Annihilation

annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeer

How to begin with Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer? It’s science fiction, mixed with horror and dystopian undertones. Its an awesome psychological thriller, that despite having almost nothing obviously to do with our daily lives winds up feeling somehow very relevant – even important. It’s atmospheric, haunting: Lovecraft meets The Hunger Games.

Actually, what this book most closely follows is the basic ideas that Andrei Tarkovsky explored in Solaris, the 1972 Soviet science fiction masterpiece, and Stalker, the 1979 philosophical film which depicts a journey through a mysterious, magical land where there is a Room which grants each person’s most secret desire. Solaris tackles the idea of how would we, as individuals and as a society, deal with an object – or a something – that is beyond our understanding? Something that will simply not make sense in any way. It also depicts the idea of how our “sanity” is based deeply on society/and others. Stalker actually provided the basic inspiration (I’m guessing) for the Souther Reach Trilogy because of its overarching plot and context.

Vandermeer’s writing is excellent. This is really some of the most gripping writing of come across in a long time, definably in the “I can’t put this down” category. He’s a master at suspense; even as the reader gets more and more clues, the essential mystery remains – and even grows. He carefully picks words and phrases that manage to fuel different interpretations of the text. Is this a recounting of supernatural events? An encounter with extraterrestrials? A separate dimension or different world? An exploration of our own inner psyche? A dystopian parable about social and individual manipulation?  A meditation on the limits of science and human knowledge in the context of social norms?  Vandermeer expertly gives fuel to all above hypothesises.

I intend to get the other books in the trilogy – and watch Stalker – ASAP.

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Third Presidential Debate…America Lost, Again

The reality TV show that is our democracy staged another exciting episode last night. The only real takeaway was my experience trying to watch the debate live on YouTube, where the comment section was literally unintelligible with comments of “lying hillary” or “Trump is lying” coming so fast it was literally a blur. A “tweetstorm” is now the most substantive and genuine format political debate can take.

Let that sink in for a second. Pretty much all ground for a rational public debate is gone: all that remains is weird and rude emoticons and ephemeral caps-lock screaming in an online comment section. This morning, pursuing what the pundits are saying, it’s still more sad. “This was Trump’s best debate yet!” Why? Because this was the most substantive debate, and Trump kinda stuck to talking points. Somehow Trump’s garbled, debunked Republican ideas are still given a fair hearing. The bar is so low that I find almost all commentary on the debate to meaningless.

What is lost is any real sense of debate. What is lost is substance and the essence of a democracy: genuine, peaceful choice. This needs to be stressed.

Because this is where it gets weird: I’m watching a Pro-Trump attack ad on Hilary. The basic message is that Hilary, in government service for 30 years, has enriched Washington DC fat cats and America’s expense. “A Vote for Hilary is a vote for more of the Same.” “A vote for Trump is a vote for Change.” There is so much to unpack here. If we all understood the history and context and implication of these few lines, we would live in a much better society.

Who was President 30 years ago when things started to slide? Reagan. It’s Reagan and Republican neoliberal ideology which is destroying America’s middle class and enriching a handful of billionaires. Why do Americans feel disenfranchised? Because we are: studies show that the actual laws passed correspond to the needs of major corporations and are unresponsive to ‘middle class’ or rather non-billionare/corporate lobbying. Why is our political system awash in private money purchasing favours and policies? Look no further than Citizen’s United, another conservative/neoliberal pet project.

So all these Americans which are furious over “the past 30 years:” the disenfranchisement, the economic decline and stagnation are angry over the policies that Reagan laid down and where reinforced by successive Administrations – most notably Bill Clinton’s. I cannot be the only one who finds it fascinating that Trump is touting himself as the candidate of ‘change’? To use standard American parlance, Trump’s right-wing populism is essentially an anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal establishment standpoint; an inarticulate scream of rage against a system that has exploited them and left them behind.

What do you think about “Work-Life Balance”? This is the way we have to ‘code’ our anti-capitalist sentiments these days. Another one is “retail therapy:” what else could this be but an escape from the relentless laws of capitalist scarcity? So what we have in this country is a forbidden leftist/progressive political alternative. Most Trump voters -had they done some homework – would should have found themselves supporting Bernie Sanders. Yes, Trump is touting trickle-down economics and most of his followers will spout some version of it – usually something about a rich guy buying a boat – but what emotionally is driving the Trump phenomenon is alienation driven by neoliberal/Establishment policies.

So this is where I agree with the pro-Trump sentiment. I do agree that Clinton is an Establishment candidate and the Establishment has failed. But it goes much deeper than this. Next to Trump – easily the worst presidential candidate in history  – anyone and almost any policies look great. Isn’t it strange that a populist right-wing baffoon is this the only alternative to Establishment neoliberalism? Trump is the unwitting prop of the Establishment; so is right-wing politics in general. Their archaic, twisted policies can only function to displace criticism of the existing order. Why else would something so bad get so much airing? Their nonsense and our toleration of their nonsense simply legitimises The neoliberal Establishment.

Which brings me back to the debate. Despite Trump’s attempts to attack Hilary as the Establishment candidate, we the public where denied a genuine discussion over the past 30 years of neoliberal ideology. We are denied a debate about climate change and what to do about it. What escapes is any real examination of Hilary as a candidate, much less a genuine choice in this elelction.

 

A response to “Why I’m Voting for Donald Trump”

I want to start by saying that I am not writing this response to your post to argue; I have no intention of convincing you not to vote for Trump. I am writing in response to Kelly Quelette’s blog post on why she is voting for Donald Trump, despite the revelations of what we are all calling Pussygate. I want to share my perspective; I think that by sharing my response, we might both help America move forward. Here is the link to her full post: https://kellyquelette.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/why-im-voting-for-donald-trump/.

I’m not pro-Hillary. I’m voting for Jill Stein – Bernie Sanders was my candidate and I will never trust or respect the Democrats for fixing the primaries; for consistently picking their financial backers over the views of voters. So before any knee-jerk reactions to my politics sets in, let me make clear that I’m the guy who gets told “A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.” And while I understand the reasoning behind this remark, its actually quite insane to reason this way. A vote for Jill Stein is just that – a vote for Jill Stein.

You see, Kelly, in many ways I agree with you. I agree when you say: “And it’s sad that we even have to compare the two – because NEITHER is acceptable. But we as Americans have allowed our country to get to this point, and it’s because we stopped paying attention. And we have allowed ourselves to become a product of our media and others in power.” I think that the Media caters to the lowest common denominator and are interested only in maintaining viewership and access; these are businesses after all. The media and ‘the Establishment’ was systematically biased against Bernie Sanders; the primary was decided by the proverbial ‘smoke-filled backroom.’ The record shows that Hilary and the Democrats say one thing in public and promise – and deliver – something quite different to the various corporations and special interests they actually represent.

I’m sick of it; and I reject the false binary/choice of American politics – Coke or Pepsi, Prius or Hummer – that is killing our democracy and our way of life. I see the election as – to take one topic of debate as an example – between someone who promises to do something about the environment, but almost certainly won’t take any real action and someone who completely denies climate change, and then lies about blaming climate change on the Chinese. Either way, our society will fail to take substantial action on this frankly apocalyptic situation. Like you said, one of these two will be President. That’s the real tragedy.

In this vein, I did want to address some of the claims you make in your posting. On rape culture you insist that Hillary is more to blame; she has reduced the jail time of rapists, she “helped cover up the abuses done by her husband.” You allege that this is worse than Trump’s words and actions. There is a misunderstanding here based on the phrase “rape culture.” Rape culture does not refer so much to literal acts of rape, it refers to the set of social norms or standards which contribute to either excuse, ignore and/or blame the victim (i.e. she should not have dressed so provocatively; she should not have been drinking so much; she was asking for it) in cases of rape. Has Hillary reduced the jail time of rapists and has this contributed to rape culture? I do not think this is clear. But I would observe that the idea of rape culture indicates that we do a poor job of bringing rapists to trial and fully getting justice in the first place. Rape culture means that sexual harassment, misogyny and rape are not just deeply related, they are seen to be normal or acceptable to many people. And this is why Trumps comments contribute to rape culture; he attempts to normalize it. Saying Hillary has contributed more to rape culture is frankly ridiculous.

Next you make an interesting point about race in this country. Again, in many ways, I agree. Quote: “But how are those things resolved? Movements of people coming together. Different races and religions taking time to understand each other. Men learning how to stand up for their sisters and daughters and wives. And guess what? No matter WHO is in office, we can start doing that NOW. The government is not the answer to these issues. These have been issues in our country since day 1, and the MEDIA is much more responsible than the government.” Yes, empathy and a healthy, liberal, “live and let live” perspective is crucial and I agree that each “incident” is exploited for its headline value by the Media. I do think that interest groups – on both sides – use these incidents to flog their narrative to us. But I also think that there is more going on here. First of all, our own history shows that “movements of people coming together” has not happened. If anything, our nation is as segregated now as it has ever been. You perspective subtly ignores the long, sad history of laws passed to perpetuate segregation and racism. I am thinking here of Jim Crow laws, but also of practices like using real estate taxes to fund schools; criminalization of marijuana and infamous “stop and frisk” policies. The racism here is implicit; it perpetuates existing inequalities in a truly sinister way. You have to consider that your perspective excuses existing structural injustices in our society.

National Security is one of your big concerns:”Hillary wants open borders. Are you kidding me? In our lifetime, we have been attacked by terrorists FROM OTHER COUNTRIES….Hillary, wants to allow anyone and everyone into our country, regardless of the danger she could be putting her own people in…But I don’t think it’s unfair to screen who we allow into our country. Especially when they are coming from a part of the world that is home to radical terrorist groups. Ones that openly hate our country.” Again, I think there is some confusion on terms here that desperately needs to be cleared up. ‘Open borders’ is a term that should not be taken in a literal sense; Hillary uses this phase to connote more or less the policies that are in place now. This does not mean “let everyone in.” In fact – and I speak from personal experience – American border controls are known internationally for being a bit zealous. I hasten to add that we have been attacked by terrorists from our own country too; protecting America in the 21st century is about much more than a border control that discriminates against Muslims. That would only make the problem worse; the overwhelming majority of Muslims are normal, peaceful people. I do not excuse terrorism, nor do I think Islam is blameless. My perspective is akin to not holding Christians responsible for the reprehensible actions of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

I would also cite an FBI report that found that a major motivating factor in terrorism is American interventions and bombings. My point is that to tackle the problem of terrorism we need to properly understand what is going on; simply tightening border controls to a truly undemocratic extent risks turing the country into a police state and not actually providing any real protection anyway. Don’t forget that Trump has endorsed torture explicitly and many times. This is disgusting, dumb and dangerous, not to mention un-American. I’m surprised that someone who self-identifies as Christian can feel comfortable supporting such a person. The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture is an unrelenting catalog of evidence that proves that torture does not work and was not effective in preventing a single act of terrorism. It has destroyed our moral prestige internationally and is a focus of terrorist recruitment. Torture has made America less safe. The fact that the CIA and the Bush Administration lied about it and it’s effectiveness to the American People should be ringing all sorts of alarm bells. The real world is not an episode of 24.

Another thing I want to address is your statement that “Donald Trump wants to protect AMERICANS – no matter what race you are. No matter what gender.” I’m sorry, I just do not know how you can actually believe this to be true. It’s not a question of either candidate whether they “want to protect Americans” – to claim in seriousness that Hillary implicitly or explicitly does care to protect Americans is comical. I do not have many kind things to say about Hillary, but to allege that she harbors some kind of ulterior motive here or is disingenuous on this point not only belongs to the realm of the conspiracy theory, but threatens the basis of how our democratic society works. Trump strikes me as profoundly ignorant on international issues; I doubt that his desire to keep Americans safe will be enough to actually be of any use at all. I suspect that his words and actions have already made America less safe. I feel comfortable saying that Trump is probably ISIS’ choice to be president too.

Lastly, you touch on economics. I think this is very important as it really gets to the core of what frustrates most Americans today. It is also a complicated, confusing topic, where again, there is very little clarity or mutual understanding. You said:

“Donald Trump is a businessman, not a politician. He did not pay taxes under legal provisions. He did not pay people who did not do good work. If he becomes President, America will be his business. He will conduct trades and make deals that benefit US. As he should. Because when you are the President – AMERICA is your job. Not the rest of the world. Hillary has made lots of promises that sound great, but they all require MORE TAXES. And yes, a lot of them are on the wealthy, which sounds fair…but guess what? MOST of those wealthy people have gotten to where they are because they worked hard and used smart business practices. And also, those wealthy people are usually successful business people who EMPLOY other people. So by penalizing them, you are not helping anyone. You are taking more money out of the hands of American people and putting more money in the hands of the government.”

What you have espoused here is the ideology known as neoliberalism, which has been this nation’s ruling ideology since Reagan. This is matter of factual record; Bill Clinton’s Administration passed major neoliberal pieces of legislation, for example, repealing the Glass-Steagall amendment that helped regulate Wall Street. The 2008 Recession is directly related to this repeal. Neoliberalism is associated with many poorly understood terms like “trickle-down economics, (which you illustrated above)” “austerity,” “globalization,” even something so hopelessly broad as to be meaningless like “capitalism.” Trickle-down economics correctly points out that rich people spending money – the typical metaphor seems to be a rich guy and his yacht – is an important source of economic activity. The problem is that there are also many other sources of economic activity as well. For example: middle class people spending money on education or cities expanding infrastructure.

The factual record shows that the explosion of income inequality (look at CEO pay for example) and the decline of the American middle class is linked. We live in the most unequal society that has ever existed. Again, the trend starts with Reagan’s Administration. The truth of modern day America is that most of our wealth is held by massive corporations, a handful of uber wealthy individuals and the government. None of these have any obligation to spend money (increase wages or create new jobs) for Americans at large. To assume that reducing taxes on the wealthy or stripping away environmental regulation will lead to a massive surge of economic growth ignores that these wealthy individuals and corporations are under no obligation spend any more than they have to. I fail to see how enriching corporations run under the principal of profit maximization is the best way to resuscitate the middle class. It’s hardly a former that leads to people “doing the right thing.” Wal-Mart is hardly the economic model to enrich Americans; I think we can all agree on this. Reality is far more complicated then “wealthy people have generally worked hard and used smart business practices.” I can say that the overwhelming majority of Americans work hard and use smart business practices.

And this leads me to your statements about Trump as a businessman. We think of Trump as a successful businessman because he literally plays one on TV. Trump at best is simply as casino magnate who got his money from his daddy. Look at the scam that was Trump University. Look at all of his failed real estate schemes. Trump Steaks? This man is no Ayn Rand hero. The reality is that the American middle class bears the tax burden; the poor and the rich have escaped their fair share. Trump not paying taxes may have been technically legal, but it is a great example of the larger crime perpetuated under the bluster about trickle-down economics and rich people being job creators – its patently not working. Hell, even The Economist thinks Trump is a fraud and a loser.

I feel obligated to respond to your point about the Supreme Court. You said: “We NEED to keep Republicans in the Supreme Court who will uphold the Constitution.” From my perspective, Clinton is highly unlikely to appoint supreme court justices who are very liberal. They will most likely be akin to her VP choice, Tim Kaine. That is: centrist and probably surprisingly amenable to conservative Americans. I resent your implication that Democrats are somehow subverting the Constitution, and I don’t even like them. The record of Republicans “upholding the Constitution” is pretty shaky. Look at Citizens United; or the fact that Republicans have blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in a blatant disregard to both Constitution and historical practice. Torture? The War in Iraq? Look at what the Republicans are doing to the Voting Rights Act; look at the clearly biased voter ID laws going into place. This is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. Your case against Hillary rests on her being a comic-book villain, rather than what she really is: an Establishment candidate with the Democrat’s backers in mind.

Abortion has always struck me as an issue where we as a society are not talking about abortion when we talk about ‘abortion.’ Again, nobody is how you depict them: rapidly “pro-death to unborn babies.” It does not weaken your argument – indeed, it strengthens it – to admit that there are cases where abortion, while awful, is legitimate and even moral. Women do have rights over their own bodies; I’m sure you would agree. Further, it logically compromises your earlier statements about getting the government out of our lives when you imply that access to abortion should be stopped…by legislation.

I hope that you will consider what I have written with an open mind. If I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, it is to vote for a third party.

A timely reappraisal of the American ‘political spectrum’

With ‘Pussygate,’ it looks like we can start talking about the post-Trump American political landscape. Our reality-TV driven political farce has rumbled on and we need to start looking forward. We have to salvage something from the past year and a half.

“Leftist” or Progressive politics is any view where the economic or social system itself is seen as generating the ills of society, and the response, correspondingly, must take place at the full ‘social’ level. This historically takes the Keynesian (big government/ welfare state) aspect, but also – and this is crucial – a steady-state economics conception that tends towards a communal or guild motif for society.

“Centrists” can mean many things; essentially stands for simply the dominant conception or ideology of the time. In the contemporary US politics, this means a tepid neoliberalism. To be specific: its the complex web of ideology and powerful interests and their interaction that we call these days – rather clumsily – “the Establishment.” This represents the policies that our government has been pursuing effectively since Reagan. It’s extremely pro-corporate. Big Government Works hand in hand with Big Business. Classical liberal philosophy via John Locke and classical liberal economic theory via Adam Smith has been ‘re-upped’ by the ideas of von Hayek: government regulation and taxes “stifle” economic growth in a downright malicious way.

“Rightists” or conservatives long for a nostalgic return to traditional or religious ‘values.’ This can take many forms, but it is often associated with attempts to recreate a supposed organic community that was imagined to exist. Like ‘cowboys’ or ‘pilgrims.’ It’s a harkening back; the problem is located with the agents of change, usually intellectuals. Conservative sentiment can take the “organic community” route of faith and race or the moody Romantic era genius route of Big Government/Society enslaving the individual and forcing him to conform. The crucial thing to note about conservative ideas is that they are effectively anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal, even if it takes the guise of extreme nationalism, religiosity, or racism (or something more mundane: like economic protectionism or isolationism).

This is why it’s observed every now and again the simulates between the far Right and the far Left. The progressive hiker and conservative both ender the woods to escape from capitalism, wether it is conceived as a communing with nature or providing for one’s family in a traditional manner “the way it was meant to be.” Both abhor the new suburban development going in and destroying the forest. But the similarities end there; both blame the other for the new development; historically speaking, it seems there could be no reconciliation between these two modes of seeing the world. Capitalism, politically speaking, needs this tension and total incomprehension between Right and Left. The conservative who feels like Leftists are attacking marriage, manhood, guns and God mistakes what is ultimately a symptom with the disease itself.

Conservatives make a series of mistakes here. This is why Leftists are seen as “traitors”; their criticism of the way things are is too valid. For the Leftist to “be wrong” he must have a sinister ulterior motive. This is essentially the Straw Man logic fallacy: If I am pro-choice, I must be obsessed with killing babies. Otherwise my rather reasonable position – that I support a women’s right to choose and acknowledge that abortion is terrible, but there must be some options and things are not black and white – is far too mundane of an opinion to object too so strongly.

The conservative mindset implicitly slams the door on even modest changes to contemporary society or politics; even modest changes (like bike lane construction) must be dismissed as utopian, childish/selfish or totalitarian. It allows no complexity of issue or gradient of thought. It refuses to acknowledge the massively complex nature of each issue; the true variety of view points that one may reasonably maintain. Thus the conservative, wittingly or unwittingly, massively confirms and supports existing evils and injustices in the name of his beliefs regardless of the context, factuality or feasibility. Further, the conservative fails to realize that his intransigence adds fuel to the movement towards change (2nd Amendment enthusiasts stand out here in particular). By failing to acknowledge a given problem the conservative compounds the issue, moving the national debate away from solutions and solving problems towards a zero-sum clash of ideologies.

In this light the fact that the Democrats (a centrist party) and Hilary Clinton (a baby boomer president with technocratic proclivities uninterested in substantial change) will despite the fact that the majority of Americans are “anti-Establishment.” If we where magically able to get every single American to pick a candidate; you would find that a third wants Bernie Sanders, a third for Clinton, and a third for Trump. Obviously, I can’t prove that, but I think that there are some good statistics that largely verify my perception here. The point is that very few Americans actually want a Clinton presidency; there is a widespread rejection (regardless of the rational or expression) of the policies that our government has been pursuing, that is, neoliberalism.

American domestic politics in the context of the Cold War, both parties essentially occupied a the territory of the center in ideological terms (classic liberalism, pro-capitalism, some government intervention). The reality is that both parties increasing became the political nexus for competing webs of interest groups, wealthy individuals, and  corporations.

The GOP was already in electoral and demographic decline, maintained by a stable of billionaire donors, gerrymandering, and Fox News; but will Trump actually be the death of the party? I see a three way split, between a socially conservative branch (old people, evangelicals, anti-abortionists and Southerners more interested in being Southern than anything else: think Mike Huckabee), a libertarian branch (2nd Amendment enthusiasts, Ayn Rand fanboys, fiscal conservatives and others who are conservative but not in the social sense. Paul Ryan?) and the alt-right crowd (racists, survivalists, conspiracy theorists; true Right wing populism. This is Trump territory). As a side note, the term “economically conservative” makes no sense to me. I understand that in terms of a simple political spectrum it means in contemporary parlance “strongly capitalist;” I am simply pointing out that a truly conservative economy would definitely not be capitalist. The term laissez-faire seems to me to be the most accurate in this case.

I strongly suspect that either the Libertarian Party will become a major party, or the GOP will essentially ‘adopt’ the Libertarian platform, leaving the social conservatives to coalesce around what would be essentially a regional party of the Mid-West and South. Most people who see themselves as Libertarian harbor a deep anti-neoliberal/capitalist impulse. It is clear that Americans resent “big government,” or the omnipresence of government, be it politically motivated laws and policies or simply going to the DMV or welfare “handouts.” The simple conception that say, stopping rape culture, doesn’t need to come through legislation or should even be a topic of political debate or governmental intervention. This is the old fantasy of the “nightwatchman’s state;” it stands guard, but has no positive role. Few Libertarians have fully reasoned through what reaching such a state would actually entail. For one, our entire society is based on a conception that places the government in the roll of social arbitrator.

Remember, we live in a classically liberal society (via John Locke and Hobbes), which views each individual as a monad; an atom; an island unto itself that exists for pure rational self-interest, the homo economicus. Society is primordially a war of all against all; society is established and maintained by the Sovereign so the monads may work together better for their own self-benefit. Thus our Sovereign, technically is The People (an outdated and obviously insufficient metaphysical conception) as represented in Congress. This means that these social issues like gay marriage, abortion, transgender bathrooms, yes, wind up in Congress. Our government and society is structured that way. While this view, with a little consideration, is clearly inadequate, it is none-the-less, the way our nation was founded.

But there is more to it than that. One has to take into account the larger social reality. This is one of globalization and capitalism that has little to do with classical political theory a la Plato and Locke. The reality of our society is that no politician is in control. There is no “inner clique” or “conspiracy” or “New World Order”. There is only systematic profit maximization. This is our fundamental organizing principal; no conspiracy, just individuals making basic assumptions and decisions everyday that guarantee that greed comes first over our nation or the individuals that make up this nation. For a truly non-dystopian night watchman’s state, one has to acknowledge the power of corporations and take action against them. Think about this. Already our government, if anything, does not regulation corporations enough. Global Warming? The 2008 Financial Crisis? So to say, I want less government regulation; less tax-and-spend government; what this really means is profoundly anti-capitalist. Because Big Government and Big Business go hand in hand; think about how Wal-Mart employees are subsided by welfare, or the tax brakes that oil companies get. Think about the relationship between the military-industrial complex and the government. If you really want a small government, both of these must go away. They are intrinsically linked.

Further, the impulse that says “individuals should make their own way” and “I don’t want government legislating on everything” is a Progressive impulse. It’s a utopian impulse. If you want individuals to bare more responsibility, you must acknowledge that capitalism isn’t doing that. It’s making us into consumers and conformers, not citizens or much less, rugged individuals. Libertarianism is therefore a fundamentally conservative idea; it ignores the true depth of the longing that sustains it. It buys into the fundamental Republican lie that government regulation and taxes stifle the economy and point towards a totalitarian Stalinist society. It refuses to acknowledge that if you truly want to empower individuals you have to invest in them, not strip away the layers of the welfare state. The wealth in our society is held by a mere handful of individuals; its mostly in large corporations and in the government. To empower individuals means redistributing this wealth to the actual human individuals that make up this nation.

To conclude. The Democrats have established themselves as the party of The Establishment (witness all those GOP neoconservative advisors that got us into Iraq flocking to Hilary). When it comes down to it, Democrats are committed to their financial backers, not a progressive ideology. They have always done this; look at Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy. In this election, they turned down the chance to be a bold progressive party of the future. They chose to alienate Millennials instead, in the name of an outdated and failed Baby-Boomer Reaganesqe neoliberal centrism. This means that the Democrats themselves have set themselves up for chronic trouble. They will most likely win this election cycle, but at the potential cost of many others. Millennials will still be up for grabs between a progressive program and a libertarian program.

The forbidden leftwing alternative – forbidden because of the Cold War and the Republican need to stay relevant while having no ideas – is the missing piece of this puzzle. Put your coached (and well funded), knee-jerk reactions aside – this isn’t childish, uniformed, utopian or totalitarian – this is factually the way forward. The Left wing (Bernie Sanders or Green Party alternative) conceptions is actually going to tackle the important fundamental issues like climate change, income inequality, a capitalism run amok, and restore the important of the individuals and society. We are really given no real options in this “democracy” of ours. The only change that is acceptable is one that is an unacceptable right-wing populism. So we again we find ourselves with an Establishment candidate. How long do they think this will last? Most Americans seem ready to burn the whole thing down instead.

 

 

Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?

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No, this is not a post about Donald Trump.

Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? is another great book by Slavoj Zizek. Having read several of Zizek’s books, I found this one to be one of the more accessible. One of the major charms of Zizek is his ruthless – no shibboleths or unmentionable taboos or sacred principals or courses of actions – honestly. He has no Program in a concrete political sense, and that combined with his extremely keen political, social and psychological insight make his reading absolutely riveting and enlightening, not to mention downright refreshing.

A downside to that, is that Zizek lacks what traditional academics would call discipline and organisation; Zizek hops from idea to idea; is method is closer to a poets rather than “science”. It is often hard -especially for someone like me who is not totally versed in some of the intellectual traditions that Zizek commands – to decide exactly where Zizek stands. There are many devastatingly accurate insights and critiques of anyone and anything, but at the end, Zizek almost never counsels any action or suggestions some sort of opinion. In this book, it is the danger of cyberspace; the say it threatens our reality and our freedom that clearly emerge as a true treat. Zizek counsels a movement towards ‘strongly socialising’ the internet, that is, insuring that it is a space of freedom administered by the community, rather than a profit/control system by a few large companies and governments.

This book – as the title implies – deals with the theme of totalitarianism. Not so much as a historical event, or as an ideology, but the role the very concept of ‘totalitarianism’ plays in our own political and social discourse. This much more than a clunky philosophical tome, this is punchy and very, very relevant.

In a nutshell, totalitarianism is a rather vague term that is employed as a form of argument; a sort of intimidation.  “Antioxidant” is the metaphor Zizek deploys to describe its use in discourse. And ultimately – most importantly – its use is to “stifle of any Leftist radical alternative”. A pedestrian example taken from a comment in response to an op/ed in The Guardian reads: “the ridiculous, undemocratic and dangerous reliance on One Charismatic Personality to somehow Change the World and Save the Day without said Millennials having to raise a finger other than to vote is both ludicrous and betrays a sort of naive belief in the Strong Leaders characteristic of authoritarian regimes.” This is in reference to Millennial support for Bernie Sanders (apparently regarded as the ‘One Charismatic Personality’). Progressive voters are either spoiled children or crypto-Stalinists, craving an Authoritarian Regime. Obviously this commenter’s statement is ridiculous, but the sentiment is incredibly widespread.

There is a lot to unpack here. Zizek does not deny the historical totalitarianisms, traditionally Naizism and Stalinism (though the tern was first used to describe Mussolini’s Italy) their horror. However, he artfully uses them as examples to illuminate his larger points. For example: the waves of Stalinist Terror come to a culmination in 1937. This was a period where the arrests where not just widespread, they reached to every level of society; historians of this period talk in terms of the Communist Party “committing suicide”. This represented a frantic attempt by Stalin and his inner clique to regain control of the Terror itself; analogous to Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign. The supreme irony was that the head of the Soviet secret police was himself executed for the truth: the arrest and execution of thousands of innocent communists. For Zizek, this represents a sort of ‘return of the repressed’, the idea being that the Terror works as a kind of symbolic repetition, the point where the betrayal of the utopian origins of the regime by Stalin is both disguised and renewed. It’s fascinating to see a historical event viewed from so many different angles. This is how history should be taught in schools; comprehensive and in depth.

Zizek deploys Lacanian psychoanalysis. But it seems unfair to read Zizek in this light. Complex historical events, the poignancy of a movie scene, even offhand but telling comments are fodder for Zizek’s brilliant commentary. It is hard to pin down exactly where the “reality” ends and the psychology begins and vice versa. But perhaps this is exactly the point.

A great must read.