Category Archives: Classism

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.

When an Alien is Our Brother, Son, Friend

I think that most of us instinctively avoid people with mental illness.

I think in many ways what my films are about is that search for my grandpa’s dentures: for that humanizing narrative that bridges the gap between “us” and “them” to arrive at a “we.”
—Brian Lindstrom, documentarian

I first had my real run-in’s with “the law,” in Tucson, Arizona. Pima County Sheriff’s deputies in three vehicles were chasing me on my Bultaco 360cc, as I was cutting through dirt roads and gullies as a 15-year-old unlicensed motocrosser. The mayhem those deputies created, going after me as if I was a mass murderer.

It took six months and probably a few snitches at my high school before the knock on the classroom door of my physics class when the vice principal and two deputies greeted me. The two weaponized cops, in the hallway, handcuffed me and walked me away.

I was charged with driving a motorcycle without a license, along with 18 moving violations.

All of the charges were dropped, as my mother was well-connected to both Tucson Police Department captains and the chief of police, as well as a senator in the Arizona legislature.

Bottom line was the deputies were humiliated, over a one-year period, by my smart-ass ripping up the desert and eluding them. Without evidence that I was actually the one on the Bultaco each time I eluded them, the judge threw the cases out the window while admonishing me to wear a helmet and get a license.

It didn’t take much longer in my life to have more interfaces with cops, as I became the police reporter for both the college daily in Tucson and eventually several dailies and weeklies in Southern Arizona along the US-Mexico border.

My first real live reporter’s story on a cop shooting was when I had to cover a killing of a person with bipolar effective disorder who was in distress near Ajo, Arizona. A mother calls 911 about her son, a Vietnam veteran, drinking a lot and standing in their fenced yard talking to and yelling at ghosts. He had a six-inch Buck knife, and a tall boy PBR in the other hand. Deputy skids to a stop, comes out of the patrol car, pulls his gun, and while in a shoot-to-kill stance, mind you, on the other side of the clear demarcation of the property line to the son and mother’s double-wide trailer and shed set up, he shouts at the man to put the knife down and lay on the 120 degree desert ground with fingers laced and around his head.

The mother pleads to the cop to just back off, to not yell; her son yells back, cussing out this dude, telling him, “Don’t you come onto our property or I’ll stick you.” One thing leads to another, the distressed man charges, while still in his yard, the four-foot high fence between the police official and him. The deputy yells stop, and the Vietnam veteran tells him to fuck off and get away.

At the property line, on his family’s side of the line, the veteran waves his beer and his knife. Fifteen seconds later, the cop fires three rounds, pumping metal into the 42-year-old’s chest.

That was my first foray into investigating police policies around distressed and mentally deranged and emotionally flagging citizens.

One way to end the mental health crisis is to “shoot them out of existence” said one asshole El Paso deputy to me off the record.

Jump cut almost four decades later: Portland, Oregon. Pearl District. Daytime. Man who is deathly afraid of police is confronted by cops, runs away, is subdued, and in less than 120 minutes from the point of confrontation and while in police custody, said perpetrator is dead.

Watching Brian Lindstrom’s Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, I am reminded of my forty plus years in and around cops, with mentally distressed clients, as a social worker with homeless and re-entry and veteran clients, and as a teacher in many alternative high school programs, community college, prisons, with military students, and with adults living with developmental disabilities.

I viewed the five year old film with homeless veterans and their family members in Beaverton, Oregon. Three in the audience (including me) had heard of the James Chasse case of Portland Police slamming to the pavement a skinny 42-year-old while also kicking him, applying a Taser, and hogtying the man with schizophrenia and letting him turn ashen gray while standing around sipping Starbucks.

Lindstrom’s film is powerful on many levels, notwithstanding the filmmaker’s ability to ply through the historical record to humanize this interesting and buoyant son who was known around Portland for many years. The quintessential peeling back of the biographical onion peel is what’s compelling about the filmmaker’s approach.

Here, a quote Lindstrom, lifted from a 2013 Portland Mercury interview:

With Alien Boy, our main goal was to honor Jim and really to kind of restore the depth and dimension to Jim’s life. We wanted to restore his humanity and depth. When he died his whole existence was reduced to this headline, 42 Year Old Man with Schizophrenia Dies in Police Custody, and that’s just such a desolate interpretation of his life. Actually, it’s really just an interpretation of his death not of his life. So we painstakingly researched his life, and found friends, family, his old girlfriend, his neighbors, all these people that could talk about him and give him the kind of fullness he deserved. He lived a life of hardship. He was dealt a hard hand but he played it well. He had a lot of integrity and drive. He built a meaningful life and we really wanted to show that in the film.

Mr. Chasse was living in an SRO (subsidized single room occupancy apartment) in downtown Portland, with his own little space from where he positioned his life to survive the voices and the hardships a schizophrenic lives through attempting to be accepted and left alone as an atypical in a neuro-normal and highly judgmental world.

The promontory idea my audience participants who viewed the film expressed was how a person who lives their life disheveled and as a loner with obvious atypical clothing and demeanor can end up at the blunt end of the macho and violent world of a police force. What is really compelling are the eyewitnesses to the event – people who did not know James at the time of the brutal and misanthropic and cavalier way he was meted out injustice – and the stake they had in reviving the 42-year-old’s humanity.

As is the case in all these incidents of police brutality, overreach, and killing, the victims are rarely treated as sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, uncle and aunts, friends and neighbors. They are un-people, aliens, reduced to their prior run-ins with the law, their rap sheets, their mental states, and their resistance.

Lindstrom takes this case, and builds a life, and in the process of reportage, he is able to elicit the emotive power of those of us bearing witness to injustice, a crime against humanity, and any warped expression of the human condition vis-à-vis a cliquish and many times felonious police force. Bearing witness, we as the documentary’s viewers are compelled to see a man, Jim, whose origins are a boy, a child, a son, a boyfriend, a character in the community, and a citizen of not only Portland, Oregon, but of the world.

Image result for james chasse jr

Image result for james chasse jr

James Chasse, Jr., was a fixture in the early punk rock scene in Portland, and Lindstrom allows a kaleidoscope of memories to enter the milieu of his film. One might expect the fury of the chase, or the fear of a dark alley and known crack dealer’s crib. In the case of James Chasse, Jr., he was minding his business in his grimy state in an upscale part of Portland. That was his crime.

“I think we’re used to viewing a lot of police tragedies that are unfortunate one-time decisions about pulling a trigger,” Lindstrom says. “What’s so disturbing about this [case] is that the film reveals this cascade of deceits, omissions, and lies that lead to this terrible death, which was preventable.”

Alien Boy premiered in February 2013 at the Portland International Film Festival after six years of production. The architectonics of the film peers back into our own souls – many of us have experienced videotaped depositions, court documents, and witness interviews up close. September 17, 2006 police approached Chasse, believing he was behaving suspiciously. Herein lies the universal truth of community police forces – if you run away, you most probably will be maimed or injured by officers.

In the case of Jim, he ended up with two dozen breaks on 16 ribs. The policemen signed a waiver denying the EMT unit authority to send him to a hospital.

I’ve seen this shit in Guatemala, in Mexico, in El Paso and Spokane – a hog-tied and writhing-in-pain screaming suspect thrown in a cell, whereupon the person stops breathing or has a seizure, and then slow-to-respond jailers and deputies load the suspect into a police vehicle headed for a hospital. Jim’s level of pain was captured on video and audio, and the viewer sees the brutality of group think in the jailer-cop mindset as people stand around inside the Multnomah County Detention Center as the dying Jim Jim went white and cyanic.

Jim was dumped in a squad car where the cop who pounded him to the pavement drove him to Providence Medical Center. He died in transit, a few minutes away from the emergency room.

This film does not hearken back to some episode of Law and Order, and instead we get a wonderful and human portrait of not an alien, but a life of a man who was a seeker of art as musician, writer, and cartoonist.

Here’s the rub – men and women can live lives of dignity and worth even with mental illness and the so-called hearing voices effects of schizoid disorders. They have friends, they believe in things, they are many times artists, and they can be creative and have meaningful relationships. Lindstrom calls Jim Jim “an amazing success story … a beautiful, sensitive, fragile-yet-resilient nature.”

As a practitioner in the social services world, I have worked with hundreds of people who are looked upon by mainstream society as broken, damaged, suspect and unworthy of all the rights embedded in a democracy, part and parcel what it means to be a citizen. I’ve had clients who lived in the same subsidized apartment building Chasse lived in. This world of neuro-atypical people living in our communities is a success story when social services and the full suite of programs come in and help people like James Chasse function in the world.

Jim Jim was part of our world, and given that, we have a responsibility to honor and respect the individual. Our versus his, or us versus them, are not paradigms in 21st Century USA, and Brian Lindstrom plays out that criticism through the people he interviewed and the narrative flow of his powerful film. Unfortunately, police departments, jailers and prison authorities, and now ICE against undocumented immigrants believe that the men and women with the weapons, military gear and new super powers to harass citizens are the “us” and we are the “they.” For people with developmental, psychological and intellectual disabilities, they are at the bottom rung of “humanity” in the minds of many street-level cops.

Lindstrom has spent years confronting the stories of people he says “society kind of puts an X through.” When the audience finishes a film like Alien Boy, we come away as better people in that same collective community, many times with a greater sense of empathy.

For some, it’s not a cakewalk as this filmmaker is challenged to “expose some grit and grace, that otherwise you might not know was there, in the people you may walk by every day.”

The filmmaking involved many sealed documents and gag orders since the city and police bureau were being sued by the Chasse family. “It was an exercise in faith,” he says. “We would just show up and do the work and hope that a way would be revealed.” The floodgates of evidence opened in 2010 when the Chasse family settled for $1.6 million from the City of Portland.

The viewers last week in the homeless veteran shelter where I work asked if things had changed, and some in the audience answered:

“Hell, no. The Portland police have gotten worse. They attack protesters against ICE detention camps. They give me no evidence that they know how to deal with people in mental health crises.”

A bit of a Lindstrom’s biographical underpinning points to a Portland kid who was thinking all the time about stories he wanted to tell, and he came to the conclusion that it was film as a medium to express those narratives.

Lindstrom was the first member of his family to attend college, paying for this education at both University of Oregon and then Lewis & Clark University by working summers at a salmon cannery in Cordova, Alaska. A linchpin to Brian’s transformation into believing he would be a filmmaker occurred when communications professor Stuart Kaplan screened Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 documentary, Harvest of Shame, about the hard lives American migrant farmworkers faced producing America’s food.

“Brian was really captivated by that, and thought that that’s the kind of thing he would like to do,” Kaplan says. “Documentaries that could bring about social change.”

After graduating from Lewis & Clark, Lindstrom got into Columbia University’s film directing program, where he produced educational videos for the New York City Department of Transportation. His thesis films included a short drama adapted from a Charles Baxter short story and a five-minute documentary about the famous schoolyard basketball player Earl “The Goat” Manigault.

Brian Lindstrom

He’s connected to the NW Film School, and he’s worked with one of my old stomping grounds, Central City Concern, a Portland nonprofit that provides housing, health care, and addiction-treatment services. The fruit of his labor includes Kicking, a half-hour documentary that follows three drug addicts through the medically supervised detox process at Central City’s Hooper Detox Center, and then Finding Normal, about CCC’s Mentor program, where recovering drug addicts get housing and a peer mentor to bust the cycle of addiction, sobriety, relapse.

Today, Lindstrom works intently on other projects while also spending time with his two children and wife, writer Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling memoir, Wild, which was turned into a Hollywood film.

My quick mini-interview of Alien Boy‘s Brian Lindstrom:

Paul Haeder: What’s the lesson you take away in 2018 after making the film Alien Boy, and after the screenings, the interviews, the passage of time from that 2006 killing?

Brian Lindstrom: We need to do more to support and protect people dealing with mental illness. I naively thought, way back in 2013 when we were finishing Alien Boy, that the Justice Dept. would come in and make everything better. That hasn’t happened. I want to think the opening of Unity is a step in the right direction and takes pressure off of PPB in terms of dealing with people in mental health crises, but evidently there are some issues at Unity that need to be worked out. I want to be clear that just because I’m advocating for anything that takes the burden off of PPB dealing with people with mental illness, I am in no way condoning or excusing what the PPB did to James Chasse. What is clear to me is that we have to figure out a way to support and protect people with mental illness so that PPB isn’t the defacto mental health services provider.

PH: You make documentaries. What influence do you want these films to have on audiences? The old conundrum is as artists who cover social/environmental/cultural/community injustices we get both the 35,000 foot perspective and the two inch POV, yet in the back of our minds we say, “Shit nothing has changed … in fact, it’s worse.” Riff with this in terms specifically with how you see not only PPB dealing with people they come in contact with living with mental health diagnoses, but writ large in the USA?

BL: I have a confession to make. If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t make films for audiences. I make them for the people in the film. It is my small way of honoring them. That doesn’t mean I don’t delve into dark areas or that I ignore that person’s struggles. I’m much more concerned with trying to achieve an honest depiction of that person’s life than I am with any potential audience reaction.

PH: Why do you focus on the subject matter you have thus chosen in your documentarian body of work?

BL: It chooses me. I don’t know how else to explain it.

PH: Which story that hasn’t been told but for which you would like to see be told by anyone, or you yourself?

BL: Hmm… So many. I will go with the first that comes to mind: I’ve always wanted to make a documentary about an adult overcoming illiteracy.

PH: What advice do you give young or nascent filmmakers who want to make a difference and tell those stories that might spark a difference in our world?

BL: Grab a camera and go for it. Learn to get out of the way of the story.

PH: Anything you learned in the making of Alien Boy that you have just come to grips with?

BL: We must keep fighting for those whom life has dealt a hard hand.

PH: Why do you make documentaries?

BL: The camera is a bridge of sorts that allows me to get to know people I otherwise might never get to meet. I’m forever grateful for the brave people who have let me tell their story.

Glimmers of Hope: The Death of the Old and Arrival of the Young

If there is a silver lining in Donald Trump’s sadistic presidency, we saw it on vivid display on June 26. The victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous against establishment candidates confirm what many have been saying since last year, that Trump is one of the greatest recruiting tools the left has ever had. He is, as it were, a personification and distillation of all the evils of neoliberal capitalism, all the decadence, the corruption, the awe-inspiring greed and misanthropy, the savage disregard for humanity and all things living in the cause of a debased and orgiastic self-glorification whose telos is the self-immolation of civilization itself. Combined with the success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the barbarity of the Trump administration is inspiring a new generation of leftists.

Let’s just take a moment to revel in and reflect on the victories of June 26. In themselves they might not seem like much, at least in light of the enormity of the crises we’re facing, but it’s clear, at any rate, that Nancy Pelosi is wrong: it isn’t just one or a few districts we’re talking about, it’s a nationwide groundswell of activism against the kind of politics she symbolizes; namely, obedient service to the corporate sector. She and her elderly colleagues at the summit of the centrist power-hierarchy are on their way out, both politically and even existentially.

The ‘age’ factor is of interest and importance. On one side there are the old representatives of business, corrupted from decades at the center of power: Pelosi, 78; Steny Hoyer, 79; Jim Clyburn, 77; Maxine Waters, 79; Diane Feinstein, 85; Chuck Schumer, an impressively young 67; Patrick Leahy, 78; Dick Durbin, 73; Bill Nelson, 75; Richard Blumenthal, 72. You get the point. The 115th Congress is among the oldest in history, with an average age in the House of 58 years and an average age in the Senate of 62. (The Republican House leadership is over two decades younger than the Democratic House leadership. Fascism is a youthful, virile creed.) Given the senescence of the Democrats, the stillborn quality of their leadership is hardly a surprise.

On the other side, with the notable exception of Bernie Sanders, is relative youth. Ocasio-Cortez is 28; Jealous is 45; Kshama Sawant in Seattle is 44; Keith Ellison is 54; Dana Balter, who defeated the DCCC-supported Juanita Perez Williams in a race in New York, is 42; Chokwe Antar Lumumba, left-wing mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, is 35; and in general, a tidal wave of millennials is poised to engulf local and state politics. National organizations have sprung up to help young progressives run and win, and groups like Indivisible and the Democratic Socialists of America are proving effective in their advocacy of candidates. Young women are running in record numbers.

However fatuous it sounds, I can’t help remarking that leaders of past revolutions have tended to be quite young. Robespierre, Danton, Mirabeau, Desmoulins, Saint-Just, Brissot, and their colleagues were between their twenties and (in one case) early forties; so were Jefferson, Madison, the two Adamses, Hancock, Hamilton, and most of the other “Founding Fathers” during the American Revolution. Trotsky and most Bolsheviks were not yet 40 in 1917. Such has always been the pattern, from Thomas Müntzer in the German Peasants’ War to Castro and Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution. America, of course, is nowhere near a revolution—in fact, some such seizure of power is likely hopeless in conditions of advanced capitalism—but with the mass entrance onto the political stage of a younger generation not jaded from a lifetime of disappointment or brainwashed from old propaganda about socialism or the virtues of centrism, U.S. politics may be at the beginning of a long march to the left. Or at least away from the center, to both the semi-fascist right and, on a broader scale among the sane majority, the left.

The Democratic Party’s leadership for the last generation has served its heinous historic function of overseeing, in partnership with Republicans, the shredding of the postwar social contract, the decimation of organized labor, the global triumph of the capitalist mode of production, and the inauguration of a new Gilded Age. That was the service rendered by the likes of the Clintons, Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, the whole rotten lot of them. It was an almost wholly negative service, except in that—as Marx might see it—the class struggle has been brought to a screaming pitch of intensity and the door to radical change has once again been opened. At the nadir of the neoliberal era, with a buffoonish man-child capitalist-poster-boy at the helm of the ship of state, popular movements are beginning—one hopes—to point the way to a new political economy. Leaders can, it seems, be elected even without funding from the corporate sector, which makes them beholden only to their popular constituency. The worse things get under Trump and afterwards, the more people will be radicalized, and the better things may get in the long run.

Again, it’s worth pausing at this moment of the changing of the guard—a moment that will, of course, last years, as we wait for the old guard to die off or lose elections—to consider just how abject the leadership of the Democratic Party is. Insofar as it was ever even nominally committed to helping the poor, the working class, and minorities, it has failed abysmally. It gave us Bush and it gave us Trump, and it gave us the Bush-lite and the Trump-lite administrations of Bill Clinton and Obama. Obama wanted to be a transformative figure, and in a sense he succeeded: he transformed millions of hopeful idealists into disillusioned cynics.

But in substance the Democrats were never committed to anything like genuine populism, so their “failures” are in reality a reflection of their priorities. By their fruits ye shall know them. (It’s also true, though, that there is a remarkable amount of incompetence at the top of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for instance, was stunningly incompetent.)

Whether the Party can, even on local or state levels, be transformed from an agent of reaction to one of democracy remains to be seen. The strategy of “boring from within” has, historically, yielded disappointment after disappointment, from the Populists of the 1890s to countless attempts by organized labor to push the Party left. On the other hand, one cannot simply extrapolate the future from the past. History is not a science; with changed circumstances can come changed outcomes. In all likelihood, left-wing leaders will emerge in the context both of third parties and of the Democratic Party, which in the long run will itself become more leftist—while at the same time full of internal conflict (much as the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn has been—and the Republican Party, for that matter).

But for now, I think we’re entitled to some savoring of Joe Crowley’s defeat and some cautious optimism about the future. God knows we could use a bit of hope, after decades of defeat.

Jordan Peterson and the Threat of Working-class Intellectual and Attitudinal Liberation

Why the industry of glib and vehement mainstream character assassinations of clinical and research psychologist Jordan Peterson? My examination of Peterson’s “Rule 1: Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back” suggests that it is a seminal work anchored in a prestigious body of scientific research that should form the theoretical basis of social science in the coming years. Peterson is simply presenting this nascent scientific paradigm of the primacy of dominance hierarchy directly to the people, without an institutional filter, and using it in a cognitive therapy approach to solve the self-image catastrophe that white males in particular are experiencing. There is no valid basis for the attacks against Peterson, which are motivated by establishment machinations.

I’m a world-class scientist. I’m a physicist with an h-index of 36 (i10-index 81). I was a university professor at 29 and a full and tenured professor at 40. I’ve made discoveries in physics and some of my most cited papers are in soil and environmental science. I’m not clever in navigating society’s dominance hierarchy but I am intellectually honest and I am damn smart when it comes to understanding concepts and recognizing new phenomena.

Only those of my enemies who are professional liars (lawyers) have ever dared to call me stupid: “Mr. Rancourt is an intelligent man Your Honour”, but not repeatedly.

That is why I have been surprised to observe the deluge of strident voices, opinion leaders of our time, who use the establishment’s highest media venues to launch character assassinations of clinical and research psychologist Jordan Peterson based on… nothing.

Peterson is a fascinating media and social phenomenon worth investigating. I looked at his outstanding research record on Google Scholar and read several of his most cited and recent scientific papers. I watched several of his debates against said opinion leaders and several of his pedagogical presentations.

The scientific papers are exemplary, with correct applications of sophisticated statistical, significance and factor analysis tools. I often find sloppy and incorrect applications to be the norm in the medical field,1 for example, but not here.

In the presentations, I find clear and intelligent statements on the questions related to his many areas of expertise, and ya, some exaggerations and incorrect statements in areas where his gaze has not been objective, it appears.

For example, I don’t understand how an authentic intellectual could read the landmark works of Karl Marx and the critiques of the said work by the great anarchist theorist Kropotkin and not be thoroughly impressed by the genius of Marx, and the elements of his theory that are seminal and fundamental even if incorrectly extrapolated by Marx. I conclude that Jordan has not actually read this stuff or he is being irrational in his evaluation, for whatever reasons related to his personal history.

In my evaluation, however, Peterson’s occasional stupid summaries are entirely a result of his boldness to put ideas out there, on the fly, in his broad and continuous interactions with the world; and they remove nothing from the depth and rigour of his other written and spoken words. Even Einstein wrote naïve and silly things without the prerequisite background study: “Why Socialism?”, 1949.

Next, I decided to get myself a copy of his record-breaking best seller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. I’m a slow reader, and I read all the notes and most of the articles themselves that are cited. I have now finished up to the end of: “Rule 1: Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back”.

I thought: “Holy crap. This guy is doing something unprecedented. He is taking a nascent scientific paradigm and bringing it directly to the people, with no institutional intermediaries. Brilliant.”

I’ll explain what Peterson is doing and its significance but before I do…

I next went back to the products of the character-assassination professionals to see what the service intellectuals had said about “Rule 1”, and I looked for “Rule 1” summaries and explanations on line.

I was shocked to find the degree to which the said service intellectuals had done their job. What a distasteful spectacle. Such vile dishonesty. Only an assigned mission and attempts at opinion mobbing could produce such trash, which actually hurts the brain unless your purpose is mindless subservience to establishment spin.

What is the “nascent scientific paradigm”, which threatens key tenets of the current social engineering complex if it is not sufficiently buried? Let me be blunt. In the last decade or more, biochemists, biologists, animal behaviourists and psychologists have established proof of what some astute observers have been saying for centuries: Dominance hierarchy rules, across the animal kingdom and over evolutionary time. It is rooted in a primordial physiology and metabolic biochemistry.

The metabolism of the monoamine neurotransmitter serotonin, and the associated evolutionary biology, is the first synthesis of the new tectonic plates theory of social science, whether social scientists are aware of it yet or not. Period.

The metabolic biochemistry of dominance locks us in. No socialism theory that presumes altruistic cooperation as its organizing principle can ever work. Non-hierarchical anarchism and its libertarian cousin are useful conceptual end-points that can never be sustainably achieved. The best we can do is to have a responsive and optimally (evolutionarily) beneficial dominance hierarchy that is actively prevented from exercising pathological excess.2

Jordan is spelling this out (p. 14-15):

This is because “nature” is “what selects,” and the longer a feature has existed the more time it has had to be selected-and to shape life. It does not matter whether that feature is physical and biological, or social and cultural. All that matters, from a Darwinian perspective, is permanence—and the dominance hierarchy, however social or cultural it might appear, has been around for some half a billion years. It’s permanent. It’s real. The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism. It’s not communism, either, for that matter. It’s not the military-industrial complex. It’s not the patriarchy—that disposable, malleable, arbitrary cultural artefact. It’s not even a human creation; not in the most profound sense. It is instead a near-eternal aspect of the environment, and much of what is blamed on these more ephemeral manifestations is a consequence of its unchanging existence. We (the sovereign we, the we that has been around since the beginning of life) have lived in a dominance hierarchy for a long, long time. We were struggling for position before we had skin, or hands, or lungs, or bones. There is little more natural than culture. Dominance hierarchies are older than trees.

The part of our brain that keeps track of our position in the dominance hierarchy is therefore exceptionally ancient and fundamental. [Footnote 17: “Serotonin and dominance”, by Ziomkiewicz-Wichary, 2016] It is a master control system, modulating our perceptions, values, emotions, thoughts and actions. It powerfully affects every aspect of our Being, conscious and unconscious alike. This is why, when we are defeated, we act very much like lobsters who have lost a fight. Our posture droops. We face the ground. We feel threatened, hurt, anxious and weak. If things do not improve, we become chronically depressed. Under such conditions, we can’t easily put up the kind of fight that life demands, and we become easy targets for harder-shelled bullies. And it is not only the behavioural and experiential similarities that are striking. Much of the basic neurochemistry is the same.

Consider serotonin, the chemical that governs posture and escape in the lobster. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. This is also true of low-ranking human beings (and those low levels decrease more with each defeat). Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency—as anything whatsoever may happen, at any time, at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy (and rarely something good). Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan—among humans, just as among crustaceans. Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income—or number of decaying food scraps are held constant. The importance of this can hardly be overstated.

There is an unspeakably primordial calculator, deep within you, at the very foundation of your brain, far below your thoughts and feelings. It monitors exactly where you are positioned in society …

What the ignorant hit men against Peterson have failed to recognize is that Peterson has summarized the greatest scientific advances of the last few decades, which have immediate relevance to human anthropological consciousness—not to mention representing a direct threat to the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry.2

Peterson is doing this as part of a state-of-the-art cognitive therapy guide or companion.

How can his glib critics be oblivious to this? Simple: Their place and the place of their bosses within the dominance hierarchy are threatened.

Jordan goes on (p. 23-24) to explain the fundamental roles of anger and of fighting back, both as necessary elements of personal liberation and as the fundamental agent to prevent societal spiralling into totalitarianism. His summary on this point is brilliant, and is as seminal as Ward Churchill’s Pacifism as Pathology in the geopolitical field.

The same point is also the main thrust of my 2013 book3 and was made in my 2011 blog extract from the book:

There is no denying the first reality about humans. We are social beings, first and foremost regarding the forces that determine our lives. Our societies are hierarchical and, when not constrained by geography or balancing natural forces, spontaneously grow in size towards more hierarchy and fascism.

A recent antidote against the runaway excesses of Western monarchical and religious hierarchies has been the development of an ethos of individual freedom, spawned in the Enlightenment and anchored in mid-layer economic independence from the top hierarchical predators. …4

Peterson is not waiting for the social and medical sciences to catch up to the paradigm elucidation that has recently occurred among dominance-hierarchy pioneers. He is taking those discoveries as his world view and as the foundation for his advice to the youth.

The dominance-hierarchy view of nature is powerful and compelling, now supported by a few decades of hard science. It is a predictive model with unlimited capacity to organize our perception of the world. It is a dangerous truth, as is any truth about ourselves, which is not dominance-hierarchy-given but which instead is anchored in objective reality.

In the words of Harold Pinter:

[T]he majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
– Nobel Lecture (Literature), 2005

Peterson is having an impact because his important words are true and because oppressive false words have gone too far.

Goodiness is helpful in stabilizing the domestic dominance hierarchy, but goodiness has been co-opted and used to excess by one side of the establishment forces, the so-called “Left”. In a classic positive feedback loop—not unlike Jordan’s explanation of alcoholism—goodiness (political correctness) has achieved pathological levels and its totalitarianism is spraying dead bodies all over the landscape.

Regular white males are very publicly being told to “check their privilege” (that is, to shut the fuck up), to cower and to apologize and make amends for a historical accumulation of “toxic masculinity”. Privileged (professional class) non-white and non-male service intellectuals are recruited into a deceitful industry of supposedly fixing society by engineering language and by mounting witch hunts against perceived attitudinal blasphemy.

Dominance hierarchy theory tells us that this is a recipe for backlash. Self-image catastrophe is the dominant determinant of ill-health and is accompanied by violent outbursts or self-destruction.5

Jordan Peterson is furiously working to prevent and alleviate a violent race and gender civil war, waged by competing hierarchical exploiters, and guided by a disgusting array of careerist social managers.

Jordan Peterson is also fighting for reason and objectivity and against ideological madness.

I mean, come on:

[T]he idea that there is no binary male/female sex divide in humans is simply a vast overstatement of the fact that many other things also occur in the genital and metabolic physiology of a minority of individuals. …

That environmental factors—including culture and the violence or authoritativeness of the local social dominance hierarchy—affect both natural reproduction and the said set of sex-differentiating physiological attributes does [not] invalidate the sex binary in human society.6

Jodan’s Rule-1 explanation about gender roles (pp. 15-16) is anchored in science. His Footnote 18 is “Darwinian sex roles confirmed across the animal kingdom”, which has:

Combining Bateman’s principles with Darwin’s conception of eager males and discriminating females, the Darwin-Bateman paradigm is now the most commonly invoked concept to explain conventional sex roles (…). Specifically, it provides the conceptual framework to understand two central manifestations of conventional sex roles—female-biased parental care and male-biased sexual dimorphism.7

What is next? Are we going to pretend that sexual dimorphism is not real? Or postulate that virtually all animal behavioural studies are cultural fantasies imagined by the field observers? Are we going to throw out evolutionary biology and all of Darwin’s ideas as “male science”? Why not discount Einstein’s theories as “Jew science” while we are at it?

Look, white males are assholes, fine. But the “Words that Wound” industry service intellectuals are going too far.8 Establishment “science” can be lethal, as is literally the case with medicine,1 but that does not negate what we actually know about cell biology and metabolic reactions. Likewise, fundamental empirical discoveries about dominance and sex are not negated because Freud was off and psychiatry is a horror. You cannot simply extrapolate cherry picked scientific reports of anomalies into broad self-serving ideological conclusions.

These are the things that Jordan Peterson is responsibly questioning. Thank god.

  1. Cancer arises from stress-induced breakdown of tissue homeostasis”, by Denis Rancourt, Research Gate, December 2015, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.1304.7129.
  2. Cause of USA Meltdown and Collapse of Civil Rights”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, September 7, 2017.
  3. Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism, by Denis Rancourt, Stairway Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9859942-8-0.
  4. Individual freedom versus collective oppression as the determinative conflict in a hierarchical society”, by Denis Rancourt, Activist Teacher, August 16, 2011.
  5. Self-Image-Incongruence Theory of Individual Health”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, October 26, 2014.
  6. Respecting ‘Rules of War’ in Societal Battles: Science, Sex and Hate Speech”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, November 8, 2016.
  7. Darwinian sex roles confirmed across the animal kingdom”, by Janicke et al., Science Advances, 12 Feb 2016: Vol. 2, no. 2, e1500983 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500983
  8. “Critical Race Theory and Freedom of Speech” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Chapter 5 in: The Future of Academic Freedom, edited by Louis Menard, University of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780226520049; which is a critique of Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment, by legal scholars Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence III, Richard Delgado, and Kimberlè Crenshaw, Westview Press, 1993.

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

“The Global Elite is Insane” Revisited

In 2014 I wrote an article titled “The Global Elite is Insane.” I want to elaborate what I explained in the earlier article so that people have a clearer sense of what we are up against in our struggle to create a world of peace, justice and ecological sustainability.

Of course, as I explained previously, it is not just the global elite that is insane. All those individuals – politicians, business people, academics, corporate media editors and journalists, judges and lawyers, bureaucrats…. – who serve the elite, including by not exposing and resisting it, are also insane. And it is important to understand this if we are to develop and implement effective strategies to resist elite violence, exploitation and destruction but also avert the now-imminent human extinction driven by their insane desire for endless personal privilege, corporate profit and political control whatever the cost to Earth’s biosphere and lifeforms (human and non-human alike).

But first, who constitutes the global elite? Essentially, it is those extremely wealthy individuals – notably including the Rothschild family, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim, the Walton family and the Koch brothers – as well as the world’s other billionaires and millionaires.

Testament to their secretly and long-accumulated wealth and power, a 2012 investigation concluded that rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets – which excludes non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and race horses – in offshore tax havens.

If this sum was devoted to programs of social uplift then starvation, poverty, homelessness and other privations would vanish immediately and environmental restoration projects as well as research, development and implementation of visionary sustainability initiatives would flourish instantly. The idea of an ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ national economy would vanish from the literature on Africa, Asia and Central/South America.

In addition to these individuals, however, the global elite includes the major multinational corporations, particularly including the following – although, it should be noted, this list simplifies the picture considerably by ignoring the conglomerate nature of many of these corporations and not including many of the (more difficult to identify) private corporations that should be listed in any comprehensive presentation:

* the major weapons manufacturers (such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics)

* the major banks (including Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, HSBC Holdings, JPMorgan Chase, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Bank of America) and their ‘industry groups’ like the International Monetary Conference

* the major investment companies (including BlackRock, Capital Group Companies, FMR, AXA, and JP Morgan Chase)

* the major financial services companies (including Berkshire Hathaway, AXA, Allianz and BNP Paribas)

* the major energy corporations including coal companies (such as Coal India, Adani Enterprises, China Shenhua Energy, China Coal Energy, Mechel, Exxaro Resources, Public Power, Glencore and Peabody Energy) as well as the oil and gas corporations (such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, Rosneft, PetroChina, ExxonMobil, Lukoil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras, Chevron, Novatek, Total S.A. and Eni)

* the major media corporations (including Alphabet [Google owner], Comcast, Disney, AT&T, News Corporation, Time Warner, Fox, Facebook, Bertelsmann and Baidu)

* the major marketing and public relations corporations (including Edelman, W2O Group, APCO Worldwide, Deksia, BrandTuitive, Fearless Media, and Citizen Group)

* the major agrochemical (pesticides, seeds, fertilizers) giants (including Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont)

* the major pharmaceutical corporations (including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline)

* the major biotechnology (genetic mutilation) corporations (again including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer and Novartis)

* the major mining corporations (including Glencore Xtrata, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale, Anglo American, China Shenhua Energy, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, and Barrick Gold)

* the major nuclear power corporations (including Areva, Rosatom, General Electric/Hitachi, Kepco, Mitsubishi, Babcock & Wilcox, BNFL, Duke Energy, McDermott International, Southern, NextEra Energy, American Electric Power, and Westinghouse)

* the major food multinationals (including Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Company [ADM], Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods and Mondelez)

* the major water corporations (including Veolia, Suez Environnement, ITT Corporation, United Utilities, Severn Trent, Thames Water, American Water Works).

Of course, the global elite also includes elite fora where various combinations of elite individuals from the corporate, political, media and academic worlds gather to plan their continuing violence against, and exploitation of, the Earth and its inhabitants. This is intended to consolidate and extend their control over populations, markets and resources to maximize their privilege, profit and power at the expense of the rest of us and life generally. Among intergovernmental organizations, it includes the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

A quick perusal of the agenda of such elite gatherings – including the World Economic Forum, the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission – reveals a comprehensive lack of interest, despite rhetoric and the occasional token mention, of pressing issues ranging from the threat of nuclear war and the climate catastrophe to the many ongoing wars, deepening exploitation within the global economy, extensive range of environmental threats and the refugee crisis, each of which they generated and now continue to deliberately exacerbate. See, for example, the agenda of the recent WEF meeting in Davos.

Primary servants of the global elite include political leaders in major industrialized countries (who legislate to progressively expand elite power, profit and privilege, such as Donald Trump’s recent tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of social programs), the judges and lawyers (who defend elite power using the elite-designed and manipulated legal system: ever heard of a wealthy individual convicted in court and given any serious punishment or of any major corporation genuinely held to legal account for its exploitation of indigenous peoples or destruction of the natural environment?), as well as corporate media editors and journalists, entertainment industry personnel, academics, industry organizations (such as the European Round Table of Industrialists) that represent the interests of major corporations, so-called ‘think tanks’ (such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution) and ‘philanthropic trusts’ (such as the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations) all of which justify, ignore or divert attention from elite violence and exploitation.

Importantly too, primary servants of the global elite include those who work within elite-directed agencies, notably including those in the so-called ‘intelligence community’ (such as the US CIA, British MI6, Russian SVR RF, Chinese Ministry for State Security and Israeli Mossad), who perform elite functions in relation to spying, surveillance and secret assassinations (particularly of grassroots activists), ostensibly under the direction of national governments. But it also includes many lower-level servants such as those who work as political lobbyists or in the bureaucracy as well as the education, police and prison systems.

So why do I claim that the elite and those who serve them are insane?

Any dictionary will offer a simple definition of ‘sanity’ along the lines of ‘soundness of judgment or reason’ and ‘the ability to think and speak in a reasonable way and to behave normally’.

But if we use this definition of sanity then, obviously, ‘sanity’ must be interpreted to mean that it is ‘sound judgment, reasonable and normal’ to further perpetrate the violence and exploitation that are overwhelmingly characteristic of our world. After all, most people powerlessly accept this incredibly violent state of affairs and, if they discuss it, do so in terms of its merits, politically, economically, morally or otherwise. Few people argue, simply, that violence is just insane.

So I would like to propose a more rigorous definition of sanity: Sanity is the capacity to consider a set of circumstances, to carefully analyze the evidence pertaining to those circumstances, to identify the cause of any conflict or problem, and to respond appropriately, both emotionally and intellectually, to that conflict or problem with the intention of resolving it, preferably at a higher level of need satisfaction for all parties (including those of the Earth and all of its living creatures).

Clearly, my proposed definition of sanity is designed to imply that any conceptions we have of ‘sound judgment’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘normal’ mean that they are qualities we associate with individuals who possess the desirable capacity to improve the overall state of human affairs, whether an interpersonal relationship or geopolitically. This means, as an absolute minimum, the capacity to reduce violence or exploitation in one context or another.

You might, of course, accuse me of writing a definition of ‘sanity’ that serves my agenda to dramatically improve world order in the direction of peace, justice and sustainability. And you are right! But whose interest does it serve to have sanity defined as behavior that involves ‘sound judgment’ and is considered ‘reasonable and normal’ in the context of perpetuating extraordinary violence?

Alternatively, you might argue that my definition of insanity is too broad. Surely, you might say, we can account for many of the behaviors outlined above in terms of different belief systems, ideologies and religions. Doesn’t a person who believes in killing people to win wars (or for other reasons) just have a worldview different from those who believe that people should resolve conflict nonviolently? Doesn’t a capitalist just have a worldview different from those who believe that people should share resources equally? Doesn’t a person who believes in the unlimited accumulation of wealth just have a worldview different from those who believe in ecological sustainability?

But there is a more fundamental issue here. As I explained in my original article, cited at the beginning of this one: Do you really believe that someone who is capable of perpetrating extraordinary violence, inequity and biosphere-threatening behavior – and thus clearly incapable of experiencing and expressing the love, compassion, empathy and sympathy that would drive a nonviolent approach to the world – is sane? Given that emotional qualities such as love, compassion, empathy and sympathy are an evolutionary gift to those not seriously damaged during childhood, what happened to those individuals who do not possess them?

Or, to explain it based on my longer definition of sanity highlighted above: Casual observation of the state of our world, including the primary threat of near-term human extinction through climate catastrophe or nuclear war clearly reveals that none of the elite is paying considered attention to the perilous state of our world, analyzing the evidence in relation to it, identifying the cause(s) driving it or responding powerfully to end it. Why is this?

In essence, it is because one manifestation of their insanity drives them to deny reality to make huge profits from weapons production used to kill people, the burning of climate-destroying fossil fuels, environmental destruction (through, for example, mining and rainforest logging), commercial farming based on the poisoning and genetic mutilation of foods, the mass production and sale of poisoned, processed and nutritionally-depleted foods, the consumption of health-destroying and dependency-creating drugs, and control over the sale of water, once considered a human right. Moreover, insanity makes the elite do everything in its power to maintain this highly profitable state of affairs.

Moreover, of course, there is no evidence of committed elite engagement in efforts to end the many local wars (from which they make huge profits), end corporate exploitation of human beings (which kills, through starvation alone, 100,000 people every day but from which they make huge profits) and nonhuman beings (which drives 200 species of life to extinction daily but from which they make huge profits) or end local environmental destruction in a myriad ways (from which they make huge profits).

So, in summary, given our ongoing rush to extinction, it is clear that those who exacerbate this threat through failure to consider and act with awareness (as well as encourage aware action by others) fail to satisfy the definition of sanity that I offered above. In short: Gambling on the future of humanity is not sane.

As an aside, it should be noted: Often enough too, the elite can rely on a largely insane population to mindlessly consume the latest consumer product, no matter how unnecessary, or they can rely on their marketing and advertising agents to persuade those of us who show the slightest reluctance to buy the latest inanity.

So with an insane global elite and its many insane servants as well as a largely insane consumer population, what can those of us who have the sanity to respond powerfully to the many threats to our survival do?

Well, if you want a child who is emotionally and intellectually engaged with the world and therefore capable of responding powerfully to their circumstances (which includes being able to resist the lure of serving the elite and being suckered by its marketing), then terrorizing the child into obedience is not the way to go about it. So, you might like to consider making ‘My Promise to Children.’

If you are sane enough to investigate the evidence and to act intelligently and powerfully in response to it, I encourage you to do so. One option you have if you find the evidence in relation to one or more of the threats mentioned above compelling, is to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth.’

If you are self-aware enough to know that you are inclined to avoid ‘difficult issues’ and to take the action that these require, then perhaps you could tackle this problem at its source by ‘Putting Feelings First.’ Unfortunately, as mentioned above, few of us had a childhood that nurtured our sanity.

If you want to mobilize people to campaign effectively on the climate, war, rainforest destruction or any other elite-driven violence that threatens our future, consider developing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to do so.

And if you want to participate in the worldwide effort to end the insanity we call violence in all of its manifestations, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World.’

Elite insanity, if not stopped, will drive us out of existence. If you believe that the elite and their servants will ‘see the light’ before it is too late, I invite you to seek out the evidence to justify your belief. I have found none.

I also see no evidence that individual members of the elite will do the emotional healing necessary to be able to act sanely in response to the extinction-threatening crisis it has generated.

So it is up to those of us who can think and act sanely to stop the rush to extinction before it is too late.

Are you one of those people?

If This Happened in Alabama There Would Be Uproar: In Israel, it’s the Norm

How would you describe a white town in a southern state in the United States that froze the tender for plots of land in a new neighbourhood because it risked allowing blacks to move in? As racist?

What would you think of the town’s mayor for claiming the decision was taken in the interests of preserving the “white character” of his community? That he was a bigot?

And how would you characterise the policy of the state in which this town was located if it enforced almost complete segregation between whites and blacks, ghettoising the black population? As apartheid, or maybe Jim Crow?

And yet, replace the word “white” with “Jewish” and this describes what has just happened in Kfar Vradim, a small town of 6,000 residents in the Galilee, in Israel’s north. More disturbing still, Vradim’s policy cannot be judged in isolation. It is a reflection of how Israeli society has been intentionally structured for decades.

Segregation as the norm

Residential segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens is the norm in Israel. In fact, it is such an established fact of life that it is barely ever commented on. There are many hundreds of rural communities controlling almost all of Israel’s land that are exclusively Jewish and have been so since Israel was created 70 years ago.

So one could almost commiserate with Vradim’s mayor, Sivan Yechiel, after he provoked condemnation last week for his decision to freeze construction of a new neighbourhood of more than 2,000 homes, intended to double the size of his town. It emerged that in the first round of tenders, more than half the highest bids for plots of land were placed by Palestinian citizens, not Jews.

Israel’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of its population, are the remnants of the Palestinian people who were mostly expelled in 1948 from their homeland during what Palestinians call the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe”.

According to Israel and its supporters, Palestinian citizens enjoy full and equal rights with Jewish citizens, unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories, who live under military rule. But the reality – one carefully concealed from outsiders – is very different.

Vradim’s decision briefly illuminates the ugly reality of what a Jewish state means. It provides the context for understanding Land Day, whose anniversary falls this week, marking the day in 1976 when Israeli security forces killed six unarmed Palestinian citizens as the minority held a general strike to protest against the continuing confiscation of their lands.

Vradim and dozens of other Jewish communities were created in response to Land Day – explicitly to “Judaise the Galilee”. The tradition of racism that inspired Vradim’s establishment is simply being honoured and preserved today by Yechiel.

That is why Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s Palestinian minority, accused the mayor of being “motivated by racism”. And why Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, lamented Vradim’s “apartheid” policy.

Liberal and ‘racist’

That said, Vradim is far from the illiberal, intolerant community one might imagine from these criticisms. Three-quarters of its residents voted for left and centre-left parties in Israel’s last election. It has decisively bucked the ultra-nationalist trend that has kept Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right in power for nearly a decade.

Nonetheless, in a Facebook debate among Vradim residents about the tender, many expressed concern. A local real estate broker, Nati Sheinfeld, warned that it was time to “wake up” to the threat of Palestinians taking over the community.

Yechiel defended the decision to freeze the new neighbourhood on the grounds that he was entrusted to keep Vradim “Zionist and Jewish”. In a further clarification, he said he would lobby the government to provide his community with housing solutions that did not disturb its current “demographic balances” – in other words, solutions that would keep out Palestinian citizens.

No Arabs as neighbours

In fact, Vradim mayor’s response was entirely typical. There have a spate of similar stories in recent years. Towns close by in the Galilee like Nazareth Ilit, Karmiel, Afula, Nofit, Tzfat and Nahariya have all been battling to bar entry to Palestinian citizens with varying degrees of success.

In recent surveys, half of Israeli Jews confess that they do not want “Arabs” as neighbours. The reality, as Vradim illustrates, is that far more feel this way in practice. As Haaretz commentator David Rosenberg observed, almost certainly many respondents “were too embarrassed to tell the pollster what they really think”.

Opposition to having Palestinians as neighbours is not founded on security or economic concerns. Palestinian citizens have proved to be a largely peaceable, if highly marginalised, minority. And those able to afford to move into Jewish communities – especially Vradim, one of the wealthiest in the country – are the most successful among the Palestinian minority. They are business people and professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects.

Rooted in Zionism

So why is Vradim dead-set against allowing them in? The answer requires a historical analysis of how Israel has structured and organised itself as a Jewish state. In fact, Vradim’s policy is deeply rooted in an ideology, Zionism, whose values are unquestioned by almost all Israeli Jews.

The founders of Israel, men like David Ben Gurion, were East Europeans who viewed themselves as communists or socialists. Before Israel’s creation, under British patronage, they established pioneer farming collectives like the kibbutz and moshav.

But in the spirit of Zionism, they made sure these communities were all exclusively Jewish. They were there to “Judaise” the land through “Hebrew labour”. Zionism’s leaders firmly believed that, through physical toil, Jews could transform both the land, “making the desert bloom”, and themselves, becoming a strong, self-reliant “Volk” or people.

But there was an important corollary. Judaisation would strip the native Palestinian people of the land they depended on as farmers, while Hebrew labour would deny them alternative employment in what would become an exclusively Jewish economy. It was a form of aggressive settler-colonialism.

Land nationalised for Jews

After the Nakba and the expulsion of most of the Palestinian population, the new state of Israel did not abandon these policies and adopt an inclusive, civic notion of citizenship, the basis of liberal democracy. Instead, it expanded and intensified the Judaisation project.

Foreign observers were often charmed by the idea of the socialist kibbutz and the progressive and transformative type of politics it supposedly embodied. They overlooked the fact that all of this was being built on the racist exclusion of native Palestinians.

The lands of the Palestinian refugees were expropriated, as was most of the land belonging to the minority of Palestinians who managed to remain in Israel and eventually received citizenship – the trigger for the Land Day events being commemorated this week.

Israel then “nationalised” almost all of its territory – 93 per cent – holding it collectively in trust for the Jewish people around the world, not Israeli citizens.

As a result, Palestinian citizens were hemmed into some 120 Palestinian communities, on little more than 2 per cent of Israeli territory. These Palestinian communities languish at the very bottom of Israel’s socio-economic tables.

Trapped in ghettoes

In recent decades, Palestinian communities have become massively overcrowded because Israel has refused to free up land for their expansion and has not created a single new Palestinian community since 1948.

Many thousands of Palestinian families have been forced to build homes illegally as a result, and now live with the permanent threat of demolition hanging over their heads.

This is not just about neglect. Israeli officials had a methodology and a goal in mind, little different from the those being applied close by in the occupied territories.

The aim was to make the Palestinian minority poor and internally divided: like children playing a game of musical chairs, they would have to fight over ever-diminishing resources.

In desperation, some would opt to collaborate or turn informer, in return for partial relief from their distress. A weak, dependent society like this would be incapable of organisation to demand its rights. And ultimately, Israeli officials hoped, Palestinian citizens would grow hopeless and emigrate.

Vetting committees

But there was a danger too that wealthier, more successful Palestinians might flee their ghettoes not by leaving Israel but by seeking homes in Jewish communities and trying to integrate. That violated the deepest impulses of a Zionist-Jewish state.

It was not hard to slam shut the door of most communities. The hundreds of rural villages controlling most of Israel’s “national lands” established admissions committees. Their job was to vet applicants and keep out Palestinian citizens. That was integral to their “Judaisation” mission.

To this day, hundreds of collective communities bar access, arguing that Palestinian citizens are “socially unsuitable”. The flimsy logic – echoed now by the mayor of Vradim – has been that it is vital for these communities to preserve a Jewish, Zionist character.

But it was trickier to use such legal chicanery to exclude Palestinian citizens from towns and cities.

A few cities in Israel are misleadingly termed “mixed”, where small numbers of Palestinian families survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948. They usually live in separate neighbourhoods, marginalised from the main Jewish city. Segregation in these areas has taken a different form.

But in ordinary as well as mixed cities, Israel could not easily argue that admissions committees were needed to stop integration and protect the special Jewish character of the city’s life. Doing so risked looking a little too obviously like apartheid South Africa.

Liberation from land shortages

For most of Israel’s history, segregation and exclusion were maintained in the towns and cities, nonetheless. Free-market economics and careful planning was enough to keep Palestinians at bay.

The vast majority of Israeli Jews are raised as ardent Zionists, and hold “Judaisation” – making territory Jewish – as a supreme value. There were no signs saying “No Arabs”, but few were willing to sell their homes to Palestinian citizens, especially when they could find a Jewish buyer.

And few Palestinian citizens could afford homes in Jewish towns anyway. In addition, there were no schools teaching in Arabic for their children, jobs were scarce, and prejudice rife. It was a prospect few Palestinian citizens contemplated. Until recently.

The land shortages in Israel’s Palestinian communities have only intensified since the events of Land Day, as have the overcrowding, the lack of services and infrastructure, the absence of green spaces, and the poor quality of government schools for the Palestinian minority.

Meanwhile, in an increasingly globalised world, Palestinian citizens are much less willing to continue living in their segregated communities. They have aspirations for a better quality of life for their children, and are increasingly “westernised” – they value personal independence over the protection offered by living close to the extended family.

All of these factors have combined to drive those with good jobs and high salaries to liberate themselves from their Palestinian ghettoes and seek housing solutions in Jewish communities.

On the front line

The front line of this battle for housing rights is the Galilee, where Palestinian citizens comprise half the population. For this reason, in the state’s early years Ben Gurion prioritised an official campaign to “Judaise the Galilee”, building Jewish communities on lands confiscated from Palestinians to contain them and deprive them of room for future expansion.

Vradim itself was established in 1984 on part of the lands of the neighbouring Palestinian town of Tarshiha. As in other Jewish communities, many of its residents believe – in line with Ben Gurion’s philosophy – that they are the main bulwark against an “Arab takeover” of the Galilee.

But Vradim has found itself defenceless against a first wave of Palestinian professionals expecting to live the dream they see their Jewish neighbours enjoying at their expense. Already a handful of Palestinian families have managed to move in. Yechiel and other residents are worried that this could soon turn into a flood as it seeks to expand.

Vradim lacks an admissions committee that would have solved its problem. And recent rulings from the Israeli courts have further tied its hands: in most cases, towns and cities are required to include all citizens in the tendering process for new housing projects.

Stopping an Arab influx

At the moment the numbers of Palestinian families that can afford and want to move into Jewish towns is small. But it is growing, and even these small numbers are too many for most Jewish communities.

Yechiel may balk at the solutions adopted by some neighbouring Jewish towns.

For example, Nazareth Ilit, which was built on the lands of Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, has tried to halt the influx of Palestinians by planning a large Jewish ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood.

The courts have made an exception that allows for restrictive tenders in the case of religious Jews so that they can live in self-contained communities. Nazareth Ilit’s leaders appear to be hoping that, with high birth rates and intolerant attitudes, a strong ultra-Orthodox presence may dissuade more Palestinians from moving in.

But this approach is likely to be considered a step too far for Vradim’s very secular and wealthy residents.

Yechiel may hope instead that he can rely on a legal remedy. In 2016 a district court ruled in favour of the municipality of Afula after it blocked 48 Palestinian families who had won housing tenders. Palestinian legislators called the court decision “shameful” and “racist”.

Hunt for permanent solutions

But Vradim’s mayor is also appealing to the government to help devise a more permanent solution. He may not be disappointed.

The World Zionist Organisation, an international organisation that enjoys quasi-governmental status in Israel, announced last summer it was reviving Ben Gurion’s Judaisation campaign. It is preparing to establish several new, exclusively Jewish communities.

And this month an Israeli parliamentary committee approved the final draft of new legislation – the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish people. It will give constitutional backing to the creation of communities “composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community”. In practice, this measure is designed only to help the Jewish faith and nationality.

These moves come as Israel prepares to demolish next month Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the Negev, so it can be replaced with an exclusively Jewish community, Hiran. The bylaws of Hiran entitle it to admit as residents only those “who observe the Torah and commandments according to Orthodox Jewish values”.

Vradim’s wealthy, liberal residents are no aberration in wanting to keep out their Palestinian fellow citizens. They are the authentic inheritors of a Zionist tradition that has entrenched an apartheid system of rule in Israel over 70 years.

Ben Gurion and Israel’s founders would be proud indeed of Kfar Vradim.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Anti-semitism Paradox Damaging Labour

The supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in Britain’s Labour party is revealing an interesting paradox at the heart of modern discussions of anti-semitism.

Undoubtedly there are those who intentionally exploit anti-semitism for political gain. That should be obvious if we pause to consider how much attention left-wing “anti-semitism” (criticism of Israel) – formerly promoted as the “New Anti-Semitism” – is receiving compared to the old-fashioned type of anti-semitism beloved of right wingers. They wanted Jews out of Britain (the Balfour Declaration, anyone?), denied the Holocaust, desecrated Jewish graves, or refused Jews entry to elite schools and golf clubs.

Because right wingers now love Israel, even if they often aren’t too keen on real-life Jews as neighbours or members of their organisations, no one seems too exercised about that kind of anti-semitism any longer, even as it rears its ugly head again across the United States and much of Europe. We are all too busy trying to work out when hating Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlements is really cover for hating Jews more generally.

But aside from these foolhardy priorities, there is a more insidious and unconscious danger in this obsession with left-wing anti-semitism. It is neatly illustrated by an anti-semitism test unveiled by the comedian David Schneider. On this occasion, he does not appear to be joking. It poses four questions that are supposed to determine whether you are a secret anti-semite and which get progressively more difficult for many left-wingers to answer unambiguously.

Schneider himself notes that many on the left fail the third and fourth questions. And there is a good reason for that: they should do, if they are genuinely progressive.

Once, in a more fundamentalist Christian Europe that emphasised ethnic races, and in which Jews were the main identifiable Other, anti-semitism was rampant and the most significant form of racism. For good reason, the rapid rise of the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust have left most westerners extremely sensitive to the issue of anti-semitism and the dangers of its re-emergence.

But the world has changed markedly since the 1930s. Globalisation means Europe is now rife with many other identifiable groups that racists can turn into an unwelcome “Other”.

Self-interested elites, concerned only with the preservation of their power, have always been keen to cultivate racism. That way, justifiable resentments and anger from the middle and working classes over their economic and social plights can be re-directed towards easily identified targets. Power elites scapegoat weak groups, often through the corporate media, encouraging the wider population to see them as contaminants of a supposed native racial purity, immigrants stealing jobs and “our women”, and those promoting alien practices, religions and cultural ideas that threaten to corrupt or endanger a supposedly traditional way of life.

This is a sophisticated form of divide and rule, designed to deflect our attention from the real struggle against a tiny class of the rich and powerful who control our societies and organise it in ways to entrench their power and further enrich themselves at our expense.

So the struggle against racism must be one that treats all forms of racism as evidence of false consciousness, and regards all racisms as equally dangerous and equally in need of eradication. Anti-racism, if it is to be effective, must be a struggle based on class solidarity – the 99 per cent against the 1 per cent. Anything else plays into the hands of the elites and allows them to perpetuate their pillage of our societies through their enablers in the political and media class.

Schneider’s third question is therefore a problematic one for a true leftist. He asks:

Do you treat antisemitism in exactly the same way as hatred and prejudice against any other group, condemning it outright without any qualifying comment about, for instance, the suffering of other groups?

There is twofold problem here. First, for anyone with their eyes open, anti-semitism clearly isn’t being treated by our elites in the same way as other forms of racism – against Muslims, for instance. It is being prioritised by politicians and the corporate media as a special kind of racism: more significant, more dangerous, more worthy. When would you ever see the full breadth of the British media – from the Daily Mail to the Guardian and BBC – collectively obsessing about a wall mural unless it was being claimed as an example of anti-semitism?

In fact, when there has been very clear evidence of incitement against Muslims, repeatedly in the case of inflammatory cartoons by European publications depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist and worse, western liberals have insisted on the right to offend and scandalise.

In the case of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, where several of its journalists were killed in a revenge attack, world leaders vocally supported the right to be offensive – to be racist even – and ordinary people adopted the French flag as a social media icon in solidarity with that idea.

In other words, the prioritising of anti-semitism as a racism we care about as opposed to other racisms we generally don’t is the very antithesis of class solidarity. What is becoming ever clearer is that anti-semitism is being exploited, as the Labour party “anti-semitism crisis” highlights, precisely to promote divide and rule, to weaken class politics, to subvert a genuinely progressive Labour leadership – the first in living memory.

Which brings us to the second problem with Schneider’s question. If claims of anti-semitism are being prioritised – manipulated even – to divert our attention from class solidarity, then we need to point that out. We precisely must qualify – or more accurately, contextualise – our condemnations, so it is clear that the reason why problems of anti-semitism are being highlighted, and in some cases manipulated or manufactured (see here, for example), is not to protect Jews but to exploit them to advance an elite political agenda.

This is something that many Jews on the left are trying to say, such as those in Jewish Voice for Labour, but they are being ignored by politicians and the media because they are the wrong sort of Jews. Their message does not fit with the one our elites (most of whom are not Jewish) wish to promote to serve their interests – interests that are in truth indifferent to the plight of Jews.

Schneider makes a similar mistake with Question 4:

Did you manage to answer 1-3 without moving the subject onto Israel / Palestine?

But this is possible only if we ignore the fact that allegations of anti-semitism – again obviously in the case of the Labour “crisis” – are increasingly being used as a weapon to silence left-wing criticism of Israel and the promotion of Palestinian rights. Recent official redefinitions of anti-semitism, including one adopted by the British government, explicitly include criticism of Israel as evidence of anti-semitism. Labour’s “anti-semitism crisis” only emerged when a veteran anti-racism campaigner and supporter of the Palestinian cause, Jeremy Corbyn, became leader of the party.

Corbyn reveals in stark fashion the paradox of this modern anti-semitism problem. It is because he treats all forms of racism as equally troubling that he now finds himself in hot water, under attack from the Conservative Party, as well as the Blairites who dominate his parliamentary party, from the narrow spectrum of thought represented by the corporate media, and from the Jewish establishment in Britain – from the Board of Deputies to the Jewish Chronicle – that long ago hitched their Jewish identities to a colonial settler state in the Middle East.

When even commentators in supposedly liberal publications like the Guardian, such as Jonathan Freedland, claim their Jewish identity is intricately bound up in Israel, how are the rest of us supposed to ignore the issues of Israel and Palestine in addressing and challenging what is supposed to now constitute anti-semitism?

Yes, anti-semitism as racism is a problem that needs to be rooted out of our societies. But anti-semitism as a tactic to stifle class solidarity and promote Israel is a weapon designed to benefit only the rich and powerful, and it must be identified as such. The two need to be carefully distinguished – and that job will inevitably fall to the left, one that genuinely cares about all forms of racism.

It Is Us

The war mentality represents an unfortunate confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice, and profit. … The ignorance exists in its own right and is further perpetuated by government propaganda. The fear is that of ordinary people scared by misinformation but also that of leaders who may know better but are intimidated by the political costs of speaking out on such a heavily moralized and charged issue.

— Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, 2009

The manufacturing of Russia as the arch enemy of not just the U.S. but mankind in general has reached levels of absurdity and pathology. This is all sort of obvious, though, I think. The yellow journalism of the creepy Max Boot at the NY Times is emblematic of the current toxic demand for war. I do wonder what these people are thinking. I mean, do they know something I don’t? And the list of propagandists, both in media and governments throughout the west, is quite long. In fact, finding someone who objects to this war mongering is much harder. There are some, of course, but they are largely invisible in mainstream media.

What does the ruling class want? Almost every major government official who propagates the anti Russia rhetoric is wealthy. Or at least affluent. Why do they want to promote conflict? To make more money? If so, what can that extra money buy them? What does John Bolton not have that he wants? What does Rachel Maddow want that she can’t afford? This has always troubled me. When I ask such questions I usually get an answer like “they want power” or “they want control”. But why? What does more power bring you? The ability to create institutions in your own image, in accordance with your ideological leanings? Is that it? If this is correct, for some, what does being able to shape institutional authority actually bring you? What benefits? Is it some moral demand for change?

Is Mike Pompeo driven by moral or ethical issues? What do the Clintons want? Are they motivated by a moral calling? What does Chuck Shurmer want, or Nancy Pelosi? They lead extraordinarily comfortable privileged lives. What would an even limited conflict with Russia or China bring such people? Are the Koch brothers concerned with the happiness of the people of the world? Of course not. They are, in their minds, concerned with their own happiness. But does promoting their irrational ideology bring them a feeling of well being? But then I am not at all sure what happiness looks like to Charles Koch. Not what it looks like to you or me I’d venture to guess.

No, the answer is more complex. It is maybe even, in considerable measure, unconscious. It is resentment and fear, it is ambivalence and narcissism. For the reality is that nobody benefits from a nuclear war. NOBODY. But tens of millions die. And maybe everyone dies.

Is this not something the propagandists know? Do they want to die? All month I’ve been thinking of Wilhelm Reich’s small book Listen, Little Man!

This is why I am afraid of you Little Man, deadly afraid. For on you depends the fate of humanity I am afraid of you because there is nothing you flee as much from as yourself. You are sick, very sick, Little Man. It is not your fault. But it is your responsibility to rid yourself of this sickness. You would have long since shaken off your oppressors had you not tolerated oppression and often actively supported it.

Anyone not angered is not well. But I think many are angry, but they feel unable to formulate ways to express this anger. Dissent is an unpopular position. It might cost you work. It might get you fired. And for many, they think of their families. Their children must eat. So they stay silent. They use pseudonyms when they do protest. But it is hard to blame them, really. And yet, and yet, the world is hurtling toward extinction. In the United States there are working families living under freeway bridges and in shelters and living off food stamps. The affluent liberal in America is OUTRAGED at gun laws. And yet they are indifferent to the massive violence visited upon countries like Yemen or Libya or Honduras or Iraq. They claim not to like war but they will salute soldiers and thank them for their service. Nothing is quite so ridiculous as that ‘thanks for your service’ meme. Service to what? To whom? I really do want to know. What is being served? What good does the military do for anyone? The answer, if you ask most people, is to protect them from foreign invasion. In today’s case that means Russia. They are OUTRAGED Putin tried (or succeeded, depending on who they believe) meddling in the US elections. Are they not aware their own government has meddled in dozens of foreign elections? Or worse, have orchestrated coups and propped up dictators. Do they not know Mobutu was a US invention? Do they know their own government trained SAVAK, the secret police of The Shah? They do remember it was the U.S. who labeled Mandela a terrorist ? Do they remember Vietnam? Do they care?

Do they believe Muslim terrorists are on the verge of attacking America? They remind you of 9/11 …three thousand died….but that body count is about what Yemen suffers each day, and has suffered for the last year or two each day. How many Iraqis have died at the hands of the US military? Do they know what happened at Fallujah? Many are angry at Trump. Which is fine, but they are not angry at Obama or Hillary or Bernie. Do they believe Trump is some significant sea change in governance? Do they realize all his Pentagon advisors were advising Obama, too. And George Bush. Why do so many people regard US foreign policy as coherent? The answer is the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t think about US foreign policy at all. They might know of Kim Jong Il, but they know nothing of the history of US/Korean relations. And they have no idea just how extensively the CIA has funded the very same Muslim jihadists they fear are ready to break into their homes. They hear some mainstream media story, often with a celebrity front person, about stopping this or that genocide (invariably caused by the United States) and decide yes, *we stood by* in Rwanda. Or, *we HAD to go into Yugoslavia to stop the Serbs*, etc. The reality is always diametrically opposed to the one manufactured by the U.S. State Department. The reality of Kagame or Milosevic, or Hezbollah, or China, or Venezuela is obscured and mystified. And the “white saviour” narrative remains the most popular. Posit that the third world NEEDS western help and you have a winner in the minds of most Americans.

And any opportunity to ridicule and demean other cultures, so it seems, is readily embraced. Americans are, by and large, an astoundingly mean-spirited people. At least white America. Snarky, snide, suspicious, vainglorious and provincial; THAT is the great USA, as well as Puritanical, prudish, narcissistic, and generally xenophobic.

On twitter, certifiable retired general Barry McCaffrey tweeted the following:

Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security. He is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that is he, for some unknown reason, under the sway of Mr. Putin.

Now this is not in, and of, itself unexpected but what is unexpected is the number of Democrats and liberals re-tweeting it approvingly. The bourgeoisie is aligning itself openly with the most fascist elements in the authority structure of the US military. One conclusion that is reached from all this is that Trump is indeed a very useful tool of the ruling class. The sheer revulsion he elicits in most people is being harnessed, quite consciously, to the propaganda machine of the US state — it is as if the personal repugnance of Trump helps to pull focus from historical precedent and actual material policy implications to the subjective feelings of disgust Trump the man brings out in people. And I get it, I really do. Having to watch Trump and his damaged family and various hangers-on and cronies on a daily basis is enough to cause a certain genuine palpable nausea. But this use of Trump is effective because of the basic fundamental narcissism of the bourgeoisie. What matters is how THEY feel. Not the death of children in Gaza, or slavery flourishing in Libya, or mass rape by the Cedras Junta in Haiti back under the Clinton regime — let alone cholera in Yemen and massive displacement of hundreds of thousands in Syria — no, it is the personal *feelings* of liberal Americans. They don’t *like* Trump. And as I say, I get it. Nobody likes Donald Trump. Just as nobody likes Jeff Sessions. Nobody likes Mike Pompeo or John Kelley or John Bolton or H.R. McMaster, or Betsy DeVos or Jared Kushner. It is literally as distasteful an assemblage of humanity as it’s possible to imagine. But then who liked Rahm Emanuel, or Joe Biden? We know NOBODY likes Hillary Clinton. But the optics were managed. It’s almost as if Trump wants people to recoil in disgust. Why would that be?

Look at the United States today. In Oklahoma the Corrections Department came up with a new way to execute people (cost saving benefits) — they force the oxygen out of them (by forcing in Nitrogen.). This innovative new experiment in death is the result of a shortage of the usual drugs used in lethal injection. This sort of logic is apparently perfectly acceptable in Oklahoma. Mike Christian (sic), the former highway patrolman who came up with the idea, is quoted in The Intercept article on the topic, as saying…one way or another “we will put these beasts to death”.

I think the average person in the US has lost touch with just how barbaric and compassionless the culture is today. How insensitive and sadistic. People take refuge psychologically in small circles of friends — many of whom might in other contexts be just as sadistic as society overall– and manage the engagements with these friends so as to not have to discuss unpleasant topics. The so called Chinese wall (sic) that has migrated from the legal and political professions to people’s personal lives. As a sort of psychic safety valve they simply ignore the rest of the country they live in.

Remember that Trump’s moronic reality TV show was a big hit. It ran for six years I believe. So many of the same people who recoil in horror at Trump the President were happy to watch, with feelings of superiority, the cartoon millionaire exercising meaningless edicts. It was kistch schadenfreude. I guess, anyway. The entire Trump political narrative is fraught with temptation to imagine just who is or was pulling the strings. Who wanted him as President? Whatever the story behind the story the fact is that the people running the United States, and these are people largely invisible to the public, operate from motivations I simply cannot fathom.

Yes, to make MORE money, I get it, I get it. But this is a loaded sort of thought experiment. I understand this. Why does anyone want more than they can use or need? Let alone a thousand times more than they can use in a lifetime, or in their children or grandchildren’s lifetime. Why does anyone want to live in bizarre five hundred room mansions full of expensive furniture and with multiple swimming pools and tennis courts? What do people feel as they stroll around their estate? Do they feel deserving? Does it not occur to them that most of global humanity live in dire soul deadening poverty? I remember Barbara Bush during a photo op tour of post Katrina New Orleans commenting about not troubling her beautiful mind about such things. Does she really believe she has a beautiful mind? So one question has to do with the subjective mind of the ruling class. The second has to do with the people who vote FOR their own oppression. Who actively support inequality.

There is a new TV reality show where celebrities take part in trying to run a 5 star hotel. They don’t take part in trying to run a homeless shelter, no, for that isn’t very fun now, is it? Why does anyone care about who the British royal family is going to marry? But people do care, and they spend money following this sort of news. Even people living week to week, working two jobs and hanging on by a thread — often even they are consuming the same cultural product as the more affluent populace. Why are people not angrier? Why is there not far more social unrest and open revolt? Is it simply fear? I can understand that in a nation that incarcerates over 2 million people. The last growth industries are prison construction and private security. Both relate to a growing underclass that looms as a threat to the very wealthy. Remember that the policing apparatus of the US, on both federal, state, and local levels is draconian and operates with almost total impunity. City police departments trace their origin back to *Slave Patrols*. I think many sense that it is not far fetched to imagine being arrested and then subjected to years of both custody and legal expense.

And behind all this is Hollywood and the endless stream of jingoistic and racist TV and film. In fact, Russia is now a plot point in nearly all TV drama. If you think that is an exaggeration, then you haven’t been watching. The extraordinary xenophobia of American television is mind numbing, honestly. From shows like Designated Survivor to Madame Secretary to stuff like The Shooter or Chicago PD or SEAL Team — the message is uniform. There are no TV dramas with socialists or politically radical protagonists. No shows questioning the virtue of the military (thank you for your service). An Oscar for the portrayal of Churchill, a war criminal racist colonialist. Who wins Oscars for portraying Lenin or Toussaint L’Ouverture? But then those films don’t get bankrolled by Hollywood. Do screenwriters simply instinctively know that back stories that feature ‘tours in Iraq’ or the like as the accepted character foundation for heroism? It is breathtaking how alike most Hollywood product really is and how nakedly reactionary.

Meanwhile the US lurches toward military conflict with nuclear powers. Conflicts that would wipe out humanity. At the least the US is manufacturing a new Cold War. Perhaps that provides a certain comfort. People are given an external enemy to hate, an enemy on which to focus their frustration, resentment, and aggression. The system encourages managed protest about issues that are themselves of little consequence. Gun control for one. Nobody talks about the MILLIONS of dead at the hands of the US military over the last twenty years. Nobody protests 900 military bases globally. What are those bases there for? Oh, to protect us….from *enemies*. The US needs its enemies.

Identity issues are fine to argue about, just don’t argue about class inequality. Argue about gender and racial identity. About multiculturalism but not about a hierarchical social structure where 1% of the populace own 90% of the wealth. Why is there such poverty if America is so special? A bridge collapses the other day in Dade County, Florida. The infrastructure is falling apart, literally, as I write this. It won’t be the last bridge to fall down. Infant mortality is the same as that of Peru, last I looked. And Peru is seen as an inferior nation in the eyes of most Americans. Don’t raise the issue of military pollution, military rape, military economic waste, or military sadism. Funny how those photos of Abu Ghraib have mostly disappeared from the collective memory of the U.S. The 50th anniversary of My Lai passed without much comment. Vietnam is being given a revisionist re-narration. “Mistakes” were made. etc. Ask about Israel and you get a lot of either hostility or discomfort. Did Russia attack one of our navel vessels? No, that was Israel. Greg Barrett has an article out now pointing out similar realities…

The Russians, therefore, are not responsible for the destruction of the Iraqi state, for the more than one million civilian casualties since the invasion, for the massive waves of terrorism and sectarian violence and refugees entering Turkey and Europe which have resulted, or for the birth of ISIS in the US-controlled Abu Ghraib prison — the same ISIS which was formed by former Saddam military officers imprisoned there.  The Russians did not join together with the UK and France in 2011 to destroy the Libyan state in a major bombing campaign which killed an estimated 30,000 civilians, following US/UK support for Libyan rebels designed to set up the “revolution” in Africa’s most prosperous nation. The Russians then did not abandon the country to its fate, which soon turned out to be rival governments and militias, a growing ISIS presence, actual slave markets where helpless refugees are sold like cattle, and thousands of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean after paying human traffickers to take them to Europe in tiny, overloaded boats. The Russians did not respond to a question about the death of Libyan head of state Muammar Gaddafi — by sodomization with a long blade — by laughing maniacally and loudly on national US television and proclaiming, “We came, we saw, he DIED! Ha ha ha!

And on and on. It was not Russia who bankrolled Osama bin Ladin and it wasn’t Russia who supported ISIS as they targeted Assad for removal. It wasn’t Russia who just helped Saudi Arabia from day one in their genocidal assault on Yemen. Nor did Russia annex Crimea, for the record (as Greg points out “unless a vote of 98% of the population to return to Mother Russia, of which they had always been a historical part until the 1960s, is considered invalid. No responsible party has challenged those numbers.”) Nor does Russia engage in assassination by drone. That is the USA. In fact, most of the Muslim world (save the puppet regimes in the KSA, Jordan, and the UAE) aligns with Russia and feels nothing but anger toward the US. And the people in the streets of Jordan and the UAE et al are also aligned against the US, not with it, despite what their corrupt leaders say. Wasn’t Russia who orchestrated the destruction of the former Yugoslavia either. But the public does not engage in such discourse. It is not allowed, for all intents and purposes. The public today, in the US, knows what to say and what to believe. And they rarely go off script.

Which brings me back to what these people want, the ones manufacturing this wave of anti Russian propaganda. Is it war? I don’t honestly know if they are that crazy or not. Some are, lunatics like John Bolton or Robert Kagen or his brutish wife Victoria Nuland. Does anyone ask during presidential debates about Ukraine and the US support for an open Nazi Party? One answer is that they want *global hegemony*. But what does that mean? Why do they want that? What does that provide for them personally? Millions dead and they get what? Power? And what does power give you? Does it provide peace of mind? Happiness? A rich sense of self worth? I honestly don’t know. Maybe I am just dense. But I have never understood the idea of seeking privilege unless everyone can have it. I don’t want to fly first class if anyone is flying coach. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t feel special. Why do so many Americans fawn over the rich? Why are the wealthy so admired? I know some partial answers; I know Americans, or American white males, in particular, see the world through a lens that lumps everyone into two categories: winners and losers. On social media the other day there was a story about a man who has lived in the US for forty years but is being deported. The comments were astounding and yet utterly predictable. Men said he was a ‘dumb ass’ for not getting his citizenship. Compassion? That’s for sissies. For losers. And people wonder at the spate of school shootings? Oh, it must be guns, too many guns. No, it is the psychology of Capitalism that creates such violence. Competition against your neighbour, not cooperation. Hoarding not sharing. It is a culture of violent scapegoating and stigmatizing and shaming. All reality TV is really the same show and that show is humiliation. Vicarious voyeuristic sadism.

Your life will be good and secure when aliveness will mean more to you than security; low more than money; your freedom more than party line or public opinion; when the mood of Beethoven or Bach will be the mood of your total existence (you have it in you, Little Man, buried deeply in a corner of your existence); when your thinking will be in harmony, and no longer at variance, with your feelings; when you will be able to comprehend your gifts in time and to recognize your ageing in time; when you will live the thoughts of great men instead of the misdeeds of great warriors; when the teachers of your children will be better paid than the politicians…
— Wilhelm Reich

Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer.
— Gabor Mate

Perhaps Mate is right. It is a self hating nation that internalized the ethos of Puritanism and produced Manifest Destiny. It was a slave owning nation. It was, at its inception, a genocidal nation. A nation founded on those sorts of psychic wounds is a nation that is repressing and sublimating at extraordinary rates and degrees. It is this self loathing America, the only real failed state in the world, as far as I can see, that is now a dire threat to the survival of humanity. The one core truth for me today, at least politically, is one must resist western Imperialism. You don’t have to agree with the rest of the world that resists it, but you must stand with them. It is only white privilege, hubris, that allows for a westerner, an American, to criticise Maduro, or Assad, or the DPRK. Or Iran. Yes, Iran was a conservative revolution, but they are part of a bulwark against the nightmare of Western capital today. Self determination. America has never wanted to save anyone. Ever. America has always had ulterior motives. The self loathing American. The Ugly American. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

The Myth of “The Left” in America’s Distorted Political Culture

A few years ago, anarchist philosopher Crispin Sartwell argued that “the left/right or Democrat/Republican split—which turns American politics into a hyper-repetitive, mechanical set of partisan bromides about free markets versus government programs with egalitarian results—depends on a historical mistake.”1 While Sartwell was pretty much on point with this assessment, we haven’t yet been able to cast aside these self-imposed political blinders. Americans by and large still see politics through the left/right prism, without realizing that our perceptions of what constitutes ‘the left’ in particular are intrinsically flawed. In modern American political culture, the descriptor ‘left’ is commonly used with reference to Democrats, liberals, progressives, and even moderates. However, there are barely any truly leftist currents in our mainstream political landscape. In addition to being guilty of having committed Sartwell’s collective ‘historical mistake,’ this erroneous delineation of ‘the left’ not only defies political realities in the rest of the world, but it also perpetuates the deception we have created in our own political understanding of ourselves.

American claims to being exceptional among the civilizations of the world are in many ways an overblown nationalistic myth. But there is one particular strand of American exceptionalism that has long been a mainstay in our political culture and in the vernacular we employ within it. On a daily basis media outlets, politicos, pundits, thinkers, and commentators – and thus, by virtue of information consumption, the general public – fall into an all too common trap of political misperception, myopia, or willful misappropriation when it comes to the concept of ‘the left’ in American politics. In their narratives, liberals and Democrats are commonly seen and referred to monolithically as ‘the left.’ But put into context, this is a fundamentally false equivalence. Let’s establish one thing right off the bat: There really is no tangible ‘left’ in America’s political mainstream today. Except for a few growing and increasingly influential yet still relatively fledgling movements and organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America or the Black Lives Matter movement, there is very little leftist thought and action at work in America’s two-party landscape. What many commentators – liberal or conservative alike – often refer to as ‘the left’ is but a poor excuse for actual leftist political philosophy.

The primary reason for this misconception is rooted in the anomaly that is our political system and our political culture, which inherently gravitates further to the right than most other advanced contemporary democracies. In addition to this basic conundrum, the political climate of the past four decades – marked by acquiescence and concessions to neoliberalism, a continuation of militaristic-imperialistic foreign policy, reactionary culture wars, a preoccupation with reductionist identity politics, as well as the preservation of privileged self-interest – have effectively eviscerated what modicum of ‘leftist’ thought may once have existed in Progressive Era and post-New Deal American politics. Since then our political system has shifted so far to the right that most Americans today seem to fully accept as a given the simplistic binary political pancake in which liberals and the Democratic Party make up ‘the left,’ conservatives and Republicans constitute ‘the right,’ and independent voters and non-voters alike occupy a space somewhere in-between.

As a volunteer and activist for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in late 2015 and early 2016, I knocked on countless doors, called and texted voters across the country, and had many a conversation with a wide variety of people. I spoke with many other activists, groups, members of political organizations, and legions of potential voters of all sorts of political persuasions. Out of all of these conversations, two particular encounters stand out to me to this day. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that both interlocutors were fellow academics, but even more than that, these conversations serve as exemplary manifestations of America’s political blinders.

One of the two conversational partners, a fellow historian in her late twenties – and a die-hard supporter of Hillary Clinton – noted in late 2015 that she had been observing some “strange behavior among liberals” during this election cycle. She was referring to the growing support for Senator Sanders, and the equally growing mistrust and criticism toward Secretary Clinton. From her perspective it appeared almost inconceivable that anyone who was seriously committed to meaningful progress could support Sanders over Clinton. Getting big corporate money and special interests out of politics or working toward a universal single payer healthcare system seemed to be at best secondary, if not at all irrelevant, to her rather narrow and strongly gendered conceptions of modern politics, in which breaking the symbolic glass ceiling of having a female chief executive appeared to trump (no pun intended) any other argument. The notion, that a considerable share of Sanders’s supporters may actually hold deeper political convictions that are further to the left of modern American liberalism, did not seem to fit her political worldview.

The second conversationalist was an aging mathematics professor, who seemed relatively open to some of the more leftist items on the agenda of many ‘Sandernista.’ Yet he, too, displayed an almost dogmatic adherence to the old blue dog Democrat view of American politics that seems to revolve only around liberals vs. conservatives, blue vs. red, left vs. right. As we were talking about coordinating our political activism to support the campaign of a challenger to the incumbent in our congressional district, the septuagenarian mathematician asked me about my own political views, by which he meant party affiliation. When I told him that I considered myself a leftist independent who is not affiliated with any party, he encountered, visibly concerned I might add, that “if you’re an independent, you are somewhere between the Democrats and the Republicans.” As a relative novice to all out boots-on-the-ground political activism, this statement shook me to my political core. I wondered if this was indicative of the political worldview in America, and where this would leave true leftists on America’s political spectrum.

Just a few months prior to these encounters, I was struck by a realization that had been hiding in plain sight all along. At one of our Bernie rallies, a local activist leader argued in his speech that there is no ‘left’ in American politics, and that there hadn’t been one since Debs. He was, of course, referring to Eugene V. Debs, the iconic union organizer and multi-time presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party during the first two decades of the twentieth century. As a historian of American politics during the late Gilded Age and early Progressive Era, I was, of course, very familiar with Progressive insurgencies in both parties, as well as third party challenges to the established two-party system, but perhaps I had been looking at things from a decidedly liberal vantage point up until then. It was only through careful revision of the works of William Appleman Williams, Martin Sklar, Jeffrey Lustig, and most importantly my re-reading of Gabriel Kolko’s seminal “The Triumph of Conservatism,” that I realized the false pretenses in my own thinking.

In the early 1960s, Kolko had broken new ground when he argued that the Progressive Era was really an era of conservatism. Instead of exploring alternative options, Kolko argued, American Progressives deliberately opted for the preservation of the existing hegemonic political, economic, and societal structures, or in Kolko’s words, the “basic social and economic relations essential to a capitalist society.”2 Though often hailed as the lynchpin of reform, Progressive policies and regulation by and large served as a rationalization of the market, with the intention of safeguarding long-term profit. America’s business leaders and ‘Corporate Caesars’ realized that only control of and collusion with federal and state governments, especially under the purview of increased regulatory power vested in government, could protect their interest from either haphazard legislative policies or true radicalism emanating from the populace.

This was by no means an American phenomenon. Imperial Germany saw similar ‘reforms’ in the later nineteenth century, when the staunchly pro-monarchical Bismarckian government had implemented universal male adult suffrage and a system of social insurance which would become the foundation for later models of the modern welfare state. However, Bismarck did not implement these reforms out of kindness, humanitarian spirit, or because of genuine empathy with the laboring classes. Quite the contrary. Bismarck was concerned about the growing discontent among the German people over the fallout from rapid industrialization, the long-term effects of Enlightenment democratization, and the simmering of class-conscious sentiments. In an effort to preserve the Kaiserreich and its existing power structures, Bismarck had remarked early on that “[i]f there is to be revolution, we would prefer to make it than to suffer it.”3

American political leaders at the turn of the century shared similar convictions. In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt characterized his own policies as a preservation of the “conservative class,” to which he himself belonged, with the intention to provide “a safety valve for the popular unrest and indignation” among a sizable section of the populace, and to avoid state ownership or “other drastic measures against corporations.”4 Thus, working closely with America’s ‘captains of industry,’ many Progressive lawmakers devised and implemented policies that sought large scale reforms – many of which resulted in great leaps forward such as railroad regulation, food and drug regulation, a graduated income tax, or women’s suffrage – but most of the policies that Progressives pursued did not actually seek to fundamentally address America’s structural biases, blind spots, and inequalities. Thus America’s national Progressivism during the first quarter of the twentieth century, Kolko concluded, was essentially a “defense of business against the democratic ferment in the states.” However, unlike developments in Europe, Progressive politics in America, as Kolko notes further, effectively “sidetracked European socialism” and thus stymied a “truly radical, articulated alternative economic and political program capable of synthesizing political democracy with industrial reality.”5

This may be a sobering realization, but mainstream American Progressivism was never truly leftist, and neither of the two major parties during the height of the Progressive Era constituted an actual left wing in American politics. As historian Alan Dawley points out, Progressives were not the left, but merely “drew many ideas from the left”. The actual left, as Dawley argues most convincingly, is best defined “as the political stance, whether Marxist or not, that blamed inequalities in wealth and power on the workings of the capitalist system.” This ought to be the primary consideration in helping us “distinguish leftists from progressives, who, for the most part, did not see capitalism behind every wrong.”6

A truly leftist space existed merely on the fringes, and it was occupied by individuals such as Eugene Debs or Emma Goldman, or by organizations such as the American Socialist Party or the International Workers of the World. While this fringe left did most certainly influence broader political conversations, it did not permeate the political mainstream enough to create a viable left-wing mainstay in American party politics. As a result, the Democrats and the GOP, both of which experienced Progressive insurgencies at the time, and both of which would recalibrate several times throughout the twentieth century, eventually developed into today’s center-right and right-wing parties, respectively.

And this is where so many American liberals, center-leftists, conservatives, and reactionaries get it wrong today. Looking at our two-party system under the premise of a ‘left/right’ duality essentially creates the fallacy of equating ‘liberal’ or ‘Democrat’ with ‘the left.’ While populist liberals like Elizabeth Warren – herself a former Republican – undoubtedly consider themselves to be a part of ‘the left,’ far right commentators, such as the folks at Breitbart, deride “her ideological left-wing purity,” while at the same time branding her as a “liberal icon.”7 Unfortunately, both viewpoints equally conflate liberals with ‘the left.’ Moreover, such invocations of ‘the left’ seem oblivious to the fact that liberals only occupy a space to the relative political left when they are juxtaposed to individuals, movements, or positions on the far right. The effect on our national political culture is disheartening. Not only do we appear to be in the dark about the political anatomies and philosophies of the world we live in, but we seem to lack an understanding of political culture outside of the American context.

Such myopic perceptions of ‘the left’ permeate almost our entire mass political consciousness. The headlines and front page stories of major news outlets provide ample proof. One such example is a New York Times piece from January 2016, titled “Democratic Race Will Test Where the Left Stands.” This headline alone seems to equate the Democratic Party with ‘the left.’ While this an omnipresent trope in American political language and media narratives, it is an inherently false and inadequate exposition. Yet, the misleading headline is not the sole element of concern here. Not unlike the above-mentioned Breitbart piece on Elizabeth Warren, this article similarly characterizes Senator Bernie Sanders as both a “liberal” and as “far-left,” while seemingly using these terms interchangeably. This conflation is amplified further when the author ponders over whether Sanders could energize “the liberal wing of the party,” again, conflating ‘liberal’ with ‘left.’8

In this potpourri of political nomenclature, the otherwise solid article at best blurs and at worst ignores the considerable distinctions between the Democratic Party and modern liberals on the one hand, and ‘the left’ on the other. Another New York Times headline from January of this year goes even further, suggesting that “The Left Mulls How to Resist Trump.” The author clarifies his frame of reference as to what sort of political figures constitute the ‘left’ by discussing the deliberations of Democratic establishment figures such as DNC Chair Tom Perez or CNN contributor and Clinton confidant Donna Brazile, neither of whom are remotely representative of the political left.9

But the constant reproduction of the misnomer that is ‘the left’ in reference to the Democratic Party or mainstream liberals is not just an issue in our corporate news media. On an episode of NPR’s Here and Now on September 13, 2017, Republican strategist Paris Dennard rejected questions about whether the Trump administration’s tax cuts (which have since been enacted) would primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans as mere “talking points from the left.” As if this wasn’t platitudinal enough, Dennard then proceeded to comment on the issue of healthcare reform, stating that “single payer is not working in Canada or in Europe,” and thus spreading a definitive falsehood.

What is perhaps more disconcerting, however, is the fact that NPR’s Meghna Chakrabarti then followed the established but erroneous trope of misusing the term ‘the left.’ In what was obviously a subtle reference to existing criticism toward single payer healthcare coming from some liberals and establishment Democrats, Chakrabarti noted that “there are some people on the left who are worried that Medicare-for-all could backfire because it possibly could reduce the coverage that people already have.”10 This is yet another example of the casual, widespread, and politically myopic trigger-happiness that misidentifies mainstream liberal and moderate viewpoints as distinctly ‘left.’

Sadly, National Public Radio, of all places, seems to be particularly susceptible to misappropriating the term ‘left.’ On a recent episode of Here and Now, host Robin Young spoke with former NPR CEO Ken Stern about his new book, in which Stern reflects on his travels and experiences when he left his Democratic “liberal bubble and learned to love the right.” Stern’s subtext and discussion of his book undoubtedly set the parameters of the conversation, and even though Young tenaciously pressed the former CEO on his arguments on political bubbles and confirmation biases, asserting that NPR provides “views from all sides,” she, too, slipped into the fallacy of equating the liberal vs. conservative dichotomy with the left vs. right divide, when she asked her listeners to share their impressions, especially if they themselves were trapped in a bubble either on the left or on the right.

As we can see, commentators and correspondents in both corporate and public news media outlets across the board continuously use the qualifier ‘left’ in their publications and broadcasts when, in fact, they are referring to mainstream liberals or Democrats. In doing so, they are not only communicating a false narrative, but they are perpetuating a part of our political culture that is deeply flawed. The conflation of equating Democrats and liberals with ‘the left,’ and juxtaposing them in opposition to conservatives and Republicans as ‘the right,’ may be a convenient and utilitarian tool in our soundbite media landscape, but the downside to this practice is that it only reinforces our national Manichean worldview of wrong and right, black and white, left and right, which severely limits our political discourse and stifles our possibilities.

The argument I am making here is far beyond semantics or labels. If Americans want to be understood politically by observers from all socio-political spheres and spectra, if we want to create a more vibrant democracy in which to engage our citizenry, if we want to open our possibilities, if we want to effectively integrate our growing foreign-born population into our political discourse, and if we want to communicate effectively and meaningfully with people and cultures abroad, we need to rethink our own political culture and language.

So, how then should we look at the political language of ‘left’ and ‘right’? Some international context might be beneficial. In their modern political capacity, the descriptors ‘right’ and ‘left’ originate from the parliamentary seating arrangements in post-Revolutionary France, referring to pro- and anti-monarchists respectively. While their exact meaning and connotation are contingent upon the specific temporal and societal context in which we locate them, core conceptualizations of the political left generally encompass an egalitarian socio-political and economic character; i.e., a clear rejection of a capitalist economic model with its inherently parasitic nature and the limitations it imposes on true human liberation.

Conversely, the political right is defined by a more individualistic, pro-capitalistic, free market calibration. In modern political science, manifestations of left and right are usually measured on bi- or multiaxial spectra. Let me elaborate my point using the bi-axial Political Compass. In this model, the horizontal axis depicts the full range of economic matters, ranging from the total absence of private property (not personal property!!!) on the far left, to an economy based entirely on private property and free markets on the far right. The vertical axis, on the other hand, charts the range of political and social liberty, from fully authoritarian statism and state-sanctioned social and racial suppression at the top to entirely unimpeded individual autonomy at the bottom. Of course, political ideologies are inherently non-static, and they can and do indeed intersect or overlap, particularly on the extreme fringes of the spectrum. In other words, since varying degrees of statist-authoritarianism, for instance, are conceivable on both horizontal ends of the spectrum, the very notion of a definitive terminus is debatable. For this purpose, a three-dimensional spherical model could perhaps serve as an alternative to a conventional two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, but within the context of discussing the left in American political culture, the Political Compass is more than adequate to chart manifestations of ‘left’ and ‘right.’

Compared to the multi-party democracies of many European countries, which cover a broader range of ideologies and policies on the political spectrum, mainstream political discourse in the United States occurs almost exclusively between the center and the far right. The following charts depict the major political entities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France in their respective general elections over the past year. It becomes apparent that, even in the context of growing uncertainty as reflected in more recent developments in Europe — such as the refugee crisis, anti-globalization forces, or increasing anti-EU sentiment — European political cultures still include a far greater space for decidedly left alternatives and counterweights to the prevalent right and conservative trajectories in recent years.

When we apply the aforementioned criteria that define ‘the left’ to the political realities of modern America, however, there appear hardly any readings on either left quadrant of the Political Compass. In the 1940s and 1950s America was defined by New Deal reforms and post-war prosperity, but many of these developments structurally and deliberately excluded women and people of color. While the Civil Rights movement successfully paved the way for a whole host of different people and interest groups in their pursuits of greater liberty and equality, America’s political reordering since the late 1960s — which was in many ways a response the social and political upheaval and challenges during that decade — saw an assertion of neoliberalism wedded to a revival of conservatism and reactionism.

Since the 1970s the Democrats have effectively positioned themselves at the center-right. Rather than having been overrun by the resurgence on the right, the Democratic Party was an active part and parcel of the conservative swing in American politics. Enjoying a majority in the House of Representatives during both of Ronald Reagan’s presidential terms, the party of FDR and Lyndon Johnson had essentially shed its post-war progressivism, and now became complicit in the deindustrialization and deregulation of the American economy, huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, the ‘war on drugs,’ and the rise of the prison-industrial complex.

The 1990s only saw an extension of this ‘Reagan Democrat’ calibration. Bill Clinton’s ‘welfare reform,’ trade deals, and his administration’s continuation of Reaganite ‘tough on crime’ and anti-drug law enforcement initiatives only exacerbated the rightward trend of the party, which again disproportionately targeted people of color. And, finally, when the dust had settled on the initial hype over our nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama’s legacy was quickly defined by his ‘signature’ healthcare reform – which is really a tremendous gift to big insurance and big pharma – along with his prolonged military operations, and the continuation of disastrous trade deals. Therefore, the bar had been set low enough – or should we say far enough to the right – for Hillary Clinton’s lackluster campaign which promised at best incremental progress, and which was a significant part as to why we ended up with Trump, not to mention her mitosis from a one-time healthcare reformer to a center-right establishment candidate who is convinced that single payer “will never, ever come to pass.”11

All this contortion of ‘the left’ is reflected in the issues we debate in our political climate, and more importantly, how we discuss them. Many Europeans generally take for granted provisions such as universal healthcare, strong employment rights, inviolable civic rights, strong consumer and environmental protections, or efficient systems of public infrastructure – just to name a few. In comparison, such issues are always hotly contested in America, to the point that proposals such as Medicare for all, affordable and debt-free education, limiting the influence of special interests in policy-making, or reducing our overdependence on fossil fuel not only seem all but destined to perish at the whims of the corporate oligarchy and its networks of wealthy donors and lobbyists that control the political process, but these ‘leftist’ policies are also dismissed as ‘pipe dreams’ or ‘pie in the sky’ by many liberals and moderates.

Herein lies the kicker. For all their alleged commitment to social justice and political equality, American liberals and moderates (you know…the folks who supposedly make up ‘the left’ in American politics), are still often beholden to or imbued with national myths about America’s role as the global exporter of democracy and economic prosperity. Put differently, American liberals are caught in their own delusions and safe logic, in which our protracted involvement in foreign wars just means that ‘our troops are fighting for our freedoms,’ and in which America’s large corporate enterprises are justified in their accumulation of wealth and power (read: in the continuous exploitation of workers and people of color, both at home and abroad, and hence the proliferation of grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality), as long as they continue to be the drivers of research and innovation.

This misappropriated version of ‘the left’ in American politics then is a strange phenomenon. Many Americans, both liberal and conservative, often seem to care very little if human beings are being exploited in Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East, as long as folks here at home enjoy artificially low gas prices, get to shop for cheap at Walmart, or get to have their sugar-laden dessert coffees at Starbucks. White liberals in particular often proclaim solidarity with and empathy for disadvantaged and disenfranchised people of color in America as well as in the developing world, but yet too many of them confine themselves to the privileged seclusion of a sheltered suburban life, which was only made possible on a grand scale by racially exclusive big government programs and an economic prosperity that hinged on wartime production and the vast expansion of what Eisenhower called ‘the military-industrial complex’ on the heels of the second World War.

It is one thing to call for greater equality for the marginalized and the disadvantaged in society, but it is quite another thing to come to terms with the fact that much of one’s own behaviors and consumption patterns contribute to the factors that create and perpetuate these disparities in the first place. Until Americans truly awaken to the realization that most of our mainstream social justice campaigns and our cyclical bouts and assertions of American progressivism cannot be effectively reconciled with our existence within a pseudo-democratic corporate capitalist system, there will be no tangible left wing in mainstream American politics. As James Baldwin has once remarked elsewhere, the future of America depends on the question whether Americans are able to come to terms with their own distorted “sense of reality.”

  1. Crispin Sartwell. “The Left-Right Political Spectrum Is Bogus“, The Atlantic, June 20, 2014.
  2. Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916 (New York: The Free Press, 1963), 2.
  3. Otto von Bismarck, Die gesammelten Werke (Friedrichsruher Ausgabe), 19 vols in 15 (Berlin, 1924-35), vi. 120, Bismarck to Manteuffel, 11 August 1866.
  4. “Jar at Gridiron Dinner,” Baltimore Sun, January 29, 1907; TR to Paul Morton, January 2, 1907, in Roosevelt, Theodore, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Vol. 3-7. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951-1954, 5:535-536.; Unreasonable Men 84-90.
  5. Kolko, Triumph of Conservatism, 286.
  6. Alan Dawley, Changing The World: American Progressives in War and Revolution. (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003, 3).
  7. Adam Shaw. “Elizabeth Warren, Supporters Making Big Bucks from ‘She Persisted’ Merchandise“, Breitbart, August 13, 2017.
  8. Patrick Healy. “Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Battle for Party’s Future”, New York Times, January 24, 2016.
  9. Jonathan Martin. “When He Goes Low, They Go …Where? Democrats Mull How to Confront Trump“, New York Times, January 14, 2017.
  10. Trump Meets With Lawmakers On Tax Overhaul“, Charlottesville, Here and Now, September 13, 2017.
  11. Hillary Clinton, Campaign Rally in Des Moines, Iowa, January 29, 2016.