Category Archives: Culture

Capitalism, Empire, and the Infernal Gloom Machine

Depression is built into this machine and the evidence is plastered on the morose faces of people caught in the clutches of its business as usual activities. Depression is found in the insurmountable debts we owe for spending a lifetime of preparation and labor to serve the machine. In addition to debt, the machine awards us for our servitude with trinkets, gadgets, doodads and gizmos that provide a moment of hollow amusement and then sit on shelves in garages and decay. They represent the planned obsolescence of the human heart. The sacrifice paid for our fetish with materialism is the actual quality of our lives.

The gloom machine tells us the quality of our lives is defined by the machine in the driveway, and the machine that flushes away our excrement, and the machine that chills the tortured slaughtered animal flesh for later consumption, and the machine that flashes pornographic images and supplies numbers detailing how much we are liked by our so called friends. But to us humans it seems that quality of life is more appropriately measured in the amount of disposable time we have to pursue that which we want, and the quality of the community around us, and living without being chronically stressed with threats of being displaced from the land upon which we live for not working hard enough for the machine.

Depression is waking up at 6 in the morning in darkness to sit in traffic for an hour to arrive at a job that we don’t want to be at, only to serve the machinations of people with nothing but greed in their overstuffed bellies. And we go to these jobs so that we can pay rents that are unaffordable, and to service debt we’ll never escape, and we go home in darkness to our lonely lives in places where community is absent with a view of an equally lonely tree or a man-made retention pond which is an upgrade over the view of staring directly at your neighbor’s domicile. Depression is the realization there is no vacation on the horizon, no respite, just more of the same. Depression is knowing that such a life is better than many others have it.

Depression is recognizing the cynics were right about this society, that Cohen spoke truth when he sullenly moaned:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Depression is watching art die. The surrealist, the bohemian, the rock ’n roll, and the anti-authoritarian soul has lain down and pledged fealty to the dollar. For money, they’re now all willing to become ready made predictable cubes to be packaged and sold in plastic wrap placed in cleverly designed boxes which deliver to the depressed public what they want, more of something that’s pretty on the outside and vacant within. We are left with monthly subscriptions of more tales of self aggrandizement for the throngs of temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Depression is watching the worst of us rise to legitimacy and awarded iniquitous riches for it. The popular is depressive, musical hack Cardi B sings about her money money money and she is loved. Jordan Peterson sells cheap self help stolen from better written material decades ago amalgamated with misogyny and dictates of hierarchal subjugation and becomes wildly popular. Trump purveys hatred of people of color and a love of authoritarianism and the depressive people, oh do they eat it up. This is sickness, depressive sickness.

Depression is acceptance of the violent now. The grossly unhappy men with their armaments spread their gloom and horror across the planet and claim righteousness for doing so. Depression is watching society applaud murderous hearts for their crimes who don badges and camouflage and have holidays to celebrate their violent history, while villains are made of those who simply don’t want to stand up for songs of oppression. Thank you for your service to the machine.

Depression is watching notions of resistance and revolution take form in slightly altered subservience. The great reformation desired now is for a “green new deal” that doesn’t come close to mitigating the impending culling of humanity from soon to be ecological catastrophes. Their plans offer only more endless work at the behest of the gloom machine while promising healthcare that will never happen, less debt it will also never deliver, and affordable housing that still won’t solve homelessness. They don’t want to break the machine, just tweak it, and they lack the ability to do that even. Never have I borne witness to such eager slaves and such depressive aspirations. The people seem to adore their cubicle lives, their environmental destruction, their corporations, their debts, their corrupt leaders, their prisons, their banks, and their taxes.

They want to continue to be put to work under the thumb of the status quo western civilization authoritarian mind and this is all the depressed mentally dominated masses can think of as a possible improvement. Instead of wanting to taste real liberty and be actual equals, their dreams are limited to being better treated servants. The gloom machine chugs along fueled with dimwitted ideas sold by boxed-in thinkers without any possibility of escaping the darkness, rather simply offering a more cushy seat for viewing the end of everything.

The machine bellows out demanding more, more, you owe me more, and somehow those wearing red, white, and blue agree and celebrate the demands of the machine. These debts we owe are servitude. The numbers held in digital machines are immoral which demand one must wake up to a dreary existence to do more of what is killing our souls along with the flora and fauna around us.

Depression is the downtrodden plebs who celebrate their corrupt democracy, which is in reality a thinly veiled oligarchy that should be obvious to all. They prop up a system of voting that allows the election of the presidency, a position that shouldn’t exist in the first place in an egalitarian society, to be awarded to candidates who don’t capture the most votes. What little democracy there is in a representative system is lost in totality when the winner of elections need not win the majority of votes. The gloom machine is straight up tyranny.

A non-depressed society would reject being served faux democracy. They’d reject a system absent of reason or compassion and disdain would be for ideas of continuing to support such a destructive way of being. But instead, within the gloom machine shame is reserved for those who don’t want to take part in the busted system, and it venerates those who cast votes for imperialist conquerers and planet destroyers, and those voters are lauded as doing their civic duty for taking part in open public corruption.

Depression is the insincere know it all crowd who are incapable of honest debate and have rarely endeavored to open a book of substance or engage in critical thought, but they know trivialities which they mistake as facts and wisdom. They know arrogance well and emanate it with aplomb. They know how to believe all they see in the corporatized media, but thinking without boundaries or limitations is beyond their capacity. This is not even depression, this is tragedy.

Depression is watching the trees be plowed down for more tract housing, a portion of which will sit empty for years because no one can afford to move there, and even if they could it’s a heinous boring life that awaits which is only significantly better compared to being homeless. Depression is knowing this is the reason why we are rapidly destroying our habitable environment and commencing a 6th mass extinction event which is now accelerating.

Depression is to know there is nothing we can do to stop the country we live in from mercilessly killing innocent people all over the world for no reason other than more economic expansion and our sadistic ideas of exceptionalism that entail spreading pain and hardship so a few elites can have more of what they already have more than enough of.

Depression is the powerlessness to change anything of significance. There is no other way they say other than the desolate gloom machine, they say this is how it must be. And so we remain here waiting for the horror that is soon to approach us all as the gloom descends in ever quickening waves.

A zombified indoctrinated populace can see no other way than capitalism and beating each other over the heads to satiate egos in needless competition that is unnecessary for survival and deleterious to the common good. Capitalism is the primary tool of empire, and a word that should be synonymous with depression. It’s the accumulation of resources in an effort to gain more power in man-made markets to leverage that power over other people and get them to do what the person with the most power desires. Capitalism’s depressing ideology is defined by the lecherous desire for more for the sake of it so the winner can pound their simian chest in victorious celebration of the devastation they’ve created.

Capitalism is inherently unsustainable due the way it allows power to coalesce via the leveraging abilities given to money to buy land, the means of production, elections, and advertising. It allows the whims of the few to overrun the needs of the many where those with the worst intentions aspire to gain more than others because they will attempt to fill the void in their hearts with self importance expressed via power over others. This is why it cannot be used.

If there is no central currency or advantage to collecting huge amounts of resources then the motivation to hoard would evaporate, as those resources would simply rot or become a burden to maintain. There’s no fun in that kind of hoarding. The “fun” comes to the simpleton power seeker when they acquire power to make others do what they want and thus gain the ephemeral validation they so desperately seek.

If one runs the math on players competing for money at different rates of gain over a certain amount of time, there will be a doubling effect which becomes exponential. And this effect will accelerate as it plunders along due to gains in leverage which allows for ever greater amounts of money to be made at faster rates. Eventually it always ends the way a game of monopoly ends, someone has all the power and everyone else is subservient to that entity/person.

These dour thoughts manifest from the recognition of the stranglehold empire has over our lives. The depression is the result of the myriad of expectations I can’t let go of that wants to see a kinder more egalitarian and sustainable world emerge while knowing how unlikely it is. Our collective depression is rooted in the foundations of social hierarchy and its economic tools of control, and understanding what a perfect trap it is, and so it goes, and everyone doesn’t know, but they feel it, though.

Facing the music: religion, nationalism, and sports have enchanted the working class; socialism hasn’t

Orientation

Religion, nationalism and sports as propaganda for the ruling class.

In the closing section of my course Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century, I ask my students to compare organized religion, nationalism and sports, not only to determine the kind of propaganda they are (black, gray or white), but also the devices and artifacts that are used. This includes the use of architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, use of visual symbols, language manipulation and techniques for altering states of consciousness. The world religions have used these processes for at least 3,500 years to exploit, control and distract people from their misery on earth and direct us instead to variations of ‘you’ll get pie in sky when you die’.

The history of nationalism over the last 400-500 years has closely followed the techniques of organized religion. In fact, I think it is fair to say that nationalism is more powerful than moderate and liberal religion in motivating people. I doubt whether most people of liberal or moderate religion in the West would sacrifice their life for their religion. But at least among the working class who sign up for the military, nationalism can motivate people to fight and die to kill strangers in other countries who share the same social class.

Sports, as opposed to religion or nationalism, is a more joyous escape from the difficulties of life. If I were a betting person, I would bet most Americans might go to the barricades if the AFC and NFC championships were not televised. A championship playoff game such as the World Series could certainly outdraw any religious or patriotic ceremony in TV ratings. And what is the result? Who wins the game ultimately has little effect on the lives of the fans. Yet they continue to watch. This is some mighty potion going’ on. Do the socialists understand it? Do we use similar techniques to win the working classes to socialism? Not on your life!

Qualification

I am certainly not claiming that religion or nationalism has the same hold on people in the 21st century that they did in the 20th century. At least in the western countries, there has been a steady decline of interest in religion. Nationalism certainly does not have the grip on Europe that it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, in spite of this decline, both carry enormous power.

I   Socialists’ Failures to Come to Grips With Enchantment

It’s not enough for socialists to simply claim that religion, nationalism and sports are examples of “false consciousness” for the working class.

I would think that socialists, being social, would be hip to what is going on with these propaganda techniques. Sure, you may find cultural critics beginning with the Frankfurt School who will bemoan the lack of taste among the masses and state how all religion, nationalism and sports produce false consciousness. But this is a very mechanical and unnecessarily bleak understanding of the potential of the techniques used in these areas to light a fire under the working class. We must not only point out the manipulative nature of enchantment, but we need to be dialectical and ask how we could use these techniques to promote socialism. After all, the construction of a sacred space (whether a church or a ballpark), a dramatized story, ritualized gestures, and the use of music and the arts to alter consciousness is not just naïve superstition. It is part of our bio-evolutionary heritage to be interested in these things. The alternative to the alienated enchantment of sports, religion and nationalism is not de-enchantment, as so many dry-as-dust socialists seem to think. We must build a “this-worldly” pagan enchantment that is a foundation for socialism.

Socialists’ failures against nationalism and religion

Three examples should give you the picture. The first is the famous one of socialists before World War I. The socialist parties in Europe and, to a lesser extent in the United States, were very confident that the workers of the world would unite to oppose the war. After all, the workers understood that they had no fatherland, right? Wrong. Not only did working class people kill each other after being whipped up to mass hysteria, but most of the socialist ministers, some of them great intellectuals like Kautsky, Plekhanov and Kropotkin got emotionally caught up in defending the fatherland. Socialism as a political movement of internationalism was no match for nationalism.

The second example is of Germany in 1933. During the depression in that country, the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) was the strongest socialist party in the whole world. Economic conditions were bad. Great time for a revolution, right? What did the socialists do? According to the mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, they simply fed the masses boring statistics about their condition. However, the Nazis understood that there is a charismatic side to people, a side that likes mythology, drama, pomp and circumstance, doomsday scenarios, scapegoats, black and white answers and promises of redemption. Goebbels and the Nazi brass understood mass psychology while the socialists were buried in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

My last example is about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one of the most horrendous institutions in the West in the last 800 years. Its officials committed every one of the “seven deadly sins” time after time as they tortured heretics and witches. They’ve made deals with royalists and military dictatorships and they have made peace with capitalists long ago. The Catholic Church has a record of child abuse that spans centuries. Yet many U.S., Italian, Spanish, French and all the other people in Catholic countries continue to attend mass and support the Church financially. At the same time, the socialist parties that actually do want to create heaven on earth with workers could not ever get masses of people to come to meetings once a week. People are too busy for that. But they are not too busy for church. How can this be?

The issue here is not that the working-class is stupid or that they are victims of false consciousness. Rather, I believe the issue to be:

The Church must be doing many things right to continue to collect their revenues and get people to attend in spite of being seen as the world’s first international terrorist organization.
Do the socialists understand this mass psychology? No, they do not.
Do the socialists think that the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports could be used to mobilize people for socialism? Ah, what?

Marx did not understand religion and nationalism

Marx said some very riveting things about religion. Among other things he saw the construction of “god” as an alienation of human creativity. But at the same time he believed that religion would wither away under communism as people’s material conditions got better. Clearly this has not been the case. Neither was Marx very dialectical about how religion could be used by socialists. With the exception of liberation theology, socialists have not understood how to transform all the ingredients that go into “cooking” a religious experience and mythologize a socialist story complete with music, ritual, mythology and patron saints. The closest instance of socialists doing something like this is May Day in southern European countries. It used to be that people made costumes for May Day and gathered together while wearing those costumes, sharing food and singing The International. All these things gave it some of the sweep and drama of religion.

The extent to which the Communist Party tried to outlaw religion is revealing in how little they understood it. All this did was to make it more attractive by burying it underground. Socialists also did not understand that nationalism would not disappear under socialism. During World War II Stalin needed to refer to the “Great Russian Fatherland” (hardly a call to socialist internationalism) in order to inspire and join people together through hardship.

Neither did socialists understand that race cannot be reduced to social class.

Again, Marxists’ general approach is that race will only preoccupy people when capitalists use race to keep people from uniting as a class. But once workers gain class consciousness, the issue of skin color will dissolve in people minds. This has not been born out in experience. In addition, because of Marxists’ cynical attitude towards evolutionary psychology they have yet to make current in their theory the fact that ethnocentrism goes all the way back to hunter-gatherers. While ethnocentrism and racism are not the same thing, ethnocentrism is present enough to see that the skin color of people does matter around the world and that this was present long before capitalism existed.

Marxists cannot explain how sports have charmed the working class

A number of years ago, Noam Chomsky commented on how amazed he was by the intelligence of working class people when they called into a sports talk program the Monday after Sunday’s NFL games. Their analysis of what plays didn’t work, what plays could have worked along with the strengths and weaknesses of the players was astounding. But then he pointed out how all this intelligence goes away when the same people are then asked to make a political analysis of the current events in their lives – working conditions, wages, war. The working class is mute when asked to explain how and why capitalism is failing. The question is not why working class people have cognitive compartmentalization, separating sporting events from their everyday life. The question is what does sports offer people that makes them so involved? Have socialists asked themselves what would have to happen to make working class people be carried away by socialism the way they are by sports?

As many of you know, a number of years ago the Seattle Seahawks played the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. The Seahawks were losing but had a great drive going at the end of the game. With about 90 seconds left and the ball on the New England one-yard line, the Seahawks quarterback decided to pass the ball rather than hand it off to Marshawn Lynch who had a great game. The pass was intercepted. I knew the next day in my brainwashing class, this was what they wanted to talk about. It wouldn’t have mattered if the stock market crashed. Why is this? Unless students were betting on the game, they had no material stake in the outcome. Still – most of the men in the class were very involved.

II  Bad Taste: A Communist is Swept Away By Baseball

Flashbulb memories of my performance as a baseball player

When I was about 7 years old I used to play a ‘let’s pretend’ game. I laid out 4 rags I’d gotten from the garage and placed them in a diamond form which represented the bases. The bases were about 45 feet apart. Then I looked at our house and took my batting stand and let my imagination take over. The scene is no doubt familiar to many of you. It is the last of the 9th inning, we are losing by three runs. The bases are loaded and there are two outs. Then I swing and hit the ball – tsssssch! “ As Mel Allen was saying in my head “there is a high fly ball deep to right center. The centerfielder is at the track. It is going, going, gone”. Then I would trot around the bases. As I got older I played a great deal of hardball and I hit home runs, but never quite experienced the situation I imagined when I was seven until my last year of playing.

In 1968 our team from Brooklyn got into a playoff game at Victory Field which was one of the fanciest fields around. My girlfriend Rose Nuccio let it be known to me that this was the last time she was coming to my games. Sunday was her only day to sleep in. “Besides” she said, “you are 0-8” (referring to my performance in the last two games.) She brought her sister Miriam along with her for this game. In the top of the first inning I am up with two guys on base and two outs. The left-handed pitcher, Rick Honeycutt, throws me a high inside curve ball.

“Tshrush”! I tomahawk the pitch and the ball really does head for the right centerfield fence just like in my fantasy 13 years ago. As I watch the ball head for the fence time and space seem to contract. It’s as if I were in my backyard 13 years ago. The ball lands on the tennis courts on the other side of the fence scattering everyone. I am so out of it that as I make my rounds of the bases I miss first base. The coach has to get me to touch the base. As I round second I see Rosie and Miriam jumping up and down screaming like two young Italian gals will. The look on Rosie’s face as our eyes met was like a melting ray of sunlight that united our eyes. I missed third base too. Finally as I headed for home most everyone on our team came out to home plate to meet me. It was as if we won the World Series. I disappear in a mass of teammates at the plate.

I have told this story in my psychology classes as an example of a peak experience. I also use it in my brainwashing class to show how powerful sports can be in moving people. Virtually every time I tell the story I cannot help but become teary. I’ve seen students cry even though they know nothing about sports. Unless socialists can find a way to create this kind of drama, not occasionally but as part of a regular seasonal sequence, we will continue to be marginalized.

The lure of professional baseball: the return of the hero Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle

My last example is about a baseball player many of you know. Ken Griffey Jr. was a great home run hitter for the Seattle Mariners for about 10 years. For whatever reasons, I believe he asked to be traded to Cincinnati, where he played for about another seven years. Probably because he was a left-handed hitting center fielder like I was, and because of his grace I liked him and followed his career. Then I heard he was traded back to the American League, to the White Sox. The following year he was traded back to Seattle. How would the fans feel? Would they hold a grudge because he left? I knew they wouldn’t. I wanted to see the homecoming so I watched the game when he came back to Seattle. The fans made signs and were screaming for him. They must have given him a 5-10 minute standing ovation. Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t even a Seattle fan! What was going on was not a baseball game. It was the return of a god to his home ground.

Movie stars, musicians and sports figures are our gods and goddesses. These celebrities have happily replaced priests and military generals as our heroes. Like gods and goddesses, they enter into sports mythology complete with the stories of great World Series, great stories of betrayal (by playing for another team) drug scandals and homecomings. The people of Seattle understood that when they came to this game they were participating in the final days of a great sports god, and this mattered more than who won this particular game. If socialists cannot figure out that this is what is going on with sports fans and, even more importantly, how to use this energy for our purposes, we will continue to be marginalized.

III Socialist enchantment needs to happen before the revolution

Socialism has certainly had its events that could be claimed as peak experiences or even religious experiences. Anyone who had participated in a revolution knows these moments are euphoric and unforgettable. Anyone who participated in the Occupy Movement will not soon forget it. And those centrists fools who think that Occupy “is over” will be in for a rude awakening as their spastic, decaying capitalist system will continue to undergo more nervous breakdowns. These breakdowns will only produce more “Occupies”.

But what about budding socialists who have never had revolutionary experiences? What do we have to offer them in the way of inspiring collective experiences before a revolutionary process begins? Throughout the year baseball has its opening day in April; the All Star game is in July; the World Series in October. Religion has its holy days peppered throughout the year. Nationalism has its holidays – President’s day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. What is missing under socialism is a similar pageantry of rituals, joining in song and dance along with regular places to meet and celebrate. All of these things build a theatrical stage scaffolding for extraordinary revolutionary events. I am not talking about practical, political meetings. Theatrical stage sets might inform the practical but they are the celebration of the socialist tradition regardless of specific political or economic events that might be happening.

Socialists understand enchantment during and after revolutions, but before the revolution too many socialists are disenchanted crab apples. In part, this is because of a sad lack of yearly seasonal rituals that keep the fires burning between one revolutionary generation and the next.

Lastly, religion, nationalism and sports all have ways of linking the important events of the year to the lifetime of the individual. Catholics have confirmation at roughly the age of nine; Hispanic Catholics have quinceañera around a girl’s 15th birthday. In sports an individual might visit Cooperstown (Baseball’s Hall of Fame) for their birthday. Nationalism has its pilgrimages to the Washington monuments in the summer. What does socialism have to offer? Is it possible to have something like my baseball flashbulb memory tapped into some systematic experience that could be given to socialist children or adolescents? Would it be possible to have an experience of socialism before the revolution, which is similar to whatever it takes to make the fans wave their signs, scream for 10 minutes and become emotionally spent when their hero comes home and is paraded through the streets? Boy, does socialism need some of that potion. We need some Love Potion Number 9.

In Part Two we’ll explore in more detail what this might look like.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via COINTELPRO, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner. The first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to Create. May contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of History, Benjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson and Crick, Margulis and Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws.

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do, in fact, create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently; i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the September 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty”

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern thought and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of Physics. Exploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rd edition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rain forests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults whose conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climatically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of Authenticity. As Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song; i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

Orson Welles in End Times

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is Morgan Neville’s not–very-helpful addition to the canon of “Who Was Orson Welles and How Did He Do It?” documentaries, of which I have already seen several, since I’m a fan. It didn’t make me particularly enthusiastic about The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’ simultaneously released final monsterpiece (42 years in coming!) which is the nominal focus of the documentary. The footage of Welles pastiching European New Cinema (which did a fine job all on its own) and somehow critiquing toxic masculinity by having John Huston chew scenery while slathering the bronze body of his talentless late-life muse Oja Kodar across the screen (talk about having your cake and eating it) and wasting the talented Susan Strasburg in a vengeful bitch-critic role left me cold and rather sad (in solidarity with critics, I suppose, and Antonioni, and the billions of women who may be any number of worthy things without ever being the muses of iconic film directors).

I may still go to see the film, out of completism, which for Welles fans is an exercise in frustration and almost Borgesian impossibility. Or maybe I’ll watch it on Netflix, since I assume my subscriber fees helped pay for it (both films are Netflix productions). As fans know, there’s usually at least one scene or shot in any Orson Welles film that actually makes you see in a new way, and that’s worth the price of many misfires.

The documentary is also full of baffling and irritating choices: why have Alan Cumming narrate, PBS style, but in various extraneous and tricksy settings, such as through a monitor in a faux editing room? Why shoot interview subjects side-on or over the shoulder—one of them, Henry Jaglom I think, even questions this on camera—or wearing headphones, in bled-out black and white? Why not identify any of them with title cards, at least once? Why are some only voiceovers, never seen at all?

Who knows? But if you have to ask, you’re being unnecessarily distracted from the subject.

Still, I’m glad I saw it; it gave me a lot of Welles to contemplate, and that caused me to reflect on the Greater Meaning of Movies. And this is because Welles was massive, iconic and chimerical enough to be a metaphor for the medium itself, during a time the cinema will not see again, for good or ill. He was like Prometheus, bringing fire to the masses, and condemned to exile and slow torture by the vengeful gods of the System for doing so.

Welles was also big enough to bookend High Anglo Culture historically: the artist most equal to the challenge of interpreting on stage or screen—in the final decades of unobstructed Anglo cultural dominance—the work of that foundational artist, Shakespeare, who literally reinvented our language in the incipient years of the empire, which, its life fatally extended by settler colonialism, and having linguistically and economically conquered the world, is finally on the knife-edge of ultimate decline. And Welles in turn gave us a new cinematic language for the story Shakespeare had mastered in that earlier time: the rise and fall of the Great Man.

It was sheer myth, what Welles created, what he seems to have lived for, myth in both the modern sense of fabrication, and the ancient sense of a story of cosmic significance. Twentieth century movies and movie-going were the first and last gasp of a universal secular mythology: once upon a time we went to temples to commune with gods, larger than life, made of light, who danced before us, or really forever just beyond, touching us without being touched. But they were also fictions, embodied by small (if pretty) actual humans wearing the giant masks of projection. And Welles, consummately among his peers, understood that in human life, duplicity and transcendence were inextricable. That’s probably why his masterpieces are masterpieces of surface, to paraphrase the late Pauline Kael (who apparently earned herself the Strasburg caricature in The Other Side of the Wind for this insight).

But now that the ending he wrote for his own story is at last before our eyes, both as document and as fiction, are we allowed to ask what it was all for? Not the quest for mythic expression, the creation of narratives of cosmic significance, which we will need as long as we remain human, but the particular myths, the stories, his own Promethean story—where do they fit in our contemporary psychic toolbox? Do they have the power to persist in the future as they have dominated the past?

Tragedy, the rise and fall of larger-than-life heroes, comes out of a culture of surplus, because the rise that precipitates the ruin is only possible where there is lots to gain. A culture that raises up Prometheus or Faust has the luxury of not needing to honor humility or resilience, because it has the resources to waste on great striving and great loss.

That seems unlikely to be the culture of the future.

In The Age of Derangement, Amitav Ghosh notes how ironic it is that, so far, only lowly genre fiction, and not much of that, seems able to grapple with what will likely be the defining phenomenon of our lives: the exhaustion of the biosphere and the chaos that will engulf us if we run it to death the way our ancestors ran down the mammoths. So-called literary fiction is obsessed with meticulously chronicling the phenomena and mapping the psychology of individual lives; so-called serious films may have extended their subject matter to include a bourgeois liberal embodiment of certain social issues in an individual’s story, but our culture’s back is turned when it comes to a situation so monstrous it requires nothing less than the mythic, the cosmological approach to storytelling.

And in that onrushing storm, the Great Man is lost and useless. The Great Man degenerates, as the Faustian bargain unravels, into a telegenic fascist, a blank-eyed billionaire eyeing only the next quarter’s returns, a slug-like Hollywood mogul strip-mining the humanity of naïve and vulnerable starlets. They aren’t even interesting villains, not a Hamlet or Macbeth or a Charles Foster Kane among them. All the while, a much bigger story, the story of how to survive and thrive in a living world, goes untold.

Peter Bogdanovich quotes Welles: “no story has a happy ending, unless you stop telling it before it’s over.” That’s a riff on Hemingway’s “every true story ends in death.” (Hemingway, possibly more than Welles himself, is the artist Huston is meant to be channeling in The Other Side of the Wind.) That’s the tragic view, and tragedy is an exclusive creation—one might say a self-fulfilling prophecy—of the boom-and-bust West. But comedy is universal, and survival is always comic, as the literary scholar and biologist Joseph Meeker (author of a seminal work of eco-criticism, The Comedy of Survival) reminds us. Comic heroes and heroines forgo transcendence for adaptation, fluid identity, minimization of risk and conflict. Their talent is a profound and sophisticated understanding of context, not a blind will to subdue the elements.

To make Welles’ late films and many others, lives were broken, bonds of friendship and love betrayed, chaos unleashed, all to chase some flickering remnant of magic that’s hailed as timeless even as it’s already fading back into all the other stories incessantly bubbling up, the rising din of billions who just got a toehold in modernity, and are only beginning to understand that their assigned job in it is to harvest the grapes of wrath. Magic forged in a privileged medium that won’t survive in any meaningful way in inundated cities, migrant camps, or vast resource-poor settlements where electricity has become an impossible luxury, won’t survive or have meaning in the sparkless eyes of the mechanical beings or burrowing animals that will haunt the ruins we’re rushing toward.

We murdered, we suppressed the age-old stories of connection to plants, animals, women, soil, one another. In one place on earth after another, the humble stories were displaced by Promethean pulp fiction, and now the price of that so-called progress may be the whole earth, and every living thing upon it. We may not even have Ozymandias’ “trunkless legs of stone” to gaze upon in a thousand years, much less the cinema of Orson Welles.

To avert this, sometime in the 21st century, during the lives of those now living or just being born, Prometheus must die, not merely be punished by serpents gnawing at his liver. He must die, or we will.

But for a little while longer, the shadows still dance before our hungry eyes, in lavishly restored Beaux Arts movie palaces like the Castro Theater, attended by the cultured and well-fed in the lucky rich cities like San Francisco, or in the booming multiplexes the slightly less felicitous drive to in their dinosaur boxes just off the life-abhorrent superhighways, or on the ever-smaller screens we’re increasingly encouraged to insert between ourselves and all innate perception, full stop. On those screens still flicker daily the stories of the Great (White) Men, their lushly violent dreams, their overweening, complex projects, their hapless, idolatrous muses—rising and falling like the stock market in speed-up, making us believe, in our timorous and misplaced awe, that when they finally fall for the very last time, our whole world goes down with them.

Mexico: Is the End of “Magic Imperialism” Approaching?

You all know how the saying goes: “Poor Mexico – too far from God, too close to the United States”.

This proud, beautiful and deep part of the world has been plundered, ravished and humiliated for many centuries, first by the Europeans (both the Spaniards and French), then by the Norteamericanos.

The vulgarity and brutality of the conquest had often been unbelievably grotesque, unreal, insane – to the point that I decided to name it a “magical imperialism” (or call it ‘magical colonialism’ if you wish).

Great cultures created by Mayas, Aztecs and other native people – cultures much more advanced than those of the Europeans, have been crushed, tricked, cheated, and finally forced into submission. Local gods were ‘sent to a permanent exile’ and Catholicism, under the threat of death or torture or both, was forced down the throat of everyone.

Yes, Western colonialism often takes truly bizarre, surreal, forms. What example should I provide, to illustrate ‘magic imperialism’? For example, this one: in Cholula, near the city of Puebla, Spaniards slammed their church on top of the biggest (by volume) pyramid on Earth – Tlachihualtepetl. It is still sitting there, even now as I write this essay: the church is sitting on top of the pyramid, unapologetically. Local authorities are even proud of its presence, promoting it as a ‘major tourist site’. I hope, one day, UNESCO includes it in the “memory of humanity” list, as a symbol of cultural vandalism.

Catholic church arrogantly slammed on top of the biggest pyramid in the world, outside Puebla

I summoned the curator at a local museum, Ms. Erica, asking her about this insanity. She explained, patiently:

We are strongly discouraged from speaking about brutality of the past. Mexico’s attitude towards its own history is truly schizophrenic. On one hand we know that our country was plundered, raped and abused, by the Spanish colonizers, by the French, and then by the U.S. But we, scholars, teachers, curators, are literally ordered to ignore it, to ‘be positive’; to ‘look for good things’ in what was done to us, and what we inherited.

Clearly, Ms. Erica has had enough. She speaks openly, passionately:

In the past, the church had been hit and damaged by lightning, on several occasions, and the local people believe that it happened because of the wrath of local gods, who were protesting against the desecration of their site and an architectural masterpiece – the pyramid. However, the structure was always quickly restored by the religious and state authorities. The church still dominates the landscape, visible from as far as the city of Puebla, while the grand pyramid looks humiliated and belittled, like nothing more than a forested hill.

*****

Mexico suffered for centuries, and it is suffering now.

It is one of the greatest countries on Earth. In fact, it is not just a country, but a universe, not unlike those ‘universes’ created by other great countries, like ‘universe China’, ‘universe India’ or ‘universe Russia’. Mexico is ancient and deep, and as mentioned above, it gave birth to some enormous civilizations, which were self-sufficient and much more advanced than the cultures of those who came to attack it, to plunder and enslave it.

These civilizations, however, were robbed of their identity by the invaders, forcefully Christianized, then reduced to the level of ‘minorities’ in their own land. Natives were forced into slave labor, and used to mine their own silver and other raw materials, which were quickly shipped far away, enriching first Europe and later North America.

Originally, all this was done by the colonists from abroad, and later, by the local elites on behalf of the West.

The same story could be traced to all corners of Latin America; and a similar story to so many parts of the world.

All this was done straight-faced. The West is never famous for soul-searching or spasms of guilt. No justification was provided. After all, there has been a Cross above the country named Mexico, and an imaginary ‘banner of civilization’ (Western one, naturally).

I call all of it a ‘magic imperialism’, because the whole destruction of this ancient and beautiful world was done in an almost ‘poetic’ way: built on faith-based dogmas, as well as on military and expansionist theories, and the myths of racial, cultural and religious supremacy.

All this took place during the colonial period, and it is taking place now, in the days of ‘free market fundamentalism’.

“Is all this good or bad for the Mexican people?” Who cares! Such questions are not allowed. Mexican people are supposed to listen, accept, and obey the West, simply because the West is the most enlightened part of the world, because ‘it knows better’. The word ‘superior’ is hardly used (as it is ‘politically incorrect’), but it is presumed.

*****

Now Mexico is boiling. It has had enough of being treated like a child, like a slave, like an inferior part of the world.

This time I travelled for three weeks all over the country, revisiting my ‘old places’. I wanted to hear what people think and say.

I used to live in this country, for an entire year, some 20 years ago. Deep in my heart, I never really left.

Now, everything looked both familiar, and at the same time, foreign. I spoke to people in Mexico City and Puebla, in Guadalajara, Tequila, Tlaxcala, Tijuana, Merida, Oaxaca, and I went deep into the countryside. Wherever I was, I felt fear. I detected anxiety, terrible anxiety.

Yes, there was fear, but also determination to change everything, and to start from scratch.

I was filming a documentary here, with the working title: “Mexico – Year Zero”. It was not a binding title, but I was getting used to it, it was somehow fitting.

Left-wing politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) won the Presidential Elections, securing great support in all but two states of the country.

This can mean total overhaul, true change, a new beginning, if Obrador fights, if he is determined, if he serves the interests of his people. Or it may mean nothing, almost zero, if he hesitates, loses guts and surrenders to inertia.

I spoke to at least a hundred people, in many parts of the country, perhaps many more. Not one, not a single one said, that his or her country is doing well! This, despite all sorts of positive economic indicators, despite a good position on the Human Development Index (HDI), and the fact that Mexico is, after all, an OECD country and the 15th largest economy in the world.

‘Magical imperialism’ brought this great nation to its knees.

Everything here is full of contradictions.

Mexico has much greater culture and lifestyle than the United States, but it is subservient to the North. 90% of its exports go straight to North America (U.S. and Canada). The Mexican view of the world is fully shaped by the brainwashing right-wing propaganda, literally flooding the country through such outlets like CNN en Español and FOX.

Outraged by North American behavior, Mexico is nevertheless forced to see the world through the eyes of its great tormentor. RT, CGTN, PressTV, or even Telesur, are only available through the internet.

This has to change. Everybody knows it has to, somehow. But how? So far, there is no plan. Is the President-elect going to come up with the one? And if he does, can he survive, or will he be harassed or even kicked out from his post or killed, as has happened to so many others, including Chavez and Dilma?

Can any Latin American country gain its true independence from the global dictatorship of the West? Cuba did! Or should I write: so far, only Cuba has. And Venezuela, to a great extent, but both are paying a horrendous price.

*****

All over Mexico, there are reminiscences of the Western ‘involvement’, or should I say ‘monuments of barbarity’. Often, one has to search for them, or even read between the lines, in order to identify them.

Spanish conquest, inquisition, massive theft of land, natural resources, and then massacres, massacres, torture…

On February 7, 2016, Telesur reported:

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, accused the Catholic Church of being complicit in the killing of over 24 million Indigenous people.

Some 30 Indigenous communities of Michoacan, Mexico, have released a statement demanding Pope Francis apologize for the genocide committed with the complicity of the Catholic Church against their people during the Spanish invasion of the Americas in the 16th century.

“For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted,” the Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan said in a statement.’

Well, Pope Francis, any comments; at least some desire to speak about justice?

The United States invasion, and the grab of enormous Mexican territory:

…The Mexican War was instrumental in shaping the geographical boundaries of the United States. At the conclusion of this conflict, the U.S. had added some one million square miles of territory, including what today are the states of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, as well as portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada…

Reading what it says above, one would believe that this account would be followed by the expression of horror at what took countless lives of the Mexican people, and resulted in the theft of tremendous territory. But no; of course, no! This quote is from the introduction written by John S. Brown, Chief of Military History, to a brochure (the Occupation of Mexico May 1846 – July 1848) described as being “produced by in the U.S. Army Center of Military History by Stephen A. Carney.” Instead of apology and indignation, the further quote follows:

…The Mexican War lasted some twenty-six months from its first engagement through the withdrawal of American troops. Fighting took place over thousands of miles, from northern Mexico to Mexico City, and across New Mexico and California. During the conflict, the U.S. Army won a series of decisive conventional battles, all of which highlighted the value of U.S. Military Academy graduates who time and again paved the way for American victories. The Mexican War still has much to teach us about projecting force, conducting operations in hostile territory with a small force that is dwarfed by the local population, urban combat, the difficulties of occupation, and the courage and perseverance of individual soldiers…

The self-congratulatory, almost poetic language of both the brochure and the introduction to it sounds truly, as if it is trying to fit into a magic imperialist realism. But it is not: it is just how history is taught in the United States, in Europe, and unfortunately, in many schools in the formerly and presently colonized countries.

French intervention in Mexico

Then the French massacred people in Mexico City, as well as all over the territory that was left to the Mexicans after the 1846-1848 U.S. invasion. The French ‘intervened’ in Mexico on two occasions: from 1838 to 1839, and from 1862 to 1867, in which conflict, at least 12,000 Mexican people were killed. The French were killing, plundering and imposing their dictate, shamelessly and mercilessly, but that was not really ‘something exceptional’, as they were doing precisely the same, or worse, all over Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Caribbean and Oceania.

*****

Now, right at the northern part of the enormous city of Tijuana, the U.S. authorities and their contractors, are building an enormous wall. It does somehow not look unlike the ‘perimeter’ built by Israel, between the occupied Golan Heights and Syria proper. But then, many things look suspiciously similar, these days.

This used to be a great proud hacienda of Yucatan

This wall is a clear expression of a thorough imperialist madness. This entire land used to belong to Mexico, before the 1846 invasion, or call it ‘officially’ Mexican-American War. Both countries are part of one continent. Both sides of the border are inhabited by essentially the same people. There are millions of Mexicans living in California, and there are millions of North Americans who are seeking better life south of the border – in Mexico – either in the retirement colonies, or, for instance, as students at much cheaper and good Mexican universities, or as artists. North Americans travel to Mexico to get their teeth fixed, Mexicans go north to get better paid jobs; the border area is basically an integrated zone, with its own music, traditions, history and folklore. I know it well, and I know that it used to have its own magic and, yes, its realism too.

Now it is gone, thoroughly ruined.

Elites partying

But as if in a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, even through all that dust and insanity, one can still feel the magic. Here, I am still in Latin America, at its edge, at the last inch. And, screw the wall!

I shout at a U.S. contractor, through the bars. I want to know what he thinks about all this, if he actually thinks at all. He replies honestly and phlegmatically: “I am not allowed to speak about this.”

I face a Mexican woman; whose back is against the U.S. constructed wall. Her house is just one meter from the perimeter. If she sticks her finger through the bars, she is technically in the United States. Her name is Leticia.

She doesn’t care about politics. Her biggest fear is that the creatures inhabiting this area will get hurt:

They are cutting the natural flow of water in this area. This will not end well. And the animals cannot migrate, anymore. This is so brutal. I am happy where I am, and so is my family. At this side, I am fine. But you know, the creatures are different – they need to move…

She almost brings tears to my eyes. A narco, a ‘small fish narco’ who is accompanying me to the wall, explaining ‘the reality of the border’ and how the drug cartels here work, suddenly produced one short and loud sob. He is a Latino, after all. He may be a gangster, but he has a heart.

I know, mostly it is not Mexicans who are trying to jump the fence. The majority of Mexicans are middle class, and the middle class lives a better life here than in the constantly stressed and overworked U.S. It is those desperate people from Central America who are risking their lives, crossing – from Guatemala, Honduras – people whose governments were overthrown by Washington, people whose countries were destroyed. People who are suffering from gangs and narco-mafias – direct consequences of the civil wars triggered by the West.

These people are traveling on the monstrous Mexican cargo trains called “La Bestia”, “the beast”; they are having their limbs cut off when they fall from the roofs down onto the tracks. I follow them, I film them, I talk to them. They are on the move, from the southern Mexican border towns all the way to the north; to the U.S. border. They have no choice. And Washington knows it. It took socialism away from them – in Honduras and Guatemala it did. Then it rewarded them with this damn wall.

Magic imperialism!

Central America is in ruins. Mexico, potentially one of the greatest nations on Earth, is stagnating, living in fear, suffering from corruption and crime, from servile and obedient (towards the West) elites. This entire mess has been triggered by neo-liberalism, as well as the selfish over-indulgence in the North.

Comes Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mexico is tired. It does not believe in itself, anymore, but it voted, clearly and proudly. It wants to hope. It wants to believe. It wants to live. It tries.

People spoke, people voted.

For them, Mexico has to change

They have no clue what will come next. Is the man they voted for really with them?

Radical intellectuals at UNAM do not think so, they told me. But the poor Mayan and Azteca villages, the core of this country, are with him. They trust him. They hope. He has no right to fail them.

“If he fails the poor, there will be a civil war. He is our last hope,” I was told in Tijuana.

Again, and again, I recall what I was told by one of the greatest South American writers and thinkers of all times, Eduardo Galeano:

Hope is all that poor people have. That is why, comrades, do never play with hope!

If Obrador succeeds, if he delivers even half of what he promised, Mexico will dramatically change. The entire Central America will change, perhaps the entire Latin America will. This is the most populous Spanish speaking country, a cultural and intellectual powerhouse that has been asleep for many long and painful decades.

This is where magic realism rubs shoulders with that magic imperialism imported and implemented by the West.

I landed here, symbolically on September 14, the night when Mexican Independence Day is, historically, celebrated. I did not sleep. I went to Zocalo, to see the people. Enormous fireworks illuminated the sky of the city where the Spanish cathedrals are built on top of the ruins of the great native civilizations. Poor and rich were standing, watching the colorful show, looking at an enormous flag.

Independence Day in Mexico City 2018 — new beginning?

The day after, I was filming at the splendid Bellas Artes, one of the most beautiful theatres on Earth. There, a Soviet-trained conductor was facing a brilliant ‘youth orchestra’, which consisted of once poor boys and girls from deprived communities. On the stage, the legendary Folkloric Ballet of Mexico was performing; with proud native themes, and with young women holding rifles, marching towards the redness of the revolution. The audience roared. People, strangers, were embracing, shaking hands. There were tears; tears of joy.

At Bellas Artes, Soviet-trained Mexican conductor evokes great pride in audience

Oh Mexico! 2018. Year Zero, I call it. Yes, this is how I will name my film.

Year Zero. The revolution, hopefully. The new beginning. The independence. Hopefully.

Yes, I wrote it, of course, I did: “People are reluctant, skeptical.” But they are both – reluctant and full of hope. I was told in Guadalajara, by an accountant who was forced by circumstances, to drive a taxi:

I did not vote for Obrador, because I do not believe that what he was promising during his campaign, could be achieved. But I hope that he is real. If I see that he is real, I will drop everything and dedicate my life to supporting him.

To save Mexico is to stop neo-liberalism, dependency on the West, and to join countries that are fighting against the global dictatorship. Can it be done? Will it be done?

I trust Obrador. I have no other choice. I travelled all the way here, to the country that I still love, profoundly; I travelled here in order to offer my help. I am not an ‘impartial spectator’. This is not the time for those…

In a few short months, the fate of those humble villages of Yucatan and Chiapas will be decided. The entire Latin America is watching.

To change Mexico looks like an impossible task. But it has to be performed. True revolution should put the Mexican people first, and put the final end to those terrible centuries of plunder, humiliation and terror.

To hell with magic imperialism. To hell with any imperialism, full stop.

Viva Mexico! Viva Patria Grande!

• Read Part One here:

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

 

The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

The social revolution has to precede the political revolution. Personal self-realization has to precede the social revolution.

Achieving social change in America through political change – legislatively – as, for example, with the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 to 1968, is too slow a process today for overturning American capitalism to American socialism in time to effectively respond to climate change and global environmental degradation, by shifting American civilian energy production from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind and geothermal sources, and ocean-wave-and-tidal and river hydroelectric sources, accompanied by a wide spectrum of energy conservation strategies and materials recycling and reprocessing methods, instead of indiscriminate and polluting waste disposal.

In fact, the political path to social change may be completely plugged shut today, with the fanatical obstructionism by capital interests who collectively own America’s two major political parties, and whose various outmoded environmentally catastrophic schemes of wealth generation are fossilized in place within an overarching 19th century paradigm of CO2-producing industrialization and labor exploitation, directed by frantic casino-style banking and financial speculation.

So, the timely development of a popular, scientific and effective national response to counteract the global geophysical crisis we call “climate change” must occur outside the arcane political machinery of our money-corrupted representative democracy. Basically, “the people” would have to independently develop a sense of national solidarity, overcoming all regionalisms and bigotries, and independently get organized to shift the ways they live and the ways they earn their keep, from a reliance on “black” versus “green” energy, and from a reliance on adversarial-capitalist economics versus cooperative-socialist economics. Given such a social revolution, it would then be possible to mount a massive campaign to counter climate change.

But, is such a social revolution possible? Can a majority of the national population actually free itself from the many shackles, control methods and seductions of corporate capitalism, by willfully bonding into one massive mutually tolerant and mutually helping cooperative, independent of the existing government: into a self-directed revolutionary socialism? This would require an incredible unanimity of vision and an amazing degree of commitment and discipline among hundreds of millions of people, to independently coalesce into a self-sustaining socialized mass able to overcome the opposition of the intransigent corporate capitalist establishment.

Any clear-thinking person will see that the idea of a spontaneous eruption of popular revolutionary socialism that independently counteracts climate change is impossible, and by chained logic such a clear-thinking person will also realize that we humans will never counteract climate change but instead will be plowed under by it, like the terrain downhill from an advancing glacier, because we are so inattentively self-absorbed and fatally wedded to the preservation of our inequitable and dysfunctional capitalism.

So, is the most intelligent tack then to stop agonizing over climate change and give up wasting time and energy in doomed attempts to put off the geophysical inevitable? Should we all just become Trumps and luxuriate carefree in capitalist mud-wallows for as long as they are available? Why bother trying to change the unchangeable?, sacrificing the good times of today for a restrictive future that will never occur anyway? Why not just keep grabbing for the money and enjoy doing that like we always have?

My answer is: half a loaf is better than none. Even if climate change is an implacable civilization-ending geophysical tsunami, I think we all would have a relatively better collective life for the duration of our species if we could develop even a scattering of minor uncoordinated popular socialist initiatives – anti-capitalist and anti-militarist – that directly confront specific aspects of the multi-faceted colossus of climate change and its social disruptions. These initiatives would include the election into public office of ecological-socialist candidates, like today’s young, enthusiastic Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), even if in small numbers. Why? Because any political efforts by eco-socialist officeholders that reach the public as actionable realities will benefit some fraction of the population, since such efforts would either ameliorate, blunt or end specific sociopathologies of our pure id capitalism.

Why give in to despair, dejection and acquiescence to a capitalist climapocalypse? Why not actualize through our own individual living presences the attitudes and one-to-one human connections that inject intelligent compassion and fulfilling artistry into the society around us, and in that way we become focal points of the socialist revolution we can imagine? How do you think a politically successful socialist revolution could be formed in the first place, if not by the weaving together of masses of one-to-one personal relationships of such self-realized individuals into a vast societal network?

Ultimately, it is not about “being saved” by external agents, like “good politicians” and “good laws” and “good governments,” from victimization by looming climate change disasters; it is about transcending who we are as merely passive fearfully insular consumers, and realizing that we are each, literally, individual expressions of the cosmos, and then operating out of that realization with a self-directed living-out of our socialist visions. Such living is the best that we humans can do, both individually and as socialized clusters, regardless of whether we are eventually plowed under by climapocalypse, or completely overcome it.

As an individual biological organism, you incorporate the formation of the cosmos within you as the subatomic particles, which first erupted out of the Big Bang, that are within the atoms of your materiality. Those atoms are almost entirely empty space, their nuclei (which are clusters of protons and neutrons) occupy only between 10^-14 to 10^-12 of the volume of the atom; that is to say 1 part in a hundred trillion, to 1 part in a trillion of the otherwise empty volume of the atom. The extent of that atomic space is defined by the electrical fields that transmit the forces connecting the nucleus to the point particle electrons flickering (“orbiting”) about it. These atoms are in turn clustered in simple molecules, like water (H2O), oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2) and glucose (C6H12O6), and in massive and complex molecules like DNA. But even so, our personal matter is made of pinpoints of atomic grit suspended in empty space and meshed together by forces communicated across electrical links called chemical bonds. When you press your palm on a tabletop and feel the firm resistance of that structure, you are actually experiencing a force of electrical repulsion between the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space tabletop, and the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space you! Imagine such an atomic-molecular “net of gems” – as the ancient Buddhists called “the interdependence of all things” – as a metaphor for the revolutionary socialist net-of-gems network we would like to weave ourselves into, and to have a transformative effect on our political economy.

The “chemical bonds” of our wished-for socialist revolution are the one-to-one personal connections we “atoms” of that network fling out like spider silk to weave our self-realized selves into that net of gems. What matters is the sympathy of vision, and the moral character and personal integrity of the people we seek connection with. What does not matter are superficial attributes like their ethnicity, their physical characteristics, their birth language, their “style,” their default and unthinking microscopically sectarian political alignments (please!, forget about these uselessly trivial distractions!).

A friend of mine is a Vietnam War veteran who survived over sixty-four artillery barrages while trapped on a hilltop during the First Battle of Khe Sanh. He crystalized the essential idea here this way: “There are some people you want in your foxhole, and some you don’t.” My goal is to be “foxhole worthy” for people like him, and I judge others by the same criterion. At that high metaphysical level of socialist vision, we are synchronized; at the mundane street level of routine personal interaction, we give each other spontaneous rides when our cars unexpectedly break down on the road and we call for help, and when either of our cars are in the shop and we need to make a doctor’s appointment. We also share lunch breaks and stories. If and when it comes to serious action – foxhole time – we know we can count on each other. There are other men and women I share a similar connection with, people who are aware of the realities of our times, and have a compassionate intelligence about the direction of their lives, which goes beyond the effort to physically and economically sustain themselves, to also inject some goodness and humane connection – socialism – into the public sphere they are immersed in. It is with such people that I am associated with – “socialized” – in voting for our “progressive candidates,” and advocating – each in our own way – for an anti-capitalist and anti-militarist social transformation; and it is with such people that I can imagine being next to during any sudden eruption of a volcanic socialist revolution.

The Trumpians and their ilk are empty people. They need all that money, glittery stuff and power, to encrust their lonely hollowness with, so as to give them the illusion of actually being somebody and having actually accomplished something with their profiteering, exploitation and hoarding. But, sadly, they are human failures: they either deny or have no realization of their fundamental reality as expressions of Nature, nor of their potential for experiencing true fulfillment as individuals consciously interconnected in a humane socialist net-of-gems.

Don’t get distracted from the fundamentals by trivial details. Everything you need to know about self-realization – the atomic cores of our socialist revolution – was set down in the Upanishads, 2800 years ago. Everything you need to know about self-directed living, whether for meshing amicably with society or slicing through it for just cause – the electro-chemical bonds of integrity, and the forces of material opposition for our socialist revolution – was set down in the Bhagavad Gita, 2300 years ago. Everything you need to know about politics at the street level of pure, hard materialism – the movement-wide actions of our desired socialist revolution in opposition to dictatorial and enslaving moneyed power – was set down by Thucydides 2400 years ago. Everything written since is at best a gloss on the fundamentals already given, encrusted with elaborations on details about the cultures and times those later writings came out of; or they are at worst a complete diversion into varieties of ignorance, whether presented as texts of religious revelation, or advances of political theory. Read the originals and see for yourself.

In summary: each human being is something Nature is doing; realize and celebrate this, and from such realization free your mind from passivating confinement by corporate capitalist infotainment, herding by fear, and want-inducing indoctrination; from that personal mental liberation, direct yourself toward perfecting your character and achieving your full human potential (an endless endeavor); from such self-focused mental independence and moral drive, exercise the bravery of tolerance by seeking to make connections with other people of similar vision and moral drive; and then from your network of such personal connections try to weave yourself into a grander socialist net-of-gems that may in time capture and transform the nation, and perhaps even someday the world.

Order and Progress was Never a Civilian Slogan

The apparent victory of Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 Brazilian presidential elections has been analysed as the return of some kind of fascism to Brazil: electing dictators where they previously had to enter office in tanks. However, Brazilians, unlike Portuguese, did not remove their dictators from power. The Brazilian military gave way to its civilian counterparts. A governing structure was created in 1986, which permitted the discrete withdrawal of uniformed personnel from public offices and public liability for the consequences of their acts. However, it did not end the role of the military in ruling Brazil. For both historical and ideological reasons this was not necessary.

The military-technocratic tradition in Brazil is as old as the founding of the republic.1 That was one reason why the Brazilian military so readily accepted the same “national security ideology” that the US propagated in its cadre institutions like the National Defence College/University, the curriculum of which was largely imitated by the Superior War College in Brazil. The “military” in Brazil is best understood as the elite managers of the republic’s military – industrial – technological complex, one of the products to survive the dictatorship.

Although certainly not an accident, the anointment of Bolsonaro as a saviour in Brazil’s time of troubles, is incidental. His appearance and election (unless something utterly unexpected happens on 28 October) should be understood within Brazil’s ancient domestic political culture and the subordination of the Brazilian military in the widest sense of the term to the hemispheric national security ideology that has prevailed since its formulation in the late 1940s.

Comparisons with Trump are distractions, like the attacks on Trump. They draw attention away from the actual power issues involved and who actually wields power.

Bolsonaro’s election cannot be fully understood without an international perspective. Brazil, although a very large country with an enormous economy, is a very closely held property dominated by a tiny elite with more loyalty to the North American elite than to its own national interests. It has always been a subordinate country in the hemisphere although the mechanisms of subordination have changed over time. Unlike in the US, Brazilian elections are actively manipulated by foreign governments. Brazilian media are even more concentrated than in the US, with Globo occupying virtual monopoly control over every media outlet in Brazil not controlled by a US conglomerate.

Yet there has always been a tension between pro-US and nationalistic factions in Brazil’s elite. The only mass political base ever established in Brazil — prior to the PT — was the Vargas regime, which was vigorously opposed by those in Brazil who hate anything resembling democracy, nationalism or mass-based politics. The PT emerged despite repression to become Brazil’s first mass democratic party. When it was allowed to govern after the long-forgotten corruption of the Collor de Melo presidency, it was because it had attained this broad democratic base capable of winning elections.

Winning elections was considered in the early period after the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the sine qua non of the “victory” of capitalism. The PT then started to create its own political base in the Brazilian context– a combination of local clientelism and organised labour, but including sectors that had previously been excluded from this formula. In Brazil’s federal system it was necessary to establish a serious social budget at federal level to compensate for the intransigence at state level. To do this the PT needed a public budget to finance that expenditure. And here is where international banking– a historical force in suppressing Brazilian national development– applied the brakes. The PT had to commit itself to servicing the extortion aka foreign debt. Like in every other country held down by “debt”, Brazil could not fulfill any but the most superficial social promises and pay the extortion to banks.

So what happened was surely this: the PT political engineers decided to covertly subsidise their political consolidation and some of the social budget by siphoning funds from the parastatal oil company, Petrobras. This had to be done covertly to prevent the extortion ring (international banking and monetary agencies) from manipulating the Brazilian credit ratings and exchange rate to prevent it. So a lot of people got on the gravy train to keep this scheme working. Of course, the drain of paying all those whose cooperation was necessary to maintain this finance mechanism became parasitical so that more money was reaching the facilitators than the intended beneficiaries of the policy.

The idea of draining funds from a corporation through covert means is not new. (Enron was essentially a banking-led investor scheme for laundering money and exporting it to off shore banks. It would have continued had it not been for some personnel problems and a few accidents– biggest of which that it threatened to implicate POTUS G W Bush.) It is entirely excusable as greed when the funds are transferred to the wealthy. However, it becomes a horrible crime if the money benefits masses of ordinary people. The multilateral (US) debt enforcers have always upheld the claims against sovereign states by those who made official loans to corrupt dictators where the money was transferred to private Swiss accounts.

Hence, given the number of people on the Petrobras gravy train, this policy might have continued with relative impunity were it not for two very important international issues where the US regime has a direct interest: BRICS and Venezuela.

It is worth viewing a small segment in the late Allan Frankovich’s 1980 documentary On Company Business. There is an interview with a labour organizer from the US who is recruited by the AIFLD to go to Brazil and organise “anti-communist unions”. He explains what he thought he was doing and what he found to be his actual mission. But his most striking realisation was that he had been sent to Brazil for this work in 1962– a full two years before the “crisis” that officially led to the Brazilian military coup removing João Goulart.

Bolsonaro is discussed as a product of the “anti-corruption” crusade. “Anti-corruption” has merely replaced “anti-communism” since the latter is deemed extinct. In fact, the case for disrupting Brazil’s BRICS policy and isolating it from the Venezuela – Cuba “axis”, was given almost immediately after Lula’s first election. However, it would have taken some time to place everyone and everything in the best position to depose the PT. This was certainly ready by the time Lula’s second term expired. The death of Chavez and recently the death of Castro (at least of natural causes) have made it imperative to close the Brazil-Venezuelan border in every sense. The escalating war against Russia and China had already made it imperative to take the “B” out of BRICS.

The success of the “anti-corruption” strategy in legitimating the overthrow of heads of state had been proven along with the capabilities to generate synthetic social support for such exercises as elections and street demonstrations. Anti-corruption campaigns are directed against public officials and civil servants but not against the military (although the corruption of the arms trade is endemic and apparently incurable) or corporations who initiate the corrupt acts and/or benefit from them. There is a conspicuous reluctance to attack fundamentally anti-democratic institutions: Business and the military. “Anti-corruption” is really a euphemism for a broad attack on all democratic institutions since 1989-90.

It is one of the failures of the Left and faux gauche to grasp these fundamental issues. This is in part because they share the same “moral language” and progressive technocratic ideas about how the State should be constituted and operated. There has been a distinct inability or reluctance to retool, to defend fiscal independence, to recognise and call foreign debt (or in many countries all public borrowing) what it, in fact, is: a deliberate conversion of community resources into private cash streams for the ruling class compulsory debt financing of public expenditure by private banks. This is the main reason why the central banking system adopted by the US regime in 1913 and internationalised at Bretton Woods and in the EU, impoverishes all attempts at socialism. It is impossible to remedy the corrupt system of public finance and government operations without a radical change in the anti-democratic control over money. As long as economics is treated as a science when it is, in fact, a theology, every Left government will have its Luthers praising the slaughter of revolting peasants, while claiming the privileges of their own particular liberties.

The PT attempted to evade this criminal constraint on the democratic government by using a parastatal for social purposes– this was a capital crime and will be punished as such. It makes little difference that Petrobras could never have funded all the activities that the PT government would have implemented were it not constrained by compulsory “debt” service. The scandal effect of a rather thinly disguised evasive tactic by a slightly socialist government was a necessary catalyst to break the electoral majority that had delivered the PT solid election results.

The strategies of Langley have also matured with the years. In 1964 there was no hesitation to use direct military force to seize control. But now this is unnecessary and undesirable. No amount of protest prevented Temer exercising the office of President, despite massive corruption charges pending against him. No one can defend notorious criminal acts if they are made notorious even before trial has established whether a crime was committed. In the 60s and 70s no one in the Western hemisphere or Africa could be “for” a government notorious as socialist/communist, even if it was neither; in fact, (Goulart was no communist but there are people from Brazil who still say that he was. There are also people in Portugal who think that the 1974 revolution was directed from Moscow, although it was clearly the director of the counter-revolution, Frank Carlucci, who died this year.)

Another innovation has gone largely without comment: that is the refinement of the Phoenix programme. The so-called “war on drugs” and its various theatres provide cover throughout Central and South America for counter-insurgency or political warfare against the poor. When Temer ordered the military into Rio the attention was given to the extreme criminality and danger to normal inhabitants, which the military was needed to suppress. Aside from the fact that the military and police in all countries are integral components of the trade in drugs and other contraband, law enforcement militarisation is a classic cover for death squads and similar terror instruments. Placing the poor under martial law is something the Brazilian military actively practiced together with US Forces while deployed in Haiti under UN cover. No serious commentator on Haiti doubts that the “crime” in Haiti is any kind of base organisation against the owners of the neo-slave state.

Bolsonaro’s election result has to be seen, together with the combined operations to demobilise those sectors of the Brazilian electorate that provided the support and legitimacy for the PT, leaving only the historically unreliable and proportionately insignificant middle class to be disaffected (not unlike the anti-Chavista middle in Venezuela) to vote for the mythical “clean broom”. Here we return to the fact that the military never really left the stage. The military can be better grasped in a “cultural” sense — all those people in the elite and supporting classes who think with the military whether members of the armed forces or not. This includes the technocratic strata and those who naively believe in “military rationality” as a pure and national virtue. But one thing should be remembered about modern politics and “independent” candidates. Bolsonaro is expendable. He can be seen as a placeholder for the wider institutional force that combines actively to frustrate any democratisation of Brazil, most importantly by preventing any meaningful self-confident lower class political organisation and obstructing anything but the most meagre attempt to remedy Brazil’s grotesque economic inequalities.

The resistance to political and economic equity, let alone equality, is a centuries-old tradition in the two largest slaveholder republics of the Western hemisphere. This commitment to enrichment by forced labour and plunder has always been the driving force in the US and in Brazil. It makes little difference that chattel slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Democratic allocation of a country’s resources by whatever formula violates the very essence of the economic system slavery made possible. Facing that deep corruption in the Brazilian and US regimes will help in the appraisal of measures and movements to create genuine democracy and maybe even socialism in the majority of countries of the Americas, which have had neither.

  1. Ordem e Progresso (order and progress), the Brazilian national motto is a slogan from the 19th century Positivist Church. The leading figures of the Brazilian military, e.g. Benjamin Constant, who overthrew the monarchy to establish the republic were members. The Positive Church was based on the teachings of Auguste Comte, credited as the founder of positivism and sociology. It was conceived as a “religion of humanity”, emphasising science and progress. This coincided with the development of modern militaries in Latin America based on science and engineering as the foundations of military education. The military’s “modernising” role and its supposed rational objectivity originate in this tradition.

Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide

Like vultures, Israeli soldiers descended on Khan Al-Ahmar, on September 14, recreating a menacing scene with which the residents of this small Palestinian village, located East of Jerusalem, are all-too familiar.

The strategic location of Khan Al-Ahmar makes the story behind the imminent Israeli demolition of the peaceful village unique amid the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and lives throughout besieged Gaza and Occupied West Bank.

Throughout the years, Khan Al-Ahmar, once part of an uninterrupted Palestinian physical landscape has grown increasingly isolated. Decades of Israeli colonization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank left Khan Al-Ahmar trapped between massive and vastly expanding Israeli colonial projects: Ma’ale Adumim, Kfar Adumim among others.

The unfortunate village, its adjacent school and 173 residents are the last obstacle facing the E1 Zone project, an Israeli plan that aims to link illegal Jewish colonies in Occupied East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem, thus cutting off East Jerusalem completely from its Palestinian environs in the West Bank.

Like the Neqab (Negev) village of Al-Araqib, which has been demolished by Israel and rebuilt by its residents 133 times, Khan Al-Ahmar residents are facing armed soldiers and military bulldozers with their bare chests and whatever local and international solidarity they are able to obtain.

Despite the particular circumstances and unique historical context of Khan Al-Ahmar, however, the story of this village is but a chapter in a protracted narrative of a tragedy that has extended over the course of seventy years.

It would be a mistake to discuss the destruction of Khan Al-Ahmar, or any other Palestinian village outside the larger context of demolition that has stood at the heart of Israel’s particular breed of settler colonialism.

It is true that other colonial powers used destruction of homes and properties, and the exile of whole communities as a tactic to subdue rebellious populations. The British Mandate government in Palestine used the demolition of homes as a ‘deterrence’ tactic against Palestinians who dared rebel against injustice throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, till Israel took over in 1948.

Yet the Israeli strategy is far more convoluted than a mere ‘deterrence’. It is now carved in the Israeli psyche that Palestine must be completely destroyed in order for Israel to exist. Therefore, Israel is engaging in a seemingly endless campaign of erasing everything Palestinian because the latter, from an Israeli viewpoint, represents an existential threat to the former.

This is precisely why Israel sees the natural demographic growth among Palestinians as an ‘existential threat’ to Israel’s ‘Jewish identity’.

This can only be justified with an irrational degree of hate and fear that has accumulated throughout generations to the point that it now forms a collective Israeli psychosis for which Palestinians continue to pay a heavy price.

The repeated destruction of Gaza is symptomatic of this Israeli psychosis.

Israel is a “country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing,” was the official explanation offered by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister in January 2009 to justify its country’s war on the blockaded Gaza Strip. The Israel ‘going wild’ strategy has led to the destruction of 22,000 homes, schools and other facilities during one of Israel’s deadliest wars on the Strip.

A few years later, in the summer of 2014, Israel went ‘wild’ again, leading to an even greater destruction and loss of lives.

Israel’s mass demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza, and everywhere else, preceded Hamas by decades. In fact, it has nothing to do with the method of resistance that Palestinians utilize in their struggle against Israel. Israel’s demolishing of Palestine – whether the actual physical structures or the idea, history, narrative, and even street names – is an Israeli decision through and through.

A quick scan of historical facts demonstrates that Israel demolished Palestinian homes and communities in diverse political and historical contexts, where Israel’s ‘security’ was not in the least a factor.

Nearly 600 Palestinian towns, villages and localities were destroyed between 1947 and 1948, and nearly 800,000 Palestinians were exiled to make room for the establishment of Israel.

According to the Land Research Center (LRC), Israel had destroyed 5,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem alone since it occupied the city in 1967, leading to the permanent exile of nearly 70,000 people. Coupled with the fact that nearly 200,000 Jerusalemites were driven out during the Nakba, the Catastrophe’ of 1948, and the ongoing slow ethnic cleansing, the Holy City has been in a constant state of destruction since the establishment of Israel.

In fact, between 2000 and 2017, over 1,700 Palestinian homes were demolished, displacing nearly 10,000 people. This is not a policy of ‘deterrence’ but of erasure – the eradication of the very Palestinian culture.

Gaza and Jerusalem are not unique examples either. According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD’s) report last December, since 1967 “nearly 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished – displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and affecting the livelihoods of thousands of others.”

Combined with the destruction of Palestinian villages upon the establishment of Israel, and the demolition of Palestinian homes inside Israel itself, ICAHD puts the total number of homes destroyed since 1948 at more than 100,000.

In fact, as the group itself acknowledges, the figure above is quite conservative. Indeed, it is. In Gaza alone, and in the last 10 years which witnessed three major Israeli wars, nearly 50,000 homes and structures were reportedly destroyed.

So why does Israel destroy with consistency, impunity and no remorse?

It is for the same reason that it passed laws to change historic street names from Arabic to Hebrew. For the same reason it recently passed the racist Nation-state law, elevating everything Jewish and completely ignoring and downgrading the existence of the indigenous Palestinians, their language and their culture that goes back millennia.

Israel demolishes, destroys and pulverizes because in the racist mindset of Israeli rulers, there can be no room between the Sea and the River but for Jews; where the Palestinians – oppressed, colonized and dehumanized – don’t factor in the least in Israel’s ruthless calculations.

This is not just a question of Khan Al-Ahmar. It is a question of the very survival of the Palestinian people, threatened by a racist state that has been allowed to ‘go wild’ for 70 years, untamed and without repercussions.

The Anti-President

Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.)

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.)

Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.)
— Nick Turse, Chronicles Magazine, July 2018

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
— Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967

The U.S. is now a endless machine for war profiteering and endless war itself. Simultaneously a hyper Imperialist machine directed toward global hegemony. Domestically it is a McCarthyesque empire of propaganda and censorship and mass incarceration. On both fronts it is a machine for channelling money directly to the ruling class.

The U.S. has 900 military bases around the world. Everything is contracted out. Where once soldiers and marines built their own barracks and peeled their own potatoes, the new military is one in which construction, maintenance, and operations are handed over to private companies, many of whom have as their sole reason for existence, to service the US war machine.

…U.S. bases overseas have become a major mechanism of U.S. global power in the post-Second World War era. Alongside postwar economic and political tools like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations, the collection of extraterritorial bases—like colonies for the European empires before it—became a major mechanism for “maintaining [U.S.] political and economic hegemony,” advancing corporate economic and political interests, protecting trade routes, and allowing control and influence over territory vastly disproportionate to the land bases actually occupy. Without a collection of colonies, the United States has used its bases, as well as periodic displays of military might, to keep wayward nations within the rules of an economic and political system favorable to itself.
— David Vine, Monthly Review, 2014

Many of these bases are as large as small cities. Camp Liberty in Iraq has concrete sidewalks, traffic signals, spas and cinemas as well as coffee shops and Burger Kings. Generals and Admirals employ private jets, and siphon off taxpayer money for vacations at luxury resorts and shopping trips for their wives and family. The bookeeping has been described as functionally fictive. The vast amounts of monies misplaced or unaccounted for is in the trillion of dollars. Everything….from shower heads to gym equipment, to electrical cable is from private firms that usually have spent small fortunes lobbying Pentagon officials or even state department higher ups to *win* these contracts. So ponder that a moment: TRILLIONS of dollars. When anyone asks why *we* are still in Afghanistan after 17 years, this is but one of the answers.

As the FOB2012 conference neared its end, I asked another conference attendee (who asked that I not use his name) if during his wartime deployments in Iraq he had seen the problem Major Elliott had described of a base with private security guards protecting privately contracted cooks, who were cooking for the same private security guards, who were protecting the privately contracted cooks. “A lot,” he replied. It’s the “self-licking ice cream cone”—by which he meant a self-perpetuating system with no purpose or function except to keep itself going.
— David Vine, Monthly Review, 2014

The U.S. has accepted that they are now fighting generational wars. There are children born in just the special-op fronts, the hot spots that Special Operations forces fight in, who are now of fighting age. Teenagers who have never not known American occupation. From Iraq to Afghanistan, to Somalia, to Libya, to Yemen, to Philippines and Niger and Syria there are conflicts that the U.S. seems intent on keeping active. The idea of solution is now forgotten.

And watching Donald Trump and his traveling insult party it struck me that only such clearly intentional behavior and statements could make a ghoulish war criminal like John Brennan attractive to the American public. And then something began to nag at me.

While Trump is seeking to develop a framework for authoritarian rule—including the cultivation of far-right and fascistic forces based on anti-immigrant chauvinism—there is not an ounce of democratic content in the campaign of his critics within the state and political establishment. In the name of opposing Trump—and the supposed Russian plot that sustains him—they are developing their own arguments for dictatorship.
— Joseph Kishore, WSWS, August 18, 2018

Brennan has, besides suggesting intensifying foreign theatres of operation, now openly outlined a plan for Orwellian thought control at home, and wholesale censorship of dissent.

More from Joseph Kishore…

This is the significance of Brennan’s column, “President Trump’s claims of no collusion are hogwash,” published in the print edition of the New York Times on Friday. The pages of the Times were turned over to Brennan by James Bennet, the newspaper’s highly-connected editorial page editor, brother of right-wing Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and son of Douglas Bennet, a former top State Department official with CIA connections. { } More than Russia, the targets of Brennan’s attack are domestic organizations and individuals. He writes: “Electoral politics in Western democracies present an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives.” Who are these “politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers?” The answer is: Anyone who does not accept uncritically the narrative of the intelligence agencies and the military, including the lies used to justify war in Syria and aggression against Russia.

The liberal class in the U.S. is now embracing with laudatory accolades the most malign sadistic authoritarians possible. Men like Brennan, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and nary a peep from them about the confirmation of serial torturer and all around liar Gina Haspel. With Vietnam there were massive protests against the war. Today there are none. Nobody cares in the U.S. They do not care it is year 17 in the occupation of Afghanistan, or that in Yemen there is such human suffering that statistics are an insult to even mention. Shoot a school bus in Yemen? Unfortunate but hardly headline news. Google and Facebook are now in the process of widespread censoring of dissenting voices. How dare anyone criticize the ogre John McCain. That is *hate speech*. Hollywood continues to avoid ANY criticism EVER of the U.S. military or domestic police forces. In fact, they continue to produce one jingoistic narrative after another in which service in the armed forces is uniformly expressed as a noble choice, a honorable patriotic sacrifice. Hollywood is, in fact, creating (and has done for two decades at least) a indelible mythology of fascistic martial love.

But that is really the core of what is nagging at me.

The curious exaggerated response in the U.S. to the Trump presidency is understood, partly, by the failure of previous conflicts and even by 9/11, to produce a sense of national regeneration in the usually willing masses. No amount of revisionist history about Vietnam or Korea produced a real national sense of military purpose. Grenada and Somalia just didn’t, frankly, kill enough people. This is a Puritan nation that has never left its roots in blood atonement. Organized corporate owned sports provides only a limited refuge from the crushing economic reality. Not many are fortunate enough to feel pride in what they do. And deep down nobody really believes the lies. They may work overtime and very hard to do so, but I don’t believe they do. But hating Trump has now become, at least in part, a new mythology for America. For the educated classes anyway, Trump is now the anti-president.

…one of the syndromes that people working with Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD was something called John Wayne Syndrome where the young men had internalized the John Wayne model of heroism and one of their problems was they felt they had failed somehow to live up to that model.

And that’s the psychology we’re talking about here. You internalize a model of heroic behavior from the media that purvey the myths that shape your society. And there’s a whole spectrum of responses you might have in relation to that internalized model.

You might not do anything yourself. You might simply consent that the government or somebody act on your behalf, you don’t make the war yourself, but you consent that somebody make the war for you, kill the bad guy for you.
— Richard Slotkin, Interview, Truthout 2013

I remember Slotkin (whose trilogy on the American West is essential reading) pointing out that the first significant shift in consciousness for America was …“1890, the moment when the landed frontier of the United States was officially declared ‘closed’, the moment when ‘frontier’ became primarily a term of ideological rather than geographical location.” And that is when Americans began to codify this idea of violence and conquest as acts of purification and nobility. One must cross into *Indian territory*, or for many, just into Mexico — for these symbols and tropes of white supremacism represent a metaphoric shadow world that must be overcome in order to be reborn as a proud white American. The U.S. has fought no wars that could be sold as heroic without inordinate amounts of propaganda and indoctrination in a sort of kitsch patriotism. I think of the Chris Kyle memorial event at the Cowboys Stadium where fifty thousand people showed up. But it is likely that 99% of the wars in human history also needed propaganda. Just, perhaps, not quite at the level we see today.

But such observations must be understood against a backdrop of an eroded education system, a society of screen and anti-depressive addictions. There is no way to grasp the mental illness in play today. For the anti Trump hysteria, and that is what it is, comes out of a kind of backhanded schadenfreude. The disfigured mental state of America has arrived at some kind of critical mass. (As an aside vis a vis Lacan, in his one actual public speaking appearance -Catholic University of Louvain, mid 70s- he opened his lecture by asking the audience “can you bear the life that you have”?

Today, the sense of misery in the U.S. is acute and operative in about three different registers. There is the exponential spike in homelessness and poverty, and that is obvious. But there is another register of psychic torment and depression that blankets life on a day to day basis. And it is a sense of this absolute counterfeit existence — coupled to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and inadequacy that is causing widespread depression and driving more and more desperate narratives of American privilege. And no wonder, I mean look at the most powerful men in the country; Trump, the Koch Brothers, Mike “Domionist” Pompeo, John fucking Bolton…I mean JOHN BOLTON for christ sake, and Brennan, the Clintons and their posse, and Jeff Bezos and Zuck, not to mention Pierre Omidyar, and these are just off the top of my head. Not a single person in that list is not reprehensible. Then the DC think tanks. And there is no way to overestimate the influence of these institutions; The Brookings Institute, CATO, Council on Foreign Relations, RAND Corporation, Heritage Foundation, Center for American Progress, Center for Strategic and International Studies – the list goes on. These places advice the State Department and Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, Unified Commands of the Marines and Navy, not to mention congress and the Attorney General, and the Executive Branch. As I glanced at the bios of the leadership at CSIS I came across this in a bio…..”…held the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy”. These people live in an alternate universe. They are Martians. But they are very powerful. That is the reality we live in.

So no wonder misery is endemic. And I guess the question begged here is how did the most powerful nation on earth (though defining powerful is perhaps useful) arrive in the hands of people who think the Brzezinski chair in Global Suffering is something to aspire to?

But this sense of the counterfeit is in no small measure the result of the lost counter culture, and alternative press. Again during Vietnam there were important writers protesting and speaking everywhere. Papers like the East Village Other, the L.A. Free Press. Berkeley Barb, et al had importance. People were rejecting the idea of ruling class privilege. They also understood the ruling class were the real criminals. Today Google would just erase them. Now we get Rachel Maddow, Fox News and Jordan Peterson. Where once Robert Bly and Alan Ginsburg gave readings to protest the war, in trips they paid for themselves across the entire country. Today were have celebrity war pimps like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney.

We have a 1950s throwback cracker as AG. If a movie is made of these years it’s too bad Strother Martin has passed on because he was born to play Jeff Sessions. But I digress. (And George Kennedy as Mike Pompeo?). I gotta stop.

I was reading Paul Goodman recently. Whatever place in the annals of American letters that Goodman may finally rest, there is a serious shortage of that kind of wisdom out there today. And Goodman was remarkably prescient as well as wise.

I keep resorting to the metaphor school-monks, the administrators, professors, academic sociologists and licensees with diplomas who have proliferated into an invested intellectual class worse than anything since the time of Henry VIII. Yet I am convinced – as they got their grants and buildings and State laws that give them sole competence — that the monks are sincere in their bland faith in the school. The schools provide the best preparation for everybody for a complicated world, are the logical haven for unemployed youth, can equalize opportunity for the underprivileged, administer research in all fields, and be the indispensable mentor for creativity, business-practice, social work, mental hygiene, genuine literacy — name it, and there are credits for it leading to a degree. The schools offer very little evidence of their unique ability to perform any of these things — there is plenty of evidence to the contrary — but they do not need to offer evidence, since nobody opposes them or proposes alternatives.
— Paul Goodman, Compulsory Miseducation

Over fifty years ago William Burroughs, a contemporary of Goodman, was asked what he thought of contemporary America:

At the official level a nightmare. Difficult to believe that people in positions of power who form the foreign and domestic policies of America could be so stupid and so basically ill-intentioned.

So what we are seeing today is not new. What is new is this phenomenon of the anti-president. All the things that were not really believed in by themselves become valuable, even sacrosanct symbols of an imaginary Good America.

I was told by a teacher recently that her high school students are hugely reluctant to volunteer answers in class. Later she asked one why. The student said everyone was afraid of being made fun of on social media later that night. Best to keep quiet and invisible. This does not portend well for the future of the West. Burroughs added a bit later (in the under-read The Job) about the term nightmare. He said it’s less a nightmare than a non dream. For the ruling class, dreams must be eradicated. The masses cannot be allowed dreams.

Only today, I think, there is — either by accident or design — a manufactured dream. The dream of stopping the anti-president. The obvious contradictions are brushed aside. After all, this is mythology. I remember Robert Bly noting that when a society confuses the mythic with the real, it is a sign of terminal sickness in that society. Witch burning is an example. Of course, there were historical and economic determinants involved in both the wave of European witch hunts in the 16th century (see Sylvia Federici) and those in Salem. But nonetheless the populace believed in witches. They believed the Church propaganda. Today, the hatred of Trump is so exaggerated that only a deep conviction in something bigger than just politics has to be involved. Hating Trump has become a secret handshake among liberals. A part of spiritual self improvement, right alongside Yoga classes and TM.

Of course, Trump is horrid. And somewhere in him, or somewhere in the story of how he got elected, he knows this or at least suspected it. I was put here to be who I am and ergo, I was put here to be hated. He plays to it. He insults the queen for cryin’ out loud. What a cad!

There is another aspect to this, though. One that has to do with how the U.S. government and the ruling elite are expressing their own hysteria. A quick survey here, then.

Mike Pompeo is another example of the foulness that holds power in the U.S. Pompeo has helped form something called the Iran Action Group. What this is, and Pompeo and Mattis openly state this, is an organization devoted to orchestrating a coup d’etat in Iran. They want to overthrow a sovereign government by any means necessary. If this seems a contradiction given the hand wringing and howls of indignation about Russian collusion in OUR elections; well, it is. It’s a breathtaking contradiction. But such is the hubris and arrogance of the U.S. government. What, you might well ask, has Iran done to us? The answer is nothing. Oh rather, it has offended those who stride the corridors of power in the U.S. by not doing what it was told.

Look at the official list of American enemies. Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and the DPRK. What do they have in common? They are independent. They have refused all those World Bank and IMF overtures to drain profit from the country. They don’t accept U.S. bases in their country. And they refuse to allow western Capital to buy up their resources. The horror!!!

So, the US government, and in particular Pompeo’s CIA, will form committees and pay for studies (from the aforementioned think tanks) to figure out how to kill the leaders (like Gaddafi, and Lumumba) of these recalcitrant nations, or exile them or TRY to kill them. But most of all, to get rid of them and replace them with compliant client governments. For the only acceptable form of foreign government is a vassal state. All those leaders who have defied US diktats, have suffered endless persecution. Why were Chavez and Milosevic demonized? What did they do? Why was the former Yugoslavia bombed, broken up, and its president illegally kidnapped and stuck in a prison? And then handed over to an ad hoc tribunal for a show trial meant to demonstrate how good and gracious is the U.S. (and its European clients) but they couldn’t even get that right. So they dropped the trial from their TV line up. And Milosevic died in jail. Chavez and Milosevic and Castro and Gaddafi et al — were not threats to world peace. They were not tyrants.

I have said before, if the US targets you, then you deserve to be defended. Full stop. Only the most privileged of leftists make distinctions about whatever they don’t like and get mealy mouthed and start using racist terms like “thug”. Or call independent states “regimes” just like Mad Dog Mattis does.

You know that cognitive dissonance must be rampant when the two biggest U.S. allies are Saudi Arabia and Israel. I mean, the Saudis are set, as I write this, to publicly behead a woman’s right activist (and her husband). For….*protesting*. This is our ally. We sell them billions in weapons. We train them. We visit them and they visit us. Or Israel. I mean Israel is an official apartheid state now where politicians openly call Arabs “dogs” and “vermin”.

The Iran Action Group is illegal by all and any international legal conventions. No matter.

I want to add, again, Pompeo is another Christian extremist in this administration and one with a deep hatred of Islam. Back in 2015

…Pompeo, then a Congressman, attacked Barack Obama, who, according to him, took the side of the “Islamic East” in its conflict with the “Christian West”. “Every time there has been a conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic East, the data points all point to a single direction.
— Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, 2017

Pompeo’s Islamaphobia is shared by Pence and, really, the entire Trump cabinet. But this is the standard sensibility of the contemporary evangelical community. And why that is so hard for people to recognize is beyond me. But I want to get back to the state of consciousness in the U.S.today. To the new mythology…or pseudo mythology anyway.

A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that at one point last year, 74% of adults in the UK were so stressed that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One-third were suicidal and 16% had self-injured at some point in their lives. These figures were much higher among young people.

In the United States, death rates are rising steadily, especially for middle-aged white men and women, due to “desperation,” which includes deaths from drug and alcohol addiction as well as suicides and many car accidents. An pidemic of distress seems to be affecting some of the richest nations in the world.
— Manuel E. Yepe, Counterpunch, August 2018

When Richard Nixon switched his Vietnam policy from winning the war to “rescuing” US POWs, he was consciously reclaiming another American myth which was the basis of the Puritans’ earliest literature: the captivity narrative. This pointed the way for the revisionist Rambo histories of Vietnam, whose betrayal scenarios blamed loss on dissenters at home. What was Ronald Reagan, asks Slotkin, if not America’s last attempt to reclaim the beliefs American myths told Americans should bind society together, even when they were known to be untrue.
— Michael Carlson, Irresistible Targets, 2008

These two things, then. Epidemic levels of extreme anxiety and depression, and the system’s doubling down on the mythology of individualism and the frontier; but a doubling down that has meant an ever more distilled nativist zealotry. Those who went to Chris Kyle’s memorial are the NASCAR flyover state true believers, but now liberal America is, as I say, buying in. For them, there seems no alternative. For the liberal, the educated classes in America, the status quo is sacred. And they would rather have any version of Brave New World, than to contemplate actual radical change. You know where the most rabid bulging eye, popping veins, hatred of communism can be found? In white liberal America. And it was Malcolm X. who said “The white liberal is the worst enemy to America, and the worst enemy to the black man.” It is the new fall collection for American Exceptionalism.

The liberal educated white American is now shoehorning some contradictory ideological threads into this new belief system. Trump is a fascist they say (true, but he isn’t the first) and stopping Trump eclipses all other concerns (like Obama’s bloody policies, or Bill Clinton’s, or Bush’s etc, etc). And this sense of purposeful hating of Trump is a bit like the new frontier. One must cross into the land (or underworld…or maybe high rise…I don’t know) of Trump evilness to come out the other side, reborn, redeemed. Trump is a kind of prismatic reincarnation of Reagan, I think. Those who hated Reagan and those who loved Reagan are on the same side regards Trump. And again, it is clear there are elements in the system, the so called deep state if you like, that want Trump gone. Right? That is the common wisdom out there. And there is truth in that perspective I think. I think. But it’s not the whole truth. For Trump serves the interests of even those who seem to want him gone. Why are we to believe this CIA and NSA and Pentagon cabal hate Trump and want him impeached? Why? What is he doing to hurt them? It seems to me he is carrying out policy that serves their interests. The ruling class is always united in the end. His statements are only that. I mean the guy *tweets* for Christ sake. A compulsive tweeter, in fact. He is probably not much in charge of anything, I suspect. He doesn’t know the names of countries, or their histories. He is a typically ignorant American.

But domestically, that is where the real story is unfolding. That’s all Americans care about anyway. They have no idea where Yemen is, or Syria. They have no idea where Vietnam is, for that matter. They DO-NOT-CARE. But Trump’s pandering to white racists and all the Christian evangelicals, and, of course, Jeff Sessions; those things do have a Trump imprint. And it’s ugly. And that ugliness was always there. I mean, literally always there. Since Salem, in fact. Since the first slave ship landed in Virginia. Remember the civil rights fight? Remember there were race riots early in the 20th century in at least a dozen cities. It’s not new. Trump didn’t invent it. But he has allowed it to surface again. And it is in this Manichaean melodrama of the NEW Exceptionalism meets the old racism that the surreal and hallucinatory story of American madness is playing out. The United States is sinking under the weight of its contradictions, ideologically, and it’s also materially crumbling. And it is economically propped up in part by those trillions of dollars associated with the defense industry. With those 900 bases. And with an expanding NATO. I mean if NATO gets much bigger there wont be many places for NATO to attack. And that’s a sobering thought. The homeless encampments around every city in America are the legacy of so called American Century. That is the end of the line for Western capital and rugged individualism. The postscript to Manifest Destiny is a nation of absolute misery, over medicated, and trying hard to NOT see the misery around them. To not see their neighbors have moved….to the nearest homeless encampment. Not see that yet more record days of heat have arrived. Not see that everything is poisoned and wrapped in plastic anyway. Of polluted lakes and scorched earth. A nation of narcissism and despair in equal measures. But at least they can hate Trump together. In that sense the Anti-President is a gift.

The First Thing We Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c.f.5

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

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