The Real Black Pill, or, Drinking Bitter Water to Go Beyond It.

March 20th [1978]

The Left indeed lost. But the Communists have won seats. They have openly played on the victory of the Right in order seats this time, to make progress in a space that had been vacated, and where they themselves had created a void

Basically, it’s not very different from Italy. There, too, every twist and turn of events allows the Communist Party to move up a bit farther . . . but toward what? Not power: it is happy with a technocratic or managerial tip-up seat that the Christian Democracy concedes to it, without demanding anything in exchange. The Communist Party does not reach irresistibly toward power, it irresistibly occupies the space left empty in the reflux and disenchantment of the political sphere. The slow progression signals the trivialization and desertification of the political sphere. Although it’s no longer clear where the salt of the earth is, we do know that the Communist Party is the greatest desalinization enterprise. Shame on it for having helped foster, with such energy, the functional stupidity required for its extension; shame on it for having eradicated the last remains of any political standard, simply to guarantee the cancerous homeostasis of the social. Marhais’s mug is a meta-figure of stupidity and the death drive, hilarious. A histrionic mug, exacerbated by burlesque demagoguery and the blackmail of vulgarity, which everyone accepts and submits to, apparently, as initiation of the sorts into future society.

The Communist Part works towards the beatitude of historic compromise. So that all of history can end on a compromise, the whole system has to limit to zero with no violent incidents, slowly, progressively, with calculated doggedness.

The End of history and of politics could have been something else than compromise; it could hvae constituted a violent and transformative hyper-event . .

. . . But the Communist Party is there to prevent the system from dying a violent death.” — Jean Baudrillard, The Divine Left, p. 55

While in some sense, this sentiment is alien to the US, as “the Communists” or even “the Socialists” were but whimpers adjacent to the Democratic Party’s racial and labor coalition from the 1940s to 1970s. From the SPUSA’s failure to achieve relevance after the Russian and Mexican revolutions of 1917 and the election of 1918 and Deb’s imprisonment, from the CPUSA’s failure to do anything but make communists a special radical interest group in the civil rights movement, since they were effectively purged from labor by the AFL-CIO merger and by Taft-Hartley thereafter, to the emergence of the sectarian left who functioned as a radical steam valve for progressive disconnect while having party presses sell books to the very progressive fads that they mocked within the party, the US left never got a chance to fail this big. Indeed, it had done so way before the disillusionments with the results of Mai 1968 or even, in the US, the hollowing out of both the civil rights and the black power movements as US labor began funneling more and more of its functional dues to just maintaining leadership and its donations into lobbying. We never got Baudrillard’s disillusionment, or at least, we like to pretend we didn’t.

If something in the above paragraph offends you and your sensibilities, good. You may be able to object to my historiography, but one would be hard pressed to disagree with the history or results. The economic left, as much as the political left, functions as part of the buoying of the existence of the status quo in the US. The historical reasons for this are complicated and can’t be pinned down to just betrayal or to just structural impediment. Nor can the victim-blaming of “the workers’ movement was reactionary” or “the workers’ movement failed to be radical enough”: Why did it fail to be radical? What levers were really there?

After the degeneration of the 1920s in Europe and America, people saw Fordism as what was hollowing out the left, ie managerial elites and monopoly capital. Then they were blindsided by the oil shock breaking the Keynesian consensus and by declining profitability rates making prior assumptions unviable. Then neoliberalism was blamed, seemingly, reintroducing old laissez-faire economics and cutting the welfare state that, in the prior era, even most of the far left thought both disempowered the working poor through removing their agency and empowered the administrative state, buying capital time. Except, as economic historians have known for a while, neoliberalism was not really laissez-faire–as many such as Philip Mirowski have shown–it was a bipartisan consensus to restore profitability through rentier relations, fiscalization, public-private partnerships, and compelled markets. Given the mask of the old heroic bourgeoisie and a myth about even its reliance on the state, politicians and capitalists alike got the states MORE involved in markets and less involved in the deracinated social welfare programs. Between the 2008 housing crash and the COVID-19 response, the quantitive easing has made it clear: markets without risk for investors and with moral hazard for things like healthcare. Rentier relations play increasing roles in our lives. The left seems to blindsided by this too.

So we are seemingly always invested in saving the last systemic shift in capitalism. The communists trying and failing to save post-Fordism from the French right seems to be just another example. Irony upon irony, even most progressives think that post-Dengist China may save capital from itself through its state investment programs. Socialism again, the 18th and 19th century imagery of the ruthless critique of the capitalist order that emerged in Europe and its (soon to be former) colonies, is seen as the means to save it and humanize it.

So when millennial progressives hear the word “socialism” and think of Norway, Sweden, and even Canada, and the boomer anti-communists, including the leftists ones, think of China during the Great Leap Forward or USSR during either the purges or the slow decline of the late 70s and early 80s, both are deluded. Nor can we do, as the left opposition, anarchists, and left-communists have often done, of pretending that, since none of these mean a platonic form of the original 19th century goal, that this doesn’t count. “It’s just the left of capital”? Well, there is no other left and apophatic theology which substitutes something beyond the value form for the nameless attributes of the ultimate unity of God as the minimum definition of socialism makes socialism esoteric but secular mystogoguery.

Yet most of what ink is spilled in so-called socialist press and “alternative” media space–a branding I used from habit as it no longer clear what it is alternative to–wants to talk about Jimmy Dore versus the Squad. Most of the post-left wants to talk about Mark Crispin Miller and academic freedom. Most of the (formerly neoconservative) now faux-populist right complains about freedom of speech and the socialism of Kamala Harris. The actual populist and evangelical right–having moved public sentiment into the realm of paranoia and religiosity into heresy from their own religious standards–fall into QAnon and Alex Jones denials of reality. There are differences in kinds of delusion and, no, they aren’t the same, but there is delusion across the board.

In light of this, all of the commentary I do on Pop the Left, Theorizing with a Hammer, and Mortal Science, the various podcasts I work with and on, feel well, less important. However, the less important and more trend-driven it is, the more engagement there is. This doubly extends to social media–particular Twitter where meta-irony and antisocial takes are often rewarded with tons of high schoolers who are highly online sharing them without even totally realizing how much nonsense it is. Indeed, the ability to know what is sincere or meta-ironic seems often beyond them. Hate-sharing the “bad takes” spreads them further and further, incentivizing being wrong. This, by the way, is not unique to social media and never has been. But like how conspiracy theory shows about Big Foot in the 70s and 80s turned into a new and politicized form of the Satanic panic in QAnon now, concept drift and democratic media feed each other. Further, much of the liberal center’s attempt to use expertise to stomp this out overreaches and seems to vindicate the degenerative impulse. The left counter-signals to both, but ultimately sides with one impulse or the other. Furthermore, good information being paywalled while misinformation is generally plentiful and free doesn’t help. This, again, was always the case: good documentaries were arthouse productions in the 90s where one often needed not just the social but literal capital to live in an expensive city to see them, whereas Unsolved Mysteries was on basic cable.

At first this seems removed from my initial jeremiad on the left in the West above. However, when looking at some notes on kinds of engagement I get, it will become relevant. If I get mad and yell at people over getting stuck on a trend, I’ll get tons of superficial engagement. It isn’t lost on me though that getting mad at the trend gives the trend air. Criticizing pseudoscience without offering a NEW and NOBLE counter-explanation often spreads pseudoscience, and this is doubly bad with toxic counterfactuals and incoherent frameworks.

If you want to remove something from the public discourse, you don’t cancel it or even criticize it without offering an alternative. Canceling things gives it moral weight and you actually spread its voice; when the left wanted to make Richard Spencer go away, it wasn’t just punching him that did it. After all, that is STILL just symbolic if it leaves a physical bruise. It got bored. The left had bigger fish to fry, and Spencer largely took care of himself only sometimes gaining relevance in critiquing Donald Trump. The left learned a lesson there but also refused to learn it. Canceling can hurt you if you have an academic or media job where public access matters, but it doesn’t make you irrelevant. In fact, canceling and getting criticized is often an effective media strategy to gain access. In the 1960s, it was people using evangelical backlash for that, now it is deplorables fighting blue hairs. The results are similar.

You give it the silent treatment and you convince others, quietly, it isn’t worth your time. Contempt is more powerful than hate and unstated and unacknowledged contempt more powerful than mockery.

I need often to remember this myself. But there are structural reasons we have to be dishonest about this, and mine are little different. For all the complaining about the “spectacle”–the most untheorized idea ever to come out of communist critiques of modernity–complaining about the spectacle is itself number one in this grift. It calls out the illusion of spectacular and symbolic politics by also participating in it, keeping it alive.

For some self-criticism on how this works: I keep calling myself an educational entertainer. I don’t view myself as a pundit, but I admit I’m also tired of people who constantly talk about politics insisting that doing so isn’t an intervention into politics. It was false when Jon Stewart did it, and it is false when Chapo Trap House does it. It’s also false when I do it. The old claim from the 1960s that the personal was political rendered politics undifferentiated from all other forms of life. Yes, feminists did this for good reason; progressive men promoting equal rights in theory but beating their wives at home was a long and unfortunately honored tradition which more radical forms of feminism were trying to expose. But every well-meaning intervention has a shadow side, and here that shadow side was making lifestyles seem political. In a deep sense, politics, culture and economics AREN’T actually separable–they are different lens to view and manage our collective and aggregate lives, but by rendering them inseparable in focus, many things seemed more radically different than they were. By making the personal political in a time of hollowed-out individual selves, nothing became properly political. It shows in our rhetoric now where we are constantly claiming that even engaging in policy debates or aiding political candidates are not, really, political.

Often I have screamed into the void that merely inverting a bad troupe doesn’t free you from it, but often leads to a worse one.

So here’s why I am getting to the end of my rope as a pundit who doesn’t really want to be one: I keep saying we need to offer a viable alternative to the talking points of the left and quit trying to defend a debate that is set up for multiple sides to draw bad conclusions. But we can’t easily do this because it doesn’t get engagement. People LIKE the horserace, and they like the idea that engagement with fictions they make of real people (celebrity and micro-celebrity media personalities) is both read as a way to gain access to power and a way to “be honest” about one’s (lack of) role in it. Trust me–working for Zero, I see this. Mortal Science is a better podcast of what I aim to do. It necessarily has a more limited audience. Like right now, it has a few orders of magnitude smaller audience than Pop the Left or Theorizing with a Hammer. Pop the Left is good but we still do left ambulance-chasing despite our commitment not to. Why? We need views and clicks or it doesn’t matter. Mortal Science’s agenda is not set by clicks at all, but it is necessarily a disillusioning and largely under-engaged with affair.

Furthermore, let’s be honest for a second. The “alternative” media’s populist narrative about Patreon and what not leading to a more “authentic” left is a myth. There is a reason why the Brooklyn and Berkley left defined podcasting once Patreon weakened NPR’s hold on pushing its radio shows into podcast form. It’s a money-making media sphere and that is where the money is. No, not the kind of money you need for an old capital-intensive media set, but that has since changed with technology. Power law still applies. You need capital, either cultural or, well, real to expand capital. True word of mouth takes forever. You need to invest in advertising and relaunch campaigns. A part of the Dirtbag Left had money prior to raking in thousands a month on Patreon, and many had media access way, way before they broke out in podcast land. Their obsession with political media spheres and mocking it made it abundantly clear. I didn’t know or care about Ben Shapiro until new media started mocking him on the left. This becomes a mutually constitutive identity, and one that is still dominated by Ivy Leaguers, even if they aren’t WASPs anymore (on either political side, actually).

I still have rely on rich and connected friends to land interviews outside of the normal left book-tour circuit or left professional activist circuit, and if you haven’t noticed that some of your favorite “marginal voice” podcasters and activists have Ivy League degrees, you’re a fool. It need it too; for all our criticisms of the “elites” and their myth of meritocracy, we are always excepting what we like.

I was friends with a working-class dude who was brilliant and is now a journalist, who was let into Harvard Divinity School to work on Buddhism. He does the work, so this wasn’t a silver spoon placed into his mouth, but he knows that his access was not from primary merit. It was being given access to Harvard and thus gained in an entirely unrelated field from what he worked in, and then he would freelance for things like Teen Vogue. Did he earn his way in? Or was he there to assuage some elite conscience? Well, if you believe that meritocracy is a sham, then you can but draw conclusions closer to the second. Even with an editor, I don’t have that access. I have helped people get that access and, yes, I am an aphasiac and, yes, I am aggressive, but that isn’t the primary reason why. I am not bitter about this either. If I got in that deep, like a few of my friends from similar backgrounds have and are, I would be even more limited in what I say. Instead being frustrated about having to talk about Jimmy Dore versus the Squad two minutes hate (on both sides), I would have to pick how I defended our continued relationship with a party that doesn’t deliver shit and hasn’t since the 1930s.

As it is, I get to get play a role and an important one which is good for a guy from a central GA working class background with a communication disability (which I don’t generally play up). In fact, even the regional access to capital is often not dealt with: being poor but promising in a major city affords more access to ways out of poverty than being so in central GA. In central GA, there isn’t the wealth or the guilt for such noblesse oblige from our haute bourgeois oligarchs or their well-invested middle managers.

This brings me to another point, which you would know if you listen to my podcasts, but not if you just read this: my criticism of things like the PMC thesis isn’t to dismiss it. It’ss actually SUPER important, but because of that, I want to be coherent and watertight. The above is WHY it is super-important. Incoherent frameworks are easily attacked and legitimately so, but there is sociological reality to the fact that a precarious strata of professionals and their children are interested in representing leftist interests instead of liberal ones. Furthermore, many do misrepresent their origins. “Common podcasters” and “politicians with working class backgrounds” (because they had to do the common middle-class thing and take a gig during college) with Ivy League credentials and rich, connected patrons will fool you. If you are mad at Jack Vance for hiding how he broke out of the working class (good luck in a military gig, access to a state senator who helped him get into good schools in addition to having the grades) then you have to be mad at people like AOC who had the help of Ted Kennedy for pretending to be Jenny from the Block. It is not to say that AOC didn’t earn her position; it isn’t all that relevant. Even with hard work, you need access and ways to get it. I am not mad about it; I realize this is how this works, but I am not going to lie to you about it.

I also know that most people who “earn” their way up to have to pick up these narratives to maintain themselves. They really believe them because that is a circle of exposure, but they also NEED to believe them to continue to climb up. You don’t need to believe them though if you don’t have that access. You don’t need to think you have an actual relationship with these people or that they represent you. “It’s good to have people to project possibility unto.” True, but it also a way to hide that YOU still don’t really have that possibility.

Two generations ago–in the time of better politicians and better elites—we had congresspeople without degrees or without being billionaires. Good luck with that now. Good luck even getting a job at a think-tank from a state school, even if you have perfect scores and can prove yourself smarter than well-connected Ivy Leaguers. Cultural capital works this way. Look at “pragmatism”. Even the far left screams “pragmatism” when it fails to deliver, whether it was with the Five-Year Plan or with the Democrats. Fine, but don’t pretend to be investing in ruthless criticism if that all exists. You are very much thinking you can tame the dragon without any evidence that it’s likely. Thus, ultimately, to try to save this possibility, the most radical-seeming critics of society actually are protecting elements of the status quo.

This is the necessary black pill to swallow in order not to give up on change. It is the bitter water you must drink not to die of thirst, hoping for there to be sweet water at the mirage in the distance. It means you have to give away something to which you have invested a considerable amount of your time and identity into. Just admit it to yourself, and then you may be able to make a change, or, at least, if not, not be invested in people–despite even their real intentions–not doing so.

Attempt: On “Emotional Labor”

Back in the hey-days of October, Haley Swenson wrote a piece called “Please Stop Calling Everything That Frustrates You Emotional Labor.” I missed it because I have found Slate’s contrarianism gradually turn into knee-jerk left-liberalism as Jamelle Bouie became its political editor.  Bouie represents a millennial Democratic politics that often use far more radical social justice language than it’s actual policy advocacy.  It was as if Slate wanted to run in the other direction from the time before his death when Christopher Hitchens was a primary voice of the political end of the magazine.  Regardless, Swenson describes the internet “political discourse” diluting a term to near meaningless.  She explains the history of the “emotional labor” here:

In her 1983 book The Managed Heart, sociologist Arlie Hochschild first coined the phrase emotional labor to describe the work of flight attendants and bill collectors to consciously regulate their own feelings and attempt to shape the emotions of others to get their jobs done. Women and low-income workers were being asked to very subtly (and very deftly) fix up people’s feelings without being recognized or compensated for that very tricky part of their labor.

It is interesting how much of the critical theory that was Marxist-adjacent was adopted by bloggers in the late aughts.  In particular, the language around these theorists from the 80s and 90s made it into blog and social media talk: Crenshaw’s “intersectionality,” McIntosh’s specific use of privilege, and Hochschild’s “emotional labor.”  I suspect this is because a generation of people in sociology and critical studies courses in undergraduate core requirements were superficially exposed to these neologisms and/or compound concepts and the ideas expressed in them by over-worked graduate assistants and young adjuncts who teach most undergraduates.  So the treatment was superficial.  Combine that with the deadlines around think pieces and the brevity required for engagement on most social media, the hollowing out of political theory happens particularly quickly when these concepts are weaponized.

So what has happened to “emotional labor”?  Before I go into Swenson’s analysis, let’s look at the limits of the term.  Emotional labor was not the same as “doing things that are emotionally draining without being paid.”  It was not a theory that encouraged one to commodify one’s personal distress.   It was specifically limited to emotional distress in the service sector and female employment that was largely uncompensated and which does have a personal and interpersonal health cost.    Swenson then goes on to point out how at the end of the aughts, the term became far broader:

So what exactly is emotional labor? Emotional labor is simply the management of feelings (your own or someone else’s) to accomplish some goal—to leave a customer satisfied or to get someone to do something they might not otherwise want to, or to keep your household functioning. Note that there are many other kinds of labor that can produce these outcomes too (simply providing information to someone, for instance), but emotional labor concerns the work of emotion management—say, delivering bad news about a flight cancellation in a comforting way, so that disgruntled passengers hardly notice the news is bad.

One notes, again, the expanded definition includes transactions that are not specifically commodified transactions but do have end-specific goals.  So we move from the purely economic sphere in areas which are, to use a Marxist way of phrasing, part of “the production or reproduction of social relations.”   To speak like a normal person, when one has to manipulate displays of emotion to make something work between people–personal or economic.

Swensen notes that this expansion of emotional labor can be a form of gatekeeping, which ultimately actually reinforces some pretty traditional gender roles under the guise of progressive or feminist politics:

The anxiety women feel about it shouldn’t be confused as proof that their way of doing things is right and the men in their lives are incompetent or wrong. Sociologists have a word for the tendency of women to set the terms for how parenting or housework should take place and then policing that line in such a way that men are effectively shut out of doing it. It’s called maternal gatekeeping. It’s a problem that’s bad for fathers, kids, and the mothers who end up stressed and overworked because of it. If we chalk up every dispute over how and when something should be done to emotional labor, we might bulldoze our way past the possibility that our own expectations can be our worst enemy.

This may be particularly pernicious. Other forms of pernicious uses of the concept that she does not note are demands to further commodify activism or relationship “labor.”  For example, the pain of activists who are constantly asked to “educate” others on topics of their own experience is labeled “emotional labor” that is entitled to compensation.  There has been a recent backlash against this “we have no responsibility to educate you” sentiment often justified in “emotional labor,” but the backlash is on tactical grounds.  After all, there are plenty of people who are opposed or ignorant of someone’s experience perfectly willing to offer a counter-narrative for free.  Yet, beyond that, I think we should be honest that commodification of our own experiences probably increases our own alienation in regards to that experience. Instead of normalizing our traumas through exposure and helping others see our points of view, we set it off as a trauma that too much to bear without specific compensation.

I personally find these kinds of expansions of terms fascinating as it proves that our specific jargon, like even someone like George Carlin pointed out about euphemisms, that the expansion of the term weakens its use and can often lead to the opposite point.  Like the euphemism that becomes a coded slur itself, the expanded logic of a sociological term like “emotional labor” can actually lead to some practices that have nothing to do, or maybe in some ways are subtly opposed, to the original coiner of the neologism or phrases’ point.  Sometimes, in the realm of politics and language, victory in terms of ubiquity is defeat in terms of clarity.  Or, you can lose for winning.

Brief Thoughts on Brotopia: Or reflections on Silicon Valley as Wall Street and quasi- monopoly capitalism

Reading Emily Chang’s adaption from her book, Brotopia, in Vanity Fair,  I have to admit that the lurid details don’t surprise me at all.  Yes, it is a boy’s club, and yes, it seems to engage in boy’s club excesses and “decadence.”  I wouldn’t dispute any of that.  Is it in any way surprising that a new attempt make money from innovation and disruption in an area of the economy that is heavily dependent on monopoly mirrors the decadence of similar booms in the financialization period of the late 70s through the Mid-80s?  It was a transitional state of economics who “disruption” is oddly dependent on barriers to access being selectively broken down.    It shares similar traits in a variety of ways–it creates bubbles of investment fueling innovation that applies largely to the outside world and has little checks that such cultures in the earlier periods of capital development that created more clearly physical commodities.

A younger me would explain this purely in terms of labor theory of value.  An even younger me, in my more geo-libertarian days, would explain this in terms of monopoly access creating a quick influx of wealth in limited area.  Indeed, the housing patterns around the Bay Area in California even mirror those of New York.  In a way, now, I think both are right because this kind of market boom is not impossible, but things like IP protect the risky behavior. After all, not only are a lot these Silicon Valley ventures not really profitable with IP, many aren’t profitable without government money directly.  Often this will be explained as reinvestment into products, which in some cases it is, but in physical commodities not protected by IP, the re-investment has to be slower as the competition driving prices down off-sets the gains.  By definition, this tamps down on risk behavior and on QUICK excess income.  It also makes investment more risky even with slower growth, which is why in the dreaded “neoliberal” period, these markets depend on state level invention to really work.  Even the heroic periods of capitalism, such as the “Robber Barons” period, depended on access to exclusive rights to both moderate overuse and to secure pricing.

OF course, a male-driven culture with a lot of young people with money would be decadent, we know that because it rhymes with the wall street boom.  There are reasons why it rhymes with Wall Street though in ways beyond the madcap hedonism and excess Chang describes.

Multiculturalism is not a thing.

The battle between “multiculturalist” and anti-Davos nationalists is a battle based on fallacious premise: that there even is “multiculturalism” in any thick sense.  The old metaphorical argument goes, multi-ethnic nation states used to be melting pot, softening down the differences and melting the identity down into a singular white paste. Now, in a metaphor, I have heard since the 1990s, we have replaced that melting pot with salad bowl, each element contributing to the dish, whole and without it’s identity changed.  The nationalists argue that either a melting pot is still needed with basic cultural softening returning, or, increasingly, even that was a utopian pipe dream and we need barricades of good, decent frog-nazis to combat the force feeding of salad the Lizard people at Davos and D.C. are forcing upon us.

Yet, all this is predicated on some simple misconceptions about culture and identity. Misconceptions that inform ideas beyond “multiculturalism” itself.  Most of these battles define culture in various superficial degrees.  To ask ourselves, what truth there could be between these two positions, we have to ask ourselves, “what is culture in the first place?”  Culture is, like most abstractions, is disputed term in itself. Like more obvious and semi-cognitive terms like “equality,” “freedom,” etc., part of the battles about culture have both sides of the debate hide a definition that is often different from what is being debated.   Culture is larger than religion, language, even ethnicity, as anthropologists will inform you that their can be common cultures between ethnicities, classes, genders, etc.

If we trace the etymology of the term, it is comes Cicero in his Tusculanae Disputationes here he referred to “cultura animi.” He meant the grounds to cultivate the mind towards it’s highest good. It was an agricultural metaphor for teleological development.  To cultivate yourself was a social practice that made one something more than mere being, a barbarian, but fully human.    Note that it has none of descriptive habitus in its original use.

To stop here or to assume this root gives us the sole insight into what culture is would be etymological fallacy. And, frankly, it would cut against my point: even people who share a language, a religion, a technological level of society, have different ways of being fully human.  More modern definitions will, such as the one in the Cambridge dictionary,  will assert: “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time,” or to use the definition in the source of all that is easily looked up on the internet, Wikipedia, “a culture” is the set of customs, traditions, and values of a society or community, such as an ethnic group or nation. Culture is the set of knowledge acquired over time. In this sense, multiculturalism values the peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between different cultures inhabiting the same planet. Sometimes “culture” is also used to describe specific practices within a subgroup of a society, a subculture (e.g. “bro culture”), or a counterculture. Within cultural anthropology, the ideology and analytical stance of cultural relativism holds that cultures cannot easily be objectively ranked or evaluated because any evaluation is necessarily situated within the value system of a given culture.”   The definition is expansive, but it can be reduced to “the elements of a person and group’s that are acquired through social learning.”

So, at various, levels of analysis, there are multiple cultures within on culture: different religious, gendered, class, regional, and even professional practices. However, there are common forms of life they share.  To return to out salad bowl metaphor, if we whole cultures to co-exist in a polity or economy in a completely self contained way, the metaphor also implies they are cut from the root and cannot grow.  Indeed, one sees this in a lot of talk of “cultural appropriation” as if “habits” and customs can be owned by abstractions like nations or ethnicities.  An abstract “owning” an abstraction. Often the practices have roots in other cultures, so we tend to go back to the early modern period and freeze time there, or at the development of separate cultures.  There is nothing “progressive,” or, frankly, even anthropologically or philosophical coherent about this.  Yet it fits with the “salad bowl” notion of intact and easily frozen identities. Admittedly, the history of ideas behind “cultural appropriation” are more complicated than this, and some of which are even legitimate in my view, but this more common and base understanding seems to be a misconception that fits with our shallow notion of identity and multiculturalism.

However, the moment two “cultures” interact without its members trying to eradicate each other, a “third” culture is born from the exchange.  New habits are socially learned, modified, exchanged.  Boundaries are softened, loan words are spread, ways of life alter.

In short, there is no way to stop the melting effect, but it is rarely total unless a campaign of erasure is attempted.  However, this still does get to why,  any thick description of “multiculturalism” is generally false.  A friend of mine, who writes the blog Cold Dark Stars, pointed out in “Multiculturalism and the Clockwork City,” points out:

Canada sells itself as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. It is true that many religions, skin tones, and languages coexist here. But the diversity stops there. In a clockwork world where synchronicity is required, only the right sized gear or spring can fit. The immigration system has already filtered the worthy candidates that can adapt to the friendly and generous canadians. That cab driver used to be a doctor in Islamabad. That engineer’s parents were the upper one percent in China. I am studying a PhD in the natural sciences. Someone in some office with a masters degree in public policy has decided that we were more worthy than the others. There is no diversity in any of this. No varied modes of life. Either a skilled worker, a technocrat, or a capitalist.

I would go further then him, but it hints at the key point. Economies cannot tolerate cultures that are counter to production. Sub-cultural modes can co-exist, home languages can remain intact, but material culture still has to fit in the dominant modes of production, consumption, and exchange.  Cultural forms that cannot be commodified are simply not sustainable.

In short, the overarching culture trumps not matter how much civic or national difference one allows.  This is why isolated peoples are changed by the moment of study or contact with the outside, and if they are fit into the networks of trade, are subsumed into the larger global culture around capitalism.

I lived in many countries and seen this over and over.  It is not that capitalism or liberal modernity erases most cultures, or even melting into the same stew of whiteness, but it dissolves their boundaries.  Remnants remain.  The Protestant capitalism has differences from the Confucian capitalism even after both have given up their traditional faiths and speak a common language. However, can they be said to have completely separate “life-ways?”

Indeed, many of the frognazis point out that multiculturalism has a homogenizing effect.  They aren’t entirely wrong, but except themselves from the equation. They say multiculturalism is about creating new markets, finding cheap labor, undercutting the common culture. This seems like a profits imperative, and one that goes far beyond immigration issues.

Multiculturalism in a sense of completely separate and intact cultures co-existing unchanged is not a thing.  Most of what is fought for by “progressives” and “reactionaries” (two terms of orientation that are merely slurs without the specific issues that one is progressing or reacting to being stated) around this so-called “multiculturalism” is proxy for other issues.  Be it free movement of peoples, or belief that economies can grow perpetually behind the imagined communities of nation-states. Something else is almost always at stake.

People will fight to maintain elements of their traditions, language, and ethnic identity beyond joining or participating in a culture, but they are also subsumed within that culture.  Even culture separatism is borderline impossible because that act itself changes the culture in response to perceived foreign elements.  Any definition of “multiculturalism” thus must remain thin and focus on elements of identity that don’t impede the general economic culture of a polity or system.  Cultures that really and truly oppose this often just die out from their members being unable to reproduce their ways of life.  Most battles about so-called “thick multiculturalism” are thus red herrings, or people trying to sell you something. Furthermore, anytime you hear about defensive of a pristine and unadulterated culture, feel free to roll your eyes because the very declaration of that battle means adulteration has already happened.

The Spectre of Culture (Wars)

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That’s because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today’s reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn’t to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.

— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

This book was written before the economic down and the explicit shift on both the left, which had been heading this way explicitly since the late 1960s, and the right, which had had done it in coded language only since 1980s but became explicit about towards the end of the Bush administration, moved into one would, with the condescending vague hope, the “late” phase of the culture war.

Now, I don’t think we need to rebuild the “progressive” coalition like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, but I do essentially agree with them.  In lieu  of any thing like a mass movement, we are left with spectacle around campuses.  This has happened over and over again as people effected directly by economic and policing politics do not have the leisure to maintain mass protests, and the protests move to places where people do, campuses.  To talk in liberal terminology here, this moves from a site of lesser privilege to a site of more privileged, even if intersectional oppressions abound.

In the communist movement, the key point of the abolition of “value” is that value was generated by working class.  There ability to change society was not their status as victims, although they clearly were, peasants were also victims, but as Marx noted, all peasants revolts could generally achieve was just replacing the old ruling class with themselves.  They did not have the power to end what produced the need for feudal or even an agrarian capitalist society.  It was the proletariat’s power that had as the people who made the stuff that society ran on that made them the subject of change. Not their victimhood.

So why is identity victim so popular and why is there a race for even the objectively powerful to claim it?  Victimhood is a quicker proxy for group cohesion than symbolic kinship.  Symbolic kinship is what enabled tribal societies to expand blood bonds through rituals of inclusion, adoption, etc.  Marriage, replacing the labor of lost members of the tribe, or even suing for peace made this possible.  In fact, as Marshall Sahlins pointed out, while sociobiology and some branches of evolutionary psychology had assumed reproduction, sexuality, and tribal determined kinship,  the evidence is that its inverted even in hunter gather societies.  However, a quicker, albeit much less stable, was to generate a “political” body was victimization.  It generates the other to define the tribe.

IF you view culture as two things, the habits of a society to organize around its own reproduction as a whole (which is, in some ways, a codification of economic and familial relations) and as the means to govern conflicts within that unit without explicit or even implicit violence, you can see that culture develops from these two impulses.  Culture wars would naturally accord when patterns of life dissolve, which capitalism after the world wars has clearly done even in the most “developed” countries for both good and ill.

Furthermore, in moments without political clarity and where prior oppressions have made other forms of social life more distrusted, and there is no-to-little-mechanism to organize by class in terms, victimhood as a cultural politics would be innately appealing. Think about the shift from the Black Power movement to the Rainbow coalition to focus in social justice on structural oppression.  All three movements actually shared a view of structural racism beyond individual bigotry, and all three moments acknowledged the horrendous victimization of the African diaspora and other people termed “black” in the Americas and from European colonialism.  However, the focus from power to integration to justice moves the focus of agency.

As middle class and working class “white” (read rural and suburban, which gets coded for white) life does decline as wealth becomes urban and even more highly centralized and uneven, the mantel of victimhood is claimed, and it is made to deliberately mirror that other identity movements.  Whiteness becomes defined as, instead of a lack of identity as it was seen in most of twentieth century, as a besieged but substantive identity, as you see pop up in the rhetoric around the alt-right.

In a different time, this does resemble fascists movements claim of victimhood.  Something that we forget about all three of the major European fascist movements and the Klan.  So it can be serious as death politically when a dominant social group does pick up the rhetoric of victimization. However, in the “first as tragedy, then farce” way, things degenerated quickly.

Berkeley, for reasons having to do with both the free speech movement and the birth of the new left, has taken on weird symbolism.  In a way, it has become a manifestation of our dreams of internet culture.  The shouting and burning away of Milo recently was a spectacle for both the so-called “alt-light” and antifa movement to appear to matter.  However, it did nothing but boast his book sells and maybe stop a doxing, which is a small victory. The neoconservative and religious right finding Milo’s complicated stance on teen-adult relationships between gay men, a stance that many of the radical left actually share with him, is what had is book deal ended and lost him a media outlet.  The prior Berkeley moment was a spectacle, but it was all light, no head.

So again, things move to Berkeley when the Alt-right decided to make it ground zero for a gay pride style protest.  Caitlin Johnstone says in her article, I Think We Can Safely Say The American Culture War Has Been Taken As Far As It Can Go,

Okay, that’s it. That’s as far as the American culture war can possibly be taken. When you’ve got people dressed as superheroes brawling with people dressed as ninjas over who’s got the better warmongering neocon politicians in Washington, you’ve taken this idiotic game to its most ridiculous possible extreme. These Berkeley demonstrations where right-wingers who think America is one COEXIST bumper sticker away from full-fledged Marxism gather to have fist fights with lefties who see Adolph Hitler’s face on every mammal without a Tumblr account have taken the artificial dichotomy created and promulgated by America’s ruling elites and made it so cartoonishly exaggerated that it’s lost all shape and meaning outside of “hey look at me!” social media vanity politics.

If you haven’t been following (and I would not blame you if you have not), there was yet another pro-Trump demonstration in the ultra-liberal city of Berkeley, California yesterday, which was once again met with counter protests from masked “antifascists”, and which once again turned violent. This happened because people who voted for Trump last year are tired of being painted as racist Nazis by the people who voted for Clinton, so some of them have been staging the conservative equivalent of a gay pride parade to let everyone know that they’re out and they’re not ashamed. The people who voted for Clinton, meanwhile, have been brainwashed by corporate media into believing that their nation is being taken over by fascist bigots, so when they saw what they were being told was a rally for white nationalists and neo-Nazis assembling in their neighborhood, they came itching for a fight. Tempers flared and fists flew.

I’m not calling for this behavior to stop, for the record; if a bunch of bored internet denizens want to get together and break their hand bones on each other’s skulls with poorly-thrown punches in order to feel something, that’s fine by me. I just think it’s worth drawing attention to how ridiculous this whole thing is getting. Because some rich people and their politicians figured out that rural Americans have different fears than urban Americans and that these fears can be used to keep voters fighting each other instead of demanding a just and equitable society, you’ve now got guys dressing up like Captain America running around breaking sticks over the heads of dreadlocked black bloc liberal arts majors in one of the most expensive parts of the wealthiest nation on earth.”

This in a moment where Trumps politics are shifting. He is going back to the normie neoconservative foreign policy hawking that has defined Republicans. Partly because it clears the charges of being a Russian stooge, in a new liberal quasi-McCarthyism, while not substanceless, does seem to be going to a paranoid style of politics liberals in the past avoided.  The fact that these manifestations of internet debates on radical political cultures have come to substitute for the work that needs to be done in the US.

This farce may be an indication that things are actually darker than anyone realizes, but what looms is not mass radical movements. This is not Rome in 1931.  IF fascism was defined by total mobilization, then this is inverse.  It’s demobilization, depoliticization, and the decline of the energy of the politics around victimhood.  There is such a thing as a tragifarce.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Wonktopia’s Little Big Horn or Wonktopia’s Crossing the Rubicon.

Plot Twists abound: I have been avoiding continuing to blog about the minutiae of Trump transition team and general Democratic reaction to it.   I have been avoid this because it is droll, complicated, and I want to see how everything plays out. However, recent events have let me to write on what I am seeing as a dangerous trend in progressive circles.

You can’t save wonktopia with wonks in the security sector of the executive giving vague releases. The CIA’s consensus view that Russia was election tampering has been picked up with a confluence with the faithless elector argument.   Podesta and the White House seem  trying to expand the argument by having a report given to the Electors. The issues with using an anti-democratic institution to restore a popular vote without either legislative, judicial, or state oversight should be obvious as it creates precedents that literally violate several state constitutions and statutes on faithless electors, tries to bypass the one function of the electoral college to favor another function, and does nothing to address that legislative and state (and probably judicial) would have absolutely no incentive to government with a Clinton executive.

The compromise elector is to the install a moderate Republican as a compromise, but in light of the CIA’s supposed revelation, there is an urgency to do something. Most progressives favor Kiasch or Rubio being installed, which would be interesting in so much that almost no one voted them and would destroy the primary/caucus process that is a province of the states.  If they put in Clinton as the executive, it would be worse.

The problems is that Electoral College is anti-democratic but it keeps large swaths of the country from feeling like they have no federal recourse. In Latin America, where no such institutions existed in the post-Revolutionary Republics both rightists and far leftists in non-metropoles were kept out, and the results were either a quasi-dicatotorships like the PRI in Mexico or lots of civil wars like most of Central and South America. Without the states having more representation of urban areas and without significant work at state level, this use of executive and procedural power that Wonktopians have become addicted to since 1960s, risks empowering their opponents more and more as well.

Furthermore, the claims are thin: The Democrats are asking the entire country to embrace faithless electors off of a statement by the CIA prompted by a President of the opposing party that has not proven anything but illegal release of true documents and possible theft of RNC data. IF there is vote hacking or manufactured documents, then we need to know. We don’t know that. The Democrats are essentially asking for a anti-democratic institution to save democracy from an election where a foreign power may have done agitprop and that is so far all we have evidence for. The FBI seems hesitant to endorse the claims as well. 

The kinds of constitutional crisis this can provoke as serious, and while it is a stretch to imagine civil war immediately, the use of executive procedures would prompt popular revolt in most of the states and would lead to pressure for amendments to the constitution and a possible backlash against Democrats in the next congressional election period whereas such an election would traditionally favor Democrats if prior history is an indication. This would be effectively risking killing most of the structures of the Republic t0 save the popular legitimacy of the Republic. It either looks desperate and doomed, or like crossing the rubicon.

Either way, it would make progressives complicit in their supposed worse fears of constitutional crisis.

 

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Week 3, Day 2: The Anti-Fascism of Fools, Or Listen Leftist!

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Presumably by giving them free press.

As much as I love Umberto Eco, if I see his 13 Ways of Looking at a Black-Shirt essay on twitter again, I am going to get a baseball bat and figure out how to use it through social media.

It’s time for a talk. I am too old to on the dirt-bag Brooklyn left, too Southern for that too. I am too young to be some Boomer nostalgia head who beats off to the pictures of naked women protesting the Nixon election or Black Panthers lining the streets with AK-47s and copies of Chairman Mao’s book.  Or to be remotely convinced by Badiou’s recounts of Mai’ 68.

I said Occupy was going to be a failure a month in, and how it failed would be important. It failed in the worse way: Like 68’ers pretending that François Mitterrand would stop liberalization of the economy or stand-up to DeGaulist tendencies within the state.  Kind of way, progressives speak about their involvement with the Bernie Sander’s campaign as Tulsi Gabbard talks about possible positions in Trump’s cabinet. 

First, let’s deal with Eco.  I am an Eco partisan and I don’t think his thoughts on Ur-fascism are without points, but he is myth-making.  Interesting the semiotician most responsible for calling out our secular myths in the last thirty years ends up doing it himself. What right-wing movement doesn’t meet Eco’s criterion?  Nebulous notions of the past?  Selective populism? Selective modernism?

I saw the same essay applied to Neoconservatives in the Bush 43 years. When I was twenty, I even though there may be some truth to it when I was involving in the anti-war movement in Georgia. At the time, I was also reading the American Conservative and following the beginnings of a young Ew England rightist, Richard Spencer.

Lately, I see even NPR giving Richard Spencer press.  I am going to admit to something: I have had a correspondence with him. I have known what Alterative Right, National Policy Institute, and Radix was doing, and even pointed people to their use of Marcuse and Adorno in their theoretical work. I pointed out that Spencer was part of getting both Alexander Dugan, the Russian Fourth Positionist, and Alain DeBenoist, the French New Rightist, into marginal counters of American political thought. He has even hoped that the Alt-Light of Steve Bannon and the anti-SJW rhetoric would propel his message to larger and larger audiences.

Liberals, in your myths, you have been more than happy to be do so.  You have been kicking a gas can fire into a dry field in an attempt to scare people into voting for voting for DNC and a liberal status quo? Has it not occurred to you that your exposes may be spreading the very thing you think you are fighting?

Sure, Fascists reject modernism and have Heideggerian critiques of technology, but they also use that media better than most of their opponents. Sure, Trump and Bannon flirt with fascist like ideas, but they aren’t clearly fascists.  Fascists tend to be scorned ex-leftists who cynically use Populists.  Don’t believe me?  Really study Italy. Study the SPD involvement with the Freikorp.  Study how Chancellor Ebert, a centrist Social Democrat, aided and abetted the very militias that would form the core of both the SS and the SA. Learn how Oswald Mosley was a staunch advocate of Keynesianism.  Just because Jonah Goldberg wrote a stupid book about it called Liberal Fascism equating liberalism, the left, and fascism together (and ignoring the conservative parts of the fascist coalition), does mean it was all false as scholars of Fascism like Ze’ev Sternhell have pointed out.

So your reaction is to say that Trump, since he is supported by NPI and even gives token cabinet heads to people they like–such as Jeff Sessions–must be the same as NPI will have about as much effect as when The Federalists pointed out that the CPUSA endorsed Barack Obama. If you don’t drink the kool-aid, it doesn’t work.

So if not Hitler is it better to attack Trump for being Berlesconi?

Writing for Jacobin, a magazine I have mocked in the past,  makes some key points tangentially related to the above. Trump’s clear analogy to Berlesconi is actually weaker than it seems:

Trump and Berlusconi are both men who came to power from business rather than politics, and both have presented their inexperience with the political establishment as a mark of purity. They have both insisted on their entrepreneurial success as the most evident proof of their qualification to rule the country. Like Plato’s tyrant, they both exhibit an ethos based on a dream of continuous and unlimited jouissance and an aggressive and hubristic eros (though Berlusconi prefers to think of himself as an irresistible seducer rather than a rapist).

They both indulge in gross misogynistic and racist jokes and have reshaped public language by legitimizing insult and political incorrectness as acceptable forms of political communication and by embodying an exhilarating return of the repressed. They both revel in kitschy aesthetics and don the orange hue of artificial tanning. And they both allied with the far right in order to advance a political project of authoritarian neoliberalism and unbridled capitalism.

Yet as Arruza notes, these similarities are superficial:

Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.

These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience.

The idea that you fight all rightwing populists the same way is belied by not knowing the conditions are different for different kinds of populism. Saying one is fighting fascism by pointing out how scary Trump fans are spreads a fascist message to those who don’t yet believe it, but are primed to by alienation. Saying that you are fighting a media mogul with no real substantive politics who rules with a coalition isn’t going to work with Trump either.

Arruza does point out the problems of anti-Trumpism that anti-Berlesconism could teach us:

Mainstream Italian anti-Berlusconism has always suffered from a grave form of selective amnesia. The effects of six years of harsh austerity policies and virtually no significant social opposition have never been taken into consideration as a decisive causal factor in the consolidation of Berlusconi’s power. Nor has mainstream anti-Berlusconism ever shown any willingness to admit the substantial continuity between Berlusconi’s second government’s austerity policies and those of the center-left.

Berlusconi’s attack on labor rights was, for example, just an effort to expand the casualization of work introduced by the center-left (a goal realized years later by the center-left Renzi government through the Jobs Act). His privatizations of public services were primed by the center-left’s embrace of the notion that “private” is better.

The center-right’s immigration law, which criminalizes illegal immigration, is nothing but an amendment of the previous center-left law. Italian participation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was made politically possible by the first violation of Article 11 of the Italian constitution — which prevents Italy from participating in wars of aggression — carried out by D’Alema to allow Italian forces to contribute to the bombing of Serbia.

Most of the things Trump will use as executive power were began under Reagan, expanded exponentially under Clinton, expanded under Bush, and even MORE expanded under Obama. So the Democratic left is going to have a hard time doing anything against it because it can’t own up to its own role in this. Instead, it spreads the ideas of the far right supporters of its enemy and hides the fact that it doesn’t have any ideas of its own to counter with. Keynesian stimulus and infrastructure? Well, Trump is going to try to do that, and when it fails, he will have a GOP congress to blame. Clinton didn’t even make that promise and Sanders would have been in the same situation but with a coalition of DNC Democrats opposing him as well.

Arruza also said something that I have been pointing out in this series on her personal facebook feed:

An element of useful knowledge is coming from Trump’s election: the neo-Nazi and white supremacist right has kept grass-root organizing and coordinating over the course of the years, while the ‘left’… well was busy discussing whether yoga classes and pumpkin spice latte are instances of cultural appropriation or safety pins are instances of white paternalism and guilt, and bashing any attempt at class analysis as economic reductionism and any attempt at having strategic discussions, and developing a politics of solidarity and universalistic demands as Western imperialism. It’s time to wake up from this sleep of reason, before their clubs meet our heads.

Trump may not be fascism, but keep it up, and see what comes next. You may even be in a country where you have no say in government and win the popular election year after year The funny thing is most of it will be from free press from anti-Trumpists and people who see opportunistically see the Trump admin as way to further some stimulus and alliances to demographics like the Friends of BJP.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Week 3, Day 2: Rove Vs. Bannon, The Tale of Two Enemies.

I was, perhaps, too curt about the how serious Steve Bannon is compared to the who most of the liberal and even neoconservative press portray him as being.  You don’t fight a media mogul with mind like Otto Von Bismark like he is a caricature from American History X. Bannon may or may not be a racialist, he definitely doesn’t have problems of Richard Spencer. Indeed, the mainstream media realizing that Richard Spencer exists has been a boon for Radix as they keep trotting him out to scare liberals into not trying to play politics with the GOP.  From what I can’t see why liberals are having so much trouble with this, but this gives Steve Bannon cover:  Bannon is not an alt-rightist a la Spencer, and only tried to wrestle the brand away from Spencer as a way of conveying mystique.  Furthermore, Spencer himself had forgone that brand in favor of Radix several years ago out of differences with some of the bloggers.  People outside of /pol/ or readers of the most dark and obscure corners of American Conservative and Taki Magazine probably have no idea of this history or how they are playing into it.

When Steven Bannon says he wants that dark power, he isn’t kidding, and Bill Kristols and liberal bloggers of the world are giving it to him. Even the National Review is on watch.  When the Daily Kos and the National Review agree on something, people take notice, but often for the wrong reasons.  Bannon isn’t wrong that making Dick Cheney and Karl Rove names progressives used to scare their children to sleep at the end of Bush era and the beginning of Obama’s presidency was a source of real political power for both Cheney and Rove. So you respond by him saying that by giving it him?  The DailyKos is literally giving Bannon what he wants:

Hurrah for honesty, at least. Even Dick Cheney, who certainly inhabited the dark side, didn’t—at least publicly—praise Satan. Bannon could have mentioned some others imbued with the darkness-is-good vibe: Silvio Berlusconi, Augusto Pinochet, Francisco Franco. But that would have been too honest.

Indeed, in fact, by listing Berlusconi in the same league as Pinochet and Franco, they are try giving Bannon and Berlusconi (and by proxy Trump) more power. After all, Pinochet and Franco successfully used left and liberal idiocy against itself and buried their opposition: literally. Bannon would love for the American public to think he can do that, because if they think that, he can.

The National Review is smarter, but still doesn’t see the irony, when Tuttle says, “The problem is not whether Bannon himself subscribes to a noxious strain of political nuttery; it’s that his de facto endorsement of it enables it to spread and to claim legitimacy.”  The National Review is also spreading the message of that nuttery by looking  like elitists denouncing it, and making Bannon look like the sane option who is just a Machiavelli using tendencies of degenerated capitalist democracy against itself.

This is where the contrast with Karl Rove really comes in, while Karl Rove was a Machiavelli. He didn’t have the vision or real focus of Bannon. Rove was a political operative who wanted a generation’s long GOP dominance for a New American Century.  A century that was just an extension of the post-war American dominance.  It was Reagan’s America, but also Kennedy’s America. Rove used Kennedy’s model for tax cuts, encouraged mild flirtation with direct stimulus, and saw how to get aging boomers out to vote against social norms of changing since the 1960s. Yet, while in the seeming blinkered vision of US politics, this was only extending the tactics of the Boomers into another generation:  a bit of Kennedy, a bit of Nixon, and a large dose of Reagan.

Bannon makes Rove look positively myopic. Rove’s permeant GOP majority was generational, and would just extent the current out 40s years. Bannon is talking, and has been talking, in terms of epochs going back to World War 2.  Yes, his sensationalist media seems like the worse excesses of the Drudge Report, and its support for the GOP in the Bush 43’s Presidencies, but Breibart under Bannon was playing a much longer came that Breibart under Breibart. Don’t believe me?  Read the speech Bannon had linked to Buzzfeed: 

And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

Now, what I mean by that specifically: I think that you’re seeing three kinds of converging tendencies: One is a form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief.

I see that every day. I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment. And you’ve had a fairly good track record. So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

Bannon is mixing capitalism with Catholic social teaching in a way that resembles a Nationalist form of Post-Keynesianism. Deficit spending priming the pop on investment within a polity, currency manipulation maintaining that, and lots of infrastructure investment being made. Even after that infrastructure is non-productive. If that resembles Peron’s Argentina or China, it is important to remember that most of respectable non-neoliberal left believes the same thing. Bannon has swept their own policies out from under them.

Furthermore, is Bannon wrong about his analysis of post-World War II “West”? He is right, for example, that Christendom more than race defines its borders. Iranians are caucasians after all. He is right that secular capitalism and Islamism have worked together to accidentally create ISIS. What Bannon does though is combines Paleo-conservatism and neoconservatism while rebuking both:

They have a Twitter account up today, ISIS does, about turning the United States into a “river of blood” if it comes in and tries to defend the city of Baghdad. And trust me, that is going to come to Europe. That is going to come to Central Europe, it’s going to come to Western Europe, it’s going to come to the United Kingdom. And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.

The language mirrors the New American century, but the goal absolutely does not. Bannon agrees with Elizabeth Warren about the problems of Goldman Saches, and he should know, he worked there. Bannon agrees with Putin about the decline of the West and the decline of Christendom, and he agrees with Marxists that the middle class was under attack by large global powers. There is a reason a why people in both old centers of power are afraid of him, and some of it is his nationalism, but others is that he has found a mixture to show them all as empty and use parts of all of their rhetoric.

If Rove’s ambition of a generational GOP majority in congress, Bannon’s is more akin to František Palacký than James Carvel. Trump may be cheeto Benito form of Huey Long, but Bannon is far, far more serious. Continue to make him into a caricature, he’s already told you he’s fine with that.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Week 3, Day 1: Dark Wizards and Hard Truths

There are a few caveats: I have seen enough reports from enough people to believe that hate attacks are up, and that many groups that are racialist and sexist do fill empowered by the Trump Presidency.  Is it because Trump gave them permission?  Why would someone willing break a law care if they had permission.  Is it gloating?  Maybe. It may also be that feel that while there will be histrionics and protests, maybe even some armed people in the streets in liberal capitals: they probably suspect, with good reason, liberals are cowards and they have cried wolf so long that no one takes even real threats seriously.

I think that may have been at play in Brexit too, honestly.

And has anyone proven that wrong?

Scott Alexander, who I often don’t agree with, actually makes some points worth considering here in his recent post entitled, “You Are Still Crying Wolf”. While I may not agree with a lot of this or the lack of seriousness of some issues addressed, I will say a goodly portion of the narrative I am hearing on liberal arts podcasts pontificating on politics actually does indicate this is at hand:

There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist. Yes, calling Romney a racist was crying wolf. But you are still crying wolf.

Note that Alexander doesn’t say that Trump or Romney is not racist, but the uniqueness of threat is laughable. Alexander, like me, also was quiet on this because we didn’t want to be accused of being a Trump apologist, but both Alexander and myself thought that talk of racism was not going to help progressives because it has been thrown at people as milquetoast as Bernie Sanders.

You shoot that attack on Sanders, and you think you can use the same attack on Trump and it will stick?

Alexander makes some sound points though, and the numbers back it up. If anything, there is speculative evidence that racism cost Trump white votes. If anything, he received less white votes than Romney.  He voting percentage among minorities was up from Romney as I have stated like five times now. Yet we still get tons of “Dear White People,” articles about Trump.

Secondly, most of theories about that vote don’t wash.  Alexander points out that even if the Klan and alt-right are growing very fast, they are still tiny and can’t explain but 1% of vote.  Even with liberal assessments of numbers, Alexander spells it out pretty clearly:

Maybe a better way of looking for racists: David Duke ran for Senate in Louisiana this year. He came in seventh with 58,000 votes (3%). Multiplied over 50 states, that would suggest 2.5 million people who would vote for a leading white supremacist. On the other hand, Louisiana is one of the most racist states (for example, Slate’s investigation found that it led the US in percent of racist tweets) and one expects Duke would have had more trouble in eg Vermont. Adjusting for racism level as measured in tweets, it looks like there would be about 1 million Duke voters in a nationwide contest. That’s a little less than 1% of voters….

I mean, kind of. But remember that 4% of Americans believe that lizardmen control all major governments. And 5% of Obama voters believe that Obama is the Antichrist. The white supremacist vote is about the same as the lizardmen-control-everything vote, or the Obama-is-the-Antichrist-but-I-support-him-anyway vote.

So what do liberals do about this? Give people like Radix and former Alternative Right editor and white nationalist at NPR, Richard Spencer, a bunch of free press. While this is meant to scare people in opposition to Trump, it’s more effective at spreading the right’s message across sectors.

If anything, that is pouring gasoline on garbage can fire and kicking into a dry field so it moves away from your house.

Alexander goes into many more arguments, and even some of the more cynical elements of Trump:

So we have Trump – who loudly condemned Duke before February 28th, and who loudly condemned Duke after February 28th – saying on February 28th that he wanted to “look into” who David Duke was before refusing his (non-existent) endorsement. I’m not super sure what’s going on. It’s possible he wanted to check to see whether it was politically advantageous to officially reject it, which I agree is itself pretty creepy.

That a reality television star should watch the ratings so closely should surprise none of us.

There is a bit at the end though that is interesting that Alexander points out:

If 47% of America supports Trump (= the percent of vote he got extrapolated to assume non-voters feel the same way), there are 150,000,000 Trump supporters. That means there has been one hate incident per 500,000 Trump supporters.

But aren’t there probably lots of incidents that haven’t been reported to SLPC? Maybe. Maybe there’s two unreported attacks for every reported one, which means that the total is one per 150,000 Trump supporters. Or maybe there are ten unreported attacks for every reported one, which means that the total is one per 45,000 Trump supporters. Since nobody has any idea about this, it seems weird to draw conclusions from it.

Oh, also, I looked on right-wing sites to see if there are complaints of harassment and attacks by Hillary supporters, and there are. Among the stories I was able to confirm on moderately trustworthy news sites that had investigated them somewhat (a higher standard than the SLPC holds their reports to) are ones about how Hillary supporters have beaten up people for wearing Trump hats, screamed encouragement as a mob beat up a man who they thought voted Trump, knocked over elderly people, beaten up a high school girl for supporting Trump on Instagram, defaced monuments with graffiti saying “DIE WHITES DIE”, advocated raping Melania Trump, kicked a black homeless woman who was holding a Trump sign, attacked a pregnant woman stuck in her car, with a baseball bat, screamed at children who vote Trump in a mock school election, etc, etc, etc.

But please, keep talking about how somebody finding a swastika scrawled in a school bathroom means that every single Trump supporter is scum and Trump’s whole campaign was based on hatred.

I know friends who feel threatened, and I know friends who feel like they will be unable to marry their loved ones and that they will be attacked.  My response to this is different than Alexander’s: the culture as a whole is more aggressive in the states because people feel like chickens are coming home to roost.  So I don’t tell people that their fears are mere histrionics–and I do think there are plenty of histrionics to go around–but that if they feel unsafe now, they should have five months ago.

Also, it’s hard to believe that people really care that much about minorities when they make excuses for a hawkish candidate who has no problems killing brown people in droves as long as it is by drone strike. It’s just local minorities that matter, right?

But to people who feel afraid:  you might have right to feel afraid.  You probably did in January of this year too.  Maybe you did feel afraid then as well, but now you think people will listen to you.

All I say to you is stay safe, stay tough, be resilient, and be careful about people claiming to be your allies.

Now, this brings to the cases of Stave Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos.  I listened to several liberals lecturing their audience about how Social Justice rhetoric had nothing to do it, how safe spaces were really just trauma mechanism, and how the rhetoric on campuses didn’t matter that much except to minorities who felt threatened there. I pointed out that minorities on those campuses come from completely different class backgrounds than the ones killed by cops. This is not to say they don’t live in a world without opposition and oppression, but it isn’t the same world as Eric Garner.

Yet Milo Yiannopoulos alt-light success story was predicated on profound missteps on how most people over 35 and most people who aren’t in universities would perceive those demands from activists in #BLM. Milo was an attention-seeking libertarian that could say outlandish things and sound reasonable by selecting the most histrionic screeds to go against. It worked. It also provided cover for Steven Bannon.

Most of what Steve Bannon is being attacked for is Yiannopoulos rhetoric and his attacks on neo-conservatives on Jewish/Christian lines. This may be fair in part, but portraying Bannon as a simple Neo-Nazi Karl Rove misses the point.  Bannon basically agrees with left-liberal Post-Keynesian theories around deficit spending on infra-stracture. Bannon agrees with Putin on Christianity and ISIS, and thus one has the makings of an Otto Van Bismark more than Francis Yockey.

Vox, in a recent expose on Bannon, actually was one of the few liberal outlets to give him his due while even Bill Kristol was attacking him as an anti-semite caricature.  Bannon is an “economic nationalist” whose right-wing operation hires many jews and gay men. While that doesn’t say anything on Bannon’s personal views: Bannon sounds positively like many liberals on the economic crisis and the fall-out it calls, but his view on secular and muslim world’s encouragement on Christianity is a bit of Samuel Huntington and a bit of Vladimir Putin in the mix.  He may be a racialist as almost all nationalists are at some level, but attacking them on those grounds, even with bipartisan support, will back fire. It will also likely cause Trump to double down.

Bannon is playing a much longer game than the inflammatory headlines at Briebart indicate. He can have Milo play the stooge, he can both appeal and oppose the 14/88 and Radix elements of the Alt-right while pushing out Milo or people like Sargon of Akkad as the new, less racialist version of alt-right appealing to excesses of campus politics. He can get liberals to give him and his speeches tons of free press, although so can Richard Spencer these days.

With enemies like these, Bannon and Trump may not need friends. They haven’t so far.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 7: In the Land of Unintended Consequences

Simple electoralism as a method of even maintaining what most “progressives” see as social progress is rife with paradoxes and contradictions. Urbanization was supposed to produce a more liberal and cosmopolitan populace and thus a more liberal polity across the global, yet while urban populations are more educated and urbane in the way most liberals view those term, the politics of the world have become more and more nationalist.

In the United States, increasing, there are some very naive arguments about the electoral college, if it were just eliminated the country would be better represented. The problem with this is that this pretends that executive is who represents the will of the country, and that elections would still not largely be decided on a state level, over which Democrats have no control. They can’t control it either without a significant in either appeal or the demographics of the non-urbanized areas of the country because federal elections are still under state control as long as they do not violate any other provision of the constitution. This is set out by the constitution itself modified by the 14th amendment.

Furthermore, this hyper-centralized areas over large states with multiple cultural regions have a poor track record for stability even if they have one-party rule. The reason for this is actually obvious, large portions of the country are more dispersed and thus have almost no chance of their local polity influencing the dense urban areas that effect the government.

The media market of the US has already led to increasing dominance of national level candidates. For example, New York has had little pull on the executive most of its history, its internal politics being so vast but so different from the rest of the country. While Hillary Clinton is not a New Yorker, but a kind of inverse carpet-bagger, she has represented New York interests since her tenure in the Senate and the past two and a half decades have been spent in New York and/or Washington, DC. Trump, although an outsider and sort of an accidental celebrity, is also an outsider born and bret from New York. The fact that his has been missed is itself telling: much ado was made about Rudy Giuliani’s limited success in the 2008 election because of his New York origin and the history of that city being distrusted by the rest of the country. We have seen candidates moves from Governors to Senators in the past 20 years, and now, we see Senators to celebrities.

The nature of the managerial class in the US is difficult to discern as is the nature of the pundits that serve it. For example, Andrew McGill’s” Clinton’s Popular-Vote Lead Will Grow, and Grow, and Grow” at the Atlantic, where he points out that estimates in a lot of blue states have to push the numbers up with mail-ins and absentee ballots going towards Clinton in heavily blue areas: New York, California, and Washington in particular. He concludes,

…. California is due for a record turnout, and possibly other states are as well. It’s too soon to tell, he cautions, if Clinton’s total haul, which sat at 61.3 million as of the afternoon of November 13, will match or surpass the 66 million votes Obama received in 2012.

But let’s be clear: While these uncounted votes may grow Clinton’s popular lead, they absolutely will not change the course of the election. That math is settled; Trump holds an insurmountable lead in swing states, which turned his popular defeat into a sizable electoral victory. All the votes in liberal-leaning New York and California will not change that.

However, these ballots will knock the legs out beneath the argument that Clinton failed to mobilize Democrats. Yes, she’s no Obama in 2008. (Neither was Obama in 2012.) But county-by-county results indicate Democratic voters flipped for Trump, not that they stayed home. “We just saw massive shifts in the industrial midwest from ’12 to ’16, and those are the same voters,” Wasserman said. This is the conclusion Democrats must face, and in the absence of other data, it’s the one they’ll have to live with.

I am not quite sure what the point of this is.   47% of the electorate still did not vote, but more Rust Belt Democrats flipped sides?  No, I have gone into the specific material and economic reasons that may be, but we does one get by seeing that more people in densely urban areas voted for Clinton, even though Trump got higher percentages of the minority vote than the last Republican candidate?   That the electoral college is the sinister villain tying the country to rails in front of a moving train?   That despite her relative unpopularity fear of Trump mobilized more voters on the West Coast and abroad to vote for her?  That she is somehow a viable candidate in the populist mode? And even if she was, the decimation of the Democrats at every other level of government outside of coastal areas doesn’t really promise that should would have half the power to redirect thing as Trump could have if his party remains loyal.

Furthermore, things get more complicated quickly. A post with the somewhat clickbait related tile of No Hillary Did Not Win the Popular Vote at Fermenting Politics, the gist of this is that we actually do not have means of knowing who won the popular vote in every state. The Nixon in a Pants Suit versus the Cheeto Benito is Round Four of the Title Division has heavy disincentives on voting in certain states:

Because the goal of the game is to get to 270, not to see who is the most popular nationwide, campaigns are no concerned with the total number of voters. The Electoral College is not part of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). You don’t get extra points for running up the score. So, it doesn’t matter whether you win Florida by one vote or one million votes, the value of winning Florida remains 29. Team Blue wins California regardless of the number of voters it amasses there. So if you are Team Red, you probably have supporters in California. But whether they vote or not, they cannot affect the color of California. They therefore have a dis-incentive to go out and vote because they can’t be the Hope and Change they want to be. Likewise, Team Blue will waste no resources on encouraging voters in Texas, because it will remain Red.

So saying Clinton won the popular vote nationwide is comparing apples to mangoes. The system is not set up to determine the most popular, merely to ascertain who got what number of Electoral Votes. So the numbers being bandied about claiming Clinton “won” the popular vote are misunderstanding what the numbers mean. It is simply the total of people who voted in the election, regardless of whether their individual vote counted.

The more people understand the electoral college, the more people in certain areas know their vote is irrelevant and stay home. The encouraging of strategic voting by both mainstream and third party candidates often leads to more knowledge of this fluke in the system and people age out of the system.

This is going to make electoralism in the US very difficult without some fundamental re-conceptions of how one engages in politics itself.  I hope to start thinking on these questions soon and looking at the international picture.  After all, nothing happens in a vacuum, even a depressing American election.