Volatility

March 8, 2019

For the Civilized War is A Domestic Ritual

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Where the first civilization eradicated the first forests, generating the first man-made desert, war still rages to this day.

 
 
Civilized people love war. They cherish war since they know deep down their civilization depends completely upon predatory war: War on traditional peoples, war on weaker civilized societies, incessant economic civil war within each society, most of all war on the Earth itself. Modern global-Western civilization was born in war, built through war, is sustained to this day through war, and must commit suicide through war. This sums up the only meat of the religion of all civilized hominids.
 
Take for example one of their most cherished rituals, elections. Elections have no objective reality to them: There’s never a real choice, nor do the elected personnel feel any responsibility to give the voters what the voters claim to want. On the contrary, they deny in principle that they have any responsibility to the people at all. They openly proclaim that their only responsibility is to the binge and destruction imperatives of the economic civilization, and that any national election is nothing but a ritual where one votes Yes to the extreme-energy binge and the destruction. That’s all democracy has turned out to be, all it ever was. This is historical fact. And in truth this is what the voters really want, nothing more or less.
 
An election is nothing but a religious ritual. One can vote Yes, vote one’s yes-confidence in the priesthood and in the church of the extreme-energy ecocidal civilization. All else is the meaningless fake politics of a population which is nothing but squatters and vandals infesting the surface of the Earth, which give the Earth nothing in return for all they take, which wantonly despoil far more than they actually take, which are no part of the Earth at all.
 
Therefore the voters always vote unanimously for permanent war. They’ve long voted unanimously for permanent imperial war in the Mideast, for the Zionist genocidal war, for permanent war in Afghanistan, in Iraq. They all voted for the military destruction of Libya and have wanted the same for Syria. They’ve voted unanimously for twenty years of economic war on Venezuela, and next chance they get they’ll vote for military invasion, as in the past they voted for every kind of assault on every part of Latin America. They all want nuclear war with North Korea. They all want World War III with Russia and China. They all want permanent war unto total ecocide, total genocide, total suicide. All this is proven by their political actions and their day-to-day actions.
 
War always is mass murder, and war always is ecocide: The direct destruction of the explosives and poisons and vehicles and carbon emissions; the residual poisons left behind, from Agent Orange residue to every kind of chemical waste to radioactive ammunition waste; most destructive of all is war’s pretext for accelerated technological deployment and escalated over-production, again synonymous with ecocide. This is the most profound aspect of how the economic civilization loves war for the sake of profitable destruction, loves war for the sake of ratcheting up the production/consumption binge, loves war because it destroys in order to free up space to ratchet up production again. That’s a big part of why civilized people in general love permanent war: In tandem with commodity production the permanent global imperial war is a permanent world destruction machine, a permanent exercise in Dominion which is the core theology shared by monotheism and modern scientism-technocracy. The civilized voters vote for nothing but murder and suicide, with nameless decadence and misery throughout the way.
 
Thus all political Americans lust for war. That’s proven by the fact that they vote for it every time. Every election is a Yes or No plebiscite on permanent war, and the only way to vote No is to boycott the fake election completely.
 
Are there anti-war Americans? Yes, but we’re among those who gave up on fake voting. Part of reason I’ve never voted is that I truly am anti-war and therefore cannot participate in an election which is nothing but a Yes vote for war.
 
(But don’t mistake me, thinking I yearn for “better elections”. No, these are what modern elections are, what they’ve always been, just as these are what voters are, what they’ve always been.)
 
The same goes for Yes-voting for the binge economy, for ecocide, for technocracy, for the police state and prison complex, for the cultural and economic genocide of indigenous/traditional peoples and community farmers, their physical destruction soon to follow. These are the only true matters left, the only things that matter. The rest is mere squatter politics, trivia curated by the media. And even there there’s only one party to vote for and the vote always is unanimous: Yes to the same economic tyranny which drives all the real elements of the gathering apocalypse.
 
For the civilized, war is a domestic ritual, just as elections and voting are a ritual. And in fact they’re the same ritual, inextricable. The only vote being offered is Yes to war. Yes to total war unto the end.
 
I’ve never been able to think in any terms of the intrinsically murderous politics of the intrinsically murderous system. I’ve only ever been able to think in terms of building a movement completely outside the system, completely without any of the system’s personnel, completely against the system. And since it’s clear that no such movement is going to exist, today I think only in terms of spiritual kernels and arks to endure the gathering Kinesis and tribulation, to bring through the flames whatever is worth salvaging for a post-civilized, Gaian humanity. Gaia knows there’s little enough of that.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

January 28, 2019

Gaia and Consumer

Filed under: Freedom, Mainstream Media, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: , , , , — Russell Bangs @ 9:15 am

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At this stage of our existential crisis we have only the either/or: Ecological vs. consumerist. One’s primary thoughts and actions go one way or the other. (As for myself and anyone else brought up with the indoctrination to be a consumer, we who consciously have renounced this, I don’t know how likely it is we can be born again truly as of the Earth. But at least we can think and live as ecologists and help bring about a new way of living, and eventually a new way of learning to be human.)
 
Corporate production-consumption imperatives dominate all rhythms of power in modern societies. Corporate-Randroid “competition” ideology, corporate austerity, and corporate marketing dominate all modern culture, intellectual life, science, and the pseudo-politics of fake democracy. Consumerist politics is inherently non- and anti-political. This includes almost all aspects of modern political speech and campaigning, and all of electoralism. Fake-political ideas, attitudes, campaigns, are marketed exactly the same way as any other aspect of commodity culture. Those who consume these experience them and act them out in exactly the same way.
 
That’s why it’s usually impossible to have anything recognizably like a political discussion, let alone an argument (in the proper sense of that term). It’s almost always like an angry and childish dispute over which sports team or movie is better, because that’s exactly how most of the “politically aware” conceive and experience politics these days. That’s part of why Politics is Dead in just the sense Nietzsche meant when he wrote God is Dead: People still superficially “believe” in it, but it really means nothing to them except as a superficial identification. They don’t live it. The kind of movement or political party one joins, with membership as a core part of day-to-day life, no longer exists. Thus the term “identity politics” is, in the broad sense, redundant. At least in the West almost all politics is identity politics, no matter what its superficial ideology.
 
(In all this I’m talking about the West, and any strata anywhere which apes the political and cultural framework of the globalist cancer economy and society.)
 
This is the complete, though temporary, victory of the production-consumption ideology. Even those who identify as “radicals” see this as a hobby, while they see their “real life” as consumed by their private imperatives: Job; materialism of car, lawn, and “stuff”; maybe sometimes family. They don’t view ecological-political participation and the responsibilities of citizenship, even in a polity let alone an ecology, as being even a co-equal value, let alone the paramount one.
 
Electoralism always was driving politics inexorably into this pit, and at the latest under neoliberalism’s corporate rule has been deliberately designed that way. The focus on large-scale electoralism was an historical mistake for those who fought for freedom and equality. If these are attainable at all, it’s not by that path. God knows today’s alleged “alternatives” within electoralism do all they can to prove that electoralism doesn’t work. And by now only cultists of an electoral religion still believe in it. Thus today’s “radicals” and “progressives” are, ironically, a type of reactionary.
 
Some people eat to live, others live to eat. So it is with politics. A tiny few experience politics as essential to human life, if only because where subjugated health and happiness depend upon this, while most prove by their actions that they experience it as just another consumer product.
 
 
 
 
 

October 17, 2017

Two Favorite Quotes

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AKA, “No, you follow me.”

 
 
I measure “favorite” here by how often the quote comes to mind and I smile ruefully and say “that’s true.”

 
 
1.The all-time champion remains a line I read in some political column or essay many years ago. I can’t recall the writer, outlet, or what he was writing about, but this line has stayed with me, constantly coming to mind:
 
“America is not permissive, it’s just promiscuous.”
 
That sums up perfectly the average American and all US institutions: Grossly self-indulgent where it comes to their own whims and crimes (often including violence), indulgent toward the whims and crimes of others they approve of, puritanical and censorious toward anything they don’t like, and in principle dismissive of such values as tolerance, minding your own business, live and let live, living in peace, even as they scream like stuck pigs the moment anyone impinges upon their sense of entitlement to all these things.
 
2. The challenger is a line from Freud’s essay “Dostoevsky and Parricide”. In contradistinction to the often profound political and religious philosophizing of his fiction, when Dostoevsky moonlighted as a regular political columnist he regressed to run-of-the-mill right wing fulmination. In dismissing Dostoevsky’s political position Freud calls it “a position which lesser minds have reached with smaller effort” (p. 177 in this scan).
 
How often I recall this, when I see all the hyper-educated “experts” and “intellectuals”, all pompously proclaiming their participation in this or that millennial intellectual paradigm, whether it be scientism, technocracy, neoliberalism, establishment versions of environmentalism and other causes, and yet their social and political vision invariably boils down to the same flat-earth worship of the system of money, “jobs”, temporal power, including regurgitating the same lies any half-assed mainstream media columnist is paid to spew. I assume as an axiom that 99.9% of Mensa members have utterly mainstream, mediocre political opinions. (Opinions, not even thoughts, let alone values.) Almost without exception these persons submit to the exact same bounds of political partisanship which are dictated to them by the mainstream media. All their learning, all their alleged intellectual principles, do nothing to give them even a single new idea.
 
This applies to the great majority of self-alleged “radicals” as well. They too constantly renew their devotion to all the main ideas and institutions of productionism and consumerism, however much it pleases them to sneer at “bourgeois” ideology (but their own ideology is bourgeois to the core) and arbitrarily to separate productionism into the two flavors of “capitalism” and “socialism”.* Of course many of them, come time for the kangaroo election (they also have no ideas beyond electoralism), tell the people to vote Democrat. I think Freud would agree that it never required intensive study of Marx to reach the position of “Hope and Change…I’m With Her”. I personally know plenty of utterly uneducated people who reached the same position, or its “Make America Great Again” flip side, with zero effort.
 
Of course most of these pseudo-educated elites are “lesser minds” themselves, mediocrities who had the grinder aspiration and the money to go to school. I’m applying Freud’s quote more to their grandiose ideological pronouncements more than to themselves. The point is that such grand intellectual projects, if they really possessed any of the integrity, profundity, and altruistic impulse their adherents claim for them, ought to better the minds and spirits of those who participate. But we see every day how there’s almost an inverse relationship between the grandiosity of the ideal and the gutter quality, intellectual and moral, of its practitioners and fanboys.
 
To come closer to Freud’s example of the steep drop-off in quality from Dostoevsky’s fiction to his everyday political opinionation, even where it comes to the few writers today capable of the true eagle’s eye perspective, those who speak profoundly about the soon-to-go-fully-kinetic crises of economics, energy, and ecology, they’re still prone to insist on self-indulging in “topical” political commentary where most of them immediately regress to the level of cranky right-wing bloggers. A decades-long spiritual training and intensive reading about the profundities of the relationship of ecology to the economy leads one to Archie Bunker-level political spewing about “the left”? Yes indeed, much lesser minds often reach that position with much less effort. (For real criticism of the left as offering no alternative to productionism and technocracy, one has to come to a site like mine.)
 
Perhaps the greatest irony of this culture is how the “Progress” ideologues are the most hidebound, intellectually stagnant, politically retarded epigones who are congenitally incapable of ever actually progressing to a new idea, a new vision. For them the laws of the world are never anything but the status quo forever. In many ways “progressives” are, objectively speaking, reactionaries in how they desperately cling to revanchist fantasies for things which long ago were disproved and/or destroyed forever, not to mention how meager their fantasies usually are. (To fixate on “bring back Glass-Steagal” manages the feat of being simultaneously nostalgic and lame.)
 
I think their parents who paid for all those university degrees should ask for their money back. All that investment of money, time, effort, all that “thinking”, and look at what the modern intellectual/political class comes up with: Straight parroting of all the most gutter “values”, lies, and ideological precepts of Mammon and the corporations, every last one of these a thousand times refuted. The modern intellectual is hidebound, stagnant, and stupid. The modern expert is a prostituted liar. I say we the people can do better.
 
 
In case anyone thinks I’m exalting novelty or radicalism for their own sakes, no. My total opposition to thoughtless reckless promiscuous technological deployment sufficiently refutes both. Nor is that the case with ideas. I call for propagating and enacting the new and necessary ideas. What’s wrong with productionism isn’t that it’s an old idea and institution, but that it’s proven destructive to humanity and the Earth. What’s wrong with “progress” isn’t that it’s antiquated, but that it’s long been disproven as at best a religious fantasy, more often an ideological lie. What’s wrong with liberalism and “vote Democrat” isn’t that it’s the same old thing, but that it’s long been proven ineffective and a malign scam. Those who still adhere to these disproven notions, claiming to be finding something new and possible in them, are liars and/or idiots.
 
The necessary new ideas, most of all the great need to abolish corporate industrial agriculture and globally transform to agroecology, are those needed to overcome and transcend these failed and destructive old notions and actions. That’s the one and only real kind of progress.
 
 
*This morning I read another piece exalting “science” from a “left” perspective. That means one denounces “Trump” and is indistinguishable from a partisan liberal. For this kind of scribbler, what’s wrong with de jure climate denial is that it’s an affront to the authority of “Science”, a kind of lese majestie. In reality, what’s wrong with any kind of climate denial isn’t that it’s intellectually “wrong”, let alone that it insults the majesty of Science. What’s wrong is that climate chaos already is profoundly destructive of humanity and the Earth and will become far worse. Denial of this and obstruction of real mitigation and adaptation measures comprise a crime against humanity and the Earth. That’s what’s wrong with it, not the liberal vs. conservative culture war part of it.
 
Such misdirection highlights how the de jure deniers are just one minority faction among the deniers. Far greater in number are the de facto deniers, who may “believe in” anthropogenic climate change and often claim to care about it, but whose actions prove they want no change in the status quo paradigms which drive climate change. They only tell various lies and propagate various scams in order to pretend they care and are doing something. These are the climate crocodiles, crying crocodile tears over climate change. They include the liberal hand-wringers, as well as the scientific establishment and its fanboys such as the author of the typical piece I linked above. All these persons and institutions systematically do their worst to drive climate change, even as they deplore it with empty words. This kind of denialism is far more pernicious than the de jure kind, since it reflects a much deeper Earth-destroying inertia.
 
For the climate crocodiles this hypocrisy driven by destructive inertia causes them to fixate on “Trump” even though ecologically destructive policy and ideology is the realm where, more than anywhere else, Trump is nothing but the continuation of the Clinton-Bush-Obama paradigm. And here is the best example of the pathology I mentioned above, where “leftists” decompose to become indistinguishable from liberals, often to the point of touting the Democrat Party, thus demonstrating their own indelible bourgeois character, to use one of their own favorite curse words.
 
All that education and ideological pomposity, and one still decries Trump’s affront to the Paris accord or the “corruption” of the previously public-spirited EPA. So-called lesser minds usually reach those positions with much less effort. It’s taken a bit more effort to work out the new and necessary ideas for a human future. We’ll see how much effort it takes to propagate and then realize them.
 
 
 
 

March 30, 2012

What Is Organic? (2 of 2)

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Earlier I wrote about how the term and concept organic applies to a network of relations and vectors, a holism, rather than to a discrete, stagnant item which can be removed from or plugged into any context at will.
 
In part 1 I focused on the use of the concept to describe food production and distribution. I emphasized that organic has to mean maximizing sustainability, resiliency, interdependency rather than dependency. This implies, even if it doesn’t directly demand, social and economic justice, since any extractive hierarchy reduces our sustainability. By definition any parasite reduces this. It definitely means minimizing dependency on fossil fuels as such (and not just fossil fuels in the direct farming inputs), which means that globalization and the organic are mutually exclusive. It excludes any significant environmental destructiveness (this too means it must minimize fossil fuels in general). 
 
I’ll add here that organic has to mean the abolition and transcendence of the artificial producer/consumer dichotomy. Even within the food sovereignty movement this dichotomy is often insensibly taken for granted. But in truth these concepts can never be separated. One way or another they meld and define one another. Any producer also consumes, and if she’s induced or forced to separate her production from her consumption, that actually removes her producer quality and renders her a system cog, a passive and dependent consumer only. Passive consumption in general is meant to render us stagnant, and this in turn makes possible the calcification of the entire economy and polity, under corporate control. The goal of all consumerism is to eradicate all that’s organic and human and replace it with sterile conformity to tyranny.
 
By contrast, where we stop being passive consumers and become full economic citizens, as much as possible democratically producing our own food, and at least being fully active in knowing our food and those who produce it, we regain control over our lives and render ourselves far more resilient and sustainable, and far less vulnerable to any threat. (I’ll add that this can help reclaim our political democracy.) The producer who is organically enmeshed in such a sovereign food network is himself more resilient and less vulnerable, since he’s now part of a natural network rather than being a fungible, replaceable, expendable cog. (I’ll add in passing for now that this applies to dependency on all system concepts – the corporate form, property, legality, contracts, anything which is fraudulently purported to be part of nature but is actually a tool and weapon of an artificial, hierarchical system based on Might Makes Right.) 
 
This leads to another general point, that the organic is mutually exclusive with corporatism. Corporatism, even leaving aside the subjective greed and malevolence of its cadres (although this too is dire), necessarily means the maintenance of large parasitic hierarchies (the corporations themselves, the corporations as extensions of government, the government as bagman and thug for these corporations). It also necessarily means globalization, since profit extraction (the absolute imperative for any corporation) cannot function other than within an infinitely expanding growth economy. The only limit* to this is the limits of the globe itself, so corporatism must if possible expand to completely fill out this limit.
 
[*Soon I’ll be writing about how GMOs, as an imperialist phenomenon, are intended to as it were generate a second globe for the corporate rampage.]
 
This leads us to a broader vision of the organic. I’ll just mention a few examples.
 
1. Time banking has to be seeking the holism of a system free of money. Time banks must be envisioned as seeds of a thriving forest, not as potted flowers to be put out in the harsh cold of the command money economy.
 
So organic time banking and organic co-production, since it can’t sit still amid this harsh environment, must be on a vector away from and against it. For example, anywhere there’s a time bank and an Occupy action, these must seek to complement one another. If there’s no local/regional Occupy, the time bank should try to help get one going.
 
2. I’ve written before about how the commons is an organic thing which depends upon its environment, and the basic intellectual fraud of plunking the concept in the midst of a predatory, mercenary world, as in the Big Lie of the “tragedy of the commons”.
 
Just as it proves nothing about the inherent sustainability of a commons where an artificially dominant corporatism assaults and destroys it, so anyone who wants to uphold and reclaim the commons must necessarily fight to eradicate corporatism, as the two are mutually exclusive. One or the other must perish completely.
 
3. In the modern world, the individual is ripped out of all context, atomized, dissolved within a mass, but is still called a “citizen”. He’s even lectured by the system about his “free will” and moral agency. But in truth an organic citizen must be a full political and economic participant, fully active and self-directing within the network of community relations and vectors, enjoying the full benefit of her labor and her political sovereignty. 
 
David Graeber wrote extensively about this in his book Debt. This is part of how money systems were first imposed on what were previously organic economies. As I wrote here:
 

First, and for the vast majority of humanity’s natural history, organic communities based themselves upon close social networks, moral relations, and the sense of community obligation, including in transactions among individual community members.

Then, nascent elites, previously basing their power on direct violence and plunder, saw how they could accelerate class stratification and magnify their power by sublimating this violence by formalizing exchange and debt. To do this, they came up with money, and began measuring transactions and recording debts based upon it.

 
Similarly, Hobbes took the modern “civilized” individual, i.e. one domesticated into fear and mercenary greed, pictured this monster in the absence of the overawing state power, how “nasty and brutish” such persons would be under those circumstances, and then fraudulently called this the state of nature, when in fact such an atomized, distorted hominid has nothing whatsoever in common with an organic human being living within a natural economy. This fraud is at the core of the bogus “competition” ideology, which is in fact 100% artificial, and indeed requires massive propaganda, bribery, threats, fear, and violence, in order for it to make any headway against our natural humanity at all. In nature, organic human beings are cooperative.
 
(This is another reason the organic is mutually exclusive with corporatism, capitalism, all fetishes of competition.) 
 
4. Voting within electoralism, even if you admire it, could make sense only within the holism of an active, self-educating, fully informed, participatory, vigilant citizenry. This was a core principle of the first stage of the American Revolution.
 
But to render the individual passive, ignorant, benighted (including by systematic top-down secrecy on the part of government and corporations), “participating” only on election day, and otherwise conformist and asleep, is to render him the political equivalent of a passive consumer. The voting ideology and consumerism go hand in hand. They are identical in concept, intention, and effect.
 
This lays bare the fraud of calling the members of neoliberal systems “citizens”. The term organic citizen would be redundant, while to call the atomized, passive individual a “citizen” because he technically has and sometimes exercises the franchise, is a typical lie of liberals and conservatives. This is one of the many ways they join to conspire against democracy and humanity, and on behalf of corporatism.
 
5. There’s lots of policy ideas like MMT, the VAT, renewable energy subsidies, cap and trade, which could in theory be constructive within a holistic reform environment, if such a thing were still possible. As parts of a vast and vigorous reform front these could be good ideas.
 
But for any of these, you can’t wrench it out of all context, synthesize a version to be enacted within a corporatized environment, and expect it to be anything but another extractive scam in practice. (During the “debate” over the health racket bailout, professional liars like Krugman liked to compare Obamacare to structures in Switzerland and the Netherlands. As if there can be any comparison between structures which gradually developed in welfare state environments, and tossing the same thing into a gangland shooting gallery, which is what Obama has done.)
 
This is true of most aspects of “progressive” prescriptions. They’re non-holistic, and therefore fruitless at best, more often fraudulent and collaborationist.
 
6. In the end, every kind of reformism is a version of the same mentality which would take apart a natural whole food, dismantle it into a few of its identifiable discrete nutrients, declare it to be the sum of these, and proceed to synthesize each, toward a regime of processed, enriched, fortified, synthetic “food”.
 
The result is corporate enclosure, malnutrition, obesity, toxification, disease, impoverishment, starvation, and death.
 
The same is true of the entire economic and political realm. It’s true of society itself. We need a truly organic polity, an organic economy, an organic society.
 
 

August 21, 2011

Democracy vs. Consumerism, Movement vs. Movement

Filed under: American Revolution, Corporatism, Mainstream Media, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 2:54 am

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It’s dubious that kleptocracy can muster large-scale physical support on anything other than a mercenary basis. This is one of the structural weaknesses of aggressively destroying all forms of social cohesion while propounding a viciously materialistic and mercenary ideology. Even those subjectively sympathetic to the system, the indelibly authoritarian dregs among any populace, will likely remain a rabble under any circumstances, even if someone tried to organize them along classically fascist lines. That’s part of why I don’t think the kleptocracy will be able to muster the affirmative idealism of a mass movement on its behalf, but will just have to rely on physical strength and divide and conquer, for as long as it can.
 
But I wonder if consumerism itself by now comprises the passive equivalent of a movement consciousness? If we look at the traits of a movement Eric Hoffer describes, in The True Believer, we can see how many of them apply.
 
Consumerism uses many forms of propaganda, from “home ownership” to the mythology of capitalism itself, to try to generate a collective identification. Its specific propaganda forms (advertising) provide unlimited ways for the cloddish consumer to cast himself in some fantasy role. Its ideology of debt (and particularly running up debt for the sake of worthless luxuries like ever bigger TV sets and dubious career accouterments like a college degree) may seem to exalt the present over the future, but in a deeper way it deprecates the present in favor of a mythologized future by playing to the fraud that someday we’re going to be rich. (Not, of course, everyone. But me, I’m going to be rich.) Consumer debtism draws from and helps perpetuate the same delusion which causes victims of corporatism to still identify with it and fail to resist it – because they hope/”expect” to someday be one of the bigshots themselves.
 
Consumerism is based on many Big Lies, for example that it’s physically sustainable and morally defensible. The trickle-down lie operates on two levels. It tells us that as passive consumers and periodic “voters” we’re actually more empowered than we’d be as active producers and citizens. And it tells us that those from whom we steal (to the extent we’re middle class Western consumers), at home and around the world, somehow also benefit from this robbery, or at least that in the end they too will all achieve the middle class blessing we now know. At any rate, doctrine tells us that this order of things is an immutable law of nature, that there’s no alternative, that however busted our hand seems to get, and however much it may look like even our own middle class status is being liquidated, we have no choice or desire but to double down on that busted hand.
 
Does consumerism arouse fanaticism? What are examples of a blurring of the lines between brand identification (such as the bizarre willingness and desire to be a walking corporate logo and even pay for the privilege) and quasi-nationalistic fervor? Being a sports fan is one. Soccer hooligans are just an extreme example of fandom. What does it means to be a passive yet fervent “fan” of something where one doesn’t also participate in the activity on a significant level? This is a form of fanaticism, however picayune.
 
While consumerism may not directly generate hatred of others, it mobilizes vast elements of shallow disdain. From my TV-watching days years ago (I’d bet things are even worse today) I remember how strongly it struck me how much advertising involved oneupmanship and using one’s consumerist prowess to be “better than” others, rather than buying something because it was actually good in itself. The appeal was very often not to potential happiness, but to a combination of contempt (for those who lacked the good/service) and fear (lest you remain one of those losers). This, of course, also reinforces conformity to system imperatives, particularly those involving getting a “job” and maximizing money-making. How much consumerism encourages us to imitate others, to imitate the mass, in particular to imitate elites, is too obvious to need further comment.
 
So there’s a brief sketch of consumerism as forming a loose, not formally hierarchical, movement structure. If this depiction is accurate, then it follows that this movement and its propaganda structure can be overcome only by a more potent idea and movement framework. This is another reason relocalization cannot triumph as nothing more than an improvised rhizomatic spontaneity, but why it will also need an overarching message and structure. (Of course, I don’t mean top-down hierarchy. I mean a real federalism. I briefly described part of what I mean in numbers 6-8 of my Basic Movement Strategy.)
 
So we need to seek answers to such questions as: Does advertising appeal to those who are basically frustrated? As a substitute for something real in modern life, everything the corporate system lacks and destroys? A democratic movement could fill this void.
 
If it’s true that propaganda in itself doesn’t have a deep, lasting effect, but must be backed up by coercion and fear, then does it follow that the consumerist propaganda will wear off as the pseudo-middle class continues to be liquidated? (That is, will kleptocracy be able to deploy the amount of direct coercion necessary to force continued belief in the propaganda, or will it continue with its largely inertial economic assault, thereby leaving the propaganda on its own and therefore unable to sustain itself? We already saw the many ways in which kleptocracy fails to look to its own base, and indeed liquidates it.) On the other hand, is the fact that the system is starting to attempt to impose forced markets (the classical example thus far being the health racket Stamp mandate) a sign that it’s losing confidence in its ability to continue to get people to believe its propaganda? This is certainly an attempt to back up propaganda with coercion.
 
We also see how advertising/propaganda has become far more aggressive (in quantity and quality) as the system has shifted from “normal” corporatism (largely accepted by the people, often passively welcomed) to neoliberalism (without exception rejected wherever the people understood it or intuitively sensed what it was; never once has even representative pseudo-democracy voted for neoliberalism over any other option).
 
Most important of all, how does a democratic relocalization counteract and overcome the consumerist mindset? The appeal must be on the political and spiritual level. These are certainly strong points for us if we can get a hearing in the first place, though we start from such a disadvantaged position. Here as in everything else, we face a long struggle and lots of hard work. We can search for the magic message which will help us reach the tipping point, but in the meantime we simply have to try everything, probe everywhere, and wherever something is working, double and redouble our efforts at that point. Only this active idea and force of an idea shall break though the obscurity of the passive darkness which enfold us, to the affirmative light.

November 16, 2010

Reversing the Polarities: The First Amendment and Commercial Speech

 

I was rereading the FCC’s “Third Way” proposal. (Why? I don’t know. The thing’s dead as the dodo, unless somehow Republican overreaching in the Congress to totally gut net neutrality inspires a surge of public outrage.) I thought I was wasting minutes of my life I’ll never get back, when this verbiage caught my eye:
 

Working to preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet through high-level rules of the road to safeguard consumers’ right to connect with whomever they want; speak freely online; access the lawful products and services of their choice; and safeguard the Internet’s boundless promise as a platform for innovation and communication to improve our education and health care, and help deliver a clean energy future.

 
I hadn’t really noticed at first, but looking back over the preceding lines I saw how the word “consumer” is littered all over the brief.
 
Now, maybe one shouldn’t read much into a political suck-up document by itself, but in fact the disparagement of the citizen in favor of the consumer is practically universal by now. The reason this example seemed interesting was because it’s a good example of how free speech as well is being redefined in “consumerist” terms, which is one manifestation of its being redefined in corporatist terms. Whether or not the FCC cares about freedom of political speech on the Interent (there is a brief mention elsewhere of “expressing opinions”), it clearly believes the most important speech interaction is commercial in nature.
 
This is implicitly a complete reversal of polarities. Historically, the First Amendment applied to political speech most of all. Implicitly, other kinds of speech were less important, while at the opposite end of the spectrum purely commercial speech was subject to the most regulation. Today we see how political speech is the speech most under assault, while Citizens United is the prime example of a SCOTUS surge to empower purely commercial speech as pseudo-political. We’re now in the midst of a complete inversion of these priorities. It’s a prime example of how politics itself is under assault by a corporatized anti-politics.
 
Consider the logic of Citizens United:
 
1. The SCOTUS enshrines “free speech”, including the right to make campaign donations, to “corporate persons.”
 
2. As the corporate apologists never get sick of saying, in principle a corporation is responsible only to the shareholders. Its one and only responsibility and prerogative is profit.
 
3. So by definition a corporation does not and should not function as a citizen. It functions only as a commercial entity.
 
4. So how can you call for free speech for a corporation unless you’re calling for the First Amendment to apply to exclusively commercial speech? Doesn’t this mean that all regulation of commercial speech – truth-in-labeling regs, terminological restrictions, nutrition listing, required warnings and disclaimers, any limits whatsoever on advertising – are implicitly void? Shouldn’t the tobacco companies fire up the old ad campaigns selling to children, claiming cigarette smoking is good for your health?
 
Implicitly, according to CU, the government can’t legitimately restrict it. Nobody can say, “CU was about political speech only”, because by definition a corporation cannot engage in political speech, only commercial speech. How can a corporation donate to a candidate other than as a bribe? Wouldn’t it be in breach of its duty to the shareholders if it donated on any other basis?

March 3, 2010

Liberal Teabaggers and “Process”, vs. New Action

Filed under: Corporatism, Reformism Can't Work, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 6:31 am

 

The hardest thing is to figure out how to get started organizing against the machine and for new American communities. Everyone who hasn’t sold out agrees we need a new politics to replace the politics which was corrupted. The big risk is that any new idea quickly becomes co-opted and Astroturfed.
 
I think a basic measure of how conscious people are is to what extent they still expect reform of the existing system. This is clearly impossible.
 
That’s the first question I ask whenever I hear a new term like the Coffee Party. Do people recognize that only we can redeem ourselves, starting from seed, or do they still dream of a dispensation from on high?
 
And so, the Coffee Party –  what is it? Even they have no idea. They say they’re going to have a democratic symposium to decide what they believe. (This is the answer at their FAQ, “Will we have a platform?”) That sounds like the firm basis for a passionate movement. We’re gonna fight hard for something, but for what we haven’t decided yet.
 
(There’s an old Peanuts where Linus is standing there with his hair dishevelled and eyes bugging out of his head. He says, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a fanatic!” Charlie Brown asks him, What are you going to be fanatical about? “I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll just be a wishy-washy kind of fanatic.”)
 
“It’s clear the Coffee Party activists are trying hard to define themselves as something other than a Tea Party for liberals.”
 
That’s evident. Real movements start with core principles, prescriptions which are mostly vague (because at the initial state of political weakness it’s tactically stupid to tie your hands with too many specifics), and fire.
 
But these people start with nothing but tepid vagueness and expect to synthesize fire out of principles and prescriptions to be clinically derived through some “process”. Always process with these people. It’s a substitute for action. It’s clear what’s really going on here – we have process freaks dissatisfied with existing processes, so they’re using the notion of movement building as the pretext to invent a process through which they can put themselves.
 
Sure enough, the leaders are mostly Obama cadres and other establishment Democrats:
 

Annabel Park, a former organizer for Jim Webb and, more recently, with Asians for Obama, channeled candidate Obama when explaining her philosophy: “We are all Americans. We should not divide ourselves over differences of opinion. We need to be one community. Our democracy is what unites us as a people.”

According to Park, one of the “key differences” between the Tea Partiers and the Coffee Partiers is “our emphasis on the democratic process, on respectful and civil engagement with one another and with our elected officials.”

 
It’s also clear that they’re dedicated to the obstruction of class consciousness. That is, of an accurate understanding of what’s happening in America. What are the crimes, who are the criminals, how they’re doing it. Of course – because Obama himself is one of the arch-criminals.
 
This is an Astroturf, and to the extent that rank and file progressives still let themselves be rounded up for the Democratic Party like this, they are indeed liberal teabaggers.
 
(By contrast, if I were starting an organization, I’d start by proclaiming our positive principle is relocalization, and our negative principle is anti-corporatism. Everything else flows strategically and tactically from those two principles. The measure of everything else is its utility. No prejudices. So, for example, if the question was, “do we draw up a platform”, the answer would be, sure, people like to read platforms, so we’ll draw up a platform, not that it really means much. But it could be useful.
 
It wouldn’t be, hmm, a platform, a process to figure out what we believe? Great! We’ll get to vote on stuff! And that’s really what we’re here to do. Process!
 
A true fighting organization would have two principles, and we wouldn’t be voting on those. I’d say, “Is this your fight? Then this is the place.”)
 
So that Coffeebeaner quote I gave above makes it clear that they’re still dreaming of system reform and redemption of the Democrats. But as I said, a basic measure of maturity is recognition that there will never again be any constructive action at the federal level, legislative or otherwise, out of this system. Any major new legislation can only make things worse, so optimally there would never again be a major new bill passed
 
That’s why the best we can hope for is gridlock. That’s why, for example, we should be glad the filibuster exists.
 
(Here’s an issue where the process mentality often rears its head. You’ll see those who are passionate about getting rid of the filibuster, not because they think we’ll get better laws that way, but because it’s not good “democratic process” as they learned it in civics class.
 
They refuse to understand that we no longer have democracy. Not under this system. To still pretend we do only makes one another dreamer laboring under the burden of ideals and constraints no one else, and certainly not the enemy, recognizes anymore. It’s part of fighting with one or both hands tied behind your back, which seems to be the norm with “progressives.”
 
If we want to recover democracy, we have to start all over, from the soil. The primal election, however, is the one occurring existentially, as we speak, as people choose their sides of the battle line.
 
The existing system is simply a free-fire zone.
 
So those who still fetishize the trappings of centralized democracy are just tools of what Wolin called inverted totalitarianism, creeping corporate tyranny embellished with a pseudo-democratic facade. It’s vapid “process”-worship.)
 
So our activism has to be from the bottom up. Individualistic and then community-oriented. We can envision a progress from individual preparation, getting out of debt and renouncing consumerism on the individual and family levels, acting upon initiatives like Move Your Money; from there to community activism, with the overall goal always political, social, and economic relocalization. Economic relocalization is the real anchor, the hardest to achieve, but the great project for relocalizing political and social activism.
 
And then from that foundation perhaps broader syndicalist communication (like the old revolutionary Committees of Correspondence) and coordination toward regional and perhaps state level action, and specialized national initiatives.
 
I only listed those by level of organization, though chronologically some or all could be pursued at once, however things play out. As always the two principles and the great project constitute the firmament, while all strategy and tactics are flexible.
 
(The goal of individual preparation made me wonder, is it doomed to fecklessness the way telling people to change light bulbs as a serious measure vs. carbon emissions was? The difference is that such stuff is doomed to fail if you expect it to help achieve broad system reform. Reform can only happen if the elites at the top have a change of heart, and that’s not going to happen.
 
Anyway, the consumer, so long as he felt economically intact, was never going to do more than tweak his lifestyle. He was never going to undergo, en masse, the structural change necessary to really reduce greenhouse gases. Only now that the middle class is being socioeconomically liquidated is there any chance of that.
 
Ironically, this may finally give them the chance to take some control of their destiny amid the storm and travail by making a virtue of necessity and renouncing consumerism. Is this more likely than that they’ll hunker in the bunker, dig in teabagger style, the-American-way-of-life-is-not-negotiable style? Probably not. But issuing the call is worth a try.
 
But where individual action is freedom-oriented, seeking to build self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-respect, with zero system expectation, but with the goal of rebuilding community on such a locally sustainable basis, it’s the best thing we can do. Even changing light bulbs is good from that point of view, as a detail of the big picture: using less electricity in general, and relocalizing generation of the electricity we do use. Every detail can be one detail of a radical transformation toward freedom.)

November 9, 2009

Bank Roundup 11/9

1. The week’s most important story was every week’s most important story, the jobs front. The new federal report was devastating:
 

With the release of the jobs report on Friday, the broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment tracked by the Labor Department has reached its highest level in decades. If statistics went back so far, the measure would almost certainly be at its highest level since the Great Depression.

In all, more than one out of every six workers — 17.5 percent — were unemployed or underemployed in October. The previous recorded high was 17.1 percent, in December 1982.

This includes the officially unemployed, who have looked for work in the last four weeks. It also includes discouraged workers, who have looked in the past year, as well as millions of part-time workers who want to be working full time.

The official jobless rate — 10.2 percent in October, up from 9.8 percent in September — remains lower than the early 1980s peak of 10.8 percent.

 
The failure of the banks and the bailouts is manifest, absolute. No one’s even trying to argue that things could be worse if we hadn’t wasted all our resources, shot our last bolt, to bail out a handful of high-rolling gamblers instead of using that money for direct stimulus at the pyramid’s base, Main Street.
 
We don’t need the big banks. We never did. We didn’t need to bail them out. We’d be vastly better off if we hadn’t. 
 
Think of what $24 trillion worth of direct investment in America could have accomplished, instead of throwing it away to prop up the insolvent rackets. No greater crime has ever been committed in American history.
 
Meanwhile, in Europe they’re coming to realize that we don’t “need” these big bank structures for anything. RBS, Lloyd’s, and Northern Rock are all being forced to divest chunks of themselves as the price of their bailouts.
 
It’s not anywhere near perfect, but it’s a meaningful start. It shows governments which aren’t completely corrupt, and an ability to learn from experience. Both are clearly dead in America.
 
2. Instead, America continues to burn itself alive. After all we’ve been through, what’s the overriding impetus in Congress? Not to enact reform, but to gut what little regulation does exist.
 
The target this week was the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reform law.
 

Sarbanes-Oxley was passed, almost unanimously, by a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate. Now a Democratic Congress is gutting it with the apparent approval of the Obama administration.

The House Financial Services Committee this week approved an amendment to the Investor Protection Act of 2009 — a name George Orwell would appreciate — to allow most companies to never comply with the law, and mandating a study to see whether it would be a good idea to exempt additional ones as well.

 
By today’s standards the enactment of S-B sounds nothing short of miraculous. Passed by a large bipartisan majority just five weeks after the Worldcom scandal broke, today it sounds like the Simpsons episode where Lisa’s letter of disillusionment ends up getting her corrupt Congressman stung, arrested, indicted, and expelled from Congress all on the same day.
 
They’re going to exempt all companies worth less than $75 million and mandate a “study” to justify exempting those under $250 million. The fraudulent pretext is that reality-based accounting is too onerous for “smaller” firms, when in fact by now everyone is used to it and has no problem with it other than that it forbids them to lie.
 
The hostility of Congressional Dems to responsible accounting standards is epidemic. These are the same criminals who forced the FASB to gut mark-to-market and replace it with the so-called “mark-to-management” fantasy-based measure.
 
 
Another failure of the rule of law was reported by the NYT’s Gretchen Morgenson on Sunday, as she described how the holders of auction-rate securities have been left unable to redeem them as the vaunted “auctions” failed early in 2008.
 
Towns, student loan racketeers, tax-exempt structures like hospitals, and others issued these securities, whose interest rates were supposed to be set by weekly auctions, where the securities would be bought and sold.
 
Now that the music stopped, the auctions failed, and the end holders were left stuck with garbage paper, they’ve been trying to sue the brokers. But except in a few states who take regulation seriously, they’ve gotten nowhere.
 
This is because of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (a gift of the Clinton/Emanuel NAFTA policy). This “law” sets up a Catch-22 whereby in order to have standing to sue certain kinds of finance sector con-men, you have to demonstrate a priori the specific information you can usually obtain only during discovery at trial. It’s a legal trick to place certain crimes beyond the reach of the law. Worthy of Kafka.
 
The law is working the way the Republicans and Democrats intend it to work. So far 23 class action suits over these auction rate securities have been dismissed. In fact, complainants are having better success in the privatized arbitration system set up by the industry itself.
 
 
Finally, as another contrast between the semi-serious Europeans and the childish/psychotic Americans, at the recent G-20 conference in Scotland Gordon Brown suggested some kind of Tobin tax to insure against systemic crashes. Geithner at first strongly objected, eventually grumbling that he wanted to wait for the IMF’s recommendations due next Spring.
 
Hey, don’t be too hasty. No hurry.
 
3. Floyd Norris called it “the worst idea of 2009.” Indeed, it was so bad an idea that even the Treasury Dept rejected it. But it was typical for the bank rackets.
 
This typical idea was that Goldman Sachs would buy tax credits from Fannie Mae at a discount. Because FNM is an utter ward of the state, it doesn’t have even the potemkin profits which could enable it to use a tax credit.
 
But Goldman does have these phony profits (all of it from speculation and manipulation using free Fed money), so it wanted to screw its taxpayer benefactor again by buying the credits. The obnoxious justification from the taxpayer point of view was supposed to be that this would help Fannie’s balance sheet.
 
But since they’d pay a discount and then redeem the full value of the credit, the transaction would constitute a loss to the taxpayer. That’s typical bank gratitude for you. As I said, even Treasury was too embarrassed to allow this. (BTW, cuddly supposed non-bad guy Warren Buffett also wanted in on this scam.)
 
(As Norris points out, the existence of this tax credit is also an example of how alleged capitalist “efficiency” is really corporatist looting and political cowardice. The point is to stimulate investment in low-income mortgages. It would be much cheaper for the government to directly subsidize this goal. But using rentier middlemen allows some loot to be stripped and absolves the government of having to make an “expenditure”, thereby avoiding some of the political hassle from the anti-spending shriekers, who are really only concerned about conveying the loot. The leaseback scheme I wrote about last week, which is now blowing up, is another example.
 
Here you see examples of how structurally based policy and reform is not only morally sound but pragmatically less expensive and more effective. The same principle applies at every level, especially the biggest and broadest.)
 
Goldman cut quite a figure in the media this week. The McClatchy stories detailed how Goldman systematically sold securities it was betting against at the same time.
 

In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.
Goldman’s sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation’s premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies.

Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.

Now, pension funds, insurance companies, labor unions and foreign financial institutions that bought those dicey mortgage securities are facing large losses, and a five-month McClatchy investigation has found that Goldman’s failure to disclose that it made secret, exotic bets on an imminent housing crash may have violated securities laws…….

McClatchy’s inquiry found that Goldman Sachs:

Bought and converted into high-yield bonds tens of thousands of mortgages from subprime lenders that became the subjects of FBI investigations into whether they’d misled borrowers or exaggerated applicants’ incomes to justify making hefty loans.

Used offshore tax havens to shuffle its mortgage-backed securities to institutions worldwide, including European and Asian banks, often in secret deals run through the Cayman Islands, a British territory in the Caribbean that companies use to bypass U.S. disclosure requirements.

Has dispatched lawyers across the country to repossess homes from bankrupt or financially struggling individuals, many of whom lacked sufficient credit or income but got subprime mortgages anyway because Wall Street made it easy for them to qualify.

Was buoyed last fall by key federal bailout decisions, at least two of which involved then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman chief executive whose staff at Treasury included several other Goldman alumni.

 
They bought the mortgages from predatory lenders, securitized them, moved them around to evade the law, aggressively foreclosed on the hapless victim borrowers, got a customized bailout (Lehman allowed to fail; cushy all-upside bank holding company status (where they were never held to the restrictions); a direct $12.9 billion giveaway laundered through AIG), $23 billion altogether in bailouts, heading past $50 billion in 09 revenue, $20 billion for “bonuses”, and God is specifically on their side. Pretty good.
 
No wonder they lost money only one day in Q3, and only twice in Q2. (God must’ve been having a bad day.)
 
The McClatchy piece includes plenty of debate on the legalities of Goldman’s securitization scam. It just goes to show how corrupt the law is. Any normal person would look at this and immediately agree with economist Laurence Kotlikoff, “This is fraud and should be prosecuted.”
 
4. As always, there were plenty of antics that transcended normal rent-seeking and reached the level of derangement, as these criminals lose all sense of restraint even for the sake of political show. I already discussed some of them here.
 
One new outrage was how Goldman, JPM, Citi and others were blessed with allotments of the scarce H1N1 vaccine.
 
As Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith put it:
 

It should come as no surprise that those at the top of the food chain get preferential treatment on all levels. But this still stinks to high heaven. Employees of the Goldman, the Fed, Citigroup, and other banks are getting H1N1 vaccine allotments out of proportion to what can be justified from a public health standpoint. In particular, Goldman has gotten more than Lenox HIll hospital, which needs it not just for the sick but more important, for workers (not only does the public need to keep front-line health care workers in as good shape as possible, but if they get the infection, they become disease vectors fast, given the number of people they see).

 
Healthcare workers are supposed to dispense these only according to CDC guidelines for high-risk groups. But it’s absurd on its face to think these rentiers won’t, if they think it helpful, expropriate these allotments the same way they do every other resource. That’s what they do, period. You cannot regulate them.
 
Of course, private corporations should never be dispensation nodes for a vaccine. Even now there are plenty of public nodes available. So clearly the only reason to do this was to politically satisfy the likes of Goldman.
 
(Besides, if you were really going to use a company in good faith, wouldn’t you repose the allotments at a factory or some other place where real American workers could benefit from it, rather than the utterly worthless, utterly expendable parasites at Goldman?)
 
5. Is there any there there for the real economy regarding the stock market’s rally? Not according to a new post by George Washington. He comments on a Daniel Gross Slate piece which finds that the domestic fundamentals don’t justify the stock surge. Domestic consumption and revenues are down.
 
Instead, multinationals headquartered in America are collecting the bulk of their profit overseas. The Dow, the NASDAQ, the SP 500, are weighted toward big globalized corporations, not Main Street. They’ve saturated the domestic market; in recent years “growth” has been overseas. So the stock market could be a good Main St indicator only via trickle-down.
 
Gross: “It could be that the notion the stock market is an accurate gauge of the domestic economy’s temperature is outdated”.
 
Yes – the market rally is a Big Lie. The discrepancy is yet more proof for the already-proven fact that globalization does not benefit America.
 
It was always a bald lie that it would benefit American workers, and as we’ve seen in recent years its alleged benefit to “consumers” was also illusory. The American consumer was a construct of debt. Now that exponential debt has collapsed, this consumer has blown away in the wind.
 
(Walmartization was always conceptually incoherent when it claimed you could smash the worker yet still keep the same person as a healthy consumer. For some incomprehensible reason a lot of otherwise intelligent people tried to believe this manifest impossibility.)
 
The globalization scam was never anything but another form of the trickle-down scam. Yet even liberal economists mostly blathered about how it was “good for the economy”.
 
But all this ever proved is that there’s no such thing as the economy. Cui bono.
 
6. To wrap up with something stupid from MSMland. This NYT article describes the cultural reaction in the finance and business world to the recent insider trading busts.
 
But instead of taking the tone that if the law is being enforced then criminals better stop committing crimes or at least be more careful, the piece basically depicts them as decent people now caught up in a Kafkaesque labyrinth.
 

For executives in these two worlds, passing along information and gossip is a way of life and a necessity for business. But many executives have begun watching their words in recent weeks. Authorities who sounded an alarm for corporate America now publicize their use of tools like wiretaps and confidential informants once reserved for mob kingpins. That has given even simple conversations a maddening new complexity….

Nathan J. Muyskens, a government enforcement lawyer at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, said that clients had been asking him if they should send companywide e-mail messages reminding people not to say anything questionable, even a joke, on the phone. He said he told them they should…..

“I’ve heard that there have certainly been memos going out: ‘Think of the phone just as you think of your e-mail these days,’ ” he said. “We always say, ‘Think of that e-mail as being on the front page of The New York Times before you hit the send button,’ and now it’s exactly the same for the phone.”…..

Mike Kwatinetz, a former Wall Street technology analyst and now a venture capitalist at Azure Capital Partners, said that when a company recently considered going public, he scheduled sessions with lawyers to train the board and executives about what they could and could not say.

Many venture capitalists have told him that when one of their portfolio companies goes public, they immediately resign from the board because they are worried about the legal ramifications of serving on the board of a public company…..

This newfound caution may continue for some time.

“At least for a few years, when operating executives are having dinner with friends and lovers who work in hedge funds, they’re going to be way more careful about what they say,” Mr. Marks said.

 
No:
 
1. If the law is being enforced at all it’s only because their criminality knows no bounds.
 
2. If they don’t like it, tell them to stop being leeches and get real jobs. 

August 27, 2009

Physical and Moral Cornucopians

Peak Oilers and core environmentalists recognize the debt/growth economic model as physically unsustainable, while social reformers recognize it as spiritually and morally malevolent. There’s a lot of overlap among these groups.
 
But also overlapping is our mirror obverse, physical and moral cornucopianism. These are the faith-based people who reject resource limitation, believe growth can be infinite and benign, and think even wealth concentration can lift all boats.
 
We can split these into two broad groups, the green cornucopians (mainstream environmentalists and renewable/alternative energy and “efficiency” evangelists), who believe in physical boundlessness, and the economic liberals who believe in the taming and benevolence of growth and wealth. As I said there’s much overlap among these two as well.
 
In a nutshell greens think the problems of civilization can be solved through being more eco-friendly and energy-efficient about our growth, our wealth accumulation, and our consumerism.
 
Further (and endless) exponential growth is to be accomplished through an alternative energy transformation.
 
Wind, CSP, solar PV, smart grids, and far more efficient use of electricity will continue to power civilization at something near its current level.
 
2nd, 3rd, 4th generation biofuels will allow us to continue driving our cars the way we have been (and allow the rest of the globe to hit the road as well).
 
These cars will be PHEVs and EVs.
 
Meanwhile new technology will render vestigial fossil fuel extraction and burning far less carbon intensive.
 
New technology will everywhere render us ever more energy efficient and less emissive. 
 
(In every one of these it’s assumed that new technology will forever come along to continue the process.)
 
Meanwhile corporations will happily join the environmental and energy crusade. All stages of manufacturing and distribution will be ecologically and efficiently rationalized so that consumerism can continue unabated but in a green way.
 
This new infinite green consumerism will in turn economically power growth forever, which will in turn afford the investment to keep developing and deploying the eternally new green technology, which will in turn allow continued growth and consumerism without running up against resource or pollution limits, and so on.
 
Throughout, corporations will be more profitable than ever, the rich will get richer than ever, all boats will be lifted, everyone will be ecstatic, and this will all be done in a earth-friendly and resource efficient way.
 
Finally, any rump carbon issue which wasn’t cleared up by the genius of the green market and green technology will be mastered with a market-oriented mitigation policy, based on traded emissions permits and offsets. (If the caps look a little iffy, what with the offramps and safety valves, don’t worry. Given how wonderfully our market mechanism is going to function, those will never be triggered. They were only put in there for political show. And don’t worry about the anemic reduction goals. In our new green corporate utopia, we’re going to be mitigating so much carbon the plants won’t have enough to breathe.)
 
These permits and offsets, and derivatives from them, may blow up a finance bubble, but don’t worry. Unlike in previous Neanderthal economies, our new green economy will know how to control bubbles and prevent them from getting out of control. No more capitalist crises for us!
 
This is no doubt on account of our newfound moral virtue. For just as the greens think technology will save us from the environmental and energy crises and still allow the Tower Of Babel to keep rising higher, so liberals think there’s a way to morally redeem growth and superconcentration of wealth so that these continue even as all of society benefits and we achieve the end of poverty.
 
I won’t bother trying to hack my way through the tangle of liberal reform proposals which have somehow not worked for decades now, which years have seen only wages stagnate and decline, unionism clobbered, the safety net shredded, corporate power enhanced, and wealth ever more concentrated. You would think anyone who doesn’t like these things would’ve learned by now, but the Democrats’ version of corporate liberalism remains a popular ideology even as everyone deplores every development it has presided over.
 
The basic problem is the belief that growth, capitalist “innovation”, and wealth concentration are morally neutral or even inclined to be benevolent, except that mean old Mr. Potter perverts them from their right usages. Even a real philosopher like John Rawls still bases his otherwise excellent difference principle on this bad foundation (so we’ll let him stand in for the liberals).
 
(Even Marx believed in the intrinsic benevolence of growth and technology, objecting only to the capitalist mode of production.)
 
Rawls was willing to champion every aspect of capitalism and growth so long as it was done in a way which truly would lift all boats. (The difference principle means in theory that the measure of any policy must be whether or not it even slightly betters the condition of the poorest. Excellent principle with insuperable practical difficulties given the industrial premise.) In the end it’s another version of trickle-down, but which would use taxation and other government mechanisms to cause the trickling.
 
But we know that trickle-down does not work, both systemically and morally. Capitalism simply does not create enough constructive investment opportunities for bloated wealth to find a way to trickle down. That’s why wherever it accumulates this wealth always blows up bubbles instead. And even if such investment opportunities could be found, they’re not as profitable as rent-seeking through asset bubbles, so the entrenched wealth structure acts aggressively to defend its rentier prerogatives.
 
We know that throughout history, from all large ancient civilizations through today, concentrated wealth is used as a weapon to further concentrate itself. Even where a society has a real economy and generates real wealth, concentrated wealth invariably seeks to concentrate further at a rate greater than wealth is created.
 
So wherever a society seeks to grow economically, we have an eternal zero-sum game, where if the public isn’t gaining it is losing.
 
The American people have been losing now for forty years.
 
So the cornucopians are just as wrong about the progressive possibilities of continued growth as they were about its physical possibilities.
 
The only way to help the poor, and seek the public interest, is to distribute wealth the right way in the first place, not to let it concentrate and then expect it to “trickle down”.
 
(In a subsequent post I’ll explain why this would not be harmful to innovation.) 

May 6, 2009

The “Platform”

Filed under: Nietzsche, Peak Oil, Relocalization — Tags: , , , , — Russell Bangs @ 8:43 am
Peak Oil means different things to different people. Those who affirm global technological civilization approach it as a mere problem this civilization must and can solve. This dovetails with the green cornucopian approach to carbon emissions. In both cases it’s believed mass conspicuous consumption and intense energy use can and should continue; we’ll just be more “efficient” and eco-friendly about it. Thus they envision some combination of biofuels, PHEVs, CCS, renewable energy, efficiency retrofits, geoengineering, and GMOs which will allow the continuation of the personal car/suburban sprawl/consumerist model for existing. (Though even where they can work out the energy flows and conjure the food production on paper, they have considerable trouble telling us where the oil platform, capital, water, or space will come from for all this.)
 
For them, Peak Oil does not represent any pivotal historical change, but is more of an obstacle to continued progress, perhaps just a speed bump.
 
Then there are those of us who are either skeptical about mass civilization itself or have come to believe it is no longer sustainable. For us, Peak Oil signifies the fact, regarded with hope or fear or both, of revolutionary change. It is the physio-economic guarantor of the end of a stage of history, and it is the classical cycling back of history, restored to a more natural course, where not amplified, accelerated, and distorted by the steroids of fossil fuels.
 
Those of us who experienced this “history on steroids” as having been for the worst, decadent and malign, destructive of earth, mind, and soul, can welcome this break with the near-past and hope for the restoration of a more human path, perhaps more holistic than prior to the fossil fuel blip, if we can bring along the bitter wisdom we should have learned from this crazed detour.
 
So we can say “Peak Oil” can be the term not just for a physical milestone in a discrete historical cycle, but to encompass the high-flying pinnacle of modernity, where it reached its peaks of both dream and nightmare, where its delusion completely outran its material base, as well as whatever rational base it may ever have had; and where its wave peaked, broke, and fell back upon itself; and where it sought to perpetuate itself but could only cannibalize itself, and where it descended, and where a new relocalized, but spiritually far more mature, civilization superseded it. Those last few items represent a possible future. (I would say the first, grimmer part is likely, the latter bright part is to be hoped for and worked toward.)
 
This leads to the question, if in philosophical terms fossil-fueled modern civilization, and the (delusional) dream of this civilization, is the existing thesis, and the dream’s nightmare, its spiritual, material and economic bankruptcy, as summed up in the philosophy of Peak Oil, comprise the antithesis, then what synthesis do we hope to achieve? What do we wish to take up and bring along from the ruins of the fossil fuel platform?
 
The core of Nietzsche’s vision of the modern dilemma and potential is that together religion and science have constructed the intellectual and spiritual platform from which man can achieve true liberation, truly reach “adulthood”, truly become free (including achieving a position above and independent of both religion and the cult of science, technology, “progress”). In that same philosophically fertile 19th century (all the real philosophical advances of modernity came in the 19th century; like in so many other areas, here too the 20th generated mostly gratuitous complexity, picayune specialization, intentional confusion – really the same old rent-seeking over productive activity) Marx and others demonstrated how industrialism and fossil fuels enabled the development of political ideals of liberty and self-actualization (which have unfortunately been degraded into license and entitlement).
 
So now with Peak Oil we may attempt to meld these visions. We must take wing and attempt to depart from the single platform which comprises the spiritual, political, and fossil-fueled material “platforms” of modernity. Some of these represent an accumulated wisdom we may try to take with us, others were ephemeral crutches we must cast away. But put together it is a place where we can no longer continue running in place.
 
We now cycle back to a simpler historical existence. Whether we are at the same time transcendent, whether we bring along something of what we should have learned, whether we above all learn to rise above our delusions and superstitions once and for all; or whether it was all for nothing, and energy descent does end up as a nasty, Hobbesian, “Mad Max” affair; or worst of all if it is just a slow deteriorating grind as several Peak Oilers think, if man is simply crushed in a vice for the rest of history, is the question.          
 
 
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