Category Archives: Classism

The Richest Sociopath in the World

Obviously the above pie chart is a put-on. It is well-documented that working conditions for most employees of Amazon are  abysmaldehumanizing, bordering on abuse we normally associate with slavery.

Moreover, the median employee’s salary under Jeff Bezos’ imperial lordship is $28,446. No one working as a regular there has paid off their credit cards and is driving to work in a Mercedes. 

Jeff Bezos is referred to as The Richest Man in the World and his personal fortune, while growing by $191,000 each minute, is currently estimated at $168 billion.

So …

$28,446 vs. $168,000,000,000? While I can acknowledge the simple math, I find the contrast of such numbers on a gut level difficult to grasp.

To get a handle on such inequality, let’s try approaching it from different angles.

One way to put the disparity into perspective is to recognize it takes Bezos just under 9 seconds to earn what Amazon’s median worker does in an entire year.

Another is to recognize that for a worker to go through Jeff Bezos’ current personal fortune — and, of course, it continues mounting at accelerating levels as I write this — at his/her current median annual income of $28,446 per year, WOULD TAKE 5,905,927 YEARS! That’s close to 6 million years!

For Jeff Bezos himself to go through his current $168 billion, assuming his earnings stopped dead this very moment — which as you and I know they won’t — SPENDING $1,000,000 A DAY, would take NEARLY 460 years. Yes, even spending $1 million a day, in the year 2475 he’d still have plenty of cash, tens of million of dollars mad money. We can feel confident that he wouldn’t be foraging through the dumpster behind 7-11. 

Now, further consider that while the $28,446 median salary is above the national poverty line for a single individual if that person is the sole breadwinner for a family of four, it is marginally above it, which is why many Amazon employees must rely on government assistance to keep from starving.

As well as calculation, I did some speculation — a simple exercise in imagination.

Apparently Bezos’ wealth generating machine is raking it in so fast, he’s currently making $11.5 million per hour … every hour … 24 hours a day … seven days a week. $11,500,000 per hour! 

So here’s what I was picturing in my mind’s eye … 

If for 40 hours of the 168 hours in a week, Bezos were willing to scrape by on a mere $5,840,000 per hour, he could give every one of his 566,000 Amazon employees a $10 per hour raise. Of course, the remaining 128 hours in each week, Bezos could continue earning his normal $11.5 million per hour, not having to share any of it with the pathetic slobs who work for him.

Rhetorical question: Does Jeff Bezos have any concept of what that $10 per hour increase would mean to his employees? 

I’m not going to even suggest here I’m offering this for Bezos to entertain. There are so many advantages to him both as a putative member of the human race and the employer of over a half million workers — advantages that are so OBVIOUS — if they haven’t occurred to him up until now, then his brain functions in ways beyond my understanding. For one thing, he could point to his new fig leaf of “generosity” and ask people to stop calling him a selfish prick. Second, Amazon employees I’m sure would respond to his largesse with greater company loyalty and increased tolerance for his onerous working conditions. He’d still be the richest SOB on the block and could mock the pauperish Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as pitiable wannabees.

Consider …

The most poorly paid Amazon employee now makes $12 per hour. The $10 per hour raise I proposed would boost those $12 per hour workers right up there with Costco employees, who make an average of $21 per hour. And with the across-the-board $10 per hour increase, Bezos’ higher paid employees would be earning among the finest wages in the world provided by a major corporation. 

And by golly, there’s a plus side to the plus side …

Bezos’s bold and gracious gesture would result in a public relations coup of cosmic proportions! Amazon would no longer be demonized — well, not quite as much — by us bleeding-heart lefties as a capitalistic scourge and one-way ticket to Hell for the future of mankind, even if its environmental record is appalling and its business model generally the stuff of steroid-laced neo-feudalism.

Granted, Bezos would have to do some belt-tightening. He’d have to watch his pennies but could probably manage it, eh? Maybe he could skip a couple meals and do some of his own weeding at his estate. After all, after lavishing the $10 per hour raise on all of his employees, he’d only be pulling in $1,705,600,000 per week. I know I know! Like me you’re probably getting all teary-eyed for the poor guy.

Let me get to the extremely anti-climactic conclusion of this lament qua analysis.

Since nothing will change until the system itself changes, meaning the one in place now that creates, incentivizes, and lionizes the obscenely wealthy — reference current holder of the Office of President of the United States of America — I can only recommend this …

We have been labeling Jeff Bezos as ‘The Richest Man in the World’. Yet, quite honestly I don’t personally know any human, man or woman, who behaves like this gluttonous chunk of self-indulgent meat. It actually makes me nauseous to think we’re members of the same species.

Thus, from now on let’s use the correct terminology. Let’s call Jeff Bezos what he really is: the Richest Sociopath in the World.

We could probably order bumper stickers to help correct the record … from Amazon, of course.

Why We’re Blind to the System Destroying Us

I rarely use this blog to tell readers what they should believe. Rather I try to indicate why it might be wise to distrust, at least without very good evidence, what those in power tell us we should believe.

We have well-known sayings about power: “Knowledge is power”, and “Power corrupts, while absolute power corrupts absolutely.” These aphorisms resonate because they say something true about how we experience the world. People who have power – even very limited power they hold on licence from someone else – tend to abuse it, sometimes subtly and unconsciously, and sometimes overtly and wilfully.

If we are reasonably self-aware, we can sense the tendency in ourselves to exploit to our advantage whatever power we enjoy, whether it is in our dealings with a spouse, our children, a friend, an employee, or just by the general use of our status to get ahead.

This isn’t usually done maliciously or even consciously. By definition, the hardest thing to recognise are our own psychological, emotional and mental blind spots – and the biggest, at least for those born with class, gender or race privileges, is realising that these too are forms of power.

Nonetheless, these are all minor forms of power compared to the power wielded collectively by the structures that dominate our societies: the financial sector, the corporations, the media, the political class, and the security services.

But strangely most of us are much readier to concede the corrupting influence of the relatively small power of individuals than we are the rottenness of vastly more powerful institutions and structures. We blame the school teacher or the politician for abusing his or her power, while showing a reluctance to do the same about either the education or political systems in which they have to operate.

Similarly, we are happier identifying the excessive personal power of a Rupert Murdoch than we are the immense power of the corporate empire behind him and on which his personal wealth and success depend.

And beyond this, we struggle most of all to detect the structural and ideological framework underpinning or cohering all these discrete examples of power.

Narrative control

It is relatively easy to understand that your line manager is abusing his power, because he has so little of it. His power is visible to you because it relates only to you and the small group of people around you.

It is a little harder, but not too difficult, to identify the abusive policies of your firm – the low pay, cuts in overtime, attacks on union representation.

It is more difficult to see the corrupt power of large institutions, aside occasionally from the corruption of senior figures within those institutions, such as a Robert Maxwell or a Richard Nixon.

But it is all but impossible to appreciate the corrupt nature of the entire system. And the reason is right there in those aphorisms: absolute power depends on absolute control over knowledge, which in turn necessitates absolute corruption. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t be dealing with serious power – as should be obvious, if we pause to think about it.

Real power in our societies derives from that which is necessarily hard to see – structures, ideology and narratives – not individuals. Any Murdoch or Trump can be felled, though being loyal acolytes of the power-system they rarely are, should they threaten the necessary maintenance of power by these interconnected institutions, these structures.

The current neoliberal elite who effectively rule the planet have reached as close to absolute power as any elite in human history. And because they have near-absolute power, they have a near-absolute control of the official narratives about our societies and our “enemies”, those who stand in their way to global domination.

No questions about Skripals

One needs only to look at the narrative about the two men, caught on CCTV cameras, who have recently been accused by our political and media class of using a chemical agent to try to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia back in March.

I don’t claim to know whether Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov work for the Russian security services, or whether they were dispatched by Vladimir Putin on a mission to Salisbury to kill the Skripals.

What is clear, however, is that the British intelligence services have been feeding the British corporate media a self-serving, drip-drip narrative from the outset – and that the media have shown precisely no interest at any point in testing any part of this narrative or even questioning it. They have been entirely passive, which means their readers – us – have been entirely passive too.

That there are questions about the narrative to be raised is obvious if you turn away from the compliant corporate media and seek out the views of independent-minded, one-time insiders such as Craig Murray.

A former British ambassador, Murray is asking questions that may prove to be pertinent or not. But at this stage, when all we have to rely on is what the intelligence services are selectively providing, these kinds of doubts should be driving the inquiries of any serious journalist covering the story. But as is so often the case, not only are these questions not being raised or investigated, but anyone like Murray who thinks critically – who assumes that the powerful will seek to promote their interests and avoid accountability – is instantly dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or in Putin’s pocket.

That is no meaningful kind of critique. Many of the questions that have been raised – like why there are so many gaps in the CCTV record of the movements of both the Skripals and the two assumed assassins – could be answered if there was an interest in doing so. The evasion and the smears simply suggest that power intends to remain unaccountable, that it is keeping itself concealed, that the narrative is more important than the truth.

And that is reason enough to move from questioning the narrative to distrusting it.

Ripples on a lake

Although journalists typically have a largely passive relationship to power, in stark contrast to their image as a tenacious watchdog, even more fundamental than control over the narrative is the ideology that guides these narratives.  Ideology ensures the power-system is invisible not only to us, those who are abused and exploited by it, but also to those who benefit from it.

It is precisely because power resides in structures and ideology, rather than individuals, that it is so hard to see. And the power-structures themselves are made yet more difficult to identify because the narratives created about our societies are designed to conceal those structures and ideology – where real power resides – by focusing instead on individuals.

That is why our newspapers and TV shows are full of stories about personalities – celebrities, royalty, criminals, politicians. They are made visible so that we do not notice the ideological structures we live inside that are supposed to remain invisible.

News and entertainment are the ripples on a lake, not the lake itself. But the ripples could not exist without the lake that forms and shapes them.

Up against the screen

If this sounds like hyperbole, let’s stand back from our particular ideological system – neoliberalism – and consider earlier ideological systems in the hope that they offer some perspective. At the moment, we are like someone standing right up against an IMAX screen, so close that we cannot see that there is a screen or even guess that there is a complete picture. All we see are moving colours and pixels. Maybe we can briefly infer a mouth, the wheel of a vehicle, a gun.

Before neoliberalism there were other systems of rule. There was, for example, feudalism that appropriated a communal resource – land – exclusively for an aristocracy. It exploited the masses by forcing them to toil on the land for a pittance to generate the wealth that supported castles, a clergy, manor houses, art collections and armies. For several centuries the power of this tiny elite went largely unquestioned.

But then a class of entrepreneurs emerged, challenging the landed artistocracy with a new means of industrialised production. They built factories and took advantage of scales of economy that slightly widened the circle of privilege, creating a middle class. That elite, and the middle-class that enjoyed crumbs from their master’s table, lived off the exploitation of children in work houses and the labour of a new urban poor in slum housing.

These eras were systematically corrupt, enabling the elites of those times to extend and entrench their power. Each elite produced justifications to placate the masses who were being exploited, to brainwash them into believing the system existed as part of a natural order or even for their benefit. The aristocracy relied on a divine right of kings, the capitalist class on the guiding hand of the free market and bogus claims of equality of opportunity.

In another hundred years, if we still exist as a species, our system will look no less corrupt – probably more so – than its predecessors.

Neoliberalism, late-stage capitalism, plutocratic rule by corporations – whatever you wish to call it – has allowed a tiny elite to stash away more wealth and accrue more power than any feudal monarch could ever have dreamt of. And because of the global reach of this elite, its corruption is more endemic, more complete, more destructive than any ever known to mankind.

A foreign policy elite can destroy the world several times over with nuclear weapons. A globalised corporate elite is filling the oceans with the debris from our consumption, chopping down the forest-lungs of our planet for palm-oil plantations so we can satisfy our craving for biscuits and cake. And our media and intelligence services are jointly crafting a narrative of bogeymen and James Bond villains – both in Hollywood movies, and in our news programmes – to make us fearful and pliable.

Assumptions of inevitability

Most of us abuse our own small-power thoughtlessly, even self-righteously. We tell ourselves that we gave the kids a “good spanking” because they were naughty, rather than because we established with them early on a power relationship that confusingly taught them that the use of force and coercion came with a parental stamp of approval.

Those in greater power – from minions in the media to executives of major corporations – are no different. They are as incapable of questioning the ideology and the narrative – how inevitable and “right” our neoliberal system is – as the rest of us. But they play a vital part in maintaining and entrenching that system nonetheless.

David Cromwell and David Edwards of Media Lens have provided two analogies – in the context of the media – that help explain how it is possible for individuals and groups to assist and enforce systems of power without having any conscious intention to do so, and without being aware that they are contributing to something harmful. Without, in short, being aware that they are conspiring in the system.

The first:

When a shoal of fish instantly changes direction, it looks for all the world as though the movement was synchronised by some guiding hand. Journalists – all trained and selected for obedience by media all seeking to maximise profits within state-capitalist society – tend to respond to events in the same way.

The second:

Place a square wooden framework on a flat surface and pour into it a stream of ball bearings, marbles, or other round objects. Some of the balls may bounce out, but many will form a layer within the wooden framework; others will then find a place atop this first layer. In this way, the flow of ball bearings steadily builds new layers that inevitably produce a pyramid-style shape. This experiment is used to demonstrate how near-perfect crystalline structures such as snowflakes arise in nature without conscious design.

The system – whether feudalism, capitalism, neoliberalism – emerges out of the real-world circumstances of those seeking power most ruthlessly. In a time when the key resource was land, a class emerged justifying why it should have exclusive rights to control that land and the labour needed to make it productive. When industrial processes developed, a class emerged demanding that it had proprietary rights to those processes and to the labour needed to make them productive.

Our place in the pyramid

In these situations, we need to draw on something like Darwin’s evolutionary “survival of the fittest” principle. Those few who are most hungry for power, those with least empathy, will rise to the top of the pyramid, finding themselves best-placed to exploit the people below. They will rationalise this exploitation as a divine right, or as evidence of their inherently superior skills, or as proof of the efficiency of the market.

And below them, like the layers of ball bearings, will be those who can help them maintain and expand their power: those who have the skills, education and socialisation to increase profits and sell brands.

All of this should be obvious, even non-controversial. It fits what we experience of our small-power lives. Does bigger power operate differently? After all, if those at the top of the power-pyramid were not hungry for power, even psychopathic in its pursuit, if they were caring and humane, worried primarily about the well-being of their workforce and the planet, they would be social workers and environmental activists, not CEOs of media empires and arms manufacturers.

And yet, base your political thinking on what should be truisms, articulate a worldview that distrusts those with the most power because they are the most capable of – and committed to – misusing it, and you will be derided. You will be called a conspiracy theorist, dismissed as deluded. You will be accused of wearing a tinfoil hat, of sour grapes, of being anti-American, a social warrior, paranoid, an Israel-hater or anti-semitic, pro-Putin, pro-Assad, a Marxist.

None of this should surprise us either. Because power – not just the people in the system, but the system itself – will use whatever tools it has to protect itself. It is easier to deride critics as unhinged, especially when you control the media, the politicians and the education system, than it is to provide a counter-argument.

In fact, it is vital to prevent any argument or real debate from taking place. Because the moment we think about the arguments, weigh them, use our critical faculties, there is a real danger that the scales will fall from our eyes. There is a real threat that we will move back from the screen, and see the whole picture.

Can we see the complete picture of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury; or the US election that led to Trump being made president; or the revolution in Ukraine; or the causes and trajectory of fighting in Syria, and before it Libya and Iraq; or the campaign to discredit Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party; or the true implications of the banking crisis a decade ago?

Profit, not ethics

Just as a feudal elite was driven, not by ethics, but by the pursuit of power and wealth through the control of land; just as early capitalists were driven, not by ethics, but by the pursuit of power and wealth through the control of mechanisation; so neoliberalism is driven not by ethics but the pursuit of power and wealth through the control of the planet.

The only truth we can know is that the western power-elite is determined to finish the task of making its power fully global, expanding it from near-absolute to absolute. It cares nothing for you or your grand-children. It is a cold-calculating system, not a friend or neighbour. It lives for the instant gratification of wealth accumulation, not concern about the planet’s fate tomorrow.

And because of that it is structurally bound to undermine or discredit anyone, any group, any state that stands in the way of achieving its absolute dominion.

If that is not the thought we hold uppermost in our minds as we listen to a politician, read a newspaper, watch a film or TV show, absorb an ad, or engage on social media, then we are sleepwalking into a future the most powerful, the most ruthless, the least caring have designed for us.

Step back, and take a look at the whole screen. And decide whether this is really the future you wish for your grand-children.

As World Burns, Half US Population Chronically Ill . . .

Stealing Life with the Big Bad Retail King — One-third of All Buying Transactions 

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

— Iago, Shakespeare’s Othello

It’s more than disconcerting to hear the blathering now, September 2018, about Jeff Bezos. About Amazon dot com as richest company ever. To hear the fawning love of the rich guy, now, when we were predicting a slave master killing publishing, killing independence; news reports and tribute after tribute for this full-fledged Midas of tax cheating, our homegrown monopolist of the highest order, anti-American who gives a shit about main street America, a misanthropic fake news purveyor, a full-bore felonious PT Barnum and smoke and mirrors double shuffle guy who thinks of his tens upon tens of thousands of warehouse workers as spindles, interchangeable parts, and to hell with their precarity, their one nose-bleed from homelessness.

This is a time of same sides of the coin of the realm: the conservative and the liberal, the War-Mongering Democratic Party drooling at the McCain fiasco and the Sycophantic Zio-Christo Republicans confused about who is going to own what while scampering away like rats into the alleys as the headlights of their narcissist-in-chief blowtorches the world.

The most important characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, seeking excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. These identifying features can result in a negative impact on an individual’s interpersonal affairs and life general. In most cases, on the exterior, these patients act with an air of right and control, dismissing others, and frequently showcasing condescending or denigrating attitudes. Nevertheless, internally, these patients battle with strong feelings of low self esteem issues and inadequacy. Even though the typical NPD patient may achieve great achievements, ultimately their functioning in society can be affected as these characteristics interfere with both personal and professional relationships. A large part of this is as result of the NPD patient being incapable of receiving disapproval or rebuff of any kind, in addition to the fact that the NPD patient typically exhibits lack of empathy and overall disrespect for others.**

** Note that NPD runs through the DNA of these ministers like Jimmy Swaggart or Billy-Franklin Graham, through the family RNA of so-called royalty of the world, in the brain chemistry of the likes of a Henry Kissinger or Adolph Hitler, in the hypothalamus of fruit-salad bedecked generals and in the frontal cortex of all great and not-so-great thespians, from politicos to actors.

Moreover, this Bezos, our great Albuquerque-born plumbing showroom huckster peddling absolutely all the stuff we do not need piled up in his fulfillment centers, represents those two sides of the same coin: powerful, libertarian, ruthless and spirit-less, driven to conquer/distribute/hawk all the stuff in any sort of catalog that exists out there to fulfill the needs and mostly not so necessary junk of obsolescence and consumer addiction. A cold anti-philanthropy multi-billionaire, whose net worth of $160.7 billion is headline news now as the TV clowns present the Top Five, Top Ten/Twenty diligently, Bezos is the top of the dung heap according to another rag with all the news unfit (for humanity) to print . . .

. . . Who is the richest person in the world? While Forbes updates their list of the world’s billionaires in real time as markets fluctuate, the magazine also releases a more static list each year. The total net worth of these money-makers when the 2018 list was released in March was $7.67 trillion. Click through to see 2018’s top 20 richest billionaires on the planet.

forbes-cover-03-31-2018.jpg

With his company — which epitomizes the heights of death star techie logic, next gen robotics, drones, massive crisscrossing of products through a digital satellite-fed network of Prime Time orders — Bezos has continually kicked out with the help of Seattle PD we protesters with one share of his shit stock at shareholder meetings protesting his sadism around refusing to air condition fulfillment centers while instead putting rent-an-ambulances outside the doors! Oh, this economic disruptor of small and large businesses, all part of that gift of unfettered homicidal capitalism a la retail conglomeration, is reviled, hated, but will be the big section in those econ books from many years to come.

Bernie Sanders wants a special tax on this white shark-eyed Jeff Bezos? Funny follies of the political kind. Imagine, justifying all the tax evasion and felonies of the billionaires and millionaires and banks and hedge funders and the rest of the elites — that’s the cool truth of our state of misrepresentation in Washington. Never political cries of “tax them all for their externalities — all the damage capital and capitalists have done to the world.”  Major and minor municipalities and entire states fall over themselves with money dripping tongues out of their mouths while courting this company with so many freebies in the billions to get another load of office buildings or fulfillment centers or even another headquarters/campus or pod of fulfillment centers. At any cost.

Image result for fulfillment center

Walmartization of the world, or was it McDonaldization first, or Fordization, but now Amazonization of the culture outstrips anything up to this point in this country’s lunacy. You can get anything anytime anywhere for anyone from this five and dime on steroids.

Or,

The Details About the CIA’s Deal With Amazon: A $600 million computing cloud built by an outside company is a “radical departure” for the risk-averse intelligence community

Just in Time Employment, 11th Hour appointments, Permanent Temp, a Precarity defined as the New Almost Slavery Gig gigs — Coulda Been HuffPost Slave

Yet, on Democracy Now, again, in September 2018, we are led to believe we now have to be aghast about those fulfillment centers and those Americans being worked to the bone, worked down to the shredded screws in their hip replacement hardware, worked to confusion and exhaustion and then discarded for not working hard enough for this Master Blaster of the Retail Monopoly.

Juan Gonzalez of DN tells us about these “cutting edge” stories from his Rutgers University Department of Journalism and Media Studies students working on this “breaking news,” while Juan laughs and smirks at the reality of “us” (not me) ordering everything on Amazon.

Here, the DN reports:

As Amazon Hits $1 Trillion in Value, Its Warehouse Workers Denounce “Slavery” Conditions

Exposed: Undercover Reporter at Amazon Warehouse Found Abusive Conditions & No Bathroom Breaks

Ahh, but we over at DV have been printing these stories for more than six years:

Nichole Gracely / May 21st, 2012

Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley (LV) is a distribution hub, and many fellow Amazon associates and Integrity Staffing Solutions temps had previously worked in other local warehouses.

I have and I can say that they’re typically rough workplaces.

At first glance, Amazon’s LV fulfillment center appears benign.

Primary red, yellow, green and blue splashes of color brighten the place, and motivational posters and friendly educational signs that feature cute characters provide guidance. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of workers populate the warehouse at once, diligently taking direction from hand-held scanners or computers, and the place is enormous so it doesn’t appear cramped. Seriously, the place could house a small city.

Physical strength is not a necessary qualification to perform any of their warehouse job functions, and management is ostensibly concerned with worker safety. Just about anyone could staff Amazon’s FC, especially since it only takes a couple of hours to train workers to perform any specific job function. It’s safe to say that anyone laboring in an Amazon FC has fallen into hard times, and many of my former coworkers’ resumes featured distinguished past titles, impressive demonstrations of manual skill and ability, and/or lofty educational attainment.

Many never thought they’d wind up in a warehouse and so, yes, this was all foreign for many. Other workers who staffed other warehouses in the past didn’t know what to make of the place because there is something different about Amazon, something alien.

“Chairman” Bezos once said that Amazon workers don’t need a union because we own the company. “Chairman” Bezos has zero tolerance for union activity and several Amazon unionization attempts were summarily squashed.

After two years on the job an Amazon FC associate is entitled to eight shares of stock. If Amazon is trading at, say, $250 a share, that’s $2,000. Ownership? $250 per share is a generous projection. Seasoned investors are baffled by AMZN’s current overvaluation because of its unhealthy 188:1 (fluctuates, yet always unhealthy) price to earnings ratio, and they’re waiting for the bubble to burst.

Nichole went on to write a piece in the Guardian: Amazon Seasonal Work  And the Guardian published another one, more than four years ago: Being homeless is better than working for Amazon

Bread and Roses — 106 Years Ago, Back to Now: Strike Amazon, Strike US Correctional Institutions, Boycott

I got this from a friend, Andy Piascik, a long-time activist and award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion. He can be reached at ###.

In the end, in the face of the state militia, U.S. Marines, Pinkerton infiltrators and hundreds of local police, the strikers prevailed. They achieved a settlement close to their original demands, including significant pay raises and time-and-a-quarter for overtime, which previously had been paid at the straight hourly rate. Workers in Lowell and New Bedford struck successfully a short while later, and mill owners throughout New England soon granted significant pay raises rather than risk repeats of Lawrence. When the trials of Ettor, Giovannitti and a third defendant commenced in the fall, workers in Lawrence’s mills pulled a work stoppage to show that a miscarriage of justice would not be tolerated. The three were subsequently acquitted.

More than a century ago and it’s rabbit-holed history . . . and what do we fight for in this country now? We have fear of unions, we embrace the gig economy/outsourcing on Kratom (called near slavery by socio-economists), and the unimaginable bullshit and shit jobs have generated aimlessness, screen addiction, be mean to thy neighbor mentality, cold hearts and Homo Retailipithecus. Bullshit jobs, as Graeber states:

A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.

Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried. We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself.

What is Labor Day or May Day now in a world of Marvel comics and infantilization of every intercourse we have with every sort of humanity? Do we care about solidarity? Do we know how to build communities? Do we see neighbors and people in and on the streets as equals, people, us? What is the value of work when it is drudgery, dog-eat-dog, king of the hill and top of the dung heap relationships? We have to go beyond now this simpleton way of seeing the world from the bifurcated Groucho Marx eyeglasses. This is a great time of upheaval, splintering, hot house planet, Sixth Mass Extinction, a world of capital making more capital off of war, resource theft, thievery of other nations’ and cultures’ futures.

Jobs, Who Doesn’t Choose to Collapse, Hothouse Planet, People

As I continually teach young people to think, you are what you eat, what you do, what you think, what your read, what you say, what you believe, what you aspire to, what you hope for, what you do or not do to be one with humanity. If your life is one of toil, what is inside the heart, and what do you do with those beliefs and philosophies while slogging away? Are you a believer in exceptionalism, Zionist or Christian superiority? Is the white shade of skin the defining element in your life? Do you have passions that are your own, or are they manufactured, designed, and cajoled by the money changers and propagandists?

 The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

This line was from a speech by Rose Schneiderman, Polish-born socialist and feminist and prominent labor union leaders in America. It’s a phrase embodying everything today we workers need to utilize as a galvanizing force upon our souls to break away from these people like Bezos and the entire master crafters of our pain, poverty and penury. When I say “our,” I mean the world’s collective pain in the form of billions of people, for whom Western Culture (sic) has set loose a wildfire of forced displacement, murder, resource extraction, war and disease of the mind and body.

It was also a successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, during January–March 1912, which is pretty much universally referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike. Pairing bread and roses not as counter-balances — fair wages and dignified conditions. Defining “the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances in the light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect,” as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.

I imagine the Bezos types wanting every last penny from every last $2-a-day inhabitant on earth, and I imagine this fellow is as steely-hearted as any in an Upton Sinclair book — and note this first quote by Sinclair is for me about men and women working today, even though Sinclair was writing about a living livestock animal torn from life:

One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe…. Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.

― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

Delusions  of Terra-Forming and Mickey Mouse Grabbing Adults’ Attention

So what do we do with these Titans of idiocy, with their billions and their algorithms, with their broken telescopes peering into the black hole of humanity?

What about the 150,000 chemicals in human cells created by the industrialists, those synergistic variant effects we have zero knowledge about, which have helped push our American society into a chronically ill species of over 50 percent of a population cycled through Western (Un-)Medicine. Children with autism or on the spectrum — count that as possibly 30 percent of all births by 2040. Diabetes 1 and 2, more than 15 percent or more of the population by 2040.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a really important concept that is difficult to teach the public, and when I say the public, I include my clinical colleagues.

Still, atrazine is not the only human hormone-altering chemical in the environment. Dr. Winchester tested nearly 20 different chemicals and all demonstrated epigenetic effects, for example, all of the chemicals reduced fertility, even in the 3rd generation.

Still, why do 150,000,000 Americans have chronic diseases?

Researchers believe that every adult disease extant is linked to epigenetic origins. If confirmed over time with additional research, the study is a blockbuster that goes to the heart of public health and attendant government regulations.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a huge thing that is going to change how we understand the origin of disease. But a big part of that is that it will change our interpretation of what chemicals are safe. In medicine I can’t give a drug to somebody unless it has gone through a huge amount of testing. But all these chemicals haven’t gone through anything like that. We’ve been experimented on for the last 70 years, and there’s not one study on multi-generational effects.

Environmental Working Group tested more than a dozen brands of oat-based foods to give Americans information about dietary exposures that government regulators are keeping secret. In April, internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the Food and Drug Administration has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and has found “a fair amount,” but the FDA has not released the findings.

Ahh, the melting planet, the water cycle’s disrupted, the entire mess of planetary re-shifting is on a collision course with Homo Sapiens. Everyday I get more and more notifications from friends and thinkers about the impending collapses, the impending peak this and peak that (Peak Everything).

Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote … can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we also are the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.”

― Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Feudal Factories of Propaganda and Propagating .001 Percenters — Water, Man, Water

We trust ourselves, far more than our ancestors did… The root of our predicament lies in the simple fact that, though we remain a flawed and unstable species, plagued now as in the past by a thousand weaknesses, we have insisted on both unlimited freedom and unlimited power. It would now seem clear that, if we want to stop the devastation of the earth, the growing threats to our food, water, air, and fellow creatures, we must find some way to limit both.

― Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West

We are seeing this circling of the billionaires’ wagons (vultures circling the 7.8 billion marks, us), this Bezos and Musk lust for space, for some planetary gated-armed-Utopian community. These fellows and dames are something else, and the conjurers of news unfit to consume fall over them, recording and publishing story after story about their wisdom and foresight and shamanistic ways of predicting the future.

Remember George W. Bush and his big ranch buy in Paraguay? That was 12 years ago, readers, yet, back to the future, with news (sic) report after news report (sic) keeps tracking the next billionaire economic ejaculation. W, and we thought he was only painting pets!

Image result for george bush painting pets

Image result for george bush painting pets

The Chaco is a semiarid, sparsely populated area known — to the extent that it’s known at all — for its abundant wildlife, rapid deforestation, nothing in particular… and what lies beneath it…

Our Real Wealth Trader and Outstanding Investments contributor Jody Chudley thinks he knows the true gen about the Bush land grab.

Jody says he has a “secret” about the Bushes. And he adds, “It has to do with an investment idea that’s hardly on anyone’s radar.”

The real reason Jody thinks Bush 43 and family snapped up nearly 300,000 acres in those semiarid, sparsely populated wastes of Paraguay?

Water.

That’s right, blue gold. Bush bought the rights to a veritable ocean of fresh, clear-as-glass, Grade A water.

His land rests atop one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world: Acuifero Guarani, by name.

According to Jody, “Acuifero Guarani covers roughly 460,000 square miles under parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. It is estimated to contain about 8,900 cubic miles of water.”

If you can’t quite imagine 8,900 miles of water, picture a pool nearly three times the size of California. That should give you a decent idea.

A fair amount when you consider that 98% of this planet’s water is salt water.

Of the other 2%, almost 87% of it is trapped within glaciers, hence inaccessible. Jody’s “trusty calculator” informs him that only 0.25% of the water on this cosmic ball is fresh (underground, or in rivers and lakes). Just a drop in the figurative bucket…

Now, we knew this sort of stuff was going on with the elites, who look at us all as easy marks, broken money bags, the fat cows or broken pigs of their global stockades.

What’s happened is this trickle-down lust-love-longing for these people who get plastered in the headlines as being grand and philanthropists, deserving of every cent and every billion made on the back of people, earth, cultures.

Their trans-capital and monopolies  and viral presence like Google, Facebook, Walmart, and on and on sucks the revolution out of revolutionary, since we are now shackled to their ways of doing things. The goal of the capitalists is to harmonize their theft with our survival, whatever it takes to put five to a studio apartment (of course, sneaking the other four into the room in the dead of night), whatever it takes to just float through a gridlocked urban and suburban world. So, from Bush and Paraguay, to this Gawker Killer Thiel, we have enough evidence of their feudal ways, their slippery snake eyes methods of shitting on we underlings:

Here is Robert Hunziker:

Peter Thiel, the PayPal billionaire and renowned super-super-super libertarian and unapologetic Trumpster love-fester achieved New Zealand citizenship in only 12 days and bought not only his citizenship but a $13.8 M estate in Wanaka, a lakeside community.

According to a phone interview with the former PM of New Zealand John Key, “If you’re the sort of person that says I’m going to have an alternative plan when Armageddon strikes, then you would pick the farthest location and the safest environment – and that equals New Zealand if you Google it… It’s known as the last bus stop on the planet before you hit Antarctica. I’ve had a lot of people say to me that they would like to own a property in New Zealand if the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.

USA-TRUMP/

Hell in a hand-basket, from the former prime minister of New Zealand — 1935 Book, quote:

If the average white New Zealander takes the Maori seriously as a human being, he is usually rather too ready to blame him for characteristics which more careful study will show not to be inherent at all but actually the result of the coming of the Europeans themselves, the extensive destruction of Maori life and the virtual dispossession of the Maori people. Little attempt is commonly made to understand the causes which produced, for a time at any rate (for they are passing) those Maori characteristics which have become almost proverbial amongst us. To put it frankly, we blame the Maori for becoming what we have made him. It is interesting to realise that similar circumstances of the contact of peoples have occurred before, and in view of the people referred to there is one instance which it seems particularly fitting that we should bear in mind. The instance comes down to us from the days when another great Empire, an ancient one, was civilizing native peoples. There is on record a letter from a wealthy Roman landowner to his agent in Britain telling him to ship no more British slaves “as they are so lazy and cannot be trusted to work.” Similar causes produce similar effects; we should be less ready with hasty judgment and hasty blame. There is a widespread belief, and it is one certainly cherished by the average white New Zealander, that no native people have ever been so fairly treated by Europeans as have the Maori people. As a matter of fact, if it is fully and frankly told, the story of the contact of Europeans with native peoples is much the same everywhere. What we have are so many varieties of what a leading anthropologist has recently termed “the tragic mess which invariably results from the impact of white upon aboriginal culture.” It is true that the Maori people have survived, but this, on careful analysis, proves to be very largely due to their own qualities and their own efforts rather than to any specially favourable mode of treatment. If we are honest there is little ground for pakeha self-congratulation.

Ahh, the evidence of climate change (global warming–hot planet) was there in 1896 researched, formulated and discoursed by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (and then later, amateur G. S. Callendar ramified the greenhouse effect of burning fossil fuels, and then later, C. D. Keeling measured the rising CO2 levels tying that to the greenhouse hot house effect), but for which has been swept into confusion by those marketers and mad men. Imagine, average planetary temps going up from  2.5–11°F by 2100. Imagine that!

The more civilizations evolve, the more energy dependent they become, so it’s possible that trillions of civilizations in the great continuum of space evolved, rose, fell and disappeared.

If you develop an industrial civilization like ours, the route is going to be the same. You’re going to have a hard time not triggering climate change. For a civilization to destroy itself through nuclear war, it has to have certain emotional characteristics. You can imagine certain civilizations saying, ‘I’m not building those [nuclear weapons]. Those are crazy.’ But climate change, you can’t get away from. If you build a civilization, you’re using huge amounts of energy. The energy feeds back on the planet, and you’re going to push yourself into a kind of Anthropocene. It’s probably universal.

—  Adam Frank, astrophysicist

Interlude, Interglacial Periods, Working for the Homeless — Flailing at Windmills

 

Comparison between summer ice coverage from 18,000 years BP and modern day.

Yeah, these big ideas I broach with homeless veterans and their attendant family members, and while the Gates-Kochs-Zuckerbergs-Bloombergs-Adelsons-et al have zero concern about us, the proles, the  detritus of their Capital, I believe working to change one life at a time — even if it’s a life riddled with evictions, felonies, relapses, epigenetic familial hell, PTSD, trauma, spiritlessness, physical decay — has meaning since in that process I have incredible interchanges with people who sort of want the same thing — paradigm shifts and de-industrialization and ecosocialism a la Marx 3.0.

I try to find peace in writing, even these polemics at DV or LA Progressive; and in my own world of fiction-poetry-creative nonfiction, the windmills abound because of a rarefied culture of the M-F-A (masters in fine arts) elite — those gatekeepers of the small literary kind, or even the National Book Award kind. This country is not big on real outliers in anything tied to the arts, and I am one of those round pegs looking to splinter the quintessential square hole.

Short story collection? Who the hell would read that? Well, try out a project of mine to get the stories —  thematically (sort of) threaded (sort of) to the “Vietnam experience” — as a hard copy from a small press, Cirque. You can read one of the stories, “Bloody Sheets,” here, starting on page 115.

The collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, is a gathering of fiction, much of which has been published in literary journals. I have succumbed to a Go Fund Me “deal” to help balance-offset the costs of printing a book on paper with ink.

I have no idea if a Go Fund Me will even take off. The first and only donation is from filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. Amazing, a struggling documentarian throwing in FIRST.

But we are in a new normal of shitting on writers, expecting us to have our day and then our night jobs and then write-write-write for free.

That is the question, really, who wants to spend their time reading short stories, outside the very narrow readership of Masters of Fine Arts aficionados who in many regards can be pedantic and puffery artists?

Vietnam, no less, in a time of Tim Burns rotting the foundation of the war we committed, or the Obama administration’s scrubbing of the war in his effort to commemorate it (Obama gives killer Kissinger awards).

Vietnam. One of my short journalist pieces for an old weekly I worked for in Spokane.

How many died in Vietnam and Indochina? 3.8 million? Oh, that Nobel Cause (War) myth I run into daily at a homeless veterans shelter, that is was winnable and worthy. Killing farmers, man, in their rice paddies! Whew, only a Zionist could write that script.

Read my short story collection for a different way to frame creativity and that time period, that narrative framing, that time in history that has defined and redefined the ugly wars of today. I am going to give this a shot in a time of blatant skepticism and group-think/act/do.

Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam. Be part of the creative impetus. The energy. The publication of a short story collection. With that “ask” of the reader who then gives will receive another book of mine, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber.

In my view [Dan Kovalik], this Noble Cause myth may be the most powerful and enduring propaganda trick ever perpetrated. And, it works so well because the audience for the trick — the U.S. people — are such willing and eager participants in the charade.

To explain the power of the Noble Cause myth, Marciano quotes from Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize lecture.  I set forth a larger quote from the lecture than appears in the book because it is so profound:

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

John Steppling, my fellow writer who studies intersections of culture-mimesis-art-politics (My review of his book,  Aesthetic Resistence and Dis-interest. That Which Will Not Allow Itself to be Said, here at DV) discusses the MFA phenomenon, a true watering down and controlled form of check and balances fiction:

So, the fact that The Rockefeller Foundation underwrote (and still underwrites) a good many MFA programs (and not just in literature, but in theatre and fine arts) is both relevant, and not. Or maybe a better way to address this is see The Rockefeller Foundation as symptom. I received a Rockefeller fellowship, which I hadn’t applied for. But, the very fact that creative writing programs boomed after WW2, and permeated the academic landscape is without question linked to the patronage of institutions like The Rockefeller Foundation (and the MacArthur Foundation, and…). And to deny that the tacit influence of these institutions is idiotic.

Now, it’s also true that what John Crowe Ransom and Stegner and Burrows preached is correct. Or it’s correct up to a point. It is revealing that Melville was derided, because Melville wrote a lot of ideas, and additionally observed the ways those ideas and that knowledge existed in the world. But it is equally true that you do not observe those harpoons so closely, or closely in a particular way, that all you get is a harpoon description. And a so described harpoon that never participates in riots or social unrest, and whose production is unexamined and the harpoon company that distributes it is left blank…the better to describe the fluted morning dew that bifurcates my tabby cat’s shadow on the harpoon handle, and etc etc etc is only a individual’s sensory observation. The harpoon must be known, not just observed.

The real point here is that what Iowa started, and many other University programs followed, was to narrow down the definition of “fiction”. Dante would not be considered fiction today. While there is a point in demanding a concrete description, and not a generality, the exclusive focus on the concrete meant that ideas were being eliminated in fiction. The world is not abstract… but that includes History and politics and tensions of daily life. Those offices in New York, or those bad marriages, are not separate from the Chinese Revolution, or U.S. Imperialism, or the blockade of Cuba or the present two million men and women in prison in the United States. ‘Greatness’, whatever that means, and I have no problem with that word, or the ideas behind it, is in discovering both what that connection is, and ..and this is important I believe…how our own personal emotional and psychic formation, and development are related to both Mao and our failed marriages (or, even the successful ones).

The emphasis on observation, on brute description, however eclipsed ideas as a subject for fiction. You may not sit down to write ideas, per se, but you certainly have an idea of what a harpoon is. You have to know certain things, and, in fact, the best writing is that which tells you what you don’t know, not describes nicely what you already do know. And there is a tendency in young writers to generalize. So on the one hand it’s natural to emphasize the concrete, but the result, perhaps intentional, or partly so (given the Rockefeller project) was the elimination of ideas in prose, and the narrowing of the definition of what constituted “fiction”

The Party Is Dead; Long Live the Party

One quarter of American workers get no vacation time a year. None. Nada. A vast 63 percent don’t have $500 saved for an emergency, let alone anything so exotic as a vacation. Ten percent never leave their state. Ever. Not even to the fair Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where they might have faintly approximated the glories of Venice, that cradle of Italian statehood. See that luminous city of lit gondolas erected on a swampland as a last resort against the uncultivated hordes. No, they’ve not even got enough money to afford a simulacrum of a real wonder.

The Paladin of Proles

I look at battlers like Bernie Sanders. Sanders is the kind of principled politician who will reel off such statistics with real relish and stump with tireless feeling for the disadvantaged. He’s done more to advance the cause of sanity and decency than any of us, shy of a handful of humans you can count on your fingers: one dissident living in a cloistered embassy in London, one buried in exile deep in the Russian hinterlands, and a third not too long ago released from solitary madness at Leavenworth. Add to that Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al-Assad for their willingness to face down the imperium itself. There are likewise a phalanx of Latin American conquistadors too numerous to name. But their likes are doubtless known to you.

Aside from these humble heroes, Sanders ranks near the top of the table of our generational epoch. He recently wrote to me. How I thrilled to his every word until I realized it was a spam email blast to a bought list of consumer-citizens. And yet–it resonated. It was about how Jeff Bezos, in a mere ten seconds, earned more than the average Amazon employee. You know, those anonymous box packers from the sordid sea of underpaid, underfed, undernourished, and underappreciated workers who rely on food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid to make ends meet? Bernie was railing on about how we pay for Bezos’ neglect. Not only does he pay a pittance, but he pays nothing in taxes. Literally. We generously foot the bill for Bezos indifference to his employees’ well-being. All so that balding knave can slink into Langley and court favor with the intelligence mandarins with their security clearance badges swinging from their ammunition belts. A disgrace, croons the Bern. Indeed.

And did you notice the one dishonest word in the last paragraph? I put it there on purpose. The untruth is the word earned. “Earned” is the ultimate euphemism of the rich. How easily humans convince themselves they deserve what they have. How easily the human mind is cozened by fantasies of personal nobility, of preternatural genius. We think we have earned, by dint of our unconquerable will, what has fallen to us more by virtue of fortune than by virtue itself. We are clearly not evolved to be soothsayers. We are evolved to lie, mostly to ourselves, but a lot to others, too. Just ask Robert Trivers, who investigated the selection pressures for self-delusion. Bezos earned nothing of that money. His abject crews in hot factories and steamy trucks did the labor. He tabulated the profits. Or rather his accountants did.

Ever notice how the bourgeoisie, if you stand in their midst, say, during a backyard barbecue, will attribute to themselves all manner of labor? For instance, one might hear, amid the general bonhomie of men with silk palms and thick mouths, “Yeah, I just built a new driveway made of pebbles. Really beautiful. Set my house apart from the neighbors. Everyone else just slaps down a concrete driveway. No imagination, these people.” Unfortunately, the ensuing questions will not include, “My God, man, that must have been back-breaking labor? How the devil did you accomplish it, given your day job?” No, the questions will rather include, “How much did it cost? You pay a contractor or just hire cheap Mexican labor?” There are million conversations like this. And somehow, thanks to the rentier theology spawned some time back in the Adam Smith epoch, men (mostly men) have largely convinced themselves that the bounty that accrues from their initial capital investment ought to be theirs and theirs alone. Mind you, a small percentage may be permitted to trickle down to the proles, lest they distribute pitchforks and come for us in the night.

Hoisted By His Own Petard

And so it is with the kingpins that sit atop the gross pile of tangled humanity. Like Bezos. So I look at men like Bernie and am reminded of a couple of images. One is some Victorian derivation of Don Quixote riding forth from La Mancha, standard in hand, ready to charge at windmills along the bleak horizon. A man chasing a cause long lost. A man battling a foe long crowned. Another is from the latest Bond flick, Spectre. Bond’s old nemesis, the grizzly Mr. White, poisoned by thallium and near death, tells Bond that his efforts to stop Spectre are risible. He gazes at 007 with a kind of incredulity, and in an ominous wheeze, he declaims, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond,” before offing himself with Bond’s own handgun. Lovely scene. But this sadly seems to be what Sanders is, a kite of blind hope dancing in a hurricane of malfeasance. To think one can pacify the greed or stanch the corruption from within the hurricane is mere madness.

The liberal class has died and become a front for the zombie banks that care nothing for the working class. The narcotic of financialization has rent Wall Street from Main Street, setting the latter adrift, rudderless in the sea of indifferent politicians. Witnesses to the machinations of capital have been calling for reform since Vladimir Lenin broke with Karl Kautsky and his desire for “vulgar bourgeois reformism.” The Democratic Party cannot and should not and will not be saved or ressurrected or reborn. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood as much when he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” He was persona non grata among Democrats for such opinions. Quetzal Cáceres nicely covers the abyssal depths of the Democratic Party and why switching it up is not a creditable platform.

Does the desire to effect such death-defying miracles stem from a faith in the system one so expertly critiques? Perhaps. There are true believers among us. Or does it spring from a need to stay near the herd, to never stray far from its creature comforts and the embrace of kind-eyed peers. Certainly never to stray so far as to stumble into the label of a revolutionary. No, no, no. The jungles are hot. Che ended up with a bullet in the back, gasping his last breath in the wretched shadow of beltway-backed thugs. Better to be an intrepid reformer. Lard your rhetoric with the classic bromides, spice with the odd rebel call. Happy to retain the system (that engine of inequality). We just want to tinker along the edges, friend. Tamper with the tapestry a bit. Perhaps add a new fringe here, a fresh trim there. Nothing serious, you understand.

Nothing that will upend the vast reservoirs of liquid wealth gathered up by the elites. How stealthily they lifted it from the pockets of the working class. Capitalist exploitation is the greatest pickpocket that ever lived. Never been caught. Never been cuffed. Thieve away, fair Capital. Your beat cop is frumpy chalk-haired man in spectacles brandishing a sheaf of damning documents, calling on a dead legislature to conjure living democracy from a blind oligarchy. Spare the demos the false hope, Bernie. There are worse fates than winding up in exile like Ralph Nader, the man you are at great pains not to be. (You may recall the story of author and journalist Chris Hedges asking Sanders before his rise, should he lose the Democratic nomination, whether he’d run as an independent or with a third party. The hand-wringing Vermonter confided that he didn’t want to end up like poor Ralph, a pariah exiled from the fellowship of hypocrites.)

The irony of the reformist clamor is that, as dissenting opinions proliferate on the left bank of the political spectrum, they are just as swiftly foreclosed by a political establishment coercing social media megaliths to suppress the visibility of such dissent. This recrudescent McCarthyism and its New Cold War stimulant, rolled together in the giant hypnotic spleef of Russiagate, are the happy work of the Democratic Party itself. A peremptory device of the establishment to ward off what could perhaps have been a stake-through-the-heart indictment of duopoly politics. Point being, the Democratic Party will no more climb from its grave than Jesus did. Of course, too many believe Jesus did just that. Is the chronic faith in political reform a product of religious faith in resurrection? Credo ergo reformacione? An interesting possibility. A Marxist athiest might agree.

The Damaging Asian Male Sexuality in Crazy Rich Asians and Why It is Not Asian Black Panther

Crazy Rich Asians has already been compared by reviewers criticizing it for its exaltation of late-stage capitalism to The Great Gatsby. It is a good comparison because it is true. We know enough by now that if you throw a Gatsby-themed Jazz Age wedding, the joke’s on you—you clearly have not read the book, or, having read it, did not understand it. The same applies to the misguided celebration of Crazy Rich Asians as some triumph of representation or diversity if it is to be praised for its satirical quality. If there is any satire of wealth made in the book, all of it is lost in the film version.

Every subplot in the film is wrapped up neatly with an offering made, finally, at the altar of wealth. When the cool, graceful, unflappable Astrid, whom we are meant to sympathize with, finally leaves her unfaithful husband, Michael, we are meant to relish the moment. Finally, Astrid, released (from what?), can take out her hidden Dior shoes, reach for those 1.2 million-dollar earrings, and strut off, off-screen mechanical fan blowing in her hair to reveal the glinting jewels (which required their own security on set).

We are asked finally, not merely to kneel at the shrine of Money, but to suck its cock. For money is plainly the phallus in the world of Crazy Rich Asians.

Michael Teo, played by Pierre Png, we are meant to understand, of course, gets to marry Astrid despite not being rich, because he is hot. (That this is exaggerated and deliberate is evident to the Singaporean viewer because, being a staple on the small screen in Singapore, while a good-looking guy, Pierre Png has never really played “hunk.”) This point is driven home because more than on any other character—more than even Nick Young–, the camera drools over his body. When we are first introduced to the character, we see his body before we see his face and the camera lingers hungrily on the drops of water that roll down his smooth back, the towel he brings over his washboard abs, wrapping it just above … his… The-Thing-We-Do-Not-See—which is, in other words, the thing he does not have. For in Crazy Rich Asians, wealth is the substitute for the phallus. And, hot as Michael is, he still, unfortunately, comes up short. Astrid lays this out for the audience when she says, at the end, that it is not her family’s money that destroyed their marriage—it is his cowardice; she “cannot make him a man because he never was one.” Well let’s be clear—he never was one because he never had the money-phallus.

In the novel, Michael laments being “treated like just a piece of meat,” that “[they] were wrong for each other, but [they] both got so swept up in the moment—in, let’s face it, the sex—that” that before he realized it, they were standing before a pastor. In the novel, Michael did not actually cheat, merely staging the affair in order to get out of a marriage he could no longer bear to live out. (Surprise surprise!—it emasculates him.) The film lets this not unimportant point slide, which, importantly, allows for wealth to triumph in the end. Pointedly, what is so goading about this is that it allows the triumph of wealth to be presented as a moral triumph.

But how ridiculous that we are made by the movie to feel on the side of Astrid, who, in addition to buying a pair of earrings for 1.2 millions dollars without batting an eyelid when we are first introduced to her, also boasts of having 14 other apartment blocks so she can deign to let Michael keep the one apartment he bought. How quickly we forget that in Singapore, where this is set, we have one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world and that property prices are some of the highest in the world. How happily we forgive that Singapore’s Gini coefficient is greater than America’s and that it is a country famous for its low taxes for the rich. (Can we stop talking already about how Eduardo Saverin gave up US citizenship to move to Singapore for this reason? Is this something we are proud of? Is it something we benefit from?) How readily we pretend the noose of mortgages and home loans and rents around our neck is not tight, that most are not shackled, ball and chain, to their real estate …. when given all this display of wealth to ogle at. How… self-defeating.

In an age of ever increasing inequality, of massive tax cuts for the 0.1%, of Jeff Bezos becoming 125 million dollars richer per day while Amazon employees sleep in cars and have timed toilet breaks, do we not know that the wealth accumulated by the super rich comes at the expense of others? The distribution of wealth in so many parts of the world today is a zero sum game.

But, of course, there is no space to critique the Young family in the film especially because in Crazy Rich Asians, they are presented as near national heroes, practically deity-like —not only as having gainfully earned their riches through industry, but even by having done something patriotic because they built their wealth by literally building Singapore, furthering a nationalistic and even moral defense for their wealth. Peik Lin Goh summarizes who the Youngs are for Rachel Chu: the Young family built Singapore up from a sleepy swamp of “pig farmers” to the glittering city that we see today. This is rhetoric that to the Singaporean ear, too closely repeats the refrain the Singapore government has drilled into every Singaporean—that of Lee Kwan Yew and the PAP bringing Singapore from “Mudflats to Metropolis” in 50 years, our veritable Creators. Her storytelling, then, aligns the Young family, in rhetoric in any case, with Lee Kwan Yew. In other words, they are raised to the level of a God. Let’s not forget that Astrid, the “best” of them all, is nicknamed “The Goddess.”

Asian American

Crazy Rich Asians does mark an important moment in film history because it is the first time a big budget Hollywood film is helmed by an all-Asian cast and produced and directed by Asian people. Many of the articles coming out in the major publications arguing alternatingly for the film’s either progressive or regressive politics center around what it does for the Asian American community. But the “win” Asian-Americans claim the film garners for them is goading, particularly so in the context of the argument they are making about representation. The Asian American community is well-equipped with the tools and the vocabulary to critique appropriation–but in this particular case, they have let themselves off the hook. They are eager to use Singapore as a proxy for themselves when it suits them, when they are just as happy to elevate or otherwise differentiate themselves from “FOBs” (fresh-off-the-boat), Asian people who are not from the right class, in the right job, etc. This has played out infuriatingly in the NYT’s viral #its2016 hashtag a couple of years ago. Then, in a video, were retold a never-ending stream of grating anecdotes: “This guy mistook me for the guy cooking his Chinese food at the takeout counter. I’m a LAWYER”; “My uber driver told me my English was so good, he couldn’t hear an accent at all. Of course, I was BORN IN CALIFORNIA!” Again and again the same pattern emerged, one of substituting the shame of race–whatever the markers may be: accent, class, profession, food– with assertions of citizenship, of productivity, of wealth. In other words, assertions of qualities of not just the well-integrated and adjusted, but of the financially, socially, culturally successful. What do these anecdotes suggest about what we should think of Chinese takeout cooks? Or Asians immigrants (or even visitors) with an accent? What do they suggest about what we think of new immigrants? Of refugees? Of minorities for whom structures, present and past, have made the accumulation of wealth/immigration difficult?

They reinscribe the importance of citizenship, country of nativity, language, productivity, that form the basis for prejudice that these aggrieved persons faced in the first place. When the indignation stems from being confused with them (a Chinese takeout cook, a person with accented-English), it continues to traffic in an us/them binary, one that maintains the same irksome hierarchical structures that discriminate against Asian American people.

The Asian American community was quick (and right) to rush to condemn Oscars host Chris Rock for trotting out Asian children (dressed as the accountants who presumably flubbed the votes that resulted in such a goading skew to “white films”) to land a joke in bad taste at the expense of Asian Americans, even as he was making his case for better and more representation of African Americans during the 2016 Academy Awards amidst the scandal of #Oscarssowhite. Yet, in lauding Crazy Rich Asians for being a watershed moment for representation, Asian Americans conveniently do not see the lack of brown bodies on display, or the brown bodies only appearing in positions of servitude, or, most horrifically, dark bodies used for a breathtaking, cheap moment of racist comedy– Rachel Chu and Goh Peik Lin are shocked and scared by the appearance of turbaned Sikh guards at their car windows when they think they are lost in “the middle of a jungle”—faces emerging out of the dark as if they were predatory jungle animals. Can we not hear EM Forster’s famous phrase of Howard’s End ring out?: Only connect! To easily ignore these slippages and failures of the film constitutes a critical laziness and smacks of moral cowardice.

Asian Americans have taken to social media to hail Crazy Rich Asians as the Asian Black Panther. I can understand the need to feel like one’s identity has been reclaimed, the need to feel like one has been represented in roles that seem desirable or cool or something other than buck-toothed caricatures. I have lived as an Asian person in America for the last ten years; in many ways, the Asian American experience has increasingly become mine too. But not only is this Asian American response an appropriative one as I have explained above, it is profoundly insensitive and damaging. The importance of Black Panther is that, in the imaginary Wakanda, it presents the reparative and redemptive fantasy and potentiality of an Africa that has never been colonized. But it is still an imagined world, built on the a fictitious material, Vibranium, that literally fell out of the sky. Singapore, in contrast, is a real place, with real people–it is, to me, home.  What reviewers laud in Crazy Rich Asians in not an imaginary material, but neoliberal, late-stage capitalism on brash display–not to mention, a wealth that is enabled by Singapore’s colonial past, a past that has been traded in for colonial nostalgia. (There is no sense of postcolonial indignation in Singapore–there is no such critique taught in schools.)

But if the film doesn’t do for Asian Americans what they claim it is doing for them, it is also not doing anything for Asians in Asia. In one of the many tiring scenes where “Asian-ness” is being explained, Peik Lin tells Rachel that she is a “banana,” then goes on to explain what that is—  that old, limp (forgive me) pseudo-joke about being yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. What the show expounds, in the end, is that it is a great time to be a banana. Rachel Chu is a banana and the triumph at the end of the film is the triumph of American exceptionalism and individualism over the “Crazy” Rich Asians. And let’s be clear—the title is meant to be derogatory. It’s not just “crazy rich” Asians, but also “crazy” rich Asians. Kwan’s second novel, “China Rich Girlfriend” confirms this, for in that title, “china” is the modifier.

The film is praised for its representation of complex characters, for finally showing that yellow people have complexity. But what complexity are we given to see? Most of the characters are mostly vain, petty, greedy, materialistic, bitchy, conniving. Here and there, badly behaving Asians are used as a convenient excuse for “complex characters” which parades as a subversion of the stereotype of smart, meek, well-behaved, hardworking Asian. Is this the best that can be done to throw off the yoke of the Model Minority Myth? Are we so starved for representation that bad behavior not only passes for complexity, but is also championed for diversity in representation?

Let’s go to one of the more upsetting scenes of bad behavior by way of returning to the money-phallus. The bachelor party scene ends with the uncaptioned chant “ku ku jiao,” started by Bernard, that mirrors that amazing scene in Sorry To Bother You where Cassius Green is made to perform his race for the pleasure and consumption of a white audience, and ends up yelling “N***** shit, n****** shit, n***** n***** n***** shit” to their delight. “Ku ku jiao” is a term few outside of Singapore would understand, meaning “little birdie” or a little boy’s dick (a different term, “lan jiao,” would translate more like the locker-room jargon, “cock,” but that term is not used)— a painfully pathetic, self-hating dig at Asian male sexuality masquerading as narcissism and machismo.

The delight the rich white yuppies in Sorry To Bother You derive lies in having Cassius yell a literalization of what, to them, he is. For Bernard and the rest of the merrymakers at the bachelor party, this is true too. The next thrust of my point lies in the fact that while he is yelling this, Bernard is carrying a giant canon held at his crotch, a comedic substitute, after all, for the tumescence he does not have. Out of this he pumps –-not fireworks (which the budget of the film must have allowed and the aesthetic of the film must have found appropriate)—but impotent crackling duds that shoot forth and plop lamely into the sea, fizzling out. Before the camera cuts to the next scene, at the height of the “ku ku jiao” chant, he shoots out one last firecracker aimed at a skimpily clad dancer on the edge of the pool and blasts her off stage. Is this comedy? Is the best performance of Asian male sexuality and virility one that must culminate in an act of violence against a woman? Is this how the Asian man wins?

Had he the “ku ku jiao” he wanted to show off, when caught by the paparazzi with the gold digging actress in a later scene, he would not be turning embarrassedly away, tail between his legs, as it were (yes, pun intended). The embarrassment here, therefore, is not that he has been caught having sex (Bernard would love that), but that he has been caught with a small and/or limp dick—the joke, of course, rooted in the stereotype of the emasculated Asian male. To this situation, he turns, and to the eye of the camera and the audience both, offers up his naked ass—a brief moment of nudity that is meant to serve as comic relief.

But it is not really a funny moment. For starters, it occurs at a sort of manic and deranged moment in the film—when Rachel has been told the “truth” about her mother and is running confusedly away, getting lost among and accosted by, (for the first time what really feels like) Crazy Asians. Bernard’s literal undressing then occurs alongside Rachel’s metaphorical denuding and both are quite horrific. Recall, too, for a moment, that when punched by Nick Young as a boy, Bernard “wins” not by returning the punch, but by sitting on him. *insert old locker room joke about checking before sitting down in a steam room lest you sit in another man’s lap.* What passes for comedy is then profoundly homophobic, for it lies in the potential for the (Asian male) body for penetration. As Leo Bersani enlightens us in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” the penetration of bodies (male and female alike) is used too often in cultural representation to suggest a posture of being demeaned or humiliated and its use here therefore is loaded.

Of course, none of these cerebral critiques of the film I have offered yet quite get at the heart of the much more visceral reaction I had. I found myself weeping throughout the film, leaking tears inexplicably. It wasn’t because I was so moved by Rachel Chu’s trials and tribulations and ultimate triumph (which was what? So much homage, after all, to the tired old marriage plot) for Constance Wu’s googly eyes irritated me—her moments of cutesy-ness and self-infantilizing and fawning feeling like some subconscious capitulation to the trope of what a lovable Asian girl is. No, I felt crazed. My impulse upon seeing my little country on screen was to rush forward and cover up the screen, like seeing a sister or a good friend stripped on stage, or, to tear it all down. Again and again, not Gatsby, but that harrowing scene from Darren Aronofsky’s horror extravaganza Mother! flashed in my mind— of Jennifer Lawrence rushing pleadingly after her baby while Javier Bardem (God) tells her that the adoring fans out there just want to see him, just want to love him, just want to worship him. My fellow Singaporeans and my country itself seem to say this too—this is a chance for Singapore to be showcased on the world stage, an “INCREDIBLE BRANDING OPPORTUNITY!” to echo a local politician on the Trump/Kim summit. It doesn’t in fact matter that, in a Bacchic frenzy, in their greed or their love (it doesn’t matter which) they tear and grab at the baby, ripping it apart and eating it up. Again and again as Singapore was put on display, I felt like Jennifer Lawrence, whimpering “he’s mine.. he’s mine..,” anxious for the awful house guests masquerading as worshipping fans not to take her baby.

What saddens me is how ready Singapore is to prostitute herself for attention. What infuriates me is how ready the world is to use Singapore to serve as confirmation for their own ends. Singapore is quite stunning—indeed she has a brilliant shining facade which works as the most perfect magic mirror. Ask Singapore anything and she will show you the best answer: What does a suppression of free speech look like? What does a country with no free and independent media look like? What does a country with high income inequality look like? A prism light show; a cantilevered ship on the top of 3 buildings; skyscrapers; a harbor so busy it looks like its own city at night— Singapore twirling and answering: “me, me, me.”

If the film is a celebration of capitalism call it so, but it is not a celebration of diversity. The galling part of the hype around the film and representation is that it allows one to be taken for the other. For example, Goh Peik Lin’s character need not, for the purposes of plot, have been rich. Her character would have provided a prime opportunity to showcase someone of a different socio-economic class, to highlight Singapore’s wonderful public housing, if, indeed, diverse representation was what we were going for. I know by now it is not.

To praise the show for being “a watershed moment for representation” or the “first of its kind” is to facetiously traffic in false opposites, to be like Foucault’s Victorians who everywhere whisper in hush tones that no one talks about sex. To say that this is the first time Asians have been allowed to be seen in a positive light is to trade on a presupposition that we have not—and that is a lie. To be sure, Hollywood hasn’t always been a great source for representation—but do we expect it to be? In the 80s, Japanese pop culture gained popularity in America and the rest of Asia following its economic boom. In the past decade, the growth of the Korean beauty industry and the Kpop music scene has led to vast changes in the perception of beauty around the world. There are more (east) Asian models on the catwalks and fronting campaigns for luxury goods than ever before. If that is the sort of representation we are seeking, it hasn’t not been there. I’m not trying to say more shouldn’t be done, I am asking for people to be clear-eyed.

And this is what that bewildering opening quote from Napoleon about sleeping dragons reveals. “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep for when she wakes she will shake the world.” Asian people are more interesting now quite simply because China is powerful and has money. What’s that pithy racist aphorism again? All Asian people look alike. The present moment is a time when being a minority can be worn like a trendy skin in certain contexts (this doesn’t mean that minorities are not then discriminated against because the two are not mutually exclusive) and that is happily adopted and used to obfuscate that what we are really celebrating in Crazy Rich Asians is money. If it is a good time to be a banana—yellow on the outside—it is a better time to be gold.

Crazy Rich Asians may have its use for various groups, may enable different things, but let the international community not forget that Singapore is a real place, and it is not there for the use-value other groups can foist upon it. To a country of 5 million people, most of them not Crazy Rich, it is home.

The film is not without its redeeming qualities. To my surprise, one of the movie’s bravest and sexiest scenes is one rife with homoeroticism. After the painful bachelor party scene, the camera cuts to Rawa Island, where Colin and Nick lounge lazily, drinking beer. The scene opens with Colin jesting, “Listen, if it weren’t for Araminta, I’d ask you to marry me!” So much romance after all passing for bromance. Rawa Island is known in the region as a getaway vacation spot for couples. (Listen, I went there a year ago with my husband after we had just gotten engaged and we did the only two things available to do there: we had beers like Colin and Nick, and the other I leave to my discerning reader to fill in the blanks.) The two men sit half naked, perfectly at ease with each other, speaking candidly about their relationships, expressing happiness and due concern for each other, opening up and displaying vulnerability—this might yet be the most healthy portrayal of men (Asian and otherwise) that I’ve seen in a rom-com in decades!—and are, for the first time in the film, actually sexy. Their easy banter and open honesty with each other feels somehow sexier than the prescriptive interaction between the main couple. Sex between the main heterosexual couple is connoted twice in the film but both scenes are clunky and awkward—the first suggests, perhaps, the raunchy fantasy of joining the “Mile High Club,” but honestly, when have collared, long-sleeved silk pyjamas suggested anything other than the uniform of philanthropic old rich men in movies, much less sex appeal?

The film has already done much in generating buzz about race and representation, and has already done wonders for the careers of the Asian actors that have been involved in the film (Henry Golding will star in two more Hollywood films before the year is over, Gemma Chan has now been signed on to the Marvel Universe) and may yet do more—I hope it does. But that conversation should be separate from what the film itself is.

Exposing the Giants

Developing the tradition charted by C. Wright Mills in his 1956 classic The Power Elite, in his latest book, Professor Peter Phillips starts by reviewing the transition from the nation state power elites described by authors such as Mills to a transnational power elite centralized on the control of global capital.

Thus, in his just-released study Giants: The Global Power Elite, Phillips, a professor of political sociology at Sonoma State University in the USA, identifies the world’s top seventeen asset management firms, such as BlackRock and J.P Morgan Chase, each with more than one trillion dollars of investment capital under management, as the ‘Giants’ of world capitalism. The seventeen firms collectively manage more than $US41.1 trillion in a self-invested network of interlocking capital that spans the globe.

This $41 trillion represents the wealth invested for profit by thousands of millionaires, billionaires and corporations. The seventeen Giants operate in nearly every country in the world and are ‘the central institutions of the financial capital that powers the global economic system’. They invest in anything considered profitable, ranging from ‘agricultural lands on which indigenous farmers are replaced by power elite investors’ to public assets (such as energy and water utilities) to war.

In addition, Phillips identifies the most important networks of the Global Power Elite and the individuals therein. He names 389 individuals (a small number of whom are women and a token number of whom are from countries other than the United States and the wealthier countries of Western Europe) at the core of the policy planning nongovernmental networks that manage, facilitate and defend the continued concentration of global capital. The Global Power Elite perform two key uniting functions, he argues: they provide ideological justifications for their shared interests (promulgated through their corporate media), and define the parameters of action for transnational governmental organizations and capitalist nation-states.

More precisely, Phillips identifies the 199 directors of the seventeen global financial Giants and offers short biographies and public information on their individual net wealth. These individuals are closely interconnected through numerous networks of association including the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Conference, university affiliations, various policy councils, social clubs, and cultural enterprises. For a taste of one of these clubs, see this account of The Links in New York. As Phillips observes: ‘It is certainly safe to conclude they all know each other personally or know of each other in the shared context of their positions of power.’

The Giants, Phillips documents, invest in each other but also in many hundreds of investment management firms, many of which are near-Giants. This results in tens of trillions of dollars coordinated in a single vast network of global capital controlled by a very small number of people. ‘Their constant objective is to find enough safe investment opportunities for a return on capital that allows for continued growth. Inadequate capital-placement opportunities lead to dangerous speculative investments, buying up of public assets, and permanent war spending.’

Because the directors of these seventeen asset management firms represent the central core of international capital, ‘Individuals can retire or pass away, and other similar people will move into their place, making the overall structure a self-perpetuating network of global capital control. As such, these 199 people share a common goal of maximum return on investments for themselves and their clients, and they may seek to achieve returns by any means necessary – legal or not…. the institutional and structural arrangements within the money management systems of global capital relentlessly seek ways to achieve maximum return on investment, and … the conditions for manipulations – legal or not – are always present.’

Like some researchers before him, Phillips identifies the importance of those transnational institutions that serve a unifying function. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, G20, G7, World Trade Organization (WTO), World Economic Forum (WEF), Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, Bank for International Settlements, Group of 30 (G30), the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Monetary Conference serve as institutional mechanisms for consensus building within the transnational capitalist class, and power elite policy formulation and implementation. ‘These international institutions serve the interests of the global financial Giants by supporting policies and regulations that seek to protect the free, unrestricted flow of capital and debt collection worldwide.’

But within this network of transnational institutions, Phillips identifies two very important global elite policy-planning organizations: the Group of Thirty (which has 32 members) and the extended executive committee of the Trilateral Commission (which has 55 members). These nonprofit corporations, which each have a research and support staff, formulate elite policy and issue instructions for their implementation by the transnational governmental institutions like the G7, G20, IMF, WTO, and World Bank. Elite policies are also implemented following instruction of the relevant agent, including governments, in the context. These agents then do as they are instructed. Thus, these 85 members (because two overlap) of the Group of Thirty and the Trilateral Commission comprise a central group of facilitators of global capitalism, ensuring that ‘global capital remains safe, secure, and growing’.

So, while many of the major international institutions are controlled by nation-state representatives and central bankers (with proportional power exercised by dominant financial supporters such as the United States and European Union countries), Phillips is more concerned with the transnational policy groups that are nongovernmental because these organizations ‘help to unite TCC power elites as a class’ and the individuals involved in these organizations facilitate world capitalism. ‘They serve as policy elites who seek the continued growth of capital in the world.’

Developing this list of 199 directors of the largest money management firms in the world, Phillips argues, is an important step toward understanding how capitalism works globally today. These global power elite directors make the decisions regarding the investment of trillions of dollars. Supposedly in competition, the concentrated wealth they share requires them to cooperate for their greater good by identifying investment opportunities and shared risk agreements, and working collectively for political arrangements that create advantages for their profit-generating system as a whole.

Their fundamental priority is to secure an average return on investment of 3 to 10 percent, or even more. The nature of any investment is less important than what it yields: continuous returns that support growth in the overall market. Hence, capital investment in tobacco products, weapons of war, toxic chemicals, pollution, and other socially destructive goods and services are judged purely by their profitability. Concern for the social and environmental costs of the investment are non-existent. In other words, inflicting death and destruction are fine because they are profitable.

So what is the global elite’s purpose? In a few sentences Phillips characterizes it thus: The elite is largely united in support of the US/NATO military empire that prosecutes a repressive war against resisting groups – typically labeled ‘terrorists’ – around the world. The real purpose of ‘the war on terror’ is defense of transnational globalization, the unimpeded flow of financial capital around the world, dollar hegemony and access to oil; it has nothing to do with repressing terrorism which it generates, perpetuates and finances to provide cover for its real agenda. This is why the United States has a long history of CIA and military interventions around the world ostensibly in defense of ‘national interests’.

Wealth and Power

An interesting point that emerges for me from reading Phillips thoughtful analysis is that there is a clear distinction between those individuals and families who have wealth and those individuals who have (sometimes significantly) less wealth (which, nevertheless,  is still considerable) but, through their positions and connections, wield a great deal of power. As Phillips explains this distinction, ‘the sociology of elites is more important than particular elite individuals and their families’. Just 199 individuals decide how more than $40 trillion will be invested. And this is his central point. Let me briefly elaborate.

There are some really wealthy families in the world, notably including the families Rothschild (France and the United Kingdom), Rockefeller (USA), Goldman-Sachs (USA), Warburgs (Germany), Lehmann (USA), Lazards (France), Kuhn Loebs (USA), Israel Moses Seifs (Italy), Al-Saud (Saudi Arabia), Walton (USA), Koch (USA), Mars (USA), Cargill-MacMillan (USA) and Cox (USA). However, not all of these families overtly seek power to shape the world as they wish.

Similarly, the world’s extremely wealthy individuals such as Jeff Bezos (USA), Bill Gates (USA), Warren Buffett (USA), Bernard Arnault (France), Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico) and Francoise Bettencourt Meyers (France) are not necessarily connected in such a way that they exercise enormous power. In fact, they may have little interest in power as such, despite their obvious interest in wealth.

In essence, some individuals and families are content to simply take advantage of how capitalism and its ancilliary governmental and transnational instruments function while others are more politically engaged in seeking to manipulate major institutions to achieve outcomes that not only maximize their own profit and hence wealth but also shape the world itself.

So if you look at the list of 199 individuals that Phillips identifies at the centre of global capital, it does not include names such as Bezos, Gates, Buffett, Koch, Walton or even Rothschild, Rockefeller or Windsor (the Queen of England) despite their well-known and extraordinary wealth. As an aside, many of these names are also missing from the lists compiled by groups such as Forbes and Bloomberg, but their absence from these lists is for a very different reason given the penchant for many really wealthy individuals and families to avoid certain types of publicity and their power to ensure that they do.

In contrast to the names just listed, in Phillips’ analysis names like Laurence (Larry) Fink (Chairman and CEO of BlackRock), James (Jamie) Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase) and John McFarlane (Chairman of Barclays Bank), while not as wealthy as those listed immediately above, wield far more power because of their positions and connections within the global elite network of 199 individuals.

Predictably then, Phillips observes, these three individuals have similar lifestyles and ideological orientations. They believe capitalism is beneficial for the world and while inequality and poverty are important issues, they believe that capital growth will eventually solve these problems. They are relatively non-expressive about environmental issues, but recognize that investment opportunities may change in response to climate ‘modifications’. As millionaires they own multiple homes. They attended elite universities and rose quickly in international finance to reach their current status as giants of the global power elite. ‘The institutions they manage have been shown to engage in illegal collusions with others, but the regulatory fines by governments are essentially seen as just part of doing business.’

In short, as I would characterize this description: They are devoid of a legal or moral framework to guide their actions, whether in relation to business, fellow human beings, war or the environment and climate. They are obviously typical of the elite.

Any apparent concern for people, such as that expressed by Fink and Dimon in response to the racist violence in Charlottesville, USA in August 2017, is simply designed to promote ‘stability’ or more precisely, a stable (that is, profitable) investment and consumer climate.

The lack of concern for people and issues that might concern many of us is also evident from a consideration of the agenda at elite gatherings. Consider the International Monetary Conference. Founded in 1956, it is a private yearly meeting of the top few hundred bankers in the world. The American Bankers Association (ABA) serves as the secretariat for the conference. But, as Phillips notes: ‘Nothing on the agenda seems to address the socioeconomic consequences of investments to determine the impacts on people and the environment.’ A casual perusal of the agenda at any elite gathering reveals that this comment applies equally to any elite forum. See, for example, the agenda of the recent WEF meeting in Davos. Any talk of ‘concern’ is misleading rhetoric.

Hence, in the words of Phillips: The 199 directors of the global Giants are ‘a very select set of people. They all know each other personally or know of each other. At least 69 have attended the annual World Economic Forum, where they often serve on panels or give public presentations. They mostly attended the same elite universities, and interact in upperclass social setting[s] in the major cities of the world. They all are wealthy and have significant stock holdings in one or more of the financial Giants. They are all deeply invested in the importance of maintaining capital growth in the world. Some are sensitive to environmental and social justice issues, but they seem to be unable to link these issues to global capital concentration.’

Of course, the global elite cannot manage the world system alone: the elite requires agents to perform many of the functions necessary to control national societies and the individuals within them. ‘The interests of the Global Power Elite and the TCC are fully recognized by major institutions in society. Governments, intelligence services, policymakers, universities, police forces, military, and corporate media all work in support of their vital interests.’

In other words, to elaborate Phillips’ point and extend it a little, through their economic power, the Giants control all of the instruments through which their policies are implemented. Whether it be governments, national military forces, ‘military contractors’ or mercenaries (with at least $200 billion spent on private security globally, the industry currently employs some fifteen million people worldwide) used both in ‘foreign’ wars but also likely deployed in future for domestic control, key ‘intelligence’ agencies, legal systems and police forces, major nongovernment organizations, or the academic, educational, ‘public relations propaganda’, corporate media, medical, psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries, all instruments are fully responsive to elite control and are designed to misinform, deceive, disempower, intimidate, repress, imprison (in a jail or psychiatric ward), exploit and/or kill (depending on the constituency) the rest of us, as is readily evident.

Defending Elite Power

Phillips observes that the power elite continually worries about rebellion by the ‘unruly exploited masses’ against their structure of concentrated wealth. This is why the US military empire has long played the role of defender of global capitalism. As a result, the United States has more than 800 military bases (with some scholars suggesting 1,000) in 70 countries and territories. In comparison, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia have about 30 foreign bases. In addition, US military forces are now deployed in 70 percent of the world’s nations with US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) having troops in 147 countries, an increase of 80 percent since 2010. These forces conduct counterterrorism strikes regularly, including drone assassinations and kill/capture raids.

‘The US military empire stands on hundreds of years of colonial exploitation and continues to support repressive, exploitative governments that cooperate with global capital’s imperial agenda. Governments that accept external capital investment, whereby a small segment of a country’s elite benefits, do so knowing that capital inevitably requires a return on investment that entails using up resources and people for economic gain. The whole system continues wealth concentration for elites and expanded wretched inequality for the masses….

‘Understanding permanent war as an economic relief valve for surplus capital is a vital part of comprehending capitalism in the world today. War provides investment opportunity for the Giants and TCC elites and a guaranteed return on capital. War also serves a repressive function of keeping the suffering masses of humanity afraid and compliant.’

As Phillips elaborates: This is why defense of global capital is the prime reason that NATO countries now account for 85 percent of the world’s military spending; the United States spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined.

In essence, ‘the Global Power Elite uses NATO and the US military empire for its worldwide security. This is part of an expanding strategy of US military domination around the world, whereby the US/ NATO military empire, advised by the power elite’s Atlantic Council, operates in service to the Transnational Corporate Class for the protection of international capital everywhere in the world’.

This entails ‘further pauperization of the bottom half of the world’s population and an unrelenting downward spiral of wages for 80 percent of the world. The world is facing economic crisis, and the neoliberal solution is to spend less on human needs and more on security. It is a world of financial institutions run amok, where the answer to economic collapse is to print more money through quantitative easing, flooding the population with trillions of new inflation-producing dollars. It is a world of permanent war, whereby spending for destruction requires further spending to rebuild, a cycle that profits the Giants and global networks of economic power. It is a world of drone killings, extrajudicial assassinations, death, and destruction, at home and abroad.’

Where is this all heading?

So what are the implications of this state of affairs? Phillips responds unequivocally: ‘This concentration of protected wealth leads to a crisis of humanity, whereby poverty, war, starvation, mass alienation, media propaganda, and environmental devastation are reaching a species-level threat. We realize that humankind is in danger of possible extinction’.

He goes on to state that the Global Power Elite is probably the only entity ‘capable of correcting this condition without major civil unrest, war, and chaos’ and elaborates an important aim of his book: to raise awareness of the importance of systemic change and the redistribution of wealth among both the book’s general readers but also the elite, ‘in the hope that they can begin the process of saving humanity.’ The book’s postscript is a ‘A Letter to the Global Power Elite’, co-signed by Phillips and 90 others, beseeching the elite to act accordingly.

It is no longer acceptable for you to believe that you can manage capitalism to grow its way out of the gross inequalities we all now face. The environment cannot accept more pollution and waste, and civil unrest is everywhere inevitable at some point. Humanity needs you to step up and insure that trickle-down becomes a river of resources that reaches every child, every family, and all human beings. We urge you to use your power and make the needed changes for humanity’s survival.

But he also emphasizes that nonviolent social movements, using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a moral code, can accelerate the process of redistributing wealth by pressuring the elite into action.

Conclusion

Peter Phillips has written an important book. For those of us interested in understanding elite control of the world, this book is a vital addition to the bookshelf. And like any good book, as you will see from my comments both above and below, it raised more questions for me even while it answered many.

As I read Phillips’ insightful and candid account of elite behavior in this regard, I am reminded, yet again, that the global power elite is extraordinarily violent and utterly insane: content to kill people in vast numbers (whether through starvation or military violence) and destroy the biosphere for profit, with zero sense of humanity’s now limited future with more detailed explanations for the violence and insanity here.

For this reason I do not share his faith in moral appeals to the elite, as articulated in the letter in his postscript. It is fine to make the appeal but history offers no evidence to suggest that there will be any significant response. The death and destruction inflicted by elites is highly profitable, centuries-old and ongoing. It will take powerful, strategically-focused nonviolent campaigns (or societal collapse) to compel the necessary changes in elite behavior. Hence, I fully endorse his call for nonviolent social movements to compel elite action where we cannot make the necessary changes without their involvement.

I would also encourage independent action, in one or more of several ways, by those individuals and communities powerful enough to do so. This includes nurturing more powerful individuals by making ‘My Promise to Children, participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘ and signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.

Fundamentally, Giants: The Global Power Elite is a call to action. Professor Peter Phillips is highly aware of our predicament – politically, socially, economically, environmentally and climatically – and the critical role played by the global power elite in generating that predicament.

If we cannot persuade the global power elite to respond sensibly to that predicament, or nonviolently compel it to do so, humanity’s time on Earth is indeed limited.

Exposing the Giants

Developing the tradition charted by C. Wright Mills in his 1956 classic The Power Elite, in his latest book, Professor Peter Phillips starts by reviewing the transition from the nation state power elites described by authors such as Mills to a transnational power elite centralized on the control of global capital.

Thus, in his just-released study Giants: The Global Power Elite, Phillips, a professor of political sociology at Sonoma State University in the USA, identifies the world’s top seventeen asset management firms, such as BlackRock and J.P Morgan Chase, each with more than one trillion dollars of investment capital under management, as the ‘Giants’ of world capitalism. The seventeen firms collectively manage more than $US41.1 trillion in a self-invested network of interlocking capital that spans the globe.

This $41 trillion represents the wealth invested for profit by thousands of millionaires, billionaires and corporations. The seventeen Giants operate in nearly every country in the world and are ‘the central institutions of the financial capital that powers the global economic system’. They invest in anything considered profitable, ranging from ‘agricultural lands on which indigenous farmers are replaced by power elite investors’ to public assets (such as energy and water utilities) to war.

In addition, Phillips identifies the most important networks of the Global Power Elite and the individuals therein. He names 389 individuals (a small number of whom are women and a token number of whom are from countries other than the United States and the wealthier countries of Western Europe) at the core of the policy planning nongovernmental networks that manage, facilitate and defend the continued concentration of global capital. The Global Power Elite perform two key uniting functions, he argues: they provide ideological justifications for their shared interests (promulgated through their corporate media), and define the parameters of action for transnational governmental organizations and capitalist nation-states.

More precisely, Phillips identifies the 199 directors of the seventeen global financial Giants and offers short biographies and public information on their individual net wealth. These individuals are closely interconnected through numerous networks of association including the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Conference, university affiliations, various policy councils, social clubs, and cultural enterprises. For a taste of one of these clubs, see this account of The Links in New York. As Phillips observes: ‘It is certainly safe to conclude they all know each other personally or know of each other in the shared context of their positions of power.’

The Giants, Phillips documents, invest in each other but also in many hundreds of investment management firms, many of which are near-Giants. This results in tens of trillions of dollars coordinated in a single vast network of global capital controlled by a very small number of people. ‘Their constant objective is to find enough safe investment opportunities for a return on capital that allows for continued growth. Inadequate capital-placement opportunities lead to dangerous speculative investments, buying up of public assets, and permanent war spending.’

Because the directors of these seventeen asset management firms represent the central core of international capital, ‘Individuals can retire or pass away, and other similar people will move into their place, making the overall structure a self-perpetuating network of global capital control. As such, these 199 people share a common goal of maximum return on investments for themselves and their clients, and they may seek to achieve returns by any means necessary – legal or not…. the institutional and structural arrangements within the money management systems of global capital relentlessly seek ways to achieve maximum return on investment, and … the conditions for manipulations – legal or not – are always present.’

Like some researchers before him, Phillips identifies the importance of those transnational institutions that serve a unifying function. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, G20, G7, World Trade Organization (WTO), World Economic Forum (WEF), Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, Bank for International Settlements, Group of 30 (G30), the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Monetary Conference serve as institutional mechanisms for consensus building within the transnational capitalist class, and power elite policy formulation and implementation. ‘These international institutions serve the interests of the global financial Giants by supporting policies and regulations that seek to protect the free, unrestricted flow of capital and debt collection worldwide.’

But within this network of transnational institutions, Phillips identifies two very important global elite policy-planning organizations: the Group of Thirty (which has 32 members) and the extended executive committee of the Trilateral Commission (which has 55 members). These nonprofit corporations, which each have a research and support staff, formulate elite policy and issue instructions for their implementation by the transnational governmental institutions like the G7, G20, IMF, WTO, and World Bank. Elite policies are also implemented following instruction of the relevant agent, including governments, in the context. These agents then do as they are instructed. Thus, these 85 members (because two overlap) of the Group of Thirty and the Trilateral Commission comprise a central group of facilitators of global capitalism, ensuring that ‘global capital remains safe, secure, and growing’.

So, while many of the major international institutions are controlled by nation-state representatives and central bankers (with proportional power exercised by dominant financial supporters such as the United States and European Union countries), Phillips is more concerned with the transnational policy groups that are nongovernmental because these organizations ‘help to unite TCC power elites as a class’ and the individuals involved in these organizations facilitate world capitalism. ‘They serve as policy elites who seek the continued growth of capital in the world.’

Developing this list of 199 directors of the largest money management firms in the world, Phillips argues, is an important step toward understanding how capitalism works globally today. These global power elite directors make the decisions regarding the investment of trillions of dollars. Supposedly in competition, the concentrated wealth they share requires them to cooperate for their greater good by identifying investment opportunities and shared risk agreements, and working collectively for political arrangements that create advantages for their profit-generating system as a whole.

Their fundamental priority is to secure an average return on investment of 3 to 10 percent, or even more. The nature of any investment is less important than what it yields: continuous returns that support growth in the overall market. Hence, capital investment in tobacco products, weapons of war, toxic chemicals, pollution, and other socially destructive goods and services are judged purely by their profitability. Concern for the social and environmental costs of the investment are non-existent. In other words, inflicting death and destruction are fine because they are profitable.

So what is the global elite’s purpose? In a few sentences Phillips characterizes it thus: The elite is largely united in support of the US/NATO military empire that prosecutes a repressive war against resisting groups – typically labeled ‘terrorists’ – around the world. The real purpose of ‘the war on terror’ is defense of transnational globalization, the unimpeded flow of financial capital around the world, dollar hegemony and access to oil; it has nothing to do with repressing terrorism which it generates, perpetuates and finances to provide cover for its real agenda. This is why the United States has a long history of CIA and military interventions around the world ostensibly in defense of ‘national interests’.

Wealth and Power

An interesting point that emerges for me from reading Phillips thoughtful analysis is that there is a clear distinction between those individuals and families who have wealth and those individuals who have (sometimes significantly) less wealth (which, nevertheless,  is still considerable) but, through their positions and connections, wield a great deal of power. As Phillips explains this distinction, ‘the sociology of elites is more important than particular elite individuals and their families’. Just 199 individuals decide how more than $40 trillion will be invested. And this is his central point. Let me briefly elaborate.

There are some really wealthy families in the world, notably including the families Rothschild (France and the United Kingdom), Rockefeller (USA), Goldman-Sachs (USA), Warburgs (Germany), Lehmann (USA), Lazards (France), Kuhn Loebs (USA), Israel Moses Seifs (Italy), Al-Saud (Saudi Arabia), Walton (USA), Koch (USA), Mars (USA), Cargill-MacMillan (USA) and Cox (USA). However, not all of these families overtly seek power to shape the world as they wish.

Similarly, the world’s extremely wealthy individuals such as Jeff Bezos (USA), Bill Gates (USA), Warren Buffett (USA), Bernard Arnault (France), Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico) and Francoise Bettencourt Meyers (France) are not necessarily connected in such a way that they exercise enormous power. In fact, they may have little interest in power as such, despite their obvious interest in wealth.

In essence, some individuals and families are content to simply take advantage of how capitalism and its ancilliary governmental and transnational instruments function while others are more politically engaged in seeking to manipulate major institutions to achieve outcomes that not only maximize their own profit and hence wealth but also shape the world itself.

So if you look at the list of 199 individuals that Phillips identifies at the centre of global capital, it does not include names such as Bezos, Gates, Buffett, Koch, Walton or even Rothschild, Rockefeller or Windsor (the Queen of England) despite their well-known and extraordinary wealth. As an aside, many of these names are also missing from the lists compiled by groups such as Forbes and Bloomberg, but their absence from these lists is for a very different reason given the penchant for many really wealthy individuals and families to avoid certain types of publicity and their power to ensure that they do.

In contrast to the names just listed, in Phillips’ analysis names like Laurence (Larry) Fink (Chairman and CEO of BlackRock), James (Jamie) Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase) and John McFarlane (Chairman of Barclays Bank), while not as wealthy as those listed immediately above, wield far more power because of their positions and connections within the global elite network of 199 individuals.

Predictably then, Phillips observes, these three individuals have similar lifestyles and ideological orientations. They believe capitalism is beneficial for the world and while inequality and poverty are important issues, they believe that capital growth will eventually solve these problems. They are relatively non-expressive about environmental issues, but recognize that investment opportunities may change in response to climate ‘modifications’. As millionaires they own multiple homes. They attended elite universities and rose quickly in international finance to reach their current status as giants of the global power elite. ‘The institutions they manage have been shown to engage in illegal collusions with others, but the regulatory fines by governments are essentially seen as just part of doing business.’

In short, as I would characterize this description: They are devoid of a legal or moral framework to guide their actions, whether in relation to business, fellow human beings, war or the environment and climate. They are obviously typical of the elite.

Any apparent concern for people, such as that expressed by Fink and Dimon in response to the racist violence in Charlottesville, USA in August 2017, is simply designed to promote ‘stability’ or more precisely, a stable (that is, profitable) investment and consumer climate.

The lack of concern for people and issues that might concern many of us is also evident from a consideration of the agenda at elite gatherings. Consider the International Monetary Conference. Founded in 1956, it is a private yearly meeting of the top few hundred bankers in the world. The American Bankers Association (ABA) serves as the secretariat for the conference. But, as Phillips notes: ‘Nothing on the agenda seems to address the socioeconomic consequences of investments to determine the impacts on people and the environment.’ A casual perusal of the agenda at any elite gathering reveals that this comment applies equally to any elite forum. See, for example, the agenda of the recent WEF meeting in Davos. Any talk of ‘concern’ is misleading rhetoric.

Hence, in the words of Phillips: The 199 directors of the global Giants are ‘a very select set of people. They all know each other personally or know of each other. At least 69 have attended the annual World Economic Forum, where they often serve on panels or give public presentations. They mostly attended the same elite universities, and interact in upperclass social setting[s] in the major cities of the world. They all are wealthy and have significant stock holdings in one or more of the financial Giants. They are all deeply invested in the importance of maintaining capital growth in the world. Some are sensitive to environmental and social justice issues, but they seem to be unable to link these issues to global capital concentration.’

Of course, the global elite cannot manage the world system alone: the elite requires agents to perform many of the functions necessary to control national societies and the individuals within them. ‘The interests of the Global Power Elite and the TCC are fully recognized by major institutions in society. Governments, intelligence services, policymakers, universities, police forces, military, and corporate media all work in support of their vital interests.’

In other words, to elaborate Phillips’ point and extend it a little, through their economic power, the Giants control all of the instruments through which their policies are implemented. Whether it be governments, national military forces, ‘military contractors’ or mercenaries (with at least $200 billion spent on private security globally, the industry currently employs some fifteen million people worldwide) used both in ‘foreign’ wars but also likely deployed in future for domestic control, key ‘intelligence’ agencies, legal systems and police forces, major nongovernment organizations, or the academic, educational, ‘public relations propaganda’, corporate media, medical, psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries, all instruments are fully responsive to elite control and are designed to misinform, deceive, disempower, intimidate, repress, imprison (in a jail or psychiatric ward), exploit and/or kill (depending on the constituency) the rest of us, as is readily evident.

Defending Elite Power

Phillips observes that the power elite continually worries about rebellion by the ‘unruly exploited masses’ against their structure of concentrated wealth. This is why the US military empire has long played the role of defender of global capitalism. As a result, the United States has more than 800 military bases (with some scholars suggesting 1,000) in 70 countries and territories. In comparison, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia have about 30 foreign bases. In addition, US military forces are now deployed in 70 percent of the world’s nations with US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) having troops in 147 countries, an increase of 80 percent since 2010. These forces conduct counterterrorism strikes regularly, including drone assassinations and kill/capture raids.

‘The US military empire stands on hundreds of years of colonial exploitation and continues to support repressive, exploitative governments that cooperate with global capital’s imperial agenda. Governments that accept external capital investment, whereby a small segment of a country’s elite benefits, do so knowing that capital inevitably requires a return on investment that entails using up resources and people for economic gain. The whole system continues wealth concentration for elites and expanded wretched inequality for the masses….

‘Understanding permanent war as an economic relief valve for surplus capital is a vital part of comprehending capitalism in the world today. War provides investment opportunity for the Giants and TCC elites and a guaranteed return on capital. War also serves a repressive function of keeping the suffering masses of humanity afraid and compliant.’

As Phillips elaborates: This is why defense of global capital is the prime reason that NATO countries now account for 85 percent of the world’s military spending; the United States spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined.

In essence, ‘the Global Power Elite uses NATO and the US military empire for its worldwide security. This is part of an expanding strategy of US military domination around the world, whereby the US/ NATO military empire, advised by the power elite’s Atlantic Council, operates in service to the Transnational Corporate Class for the protection of international capital everywhere in the world’.

This entails ‘further pauperization of the bottom half of the world’s population and an unrelenting downward spiral of wages for 80 percent of the world. The world is facing economic crisis, and the neoliberal solution is to spend less on human needs and more on security. It is a world of financial institutions run amok, where the answer to economic collapse is to print more money through quantitative easing, flooding the population with trillions of new inflation-producing dollars. It is a world of permanent war, whereby spending for destruction requires further spending to rebuild, a cycle that profits the Giants and global networks of economic power. It is a world of drone killings, extrajudicial assassinations, death, and destruction, at home and abroad.’

Where is this all heading?

So what are the implications of this state of affairs? Phillips responds unequivocally: ‘This concentration of protected wealth leads to a crisis of humanity, whereby poverty, war, starvation, mass alienation, media propaganda, and environmental devastation are reaching a species-level threat. We realize that humankind is in danger of possible extinction’.

He goes on to state that the Global Power Elite is probably the only entity ‘capable of correcting this condition without major civil unrest, war, and chaos’ and elaborates an important aim of his book: to raise awareness of the importance of systemic change and the redistribution of wealth among both the book’s general readers but also the elite, ‘in the hope that they can begin the process of saving humanity.’ The book’s postscript is a ‘A Letter to the Global Power Elite’, co-signed by Phillips and 90 others, beseeching the elite to act accordingly.

It is no longer acceptable for you to believe that you can manage capitalism to grow its way out of the gross inequalities we all now face. The environment cannot accept more pollution and waste, and civil unrest is everywhere inevitable at some point. Humanity needs you to step up and insure that trickle-down becomes a river of resources that reaches every child, every family, and all human beings. We urge you to use your power and make the needed changes for humanity’s survival.

But he also emphasizes that nonviolent social movements, using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a moral code, can accelerate the process of redistributing wealth by pressuring the elite into action.

Conclusion

Peter Phillips has written an important book. For those of us interested in understanding elite control of the world, this book is a vital addition to the bookshelf. And like any good book, as you will see from my comments both above and below, it raised more questions for me even while it answered many.

As I read Phillips’ insightful and candid account of elite behavior in this regard, I am reminded, yet again, that the global power elite is extraordinarily violent and utterly insane: content to kill people in vast numbers (whether through starvation or military violence) and destroy the biosphere for profit, with zero sense of humanity’s now limited future with more detailed explanations for the violence and insanity here.

For this reason I do not share his faith in moral appeals to the elite, as articulated in the letter in his postscript. It is fine to make the appeal but history offers no evidence to suggest that there will be any significant response. The death and destruction inflicted by elites is highly profitable, centuries-old and ongoing. It will take powerful, strategically-focused nonviolent campaigns (or societal collapse) to compel the necessary changes in elite behavior. Hence, I fully endorse his call for nonviolent social movements to compel elite action where we cannot make the necessary changes without their involvement.

I would also encourage independent action, in one or more of several ways, by those individuals and communities powerful enough to do so. This includes nurturing more powerful individuals by making ‘My Promise to Children, participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘ and signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.

Fundamentally, Giants: The Global Power Elite is a call to action. Professor Peter Phillips is highly aware of our predicament – politically, socially, economically, environmentally and climatically – and the critical role played by the global power elite in generating that predicament.

If we cannot persuade the global power elite to respond sensibly to that predicament, or nonviolently compel it to do so, humanity’s time on Earth is indeed limited.

The First Thing We Do

We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Romania did it the hard way. Moarte criminalului, death to criminals: armed revolution, then a series of epic Mineriads, with a mild-mannered IMF gent on hand to suck them dry. I was there after the revolution, in the long hiatus between the fourth and fifth Mineriads, and I was starving until someone told us where the soccer stars dine out.

It turned out the way it was bound to, with all the world-standard requisites of responsible sovereignty: The International Bill of Human Rights, the Rome Statute, and the UN Charter. Most core human rights, in fact, and an opposition that demands individual accountability of officials and police. Constitutional change by referendum. A restive and demanding civil society that leaves and returns to their country at will and assembles in public without fear. Rights and freedoms that you can only dream of in your US police state.

It happens again and again like a series of echoes. Leon Rosselson dug up the Diggers: The club is all their law, stand up now. We had San Francisco diggers back then too. But the time was not ripe. The world had not worked out how to help struggling peoples claim their sovereignty.

Now in the burble and slosh of another impending puke, in the countercultural hinterlands of the US a former governor’s son makes a so-so whiskey called Shay’s Rebellion and sells it for a hundred dollars a fifth. He may regret reminding us of it, because it looks like we’re going to do it the hard way. The club is all their law to keep poor folk in awe, That they no vision saw to maintain such a law. At such times history crumples and new jacqueries can touch and draw strength from the many, many old ones. From Xiang Yu, Ankhmakis, the Red Eyebrows, the Yellow Turbans, the Gay Troop, the Circumcellions, the Shocho debtors, the Cudgel Warriors, the Taiping, the Red Spear Society, the Mau Mau, the Shining Path, die Wende, The Black Panther Party, the Allamuchy Tribe, or the Zapatistas…

Maybe even from Sierra Leone: the Kamajors, the RUF, the West Side Boys. Sobels, soldiers by day and rebels by night. The war set the country back 60 years. Years after the war’s end I got a thousand calories on a good day. That was my first brush with wasting, the only time I ever had a sixpack. I wouldn’t recommend it as a slimming regime or as a means of liberation. Once the diamond merchants got involved, the uprising produced a generation of child soldiers, mass dismemberment, and the old Israeli sport of cutting pregnant mothers open to bet on the sex of the fetus.1 By now the country has rejoined the world. The international community responds to armed struggle by imposing law to curb the state predation that caused it. The new law grounds human rights not in nature or in god but in our recourse to rebellion.

But Americans are mired in a brutish, backward corner of the world. Primitive legal and political doctrines hold them back. You can see it from a height on world maps, stark as the nighttime dark of North Korea viewed from orbit.

This map shows the government’s commitments to core human rights, the minimal standards of the civilized world. By this criterion, the US government is crusted at the bottom of the barrel, at about the level of Myanmar, Malaysia, or South Sudan.

This map shows whether the government lets you appeal its actions to independent international human rights experts. The US government forbids you any recourse to the outside world. Again, the US is in the cellar, sunk deep in the bottom ten per cent with North Korea, Iran, China, and some other cats and dogs.

This map is for reporting compliance. In the few cases where the US government has made a commitment, does it report as agreed in good faith? In this respect the US attains mediocrity — the middle of the pack, trailing Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, but more dutiful than North Korea or Iran. Solidly second-rate: under review by the Committee Against Torture, the government turned its report in five years late. This was while CIA was running their secret gulag of “black site” death camps, so they took extra time thinking how to put it nicely.

This map is pass/fail, and our government fails. The US government has failed to issue standing invitations to UN human rights experts reviewing compliance in country.

This map shows whether government meets the world standard for institutionalized human rights under independent expert supervision. Here again the US is floundering in the bottom tier, the international equivalent of Animal House. Even Myanmar can do better than that.

It looks even worse when you dig into specific issues and urgent derelictions. So to sum up, here’s your government’s report card:

Respecting your human rights: F
Giving you recourse to the outside world: F
Reporting on state human rights compliance: C-
Permitting independent human rights examination: F
Instituting independent protection of human rights: F

Apply the minimal standards of the civilized world: the US government doesn’t measure up.

If this were your kid, would you waste college money on him? Our rulers’ abject failure coexists with an odd baseless self-regard. They seem to think they’re paragons of statecraft. The example of countries that know what they’re doing seems not to be enough. Acculturation doesn’t sink in. Like any other hopeless failure, the US government needs to be expelled.

How did the US legal system spawn such a bunch of throwbacks?

Twentieth-century US legal scholars took their cues from Prussian realists of the Iron Chancellor’s day. Rudolph Von Ihering told them to subordinate individual good to social purpose, because everyone agrees, doch, freedom is craps. Our obvious, universally self-evident common purpose is what matters (those days, the Franco-Prussian war was in the back of everybody’s mind). There’s no point setting limits on the state (forget John Stuart Mill.) Ihering thought of law as Darwin in action, only a deterministic sort of Darwin that always makes the bugs turn out the same, just right (Darwin explained everything back then.) Ergo, whatever the law says is right. It all comes down to The Worthlessness of Jurisprudence as a Science, as propounded by J.H. Von Kirschmann.

US legal scholars took worthlessness to heart. They liked that Teutonic jawohling. John Chipman Gray said law is not laws, law is just what judges say. Jerome Frank said, who are we kidding, there are no rules, law’s a bunch of random verdicts. Karl Llewellyn came right out and admitted that all sorts of bureaucrats make law, not just judges. And even today we see the awkward truth of Llewellyn’s statement in the fact that any frightened cop can shoot you dead. US jurisprudence thinks your right to life is nothing but the history of timid assholes armed and dressed in jaunty blue police costumes. Hessel Yntema said that courts are merely pageants in a sort of cathartic mystery religion. To control the ill effects of sacerdotal whimsy, Yntema urged judges to strangle themselves in precedent, groping for the least common denominator of consistency in a degenerating system. We can watch this tendency erupt when US bureaucrats try to drown world-standard human rights law in every idiotic thing that any crooked judge has ever said.

American jurists facing the fundamental question — Is the state for me, or do I exist for the state? – made their choice. They decided you exist for the state. The idea that humanity is not to be used, that the state is a means to human ends and not the other way around, that’s beyond them. They expect you to be selfless in the sense that Arendt cited as the key to success for totalitarian states. Our preeminent mediocrities Benjamin Cardozo and Roscoe Pound remind you not to count on law for protection or for anything else. Law is always changing so naturally lawmakers do what they want, untrammeled by law of any sort. Especially, in practice, when law asserts your human rights. US legal theory is a conscious rejection of the free will underlying human rights. Postwar history is the story of that losing battle.

America’s absolutist furuncle came to a head whenever judges faced clandestine crime. In US v. Curtiss Wright Export Corp. (299 US 304 (1936)), the Supreme Court exempted presidents from the Tenth Amendment where “foreign or external affairs” are concerned. In upholding an indictment for clandestine gun-running in Bolivia, the court cleared the way for state secrets and covert state crime. Harding appointee George Sutherland garbled Justice Story’s nuanced concept of popular sovereignty to grant the president something called ‘complete’ sovereignty. The Supreme Court clearly appreciates the ambiguity of this hackwork, as state criminals can invoke it to silence witnesses to state crimes, keep Congress in the dark, or frame political enemies with secret evidence. Thanks to Sutherland’s slipshod logic, the illegal arms trade the case interdicted is one of CIA’s most lucrative lines of business.

Sutherland also blithely gutted Constitution Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. So much for advice and consent. If you want to cut the Senate out of treaty-making powers, just say your agreement’s not a treaty, it’s a compact. This is convenient when CIA wants to infiltrate terrorists into the US, like Andreas Strassmeir, Sivan Kurzberg, or the 200 other Israeli saboteurs of 9/11. CIA makes an eyes-only intelligence liaison agreement. It’s none of your business, it’s a compact.

Once CIA came into being, judicial groveling peaked. In deference to “intelligence services whose reports are not and ought not be published to the world,” defender of freedom Robert Jackson decided that “It would be intolerable that courts, without the relevant information, should review and perhaps nullify actions of the Executive taken on information properly held secret.” [333 U.S. 103 (1948)] Our courts have affirmed CIA’s impunity, its absolute life-and-death power, and its arbitrary rule.

The Supreme Court’s last gasp of resistance to state crime came during US aggression in Cambodia. The international community had established a Special Committee of 35 states to define aggression. The definition of aggression, UNGA (XXIX) Agenda Item 86, was set to become customary international law when Elizabeth Holtzman and Air Force dissidents asked the court to halt US bombardment of neutral Cambodia. The Supreme Court fractured with countermanding individual orders when Justice Douglas enjoined the bombing. A panicked quorum fobbed the question off onto the Second Circuit, which threw up its hands and called illegal war nonjusticiable.

In washing its hands of US aggression, the court had to stay one step ahead of their hapless forbears Josef Altstötter, et al. UNGA Resolution 2330 (XXII) was expediting work on defining aggression in light of “the present international situation.” By 1973, the situation was little Phan Thị Kim Phúc running naked screaming, “Too hot, too hot!” with burning napalm plastered to her back. The hot potato of judicial acquiescence naturally fell to Thurgood Marshall, one of America’s first black faces in the limousines. With the dignified authority of Prissy birthin’ babies, our ultimate judges held that the bombardment “may ultimately be adjudged to have been not only unwise but also unlawful.”

The court backpedaled furiously from that unnerving brush with adult responsibility. From the ensuing frenzy of judicial forelock-tugging, including United States v. Nixon, Snepp v. United States, and Haig v. Agee, CIA cherry-picked the precedent and seized on “utmost deference” as their magic words to dispel unwelcome scrutiny. Along the way Judge Robert Vance poked his nose into CIA drug trafficking and got himself blown up, and that was that.2 Now the courts know their place.

CIA’s contempt of court is now a hallowed institution. Our idea of a judge is Clarence Thomas, the comically bent speak-no-evil curio that DCI Bush placed on the bench. Prospective lawyers need someone else to look up to. More than any other US legal institution, Harvard Law School bears the burden of taking smart people and brainwashing the sense out of them. Harvard ossified the profession with the case method in the kleptocratic nadir of the Gilded Age. By the 1980s, thirty years of CIA impunity and international disgrace had made US law a laughingstock worldwide. Harvard’s dubious prestige did not protect it from the general rot. Everyone there knew Watergate hero Archibald Cox as the goon who turned a mob of unbadged cops loose on the antiwar occupiers of University Hall. It was harder to get people to perform Paper Chase pomposity. So it was probably unavoidable that Harvard slipped up and hired some smart-aleck teachers.

These were the adherents of Critical Legal Studies or CLS. They helped professors’ secretaries form unions. They called war in Grenada illegal. One of their sympathizers went so far as to sue the USA for war on Nicaragua, and not in a pliant American rubber-stamp court like the Supreme Court where you knew what would happen, but in the World Court. They helped all sorts of powerless people who got screwed by their predatory state. The ferment spawned an enemy within, a revolutionary cell of student pranksters that called itself the Counter-Hegemonic Front. Someone started a Human Rights Program at the law school, undermining frantic statist efforts to wall off human rights from US law. The CLS thinkers made mincemeat of the traditional plodders’ trade-school verities. They showed how legal slogans and nostrums make lawyers into earnest tools of a criminal state.

For youthful exuberance liberated from the soul-murdering tedium of legal regurgitation, what did the case method hacks have to offer? Nothing. While CLS partisans backed students fighting Apartheid, the old guard shooed them off to spread kumbaya coaching soccer at white Afrikaner schools. So the would-be Kingsfields did what they could. In dreary bureaucratic campaigns the old mediocrities made an example of a few of the smartest, mobbing them in meetings, writing 80-page memos of eye-glazing scholastic invidia, running to the president to get them fired in double-secret panels. Their adversaries countered by winning hearts and minds: CLS professors showed greedy student sellouts how their rigorous methods could be applied to the cynical sophistry of corporate law.

US lawyers’ indoctrination came to be policed by the Federalist Society, founded by influential legal crook Ed Meese. The society fought human rights with their thought-stopping shibboleth “treaty law.” An uneasy ideological equipoise returned as Harvard degenerated in lockstep with its statist culture. Now an unprecedented mass of undergraduate cheaters, half the class, has been admonished or sent down and let back in. The last of them have issued from their educational peristalsis, swirled in ignominy, and made it big, but now the prized foreign princelings who valued the Harvard brand as a status symbol increasingly prefer European universities, where societies are less violent and civil-law traditions are more compatible with world-standard principles of comity like human rights.3 Fewer outsiders need learn to prop up a criminal enterprise like the USA. Historian Johan Huizinga showed how the ethos of chivalry became more and more rigid in a parasitic class of knights, and a joke to everybody else. That’s happening now, worldwide, with the doctrinal absurdities of US government and law. The whole world knows your lawgivers are shitheads.

In the Human Rights Committee’s 2014 review of the US, the chair gave a remarkable summation.4 “The idea of the country being a nation of laws, not of men, is hard-wired into the state’s civic DNA.” The consummate diplomat complimented and qualified, sought common ground, then proceeded to give the US delegation a remedial lesson in basic legal reasoning and reading comprehension.

Acknowledging the US government’s “principled approach to the interpretation of treaties,” the chair said, “I hope I am not being accused of being ironic if I express difficulty in understanding what the principles are.” He then gave them basic instruction in the black-letter law of legal interpretation, introduced the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and showed them how to apply it step-by-step through “a perfectly ordinary grammatical reading,” and if confusion somehow persists, how it is to be disposed of in terms of the stated object and purpose of the treaty. What he found really troubling was the example the US set. He left implicit that if every country interpreted treaties so dishonestly, law would degenerate to nonsense.

The chair then addressed the problem of impunity for US government torturers. “One can imagine that they might not be easily prosecuted as a result of spurious legal memoranda” from officials who are themselves protected by the impunity program. “You wouldn’t have to do an international human rights law course maybe to think that such a, such legal, advice deserved some question.” His exasperation mounted as he spoke of the government’s reflex resort to its all-purpose ritual incantation, national security, and its senseless state sadism, a seeming raison d’être of “victimizing victims.” He finally confessed himself baffled: “many of my colleagues might find it as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.”

The US government makes a fetish of law but they don’t know what they’re talking about. They seem to think law’s some sort of Alice in Wonderland off-with-her-head arrangement. He asked them what we all want to know: You people can’t be that stupid, What’s wrong with you?

At Penn Law, with its faintly subversive milieu, they used to sell tee shirts printed with Dick the Butcher’s comprehensive program from Henry VI. His wisdom passed into US mass culture in the form of the traditional couplets known as jokes:

What do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?
A good start.

Indeed, we call that fat hairy corpse at Cibolo Creek Ranch a start.

c.f.5

  1. Israeli arms dealer Simon Yelnik and his ilk sent arms to Liberia. Charles Taylor paid for them with diamonds extracted from Sierra Leone. The Israel Diamond Exchange traded and exported diamonds from Taylor’s diggers. Internment camps like Mapeh functioned as a miners’ hiring hall. Other diggers were impressed as needed in the bush.
  2. When the designated bomber’s conviction collapsed in spectacular prosecutorial malfeasance, he was trundled off to Alabama’s death row for safekeeping. He was executed this past spring, preventing the sort of awkward appeals that make a nuisance of lone nuts Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray.
  3. And the crucial check and balance of saisit le juge.
  4. Human Rights Committee, 110th Session: United States, Part 3, beginning at 2:28.
  5. What is the difference between a lawyer and a rooster?
    When a rooster wakes up in the morning, its primal urge is to cluck defiance.

    – anent legal whistleblowers like Coleen Rowley. The maxim applies equally to consultants. John Weed was a virtuosic nuclear effects modeler who would unwind shooting pumpkins with M1 machine guns. Salt of the earth, in short, a latter-day Wat Tyler, the best of Castle Langley’s restive peasants. He suffers from a sense of right and wrong. Transparency activist and human rights defender John Weed, we thank you for your service. You are the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

Americans Are as Spacey as Ever

The white race – and I mean Israeli, Iberian, Slovak, Anglo-Saxon, Caucasian, and the lot of us – is crazy. We do not need Susan Sontag to declare the white race as cancer on the world to ramify the point, since it’s been more than 50 years since she declared:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

The zenith of this insanity, of course, encompasses the world leaders of all those European nations, the UK, Australia, that demented cabal in Tel Aviv, the amazing daft of Americanos, and the entire lot who works the wormhole of destruction and continuing hollowing out with that soft shoe power of money, might and ethos that states “we don’t need no stinking ethics . . . and we kill the world at will.”

I’m working daily with homeless veterans, and the reality of what it means to have Trump or Clinton or Bernie or any of them in the leeching single party of Demons-RepubliRats running the show is that it’s a prostitute’s game of the highest order: homeless with property debts, evictions, miles and miles of contracts to pay back worthless schooling (degrees), mental health not being treated, crimes invented and prosecuted against them, endless toil in lines of bureaucracy, the trauma of substance abuse and then sobriety, the end game of just wanting to get a cheap house to call home to fortify against the constant chatter of the money launderers and repo men.

Reality is Americans in large part are broken, man, and their progeny are a hop, skip and a jump from disability classification, as each new birth is a crap-shoot of this or that physiological, genetic and mental impingement. Debilitating and lifelong scarlet letters of Double D-B-C-E at birth stitched on their Triple X sleeveless Budweiser T-shirts.

Disabled/Debt-ridden, Broken/Blank-Bankrupted, and Crippled/Corrupted, Epigenetic/ER-prone, at birth, as the psychological torturers bring to us more and more hormone-disrupting, DNA-warping, mental-draining and spiritual-tapping goods and services that have shackled us to a system of obsolescence, delusion, propaganda, and penury. We are not a united nation of anything but belief in the cartoonish ideology we are Number One and Ever-Conquering, yet the Chinese-made bombs bursting in air, hormone-drenched spare ribs, and GMO/pesticide-infused high fructose corn syrup Everything Goes Better with CocaCola on that one static day, July 4, push us to believe the lies, the big lie and the impending extinction of our own history.

Pondering the universe of delusional thinking, I am only 61, yet I feel like Rip Van Winkle, or worse, living my last third of life (if I get that lucky) inside the slipstream of human depravity on every level – from the bowels of the belly of the beast, to the syphilitic thinking of the star chamber levelers with their billions, their bots, their vision of a world tied to their modified DNA strains, existing someplace floating on ten thousand tethered space stations, near the reflection of their apple of their Dystopian eye, Mars.

A world colluding with the masters of consumption, addiction to fossil fuels, chemicals, wars, brain-barrier hacking entertainment, and the concomitant insanity of carving away species after species, while polluting precious fresh water, razing coral reefs, over-harvesting oceans, and living lifestyles where the cracked calories of cooked HomoConsumpithectus’ food and the endless pitching withdrawals of HomoRetailopithectus’ proclivity to sex, drugs, gambling, shopping, stupidity will forever shape the death of Earth’s ecosystems as we have known them up close and personal and through the bio-paleo-chemical microscopic records we have set as marching orders for our scientists and ecologists who are inevitably ignored at every turn of the Point Zero One Percent’s gluttony and narcissism.

The dream and the hope are now a requiem, lost on the flow of sperm through the epididymis, as we further unlock the barriers to a healthy society: how even the lumbering, pigsty physiology of the progenitor sperm donator HomoConsumopithectus can express the further quickening of the zygote’s snowball’s chance in hell gestating into anything but a cancer-seeded, on-the-spectrum, continual chronic fatigue syndrome child.

The number of people on planet earth – not just in the Chronic Exceptional Diseased America – with chronic illness and dripping concentration and retrograde humanity – is huge, largely tied to the superstition of  fascist religion and unending exploitation of each square acre of god’s green earth. This new normal of fear-at-birth and flagging-constitutions whereby the human race is racing away from the solutions to the disease of the mind and the pollution of land-atmosphere-air-water is not only unholy and denuding of spirit, but exactly what the Captains of Industry and Masters of the Gigabytes and Algorithms desire.

Choices, man: flipping burgers or humping backpacks in the US Military; lifetime debt for meaningless college degrees or the drudgery of working two or three jobs in the service and precarious economy; dealing into the game of American Castes or isolating in a world of addiction, pollution and surveillance?

Choices turning Americans into spies and enemies, suckers and marks, a deployed army of tens of millions ball-and-chained to the disease of fearing a worthy death in order to overthrow the powers, the militaries, and the mad men and women crafting the biggest lies since a resurrection and second coming.

Oddly, working with homeless veterans battling meth, opioids, booze, PTSD, disabilities from military service, and a cart-load of criminal convictions, I still come out daily with a sense of purpose and confidence that one man, one woman, can do something revolutionary, even in this I-Spy Sicko World of Plastic Futures. It’s the forest, not the single tree, that is diseased. The unending stupidity of the collective, whereby we allow the mighty dollar to hold sway over everything – trillions spent on the military’s implements of welfare/warfare while our collective mouths rot; the millions upon millions of babies born with birth defects and learning disabilities because we can’t muster up a collective” Hell No We Aren’t Going to Take These” chemicals sprayed on and in everything.

A study in mice conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) suggests that a woman’s risk of anxiety and dysfunctional social behavior may depend on the experiences of her parents, particularly fathers, when they were young. The study, published online in Biological Psychiatry, suggests that stress caused by chronic social instability during youth contributes to epigenetic changes in sperm cells that can lead to psychiatric disorders in female offspring across multiple generations.

Obese male mice and normal weight female mice produce female pups that are overweight at birth through childhood, and have delayed development of their breast tissue as well as increased rates of breast cancer.

The findings, published online June 24 in Scientific Reports by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers, come from one of the first animal studies to examine the impact of paternal obesity on future generations’ cancer risk.

The researchers say they’ve found evidence that obesity changes the microRNA (miRNA) signature—epigenetic regulators of gene expression—in both the dad’s sperm and the daughter’s breast tissue, suggesting that miRNAs may carry the epigenetic information from obese dads to their daughters.

We are looking at a globe that navel gazes at these cretins – Multimillionaire Obamas, Clintons, Bush, and the deadly misanthropic billionaires club of the Gates-Bezos-Trump-Adelson- et al, and the dirty dealings of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, Holly-Dirt and the like. The attention span is square on the Tweet or the argumentative average American who will question a thousand PhDs working on climate change with his or her community college education.

So, no matter how homogenized the elites’ churned-out mush is, for instance, proclaiming how the world is so much less violent now than fifty years ago (another troll, Stephen Pinker), the reality is the white race is bent on hobbling the rest of the world with the pollution, indentured servant status, and disease creation to feed the most violent time in history of constant structural violence, mass incarceration, mass delusion, mass toxin-creating, hyper-caste generating. We are here, in a process of withering away, slowly, as this Tinhorn Country pokes holes in any common fabric the world holds sacred.

Stephen Pinker is wrong about the World of Enlightened Peoples Is Less Violent, easily beaten down here by a splendid writer:

There is something repellently absurd in the notion that war is a vice of “backward” peoples. Destroying some of the most refined civilizations that have ever existed, the wars that ravaged south-east Asia in the second world war and the decades that followed were the work of colonial powers. One of the causes of the genocide in Rwanda was the segregation of the population by German and Belgian imperialism. Unending war in the Congo has been fueled by western demand for the country’s natural resources. If violence has dwindled in advanced societies, one reason may be that they have exported it.

Then again, the idea that violence is declining in the most highly developed countries is questionable. Judged by accepted standards, the United States is the most advanced society in the world. According to many estimates the US also has the highest rate of incarceration, some way ahead of China and Russia, for example. Around a quarter of all the world’s prisoners are held in American jails, many for exceptionally long periods. Black people are disproportionately represented, many prisoners are mentally ill and growing numbers are aged and infirm. Imprisonment in America involves continuous risk of assault by other prisoners. There is the threat of long periods spent in solitary confinement, sometimes (as in “supermax” facilities, where something like Bentham’s Panopticon has been constructed) for indefinite periods – a type of treatment that has been reasonably classified as torture. Cruel and unusual punishments involving flogging and mutilation may have been abolished in many countries, but, along with unprecedented levels of mass incarceration, the practice of torture seems to be integral to the functioning of the world’s most advanced state.

Funny stuff, that which precipitates my noggin: Was reading this writer’s (Karl Schroeder) take on what it means to Escape the Default Future When Writing Science Fiction:

There’s a term that futurists use: “the default future.” The default future is what we assume is going to happen, as a matter of obvious fact. Its assumptions are so deeply ingrained that we don’t even know they’re there. For instance, current popular culture typically imagines one of just three possible future Earths: an Orwellian dystopia, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or a space-faring urban hypercivilization.

But should we? Sharing the wealth among nine billion will be hard. In many nations, birth-rates are on the decline. Shouldn’t we encourage that trend?

Here’s a proposal: let’s get smaller. Imagine a future where the economy is increasingly automated and taps into the infinite resources of outer space; and where humanity shares a core of common goods such as Universal Basic Income, Universal Healthcare, and free education. These aren’t fantasies, they’re trends. Now add to this mix a naturally declining population that retains its genetic diversity. The formula for our future becomes: more and more wealth, divided among fewer and fewer people.

In material terms alone, the results are staggering. Imagine if your family owned Paris? Or was responsible for tending the Catskill Mountains? What does wealth mean when robotics, automation and AI mean that each person can have, not money or an income, but his or her own economy? When kids learn history by reenacting the Battle of the Somme with real robot armies? When you don’t watch movies, you have the entire story including sets, car chases and crowd scenes, played out for you by troops of android players?

And here we are, these elitists and thought experimenters, sticking their intellectual tongues out at us, the majority of us, 6 billion-plus, pontificating about a world that is less violent or one that can be depopulated for a cool million, or how better the world is with a point-zero-zero-one Percent controlling us with their flimflam ideas, their products, their tools of oppression, their war is peace simulated psycho-babble. We are subject to their whims, their marketing, and their disease-generating ideologies — arrogance, chauvinism, immorality, all things filtered through the American lens/ White Race’s Lens, that is.

So I come to the end of this screed, precipitated by the daily sin of living and working in America as my fellow Americans (sic) become more and more punch drunk crazy on their own self-admiration. But also catalyzed by some insipid article,

New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

The premise is that Homo erectus failed to mine better materials to be more efficient (killers) and more widely spread-out hunters. Ironically, the fool’s errand is we as a society/ dominator civilization are absolutely lazy when it comes to our daftness around this collapsing planet, dying ecosystems and soon-to-be-extinct millions of species. Climate change and mitigating that existential crisis, which we have failed tremendously at, we have proven our Homo Sapiens ilk as both lazy and lazier than any Homo erectus that may have been eliminated by more warring and consumptive species, now,  HomoConsumpithectus.

Terms like least effort strategies and they did not have that sense of wonder we have come from this Australian anthropologist’s mouth in his dusting off of Homo erectus gathering sites.

The arrogance of this thinking, that they — Homo erectus — knew the better stone was there but decided against it because they felt they had enough adequate raw materials and decided against rarefied tool making. He goes on to say that the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, “who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances,” outstripped our progenitor clan Homo erectus as survivors.

Shipton (the Aussie) states this is a failure to progress technologically, and as their environment dried out into a desert, the Homo erectus species’ population’s demise was inevitable.

Ironic, really, now as we Homo/Retail/Consumo-Sapiens have worked so hard to rape the planet and chug out toxins and greenhouse gases that we are failing more than any other past species in our line to grapple with this greenhouse gas inevitability —

The study, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As for what to do to prevent a hothouse Earth, it’s easier said than done: Decarbonize the world economy, end deforestation, improve farming techniques and promote carbon-capture technologies, among other recommendations.

This can “only be achieved and maintained by a coordinated, deliberate effort by human societies to manage our relationship with the rest of the Earth system, recognizing that humanity is an integral, interacting component of the system,” according to the study. “Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia.”

This is August 2018, and yet, my slipstream life intersects daily sometimes dozens of times with the chauvinism of partial truths, counter-intuitive stasis, collective unknowing, and frequent mistruths.

I have new ways to teach and work with this blind thinking, but in one sense, I find the white race in America log-jammed, and even around sincere and fairly robustly interested folk, there are blind sides.

Imagine, we eat apples year round. Sometimes apples in the store are 14 months old, meaning we are tricked into eating foods out of season, out of our own bio-region. Apples are picked, then warehoused away in a place where oxygen is cut back to a low percentage, the temperature is just a touch above 32 degrees, and the skins sprayed on with fungicides. The problem is that these apples lose their antioxidant power quickly —  polyphenols.

The apple is a microcosm of the entire broken system of addiction to oil, embedded energy out the roof, bad choices, and what that Australian anthropologist might want to look at sociologically by seeing his own species, and his own brethren — science and technology —  as the perpetrators of humanity’s demise. But, oh, we are a busy-busy species, making those Homo erectus die-offs look like the ultimate slackers!

Socialism or Barbarism?

Being run by business, American culture suffers from an overwhelming preponderance of stupidity. When a set of institutions as reactionary as big business has a virtual monopoly over government and the media, the kinds of information, entertainment, commentary, ideologies, and educational policies on offer will not conduce to rationality or social understanding. What you’ll end up with is, for instance, an electorate 25 percent of whose members are inclined to libertarianism. And the number is even higher among young people. That is to say, huge numbers of people will be exposed to and persuaded by the propaganda of the Cato Institute, the magazine Reason, Ayn Rand’s novels, and Milton Friedman’s ideological hackery to express their rebellious and anti-authoritarian impulses by becoming “extreme advocates of total tyranny,” to quote Chomsky. They’ll believe, as he translates, that “power ought to be given into the hands of private, unaccountable tyrannies,” namely corporations. They’ll think that if you just get government out of the picture and let capitalism operate freely, unencumbered by regulations or oversight or labor unionism, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. And they’ll genuinely believe they’re being subversive and anarchistic by proposing such a program.

The spectacle of millions adhering to such a breathtakingly stupid ideology would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. I’m an atheist, but Christianity strikes me as a more rational—and moral—religion than this “libertarian” (really totalitarian) one of absolute faith in universal privatization, marketization, corporatization, and commoditization. To be a so-called libertarian is to be deplorably ignorant of modern history, economics, commonsense sociology, human psychology, and morality itself. (Regarding morality: if the Golden Rule is an essential maxim, then the communist slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” which is basically a derivative of the Golden Rule, is fundamental to any humane social organization. Greed and Social Darwinism—every man for himself—are hardly morally luminous principles.) Given this reactionary philosophy’s intellectual sterility and the fact that it’s been refuted countless times, it’s tempting to simply ignore it. And most leftists do ignore it. But that’s a mistake, as the frightening figure quoted a moment ago (25 percent of the electorate) indicates. It’s necessary to challenge “free market” worship whenever and wherever it appears.

The economist Rob Larson has performed an important service, therefore, in publishing his new book Capitalism vs. Freedom: The Toll Road to Serfdom, the more so because the book’s lucidity and brevity should win for it a wide readership. In five chapters, Larson systematically demolishes the glib nostrums of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (in the process also dispatching those other patron saints of the right wing, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard). Even the book’s title is highly effective: the message “capitalism vs. freedom” should be trumpeted from the hills, since it challenges one of the reigning dogmas of our society. Liberals and leftists themselves sometimes buy into the view that capitalism promotes freedom, arguing only that socialist equality and justice are more important than capitalist freedom. But this is a false framing of the issue. The fact is that socialism, which is to say workers’ democratic control of the economy, not only means greater equality and justice than capitalism but also greater freedom, at least for the 99 percent. It is freedom, after all, that has inspired anarchists and even Marxists, including Marx himself.

Larson begins with a brief discussion of two concepts of freedom, negative and positive (a distinction that goes back, as he notes, at least to Isaiah Berlin). Crudely speaking, negative freedom means the absence of external constraint, of a power that can force you to act in particular ways. Positive freedom is the ability or opportunity actually to realize purposes and wishes, to “control your destiny,” so to speak. It involves having the means to satisfy desires, as when you have the means to assuage hunger, be adequately clothed and sheltered, and have adequate sanitation. Positive freedom can be thought of as “freedom to,” whereas negative freedom is “freedom from.” Classical liberals like John Stuart Mill and modern conservatives like Friedman and Hayek are more concerned with negative freedom, which explains their desire for a minimal state; socialists are concerned also with positive freedom, sometimes believing that a stronger state (e.g., a social democracy) can help ensure such freedom for the majority of people.

Friedman and Hayek argued that free-market capitalism, with minimal intervention by the state, is the surest guarantee of negative liberty. Larson’s book is devoted mainly to refuting this belief, which is widely held across the political spectrum; but it also defends the less controversial claim that capitalism is incompatible with widespread positive liberty too. “Capitalism,” Larson writes, “withholds opportunities to enjoy freedom (required by the positive view of freedom) and also encourages the growth of economic power (the adversary of liberty in the negative view of freedom).” That concentrations of economic power in themselves threaten negative liberty might be challenged, but this is a weak argument, among other reasons because it’s clear that centers of (economic) power will tend to dominate and manipulate the state in their own interest. They’ll construct coercive apparatuses to subordinate others to their power, which will itself enable further accumulations of power, etc., until finally the society is ruled by an oligarchy. Thus, from “pure” capitalism you get an oligarchy with the power to coerce.

However obvious this point may seem to those possessed of common sense, it’s far from obvious to libertarians and most conservatives. According to Friedman, “the kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.” Here we encounter the typical naïve idealism of conservatives (and, indeed, of centrists and liberals), which I’ve discussed at length here. Rather than analyzing the real conditions of real social structures, conservatives traffic in airy abstractions about “freedom,” “the separation of political and economic power,” the lofty virtues of “competitive capitalism,” and so on. Evidently it doesn’t occur to Friedman that economic power will tend to confer political power, and therefore that, far from offsetting each other, the two will be approximately fused. The economically powerful might not directly hold political office, but because of the resources they possess, they’ll have inordinate power and influence over political leaders. This is intuitively obvious, but it’s also borne out by empirical research.

It’s worth pointing out, too, something that Larson doesn’t really focus on: within corporations, freedom, even negative freedom, is severely curtailed. In the absence of a union, the employee has hardly any rights. There’s no freedom of expression, for example, and the boss can threaten you, manipulate you however he wants, verbally abuse you, behave horrendously towards you with probably no repercussions for himself. Capitalism, in fact, is a kind of fragmented totalitarianism, as privately totalitarian corporate entities proliferate all over society and constitute its essential infrastructure, its foundation. The more oligopolistic they become, to some degree even fused with the state, the less “fragmented” and more dangerous the totalitarianism is. Eventually the “libertarian” millennium might be achieved in which all countervailing forces, such as unions, are eradicated and the population is left wholly at the mercy of corporations, reveling in its sublime freedom to be totally dominated.

Anyway, to resume the thread: Larson is right that “in portraying [the] concentration of money in society as a reasonable development”—e.g., as a reward for successfully competing against other capitalists—“the libertarian tradition completely dismisses the power of concentrated money.” Hayek, for example, claims that in a “competitive society” (a meaningless abstraction: different kinds of societies can be “competitive”) nobody possesses excessive power. “So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people.” Okay, fine, maybe not exclusive power, but to the degree that property is divided among fewer and fewer owners, these people can achieve overwhelming power to determine the income and position of others. Such as by acquiring greater “positive freedom” to dominate the state in their interests and against the interests of others, who thus proportionately lose positive freedom and possibly (again) even negative freedom; e.g. if the wealthy can get laws passed that restrict dissidents’ right to free speech or free assembly.

More generally, it goes without saying that positive freedom is proportional to how much money you have. It apparently doesn’t bother most libertarians that if you’re poor and unable to find an employer to rent yourself to (in the gloriously “free, voluntary, and non-coercive” labor market), you won’t be able to eat or have a minimally decent life. Hopefully private charities and compassionate individuals will come forward to help you; but if not, well, it’s nothing that society as a whole should care about. Strictly speaking, there is no right to live (or to have shelter, food, health care, education, etc.); there is only a right not to be interfered with by others (except in the workplace). What a magnificent moral vision.

Libertarians admit that concentrations of wealth emerge in capitalism, but they deprecate the idea that capitalism leads to competition-defeating market concentration in such forms as oligopolies, monopolies, and monopsonies (like Wal-Mart). Usually these are created, supposedly, by government interference. But most businessmen and serious scholars disagree, pointing, for instance, to the significance of economies of scale. The famous business historian Alfred Chandler showed that many industries quickly became oligopolistic on the basis, in large part, of economies of scale. Historian Douglas Dowd observes that large-scale industrial technology has made it both necessary for firms to enlarge and possible for them to control their markets, while Australian economist Steve Keen argues that “increasing returns to scale mean that the perfectly competitive market is unstable: it will, in time break down [into oligopoly or monopoly].”

Larson might have gone further in this line of argument by emphasizing just how much capitalists hate market discipline—i.e., the “free market”—and are constantly trying to overcome it. They’re obsessed with controlling markets, whether through massive advertising campaigns, destruction or absorption of their competitors, price-fixing and other forms of collusion, or the formation of hundreds of trade associations. The historian Gabriel Kolko’s classic study The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900–1916 revealed that the hatred of market anarchy is so extreme that Progressive-Era oligopolists were actually the main force behind government regulation of industry (to benefit business, not the public), as with the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act. Andrew Carnegie and Elbert H. Gary, head of U.S. Steel, even advocated government price-fixing! So much for the corporate propaganda about how wonderful free markets are.

If government regulation is primarily responsible for monopoly elements in industries, as Friedman and Hayek argue, then you’d think that the deregulation tsunami of the neoliberal era would have led to greater competition across the economy. Did it? Not exactly. Larson quotes a Forbes article:

Since freight railroads were deregulated in 1980, the number of large, so-called Class I railroads has shrunk from 40 to seven. In truth, there are only four that matter… These four superpowers now take in more than 90% of the industry’s revenue… An estimated one-third of shippers have access to only one railroad.

Quod erat demonstrandum. But there are many other examples. The deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposed to throw open the industry to competition; what it accomplished, according to the Wall Street Journal, was “a new phase in the hyper-consolidation of the cable industry… An industry that was once a hodgepodge of family-owned companies has become one of the nation’s most visible and profitable oligopolies.” These trends have occurred throughout the media, on a global scale.

The same consolidation is found in the airline industry, where deregulation “set off a flurry of mergers” (as the Journal notes), “creating a short roster of powerful giants. And consumers are, in many cases, paying the price.” In fact, it’s well known that deregulation has facilitated an enormous wave of mergers and acquisitions since the 1980s. (Similarly, the big businesses, and later the mergers, of the Gilded Age appeared in a time of little public regulation.) All this market-driven oligopolization has certainly not increased consumer freedom, or the freedom of anyone but the top fraction of one percent in wealth.

Speaking of communications and the media, another classic libertarian claim is hollow: far from encouraging a rich and competitive diversity of information and opinion, the free market tends to narrow the spectrum of opinion and information sources. When Hayek writes of totalitarian governments that “The word ‘truth’ ceases to have its old meaning. It describes no longer something to be found, with the individual conscience as the sole arbiter… it becomes laid down by authority,” referring to the “spirit of complete cynicism as regards truth…the loss of the sense of even the meaning of truth,” it is easy to think he’s describing the mass media in the heavily capitalist United States. For one thing, because of scale economies and other market dynamics, over time fewer and fewer people or groups can afford to run, say, a successful and profitable newspaper. Across the West, in the twentieth century competition eventually weeded out working-class newspapers that had fewer resources than the capitalist mass media, and the spectrum of information consumed by the public drastically narrowed. “Market forces thus accomplished more than the most repressive measures of an aristocratic state,” to quote the authors of an important study.

At the same time, the sources of information became less and less independent, due to the development of the advertising market. Advertisers “acquired a de facto licensing power because, without their support, newspapers ceased to be economically viable.” As Edward Herman says, it wasn’t the final consumer’s but the advertiser’s choices that determined media prosperity and survival, and hence the content (broadly speaking) of the news and opinion pieces. Moreover, the media increasingly consisted of giant corporations who had basically the same interests as advertisers anyway. The result corresponded less to Friedman’s slogan Free to Choose than to Edward Bernays’ slogan Free to Imagine That We Choose (because what we’re choosing from is a narrow range of corporate and government propaganda).

Capitalism vs. Freedom also has a chapter on “political freedom,” and another on the “freedom of future generations”—which is nonexistent in a strictly capitalist society because future generations have no money and therefore no power. They have to deal with whatever market externalities result from their ancestors’ monomaniacal pursuit of profit. Including the possible destruction of civilization from global warming, a rather large externality. Even in the present, the IMF has estimated that the “external” costs of using fossil fuels, counting public health effects and environmental ramifications, are already $5 trillion a year. Again, this should suggest to anyone with a few neurons still functioning that markets aren’t particularly “efficient.” Especially considering the existence of major public goods that are undersupplied by the market, such as roads, bridges, sanitation systems, public parks, libraries, scientific research, public education, and social welfare programs. What do Friedman and Hayek think of these things? Well, Hayek was writing for a Western European audience, so he had to at least pretend to be reasonable. “[T]he preservation of competition [is not] incompatible with an extensive system of social services,” he wrote, which leaves “a wide and unquestioned field for state activity.” Okay. But that’s a significant concession. Apparently his “libertarianism” wasn’t very consistent.

For Friedman, public goods should be paid for by those who use them and not by a wealthy minority that is being taxed against its wishes. “There is all the difference in the world,” he insists, “between two kinds of assistance through government that seem superficially similar: first, 90 percent of us agreeing to impose taxes on ourselves in order to help the bottom 10 percent, and second, 80 percent voting to impose taxes on the top 10 percent to help the bottom 10 percent.” Thus, the wealthy and powerful shouldn’t have to pay taxes to maintain services from which they don’t directly benefit. We shouldn’t subtract any of the positive freedom from people who have an enormous amount of it (i.e., of power, the concentration of which libertarians are supposed to oppose) in order to give more positive freedom to people who have very little of it. That would be unforgivably compassionate.

Most of Larson’s chapter on political freedom consists of salutary reminders of how politics actually works in the capitalist United States. Drawing on Thomas Ferguson’s investment theory of party competition, Larson describes the political machinations of big business, the concerted and frequently successful efforts to erode the positive and negative freedoms of the populace, the permanent class war footing, the fanatical union-busting, the absurdly cruel austerity programs of the IMF (which, again, serve but to crush popular freedom and power), and the horrifying legacy of European and U.S. imperialism around the world. Readers who want to learn more about the dark side of humanity can consult William Blum’s Killing Hope, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (which also describes Hayek and Friedman’s love-affairs with neo-Nazi Latin American generals), Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization, and most of Noam Chomsky’s books. In light of all these practices and policies that have emerged, directly or indirectly, out of the dynamics of the West’s market economy, to argue that capitalism promotes human freedom is to be a hopeless intellectual fraud and amoral minion of power.

(If that judgment sounds harsh, consider this gem from Hayek, directed against measures to ensure worker security: “It is essential that we should relearn frankly to face the fact that freedom can be had only at a price and that as individuals we must be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve our liberty.” More exactly, working-class individuals have to make severe sacrifices to preserve the liberty of the capitalist class.)

In fact, to the extent that we have freedom and democracy at all, it has been achieved mainly through decades and centuries of popular struggle against capitalism, and against vicious modes of production and politics (including slavery and Latin American semi-feudalism) that have been essential to the functioning of the capitalist world-economy. Göran Therborn’s classic article “The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy” gives details, as does Howard Zinn’s famous People’s History of the United States.

Larson, unlike the charlatans whose work he reviews, actually does believe that “concentrated power is opposed to human freedom,” so he dedicates his final chapter to briefly expositing a genuinely libertarian vision, that of socialism. Here I need only refer to the work of such writers as Anton Pannekoek, Rudolf Rocker, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Murray Bookchin, and others in the anarchist and/or left-Marxist tradition. There’s a lot of talk of socialism these days, but few commentators (except on the left) know what they’re talking about. For instance, like Hayek and Friedman, they tend to equate socialism with state control, authoritarianism, the Soviet Union, and other boogeymen. This ignores the fact that anarchism, which reviles the state, is committed to socialism. So virtually all mainstream commentary on socialism is garbage and immediately refuted from that one consideration alone. The basic point that conservatives, centrists, and liberals refuse to mention, because it sounds too appealing, is that socialism means nothing else but worker and community control. Economic, political, and social democracy. It is, in essence, a set of moral principles that can theoretically be fleshed out in a variety of ways, for instance some preserving a place for the market and others based only on democratic planning (at the level of the neighborhood, the community, the firm, the city, the nation, etc.). The core of socialism is freedom—the absence of concentrated power—not absolute equality.

Whether a truly socialist, libertarian society will ever exist is an open question, but certain societies have approached the ideal more closely than others. The Soviet Union was, and the U.S. is, very far from socialism, while Scandinavian countries are a little closer (since the population generally has more freedom and power there than in the U.S. and the Soviet Union). The Bolivian Constitution of 2009 is vastly closer to socialism, which is to say morality and the ideal of human dignity, than the reactionary U.S. Constitution. On a smaller scale, worker cooperatives—see this book—tend to embody a microcosmic socialism.

Larson ends his book on the note sounded by Rosa Luxemburg a century ago: socialism or barbarism. Margaret Thatcher’s infamous declaration “There is no alternative” can now be given a more enlightened meaning: there is no alternative to socialism, except the destruction of civilization and maybe the human species. Morality and pragmatic necessity, the necessities of survival, now coincide. Concentrated corporate power must be dismantled and democracy substituted for it—which is a global project that will take generations but is likely to develop momentum as society experiences ever-greater crises.

In the end, perhaps Friedman, Hayek, and their ilk will be seen to have contributed to the realization of a truly libertarian program after all, albeit indirectly. For by aiding in the growth of an increasingly authoritarian system, they may have hastened the birth of a democratic opposition that will finally tear up the foundations of tyranny and lay the groundwork for an emancipated world. Or at least a world in which Friedmans and Hayeks can’t become intellectual celebrities. For now, I’d settle for that.