November 16, 2018

«The Christine Blasey Ford Episode: State Feminism, the Worthless “Left,” and Liberal Delusions» by Bill Martin

Bill Martin writes at Counterpunch:

«However well-intentioned and however much it is based on real grievances and oppressions, it seems to me that Identity Politics is a disaster for any real politics, for any real struggle for the general emancipation of humankind. There is a cynical side of Identity Politics, in that it has simply given up on the emancipatory project, and/or simply allowed itself to be assimilated to the existing circuits of power, albeit with certain twists that present themselves as something new.

«Accordingly, Identity Politics appeals to those who have already had a taste of power, sometimes a substantial taste. To complete Plato’s version of what Buddhists call the “three poisons,” the appeal is especially to those who have also had a substantial taste of material wealth and have been able to pursue desires that are not in the reach of most people in the world. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with at least the latter two “poisons,” up to a point, but it is when everything is subordinated to power, money, and desire that the real problems come in. It should go without saying that the point here is not that privileged women should be oppressed; the point is what people do with their privileges. …

«What is especially important here is the fact, if we are going to consider the question of whether “being a man” disqualifies one from saying anything that relates to (the many things that might present themselves as) feminism and “women’s issues” (here I am simply using a term that was put to me in criticism), or to anything at all (in my case I was told to stick to “brocialism” and “fantasy football,” as if I’d ever had anything to do with either of these things), then we also have to consider the question of “representation” in the case of, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who somehow gets a pass in supposedly being able to speak for women. … Having said all this, this is not really about women, per se; it’s about the horrible Democrats, and what and who they are willing to sacrifice for the privilege of serving globalist finance capital. …

«Here’s a little test for what world one is in. Is there anyone who honestly believes that Hillary Clinton was speaking the truth when she said she was shocked and disappointed upon hearing the revelations about Harvey Weinstein? Should anyone this gullible really be trusted to be able to speak on any matter of importance? But, you see, this isn’t about truth, it’s about power, and it’s about interests and what team seems to work better for one’s interests. I doubt many women actually believed Hillary on this point, but hey, going along with it is just part of staying with your team. Never mind that this is a way of validating the things Harvey Weinstein did, or at least of letting oneself feel okay that the Democratic Party was fine with taking his large contributions—at least until after the elections. I imagine that Woody Allen did not make such large contributions, so (and on no real evidence), to hell with him. …

«The women who find Christine Blasey Ford to be credible and even heroic, however, are not gullible. Instead, they have been provoked, “triggered” (in the current parlance), and even forced to relive terrible experiences from their lives. … The underlying premise of this effort is that the situation of girls and boys and women and men in this society is so deeply broken and unjust that it can be likened to a state of war; therefore, such niceties of bourgeois-democratic society as legal procedures, real evidence, credibility of witnesses, and judgments rendered by more than a single, ideologically-driven, all-powerful authority (in Title IX, this is called the “single-adjudicator system”) have to go by the wayside. … These questions have to remain on the table, as part of the big picture, not necessarily because they are based on a completely realistic picture of life as it has been lived by women and men, or because a world of gender separatism is likely to come about, but because everyone of good will needs to confront the injustices of patriarchy and to ask what can be done to create the conditions wherein the lives of women do not have to be mediated through the lives of men. What the Christine Blasey Ford part of the Kavanaugh episode has to do with, however, is something else again. …

«The Democratic Party’s commitment to Identity Politics is not a commitment to the real issues and questions that are the basis for Identity Politics, it is a commitment to marshalling people’s energy around these issues and questions to the imperatives of finance capital globalism and American imperialism. It’s not an accident that the heroes of this Democratic Party/Identity Politics “feminism,” such as Hillary Clinton and Rachel Maddow, are so open and bloodthirsty about their militarism. … Without any hesitation, I will say that I sincerely hope the Democrats will go down in flames. As for all my liberal and supposed leftist friends out there, I love you, I care about you; you may hate me, but I don’t hate you. I hope you will find your minds and stop letting the Democrats use your trauma, and whatever good intentions toward humanity that you have, for their nefarious and ignoble ends.

«We are at a point where the “conventional wisdom” of the Left is just as hackneyed and dogmatic as that of the “Right,” if not more so. And neither political category is of much use in the present moment, this moment of what I call the “Trump Clarification.” Obviously, we are in a different moment when Tucker Carlson has more interesting things to say about the State and the ruling class and class in general than most who are bogged down in received categories that needed a radical overhaul already a generation or more ago, if not indeed much longer.»

[Philosophical footnote:]

«In [Alain] Badiou’s work, there are four “conditions of philosophy,” domains of human activity in which truth may emerge: art, science, politics, and love. Yes, in all cases, there is the criteria that something new emerges, such as when two people fall in love, and one way we know that something new has emerged is that the previous “situation” is “evacuated,” and the previous terms of things are recast. So, when two people fall in love, there is a new situation, and pre-existing relationships with other people are recast.

«Since the late ’60s and early ’70s, everyone has gotten used to saying and thinking that “everything is political.” There is much to be said about this, and it is not entirely a simple question, but I think, following the distinctions that Badiou makes, we people of good political will need to rethink this idea and basically reject it. This idea has led us into a big mess. …

«Now, let’s remember that a clear distinction should be made regarding the term “politics.” The ordinary use of the term has to do primarily with the pursuit of power. I call this “anti-politics.” The exceptional use of the term, in both discourse and practical matters, has to do with the pursuit of the good society, and here “good” is meant in the sense that we see in Plato and Aristotle: that which encourages a general and mutual human flourishing. …

«In the reduction in which “everything is political,” you end up, by and by, and regardless of intentions, with the power-oriented, anti-political view. This is what we see coming to complete fruition in recent years, [in] the idea that the core and limit of “politics” today is the “struggle against Trump.” This is the model of “politics,” easily intermixed with Identity Politics, that reduces everything to “power vs counter-power.” In other words, this is a “politics” in which, by design, the emergence of the new truth that we need, does not stand a chance. This is why Badiou says that, from the standpoint of the existing situation, the change we need is impossible and illegal, and the change will also seem irrational. …

«To simplify greatly (everything that is in my “footnote”), there is a kind of reduction, that the philosopher Alain Badiou is worried about, whereby the “everything is political”-claim reduces all of our attempts at finding or pursuing (or “inventing,” “constructing”) truth into a matter of the play of “political” power. In this way, “everything” (that is supposedly “political”) becomes assimilated to the workings of power. … The other kind of reduction that Badiou is concerned with can be seen in the reduction of art to entertainment, science to technology, love to sexuality (or possibly to “a kind of friendship”), and politics to power. These, in other words, are reductions of quality to quantity, but they also point out the problem of thinking that the emergence of something new can be accounted for by a magic trick called the transformation of quantity into quality. …

«Another way to put this is that the basis in capitalism, in which the dominant “understanding” of “politics” is instead an “anti-politics” of mere power-manipulation, is also the basis in which reductionism in general occurs. The kind of “feminism” I am criticizing here indeed seeks to work within and does nothing, absolutely nothing, to challenge the capitalist (and American imperialist) framework; on the contrary, instead, it actively seeks to work within the system, and indeed to “work the system.”

«This is a win-win proposition for this kind of “feminism”: either more power is gained for those whose conception of “politics” is nothing but power, those who are already established in this world of power (or a few clever opportunists who hope to become established), or, in the case of the failure to secure more power in any given sortie, there is a “win” in being able to call all those who oppose this bullshit-parody of feminism “misogynists,” “ignorant and stupid,” “deplorable, chauvinist pigs,” “straight, white, cis-men,” “cis-women” (and even “cis-feminists”), etc.

«That many and perhaps most people are on to this bullshit constantly eludes the Democrats. Or perhaps it is more that the Democrats have nowhere else to go, and nothing else to offer, than their power-plays dressed up in “social justice” rhetoric. This is certainly the case in reality, but it seems that the Democratic leadership and even Hillary Clinton, no matter how deluded they are, must know this on some level. Still, what choice do they have but to dig into their narrative deeper and deeper? …

«The larger liberal/anti-Trump narrative, in which truth is fully-defined within the narrative and the narrative is what must therefore be defended, come what may, is the context in which the Blasey Ford stunt took place. …

«Part of what I’m trying to say is that the politics of simply “anti-Trump,” based overwhelmingly on hatred for an individual (which, I suppose, does confirm that he is not really a figure of either establishment party), is leading us down a very bad path. And it’s not that the opportunism of the leadership of the Democratic Party is a case of passions having overcome reason—Hillary is a great example of a consummate politician who knows how to serve power, through the employment of a purely instrumental reason—it is that they are inflaming passions, including hatred (which is simply poisonous, especially when aimed at people rather than institutions), it’s that these passions are being opportunistically deployed in the service of “political” ends that have nothing to do with addressing patriarchy or any of the other oppressive institutions of our capitalist society. …

«Trump is not a “fascist.” The people who support the idea that he is, and that a fascist regime is solidifying under Trump, are way off the mark. What the Democrats tried to do with their Blasey Ford-stunt was closer to “fascism,” in the attempt to further eliminate basic principles of bourgeois-democratic legal procedures and to more broadly ensconce the idea that, at least for a certain range of offenses, the accusation is the “evidence,” and therefore the accusation is the “case.” (In this mix it can also be quite unclear how the “accusation” is generated in the first place.) Everyone should be relieved that the Democrats did not get away with this, at least for now.»

[digression on the North American Sartre Society:] «[W]e need them [Simone Beauvoir and Simone Weil] for the kind of feminism and radical struggle that comes from a universalist perspective, as opposed to the anti-universalism of Identity Politics.»

«Trump … is especially good at taking things that have needed to be addressed for years, and pushing them another step (at least rhetorically) toward crisis—and what the existing structure is showing is that, whether Democrat or Republican, the system has no solution to these things, at least not without a major shake-up and, what’s more important, without loss of power by those who are entrenched in power. Those who have committed themselves to a “solution” to any major problem within the system, and therefore those who accept “#votebluenomatterwho,” have committed themselves to the complete elimination of any thinking that attempts to go beyond the existing system. This is a confirmation of instrumental reason that no fascism or “totalitarianism” has ever achieved, but the leading elements of postmodern capitalism, such as the Clintons, seem close to doing it. … Except most people don’t believe the Democratic Party’s bullshit, and, in terms of a “politics” confined entirely to the non-idea of “pursuing interests,” these people have not only interests as well, but also real needsthat are not being met by a Democratic Party that not only does not really represent the working class (it never did, but at least it tied itself to the idea that it did), but even straightforwardly dismisses working people as “deplorable.” This is the Democratic Party that has been created by the Clintons, Al Gore, and others since the Reagan/Bush period. It is purely a liberal delusion to think there is anything to support there. …

«Whatever Trump is, and whatever the Republican Party is or is becoming, I truly hope the Democratic Party crashes and burns.»

Earlier essays by Bill Martin at Counterpunch (2016):
Bring on the Crackup: Hoping for a Trump–Sanders Election
Fear of Trump: Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism
The Triumph of Imperialist Feminism: Hillary vs the Immense Revolution
“Difference,” American-Style: Of High-Horse Riders and Low-Hanging Fruit
The Self-Justifying Fantasies of Clinton Democrats
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?

In this series:
The Christine Blasey Ford Episode: State Feminism, the Worthless “Left,” and Liberal Delusions
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend

November 13, 2018

Authority, empire, and the devolution of liberalism

In the recent centennial commemoration of the end of the first “world war” (ie, the beginning of the second) French President Emmanuel Macron said: “In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values.”

How can you have moral values if you have you have no self-interest? It is obviously a question of balance (which Macron denies), but it is also obvious that one’s own interests (and what happens to those closest to you, expanding outward to community and eventually to nation and only then to include the world community) must be attended to first. Only an authoritarian would define moral value as the opposite.

Similarly, Justin Trudeau said, “Attacks on the media are not just about getting your preferred political candidate elected, for example, they are about increasing the level of cynicism that citizens have toward all authorities, towards all of the institutions that are there to protect us as citizens.”

Memo to the Canadian Prime Minister: Authorities earn respect, and when they are no longer respected, it would be the very definition of authoritarianism to demand that they be and to condemn the critical engagement of citizens as “cynical”. Democracy, not, unquestioning submission, is how we protect ourselves as citizens.

Trudeau also said: “When people feel their institutions can’t protect them, they look for easy answers in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia.”

The joke is that all that so-called populists and nationalists in the US and around the world want is to control their countries’ borders with the rigor that Trudeau’s Canada controls theirs.

And who is shutting down trade?! Control of trade or renogiating aged treaties is not shutting it down, any more than controlling immigration is shutting it down or xenophobic.

Back to Macron, who also said about the victors in 1918: “They imagined the first international corporation, the dismantling of empires, and redefined borders, and dreamed at the time of a union, a political union of Europe.” In other words, a single empire to replace the three that had just been at war.

November 1, 2018

The heroic and the mundane

‘The absolute is eternity. The relative is day-to-day existence. These are the two fundamental tropes of our lives. We hold the absolute at bay, firstly by leveling down the bigness of our existence, that which has to do with the very boundaries of life and materiality, to the commonplace, addressing the issues that concern us all, the great collective, mankind, only in the quotidian; secondly by ritualizing the absolute in an unreal world of images: death is to us not the physical death of the body, but the figurative death, as it occurs in images, in the same way as violence is not physical violence, but figurative violence. Heroism is no longer a possibility, there being no arena for it, those arenas have all been shut down, for the heroic belongs to the bigness we do what we can to shun, yet in the world of images, which any one of us may enter at any time, the heroic lives on: entire worlds and societies have emerged in Internet gaming, where anyone can pick up a machine gun and venture out into the world to shoot the enemy for a few hours. Practically all the films we watch are about exactly this: heroism, violence, death. And the people we watch carry out these heroic deeds in our name, in our place, are all physically beautiful or charismatic, or both. Indeed, that world, growing and expanding with every year that passes, celebrates all the worlds we otherwise reject. Outer beauty, charisma, heroism, violence, and death are not relative, they belong to the pure, the unambivalent, the simple. Our need for this, to see the magnification of our existence and what borders the absolute, is insatiable.

‘... This is what happened in Norway this summer [2011], when a man only a few years younger than me went out to an island and began indiscriminately shooting and killing young people. He acted like a figure in a computer game ... Did he feel a yearning for reality, for an end to relativity, for the consequences of the absolute? We must assume he did. Do I feel such a yearning? Yes, I do. My basic feeling is that of the world disappearing, that our lives are being filled with images of the world, and that these images are inserting themselves between us and the world, making the world around us lighter and lighter and less and less binding. We are trying to detach ourselves from everything that ties us to physical reality; from the bloodless, vacuum-packed steaks in the refrigerated counters of our supermarkets, the industrially produced meat of cooped-up animals, to society’s concealment of physical death and illness, from the cosmetically rectified uniformity of female faces to the endless flow of news images that pass through us every day and which together, in sum, erase all differences and establish a kind of universal sameness, not only because everything is conveyed in the same language, but also because what thereby is so incessantly conveyed inexorably, albeit gradually, recreates what is conveyed in its own image. The symbol of this trend is money, which converts everything into monetary value, which is to say numbers. Everything we have is mass-produced, everything is the same, and our entire world, which is commercial in nature, is based on that serial system. The values in our sky of images are Nazi values, though everyone says differently. Beautiful bodies, beautiful faces, healthy bodies, healthy faces, perfect bodies, perfect faces, heroic people, heroic deaths ... and the rush of the authentic, which here is fictitious, so compelling, that someone sooner or later is bound to bring the sky down to earth and let it apply here.’

My Struggle (Min Kamp), Book 6, by Karl Ove Knausgård, translated by Martin Aitken