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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Full Circle Jerk

This post is upgraded and adapted from Comments.

Some recent market libertarian readers have taken umbrage at my claim that they deserve some measure of blame for the catastrophic corporate-militarist policies of the Bush Administration when the truth is that they "hate Bush" quite as much as I do.

Once again, without feeling: The rhetoric employed by the market fundamentalist so-called "liberty movement" has been instrumental in no small number of the crucial moves of the "fascist Republican party" these libertopians otherwise claim to oppose, from the "deregulation" and selling off of public utilities, public assets, and social functions, to the drumbeat for social security privatization, to the contracting out of warfare, reconstruction, and disaster relief to unaccountable corporate cronies.

This brings us right back to my initial point from Sunday's editorial about Ron Paul's "anti-war" position: In my view the fact that his anti-war stance is yoked so conspicuously to his anti-government stance should make the democratic left more qualified in their praise of Ron Paul's position than they sometimes seem to be, since this sort of market fundamentalist anti-governmentality continues to this day to provide the motivation and justification for much of the actual shape the war and current catastrophic occupation have taken.

Market libertarians can claim to hate Bush all they want (and no doubt many earnestly do hate him), but the fact remains that market libertarian theories and rhetoric have provided the soundbites and background noise that give ongoing "plausibility" to numerous disasters of the Bush Administration.

Just because market libertarians may feel that Big Business Republicans have "distorted" the never-existing and never-to-exist ideal "free market" worldview the libertopians champion doesn't insulate them from culpability as their very words are used over and over and over again to justify corporate-militarist politics.

Sure, libertopians can gasp in horror at the catastrophes that ensue when their abstract formulations are imperfectly and bloodily translated into the real world, but when libertopians fail to learn the lesson of these catastrophes and simply clap louder and louder about the need for "free markets" even as the corporate-militarists literally pound the planet to rubble in the name of "free markets" my libertopian peers will simply have to forgive me if I fail to expend much in the way of sympathy for them and their fellow free-marketeers as they whine about the misrepresentation of their snow-pure ideals.

In conclusion, the conflict remains as clear as day: Behind all the digital utopianism and smart bombs and technophiliac hype of contemporary neoliberal, neoconservative, and libertopian cheerleading, there remains a story and a struggle as old as the hills, a basic struggle between democratic against aristocratic forces, a struggle that remains to this day largely (although not exhaustively) a struggle of labor against capital. Libertopian critics of authoritarian abuses can either join with the democratic left in the struggle to democratize the state to redress the grievances that so exercise their attention (many of them perfectly legitimate concerns about State sponsored violence and corruption), or they can continue to indulge in the puerile fantasy of "smashing the state" and thereby keep on complacently bolstering the rule of corporate-militarist oligarchs claiming to express the "spontaneous order" of the "free market."

Apart from this, there are a whole lot of hysterical, aggressive, paranoid, weirdly personal accusations and demands that seem to have been prompted in my libertopian peers by my concerns about Ron Paul. For most of that stuff it is hard to know what to say, apart from recommending that some of you might try finding a decent therapist.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Occupied Iraq Is Galt's Gulch

In an apparently controversial couple of posts yesterday I expressed frustration that some "progressives" are now trumpeting former Libertarian Party and current Republican Party Presidential hopeful Ron Paul for his anti-war views -- and this despite the fact that he continues to preach the free-market gospel that provided no small amount of the practical and ideological underpinnings of the very war and occupation he opposes. For me, the crux of the argument amounts to this little snippet:
[Ron Paul's] "opposition" to the war and ongoing occupation in Iraq must… be understood and judged in connection to his other stated positions…. And this is certainly true as well for other market libertarians who like to make "anti-war" arguments in an era when the specific institutions of corporate-militarist globalization define what is meant by "free trade" and "markets" in the first place…. If the lesson you learn from Iraq is "Less Government!" you may as well simply intone to the corporate-militarists who are alone in profiting from these bloodsoaked conflicts, "Please, Sir, can I have another?" Be assured, they will cheerfully oblige you.

There is just no arguing, it seems, with market fundamentalists when they are in the full froth of self-congratulatory fervor. In this they appear, after all, pretty much as bad as any other fundamentalists you care to meet when the pet slogans of their faith are up for discussion. And I suppose I should have expected a barking dog brigade would find their way to my posts yesterday via search engines attuned to the radioactive glow of words like "Libertarian" and "Ayn Rand" and "War." Needless to say, it is ultimately quixotic to try to talk sense to people who think feudalism is rendered freedom through the expedient word magic of redescribing it as a "free market."

No doubt, the Libertopian True Believers will bug their eyes at this and proclaim me (again) hopelessly confused, stupid, ignorant, and so on. And I daresay I will simply have to leave them for now to their consoling fairy tales and hope that Iraq, Katrina, Blackwater, Social Security privatization, and the rest of the Killer Clown College's domestic debacles will have discredited the right wing "politics" of privatization and crony capitalism and deregulation without end enough that the online Libertopian Noise Boys will be too tainted with the stink of conspicuous failure to do much more for a while in the way of damage. Meanwhile, a truly progressive anti-corporate-militarist left, invigorated by new peer-to-peer media formations, may just have the breathing space we need in which to re-educate Americans about the Four Freedoms, and about the emancipatory promise of an informed, nonduressed, consensual, technoscientifically literate democratic civilization.

My only real regret is that in tossing off my little Sunday morning editorial yesterday I failed to provide any links to other writers considerably more respectable than myself who have made complementary arguments. There are actually any number of them, but I will insist (and not for the first time) that everybody should have read by now the essay Baghdad Year Zero, by Naomi Klein, published in Harper's, September, 2004. A short article, "Bush aiming to remake Iraq as a free-market paradise," published in The Chicago Sun-Times by William O'Rourke, April 3, 2005, complements the point the following year. And Joshua Holland's Bush's Iraq: A Bloodbath Economy, published in AlterNet the next year on July 27, 2006, continues the theme. Google provides countless supplementary readings to lead one on from there, for any who are truly curious about this argument.

The basic point I made yesterday was that as a ferocious critic of the Iraq war and present occupation myself of course I support Ron Paul and every other public figure who opposes the catastrophic occupation of Iraq, but that my support for his anti-war position has to be a qualified one since it is my view that Ron Paul and other market libertarians frame their own anti-war positions in a way that simultaneously supports a false and already dangerously widely accepted "free market" ideology that has a crucial share in the responsibility for the concrete form the Iraq debacle took and continued acceptance of which assures comparable atrocities in the future.

This argument seems to have been regarded by many of my interlocutors as a contradiction revealing my deep incapacity as a thinker worthy of a hearing. Since I still cannot discern a contradiction here, I daresay maybe that is so.

I expected to hear proper criticisms that my focus on free market ideology backburners too much the ugly racism, scary millenarianism, and anxious patriarchy likewise spectacularly on display in America's planetary War Machine. That would have been a useful discussion. Instead, I was informed that I do not understand how dreamy free markets will be on that glorious day when we "finally" let them loose unfettered upon the world. I'm hoping this stunning stupidity was some kind of awful ugly idiotic fluke. But I will say I have never been more convinced that there are few things more crucial for champions of democracy to do right here and right now than to educate Americans and other privileged people that the "free market" moonshine they've been slurping for decades literally constitutes a hostile corporate takeover of the institutions of popular democracy by a minute minority of incument interests driven by short-sighted and sociopathic competitive calculations that are turning the world we live in to shit.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Retrofuturist Dupes; Or, Why Ron Paul Is Nothin New

This post is upgraded and adapted from Comments, in which I responded to a response about my Ron Paul post just below. I recommend that folks read that post and response first. Still, the formulations here seem to be of a sufficiently general character to merit attention on their own, whatever one thinks of Ron Paul and other "anti-war" libertopians.

I am informed that the technodevelopmental forces afoot upon the Land lead us to a New World, and that Ron Paul is the face of a "New 21st Century Democracy." Permit me a few quick reactions.

First quick point: Intransigently nonmobile facts of geography, vulnerable human bodies and ecosystems, indispensable physical infrastructures in need of maintenance all have a stubborn reality endlessly underestimated in worldviews that foreground intellectual factors (from Kantian cosmopolitanism to neoliberal free marketeers to the various digital utopianisms -- not to mention their many hybrids).

Second quick point: It is not the case that the State is the State is the State is the State is the State, and that one can indifferently attribute the crimes of one institutionalization of government to every other. The conflict that counts as far as I'm concerned is between more versus less democratic institutionalizations of the State. That is to say, between:

Democrats versus Aristocrats.

Third quick point: Just because self-appointed neoliberal corporate-militarist aristocrats like to think they are a "meritocracy" rather than a hereditary aristocracy doesn't mean they are right, or that this constitutes a difference that makes much of a difference from a vantage like my own that takes the key conflict to be one between democracy and aristocracy.

Fourth quick point (A few axioms that constitute a point of departure for thinking politically in the first place): Humanity is ineradicably plural in its capacities, accomplishments, aspirations; some of this plurality yields unearned structural advantages to minorities; the advantaged will usually struggle to retain and consolidate their advantage, come what may; from the perspective of advantage, the advantaged are always capable of retroactively clothing any conduct at all in the language of moral righteousness.

Institutions claiming a legitimate monopoly on the use of force to "maintain order" arise from these facts and however "different" one thinks the 21st century is, where these foundational matters are concerned things are exactly the Same As It Ever Was.

The fight that matters, then, once again, is between those who would democratize government as opposed to those who would use government to maintain incumbent privileges and elites.

A quick conclusion: The world right now is perishing from the waste, ignorance, and eager aggression of a minute fraction of the population (most of whom seem to like to think they represent the "force of civilization" even as they proceed interminably to loot, kill, rape, despoil, and destroy everything in sight). If things look "new" to you, it may be that you just aren't looking very hard, since all this looks to me like a very old and ugly story... and if you aren't looking very hard this may be because you are or imagine yourself to be (for now) a beneficiary of the bloodbath.

Don't take offense, I'm a beneficiary of the War Machine, too, and I am to this day still too much a dupe and an ignoramus to fully resist the murderous machineries that support me. But everybody, including me, including you, can gain ever more insight and gumption and so fight ever more against the tide of incumbent aggression and for the tide of democratization.

And I do happen agree with you that some things are different right about now. Peer to peer formations like the critical blogosphere, like small campaign donation aggregation, like rapid response online organization have momentarily stalled the last half-century of corporate mass-mediation and discomfited its manufacture of "consent" and now threaten the corporate party machines (of both parties in the United States and elsewhere), thus creating a key opening for democratization and popular government.

But this is an inkling not an accomplishment. And it is the farthest imaginable thing from a Destiny. Its vulnerability is breathtaking.

Ron Paul looks to me like the oldest story in the 20th Century American playbook: yet another market fundamentalist libertopian who believes civil libertarianism is compatible with corporate capitalism. If that is the new "21st Century Democracy" then the facile "friendly fascism" peddled to earnest saucer-eyed privileged Americans by Ayn Rand ("America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business"), Ronald Reagan ("Government Is the Problem"), Bush I ("The New World Order"), Clinton ("The Era of Big Government Is Over," NAFTA, workfare, deregulation), Bush II ("Our MBA President," PNAC, the Unitary Executive) then the new 21st Century democracy looks an awful lot like the old Robber Baron "democracy" to me, but this time with the tools at its disposal to render the planet an uninhabitable radioactive, Greenhouse, pandemic sewer of goo.

All hail the technophiliac retrofuturists!

Ron Paul's Libertopian Worldview Indispensably Fuels the Iraq Occupation He Simultaneously Opposes

Republican Party (and before that, Libertarian Party) Presidential hopeful Ron Paul is attracting no small amount of enthusiastic blogospheric attention these days -- and some of it from progressives -- all because he makes sensible noises opposing war while all the other dot-eyed white guys of his cohort are frothing incoherently for more blood and more torture the better to satisfy the unslakable hunger for human sacrifice so conspicuous in the curious Republican Culture of Life.

Of course it is appealing that Ron Paul has the sense to oppose the catastrophic war and ongoing murderous occupation of Iraq -- along with nearly everybody else in the country by now. Likewise, it is good that he is holding his Party's feet to the fire, reminding them of the historical Republican (at any rate, rhetorical) opposition to war. And, needless to say, I salute any concrete work he or anybody else does to end this atrocious occupation and help us resist efforts from the Killer Clown Administration to embark on further war adventures in Iran, Syria, or who knows where...

But I'll admit frustration and despair at the inevitable bumper stickers with which Ron Paul concludes his reasonable anti-war proclamations, always demanding "Less Government, Less Government, Less Government."

Even worse are "progressives" who respond to Paul's foolish but utterly predictable anti-governmentality with sympathy.

It is crucial to be clear about this. Without market fundamentalist ideology -- and its fantasy of a "natural, spontaneous order" that is always only shackled by big bad government -- the Iraq disaster would not have taken place, and certainly the ongoing occupation would not have taken its current form. (This isn't to deny the roles of racism, millenarianism, and sexist panic in play in this insanity, I'm just focusing on the corporatist dimension of our dementia brought up by Ron Paul's recent blogospheric celebrity.)

Iraq is literally a laboratory testing out idiotic never-workable "free market" economic daydreams with respect to tax policy, private contracting of social services, and so on. More concretely, it is a site of vast corruption, inequity, and criminal conflict (the condensed essence of the unregulated, and hence oligarchic, "free market" form).

What is needed in the US and elsewhere in the world, obviously, is good government, not less government. What is needed is democracy. In relatively democratic institutionalizations of government, government is the people in a truly non-negligible sense, and expressed in the context of such governments (whatever their flaws and hypocrisies) the desire for less government is always an expression of hostility for the people.

"Less Government" is always code for "all government is bad." Notice that this attitude never provides a criterion on the basis of which to determine how much less government is wanted so as to arrive at better governance.

And it will always be the case that when people who don't believe in the very possibility of good democratic government nevertheless fight to acquire power in such governments that they will, upon achieving their desired positions in these governments, go on from there to govern badly, they will be incompetent, they will be corrupt, they will loot and steal (and how better to profit from the vantage of the State than to be a war profiteer?)...

Those "progressives" who are crowing with pleasure at Paul's comments are just reflexively responding to the intuitive plausibility of anti-government rhetoric that has been relentlessly pounded into our skulls for decades, from Reagan through Clinton to the present without pause. Ron Paul has failed to learn from, and so to this day still symptomizes the worldview without which Iraq (and Katrina, as it happens) would not have taken its current disastrous form. His "opposition" to the war and ongoing occupation in Iraq must therefore be understood and judged in connection to his other stated positions in these matters. And this is certainly true as well for other market libertarians who like to make "anti-war" arguments in an era when the specific institutions of corporate-militarist globalization define what is meant by "free trade" and "markets" in the first place.

Unless we learn from the disastrous consequences of "free market" ideology we will just endlessly repeat them to the bitter end (climate catastrophe, existentially threatening warfare, planetary social collapse). If the lesson you learn from Iraq is "Less Government!" you may as well simply intone to the corporate-militarists who are alone in profiting from these bloodsoaked conflicts, "Please, Sir, can I have another?"

Be assured, they will cheerfully oblige you.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Up Is Downism Arrives in France

To those who have e-mailed me asking the meaning of my "cryptic" (really?) expressions of frustration about the Sarkzealot and Roy show in France last weekend, let me just note the prominence of support for the "Back to Work" bully that derives from retirees, and the correlated prominence among the opposition to Sarko's so-called "New Direction" for France (as if Reaganism/Thatcherism represents something somehow "new" in any conceivable sense) of young people who will actually live in the "new future" and know better than to believe his ugly racist and market fundamentalist lies. For background, everybody should be reading the blog European Tribune, and for some interesting number crunching check out this article, from which I quote these choice bits:
Mme Royal, the Socialist candidate, dismissed by the Right as the candidate of the past, scored heavily among the young.... In an election restricted to French voters aged 18 to 59, Mme Royal would have won handsomely. M. Sarkozy owes his victory to... an overwhelming triumph among French voters in their sixties (61 per cent of the vote) and a jackpot among the over-seventies (68 per cent). [France's version of Amurrica's O'Reilly Factor demographic.]

The centre-right candidate promised to put France "back to work" and create a new, more dynamic future. His greatest appeal -- paradoxically [not really] -- was to people over retirement age. They were swayed not by his promises of a New France but his appeals to the "moral" values of an Old France, and especially his tough rhetoric on crime, immigration and national identity....

M. Sarkozy... picked up his largest scores -- up to 68 per cent of the vote -- in the former far-right bastions of Alsace and the Côte d'Azur.... [Where his "kinder, gentler" Le Penist racism is a no-brainer!]

According to an Ipsos poll, M. Sarkozy won among both men and women. Mme Royal did better (48 per cent) among women than men (46 per cent). The generational schisms revealed by the poll are striking. The "internet" generation of 18- to 24-year-olds voted 58 per cent for Mme Royal. The 25- to 34-year-olds voted 57 per cent for M. Sarkozy. The "May 1968" -- Mitterrand generation of 45- to 59-year-olds voted 55 per cent for Mme Royal. The 35 to 44 generation split 50-50.

Get ready France. Your country is about to be looted to a threadbare scarecrow by the already rich. The resulting failures of overstressed governance will be attributed to the very government that is being stripped of its capacity to function. You won't believe how quickly people will forget that once your civic institutions and social services actually worked to make things better for all. (This isn't, by the way, the palpably false claim that these institutions and services couldn't have been incomparably better, but just you wait to see how swift and how sweeping the devastation can be once the "free marketeers" get busy.) Racism and sexism (already so clearly at work in the election result) will be endlessly exacerbated under cover of a discourse of "dignity" and "freedom" that always only consolidates the position of incumbents. And at the end of the road: utter corruption, utter division, utter chaos, utter idiocy.

But, you're in luck! You will always have Paris. Not to mention the fact remains that you held out so long against the global Randroid dumbass train that it may be Sarko won't manage to consolidate enough of a hold to ever actually implement the market fundamentalist squawk for real, while the example of the rest of the world shrugging off in disgust the bloodyminded stickyfingered neoliberal/neoconservative asshole free marketeers, taking away their credit cards, taking away their guns, turning the channel when they start bloviating will provide enough of a spectacle that you'll see sense before this misfit crew has a chance to make you pay for real for letting them in.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Sometimes I Despair a Little

In the ruinous aftermath of the Killer Clown Administration (a ruin that will be figuratively expressed through the words "Iraq" and "Katrina" but will have literally encompassed incomparably more devastations than that, from the rule of law, to general welfare, to international standing, to material infrastructure, to administrative professions) the word Accountability will be, you can be sure, regularly reiterated.

The free-marketeers of both parties who came into government claiming to despise government and who, inevitably enough, went on then to neglect and loot and sell-off and despoil and disdain the accomplishments and underpinnings of that government will, in the name of "Accountability," likely go on to demand that many of those who knew better and most of those who suffered most from the recklessness and selfishness of the free-marketeers will be the very same ones who then go on to pay most, sacrifice most, suffer most from the modest efforts of reconstruction to come. And if we were actually to manage, miraculously enough, to rebound from the ruin, you can be sure the result would then be seen as ripe pickings for the next generation of slobbering saucer-eyed free-marketeers the moment the remotest semblance of recovery is actually accomplished.

What Accountability would actually demand would be the Impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and then trundling them off, along with the rest of the bloody-minded sticky-fingered Neocon Rogues Gallery, to the Hague to stand trial for War Crimes. The reconstruction in the face of the ruins we are left with should certainly be paid for by the profits of the petrochemical and extractive industries and the money-grubbing death-indifferent war machine of pirates, contractors, bomb-builders, and statisticians all of whom have become obscenely rich in the midst of ballooning deficits and ballooning corpses with their names on them.

Accountability would demand that media consolidation be ended and reversed, so that the manufacture of "consent" to unpopular, manifest disasters like "pre-emptive" wars against actually nonthreatening regimes, however tyrannical, will not be repeated again anytime soon just because moneyed elites who own media corporations also stand to benefit from military contracts or desire ever more deregulation for short-term profits. War profiteering should be made illegal once and for all in fact, so that the desires of greedy and indifferent elites will not usurp the interests of voting majorities. Election campaigns should likewise be publicly financed, so that public servants can devote themselves to the interests of all the people they represent rather than selling themselves in costly contests for corporate-media advertising in exchange for poisonous favors to moneyed minorities. Progressive taxation should be re-instated to levels that at least compare with those of America's so-called Golden Age of economic prosperity (when the top rate was, by the way, 90%), both to circumvent the conspicuously pernicious anti-democratic emergence of an aristocracy as well as to support the democratizing energies of general education, healthcare, and security for a civilization of peers.

Frankly, all of this is actually quite obvious.

But, it is just as obvious that none of this obvious stuff is at all likely to happen, even as everybody will be clamoring in unison for an Accountability few will be willing to embrace in earnest.

I expect neither Bush nor Cheney to be impeached, I expect none of the killer clowns to stand trial for war crimes, I expect everybody on Earth to know what should be done, to know it will not be done, and to know, in consequence, the catastrophic sham of the moneyed elites who would rule us in the name of a law they scorn except when it occasionally avails them in their quest for more money. Urgent, epic, now-proximate problems of technoscientific development (climate change, insanely destructive devices, pandemics, the breakdown of vulnerable infrastructures on which countless millions of people depend for immediate survival, and so on) all of which demand recourse to the legitimacy of legal, lawful, representative, deliberative institutions will be adjudicated instead by moneyed minorities and their gangsters, all fighting in terms of local short term gains structurally incapable of grasping the issues at hand.

It's all so obvious it almost feels too sickeningly facile to have to repeat this stuff over and over and over again to people sleepwalking around in denial or caught up in a frenzy of crypto-racist commie bashing or homosexual panic, or whatever this thing is, this weird pampered American anti-intellectual thing, this towering thick endless wall of dense, opaque syrup that sometimes seems as if nothing can penetrate it, or nudge it, or get under it, or climb over it... And it's all the more maddening, all this obviousness that despite its obviousness just as obviously just won't ever register as real, especially since, well, once one ever managed to get past all this idiot obviousness, there really are actually so many interesting and disputatious topics available for discussion instead, non-obvious but nonetheless urgent topics that so need and would so reward intelligent deliberation.

That capital punishment should be eliminated; that informed, nonduressed consensual abortion, drug use, suicide, as well as sexual, medical, artistic experimentation should all be safer, legal, regulated, and protected; that the purchase and use of guns should be at least as regulated as the operation of automobiles; that we should stop giving weapons to future tyrants to fight current tyrants we gave weapons to in the past; that we should support Kyoto and incomparably more international standards to reduce global warming, overpopulation, biodiversity and topsoil loss, toxic and carcinogenic substances; that people in the overexploited regions of the world, especially women and children, who are silenced or killed by neglected but treatable diseases, by poverty, by proliferating arms, by human-exacerbated climate change, or by enforced precarious legal status all represent incomparable losses of creative intelligence from whom everybody on the planet might otherwise be richly rewarded, collaborating toward the solution of shared problems; that we should eliminate the legal fiction of a corporate personhood invested with rights and privileges denied actual persons or as a way of empowering a few people above overabundant majorities of others; that we should make the United Nations more democratic and hence more legitimate and hence a more viable nonviolent recourse for the reconciliation of planetary disputes; that intellectual property regimes should be limited rather than expanded, rendered exceptional rather than normal, to encourage technoscientific progress and multicultural expressivity; that progressive income and property tax revenues should fund universal single-payer healthcare, universal education, and decentralized, renewable, sustainable energy, transportation, communication, and social service infrastructures, as well as biomedical r & d, and even -- in my view -- a basic income guarantee: these are all also sensible positions, and many of them, it seems to me, frankly, indispensable if planetary humanity is to thrive or even survive the century in which we find ourselves.

But, needless to say, I doubt most -- if any -- of these outcomes will happen either, however hard we educate, agitate, and organize to facilitate them.

And so, sometimes, I despair.

Maybe it's just the urgency of the last week of teaching for the spring and my looming grading deadlines. Maybe it's my frustration with the apparently unkillable idiocy of neoliberal/neoconservative market fundamentalist discourse (now taking its toll on France, even in the midst of the conspicuous smoking wreckage of its application literally everywhere on earth that it has been tried for all but a minute fraction of moneyed beneficiaries). Maybe it's all this Reality TV I watch. I don't know.

Silver linings via e-mail or the comment button are welcome, otherwise I'll just wait for my unfailing Inner Mouseketeer to re-emerge as he always has done before to shake me from this present despair in a day or so.