June 2, 2010

Beyond the Freedom Flotilla: Neoliberal Assault (2 of 2)


Outside the US tabloid media zone the world remains transfixed by the horror of the Israeli government’s murderous act of piracy and its ongoing holding of the boats it hijacked and hundreds of hostages kidnapped on the high seas.
As I said in my previous two posts on this, I think this act had a dual purpose. Israel’s specific, proximate goal was of course to enforce its illegal blockade. But the lengths of aggression and piracy (even technically to acts of war) to which it was willing to go, and the nature of the blockade itself, which the Israelis have openly admitted is intended not to achieve practical security goals but to punish the people of Gaza, demonstrate that this government’s mindset goes beyond any reality-based goal, and is really trying to enforce total domination for its own sake wherever these criminals believe their power prerogative extends.
In the end, as always with totalitarians, the true crime isn’t the proximate allegation, which in this case the Israelis can’t even get straight. (That the humanitarianism of the mission was bogus? But they have all the cargo now; they’ve had it for two days. The fact that they can’t even plausibly try to plant contraband proves the complete innocence of the cargo.)
No, as always with such thugs, the true crime is defiance itself. Sure enough, the Israelis sound the most outraged when they simply sputter that the Flotilla was a “provocation”. Yes, indeed it was, and was meant to be. It was meant to challenge Israel’s illegal and illegitimate blockade as such. It was meant to challenge this tyrannical arrogation of power, an arrogation based not on authority or law, both of which on the contrary it flouts, but on brute force. The mission was the same as the eternal mission of all decent people who challenge tyranny. And just as they challenge tyranny on principle, so tyranny seeks to prop itself up on its own anti-principle, which is simply the lust for power and greed for phony wealth itself.
Which brings us to the larger significance of this act. On a global scale a great crime is progressing. The criminals seek to condemn ever more people to permanent impoverishment and servitude. The goal of the global finance elite and its flunkey governments is the restoration of feudalism itself, not only across the Global South but throughout the West itself.
I’ll give a quick recap.
1. As capitalism matured it should, according to reality and to its own textbooks, have seen profits fall to marginal levels. There should be very little profit left in the economy by now. Instead, the entire economy should have long since been functioning smoothly and efficiently, with sufficient goods and services in every sector, while government largely shrunk as it would have little role to play as economic arbiter. There would be rough equality of wealth and power distribution, little wealth and power concentration. Democracy would become steadily more healthy and strong.
This is how capitalism was supposed to function. This is what its promoters always promised. This is what would have happened, if every word hadn’t always been a lie.
2. In the reality of greed fundamentalism, elites were never textbook capitalists but always gangsters. No one ever wanted to be a capitalist. No one ever wanted to compete and innovate. They wanted to concentrate wealth and power, period.
As capitalism reached its terminal profit crisis in the latter 20th century, the power elites resolved to deploy an ever more aggressive command economy. They’d use the power of government to substitute extorted and stolen rents for their diminishing “capitalist” profits.
Globalization and financialization comprised the campaign of oligopoly capitalism to prop itself up while stringing along the Western middle classes. They substituted debt for production while obscuring the assault on all public amenities and power. Real wages have steadily eroded since the 70s while wealth concentration has exponentially risen. (That juxtaposition right there is a basic metric of robbery.) The system attacked unions on every political and “legal” level. Social Security has been steadily undermined via ploys like the rigging of inflation metrics (to fraudulently depress COLA increases). Other entitlements have been similarly eroded. Globalization’s open border for unskilled labor provides the basic force of gravitation for all wages, while outsourcing and offshoring destroyed many mid-level jobs completely, forcing and ever greater number  of workers into the undifferentiated unskilled mass. (The system did somewhat protect most kinds of professionals for a long time, but now that’s been eroding for many as well.) Walmartization provides a kind of linchpin, the direct conduit for addicting ex-citizens to cheap consumerism while directly destroying self-proprietors and middle class jobs in general, along with the communities anchored by the people who held such jobs.
In this way the temporary “middle class”, fueled by debt and cheap oil, had the carpet slowly pulled out from under it. Meanwhile the basic unproductivity of the Western system was covered up by bubbles, culminating in the housing bubble (itself fueled propagandistically by the Big Lie that you should rely on your house to provide for your retirement, not any other pension; this nicely provided cover while public entitlements and private pensions were gradually being subverted).
3. The crash of 2007-8 was the beginning of the collapse of this final bubble. No bubble could any longer be sustained on just propaganda. Now the command economy had to take a direct, very heavy hand. Thus we’ve had the advent of the Bailout and a new level of the disaster capitalist rampage, since the global economy is now nothing but an ongoing disaster, and the criminals have no outlets left but to drive disaster ever harder in order to extract profits from it.
In the new regimes, Bailout America and the Bailout Eurozone, all government policy (not just monetary, not just fiscal, but all policy) is now predicated on massive redistribution of public wealth to the banksters. The mechanisms have been too many and varied for me to recapitulate them here, but I and many others have written about them many times.
But this Bailout can’t be propped up forever. How long will anyone keep buying dollars? The bonds of indebted countries? Everyone knows these are all ponzi schemes. So in the end the Bailout itself must succumb to the same diminishing returns on “confidence” which did in the “regular” debt economy. Again the bubble must collapse. Reality wants to deflate.
4. So the next step is liquidation. It’s the good old “structural adjustment”. The old odious debt which the criminal West used to inflict such suffering on non-industrialized economies is now being brought home to the Western middle classes themselves. Today the term of art is “austerity”.
The fact that the “conventional wisdom” (to paraphrase Voltaire, it’s neither “conventional” nor “wise”, but manufactured propaganda intended to whitewash crime) is now that of the deficit terrorists, that the message is “the markets don’t really fear inflation now but might fear it in the future, so governments should act in obedience to this hypothetical future fear”, means the finance vanguard thinks the end is in sight for what free money can do for them, and that in order to continue their extractions they’ll have to move into more direct class warfare. It’ll no longer be sufficient to simply gut the interest returns for savers on pensions; now the pensions themselves must be directly stolen.
In the Baltics, in Eastern Europe, now intended for Greece,  now intended for Iceland, and next up Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and soon after the UK, and soon after that the US itself, the non-rich will have their wages, salaries, and pensions liquidated (i.e. stolen) while all public property is privatized (i.e. stolen).
Even as you take home ever less in pay and see all prospects for paying for any kind of emergency, illness, or retirement become hopeless, at the same moment you’ll find yourself having to pay ever more extortionate tolls for anything and everything which used to be provided by the fabric of society itself. Driving on any road, receiving any government service, police, fire, calling 911 itself, are just examples of everyday critical extortions we’ll face.
Even basic health care will become completely unaffordable (and this at the same time that the system intends to collect Obama’s fascist insurance mandate for a worthless piece of paper), all public parks will be fee-generating private parks, libraries will cease to exist altogether, all environmental, health, consumer, and safety regulations will be removed. Access to the courts themselves will be restricted to the rich. Even the poll tax may be reinstated (although by now at least at the federal level the vote is so meaningless they might not bother with that one).
Anyone who doubts the malevolent intentions of Obama and the US kleptocracy on this score needs to learn about Obama’s “deficit commission”. This Star Chamber is dedicated to achieving what Bush failed to do, privatize Social Security. (Thus Obama hopes to outdo his predecessor in consummating the heritage of their shared hero, Reagan.) Pete Peterson and the Washington Post have led the call to bring the full force of “austerity” to America. Obama is simpatico with this goal. With his extralegal and anti-democratic commission he hopes to achieve this and far more. The ultimate goal is to strip all government spending except on corporate welfare, war, and the police state. (Although both war and the police state are being privatized as well.)
5. So that sums it up, where we are today. The gangster elite intends to reinstate feudalism, with all of us reduced to the literal serfdom of debt. As our debts become utterly impossible to ever pay, we’ll be indentured in various ways, become sharecroppers at every kind of job, and debt prison under hideous chain gang conditions will be applied as a constant threat to anyone who doesn’t meekly comply with his servitude, since we’ll all be convicts anyway in one big country-wide debtor prison.
But there’s an obvious alternative to all this. We debtors and cash cows can simply overthrow the debt at will. We can impose the debt jubilee from the bottom up. (That’s the same debt liquidation “our” governments would have allowed to naturally transpire in 2008 the way the real market wanted it to, if these really were our governments and not irrevocably rogue kleptocracies.)
The kleptocracy must expect real resistance at some point. This isn’t like the 60s, which was basically political protest against political crime on the part of the system. It was epiphenomenal. Today the struggle is far more elemental. It’s a zero sum fight to the death at the socioeconomic core. This is end game for neoliberalism and corporatism – totalitarianism of total collapse of their wealth and power. Liquidation of the people, or liquidation of their own power.      
So however repulsively meek the American people have been so far and perhaps will be in the future, the elites don’t expect things to be so easy everywhere else. In Iceland and Greece especially we’re seeing some will to resist the gangsters. We can expect protest and resistance of many sorts to become stronger and to see people fight back with ever greater resolve, if the people can ever develop a real consciousness of the crimes which afflict them, and the morale of the struggle which feeds on struggle itself.
Conversely, the criminals must want to strangle the very thought of resistance in its cradle. A few well-placed blows could sufficiently demoralize people that they’d more pliantly submit to their fate. This is part of the classical shock doctrine. It’s worked before in specific countries like Chile. Today it has to work on a global scale.
If we put the murderous assault on the Flotilla in that context, it looks like a rather clumsy attempt to provide such an object lesson. It’s clumsy because Israel’s so hated that outrage over its crimes seems to be one of the few things that can reconcile many peoples and governments. Indeed it’s consistently been used as a divide-and-conquer astroturfing tactic by every Arab government. It’s also clumsy because much like the Wall Street banks, Israel itself can exist in this form only through welfare handed out by the US government. Israel’s gratuitous crimes, which the despicable Obama must now stand isolated to defend, add yet another burden to the already absurdly overextended US government commitment. Once again we see how the best thing we have going for us is the tactical incompetence of the system thugs.
So we’ll have to expect the gangsters to become ever more violent and tyrannical as they try to tighten their feudal grip. Throughout history it’s always been this way, and the end of the oil age, the end of the exponential debt age, portend the most vicious reaction yet. The restoration of feudal organization in the form of debt slavery can only be accomplished through a combination of extreme violence and extreme slavishness on the part of the victims. Shock treatment means, among other things, applying the former to enforce the latter.
So the Israeli pirates weren’t just firing literal shots into the boats, but a far more profound metaphorical shot across the bow of the much larger Freedom Flotilla in prospect, all over the world. The killers hope that if they demoralize us pre-emptively, they won’t have to board us on the high seas of history at all. They’ll board us in our docile ports, at our jobs, in our unemployment, in our homes, in our thoughts.
So that’s the way we need to see this, and this is the propaganda and action of terrorism we must never allow to defeat us. Another flotilla has already embarked for Gaza. Everywhere, let’s put our own ships to sea.

February 10, 2010

Imperialism vs. the Law


The Napoleonic failure to unite Europe under the French flag was a clear indication that conquest by a nation led either to a full awakening of the conquered people’s national consciousness and to consequent rebellion against the conqueror, or to tyranny. And though tyranny, because it needs no consent, may successfully rule over foreign peoples, it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.

So says Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism.
That’s our theme – how conquest which seeks nothing but economic exploitation must in the end rule tyrannically, and how this in turn must bring tyranny back to the imperial country itself. Those who have fought imperialism on behalf of the exploited and conquered have always also been fighting for their own liberty which was under implicit, and increasingly explicit, assault. Over the past decade that’s been proven true with great ferocity, as the long economic assault on America’s non-rich, and on our politics and press, has been joined by the vicious assault on civil liberties, the freedoms of speech and assembly, the rise of the imperial presidency, the militarized police, and the prison-industrial complex.
Today we have to look at everything in the sense of dissolving the rule of law. The law of the home country is no longer indigenous, “national” law, but the imperialist state “law” which is really nothing but process for the sake of maximized corporatist outcome (to put it in terms of jurisprudential philosophy, the corporatists are consequentialists all the way, they care about means only toward an end, while those who would ever stand fanatically on some myopic means, like the ACLU and other process fanatics where it came to the Citizens United case, are once again playing by rules the enemy will never pay by; I’ll revisit this in an upcoming post). “Law” as would be fit only for the extralegal, anti-political business competition becomes the “law” of the country. Corporatized capitalism becomes the ruling social ideology.
A core part of the process of imperialism coming home is the breakdown of the rule of law. In that connection I found this article by Claude Salhani interesting. He broaches the possibility of Israel joining the European Union. The implications he discusses seem so far-fetched that reading it, I thought it was tongue-in-cheek. “They’ll just get a waiver for that”, I kept saying. But I think he was serious.
But meanwhile maybe we should read it in reverse. In that case its a fascinating piece, almost Swiftian. For everything he says would have to change in Israel, I think we need to make the experiment of reading it as, “This is how the EU has to change to become more like Israel.” (And the US too.)
Salhani starts out deploring the “deadlock” in the Middle east peace talks and its ruinous effect on imperial investment in the Mideast. He goes on:

And whenever trouble brews in the Middle East it tends to spill over into other parts of the world. The risk that Mideast violence could spread to nearby Europe might have been one of the reasons that pushed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to say that Israel should be admitted into the European Union earlier this week. Berlusconi made the statement during an official state visit to Israel. Berlusconi, of course, is one of Israel’s strongest supporters.

But what is Israel? It’s not just any country. It has a very well-defined role as ground zero for the totalitarian security-industrial complex, all of whose aspects have radiated out from that core.
Naomi Klein describes this in Shock Doctrine:

What makes Israel interesting as a guns-and-caviar model is not only that its economy is resilient in the face of major political shocks such as the 2006 war with Lebanon or Hamas’s 2007 takeover of Gaza, but also that Israel has crafted an economy that expands markedly in direct response to escalating violence. The reasons for Israeli industry’s comfort level with disaster are not mysterious. Years before US and European companies grasped the potential of the global security boom, Israeli technology firms were busily pioneering the homeland security industry, and they continue to dominate the sector today…From a corporate perspective, this development has made Israel a model to be emulated in the post-9/11 market. From a social and political perspective, however, Israel should serve as something else – a stark warning. The fact that Israel continues to enjoy booming prosperity, even as it wages war against its neighbors and escalates its brutality in the conquered territories, demonstrates just how perilous it is to build an economy based on the premise of continual war and deepening disasters.

It’s the frontier outpost and proving ground for all imperial assaults:

Israel’s case is extreme, but the kind of society it is creating may not be unique. The disaster capitalism complex thrives in conditions of low-intensity grinding conflict. That seems to be the end point in all the disaster zones, from New Orleans to Iraq. In April 2007, US soldiers began implementing a plan to turn several volatile Baghdad neighborhoods into “gated communities”, surrounded by checkpoints and concrete walls, where residents would be tracked using biometric technology. “We’ll be like the Palestinians”, predicted one resident, watching his neighborhood being sealed in by the barrier. After it becomes clear that Baghdad is never going to be Dubai, and New Orleans won’t be Disneyland, Plan B is to settle into another Colombia or Nigeria – never-ending war, fought in large measure by private soldiers and paramilitaries, damped down just enough to get the natural resources out of the ground, helped along by mercenaries guarding the pipelines, platforms, and water reserves.

Salhani referred to the “spill over” of “trouble” from the Middle East. Nowhere is this more true than the toxic mindset and practices of Israeli crypto-totalitarianism. That’s what imperialism wants, to bring all its trouble home.
With that in mind let’s delve into the Salhani piece (he’s talking about Europe, while I’ll mostly talk about America, but I see these same processes playing out everywhere, and therefore examples specific to one place are usually generally applicable):

First of all, no prospective partner of the Brussels club can be allowed to join the European Union while it occupies territory that is not legally recognized as part of its own. Israel’s adhesion into the European Union would have to be preceded by a complete withdrawal of Israeli military and civilian forces from all Palestinian territory. That would mean that before such a withdrawal can happen a peace deal will have to be reached between the Palestinians and the Jewish State.

Or alternatively, they’d have to “legalize” this occupation, just like how the patently illegal war in Iraq was legalized. That’s the first “waiver” I thought he was hinting at.

Israel’s admission into the European Union would mean that the highways and security roads that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on would have to disappear. It would be inadmissible to have segregated roads in the European Union. Imagine if Italy, France or Germany, for example, banned certain ethnic groups from traveling on its national highways.

America already had the terrorist color code system where, under a red alert, highways and such may be arbitrarily shut down. They may have gotten rid of the colors, but the looming policy is still the same.
Of course, the movement to privatize American roads, to ration their use according to wealth, is already well underway.  Rendering non-luxuries artificially expensive and then rationing them by ability to pay the extortion price is just the same tyranny by another name.
And we don’t really have to imagine “certain ethnic groups” having a hard time on America’s highways. Racial profiling already accomplishes that.

The Separation Barrier (official United Nations designation) which Israel calls a “fence,” and Palestinians refer to as an “Apartheid Wall;” in reality a series of segments of a wall resembling the Berlin Wall, ditches and moats, erected between Israel proper and the West Bank to keep potential terrorists out, would have to come down. It would be unimaginable for a member of the EU to maintain such a symbol of segregation.

Of course our Mexico wall is well known.

Similarly the situation regarding Gaza would have to be resolved. Again, it is unimaginable for a European country to lay siege to a neighboring territory.

Lay siege to a neighborhood? LAPD, anyone? Speaking more generally, America is full of physical walls as well as less tangible boundaries aggressively patrolled by various kinds of goons. The siege itself may not yet be as coordinated as the mindset, but the mindset is every bit as aggressive as that in Israel. So it’s no wonder anyone who wants to build a physical wall looks to their example, and often to their contractors.

But that is not all. The whole concept of the European Union, the world’s largest economic and political zone, which saw the day shortly after the end of World War II, was to tie the economies of Europe’s countries in such a way that war would simply become unimaginable. Nations that spent centuries fighting each other – England and France, France and Germany, Germany and its neighbors to the east, and so on and so forth – began building the foundation to make those wars a thing of the past and inconceivable in the future. And it worked. Today war between once former foes in Europe is just not possible. To be sure, there may well be disagreements between members of the EU, but the disputes are settled in the European Parliament or at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Not on the battlefield any longer. This is an example from which the Middle East could greatly benefit.

The rhetoric here is reminiscent of Norman Angell’s sadly misguided utopia. But more truthfully, whether Salhani intends this reading or not, the coded message is clear: totalitarian repression prevents the Palestinians from fighting back against Israel. So we Western elites can all learn the lesson in our war upon our own people.
Salhani wraps it up:

Is any of this possible? Yes, would say the optimist in me, but with a caveat. Unilateral withdrawal from Arab lands is unrealistic and dangerous for the security of Israel. And Israel’s domestic and foreign policy is driven by its security needs. So the bottom line is this: If Israel wants to become a member of the European Union, even with all the backing of the Italian prime minister, and others, it would first have to negotiate peace with its Arab neighbors. And that is a good thing.

The realist in me says that paragraph proves that the whole idea’s a joke. He may be an Angell-style “optimist”, but the idea can have application only through its inversion. We don’t export peace to troubled regions, but import tyrannical methods of dealing with the trouble. We bring it home as our new, alien law.
Nietzsche knew the true nature of this alien anti-law, in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it tells lies too, and this lie crawls out of its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”

Where there is still a people, it does not understand the state and hates it as the evil eye and the sin against customs and rights.
Every people speaks its tongue of good and evil, which the neighbor does not understand. It has invented its own language of customs and rights. But the state tells lies in all the tongues of good and evil, and whatever it says, it lies, and whatever it has it has stolen. Everything about it is false; it bites with stolen teeth. Confusion of tongues of good and evil: this sign I give you as the sign of the state. This sign signifies the will to death.

Behold, how it lures them, and how it devours them, chews them, and ruminates!
“On earth there is nothing greater than I: the ordering finger of God am I” – thus roars the monster.

That’s the corporatist state. There’s nothing organic about it, nothing national, nothing rooted in history, rooted in the soil, evolved out of ancient culture, there’s nothing human about it, and since it partakes of nothing human, it is not a Law for human beings, but an anti-law to destroy humanity and freedom. It is indeed a monster.
This is the false bureaucratic “law” of globalization. It’s the secretive pseudo-law of the WTO, the SPP, what the FTAA would have been and still will be if the neoliberals get their way. (Just yesterday I wrote about the pending “free” trade deal Obama’s pushing.) “Law” – directly administrative, administered by a bureaucratic machine and secret tribunals.

Dani Rodrik has posited the existence of a policy trilemma:

I have an “impossibility theorem” for the global economy that is like that. It says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full…

To see why this makes sense, note that deep economic integration requires that we eliminate all transaction costs traders and financiers face in their cross-border dealings. Nation-states are a fundamental source of such transaction costs. They generate sovereign risk, create regulatory discontinuities at the border, prevent global regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries, and render a global lender of last resort a hopeless dream. The malfunctioning of the global financial system is intimately linked with these specific transaction costs.

So what do we do?

One option is to go for global federalism, where we align the scope of (democratic) politics with the scope of global markets. Realistically, though, this is something that cannot be done at a global scale. It is pretty difficult to achieve even among a relatively like-minded and similar countries, as the experience of the EU demonstrates.

Another option is maintain the nation state, but to make it responsive only to the needs of the international economy. This would be a state that would pursue global economic integration at the expense of other domestic objectives…. The collapse of the Argentine convertibility experiment of the 1990s provides a contemporary illustration of its inherent incompatibility with democracy.

Finally, we can downgrade our ambitions with respect to how much international economic integration we can (or should) achieve. So we go for a limited version of globalization, which is what the post-war Bretton Woods regime was about (with its capital controls and limited trade liberalization). It has unfortunately become a victim of its own success. We have forgotten the compromise embedded in that system, and which was the source of its success.

So I maintain that any reform of the international economic system must face up to this trilemma. If we want more globalization, we must either give up some democracy or some national sovereignty. Pretending that we can have all three simultaneously leaves us in an unstable no-man’s land.

Thus Dani Rodrik, an ardent globalizer himself, laid out the “trilemma”. How you can’t have democracy, national institutions, and free trade. At least one has to go.
But even this is in fact a distortion of the truth. The record proves that globalization cannot coexist with either sovereignty (except perhaps for the richest countries) or democracy (at all). By definition free trade is at war with democracy, and is either the aggressive weapon of or the assault upon any particular country, depending upon how wealthy it is.
When we look at Gitmo, at the secret CIA dungeon system; when we look at how in Iraq they established a lawless administrative zone similar to the Nazis’ General Government of Poland; when we look at the lawless “free trade zones” Klein writes about in No Logo and Shock Doctrine; when we look at the “supreme” court’s recent enemy combatant case laying the groundwork for gutting habeas corpus for all citizens, once and for all, forever (and what a contrast – within weeks of one another we have decisions declaring corporations to have total personal rights while actual flesh-and-blood people are to be legally declared unpersons; that juxtaposition proves we no longer have a legitimate judicial branch of government, but an abdicated rogue, but “still out in the field commanding troops [“Apocalypse Now”]); when we look at how vicious bankruptcy law became in 2005, how we inch ever closer to the restoration of debtors’ prisons (is that the real reason they’re so harsh with deadbeat dads? To set a precedent? Given the way the system acts in most other cases, gutting all social services, reducing contraception access etc., it’s hard to believe the sincere purpose is to be mother-friendly); when we look at these and far too many other examples, we see the net being cast around us.
I’ll finish with a consideration. Arendt, in discussing the British method of colonial rule, considers how oppression can either concentrate resistance or atomize it.

The British tried to escape the dangerous inconsistency inherent in the nation’s attempt at empire building by leaving the conquered peoples to their own devices as far as culture, religion, and law were concerned, by staying aloof and refraining from spreading British law and culture. This did not prevent the natives from developing national consciousness and from clamoring for sovereignty and independence – though it may have retarded the process somewhat. But it has strengthened tremendously the new imperialist consciousness of a fundamental, and not just a temporary, superiority of man over man, of the “higher” over the “lower” breeds….

They are in fact leaving to us pop culture, TV, sports, all that crap. And we still have our “religion” which clearly means nothing to anyone any longer. Indeed the churches shill for the system. For most it’s far more like Brave New World than 1984, though this will change as we sink back into serfdom.
In The True Believer Eric Hoffer compares resistance where there still exist social and cultural institutions, to circumstances where all such institutions have been liquidated, leaving behind only atomized individuals.

The capacity to resist coercion stems partly from the individual’s identification with a group. The people who stood up best in the Nazi concentration camps were those who felt themselves members of a compact party (the Communists) of a church (priests and ministers), or of a close-knit national group. The individuals, whatever their nationality, caved in. The Western European Jew proved to be the most defenseless. Without vital ties with a Jewish community, he faced his tormentors alone. One realizes now that the ghetto of the Middle Ages was for the Jews more a fortress than a prison. Without the sense of utmost unity and distinctness which the ghetto imposed upon them, they could not have endured with unbroken spirit the violence and abuse of those dark centuries. When the Middle Ages returned for a brief decade in our day, they caught the Jew without his ancient defenses and crushed him.

The conclusion seems to be that when the individual faces torture or annihilation, he cannot rely on the resources of his own individuality. His only source of strength is in not being himself but part of something mighty, glorious, and indestructible. Faith here is primarily a process of identification; the process by which the individual ceases to be himself and becomes part of something eternal. Faith in humanity, in posterity, in the destiny of one’s religion, nation, race, party, or family – what is it but the visualization of that eternal something to which we attach the self that is about to be annihilated?

Do we now seek new institutions? Nietzsche asks in Twilight of the Idols:

In order that there may be institutions, there must be a kind of will, instinct, or imperative, which is anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations, forward and backward to the horizons….

The whole of the West no longer possesses the instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which a future grows: perhaps nothing antagonizes its “modern spirit” so much. One lives for the day, one lives very fast, one lives very irresponsibly: precisely this is called “freedom”. That which makes an institution an institution is despised, hated, repudiated: one fears the danger of a new slavery them moment the word “authority” is even spoken out loud. This is how far decadence has advanced in the value-instincts of our politicians, our political parties: instinctively they prefer what disintegrates, what hastens the end.

I add, today “the worst are full of passionate intensity” (Yeats) for money and corporate power, while all “politicians” and “parties” who could and should have fought for the people have become traitors. All our institutions have been corrupted.
Today we must choose: human community or atomization? We have the socioeconomic atomization of the corporate system, and increasingly the physical and media barriers with the individual atomized inside. We must contrast this with real communities. Where these exist, even physical barriers may not be prisons, as Hoffer wrote.
I look back to the opening quote about Napoleon’s conquests. It presents the same decision – community consciousness or tyranny? Now that tyranny is coming home, and America faces the need for a second national awakening in the face of this tyranny, can this be done?
Do we still have a civic identity to rally round as at a banner? Can we raise this banner, and raise a call to it? Or are we washed up?

February 9, 2010

Imperialism vs. Politics


The White House recently announced its intent to pursue further “free trade” pacts. The pending pacts are with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea. It’s supposed to be part of a plan to double American exports within five years, though how on earth America can do this (other than through further dumping) remains a mystery.
The NYT reports that free trade cadres are hailing “the first time that the Obama administration had embraced trade liberalization vigorously.” It’s difficult to see how free trade, which is already a Hobbesian free fire zone, can become more “liberal”, but god bless ’em they’re trying.
(Of course the MSM and the hacks want us to forget one of the times the Obama campaign was caught in a lie, when the shiny candidate promised to rethink NAFTA, while on the secret hotline his flunkies were assuring their Canadian counterparts that it was just a lie for the peasants.)
Obama’s point man before Congress is, who else, Timmy Geithner.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told a House budget hearing on Wednesday that the administration “absolutely” planned to make passage of the three trade pacts part of the new export strategy this year. “It’s not just that,” Mr. Geithner said. “We want to be in the game in Asia as they move to negotiate new agreements there.”

Here’s a quote from Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism which gets more to the essence of the matter:

Expansion as a permanent and supreme aim of politics is the central political idea of imperialism. Since it implies neither temporary looting nor the more lasting assimilation of conquest, it is an entirely new concept in the long history of political thought and action. The reason for this surprising originality is simply that this concept is not really political at all, but has its origin in the realm of business speculation, where expansion meant the permanent broadening of industrial production and economic transactions characteristic of the 19th century.

Geithner has a long, interesting record in this lawless respect. A few days ago Joshua Rosner reminded us of some of his pre-Fed handiwork, back in the Clintonian glory days of globalization, internet branding bubbles, and deregulation.

In truth, Geithner’s ineffectiveness in his role at NY Fed President and his current political posturing — without any policy substance to directly address too-big-to-fail or the Fed’s flawed powers to bailout firms — seems to have resulted from design rather than accident. After all, in a previous “public service” role, Geithner was the lead negotiator for the WTO’s General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade for financial services. In this role, Geithner reported to Larry Summers, who in turn reported to Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin. In 1998, this team won the banks EVERYTHING they requested from that treaty. From open access to new markets to unrestricted growth in equity and credit derivatives, they opened the door to rapid and deregulated growth of the large multinational banks, allowing them to become “too big to fail”. Moreover, the terms of the agreement has made it almost impossible to put the “too big to fail” genie back in the bottle without running afoul of rules of this international agreement. That was the work of Geithner as “public servant”.

Back then the gangsters looked like vigorous young hunting dogs, chasing the hapless panicked rabbits in the morning sun. Time magazine could actually put some of the ugliest men in the world on their cover (and in an intentionally uglified light) and seriously want you to look at them as if they were movie stars. Tom Friedman published a book dedicated to the image of a straitjacket to whose bondage we must all submit, so we might as well lie back and enjoy it. (He called it the “golden” straitjacket.) Seattle and the dotcom crash had not happened and were physically impossible. Those must have been intoxicating days for Geithner.
In fact this round of imperialism is not different in kind from the first round in the 19th century. The same bottleneck of finance capitalism was forcing the same irrationality and violence upon a system which has no productive path available to it. The only way out was expansion for expansion’s sake. Expansion for the sake of the system’s appetite trying to feed itself, expansion for the sake of tyranny to render possible the escalating violence which will be required to maintain “growth”.
Imperialism rose out of and is a part of the growth ideology. Where growth runs up against the limits of a nation, imperialism is born. Although this new kind of growth-driven imperialism was and is usually seen as the same as old-style empire building or mercantile colonialism, this is really a sham. This is not nation-driven, state-driven, law-driven, culture-driven. It’s driven by the growth imperative of a particular mode of organizing economic activity, growth capitalism. It’s structural, inherent. It’s nothing but racketeering. 
Classical empire-building could only ever expand and enhance the body politic at home where it was based on expanding rather than escaping the law’s purview, integrating new areas into the law rather than setting up free fire zones. But modern imperialism, as it occurred first in the 19th century colonial heyday and now for the second time with modern globalization, is simply business speculation, gangsterism, transposed into the realm of political and foreign policy. It engages in more or less violent and extractive racketeering overseas, consolidates this as the government’s policy baseline through corruption and capture, and then brings the racketeering ideology home.
Financialization is one especially modern version of this non-productive, larcenous imperialism. We speak today of the Bailout which began in 2008, but really all of financialization was always this same Bailout. It was always hijacked government legalizing gang activity and where necessary directly funneling taxpayer money to the rackets. This was just stepped up to a higher level of intensity in 08.
Perhaps the first big step was the anti-federalist overriding of the many state bucket laws in the 80s. These laws criminalized many of today’s standard speculator practices of betting on the rise and fall of stocks and other underlying. Such gambling was not a legal contract and was relegated to the slimy dives and back alleys where it belongs. (In researching this I learned a new term. They used to call these crooks “bucketeers”, back when we still had the rule of law and these rackets were still illegal, before the law’s hijacking began in earnest in the 1980s.)
That this gutter casino was federally legalized, brought into the contractual open, burnished and spit-shined by academia, rolled out to a media chorus of oohs and aahs, was simply the nadir of imperial gangsterism now dignified as the pinnacle of American ingenuity, the apotheosis of the American Dream.
Growth is not a political concept, but an ideological dogma. It is anti-political. Its only basis in reality was the way fossil fuels could temporarily fuel it, but now facing the end of this easy fuel source it has lost its place in physical reality and become the province of ivory tower dogma, pseudo-religious fundamentalism, and the gun. Since it cannot be engaged politically, where rationality and humanity would refute it, it becomes aggressively anti-political. The “growth” cadres seek to kill all thought, all discourse, all politics. Just look at the modern media. Today’s MSM preaches a sham “happy balance”, but Arendt expounds the real nature of this balance:

This happy balance, however, had hardly been the inevitable outcome of mysterious economic laws, but had relied heavily on political, and even more on police institutions that prevented competitors from using revolvers. How a competition between fully armed business concerns – “empires” – could end in anything but victory for one and death for the others is difficult to understand. In other words, competition is no more a principle of politics than expansion, and need political power just as badly for control and restraint.

So just like expansion itself, competition is not political, but on the contrary needs politics to control it. (Arendt’s quote is ambiguous, and seems to mean the empires used politics to control themselves, sort of like how in theory the Mafia’s “commission” was supposed to regulate among the different families. Today Basel, the G20, etc. represent the same theory. But today the globalized gang wants to cast off all controls upon its own actions.) Seeking to cast off such control, the gangs have sought to dissolve politics.
Imperialism wants to evade politics. Having had its basis in foreign policy, it tries to bring home this characteristic combination of elitism, secrecy, and debate-killing slogans (like “growth” or “national security” or “terrorism”) to domestic politics, to foreignize it. It seeks to treat the people of the home country as a conquered colonial people.
So, for an example, just as Paul Bremer set up a space in Iraq devoid of all law for the mercenaries of globalism, so the system is now bringing home this lawlessness, as the federal court system seeks to absolve Blackwater of all responsibility before any law, anywhere.
Those are just a few examples of the lawless, anti-political core of globalization and the growth ideology. What’s considered the debate-killer? What’s our characteristic anti-intellectualism, flat-earthism? And what musters all corrupt political power against anything that’s in the public interest? Anything whose utility for growth isn’t obvious. That’s the black hole, the dead zone, the hypoxia, the doldrums, the horse latitudes, of politics. It’s the repository for all notions and expressions which are stupid, arrogant, bullying.
Corporatism is the tyrannical process seeking to liquidate all politics and all freedom.
(I add here one optimistic thought. Can the “war on terror” slogan indefinitely terrorize the people into conformity, docility, and where necessary fascist lynch mobs, all on behalf of the military-industrial ans security-industrial complexes, the same way the Cold War mindset and propaganda was able to do? The Cold War actually did threaten annihilation, whereas any sane person has to eventually realize that terrorism is a nuisance at worst, and cannot possibly justify a trillion dollar rathole, the gutting of the constitution, and incipient totalitarianism.
Is it likely the liars of the system, who are after all the real terrorists, can really keep this bogus terror going?)  

February 8, 2010

Parasites and Imperialism


The 19th century evolution of private casino gambling to state imperialism occurred as follows. It started when the capitalists had accumulated enough surplus capital that there was no longer any productive outlet for it within the domestic economy. They responded by exporting investment, in the form of speculation on always dubious foreign projects. They gathered momentum by inciting small investors among the masses to join the gaming. It became the familiar environment of scams and swindles. When such a bubble inevitably collapsed it wiped out the middle class and left the casino class alone with its surplus capital, right back where it started, and this time with no clear way to get the boom going again.
Concentrated wealth is by its nature parasitic, and where this destructive uselessness is clear to the people, its position becomes politically untenable. It was out of this parlous position that the bourgeoisie, who had so long held aloof from politics, hit on the idea of corporatism. The already existing and accelerating physical colonization overseas, which had to date been exploited in a mercantile fashion, could be leveraged for the purposes of imperial capitalism. The casino impresarios could make the globe their gaming hall, with the state serving as the hired muscle to guarantee these investments. Now the bubble could inflate more securely.
When the surplus wealth extractors were just private overseas gamblers, they were mere apolitical parasites. But when they demanded the institution of the privatized profits/socialized costs imperial model, they “re-entered the life of the nation”, as Arendt puts it in Origins of Totalitarianism. They became “political”, meaning anti-political.
The bourgeoisie had to re-politicize itself to hijack the state for this purpose. It had long demanded nothing of state and politics other than that these respect (indeed revere) the rights and prerogatives of the private sector, dedicate themselves to protecting private property, and stay out of its private affairs. Here we see what to this day is still the “conservative” ideology.
But now they no longer really wanted to be left alone. Now they wanted to aggressively hijack state and politics, on behalf of an aggressive deployment of private capital. We should see this as we would a criminal plotting murder, demanding everyone leave him alone during the period of his weakness, while he’s surreptitiously laying his plans, but who attacks, seizing all the powers he previously claimed to despise, the moment he feels strong enough to do so.
So the corporate bourgeoisie re-entered politics in order to consolidate corporate and state power and radicalize the depredations of capital. They were and are anti-political and counterrevolutionary, opposed to the essence of the civic polity we back home to us.
Here again we see the behavior of American corporatists (and the property rights movement in general) – their rhetoric is always defensive, while their intentions are always aggressive, and their actions become aggressive the second they feel strong enough.
(The economic libertarian says “your right to swing your fist stops at my face”, but what he really means is, “once I have property and power, I have the right to swing my fist anywhere I want, and if your face is in my way, tough.”)
So the corporatist casino, as well as its more overt military and repression operations, starts out overseas. But it’s eventually brought home as well. No big capitalist is ever a patriot; on the contrary, since he is by definition a sociopath, so as a globalist he is by definition a traitor. He will view the people of his own country as just another resource mass to be exploited in the same manner he does in the colonized countries.
Imperialism is, as Lenin called it, “the highest” stage of capitalism. In my last post I discussed how prior accumulation must be repeated by the system. New pre-capitalized populations have to be assimilated as capital. Foreign imperialism seizes native populations in order to coordinate them according to imperial corporatist imperatives. In the same way, once the imperialist model is established overseas, from its point of view the population of the home country, still organized according to the earlier model, is now “pre-capitalist”, and must be coordinated according to the same imperial model.
Although big corporations would no doubt prefer to rule home populations through direct exploitation and oppression the way they do their overseas slaves, this was not at first politically possible, so they had to start with indirect means of coordination. There are many ways to do this. For awhile, during the times of cheap, plentiful oil, consumer co-optation was the preferred method. But as the globalized economy entered simultaneously the energy crisis and the productivity bottleneck, while America saw its real wages peak in 1973, and it became more and more impossible for consumerism to sustain itself, the only way out was financialization and consumerism fueled by exponential debt.
So the new domestic colonization was the despotism of debt, and the tremendous new demands and risk exposures of an economy based on a treadmill of indebtedness. This was used to enforce grimly deteriorating working conditions – wages go down, hours up, security erodes, all at exactly the time technology was supposed to be almost completely freeing us all of the bonds of work, according to the lies of capitalism and its prostitute government and media.
Once the workers have been economically liquidated, they can no longer play in the casino if it’s not corporatized by the state. So now they too have been enlisted to advocate the banksters’ interests. The average person instinctively opposed the Bailout as a scam, but probably agrees with the premise that “lending has to get going again”; that we can’t have an economy at all without massive indebtedness. (I imagine most who oppose the Bailout would have a hard time explaining what they think should have and should be done, if they still want all these banks making all these loans all over the world.)
Arendt comments:

Expansion then was an escape not only for superfluous capital. More important, it protected its owners against the menacing prospect of remaining entirely superfluous and parasitical. It saved the bourgeoisie fro the consequences of maldistribution and revitalized its concept of ownership at a time when wealth could no longer be used as a factor in production within the national framework and had come into conflict with the production ideal of the community as a whole.

And where can we go from here? We have globalized casino, which has collapsed once and for all. There’s no longer any question of its being sustainably based on real economic activity. It’s now a zombie powered by government-to-bankster looting. Nor will the co-opted people any longer be able to participate. No new jolt of electricity can reambulate the zombie debt consumer.
We do have the Global War on Terror, which is a fictive attempt to revive physical expansion. But there’s no new pre-capitalist class to be coordinated on any level. No debt can be manufactured for them. The real productivity of the globe has been completely engulfed and liquidated. Those who can still eat are lucky.
So the real path is to a new (but really not so new, rather a distant mirror of the Dark Ages) hell of serfdom.
In the meantime we’ll continue for a few years in this odd twilight world of the zombie. Have you ever seen a partial solar eclipse? When I was out during one, I saw it bathe the landscape in a spooky, spectral blandness. It was kind of like the whole world turning blue from hypothermia. Rather ghastly in a subtle way.
That’s how this twilight looks to me. We’ll have the system stagger along trying to inflate new bubbles and ignore the imminence of new crashes, like the one looming in Greece. The holders of superfluous wealth will still try to pretend they serve a purpose and are not just worthless parasites and thieves. Everything we read in the business press has this relentless subtext, that concentrated wealth serves a purpose and deserves to exist. Here’s one ridiculous example.
Arendt describes their predicament of two centuries now:

Only the fortunate coincidence of a new class of property holders and the industrial revolution had made the bourgeoisie producers and stimulators of production. As long as it fulfilled this basic function in modern society, which is essentially a community of producers, its wealth had an important function for the nation as a whole. The owners of superfluous capital were the first section of the class to want profits without fulfilling some real social function – even if it was the function of an exploiting producer – and whom, consequently, no police could ever have saved from the wrath of the people.

The bourgeoisie’s rise was coincident with the rise of fossil fuels. They constructed their system on this platform. And now they’ll fall with its collapse. It’s only now, with Peak Oil, that the Marxian dynamic of the capitalists liquidating one another really begins.
The stolen wealth no longer serves any purpose but for the thugs to pay themselves to steal yet more.
Will the people arrest this crime? Or shall we muddle on through to the bitter end, the feudal Hell?

February 5, 2010

Can There Be Another Accumulation?


Crime and no reason, treason and no rhyme,
All struggle and hope stolen once again
As license to commit the ancient crime…
Corporatism is incapable of living within its means. That it drives everyone into debt, either through the participants’ own greed or because everyone else is drafted into a debt economy, is not just the calculated strategy of predatory lending and the exploitation of leverage. Unsustainable indebtedness is hardwired into the system itself.
This is because profit-seeking activity, once it goes beyond the smallest, localized level, is always inefficient and always loses money. This is a friction law just as binding as friction in physics. The only way mass capitalism is able to persist at all, let alone construct the monumental edifices of industrialism, consumerism, and hi-technology, is by externalizing more and more of its costs – on the future, on the environment, and on the dispossessed people.
Because the corporate machine can never turn an absolute profit, it has to start out with a feudal treasure hoard it can draw upon until it’s powerful enough to extract a “capitalist” surplus from the earth and the workers. The preliminary accumulation of this hoard is called primitive accumulation. This is Marx’s term for the violent privatization of public land and resources during the feudal stage of economic development. But capitalism is so costly and inefficient that even its surplus can’t sustain it. It still keeps running itself into the ground.
This boils down to the basic contradiction of capitalism. The capitalist seeks to maximize production even as he impoverishes his intended consumer base by hacking away at the workers’ wages. Inevitable he overproduces and is burdened with surplus capital.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt describes the puzzle:

The tremendously increased wealth produced by capitalist production under a social system based on maldistribution had resulted in “oversaving” – that is, the accumulation of capital which was condemned to idleness within the existing national capacity for production and consumption. This money was actually superfluous, needed by nobody though owned by a growing class of somebodies. The ensuing crises and depressions during the decades preceding the era of imperialism had impressed upon the capitalists the thought that their whole economic system of production depended upon a supply and demand that from now on must come from outside of capitalist society. Such supply and demand came from inside the nation, so long as the capitalist system did not control all its classes together with its entire productive capacity. When capitalism had pervaded the entire economic structure and all social strata had come into the orbit of its production and consumption system, capitalists clearly had to decide either to see the whole system collapse or to find new markets, that is, to penetrate new countries which were not yet subject to capitalism and therefore could provide a new noncapitalistic supply and demand.

The system has to keep refeudalizing itself and repeating the original accumulation. This in turn requires that there always be a new frontier of natural resources to be mined and labor not yet under the yoke.
The system attempts various ways of keeping the economy stimulated. Technological innovation may temporarily develop new markets. Same for government military spending. The final frontier has been globalization and financialization, propping up the consumer with exponential debt.
But all of these have long since passed into the twilight of diminishing returns. IT has been a far less productive sector than previous frontiers, while finance and the military industrial complex simply destroy wealth on a massive scale, and this wealth can and will never be replaced.
Arendt evokes the delusive spirit of Gilded Age Europe as it partied on the brink of the abyss:

As matters stood, imperialism spirited away all troubles and produced that deceptive feeling of security, so universal in pre-war Europe, which deceived all but the most sensitive minds. Peguy in France and Chesterton in England knew instinctively that they lived in a world of hollow pretense and that its stability was the greatest pretense of all. Until everything began to crumble, the stability of obviously outdated political structures was a fact, and their stubborn unconcerned longevity seemed to give the lie to those who felt the ground tremble under their feet. The solution of the riddle was imperialism. The answer to the fateful question: why did the European comity of nations allow this evil to spread until everything was destroyed, the good as well as the bad, is that all governments knew very well that their countries were secretly disintegrating, that the body politic was being destroyed from within, and that they lived on borrowed time.

We’ve now sustained the first shock of the final stage of oil-fueled corporatism. With Peak Oil and the breaking of the exponential debt curve we’ve reached the absolute limit of capitalist expansion. The ultimate original accumulation was the unearned inheritance of the fossil fuel hoard. This can no longer keep the system operating in the pseudo-black. Now the system begins its contraction. Yet the primitive accumulation must be repeated. There must always be a slave class.
There’s only one place left to look for these slaves. State capitalism went as far as it could in assimilating new human strata, as masters and as slaves. Most remained slaves, while in the West a relatively large number were co-opted as the “middle class”, as part of the competition class rather than the resource class. But now the system contracts, and this middle class will have to be dissolved. It will have to be defenestrated and restored to original serf status. That’s the process now unfolding.
Imperialism and globalization were stages in capitalist expansion assimilating more cohorts of slaves. It reached its maximum in the 1970s and 1980s. It started blowing bubbles to buy time while preparing to roll its own domestic socioeconomic wave back. Like a vast pincers movement in war, it will now seek to complete the operation, to liquidate the welfare state of the Western “middle class” (always a sham, always based on foreign slavery), liquidate its “officer corps” (Marx) (the “bourgeoisie”, one by one, hundreds by hundreds, thousands by thousands), and so on until the wave is rolled back to the original feudal nobles. That’s what we’re doing today.
In the meantime they’re tactically caught between the imperatives to reflate the bubble and yet deflate it enough to provide space and fuel for the reflation. They’ve been struggling to thread the needle with the string they’re pushing on. (Is that a mixed metaphor? You can thread a needle with a string. Unless it’s too thick, and that’s why you can only push on it…)
Is there any question that the system is now a terminal zombie? If there were any possible productive way out, any way to productively grow, to revitalize the real economy, why don’t they do it? Corruption isn’t enough to explain it. If a real economic way out for “growth” existed, there’d be a constituency for it. But there is none, in government, business, the media.
Of course, that the only “options on the table” would be growth option is because the only elite constituencies extant are the extractive, competitive cadres. A public interest cadre doesn’t exist. If it did, then we would have the opposite, constructive option: to wind down the empire, wind down the system, to use what wealth remains to downsize, deconsumerize, decentralize, relocalize.
Instead, via the Bailout War and the Global War on Terror (the Permanent War), they’re imposing tyranny and regressing to feudalism while looting the last pennies.

May 23, 2009


There’s been loads of debate on what’s happening in America. Anywhere you can find expositions on capitalism and the end of capitalism or the death of capitalism or the reform of capitalism or how to save capitalism or the triumph of capitalism (this last one usually phrased in a different way). Also whether the putative reform of capitalism is actually socialism, and whether Americans are willing to entertain the term “socialism”, and from there of course to what terms like capitalism and socialism even mean anymore.
As to what terms we should use, it’s obvious that America has long been basically a corporatist system, meaning that here neither capitalism nor socialism are ideals, but are just tactics which are applied wherever appropriate to maximize the power and wealth of the nexus of big corporations and big government.
(The dream government for business would be something like the Franco regime. It was corporatist, economically “fascist”, with a state-supported religion (opium for the masses). But unlike Hitler or Mussolini Franco had a rational rather than a deranged foreign policy. (That’s why he resisted Hitler’s inducements to enter the war – Franco figured Hitler was cruising for a fall and would drag down everyone with him.)
So why has American business supported Bush-style hallucinatory imperialism and K-street thuggery? This shows the fundamental disconnect of all American life from reason and reality. In the twilight of cheap oil and exponential debt we have a void and a shoddy facade where an economy and a safety net should be, so that textbook “business” can no longer function, but only an ever more volatile disaster capitalism.)  
Capitalism, democracy, civics, citizenship, rule of law – all these mean nothing. They are nonexistent outside of propaganda pens (“schools”).
[I’d like to add here that if we want these things back, we can restore them, but not within the framework of big government, big corporations, the present system which is so terminally rotted, “bigness” itself, and not within the framework of the doomed fossil fuel civilization. We can only build new communities from the ground up. There can be a diversity of these, anything from smallholder capitalism to kibbutz communism, with the uniting principle being human community, as long as the other uniting principle is self-reliance and sustainability. If even the small relocalized communities get back into large-scale trade, specialization, “comparative advantage”, and the inevitable expansion and conflict which must follow from these, then the whole nightmare begins again, only at a smaller level.]
Rather, the terms that capture reality are feudalism, corporatism, plutocracy, kleptocracy, lemon socialism, welfare fascism. What these capture is the utter irresponsibility, the sociopathy of American economic life.
No one is any longer trying to create, to invent, improve, add value, to make better their own or anybody else’s lives, to shine light on truth. Innovation and talent – using these in their English rather than their nowadays more common Orwellian sense – mean nothing.
Rather, everyone at every economic level is trying to get over, to run a scam, to “get rich” (how tawdry and meanly nihilistic the “American dream” is at its core), to pose and not be, to say and not do. If they have the power they steal, spin, obscure, lobby, capture, bribe, obstruct, extort, and sue, to plunder, entrench, monopolize, rig the playing field in their favor, pull up the ladder behind them.
If they don’t have the power, they dream of these things.
How the banks and the FIRE sector have come to completely dominate the American system is a well-told story by now. I think anyone who is capable of understanding it must understand it by now. And now as Too Big To Fail zombies the big banks have only tightened their stranglehold over the economy and government, and over all measures of what constitutes economic good, bad, recovery, recession.
The other pivot of American life, economic, political, and psychological, is the “Global War on Terror”, which is the term encompassing the intensified imperial aggression America requires to secure the resources to prop up its fuel infrastructure, the corporatism which is directly enabled through the expanding military-industrial complex and is also the overarching system being propped up by this empire, and the increasingly constrictive “homeland” police state to repress the dissent all this must provoke.
My personal term for the GWOT and the neocon ideology it springs from is resource fascism. It centers on oil, but will soon center on “alternatives”: unconventional oil and agrofuels (we already have the ethanol pseudo-industry as a pure textbook example of a parasite). Here big corporations and mainstream environmentalists, conservatives and liberals, can join hands in trying to prop up cars and sprawl (the core material form of American life).
The unreality and the con extend everywhere. If the point of saving GM was to preserve good American jobs (or even just to maintain American military vehicle production, as some have argued), how is this served by letting them completely offshore to China? It’s not. Rather, “saving GM” is a particularly sloppy con job.
[I try not to bother tallying examples among small entities and non-rich, non-powerful individuals, since although there’s plenty of corruption there as well, keeping our eyes on the prize means maintaining focus on the crimes of the powerful. It’s these which construct and define the system. (The attempt among republicans to deflect this responsibility by blaming the small fry, so that the mortgage bubble and collapse were the fault of reckless borrowers exploiting the poor good-natured banks, and torture was the work of “bad apples”, is an absurd fraud.) So if we wish to be educated and aware, defend ourselves and fight back, the first rule is to counter-attack something big and bloated.]
I wish I had a more rigorously optimistic way to wrap this up this morning. I wrote the first part of it, then did some work in the garden, and now I come back and think about how beautiful out it is. I believe the earth will still be able to heal once the oil wave recedes. As horrible as man’s vandalism has been, it’s still a surface wound.
What’s more questionable is whether the human soul can heal. When we look at the systematic ravages in ideology and religion, the perversion of education and despoliation of culture, the psychopathy of science and the apparently universal hatred for the mind, and when we ponder what horrors are likely to convulse the dying decades of the oil age, as the mad genius of oil tries to leave behind it an absolute scorched earth of the spirit once and for all, we must wonder what part of what’s human can be carried through the flames.
I don’t know yet what can be done and how to do it, but that’s what I see more and more people trying to figure out. At least this is the most promising sign.  
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