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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Obama's "Bipartisanship"

I want to repeat something I often said in the early months of the Obama Administration, when so many were perplexed to the point of apoplexy by Obama's endless "bipartisan" gestures which were met by whomped-up Republican rage at high-handed Democratic "exclusion" anyway, and by the fact that the stimulus was filled with Republican pork that purchased next to nothing in Republican support, and by the endless outreach to Republicans that met with historically unprecedented obstructionism and recourse to filibuster threats and stonewalling on appointments at all levels, the long Senatorial detour through the bipartisan Gang of Six that yielded Teabagger August and derailed healthcare, and so on.

I don't actually believe that Obama has any illusions about real possibilities for bipartisanship with Republicans in this historical moment. He may not have counted on quite this level of insanity from the GOP, given that it really is unprecedented, though I daresay there was enough madness on the campaign trail to give him a preview. And I do not think he expected quite the level of incompetence and dysfunction that is on display in the Senate now (I am assuming the derailment of his timetable and the signs that he didn't expect a Public Option in the Senate package, but expected it to find its way in through conference with notional bipartisan votes in both Houses really did send the process out of Obama's preferred path).

But, again, I don't think Obama has any illusions about the possibility of real bipartisanship with the current crazytown form of the Republican Party. I certainly disagree with those who believe Obama's "bipartisanship" noises represent his naivete or, worse, are signals of a "stealth corporatism" that gives the lie to his hopeyness or exposes Democratic and GOPer "equivalence" and all sorts of comparable comic-book constructions of the scene folks spit out at me online from time to time in such discussions.

I believe that Obama's "bipartisanship" names something in which he really does believe in an aspirational way that actually doesn't connect up that much or that often to concrete policy decisions at all -- even the ones that look like giveaways to the GOP that purchase him nothing in the way of reasonableness or goodwill from the Teabagger Express and the GOP's lumberhead luminaries. (By the way, I don't think it takes a "mind-reader" to ascribe such beliefs to Obama -- I am inferring such beliefs from my study of many of his public speeches, of which I happened to read an unusual number while helming an independent study on Obama's rhetoric for a Berkeley Rhetoric undergrad and also while preparing for one of my courses this term in which I have assigned quite a few Presidential addresses alongside polemics on political economy since the New Deal.)

I do think Obama believes that America needs (at least) two functional political parties that invigorate policy debates and keep figures in authority relatively honest and yet can work together most of the time to solve shared problems within a shared sense of basic facts but in the service of importantly different values and regional emphases. I believe this myself, by the way. I think Obama models this in his speeches in the hope that he can mobilize it from its palpable non-existence into eventual existence. I also think he is providing Republicans an escape hatch from the present madness of this Teabag consummation of three decades of Movement Conservatism, declaring himself ever ready to work with more reasonable Eisenhower types who kinda sorta don't exist anymore in the hopes that such types might take form and then take him up on it and so form the kernel around which a comparatively non-insane future GOP might eventually spring. By the way, I don't think Obama necessarily holds out much hope for this, any more than anybody else should who takes a long look at the depths of madness and dishonesty to which the Republicans have now sunk, but I do think it is part of what is afoot when he conjures up his bipartisan vision of America and, after all, why the hell not?

But far more important than this aspirational bipartisan discourse, I believe that Obama grinds his way joylessly through the bipartisan motions, virtually without payoffs and in the face of fairly relentless exasperation and derision from both the right and the left for pragmatic political reasons above all else.

Although Republicans pretend that Obama isn't listening to them even as he turns to them over and over and over again (and, even more hilariously, even though Republicans -- with the indispensable assist of corporate media outlets that broadcast this narrative without calling the GOP on it -- pretend that Obama isn't "listening to the American people" when he tries imperfectly to do what overwhelming majorities of the American people want him to do and elected him to do, none of which looks very much at all like the things the GOP wants to say "the American People" want even though only a minority of scared ignorant white racist evangelicals actually want what they are selling), this isn't a narrative that can stand even the slightest scrutiny.

Obama seems to have calculated that by reaching out repeatedly and conspicuously to Republicans throughout his Presidency he can insulate himself from perfectly predictable Republican talking points to the contrary, and in a way that is likely to make at least some Republicans pay for their expected obstructionism. That is why the White House "bipartisanship" discourse has always gone hand in hand with the Pelosi House discourse deriding the Republicans as "The Party of NO." Taken together, this establishes and provides the context to pin responsibility on Republicans and stave off likely losses given the inevitable frustration of hope that was sure to follow upon the impossibly high expectations that freighted the Obama Presidency from the beginning, coupled with worries about historical challenges to incumbents in the party in power after its candidate wins the White House.

I believe that Obama's "bipartisanship" discourse was an investment the beginnings of the payoff of which was the State of the Union (in which he wasn't able to tout the Healthcare reform accomplishment he wanted, and yet he is widely perceived as giving Democrats their mojo back nonetheless) and then his impressive showing in his Q and A session in the lion's den later that week. This was the beginning of the 2010 campaign and it showed. Obama has established a credible position of "bipartisan" effort from which to pin obstruction on Republicans where it largely -- but not entirely, given the Conservadem menace -- belongs. Earlier Obama efforts to hang the GOP on the hat-hook of Limbaugh's unelectable but profitable hate-radio empire (for which he was widely and wrongly criticized across the blogosphere), were eagerly and very foolishly embraced by the GOP in its Teabag episode, and this exercise in avid self-marginalization may stave off a 2010 worst-case scenario (loss of the Senate) while setting the scene to bear real fruit in 2012 (Congressional majorities large enough to domesticate Conservdems at the margins of the Caucus).

By way of conclusion, I can't help but also point out that an enormous amount of race-discourse is getting smuggled through the filter of this business of Obama's "bipartisanship." I don't think one has to be playing 11th-dimensional chess to ascribe the sorts of pragmatic calculations I do to Obama's rhetoric -- since, among other things, Obama is absolutely aware of the rank racism that is bubbling up in the cauldron of GOP complaints about his "arrogance" and about getting "lectured to" and not "listened to" by Obama (as who in their right mind was not aware that Teabagger August was a scarcely stealthed freakout about race for which Healthcare was at best a prompt) as now he "pivots" into the necessarily more public antagonism of a campaign year with the old straight or closeted white guys of the Republican Party and the, er, "Real Americans" of the Southern swamplands and tornado-torn turflands they represent by proxy when they are not partying hardy in the sinful Cities they usually privately prefer when they aren't in front of microphones lying their lies.

Too many who accuse Obama of going too slow or even of stealth-obstruction as he takes pains to outflank and soft-sell the obstructionist GOP seem to forget that among all the other things he is trying to do, the "biracial" Obama is forever delicately navigating and pressuring America's abiding and ongoing racist legacies and insanities and violences. A lot of that work is getting disavowed by the left as much as by the right in these discussions of the motives and effectiveness of Obama's "bipartisan" efforts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quick Cheer to Oregon

Deep in the weeds with teaching duties -- the Tuesday fourteen hour marathon is pretty obliterative, and Wednesdays I have MA Theses to read, so I suspect mid-week is going to be pretty low posting volume this Spring term -- but I did want to offer up three cheers to Oregon, who have turned the tide of faux-populist anti-tax neo-feudalism that has prevailed so idiotically and catastrophically for a generation, and scored a first victory for true populism, and progressive taxation to pay the price for the general welfare and better government without which modern civilization is impossible. The stunts (among them a stunningly stunted Democratic campaign) that put Naked Scotty Brown into a Massachusetts Senate seat for a couple years, shrinking by one seat the control by significant majorities of Democrats in both Houses of Congress and the White House might be what passes for The Big Story among millionaire Washington insiders and vapid punditocrats, but those who are looking at Massachusetts rather than Oregon to read their tea leaves in have some real shocks coming.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Want To Be A Democrat?

Do yourself a favor, devote a little less than half an hour of your day to listening to the audio of the speech delivered by FDR to the DNC in 1936 accepting the nomination of his party for what would be the second term of his presidency. The speech, often described as "A Rendezvous With Destiny" contains the famous passages in which he declares war on the "Economic Royalists" in the spirit of a patriotic re-invocation of the Revolutionary War on the English Royalists in 1776, a war he describes as a struggle to preserve democracy in a world of industrial concentrations of wealth and abstract financial instruments (not to mention fascism) undreamed of by the Founders. You will be stunned at its relevance, and proud of the Party in whose name and spirit and image we need to push our representatives if they and we are to be equal to our own moment of planetary precarity and Corporate Royalism.

Spending Freeze!

You thought it was bad when Jane Hamsher teamed up with Grover Norquist, well now that Obama has done it, too, all hell will break loose! dun-dun-DAH! You gotta love a formulation roll-out so disastrous that the Administration flacks and walk-backers on the teevee are offering up as reassurance variations on, hey, don't worry, it's the opposite of what it sounds like, he doesn't mean it, it's empty verbiage! Nice choice -- presumably either Obama is taking up the idea that lost McCain the Presidency and gave Hoover the credit for making the Depression Great -- or he's just pulling crap out of his ass that he doesn't mean in order to appeal to Republicans who think he's a Satanic Comminazi no matter what he does. You got to hand it to them these last few days, that's some sweet messaging there. Not that our online sky is falling brigade doesn't exacerbate every stumble into an earthquake in two seconds flat anyway. As it happens, I actually don't think this "spending freeze" getting floated sans real details means the direst of the dire things it is being described as meaning, inasmuch as saving the promised 250 billion dollars over a decade doesn't square with Hoover-scaled Budget-hawk cluelessness of the kind signalled by phrases like "budget freeze" so much as squaring with the sorts of efficiencies Obama already managed in this year, stimulus package and all. So this is of course obviously earthshatteringly stupid -- what else could it be, natch -- but possibly not quite as earthshatteringly stupid as the earthshatteringly stupid thing it appears to be. I suspect this is just the latest rather inept episode of White House messaging going zanily depressingly interminably awry since Naked Scotty Brown gave the Republican minority that is still a minority a magical "majority" in the eyes of both parties and preening punditocrats for some odd reason one apparently needs to be a millionaire Washington insider to understand. I guess we'll understand more after the State of the Union and as the actual details arrive next week. If Evan Bayh looks pleased, we're all fucked. I'm pretty sure that's the tell.

"Oh, Won't Somebody Listen to the American People?"

I must say I personally find almost as distasteful as the ridiculous Naked Scotty Brown interlude itself the fact that so many Democratic insider-types seemed to think a Senate seat was their private property, "Ted Kennedy's Seat," untouchable. Massachusetts elects Republican governors all the time, where does that kind of complcency come from?

Just because Republicans call it "Taxachusetts" doesn't mean it's actually, you know, a forever guaranteed Fighting Liberal Oasis.

Come to think of it, I honestly don't know why Democrats feel compelled to accept Republican narrative and spin on literally every imaginable thing.

Even now they allow Sarah Palin and Mitch McConnell to quack about how Democrats "aren't listening to the American People" even as majorities of the American people express their clear and loud outrage at the failures to give them what they actually voted for, in part because Republicans aren't listening to any but a miniscule marginal minority of greedy rich people and a noisy scrum of racist-christianist wingnuts.

viaThink Progress
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on Meet the Press yesterday, said, “the message in Massachusetts was absolutely clear. The exit polls that I looked at said 48 percent of the people in Massachusetts said they voted for the new senator over health care.” McConnell added: “The people are telling us, ‘Please don’t pass this bill.’”

This “referendum” on health reform meme has become near-conventional wisom, with the media and even some Democrats echoing it. But a new Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll undermines this assertion. The poll suggests that while the election was a “protest of the Washington process,” it was not a rejection of progressive policy. Only 11 percent of voters, including 19 percent of Brown voters, want Brown to “stop the Democratic agenda:”

-- 70 percent of voters think Brown should work with Democrats on health care reform, including 48 percent of Brown voters. [Yeah, that'll happen -- good thinking, Massachusetts. --d]

-- 52 percent of voters were enthusiastic/satisfied with Obama administration policies. [Way to show it, guys! --d]

-- 44 percent of voters believe “the country as a whole” would be better off with health care reform, but 23 percent believe Massachusetts would be better off. [No wonder they voted to make it less likely. --d]

-- 68 percent of voters, including 51 percent of Brown voters approve of Massachusetts’ health care reform.

-- 58 percent of all voters, including 37 percent of Brown voters, felt “dissatisfied/angry” with “the policies offered by the Republicans in Congress.” [Well, by all means, reward bad behavior if you want to discourage it, er, okay. --d]

I get it that many liberals left small home-towns for the big city and left behind ignorant youths for educations in college or the University of Life, but that doesn't mean the ignorant mean-spirited know-nothing hayseeds you left behind are "The Real America." America grew up, too, America moved to the Big City, too, America got its education, too. This is a secular multicultural nation aspiring for equity in diversity and a social democratic government that works. Republicans are weird stupid intolerant traitors who want to live in a corporatist-militarist-christianist tyranny. Stop being nice to them until they stop behaving like crazy greedy ignorant assholes.

If It Smells Singularitarian... Then You Can Be Sure There's a Scam In the Vicinity

The good geeks of io9 ask Could This Be the Beginning of the AI Revolution? The answer is no, and therefore quite as close to yes as the AI Revolution will ever get as far as anyone now living is properly concerned.

Update -- uh, yeah, I know the io9 folks are in on the joke, that's why I directed folks' attention to it.

If the Left Netroots Are Not Part of the Solution Then, Like It Or Not, They Are Part of the Problem

What BooMan Said
It seems to me that the progressive blogosphere is useful to the Democratic Party and liberal interest groups [when it functions as] a free source of media counterinformation to the crap the corporate media spews out on a 24-hour basis. But, [it seems] the progressive blogosphere is actually more concerned with amplifying critiques of the Democrats because the Democrats are unwilling and unable to feed and tend to their base. So, we're now more a part of the problem than we are part of the solution. [Note, he said "more," not "only." --d] Some people have a degree of self-awareness about this situation, but the majority do not. Yeah, it would be great if the Democrats were more willing and able to do the types of things we advocate, since most (but by no means all) of the advice we provide is solid. But since they're not doing it, we're just piling on and helping to demoralize the troops.

This isn't a recommendation of uncritical enthusiasm for Democrats who are doing so many stupid, wrongheaded, lame things at the moment, as I expect it will be taken to be in the usual manner.

But it is a reminder that activism is a matter of education, agitation, and organization.

When we are talking about the partisan politics and legislative processes through which actually-possible most-progressive sausage is made by the guys we ourselves elected and are responsible for, however distasteful and disappointing they are, in a world of monolithic Republican obstructionism, shaky majorities, and media minsinformation, [one] our criticism, to be helpfully informative, to be usefully pressurizing, should remain a bit more, let's say, educational in spirit when it is directed to those who are closer to our side than their opponents are -- [two] our critical organization should generate pressure to do better, rather than divide and demoralize to no practical purpose, it should remain keenly mindful of tactical realities and the differences between the short and the long term, the practical and the ideal -- and when [three] criticism, even valid criticism, takes on the coloration of agitation it is very easy for it to amount to functionally abetting opponents whatever it calls itself given the structural reality of two and only two actually-possible political parties, one of which happens to be literally dangerously and criminally insane however lame the other one is.

At least that's how it seems to me. I think the left netroots (to overgeneralize) in this time of Democrats rather than Republicans in power is just as righteous as ever, but less helpful than it should and could be, and frankly kinda sorta has to be if there is to be any hope for our country.

California Ideologist Stewart Brand Coughs Up the Usual "Heretical" Hairball of Futurological Conventional Wisdom

I read an article attributing to futurologist Steward Brand "heretical" views that were presumably shocking given that Brand is an "icon" of the environmentalist movement, but which seemed to me not only not shocking but not even the least bit surprising. I started tossing off an annoyed post explaining why I felt this way and soon discovered it had grown to frightful proportions, and so I have divided it into three separate parts.

The first part, Stewart Brand, King of Pop Futurology, written while I was still feeling annoyed explains why I am ambivalent about describing Stewart Brand as an "icon" or "godfather" of environmentalism (although of course he has as much right to describe himself an environmentalist as anybody does, more than most do in fact). I would describe Brand as a futurologist, and I think his "heretical" views are pretty much neoliberal-futurological conventional wisdom, and I think he is part of a larger movement of California Ideologists and digirati and technophiles about whom it is actually obfuscatory rather than clarifying to describe them as greens or libertarians or hippies, even if they are connected to these movements and subcultures. While I still stand by what I wrote here, I think there is probably more snark than substance in it.

The second part, Surveying Brand's Greenback-Green Futurological Litany, actually addresses itself directly to the four claims attributed (I am assuming accurately) to Brand which triggered my annoyance in the first place. By the time I got to this part I have to admit that I wasn't particularly annoyed anymore, and the discussion seems to me more substantial there. I don't doubt that, as is usually the case, interest in what I have to say will diminish directly in proportion to the diminishment of the snark.

The third part, All Futurisms Tend to Be Functionally Retro-Futuristic in Their Political Substance draws from the foregoing a more general case that provides a more systematic formulation of a point (captured in the title) that I often declare here on Amor Mundi, but rarely elaborate as much as I should. By the time I arrived at part three I will admit that I had lost all interest in Stewart Brand and had become intrigued by the theoretical ideas that had churned up to the surface in the process of writing the preceding sections. It was at this point that I realized I'd been writing for over an hour and that my post had become yet another of my sprawling scattered speculations. That's when I decided to try breaking it into separate parts for a change, and hence the present experiment.

Continue to the Next Part?

Stewart Brand, King of Pop Futurology (Part One of Three)

At least one journalist seemed to find "shocking" and "heretical" the following absolutely conventional futurological chestnuts:
One of the “godfathers of environmentalism” [has] a message that most greens will find both shocking and heretical... Stewart Brand told a 400-strong audience... [t]here was “no hope” of mitigating against climate change. Nuclear power was the only way we could provide enough clean energy for the world; Cities were greener than the countryside; Genetically modified crops were necessary to feed the world’s growing population. Brand is widely regarded as one of the great visionaries of the environmental movement...

If I may speak for at least this Green, I would personally characterize Brand's comments as, first of all, not so much shocking as just wrong, and even rather dumb as wrong ideas go. (I will elaborate these charges in the next section.) Furthermore, this litany of corporate-militarist articles of faith seems to me the farthest thing from heretical exactly, so much as simply the sort of thing a futurologist like Brand should be expected to say, since it is the sort of thing futurologists all say all the time and with almost perfect robotic mind-numbing predictability. (And I will elaborate these claims in the third and final section.)

This is the same Stewart Brand, after all, who handwaved about how world-changing the MIT Media Lab was, that incubator of "digirati" and techno-utopians who brought us irrational exuberance and the nanocornucopiasts and the cybernetic totalists and the literally jaw-dropping foolishness of the so-called Long Boom, who co-founded that brain trust of corporate-militarist futurological PR "scenario"-spinners, the Global Business Network, and who still thinks, together with the same coterie of futurological dead-enders that what would amount to an architectural folly in Marie Antoinette's Versailles, The Clock of the Long Now, constitutes a revolutionary intervention into the status quo.

Since I devote so much of this blog to deriding superlative futurology and connecting it to the more mainstream futurology of neoliberal global development discourse, I can't help but add that this is also the same Stewart Brand who wrote in the forward to a particularly egregious piece of techno-utopian nonsense, Unbounding the Future, an earnestly worded warning to readers about getting taken in by false and facile promises of "technofixes" while at once hilariously recommending the techno-fixated superlative futurology of drex-tech nano-cornucopiasts as panacaea for all ills.

Here's a taste, from the breezy buzzing opening passage of that hyperbolic little number:
"Nanotechnology. The science is good, the engineering is feasible, the paths of approach are many, the consequences are revolutionary-times-revolutionary, and the schedule is: in our lifetimes."

The Case: "Science!" "Feasible!" "Revolutionary-times-revolutionary!" "In our lifetimes!"

The Verdict: Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

You know, there's a sucker born every minute, and every futurologist you will ever meet is either one of them or hoping like hell you are.

I don't mean to diminish Brand's actual standing and celebrity in saying I don't personally consider him an environmental eminence. The Well was plenty nifty after all, and I enjoyed reading Whole Earth as much as the next geek back in the 80s, in the same way I enjoyed reading OMNI in High School.

As it happens, I actually teach the release of the NASA photograph of the whole earth as seen from space (famously shepherded by Brand into world view) as a key formative moment for the contemporary phase of environmental movement. But I would say that anybody who upon seeing the gorgeous life-trembling whole earth from space declares human beings to be, as Stewart Brand famously did, "as gods," rather than as entangled interdependent precarious earthlings, has never really truly seen the whole earth made available in that image at all.

I propose that the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was the indispensable beginning of the second wave of an American environmentalist politics that had been conservationist hitherto -- and in many ways also profoundly conservative. And what was so definitive in her environmental politics was her concentration on the need to educate everyday citizens, to provide media for technoscientific literacy, and to resist incumbent interested media misinformation campaigns, and all this to mobilize informed people to demand the regulative-legislative redress of shared environmental problems, peer to peer.

This seems to me an environmentalist politics still relevant to our circumstances. But, more to the point, I tend to see Brand's facile futurology as profoundly antithetical to Carson's educational-agitational-organization environmental politics. I see Carson and Brand less as partners in the dance of environmental politics in the near half-century from 1970-2010, than as rivals for its practical soul.

For a sense of why this might matter, I think there is merit in Van Jones' insistence that environmentalism is now moving into a third phase still, defined neither by of the conservationism and conservatism of the first, nor by the regulation and legislation of the second, but one devoted to what he calls "investment." What is crucial in my view is that we see to it that what is named by this emerging "investment"-formation -- if that indeed is what it is to be called -- must seek to mobilize long-term public investment in renewable infrastructure and stewardship lifeways, rather than just more of the same "innovation" via commons-capture and "profit-making" through the externalization environmental risks and costs. And it seems to me that choosing between Carson's actually educational and organizational environmentalism qua consensus science and consensual governance against Brand's hyperbolic promotional and self-promotional futurological pseudo-environmentalism qua elite-incumbent advertising discourse could well be determinative of the understanding of "investment" environmentalism takes up in this third moment in its political history, and hence determinative, frankly, of the survival and flourishing of civilization on earth. (I would also propose that these three phases or waves or chapters or epochs or whatever of environmental politics should not be seen so much as supplanting one another, but as supplementing and complicating one another.)

For all these reasons, I simply cannot grant that Stewart Brand is some kind of proper environmentalist "godfather." Given that folks like Emerson, Thoreau, Darwin, Muir, Leopold, Abbey, Naess, Mollison, Bookchin, Carson, Kovel, Foster, Maathai, Shiva are among the proper claimants to such a title, I simply do not agree that Brand has been anything like a deep or original environmentalist thinker, or that he has facilitated actually democratizing environmentalist politics. I tend to think he has easily contributed as much or more to rendering proper environmentalist thinking impossible as he has contributed to environmentalism as such.

Although I don't doubt that Stewart Brand is a joy to be around (I can only imagine the stories he has to tell given the marvelous company he's kept), the fact remains in my view that he was and remains a California Ideologist through and through, one of so many corporatists who continue to confuse so-called cyber-consumer culture with counterculture, one of so many beneficiaries of class and race and gender privilege who continue to confuse hegemony with spontaneous order and their vantage from that hegemonic summit as a kind of insight or personal accomplishment, one of too many and TED Talk kinda guys who are all too prone to confuse self-promotion and PR with thought, one of so many futurologists peddling retro-futures in the name of "The Future."

One has to take great care before describing California Ideologists as hippies or greens or lefties for the same reasons (and usually for exactly the same reasons) as one has to take great care before describing American libertarians as actual civil libertarians rather than simply as Republicans who want to smoke pot or chew some hooker's foot without fear of arrest but all the while otherwise continuing to enjoy the unearned class privileges the "Universe Has Provided."

Continue to the Next Part?

Surveying Stewart Brand's Greenback-Green Futurological Litany (Part Two of Three)

Want to Start at the Beginning?
Stewart Brand told a 400-strong audience… [First:] There was “no hope” of mitigating against climate change. [Second:] Nuclear power was the only way we could provide enough clean energy for the world; [Third:] Cities were greener than the countryside; [Fourth:] Genetically modified crops were necessary to feed the world’s growing population.

And so, to return to Brand's litany of drearily predictable futurological "heresies," let me be as harsh as possible in the hope that vehemence might chisel its way past the rigidly enforced good cheer and self-congratulatory faux-contrarian and can-do crapola in which retro-futurists inevitably enshrine and en-shell themselves as they hawk their latest books.

First --

It seems to me that presumably "hardnosed" dismissals of hope for mitigating climate change by way of lifeway education-regulation-legislation-public investment are only issued in the final analysis by those who either mean cynically to sell some pie-in-the-sky corporate-militarist mega-engineering boondoggle to help billionaires who made their money destroying the planet in extractive-industrial-petrochemical enterprise make still more money pretending to be the only ones qualified to clean up their mess or by those those truly hard-hearted bastards (among whom I happen not to number Stewart Brand) who have calculated that climate catastrophe will not truly visit itself inside the high walls of gated suburbs behind GWOT-militarized Homeland moats in which they reside together with everyone they really care about, but will exact its toll instead always only on the same endlessly over-exploited regions of the world that already suffer genocidal devastation via treatable but neglected diseases and famine and drought brought about by catastrophic climate change in the already-arrived catastrophic future, all mediated and facilitated by arms proliferation and structured debt settlement and imposed market discipline to prolonged yawns from the people of the "Civilized World" in between occasional spectacular self-messaging charity benefit concerts.

Of course, any thinking person who truly entertained the slightest real expectation that global pandemics incubated in the slums of our neoliberal planetary "future," here and now, or that climate change refugees and warlord gangs armed and unleashed with the blessings of Judeochrislamic Mega-Churches and the NRA, or that Boschian scenes of energy and resource descent and its wars will arrive anytime soon on their actual doorstep don't waste time earning "street cred" with vapid Villager journalists by making tough-talkin' pronouncements about the hopelessness of legible democratic environmentalist politics. (And one must always emphasize how such pronouncements provide, and not at all co-incidentally, handy marketing and promotional advertisements and rationalizations for multinational energy and industrial-ag corporations to indulge in profit-making mega-scale "geo-engineering" and "bio-engineering" and ruinous nuclear-plant archipelago building projects in the name of "environmental remediation" after a century of their profit-taking destruction of the environment much of the time spent denying the plain facts at hand.) Again, nobody who is anything but a sociopathic monster would actually say out loud, while truly expecting such nightmares to unfold any time soon or anywhere near them, that we fellow-eathlings, peer to peer, are in any sense "beyond hope" or "past the tipping point" or "beyond politics" in the face of climate catastrophe.

No, serious people who believe they personally confront catastrophe do whatever they can, however they can, with whomever they can, hopelessly or not, to do what can be done to save their lives and the lives of the ones and world they love so long as they remain alive to do it.

They do not resign themselves to futurological wish-fulfilment fantasizing, they do not relinquish their democracy and welcome our corporate-militarist overlords to start throwing their weight around, they do not give up on the precarious, the marginal, the already over-exploited people with whom we share this earth and then claw their way to the top of the bloody pyramid of skulls hoping it reaches its way at last to heaven, or some other escape hatch.

No, serious people continue educating, agitating, organizing, legislating, regulating, investing, helping, hoping, working, shoulder to shoulder with their peers, until either together we fail or we prevail in the making of a sustainable, democratic, consensual, equitable, diverse, convivial planetary civilization together. None of those adjective is dispensable to the achievement of any of the others, and the mark of seriousness must be precisely that recognition.

Second --

Nuclear power isn't "clean energy" in any factual sense and so describing it as "the only way we can provide enough clean energy for the world" is a deception -- or, to elaborate the point a bit more, this typical futurological utterance is an example of that genre our debased culture has come to view as acceptable deception, namely, it is an act of advertising. Corporations, you will recall, have been given the legal right to lie in their advertisements, since to deny this would be to curtail the flows of money and force that are the only real kind of speech on the part of the corporations that are in turn the only the entities that connect real people to real power in this corporate-militarist chapter in the unfolding (and possibly consummating) history of industrial-extractive-postcolonial-capitalist modernity.

Futurology is best understood as continuous with that most prevalent mode of public discourse in our distressed debased order -- marketing, promotion, self-promotion, and advertising. It bears notice that the family-resemblance of futurology's future and futures trading is not accidental, nor is the family-resemblance of financial speculation and speculative fiction accidental, especially such speculative fiction as one finds in that least accomplished and least original form of science fiction, the futurological "scenario."

I might as well also point out that in its most extreme forms this futurological deception takes on the tonalities of that most sweeping of creative fictions, outright religious faith. And the fraudulent hyperbole of our all-encompassing advertising-promotional-marketing discourse which is amplified in the pseudo-scientific "trend-spotting" and prophetic utterances of think-tank gurus, then becomes further amplified into the promise of outright techno-transcendence of the finitude of the human condition itself -- superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance -- vouchsafed by subcultural membership and True Belief in one or more of the many sects of the Robot Cult, the transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts who pimple the cyberspatial sprawl and the great State of California.

I personally believe that a smart grid of millions of commercial and residential solar rooftops, supplemented with thousands of square miles of in-field and offshore wind-turbine co-ops, coupled with public works projects retro-fitting and LEEDS-certifying public buildings and schools and public housing across the country and transforming our military and postal vehicular fleets to electric plug-ins together could transform the United States into a sustainable and renewable civilization offering a model for China and India and all the while revitalizing our neoliberal devastated and immaterialized economy (for which digital-utopian futurologists like Brand provided breathless rationalizations, by the way) into a unionized empowered middle-class nation (the kind of equitable and diverse nation and economy that enables to bloom and flourish the kind of hippy subcultures and everyday creativity California Ideological futurologists like Brand like to think they celebrate and champion even as they blithely kick out all of its indispensable social supports), and in a way that costs less and takes less time than installing Brand's oh-so-necessary nuclear archipelago would, all the while decentralizing rather than shoring up central and incumbent authority, and in a way that leaves no long-term radioactive legacy for future generations to curse us for.

Third --

While it is true in the abstract that dense cities can provide efficiencies in principle that overcome unsustainable consumption of land, resources, and energy, this result is only possible when efforts are made to ensure through principled urban planning and investment that there are open spaces, that natural services and local ecosystems remain intact to cope with the added stress and waste and use of urban populations. Such efforts require sustained reliable accountable regulation and oversight on a scale and of a kind which takes place in hardly any hitherto actually existing cities. And the consequence is that actual cities, unlike the abstract cities offered up in futurological generalities like the one Brand chirps about here, are the farthest imaginable thing from "Greener than the countryside."

In my view, such futurological utterances actually enable and even sell anti-sustainability through the conjuration of an abstraction that does not connect to reality -- and worse still could never connect to reality given the way futurology tends at best to redirect concern with actual substance into insubstantial abstractions and wish-fulfillment fantasies and at worst is freighted with outright anti-governmental and anti-regulatory biases that actively disable our collective capacity to address shared problems in a responsible and intelligent fashion at all.

In the well loved "Bright"-green futurological design-guru Bible Cradle to Cradle, the authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart declare:
In a world where designs are unintelligent and destructive, regulations can reduce immediate deleterious effects. But ultimately a regulation is a signal of design failure.

This attitude seems to me ubiquitous in futurological and self-identified green design discourse, and this "principled" hostility to regulation precedes and enables the reluctance with which many "geo-engineering" enthusiasts now proclaim the failure of regulation to demand planet-scaled re-designing projects under their supervision.

Think carefully for a moment about what it means to declare any regulation to be a signal (to whom exactly?) of design failure, and what that implies about the guiding ideal of a futurological design subculture whose utopia would be one in which the collective intelligence and effort of everyday citizens that is reflected in the legislative and regulative acts of a state of, by, and for the people is effaced, replaced with the vision of a "successfully" designed world provided by the better-intelligence of that privileged coterie of elite-incumbent designers whose parochial positional assumptions and aspirations are, after all, all that really matters.

Fourth --

Once again we are treated to a generalization in the Litany, this time called "genetically modified crops." To this monolithic generalization is then falsely attributed a uniformly positive outcome -- "feeding the world's growing population" -- on the basis of which a kind of political position, namely, that these "crops" "in general" are "necessary," is all too predictably championed.

Let us set aside the enormously relevant fact that we already know runaway population growth is far from inevitable and can be addressed immediately, the moment in fact one simply empowers women in patriarchal societies with even minimal financial resources and social support on the basis of which they take control of their lives and their reproductive health, and also by providing accurate and reliable knowledge about reproductive health and access to family planning services to women.

Literacy, family planning, a financial stake, and equality before the law for women and all the world's people is the solution to overpopulation, in my view, not blanket celebrations of multinational corporations and energy-input-intensive irrigation-intensive petrochemical Industrial Agriculture and their genetic-branding genomic-enclosure IP-strategies, if Mr. Brand will forgive my saying so. And before any of you roll your eyes at my prescription, consider seriously what assumptions would lead one to treat it as an outcome less possible to accomplish than one in which we presumably resign the fate of a sustainable equitable diverse world to the profit-mad extractive-exploitative-competitive corporate-militarist actors who are responsible for the crisis at hand.

Now, I am far from denying that quite a lot of what might be described as genetic modification might indeed be beneficial -- selectivity and hybridity have been part of the cultural archive of agricultural cultivation (the words culture and cultivated are etymologically connected after all) since well before that culture was transmitted through writing technologies, and I do not doubt that both sustainable agriculture and especially polycultural practices might benefit from sound genetic science as from other relevant science in a well-regulated accountable social order.

What is most troubling to me about the conjuration of the hyper-generalized abstraction "genetically modified crops" in Brand's futurological chestnut is that it is conspicuously indifferent to many of the genetic modifications we know to be designed not to improve nutrition or disease-resistance or insect-resistance or the like, but instead to promote short-term profitability in the usual ways corporate logic dictates: either by dismissing or externalizing possible costs and risks by devoting insufficient critical scrutiny to the manifold longer-term or wider-scale impacts of modifications or even suppressing problematic results, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, by deploying modification instead simply to create or consolidate artificial brand dependencies. Consider "Roundup-Ready" crops and seeds with terminator genes that eliminate traditions of seed-saving and seed-sharing that have defined agriculture for centuries and provided some measure of autonomy for family farmers and small-scale community agriculture, much of which is incomparably more sustainable than Industrial-Ag and provides nutritious food no longer available through Industrial-Ag: both of these are promoted under the generality of "genetically-modified crops" but with no discernible positive impact on the urgent quandaries of global poverty or mass starvation which presumably provide Brand's pretext for championing this abstraction in the first place.

As with "Green Cities" championed in the abstract as a way of evacuating the actually fraught environmental politics of actually existing cities, "genetically modified crops" championed as Brand does in general evacuates our engagement with the actual substance of grasping and weighing the developmental risks, costs, and benefits of different modifications to different stakeholders in different contexts.

This leads to a more general charge I regularly level at the futurological mindset; namely, that it is a politics that functionally de-politicizes the substance of technodevelopmental struggles in history, and in a way that structurally benefits incumbent interests and hence is functionally conservative even when it is advocated by those who imagine themselves or at any rate portray themselves as progressives.

Continue to the Next Part?

All Futurisms Tend to Be Functionally Retro-Futuristic in Their Political Substance (Part Three of Three)

Want to Start at the Beginning?

I want to return by way of conclusion to the last point in the preceding analysis. I maintained that Stewart Brand's glib futurological declaration that "cities are greener than countryside" when actually-existing cities almost never straightforwardly are so is functionally correlated argumentatively to another of his futurological declarations, namely, that "genetically modified crops," treated as a monolith indifferent to the endlessly many variations that such modification has and can take, are "necessary to feed the world's growing population."

I want to talk a little more about the politics of such generic claims, and of the retro-futurist politics I would say are exemplified by Brand's typically futurological gesture in making them.

To say that "Cities" (offered up as some broad decontextualized and in fact non-contextualizable and even insistently anti-contextualizating mode of abstraction) are "greener than the countryside" when of course the overabundant majority of actually-existing cities absolutely are not anything of the kind, and to say so just because one can imagine cities in the abstract that could in principle manage such a feat is to indulge in a kind of hyperbole fairly typical of salesmanship, and yet it is in fact to tell a kind of lie, it is to engage in an act of deception.

This needs to be faced for what it is.

To say "cities are greener than the countryside" even though there is no reason to think any actual cities are anything like even being on the developmental road to incarnating such principles, all the while offering up nothing that translates to realizable concrete policy prescriptions through which actually-existing cities might actually arrive at such a state in a time frame relevant to the lives of the living people to whom one is making one's celebratory appeal, is worse than to lie, it is to participate in a kind of scam.

This too needs to be faced for what it is.

It is bad enough that countless people are too ignorant or too complacent or simply too distracted by the demands of survival in the world of neoliberal-neoconservative corporate-military precarity to grasp the relevance of climate change and resource descent on their own prospects for survival and flourishing in their lifetimes and the lifetimes of their children and neighbors and fellow earthlings, peer to peer. But we need to face the fact that futurologists are actually directing their own cheerful vacuities to precisely the audiences who do manage to know enough and care enough to grasp that there are real problems that confront us all, but then work to redirect their concerns away from actual agitation, education, and organizing into patterns of complacent consumption and passive wish-fulfillment fantasies in the service of the ongoing profit-taking of incumbent interests, corporate, military, and industrial-statist.

Can you imagine a more irresponsible or outrageous occupation for actually thoughtful and articulate people to indulge? How about engaging in such acts of deception and distraction and de-politicization and then trying to peddle the enterprise as a kind of "environmentalism"!

Another disturbing fact for us all to mull over.

I believe that the futurological gesture illustrated through the conjuration of "Green Cities" as a mirage behind which actual cities vanish, and in which advocacy for the resulting futurological mirage becomes a second-order mirage behind which the actual politics stratifying the ongoing life and change of actual cities for their actual inhabitants is likewise made to vanish (mostly to the benefit of those who prefer that the status quo remain immune to real contestation) is precisely replicated by the same gesture in one futurological domain after another:

It prevails in those futurological discourses which would misdirect the grasp that in our Anthropocene Epoch, human-caused climate change imperils the dynamism of feedback-mechanisms that constitutes the actually-frail biosphere, deranging it into a glib generalization that corporate-military-industrial incumbents might "solve the crisis" of pollution through some non-thing-treated-as-a-"thing" called "Geo-engineering" that resists actual consensus scientific or legible public policy specification.

It prevails in those futurological discourses which would misdirect pragmatic and regulatory concerns about the useful or toxic or costly properties of nanoscale biochemical interventions and processes and materials, deranging it into a glib generalization that "science" and "innovation" might "solve the crisis" of poverty or scarcity or even aging through some non-thing-treated-as-a-"thing" called "Nanotechnology" (or "nanofactories" or "utility fog") that resists actual consensus scientific or legible public policy specification.

It prevails in those futurological discourses which would misdirect pragmatic and regulatory concerns about network security and the brittleness of legacy software or the user friendliness of expert systems, deranging it into a glib generalization about the proximate arrival of some non-thing-treated-as-a-"thing" called "AI" or "postbiological superintelligence" or a post-historical "Singularity" that resists actual consensus scientific or legible public policy specification.

It prevails in those futurological discourses which would misdirect attention from the quandaries of non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive interventions, and their confusions for policy makers seeking to provide reliable knowledge to facilitate informed consent and equitable policy in the face of proliferating viable lifeway possibilities, deranging all this into a glib generalization about a non-thing-treated-as-a-"thing" called "enhancement" (as though there were any actual or possible consensus as to what constitutes an enhancement to everyone everywhere in the service of all possible ends whatever the expense to others) or, even worse, into a glib generalization about the arrival of a postulated dreamed-of or dreaded "Post-Human" Species, Homo Superior, all of which, again, resists actual consensus scientific or legible public policy specification.

Not to put too fine a point on it, in every case the futurologists evacuate substance -- some of it urgent -- and replace it with faith-based initiatives and wish-fulfillment fantasies the circulation of redound to the benefit of incumbent interests mostly in the service of prevalent authorities (this remains true even for those futurologists who are superficially or even earnestly devoted to progressive and radical left politics, since the reactionary effects of futurist, always functionally retro-futurist, ideologies and movement-formations are structural even when they are not intentional, though for plenty of self-identified futurologists the reactionary elite-incumbent, corporate-militarist, racist-bioreductionist politics are plenty intentional as well).

To declare oneself a partisan in a politics that is defined by a terrain that is simply "for" or "against" technology -- where technology is treated as an abstraction indifferent to the actually politically indispensable endlessly different ways techniques are historically and positionally deployed and understood -- is to engage in a politics that takes as its point of departure a de-politicizing evacuation of all the actual political substance at hand.

To declare oneself a partisan in an abstract political movement "for" or "against" any of the primary topical preoccupations of the common or garden variety futurologist, "Cities," "Nanotechnology," "AI," "Longevity," "Singularity," "Enhancement," "Geo-Engineering" is always to evacuate of substance the actual stakeholder politics through which every detail and development of every relevant "technique" or "device" or "outcome" is researched, tested, published, elaborated, understood, taught, regulated, priced, marketed, implemented, distributed, taken up, re-purposed, poeticized, narrativized.

The futurologist is engaged in an anti-political politics of de-politicization, abjuring the field of technodevelopmental social struggle, the actual field of technoscience politics, for an indulgence in wish-fulfillment fantasies and moody evocations of dread and desire, for a passive almost anesthetized consumption of a generalized spectacle of development on terms provided by incumbent interests whose stakes can never be assumed to be shared by the rest of us.

I have pointed out at length that extreme sub(cult)ures of superlative futurology like the transhumanists, and extropians, and Singularitarians, and techno-immortalists are actually organized formations of faith-based wish-fulfillment fantasy translating familiar religious aspirations for "transcendence" into superficially techno-scientific terms, denying the this-worldly present for sub(cult)ural inhabitation of "The Future" shared by the faithful and disdaining the lifeway diversity of the peers with whom they share the present world for an identification with an idealized post-human species (usually either enhanced, cyborgic, robotic, or an altogether alien AI-Godhead).

Futurological discourse in the more prevailing and mainstream forms that suffuse neoliberal and neoconservative corporate-military public global development discourse may not exhibit the titillating photogenic weirdness of the superlative and sub(cult)ural futurologists, but it is to be noted that they too tend to indulge in market fundamentalist and techno-determinist pieties comparably immune to critical scrutiny and thrive on the denial of worldly material reality, much preferring to enthuse about financial instruments and leveraged buyouts over substantial investments, brands and logos and attention economies over substantial goods, marketing and promotion and services over substantial production, frictionless digital networks and currency exchanges and informational flows over substantial human needs and substantial environmental limits.

While the Extropian Transhumanists, say, were honest, or foolish, enough to actually declare outright that they imagined themselves, somehow, to be members of a "movement" to end both death and taxes -- I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide whether through this declaration they announced most clearly their infantilism, their stupidity, or their insanity -- I think that a deep and damaging denialism about existential limits and personal vulnerabilities drives more prevailing futurological developmental discourses in much the same way -- and may indeed suffuse the whole of our public discourse by now, shaped as it is most conspicuously by the genres of promotion, self-promotion, salesmanship, hyperbole, denialism, and fraud.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Richard Florida's Fresh Squeeze

Yet another neoliberal developmental-futurological bullshit artist who managed to convince the narcissistic dumb-dumb elites who run everything (and the wannabes who run their errands) he was a guru by telling them what they wanted to hear in terms even they could understand that made them feel good about themselves while they continue idiotically and joylessly to destroy the world.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

One Wonders What Andre Bauer's Grandmother Had to Say About Rabid Animals?

South Carolina's The State, found via Talking Points Memo:
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has compared giving people government assistance to "feeding stray animals." Bauer, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, made his remarks during a town hall meeting… that included state lawmakers and… residents.

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better," Bauer said.

In South Carolina, 58 percent of students participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Pick Sides

Republicans of the full-on fulminating "Movement Conservative" ascendancy* want the United States to be transformed into a continent-scaled hybrid of the worst of South Carolina and most vulgar of Dubai, a corporatist-militarist-christianist neo-confederate neo-feudalist concentration camp under their permanent control.

That's what gets described as "Real Americans" and "Values Voters" and "Free Enterprise."

Democrats, when we are being honest about it, want the United States to be transformed into a more equitable, more diverse, more dynamic European style social democracy where everybody is healthy, educated, and able to collaborate in real measure to the American dream that we will leave the world better than we found it.

That's what gets described as "Dirty Fucking Hippies," "Uppity Women and Uppity Negroes," and "Effete Elite Pinko Commie Faggot Aesthetes."

Two versions of where we have been, where we are, and where we should be going.

Pick sides. And then act like it.

* These folks, we must remember, neither represent the majority of the Republican Party historically, nor, one hopes, its whole present membership, nor, one can be sure should they have a chance to long survive as a viable national party, a significant measure of its future... I say this as a person of the left who wouldn't be a Republican even in its most reasonable moments, but who might have voted for one here and there without qualm.

The Lies of Futurologists

If you look at the world today and see "exponentially accelerating progress," you are absolutely hopeless.

If you look at the world today and see "aborning superabundance," you are absolutely heartless.

This sort of vulgar, ugly, eager death-dealing Yankee-Doodle futurology has nothing to do with optimism, it has nothing to do with pessimism; it has nothing to do with "can-do" spirit, and just who lacks it or fancies they have it in spades.

It has nothing to do with "spurring innovation" or "providing foresight" or "celebrating imagination."

It is nothing but the earth-shattering futurological dead end and dark horizon where relentless cheerleading and hyperbole and scheming salesmanship condense in a quicksand of deception and self-deception so profound that the substance of history and futurity, peer-to-peer, and the light of the present world are utterly eclipsed, minds made minerals, liberty made gravity, hope made loot, life made death.

The lies of futurologists constitute the only singularity the futurologists will ever inhabit.

Obama Takes On the Republican SCOTUS Scumbags

Cue the right-wing "populists" insisting the SCOTUS scumbag decision (it was 5-4) is a triumph for freedom since, after all, only money is speech and only corportions are real people. And then cue the "teabagger left" insisting Obama's push-back against the SCOTUS scumbags is all just smoke and mirrors behind which he is stealthfully securing his ongoing seeeecret eeeevil corporatist agenda...

Nevertheless, the politics of this are right, the timing of this is right, the framing of this is right. This is all good.

We can only hope that Obama's recent pivot to anti-corporatist populism on the bankster fees, the financial consumer protection agency, the push-back on the SCOTUS scumbags -- together with the predictable reflexive anti-populist Republican response to these moves -- will actually become a narrative with which we can turn around the apparently scary mid-term prospects for Democrats grappling with catastrophic foreign and domestic Republican and Bush legacies that were not correctable (even if better handled than they were) in the time-span allotted by American attention-spans (prospects made worse by the flabbergasting ineptness and tone-deafness of the healthcare reform process given the structural constraints on reform that anybody who can spell "Republican Obstructionism" should have seen from miles away and planned for).

"People Are Stupid"

In yesterday's Moot, "Jackie" posted an earnest and exasperated comment:
It's funny how I have this last year balked at being involved at all in politics because it seemed too overwhelming for me... And yet now I realize it was actually a hidden feeling inside that silently told me -- "It's okay, things will work themselves out, people are not that stupid." No, no, no, no, now I understand completely -- people ARE that stupid... I felt like 'the people' somewhat redeemed themselves by electing Obama and democrats in congress, but now I realize that it really just came down to a 'which candidate made them feel good' election, just as in Massachusetts, just as with every single damn election in the country.

I understand this reaction very much, I would be lying if I denied I ever feel exactly what "Jackie" is saying here. But there are a few things we might to pause to consider when we feel this way.

First, we're people, so this implies we're stupid, too. I'm certainly willing to concede this point, at least to a point, you know, with caveats (especially if "stupid" is functioning as a sort of shorthand for the sorts of predictably irrational thinking some "behavioral economists" are starting to take as seriously again as Keynes did). Typically, this is the sort of claim from which we tend incorrectly to exclude ourselves in the making of it, in a way that blunts its actual usefulness, such as it is.

Second, polling has demonstrated time after time, for decades on end, on issue after issue after issue, that majorities of American citizens (people, all) are far more progressive on actual policy questions and social and cultural issues than are their so-called representatives (whether Republican or Democrat). To the extent that the attribution of stupidity to them is premised on their political backwardness and ignorance, at least in some key areas it is important to remember that it is not the people but the self-appointed "gatekeepers" and "elites" who dictate to them and pretend to represent them who seem laggard (and inevitably braggart).

Third, corporate media functions more or less as an ongoing misinformation campaign and also Republicans are forever gaming the system to mislead and disenfranchise majorities -- which doesn't make people so much stupid as they are manipulable.

Fourth, I think it matters most of all that Congress is full of millionaires representing millions of non-millionaires, and also that America more generally is full of privileged people who have been insulated by their privilege from the actual consequences of their actions. Again, "stupidity" might not be the best shorthand for grasping the structural relations between such privileges and the stupid things people have hitherto gotten away with doing because of them.

But of course it's easy to see why that is a word that is ready to hand. Believe me, I see the appeal. I don't want to leave the impression that I am criticizing "Jackie" for saying this, so much as empathizing and hoping to provide a context from which to find hope in the midst of evident and reasonable frustration. I've only excerpted part of "Jackie's" comment, which went on to say that progressives have hard work to do for which neither wishful thinking nor demoralization are any use, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Naked Scotty Brown Twofer

Many are enjoying the spectacle of stupidity Naked Scotty Brown is already making of himself, a sign of things to come in months to come. But it is worth noting that Brown not only exhibited his stupidity when he said "I'm a history buff," and then proposed "I love the Museum of Natural History" as evidence. We all await eagerly whether in answer to the question "What magazines do you read?" Naked Scotty Brown will reply: All of them.

But I do want to point out that this is actually a twofer:

Brown's answer represents one early brick in the wall he will continue to erect brick by brick between now and 2012 that render him too much an embarrassment to the reality-based citizens of Massachusetts to keep him in the Senate (unless Democrats manage a comparably idiotic campaign, which one must always concede is a too palpable possibility).

But his answer also manages in its affirmation of that Witch's Sabbath of Scientific Diabolism the Museum of Natural History to provide an early brick in the wall he will continue to erect brick by brick between now and 2012 that render him, in his effort to be a recognizable adult person and functional politician in actually-sane Massachusetts, too compromised to the militarist-christianist wingnuts of Massachusetts and elsewhere to keep him in the Senate either.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blame Obama! Blame the Democrats! (Or, You Know, Grow Up and Get More, and Better, Democrats in Office)

Senator Obama voted against confirming both Roberts and Alito for the Supreme Court, because of their extreme views.

So, those of you who want to pin this one on your paranoid fantasy of a stealth-corporate somehow magically Bush-equivalent or Clinton-equivalent President Obama are even more than usually out to lunch.

This 5-4 decision was the utterly predictable success of the Corporate Five who voted exactly as they were meant to vote by the Republicans who put them there for this very purpose: namely, to declare Unconstitutional any effort to curb the God-Given right of rich folks to buy all future elections for their parochial benefit whatever the will of the people through recourse to limited liability corporations at their command.

More, and Better, Democrats is literally the only way forward. The only alternative to More, and Better, Democrats is violent revolution, and that's not my path (and I see little evidence that those who disdain my path are actually revolutionaries either, rather than narcissists who want to pretend that demands are somehow achievements and then be admired for it).

America has beat the Robber Barons before, we can do it again. Movement Conservatism was a multigenerational effort out of the midst and aftermath of the New Deal, and American progressives who will be of any use at all have to think in comparable terms, patient, relentless, dedicated, keeping tactical skirmishes in perspective, hoping all the while that climate change, resource descent, political pressure in a post-US-hegemonic planetary order, digital media, and p2p formations create conditions under which the installation of an equitable, diverse, sustainable, accountable, social democracy here in the United States takes the Dean/Obama generation of Democrats less time than the dismantlement of the New Deal took the Nixon/Reagan generation Republicans.

By the way, if I hear another person comment superciliously "so much for Republican hostility to 'judicial activism'" as if that is all one has to say to settle the matter I feel like I am going to scream. Yes, Republicans lie. They lie and lie and lie. They have to lie, because majorities don't want what they want and so they have to lie endlessly about everything they are doing all the time. They are lying, greedy, cowardly, stupid, hypocrites. They don't care that we can wittily expose their facile deceptions and gambits. Republicans are the worst people in the country, they are awful, rampaging assholes and they hate democracy, they hate their own country and want to turn the country into a corporate-militarist-christianist feudal tyranny. That's who they are.

More, and Better, Democrats, people.

More Democrats means less Republicans. Even lame Democrats put not-Republican asses in the seats in Congress. If you aren't spending your time excoriating and embarrassing Republicans and demoralizing and dividing Republicans you are wasting your time, you are living in a dream world. Never shit on a Democrat (disagreements are obviously fine, reasonable criticisms make us stronger) unless in doing so you are literally replacing him with a Better Democrat and in an actually demonstrable way.

Better Democrats means better Democrats who fight Republicans as the evil army of corporate-militarist-christianist wannabe tyrants they actually are. We really do need [one] to challenge incumbent Democrats with Better Democrats in any districts that are actually more liberal than the voting records of their presumed representatives; and we really do need [two] to run Best possible Democrats in "unwinnable" districts in order to educate, agitate, and organize on every inch of American turf and struggle to win hearts and minds of every American citizen; and we really do need [three] to direct intense efforts at campaign finance reform, instant runoff voting to give third parties an actually viable role in this country.

A second Obama term will likely mean two more Supreme Court appointments, and that is enough to turn the tide in the Supreme Court, even if only one retirement is drawn from the Corporate Five. That we would have a progressive Supreme Court right now would have been more than enough to justify the lamest lame Kerry administration, you know. People should remember these sorts of things.

Set Your Doomsday Clocks to Stun

Supreme Court declares Corporations the only citizens who count, Democrats lose their minds over the election of Naked Scotty Brown, the left blogosphere convenes circular firing squad, Teabagger minority of lunatics party like it's 1999. Everything is always idiotic and terrible, but today is just a total embarrassment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts Bloodbaftermath

Bravely pseudonymous "RadicalCoolDude" (ah, the internet!) snipes a bit at me in the Moot:
What I find sad is how during the past year you have spent soooo much time this promoting this narrative which portrays Obama as The Most Progressive President Ever (rather than the Clintonian compromiser has he turned out to be) and the Republican Party as a relic going the way of the Whig Party (despite how mainstream political discourse was letting the GOP off the hook for the mess they left us) all the while criticizing and ridiculing anyone who dared to question said narrative to sound a warning about the debacle that was sure to come... Perhaps the bright side for readers of this blog is Dale Carrico finally coming down from his ivory tower to really listen to what other people are saying. -- Your Peer

What I have always said is that Obama is the most progressive President since FDR. And I still consider that to be as true as I ever did.

What I have also always said is that the Palin/Rush/Teabagger phase of the Movement Republicanism consummated in the Killer Clown Administration is not sustainable as a National Party in the secular multicultural America that actually exists and puts them in the position of either alienating the crazytown Base who are the only ones still listening to them and sending them cash in the name of rebuilding themselves as a National party but at the cost of losses to many of the most powerful Republicans now in charge, or allowing their party to marginalize itself into a regional neo-Confederate rump that is not viable for long as a National party. And I still consider that to be as true as I ever did.

That's not revisionism or spin, that's simply what I have said over and over. It remains my general take. You may choose to read that as me declaring Obama godlike or declaring the GOP impotent, but that has nothing to do with anything I have actually ever said.

Since the President isn't a superhero who imposes his will unilaterally into policy and law it shouldn't really be that difficult to grasp how literally unprecedented monolithic Republican obstructionism (an explicit strategy publicly repeatedly and even gleefully affirmed by the Republican leadership) gives de facto veto power over all legislation to every one of the sixty/fifty-nine Senators who presently caucus with the Democrats, including a non-negligible minority of them who are conservative in key policy areas, some to an extent that makes them nearly as obstructionist as the Republicans themselves.

Under such circumstances, Gandhi or King could be President and fail to do better than Obama has done this year, whatever magical thinking if I were King of the Forest scenario you are spinning to the contrary. This wouldn't make them Clintonian triangulators (a word I am using in preference to your choice of "compromisers" because I can't imagine you really disdain all compromise, inasmuch as compromise is actually the substance of all politics worthy of the name), however emotionally satisfying it might feel to say so given the frustrations of democratizing struggle in the belly of the beast.

Of course there will skirmishes that progressives lose, of course Republicans can game constituted procedures, special elections, vapid media outlets to obstruct general welfare and win occasional races (indeed Republicans should prevail in some places, even in their present debased state, given that their agenda reflects the actual preferences of substantial majorities in some benighted places), but none of that detracts from what I take to be the demand that Republicanism reorient itself to accommodate American secularization and diversity in a world less inclined to treat it as the Big Dog on the planetary scene and in which sustainable and social democratic institutions and practices look to be the only way for America to overcome its palpable vulnerability to becoming a failed state while at once contributing to the destruction of the world via climate catastrophe, gluttony on the downslope of resource descent, proliferating arms, and universal vulgarization.

My point is certainly not the cartoon viewpoint of declaring Obama "impotent" in the face of the phony Democratic Senatorial majority. My point is certainly not the cartoon viewpoint declaring Obama to be as much to the left as I would want him to be when he remains the center-left figure he always was (he's to the left of Clinton in both his actual rhetoric and in the substance of his actual policy recommendations). My point is not the cartoon viewpoint of pretending Obama has made no mistakes (as I have said, the stimulus was too small in consequence of a too rosy understanding of the state of the economy, his lgbtq politics have been shaky at best and awful at worst, his escalation in Afghanistan and miredness in W. terror-wars keeps one up at night in its nightmarishness, among other things).

But neither do I approve Obama-Clinton equivalency theses any more than I do the even more idiotic Obama-Bush equivalency theses one also sometimes hears among folks whose long-term political aspirations are as far to the left as are my own. The facts don't justify them and politics premised on them make no sense, or at best confuse theoretical declarations with tactical considerations to no useful purpose.

I find your final move of crowing about me coming down from my "ivory tower to really listen to what other people are saying" fairly flabbergasting. It's not that I don't listen to what you and many others who disagree with me are saying, it's that I listen and disagree. My disagreement is based in reasons I specify, which is the way I indicate my awareness that I am addressing peers.

I think it is magical thinking to believe "talking tough" could achieve consistently and substantially better outcomes than Democrats have done, given the facts on the ground, and I think it is probably magical thinking to believe there was substantially more that could have been done in this first year to get the Killer Clowns "on the hook" for their crimes and lunacies than we have done (I do hope for and still expect more accountability to come for war criminals, war profiteers, financial fraudsters -- although I doubt it will take on the purple coloration of my occasional revenge fantasies on this score).

I can see that it hurts your feelings to hear such assessments from me, since you apparently take them to constitute "ridiculing anyone who dares question" what I take to be true for the reasons I offer, statements and reasons of mine which are exposed via publication to disagreement and ridicule thereby quite as much as anybody else's. I don't quite understand why you seem to think I find disagreement with me particularly more "daring" than my "daring" to disagree with anybody else. That's what we are all doing here I would have thought. Perhaps this is an issue better left to a therapist or personal confidante.

I do think any person of the left who feels vindicated or pleased by the Brown victory is foolish in the extreme, and to the extent that they want to portray themselves a person of the non-revolutionary left and actually engaged in democratizing politics such cheer looks to me actually irresponsible.

I was displeased in the extreme by the Brown victory, although I was not surprised by it once I learned over the last two weeks about the specifics of the relevant three campaigns in question. Brown will seek re-election in two years, you know. It remains to be seen if he will alienate his Teabagger/clueless Independents base by actually governing as a Senator in Massachusetts and hence open himself to loss to a stronger candidate or better campaign from the Democrats in consequence, or if he will go the star-maker route of La Palin and Rush, raising hell by spewing delusive narratives that render him a "star" so unserious as to be less electable by the day.

It's too early to tell what will happen, but one has to be able to grasp the actually-relevant circumstances that actually articulate the possible in a campaign for office in a particular place or in a policy-process as it plays out in a State legislature, in a Circuit or Supreme Court, in the House, in the Senate to think about it usefully. One then lodges one's thinking within one's wider demographic, ideological, aspirational maps and narratives. You have to walk and chew gum at the same time.

My impression is that much of the left blogosphere has a steep learning curve to scale when it comes to understanding the difference between the politics of blanket condemnation of racist Christianist corporate-militarism in power when Movement Republicans are in charge and the far more difficult responsibilities and tactics and heartbreaking pain of keeping ones eyes on the prize (equity in diversity, a literate, healthy, secure society, and a participatory, accountable, consensual republic) while struggling intelligently and forever frustrated for piecemeal changes through the convulsive ugly sausage-making of Democrats in charge, in a divided demoralized enraged polarized pampered ignorant stratified stakeholder republic with flawed institutions across every layer of governance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mass Debacle

Well, the bright side is that Democrats don't have to pretend to have a supermajority that never actually existed and that caused them to be endlessly blamed for not achieving widely desired outcomes (by the American people and by most Democrats as well) that were simply impossible because of the de facto veto power of the most conservative Senators voting with the Democratic caucus. I would like to think that the palpable irrelevance of the loathed Joe Lieberman will remove his ugly face from its constant presence on my tee vee, also. But, even so, it's disgusting and pathetic beyond words that this vapid style-over-substance faux-populist crap campaign put a male centerfold in a Senate seat representing educated, secular, liberal Massachusetts (even if it is only for two years).

Today's Random Wilde

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Realism, Idealism, Narcissism in the Politics of Democratization Here on Earth

About Obama's reasonably good proposal to fine the biggest financial institutions to get back taxpayer dollars that bailed them out despite their irresponsibility and in a way that introduces the first of what one hopes will be many structural and regulatory dis-incentives to the re-emergence of such reckless institutions and practices I wrote on Saturday: "Not bad at all."

I went on to comment:
I have no doubt that Republicans will roar incoherently about socialism while at once whomping up anti-governmental populism fed by the very abuses and distress Obama seeks to address here, meanwhile the left, rather than supporting the President, will accuse him of being a Bush-lite stealth corporatist even before Congress fails to implement this minimally reasonable intervention, pretending that the failure of a carefully crafted compromise somehow provides evidence that whatever incomparably more radical intervention they happen to advocate in the abstract (as Obama himself surely would prefer more radical interventions in the abstract as well, having both a brain and a heart as he does) would somehow have a better chance to get implemented than the moderate intervention that can't get through.

In the Moot, an annoyed "Mathmos" sputtered in reply:
Ah, those dang shrill pouty leftists and their Naderite deadenderism. What I wouldn't give for them to frame and see and think about things the way I do. If only they were capable of putting actual Democratic political results in the context of a personal, involved understanding of Obama's true intentions, as I do. If only they feared the indecorous stints of Republican dominance enough to embrace Democratic Third Way politics as the sole Realistic/ Pragmatic/ Sensible/ Serious/ Possible alternative, as I do. If only they understood that a political wing is defined not by steadfast adherence to political aims, and the pressuring necessary to achieve them, but by the very subordination of those aims to the organizational interests of the Party brandishing the right cultural markers, as I do, etc.

Now, for one thing, since I do regard myself as a leftist -- being, after all, an anti-racist anti-corporatist anti-militarist gender-queer feminist green social democrat who advocates universal single payer healthcare, a universal non means-tested basic income guarantee, free life-long public education, and democratic world federalist governance -- it does feel odd to me to find myself distinguished from leftists in such formulations. Also, I will cheerfully concede that I do indeed wish that leftists who agree that some of these are desirable outcomes as well as sharing with me a sense of "the left wing of the possible" given the circumstances that actually beset us would "frame and see and think about things the way I do." Surely that follows rather naturally from the fact that I actually mean what I say and say it because I hope it is useful in the way of getting at those outcomes given where we actually are? Why would this be treated as some stealthy attitude on my part demanding sarcastic exposure, or even the least bit surprising in fact?

I agree with the pseudonymously-monikered "Mathmos" (how brave the Internet makes people!) that "[s]teadfast adherence to political aims and the pressuring necessary to achieve them" is indeed what defines the proper activist left. I just know that "pressure" doesn't mean stamping your foot and pouting at reality. "Pressure," to be efficacious, has to be attentive to actual context. Otherwise, one's "steadfastness" is just theatre, and claims to "radicalism" too readily become indulgences in narcissism.

"Mathmos" falsely claims that I am advocating Third Way politics which I happen to disdain as a matter of fact (I am assuming "Third Way" is being used in the sense actually deployed by the Clintons and DLC politicos as well as by Blair's Labour), presumably because they think anybody who struggles to connect ideals to outcomes in a pragmatic way must be a Clintonian triangular. This is false and even cartoonish, but by all means "Mathmos" should stick to it if it makes them feel better. There's quite a lot to feel miserable and distressed about in the present state of US and global politics, so who am I to steal from the "Mathmos" such wee self-deceptions as get them through the night, I suppose?

As for "Mathmos" declaring that I advocate "subordination of [left political] aims to the organizational interests of the Party brandishing the right cultural markers" I am eager to see some evidence in any of my writing for this. I advocate challenges to Democratic incumbents whose voting records are to the right of their constituencies, I advocate running candidates in "unwinnable" districts in the interest of longer-term progressive education via campaigning, and I advocate the institution of instant runoff voting district by district (we recently won it here in Oakland where I live, for example) to render third-party candidacies non-spoilers as they certainly do function in the actual world as it is actually instituted here and now. None of those stances squares with an attribution to me of preference for "cultural markers" over political substance. Given that "Mathmos" seems to be defending disdain for pragmatic possibility in favor of strident manifesto-declarations, I am inclined to direct precisely that charge their way instead. I am intrigued to know what "cultural markers" I am presumably preferring to actually democratizing efforts at education, agitation, and organization.

"Mathmos" also falsely claims that I pretend to read Obama's mind when I simply deny he's a seeeecret eeeevil Bush-lite corporatist just because he can't unilaterally impose his progressive will in an actually diverse, actually undercritical polity whose governance is organized by separation of powers at every layer. This doesn't mean he gets a free pass for everything he's done (for example, I think the stimulus should and could have been larger and that a too-optimistic assessment of the economy yielded a mistakenly scrawny stimulus that didn't translate into enough jobs, and I also think he has been both clumsy and pointlessly slow in addressing DADT and DOMA out of a misreading of both the mainstream cultural landscape in the US and that of his own base on lgbtq issues), but none of this causes me to mistake Obama for anything but the most progressive President since FDR which I still think he clearly is in both his words and actions. And I do indeed believe painting Obama otherwise is both straightforwardly wrong on the facts but also reveals an unrealistic understanding of political reality that does nobody any good, whether they agree with me or not about what is desirable in the abstract in the way of democratizing aspirations.

The reality of literally unprecedented monolithic Republican obstructionism in a Senate with a filibuster is that every Senator among the 60 who caucus with the Democrats (a non-negligible minority of whom are very conservative in some of their views) has veto power over any legislative efforts, and many are willing to use it opportunistically or in the service of actually conservative ends. Media sensationalism and complacent adherence to conventional wisdom as set by incumbent interests also skews access to reliable information about policy outcomes and the stances of actual officeholders in ways that amount to voter disenfranchisement via mis-information and fraud in what remains a notionally representative democracy.

That is reality. You can pretend digging your heels in and demanding more radical outcomes is somehow more achievable than the moderate ones that can't get through the DC slaughter house, but that doesn't really make sense to me. You can decry my own honest efforts to grasp what the left wing of the possible actually looks like or to assess Obama in light of what I take to be possible as my own stealth corporatism or cynicism or whatever, but that doesn't really make sense to me either.

When I discuss Republicans (or for that matter, futurologists) in a snide way it is usually because I think they are lying in a facile way or being egregiously stupid and my tone reflects that. I don't really think "Mathmos" thinks I am being either deceptive or dumb, however much they disagree with me. If all the "Mathmos" ultimately means to communicate is that we disagree with one another about what is possible for the left or for a left President under the present circumstances, and that I think pointlessly strident unrealistic demands are demoralizing and divisive rather than invigorating for actually practically democratizing left politics, I think all that is fairly obvious.

Teaching Resumes

Spring term begins tomorrow, and it's going to be another long hard slog, I fear. At Berkeley I'm teaching two upper division seminars, one "Homo Economicus" reads the canon of mannered stage comedies in mostly the 17th and 20th centuries as documents of the shifting urban institutional terrain and urbane psychic terrain of modern-capitalist political economy and the second "Altars and Alters to the Market" an itinerary through polemical Movement Republican and various democratic-progressive polemical texts from the New Deal to the present. At the San Francisco Art Institute, I'm teaching another variation on my "Green Theories, Green Practices, Green Identities" course and also shepherding the present cohort of MA students to the finish line for their Theses and Symposium presentations. Every single one of these courses is enormously rewarding on its own terms, but I'll admit that taken together the attentional work load is pretty overwhelming. Tuesdays will definitely be my craziest day -- I have to be out the door by seven to get the train to the City and then the bus to campus on time for a three hour seminar, and then I've got a few hours to bus to BART my way to UC Berkeley, grab a bite, preside over office hours and then teach two one and a half hour seminars back to back, ending at seven pm, which gets me home with Burritos from the Rockridge taqueria Cactus by eight o'clock in time to crash in front of the tee vee. I've got three hour blocks of teaching on Wednesdays and Thursdays, too, but I'll be able to sleep to a reasonable hour and still have a reasonable amount of time for reading and class prep, so that shouldn't be so bad. We'll see.

State of the Senate

Until we rein in the obstructionist filibuster,
Instead of governance, we get endless silly bluster.

TPM Monday Morning News Roundup:
Speaking at a fundraiser in Florida on Sunday, Vice President Biden slammed the new prominence of the filibuster, Politico reports. "As long as I have served ... I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators," Biden said. "No democracy has survived needing a supermajority."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Party ID

When I hear a declaration
of Republican affiliation
I thereupon assume
there's an asshole in the room.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Presidential Address Today

Not bad at all. I have no doubt that Republicans will roar incoherently about socialism while at once whomping up anti-governmental populism fed by the very abuses and distress Obama seeks to address here, meanwhile the left, rather than supporting the President, will accuse him of being a Bush-lite stealth corporatist even before Congress fails to implement this minimally reasonable intervention, pretending that the failure of a carefully crafted compromise somehow provides evidence that whatever incomparably more radical intervention they happen to advocate in the abstract (as Obama himself surely would prefer more radical interventions in the abstract as well, having both a brain and a heart as he does) would somehow have a better chance to get implemented than the moderate intervention that can't get through.