policy myopia contradicts any statements that liberals and conservatives actually understand, or have genuine interest or empathy for foreign causes or solidarity with those in need around the globe.

One only has to find old news programs, for example, from the fifties through the eighties to remember that news media for all its flaws then was much more informed and nuanced about international relations compared to today. Dissidents, counterculture figures, communists, and radicals appeared regularly on TV talk shows and were generally encouraged or at least tolerated by liberal establishment journalists, whereas today there is a huge zero. Foreign wars and overseas events were covered more extensively.

There’s no doubt many liberals earnestly want Trump gone for his racist border policy and global warming denialism, among other issues. Yet, of course, much of the outrage revolves around the pseudo-moralizing, a way of saying: “He doesn’t represent us, the good-hearted progressive people in the USA.”

A petty, corrupt, racist, chauvinistic, violent grifter is exactly the type of person to represent the United States. It needs to be said, and repeated, over and over.

There are tens of millions of mini-Trumps all over the nation, exploiting, killing, jailing, and materially and mentally impoverishing working people. Here’s something to ponder. How many US citizens would support kicking out all undocumented immigrants in our country? Almost certainly the number is in the millions, if not tens of millions of people.

Where do US citizens think this is all leading towards? Have we not been locked in a death spiral, circling the drain for centuries, and have our leaders not plundered, murdered, enslaved, and ruthlessly exploited fellow humans, nature, and resources at a horrifying and increasing rate? Even further back, isn’t this where Western civilization has been headed towards for 6,000 years: a system based on brutal and authoritarian hierarchies propped up by organized religion, barbaric racism and tribalism, imperial delusions of grandeur, and myths about a world full of limitless resources?

Also, the ruling classes have been getting more ignorant, more venal, less philanthropic, and less empathetic. There are studies that can confirm this: for instance, through measuring emotional intelligence (EQ), it has been found that in corporate firms, positions above middle management show a dramatic drop in EQ. Of course, we know most CEOs and corporate owners are borderline if not full-blown psychopathic or sociopathic. The ownership of our nation are perfectly willing and able to exploit workers, cut benefits, destroy public programs, ignore the poor and minorities, and breed mass alienation at a level unseen since the Gilded Age.

There are about 585 billionaires in the US, about 175,000 people with over 25 million in total (0.05% of the population), 1.4 million individuals with wealth over 5 million (0.42% of the population), and it’s estimated there are about 12 million millionaires in the US (about 3.6% of the population). They are on the other side of a class divide that is widening more every year.

The 2016 election clearly showed white voters turned out in droves for Trump, but what mostly went unmentioned is that for all voters making over 50k a year, the edge also went to Trump, 49% to Clinton’s 47%. So much for the idea that those with wealth are part of a enlightened and tolerant “meritocracy” as our corporate overlords and their media puppets like to constantly remind us: rather, those with just a little bit of money, unconsciously or not, use their vote to crush the lower classes through Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, tariffs and trade wars, etc.

Umberto Eco also points this out: he correctly demonstrates that one of the features of fascism is an “appeal to the frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”. Erich Fromm also mentions this phenomenon at length in his classic Escape from Freedom.

The insatiable desires of the elites and the economic leverage the “Global North” holds further absolutely dirt-cheap prices for all manners of consumer goods, by externalizing the costs onto faraway nations, the environment, and the poor who inhabit nearby industrial or manufacturing sites, and other “sacrifice zones”.

This accounts for the burgeoning phenomena of the worker as an “independent contractor”, a model touted by Silicon Valley and venture capitalists. The new model is to cut as many benefits as possible and use low-wage service work or the threat of falling into this precariat as leverage to squeeze as much work and productivity as possible out of what remains of the middle class.

Small businesses which serviced the rich in previous eras are now forced to compete more fiercely or die, and thus compelled into deflationary business models with price wars, etc.; while the large-sector service corporations effectively have monopolies and can force workers to accept low pay due to the reserve army of labor.

Perhaps soon, the majority of the rich will be forced to acquiesce due to popular demand on issues such as free college or universal health care. Yet, they will never, ever choose voluntarily to surrender their basic model of economic power or to restructure corporate America. Freedom without economic equality is impossible. The majority of us are relegated to a form of serfdom, with no prospects for democracy in the economy and the workplace.

Another point worth mentioning is that reform is never going to happen in time through legislative and judicial means. The amount of hoops to jump through, in our constitution and in the legislature, to structurally change the system will take way too long, sap momentum, and destroy any movement based in electoral politics however good the intent.

Requiring any mass movement to follow every legalistic framework for change is just another form of elitism: forcing the multitude to advance at the glacial pace of the legal system is simply an authoritarian call for law and order to cement unjust property rights. Any form of reformist policies will be denied by appealing to the status quo of existing laws, and their deluded obsession with following corrupt legal procedures and bureaucratic red-tape written by corporations and lobbyists. Rather, citizen assemblies, general strikes, direct action, and public referenda should be used as much as possible to counter the dirty tricks of the elites.

The main strivings of the members of our government, Democrat or Republican, are for power, money, and fame: they are not any substantially or qualitatively different from Trump in this respect. Their warped, huge, and fragile egos have convinced themselves that they really are the right people for the job, regardless of their obvious corrupt nature, lack of knowledge, and moral failings. Rather than being devoted to public service, their actions imply that they view themselves as doing the public a favor by simply existing and choosing to run for office to provide us with an “enlightened” political class, rather than those scary “populists”.

There is an unacknowledged anti-democratic strain in US society which insists every public policy position must be run by an expert, a technocrat, despite all evidence suggesting these professional-managerial class types (personified by Obama, his reign marking the apotheosis, the high-water mark of meritocratic and liberal democratic ideology) are craven, corrupt sycophants beholden to the power elite.

Apparently there are about 5 million people in the US who hold clearance to view classified material. There are about 1.3 million military and about 700,000 police officers. So that’s 7 million right there which constitute the national security state. The 21st century Praetorian Guard, if you will. If you count the defense corporations, fossil fuel multinationals, and various conglomerates which profit off the destruction and exploitation of workers and the environment, and all the sub-contractors which rely on the largesse (trough) of defense, fossil fuel, and other anti-life industries, that’s a few more million easily.

What I’m getting at is dislodging Trump, or any figurehead president, is small potatoes, because there are at least 10-30 million Americans with a shitload of guns and money who do not want to see any — and I mean any — fundamental progressive changes. Without a mass base advocating for socialist and revolutionary democratic policies, there is nothing the ruling classes won’t do to protect their privileges.

Forget an imbecile like Trump. The power elite would rather re-animate the corpse of Genghis Khan than have Bernie Sanders or anyone left of him in charge. Believe that. They would rather use the power of capital flight and take their money to Swiss bank accounts or the Cayman Islands and bankrupt our entire country than see any socialist in power. Bank on it. Forget elections as the exclusive means towards dismantling the power structure. Only mass movements in the streets can fight the barbarism we are confronted with.

Questioning the Extremely Online

This essay is in regard to a crime that too often goes unmentioned when the conversations turn towards political analysis, the contemporary journalistic scene, and broader social critique: the crime of being extremely online.

What does it mean to be extremely online? It mostly is as straightforward as it sounds. Generally, activities such as spending too much time on the web, scrolling through social media feeds out of habit, checking email or notifications dozens of times a day, all are symptoms of the extremely online person. Particularly, too much smartphone use is a devastating problem.

There is also a more specific version, which both mainstream journalists and alternative media commentators employ on both the right and left: constantly posting every news update; sharing a gazillion times every day each and every version and opinion on a current event/post/tweet about the lead news stories of the day, whether it is something interesting about global warming or something as ignorant and banal as the president’s tweets; prognosticating about the presidential election a year and a half before it happens;  using dubious polls or statistics to bolster weak arguments; and basically reacting to every media spectacle with behavior including, but not limited to, juvenile tantrums, posturing, faux outrage, jaded cynicism, pompous virtue-signalling, ironic detachment, and narcissistic self-aggrandizement.

Quite a few alternative media commentators tend to replicate and mimic the 24/7 spectacle that is mainstream news. That is to say, many have internalized the messaging style; the hyper-fast response time to current events…generally speaking, the norms of mainstream commentary and thus bourgeois values are being internalized. The more time spent posting for an online following on social media, the stronger the pull of an affinity to a certain type of power. Digital hierarchies become hardened, and the bourgeoisification of the web intensifies. As we shall see below, even those who identify as anti-capitalist or socialist are not immune.

The types of online behaviors regarding political debate exhibited above may be the exception, but with the expansion of social media along with its hyper-stratified tendencies, it may soon become the norm.

What research has shown is that digital literacy creates a path towards more open attitudes towards digital technology, which can be called Technophilia.1 This research points towards entertainment as one of the key drivers in promoting positive emotions and behavior when using digital technology, which results in a positive feedback loop leading to more intense and rewarding use.

If you extrapolate from this a bit, I’d suggest that the top online influencers in various political schools of thought will be more predisposed towards promoting digital technology, simply because they are benefitting from it financially. We have a situation where the most popular commentators are economically tied to social media, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that their naïve optimism regarding the power of digital media will not stop there, but rather, the naivety extends to industrial society as a whole.

The social media environment creates a logic of its own, just as most modern technology does. One obvious materialist analogy is to the medical industry. As long as for-profit companies are allowed to dominate pharmaceutical and research endeavors, the logic of the system will mean that more people are made sick, anxious, depressed, etc., to make more money for corporations. With social media, the logic of its internal dynamics precludes nuanced, informed, lengthy public deliberation in favor of sound-bite quotes, sloganeering, and focusing on personalities, along with the most shallow forms of identity politicking. Its logic depends on divisive, sensational, hateful, and ultimately fascistic rhetoric dominating political discourse.

Since the scope of Technophilia broadens and intensifies with continued use of labor-saving devices made under exploitative conditions, it ultimately results in many self-proclaimed anti-capitalists falling under the sway of propaganda emanating from mainstream technological society, as we shall see below.

Class is never taken seriously in our society. In many rural areas around the USA broadband internet access is still out of reach, and is expensive for many poor urban Americans as well, creating a digital divide. Thus it is no wonder that the rich and middle-classes are more “open” towards the web and smart-phone use. They derive more pleasure from them in terms of entertainment, increased digital literacy, and monetary success. The flip side of being more open is being more immature and blind to dangers, however. In contrast the poor and working classes respond to the digital life-world with more skepticism, as the above study indicates.

My contention here is that this digital literacy creates a new form of “digital spectacle” for technophilic Westerners on both the political right and left, especially for the middle classes. The elite implicitly understand that in a society based on artificial scarcity, only a certain amount of online influencers can vie for position in digital media. The professional and managerial classes, and their children ensconced in privilege, all too easily fall under the sway of the competitive forces in online media as well.

The poor and working class understand that in regarding to digital media, they are getting crushed under the weight of start-up costs, social capital which is either unobtainable or sleazy to get, and various online fees and hurdles to make it in a new rigged game of digital society. The digital divide is becoming a chasm, because it too it based on market forces.

As alluded to above, election cycle mania, the fascination with polling data, as well as fixation of GDP, job growth, and many other factors which the mainstream media focuses on are now internalized across the political spectrum, included much of Western Left analysis. This isn’t to say that socialists overly reliant on statistics and polling are wrong; simply that it’s mostly ineffective, as the tone is technocratic, academic, and is filled with the jargon that turns off the average citizen, even some of what is written here. I am not immune, this is a self-criticism as well, as the lack of engagement and overly analytical framework extends throughout journalism and academia across the entire social body.

Most of this behavior has been internalized and learned from mainstream media, which creates a market and manufactured interest in nonsensical statistics and banal news trivia, as Neil Postman points out:

Statistics create an enormous amount of completely useless information, which compounds the always difficult task of location that which is useful to a culture. This is more than a case of ‘information-overload.’ It is a matter of information-trivia, which has the effect of placing all information on an equal level.2

Once data becomes transmuted into a sort of holy substance, it is wielded by both the political Right and Left as a weapon: statistics back their cause and any deviation from the issue is irrational and illogical. This sets the table for false binaries and political polarization across the spectrum of political thought.

What being extremely online has done is given the very few big “influencers” in mainstream media as well as alternative spaces huge egos and warped their ability to think critically. This is most clearly seen in our “troll in chief”, Donald Trump. Time, space, and perception are distorted and it has led to a predictable and unimaginative online discourse.

When a post appears on social media, often if you know the contributor and some of the followers/friends, you can glean and predict what the reaction is going to be and who is going to say what. Depending on the news of the day, I can guestimate what the “takes” will be of my various friends and those I follow. I admit this can be sometimes comforting given the horrendous news we deal with daily. However, it also kind of implies that real people are reacting, thinking, and forming commentary algorithmically, as if our thoughts now mimic apps like Spotify and Pandora which play tracks from one’s favorite musicians; or at least similar artists which won’t offend the listener’s taste. How banal and horrifying all at once.

With podcasts or Youtube videos, as well as message boards, one can see political commentary forming a script, where individuals rattle off reels of their “greatest hits” of points, observations, and reflections, rather than engaging with the subject matter. No matter how hard we try, social media can never replicate oral traditions and real-life conversations. Dysfunction is baked into modern capitalist-based digital communication.

How being extremely online works to the advantage of the few at the expense of the many is easy to ascertain. We are told we are living in an “attention economy” and the extremely online predicate their behavior on this premise, even those who ostensibly identify as anti-capitalist. The extremely online mimic the 24/7 blather of mainstream media discourse, because nothing is too insignificant not to post, nothing too small not to get out in the lead as being “on top of” any given issue or current event. This is the sort of competitive striving absolutely essential to capitalism.

Outrage, shock, compassion, repulsion, empathy, and even “rational, objective” sober media analysis vie for our attention spans, and the extremely online prey upon those among their followers who due to loneliness, emotional issues, or escapism already spend too much time online, and are thus more vulnerable to screen addiction, sensationalist appeals, fear-mongering, gossip, consumer trends, etc.

Of course, the mainstream outlets have been deeply complicit, as it suits their financial interests. As seen by the CNN executive during the 2016 election gloating that the insane coverage of Trump was horrible for the country, but good for their bottom line, or something to that effect.

As for the reaction time of news sources, and thus political commentary, it may strain one’s memory to recall, but only twenty years ago any major news stories that broke after the evening news broadcast did not appear until the next morning, nearly an eight to twelve hour delay

Now, every media outlet is constantly bombarding us with every update and crisis in real time. The main reaction to this (notwithstanding the many sincere alternative media, community-level, and individual critiques) in the collective consciousness is shock and numbness, and it only compounds daily.

Now, many leftists tend to unconsciously mimic the same tendencies of mainstream media. This is done by copying the tactics of mainstream online influencers who use marketing, PR, and advertising firms to get ahead. This is done by pandering to the crowd and reacting to every Trump and establishment faux pas, whether Democrat or Republican. This is done by opportunistic virtue signaling and online activism viewed as a substitute for in person organizing. The virtual becomes more real than the real. Egos become more tied to the digital social environs, a derivative of a derivative.

Apparently the twisted logic is that if the extremely online use social media as a way for exposure and fame, it’s worth it. Social media becomes a tool, a means to an end to uproot the system. The downside tends to be that we become instruments of social media itself, not a new phenomenon in Western Civilization.

Posting dozens of times a day on social media simply is not in anyone’s best interest. It is in the best interest of capital, however. Why else would one post 30, 50, a hundred times a day if not to create an attention economy around oneself, to gain digital “followers” whose gaze will be diverted from possibly more important issues closer and dearer to their hearts…as well as to one’s family and friends, one’s material reality and ability to help the vulnerable and those in need close to them.

What should be obvious is every moment spent online is time away from the natural world and thus a huge time-suck where we exist as zombified, trance-induced crazy people for more information, useless updates, more drivel-data and bits of trivialities that do not change a thing.

Being online means being on the grid and the computing power needed to keep our information superhighway running is increasing like a runaway train. Despite the relatively low cost of powering one’s individual smartphone and computer/laptop/tablet etc., the internet via server farms, cell towers, etc. uses approximately 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption and the total energy use for the web increases by about 20% each year. The rollout of harmful 5G technology and internet of things only will accelerate the technological dystopia we’re enmeshed in.

Regardless of what technophiles and delusional people want to think, modern industrial civilization is a fad. We are going to have to go through an extended period of degrowth and lowering our power consumption and that will have to include less internet use. Most especially, too much smartphone use must be addressed head-on. Smartphones need to go away, for good, and it’s not too hard to imagine a workable society without them. It existed twenty years ago.

This should be simple enough to understand, but again, chronic habitual internet use and social media creates a form of addiction which leads to denialism. For those that do partake in nuanced forms of online discussion, in message boards or even in comment sections, yet limit, self-reflect, and moderate your use, congratulations. This is not directed at you. This is written is response to the serial social media addicts. For those in this group, I’ll posit that one of the root reasons for this malady is that our addict-Left comrades unconsciously identify with the system.

This isn’t meant to sound callous, these people are suffering to different degrees, and I do empathize. Boredom, loneliness, and lack of in-person human connection are endemic to our culture and these factors shouldn’t be minimized when understanding addictive behavior.

Part of the problem is the speed of society now. It’s understandable, people want to keep up with events and chime in with their two cents. It’s a human reaction. Part of the problem is also that the people who have convinced themselves they are part of the solution remain part of the problem. Mainly, because they are unable or unwilling to critically examine the technophilic ideology at the heart of the capitalist-based internet.

The “Left-opinion makers”, as the Situationists were wont to call them, thus fall hopelessly further into the spectacle.

Caveat

Social media use is not a horrible thing in and of itself. Although much of its use tends to replicate competitive and hierarchical relations, there are alternative visions of what the web could be like. Internet and social media companies could have been, and should be now, directed through public funding and non-profit models decades ago to engage and educate working class people, to provide jobs and new opportunities, and to raise the consciousness of the public sphere. This could easily be done even within the confines of a social-democratic system.

What we have now is a web and social media landscape that is largely, but not completely, irredeemable. Again, this does not mean one should completely ignore it, only that social media should be seen as a vessel to get people out of their homes and into the streets: like we saw in Tunisia, in Egypt and many other nations during the Arab Spring.

I don’t know if this metaphor is useful at all, but social media could be used as a sort of liberatory portals or gateways, networks to awaken the masses from their slumber, to take them out of the virtual and into the “natural” world. Web and social media technology can be used to “tune in” people to serious movement-building, to Marx, to environmental protests, to issues like climate change and nuclear war, through digital communication; but eventually there has to be a period when citizens step through to the other side and “drop out” to take the struggle onto the public squares. The thing is, many of those involved in just such struggles seem hopelessly “addicted” or too enamored with the power of internet technology itself, much like what has happened with the fetishization of the internal combustion engine, the printing press, the personal computer, and many other examples.

The Professional Bloviators

Sadly, quite a few self-professed anti-capitalist public intellectuals seem to be ensnared by bourgeois ideology today. Many rightly view our political and economic systems as hopelessly corrupt, yet still cling to the privilege, perks, and soapboxes offered by their academic positions (tied to student and faculty exploitation, which is either conveniently unmentioned or under-emphasized), viewing their own credentials as somehow a basis for a true and fair meritocracy, as if academia is somehow above the vagaries of blind chance, sheer luck, white privilege, and jockeying for power.

Any academic worth their salt should be either heavily insinuating, or outright stating to their students, that college is a huge waste of time and money, depending on how much “free speech” they can actually afford to say without getting canned. Universities function today as huge indoctrination camps to train the next generation of good “liberals” (or good Germans, it might be more appropriate to say) who will never question or threaten to overturn the system: the professional-managerial upper-middle class technocrats, financiers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

Thus, even some dissident academics manage to paint themselves into a corner with ineffectual arguments backing the college system, turf wars, theatrical posturing, lack of engagement with the working class, etc. This has all been said before, but again, it may be worth repeating. For instance, in 2011 in the US there were some “socialists” and “anarchists” supporting the US/UK/French bombing of Libya, and a few who equivocated and vacillated, citing the responsibility to protect civilians, parroting State Department propaganda. Oy vey.

The internet and social media has accelerated this trend, making things worse among the wider population, as even those with core anti-capitalist ideas fall into internecine bickering. This is peak aspersionary politics, or passive-aggressiveness if you prefer, which apes wider bourgeois culture. To recast Allen Ginsberg’s opening line of Howl for today, and I only mean this half-jokingly, we can think of something like: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by social media.” Some Left twitterati self-identify as being “extremely online”: brazenly, unashamedly, and unreflectively revealing the depths of their own screen addictions.

Aldous Huxley described the brain as a “reducing valve”, yet I’ve not heard a fully-encompassing phrase for the situation created by a digital milieu where web algorithms which reinforce harmful beliefs and behavior, prey on our addictions, amplify hatred, sow discord, polarize media and community; by devices that seize and sustain our attention long after we realize it no longer serves our interests; by neurotransmitter hijacking, empathy-deadening, critical-thinking atrophying smartphones and media built explicitly to mine us for money, use our thoughts/photos/creativity/etc. as free content while social media companies and those who advertise on the platforms make billions, and generally to simultaneously distract, outrage, and numb us. “Limbic capitalism3 is the closest term I’ve come across, but perhaps the more brutal, if less artful, phrase is more apt: mind control.

There is less and less nuance and space for radical dissent as many left-leaning alternative media and social media influencers close ranks and offer only very mild criticism of social democratic policies. Again, the striving is self-evident, is it not?

These are symptoms of unhealthy minds, formatted/manipulated/brainwashed to choose between false binaries no matter what contradictions follow from the starting premises of whatever topic is at hand. For instance, take the so-called socialist opportunists who offer very mild public criticism of the Green New Deal, or those who don’t mention the huge cuts in military spending needed to give the deal teeth, so as not to seem confrontational or radical, or perhaps to save what’s left of their perceived (yet, worthless) reputations. In other words, their take is: we don’t have time to build real socialism. Let’s form a coalition with the new social democrats, as if that didn’t end in complete disaster over 100 years ago.

Paths Forward

Now, of course it’s true that reform can indeed broaden and deepen the prospects for revolution, and it is not an either/or proposition, as Rosa Luxembourg explained so well. Yet, we cannot let the crass opportunism and striving for attention on digital media to enact important reforms derail us from steeping workers, students, minorities, and women in the rich intellectual tradition woven by the anti-capitalist Left.

Right in the introduction to the Social Reform or Revolution, Luxemburg states: “The entire strength of the modern labor movement rests on theoretic knowledge.” Despite big advances in the last three years, clearly there is a need for the deep type of work involving the framework for constructing and advancing a truly emancipatory Green New Deal, as well as fighting for open borders, the abolition of prisons and police, and the military-industrial complex.

Anything less than a systematic and intersectional approach will do a huge disservice to the movement and will replicate the cloistered, privileged milieu which unduly benefits the extremely online and their techno-utopian backers.

Reform is welcome because it can lead to tolerance, and its eventual byproduct, solidarity. Solidarity is a radiating emotional, behavioral, and intellectual stance from which flow social bonding and necessary healing mechanisms for our culture. The main ideals of environmental, social, and economic justice revolve around solidarity. Which gives us space to breathe, and here I’m reminded of Eric Garner’s last words. The minorities and the poor in this country have been suffocating for centuries. With no mass base, even the good intentions of those in Congress, such as the “Squad” who advocate for redistributive measures, will be for naught.

If some of today’s US socialist “thought leaders” are so spineless to feign from even mentioning how the prospect of renewable energy corporations left in the hands of private control will end in utter disaster, or to simply pretend it won’t, there’s not much left to say to these people. Then there are US socialists who advocate insanely for nuclear power. Forget theoretical knowledge.  This is basic common sense.  Nuclear energy is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. If there is intimidation by peers, or simply self-censorship, or to maintain a lifestyle by promoting such anti-life policies on the Left, well, it’s entirely understandable, predictable, and wretched. It’s also an abdication of responsibility: clearly these are bourgeois stances.

To sum up, pointing fingers at the ruling classes’ blatantly obvious sociopathic tendencies provides the convenient scapegoats and diversionary tactics from confronting the holes in many of our own thinking

Back to theoretic knowledge for a minute. First, we have to take into account the anti-intellectual climate here in the US. One encounters quite a few semi-influential figures, especially on the right but increasingly in anti-capitalist outlets, which are quick to criticize French postmodernists, or the Frankfurt School, or various strains of thought which are deemed too obscure or weighty.

There’s no time for theory is one of their complaints, because it is too time-consuming or turns off too many people. So whatever is too complicated for the gate-keeping digital left-liberal editors is thrown by the wayside, but it ain’t clear where this process is headed other than an even more dumbed-down society. What is clear is we are dealing with lightweights.  It’s pretty paternalistic too, because the subtext seems to be that regular people are just too dumb to be introduced to “Theory” and serious academic work.

The other side to this is that many of the same people who are wonderful at explaining theory or offering political critique, many of the “the Left opinion makers”, have absolutely no environmental or ecological knowledge base. You wouldn’t trust them with a shovel; never mind on a factory floor, a communal farm, starting an activist movement or union, or organizing a cooperative. The materialism part of the equation never kicked in. It’s a function of middle-class squeamishness that needs to be squashed.

Another point I want to mention is the US and UK analytic preference for social critique and philosophical investigation, in contrast to the continental style. And I cannot emphasize enough that the dominant Anglophone trend is to turn socialism into an equation, a formula. Put another way, to offer models of governance and even to organize in the technocratic style. Not only that, but to uncritically accept a model for the future based on unrestrained use of technology, with very little understanding of environmental impacts,  conservation, or basic ecology in general.

We see this techno-fetishism in some of the ideas floating around such as “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, notably Aaron Bastani’s recent work of the same title. Bastani is close to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. And look who gives a plug for the book, Bhaskar Sunkara. And if you follow these connections down the rabbit hole you’ll see Sunkara’s most recent work gets a plug from Ezra Klein of Vox. So there are all these ties from UK socialists to US democratic socialists to elitist technocratic liberals. And what is in common is a shared naivety regarding technology.

Again, ideas around degrowth are never discussed by the automation admirers. It’s clearly a total dismissal of the idea to preserve their own affluence. Total energy use in the West will have to decrease immensely. The economy, which is inexorably tied to energy use, will have to contract. Nearly all large buildings will have to be retrofitted to remain cooler in the summer and warmer in winter using natural insulation methods. Many large office buildings, skyscrapers, malls, etc. will simply have to be abandoned because there is no way to heat/cool them even remotely efficiently. Modern agriculture will have to be dismantled and converted to decentralized permaculture community-worked gardens.

None of this is even mentioned by the automators. This is because their thinking, their ways of being online, have already started to slip into the manner of the automaton. Which many people acknowledged, where Brzezinski dispassionately saw it as an inevitability of modern life, and famously Marcuse saw it as a downright horror in his One Dimensional Man.

The majority of the world can see through all of this talk of AI, robot, quantum computer, 5G drivel. Most people understand, even if they cannot quite communicate their ideas as coldly or eloquently as the technophiles, that the mind cannot be reduced to a mechanical device or a computer processor. As below, so above, society cannot be viewed or treated as a factory floor for renewable energy powered robots to bring us to some Jetsons or Star Trek lifestyle.

The opportunities for control and manipulation of minds have already grown at a frightening pace in the past fifty years. Even further automation would simply open up more avenues for alienation and exploitation. Here’s how. A pro-automation society would be more open to new hierarchies created by divides among the digitally literate, could empower the pharmaceutical companies to create dangerous new drugs to control moods and perception, could open up more geo-engineering of the planet, to more spying and tracking of individuals, and generally more of the full-spectrum digitization of our lives.

This isn’t to suggest that those among the extremely online don’t have any good ideas, or that the FALCers don’t either. It’s simply a reminder that some of these people are being very naïve in regard to the future of technology, some are materially benefitting from the current toxic social media environment and are therefore biased, and others do not realize the internal logic of the system which engenders some of the very barriers they wish to destroy. In most cases high technology acts as a drug, with an intelligence of its own, and once you’re on the ride you don’t control where you’re going to get off.

  1. Ronit, Purian, “Technophilia: A New Model For Technology Adoption” (2011), UK Academy for Information Systems Conference Proceedings 2011, Paper 41.
  2. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books, New York, 1992.
  3. Courtwright, David. “How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on our Addicted Brains”, Quillette, May 31, 2019.

Forevergate: The Pernicious Persistence of the Russian Collusion Delusion

The official investigation into Russian collusion is over, after three harrowing, nerve-wracking years. I kid, of course. After endless news cycles, and various non-stories and wild-goose chases disseminated by mainstream media, one would think the country could move on. Yet this hasn’t been the case. It seems pretty straightforward: delusions about Russia continue because they serve empire.

Most serious people who have not had their brains parasitized by the ridiculous hand-wringing and caterwauling of mainstream media pundits understood Russiagate for what it was: a bunch of half-baked allegations against obviously corrupt yet incompetent stooges of the Trump campaign and administration, cobbled together to appear as some sinister, shadowy plot against America. That does not mean that Donald Trump is not a repugnant, amoral, serial liar who would do anything within his power to engage in damage control in regards to the behavior of his corrupt and incompetent lackeys, as well as himself. It simply means, in regards to collusion, there is no there, there.

Examine nearly any foundational element of the alleged Trump-Putin collusion fairy tale and it falls apart immediately. When Donald Trump acts illegally, as he has in the past with various real estate scams, he does it out in the open, in full view. He does not seem to have the mental capacities to collude and conspire, he is simply a billionaire: he gives orders, even if often he does not have to state them openly, as Michael Cohen told us, and he gets what he wants. Partially this is why liberals vilify him so much, obviously: he has removed the curtains of empire to show how things are really run, how white supremacy and unchecked greed and corruption has always been at the core of US hegemony.

Moreover, I do not see anyone even in alternative media circles asking about Russia’s side of the equation. Would Vladimir Putin look at the pro-con, cost-benefit analysis of conspiring with a clown such as Trump and determine, let’s do this? I would say probably not. What would the endgame be? Would Trump pull out of NATO, would Trump give his tacit approval of the transfer of Crimea, or even attempt to thaw relations concerning Ukraine? Hell, no. These are liberal fantasies: demented, fevered nightmares of the national security state falling apart at the hands of an ignoramus. US imperial rule does not allow for any significant aberrations in foreign policy, regardless of who is president.

To some degree, US imperial policy is on rails, and who is in charge simply doesn’t matter. Presidents are puppets, figureheads. Putin must understand this on some level. Although to an extent post-Soviet Russia has been seeking approval from the West, and forming tacit alignments with such basket cases as Orban’s Hungary, as well as becoming more engaged with other xenophobic nationalist-populists in Europe, the Kremlin simply does not vitally need US approval. It may, however, broach certain topics in specific policy areas where overlapping interests are well-established.

The costs of Russia getting caught by actually concretely, materially, and intellectually conspiring with any incoming US administration (by setting the entire US on wild Neo-McCarthyite witch-hunts and restarting a New Cold War, which is essentially what has happened anyways without any collusion) would vastly outweigh the benefits.

I mean, come on, the Steele document, Wikileaks being pawns of the Russians, a handful of Facebook ads having any significant effect on election results? It’s frankly ridiculous that these fabricated fairy tales could send any rational group of people into an investigative furor. It’s even more absurd considering, frankly, that probably lots of corporate leaders, Democratic “elite” consultants, spooks at Langley, national security “experts”, and political operatives were taking a look at this 3rd-rate paperback fiction before any investigation was launched, and deciding, yes, let’s go with this.

What it does seem to mean, and what hardly anyone wants to admit, is that this steaming pile of horseshit was, in fact, concocted by our intelligence agencies (and possibly at the behest of the Clintons’ networks within the national security state to avert eyes from the Clinton Foundation scandal) to help  to distract, divide, and hypnotize the public. This is what is called a disinformation campaign/psychological operation, a “psy-op”.

Every media story devoted to the Russiagate hoax takes away from any and all of the failed policies and spinelessness of the Democrats. It also benefits conservatives and elite corporate interests as well, because there is less time to cover things like global warming, militarism, increasing income inequality, Trump’s deregulations which have gutted federal agencies, etc.

The hypocrisy is astounding, and the analysis is completely ahistorical, considering the nefarious meddling, subterfuge, coups, and death the US has doled out for decades by interfering in overseas elections. Not to mention the assassinations, funding death squads, the massacres and genocides committed in the wake of US covert foreign policy. There is no existent US democracy to interfere in.

If you’re biting on the “Russian hackers” and “Russian spies” nonsense, well, there’s not much hope for you either. It is well within the possibilities of many intelligence agencies to fake an attack or make digital signatures appear to be coming from other countries. As for whether any of these so-called Russian “agents” actually has any significant influence in the Kremlin hierarchy, it is pure speculation. From an examination of the Mueller report, which is all we can do with all the redacted evidence, it appears many of these shadowy Russian figures are marginal figures, and/or are simply sponges and spivs vying for a wee bit of influence in Moscow, rather than member of some deep-cover GRU operation.

The vast majority of citizens understand that Hillary Clinton lost because of her hubris, her frigid personality, and, most obviously, her stupidity as she failed to campaign in key battleground states.

Further, if we are asking questions as to what countries influence our elections, the obvious answers would have to be NATO allies and Israel. Even Bill Clinton faced charges of election subterfuge due to his supposed backing from Chinese money.

Hands down, you can pretty much guarantee that Cambridge Analytica, Facebook’s and Youtube’s own algorithms which favor sensationalist and hateful content, and probably a host of other unknown shady corporations influenced the election far more than Russia could have. I can guarantee that Russiagate has been the biggest boon for cybersecurity, surveillance, and counter-terror corporations since 9/11.

Another point is the issue of “back-channels” from the Trump campaign and transition teams to the Putin administration. As if nearly every leader of a sovereign nation does not establish back-channels with other allies and enemies (see: Nixon to China, among many examples), simply because national leaders have enemies within their own government who will leak or sabotage any efforts at dialogue, whether they are corrupt or not.

How naïve does one have to be to recoil in shock at the notion that the most powerful governments in the world establish diplomatic back-channels with shady, corrupt officials and spies?

If you want to open the book on political corruption, you will probably find every member of Congress, every high-level member in State and Defense, every Cabinet member and their top-tier underlings, every senior financial person at Treasury and the Fed have conflicts of interests if they are not openly taking bribes, stock buybacks, or whizzing in and out of corporate positions (the “revolving door” phenomenon) to deregulate and consult for the industries which stand to benefit from the wanton dismemberment of our regulatory agencies.

The elites are not honest in public, but I’d assume most of them are self-aware enough to realize what they are doing occurs in a legal gray area, if not being outright criminal. The liberal and some “never Trump” and “principled” conservative media, however, cannot even be bothered to reflect on whose interests are being served by pandering to the national security state. These mainstream journalists have managed to rehabilitate the image of our abhorrent domestic and foreign security and intelligence agencies.

When your beliefs align with those who support US Empire, you might want to critically question them. There was absolutely no “objective” reporting (an abstract fantasy these hacks hang their hats on) regarding alleged election interference in mainstream sources. What almost certainly happened was that key figures in DC, whether politicians, technocrats, or intelligence assets or agents fed running lies to their puppet mouthpieces such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc.

Elite interests threw chum in the water and watched as the mainstream journalist feeding frenzy ensued. Not only did they take the bait hook, line, and sinker; there were no internal checks among news agencies about the origins of the hogwash theories they disseminated.

If one hazards to take a best guess as to where this all originated, it’s as simple as three letters: C-I-A. US intelligence involvement in concocting the collusion yarn is conspicuously absent in media analysis, a telling omission.

The psychology of this nonsense is interesting insofar as it reveals deep-rooted liberal tendencies: rather than engaging in self-reflection as to the reasons of Clinton’s loss, Trump’s victory can only be an aberration. In this dream-world impeachment is always on the horizon, and America can undergo a return to normalcy by replacing Trump with a “rational”, neoliberal democratic centrist.

The denialism of mainstream liberals knows no bounds and we should not be hesitant to laugh at the ridiculousness of allegations of Russian hacking and collusion. What might also be helpful is to remind the chattering classes that their thoughts are not their own. By examining the historical and material forces at play, one is forced to confront the facts that only very elite interests in the military-industrial complex could be responsible for stringing along our compliant media for so long.

Again, every multinational corporation, every authoritarian government agency, every arms dealer, fossil fuel emitter, financial speculator, agribusiness corporation, medical and insurance company, as well as the FBI, CIA, and our vast imperial apparatus stood to benefit as mainstream media devoted so much time, energy, and bandwidth towards such a ridiculous, divisive, and painfully obvious intelligence disinformation ploy.

That, in fact, may have been the point, and the initial culprits in the US security state may never be found. Nor does the Russiagate hoax require any specific people directing the media. The deviousness of our system is that it does not need individual conspirators. To paraphrase Gore Vidal: “There is no need for the elite to conspire. They all think the same.” The system vomits forth new idiotic post-truth narratives on both liberal and conservative sides to sooth frayed nerves by offering palliatives to those frightened by resurgent racist and nationalist tendencies, and to satiate a public beholden to spectacle. Rather than trying to untangle the contradictions and travesties inherent to capitalism and empire, any fairy tale will do. No one can seem to figure out who is responsible for our nation’s slow collapse, and there can’t be a public reckoning for whoever was disseminating this collusion nonsense either, because the national security state is cowardly and faceless. Empire and capitalism cannot bear to have their true faces unmasked.

The faceless people behind the scenes are not heroic American spy-warriors or clever, righteous assassins we see portrayed in popular TV, movies, video games, etc. Nor does any real power reside in the “Russian hacker”, a classic case of US projection (Stuxnet anyone?). What the stereotype does play into is a racist and absurd caricature of seedy Slavic programmers deviously plotting to destroy democracy in America from troll-farms in St. Petersburg.

The real faceless people of today are khaki-wearing doofuses overseeing server farms in Northern Virginia, the uniformed killers wandering the corridors of the Pentagon E-ring whose schemes lead to genocide abroad, free market-worshipping chauvinist tech-bros in Silicon Valley constructing our ever-surveilled digital hellscape who mine the need for human connection and community for profit, diplomat dilettantes plotting coups in US embassies which increasingly resemble bunkers, the stuffed-suit lawyers and financial parasites who plunder whole continents and construct tax havens for the super-rich, and the anonymous shareholders, CEOs, and owners of nesting-doll conglomerates which oversee trillions of dollars stolen from workers and direct trillions more from public treasuries.

Russiagate will continue on to provide cover for ruling class criminality. It functions in US political discourse to evade the examination of capital’s true nature, to lead down blind alleyways in the long tradition of America’s “paranoid style”. As the climate crisis intensifies, as the rising tides of authoritarianism destroy lives and sap energy from ordinary workers and citizens, the simulation of democracy must be maintained at all costs. What better way than for the elites to distract and confuse the public, remain in the shadows, and feign responsibility for their crimes against the planet and humanity than to foment unrest between the two leading nuclear powers, simultaneously enrage and anesthetize the public with a feel-good story about a former FBI director taking down a President, and shift away public attention from the imperial paroxysms of violence erupting all over the globe?

The Green Old Deal

There are a lot of things to like about the recent resolution for the Green New Deal. The commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the acknowledgment of the catastrophic events that will occur if the world does not act soon- these are all healthy signs. Like Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign which removed many stigmas about socialism, raising public consciousness about the structural changes needed to lessen the impacts of global warming are to be commended.

However, there are very serious problems with the language of the resolution, as well as the underlying assumptions, biases, and ideology which pervades the text.

Starting with an obvious problem, the “Green New Deal” is based on the political and economic mobilization of FDR’s New Deal. It was the New Deal, essentially, which saved capitalism from collapse in the US in the 1930s. If the Green New Deal is saying anything, it is offering cover to the ruling class- here is your propaganda model out of this mess you’ve created; here is another chance to save capitalism from itself. It’s a false promise, of course, as no purely technological scheme based in a capitalist economy will be able to fix what’s coming, but it’s a very convenient narrative for capitalist elites to cling to.

Roosevelt’s New Deal  placated workers and bought time for the bourgeoisie to rally, but it was the combined forces of post-WWII macroeconomic Keynesian economic stability, high taxes on the wealthy, the Bretton Woods agreement, the Marshall Plan and reconstruction of Japan which helped grow the middle classes in the mid-20th century.

Indeed, the Green New Deal (GND) mimics the mainline liberal/reformist agenda when it pledges to try: “directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry and business in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation…”

That’s about as boilerplate as one can get. You’d expect to hear this blather from anywhere on the mainstream spectrum, out of the mouth of a Chamber of Commerce hack or a College Republican newsletter.

Another issue of basic civil decency is that the GND is blatantly cribbing from the Green Party’s own ideas, and then watering them down, without any reference to their origins. The limitations of the GPUS do not need to be run through here, but the point remains: stealing policies from others who have been campaigning on this platform for decades, without offering even a token of acknowledgement, is not a good look.

I mean, this is all so obvious, and frankly, it’s disheartening and embarrassing to live in a country with such little common sense.

There’s more. The resolution calls for “net-zero global emissions by 2050”. This sounds great, except it leaves the foot in the door for a carbon trading scheme, where polluters will pay to offset their emissions with money, “investments in technology”, false promises to plant tree farms which they can renege on in court battles, etc.

Further, the GND states that it supports:

to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.

It calls for:

[The] Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses…

First, who in Congress is talking about implementing the kind of direct democratic practices alluded to here, or drawing on the expertise of community leaders, local governments, etc? Nobody. Who in Congress is calling for actually concrete material reparations, reconciliation, and public methods to heal the intergenerational traumas, inequities, and systemic racism and classism which continue to punish vulnerable communities? No one.  Who in Congress is calling for an end to our intervention in Venezuela and supporting the Maduro government from the obvious covert and military-corporate machinations currently underway? Not a soul.

I understand that this resolution is a first sketch, a very early draft which may go through many changes. I am not interested in demeaning people who are serious about fighting climate change; or scoring points by being “more radical” than others; or by igniting controversy around a critical “hot take” of the GND.

What I am curious about is how those in Congress foresee the types of jobs being created. Are we going to have millions of people planting trees (the best way to slow down climate change) or millions toiling in wind and solar factories? The most effective way to slow global warming would be to support the Trillion Tree Campaign.

Another ridiculous oversight is the lack of acknowledgement in the resolution of quite possibly the 2nd most pressing issue regarding humankinds’ survival, the threat of nuclear war and militarism. Obviously only international cooperation can determine the nuclear states relinquishing their arsenals, as well as shut down all reactors worldwide. Further, the huge budget of the military and the interests of the defense companies in promoting endless wars are not called out.

The only way a GND can work is through international collaboration. Asking other countries with far fewer resources, infrastructure, and technology at their disposal to “follow our lead” as we undergo a purely domestic New Deal within our 50 states and territories is cruel, shortsighted, and disingenuous. It would be the 21st century analogy to socialism in one country, expecting other nations to simply deal with the wreckage of climate disasters after we’ve fucked over the entire world.

What I’m attempting to sketch out is that to even put a dent in global warming in the 21st century and beyond, the feeble approaches by bourgeois democrats must be denounced for what they are. A GND for the USA as the “leader” is not in the cards; the analogy I’d use is more like a fully international Green Manhattan Project.

This would mean councils of expert indigenous peoples, climate scientists, ecologists, and socio-psychological experts in conflict resolution and ecological and cultural mediation worldwide would begin directing and implementing structural transformations of society, by addressing the separation from nature, historical amnesia, and emotional numbness endemic to Western society.

Natural building methods would have to take prominence over Green-washed corporate-approved LEED standards, massive conservation, ecological and restoration projects would have to get underway, along with the relocation of millions globally who live in unsustainably arid or resource hungry areas, and programs for regenerative organic agriculture would need to begin being taught to our youth right now. Is anything like this happening or being talked about in the mainstream?

These supporters in Congress as well as most progressives are assuming we still have twelve years to act, which the latest IPCC report warned was the maximum amount of time left. Perhaps people should be reminded that 12 years is just an estimate. We might have two years. We may be already over the tipping point.

Really, this is all just bullshit for Democrats to get each other reelected by LARPing as progressives and social democrats, and anyone with half a brain can see that. There can be no mass green transportation system unless urban cores get significantly denser, because as of now, perhaps half the country is still based on a post-WWII design to accommodate the whimsies of suburban property developers who only cared for profit and segregated communities, city planners with no conception of the consequences of rising energy demand, and homeowners in the fifties who likewise did not understand the devastation that sprawl, large energy-hogging single family homes, inefficient energy transmission, and long commutes would contribute to global warming.

How many mountains would need to be mined and blasted, how many wild plants and animals killed and desecrated, and rivers and waterways polluted would it take to get every soccer mom and Joe six-pack a new electric vehicle?

It is possible that only a mass relocation to urban cores with public infrastructure and fair compensation for citizens to move would allow for a green transportation and energy network to work properly. If not explained properly, these positive ideas for change would only feed into conservative far-right paranoia.

There are two people in Congress out of 535 that identify as anti-capitalist. The evidence even for these two is lacking, and we don’t have time to wait electing the other 270 or so. The military, financial institutions, defense companies, fossil fuel multinationals, intelligence sectors, and mainstream media are in total lockstep on the march towards societal and economic collapse and continued ecological degradation. Can anyone see the Pentagon, Halliburton, Shell and BP, and any Democrat or Republican giving away the equivalent of trillions of dollars in renewable technology, resources, IT networks, medicine, etc., to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia? I didn’t think so.

If even self-proclaimed socialists like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez don’t have the guts to speak out against imperial mechanized drone warfare and the CIA literally fomenting a coup in Venezuela, and the majority of citizens having no problem with this, it just goes to show the lack of empathy and education in this country. Both of them are childish and uneducated; and should be treated as such, even if we should show conditional support for this preliminary GND, if only because it could theoretically morph into something promising.

In short, this first draft GND is “old” for a couple of reasons:  first, the economic model and the signaling in the language come directly from the liberal-bourgeois-reformism of the FDR administration. Second, it is old in the sense of being behind the times environmentally; it doesn’t keep up with what science proves is necessary for humanity to thrive: the GND does not call for economic degrowth, a reduction in energy demand, a sharp reduction in obtaining protein from meat, and a thoroughly anti-capitalist method to regenerate civic life and the public commons.

The flip side is that to thrive in a truly green future, we will have to re-examine truly ancient “old” Green methods to balance the “new” methods of technological innovation: the ancient ways of working with nature that indigenous traditions have honed, which has provided humanity with abundance for tens of thousands of years.

Natural building, creating and promoting existing holistic, alternative medicine, localizing energy and agricultural production, and growing food forests must be at the top of any agenda for humankind in the 21st century. This might seem impossible to our Congress because these methods do not cater to “marketplace solutions”, do not rely on factories and financialization, do not use patents to create monopolies; i.e., because these priorities do not put more power in the hands of capitalists.

Here are a few final thoughts. The first is the whole premise of the GND is based on a very reductionist, analytical, and Anglo style of thinking. Basically, this resolution is insinuating that we can change everything about the economy and forestall climate change without taking apart the financial sectors, the war machine, etc.

The second thought follows from the first, which is that the Continental thinkers offer a more grounded, immanent approach which examines how capital itself has warped human nature. Specifically, many important researchers demonstrated how the culture industry has manufactured ignorance, false needs, and ennui on a mass basis.

For instance, in a US context, to put it in very crude stereotypes, how are we going to convince one half of the country to stop eating red meat, give up their pickup trucks, put their guns in a neighborhood public depot, and stop electing outright racists and sexists. On the other hand, how can we convince the other half to give up their Starbucks on every corner, give up their plane travel to exotic locations, not buy that 2nd posh home to rent out on Airbnb which leads to gentrification, etc.

Basically, most middle class people in the US don’t want to fundamentally change as of yet, and this resolution won’t have the force to confront the utterly fake, conformist, and escapist lifestyles most US citizens continue to choose at least partially of their own volition.

Simple, clear language is important to energize citizens and can lead to catalyzing change. The concept of the Green New Deal could very well be that theme which unites us. One hundred and two years ago, it was those three special words “Peace, land, bread” which helped unite a nation and sparked a revolution.

Here’s one last thing to chew on. In the 21st century, the nation-state has proven that its time is over, as it provides a vehicle which centralizes corporate and military power that now threatens the existence of life on this planet. The Green New Deal calls for:

obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples…

Although it is clear the writers meant this in a very general and vague kind of way, as obviously not a single agreement has been “honored” going back 500 years by invading settler-colonialists, enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples would mean the abolition of the USA. That’s a Green New Deal I can work with.