Notes from the Apocalypse #1

Arrogance, lack of achievement after a prosperous period, selfishness, shirking work, and liberalism, are all evils to be avoided… Liberalism is taken to mean that one may avoid conflict or work in order to be more comfortable for the moment, while the problem continues to grow.
……..– Chairman Mao to his People

“I must now shock you by telling you that we have no longer anything which you, a native of another planet, would call a government. … As a matter of fact, the history of the terrible period of transition from commercial slavery to freedom may thus be summarized. When the hope of realizing a communal condition of life for all men arose, quite late…  the power of the middle classes, the then tyrants of society, was so enormous and crushing, that to almost all men, even those who had, you may say despite themselves, despite their reason and judgement, conceived such hopes, it seemed a dream.”
………– William Morris, News From Nowhere

Our problems have grown too great, our leaders to fat and happy, our rich and elite abandon their nations going rogue and too global, and out of joint with the populations – living in their dream palaces and travel-channel yachts and deco-punk cities; the sovereignty of nations is failing, the world of boundaries dissolving, migrations hollowing out the earth in civil-war, ethnic cleansing, broken and viral epidemics, climate catastrophes…. we seem tittering on the edge of doom; and, like citizens from an alien planet wondering what will come next we watch on sadly knowing it want be good, yet believing we are powerless to alter the shape of the future…

While populism grows in Russia, the EU, and the U.S.A., a world full of middle-class fervor seeks regain its former strength and power, seeking to seize the day lest the rest of the planet sinks into a fetid quagmire of local turmoil and chaos. Racism, speciesism, the methodical hate squads arising everywhere… All the while global corporations and criminal cartels cannibalize the remaining resources of the planet, bringing death and division everywhere, seeking only to profit from war, chaos, and utter defeat. Is this a time of Apocalypse? Doom? Our pundits and experts spout cliché’s, our philosophers turn away from human affairs to the nonhuman… our young play idol video games of pure war and fantasy… our politicians bring us news of austerity and debt… and, our matinee idols of music, Hollywood, and sports live out the corruptions of late capitalism as if there were no tomorrow.

As a young man I began reading Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, Hegel, Bataille, and others… realizing we we’re all failed Utopians. Pessimism is the face of Utopianism in the world today rather than Hope. Ernst Bloch once stated “Evil does not approach us as pride any more, but on the contrary as slumber, lassitude, concealment…”. One wakes up and realizes the real world has become a Reality TV series, a fantasy for a middle-class that cannot be bothered with the world’s problems but would rather wile away their hours in make-shift paradises of illusion and self-enslavement to desire and narcissistic self-love. Despair is born of hope, a dis-ease with the way things are… some of us on the Left are Marxian optimists with a vengeance, except that the world Marx once critiqued is dead and buried under a thousand flowers. In its place is an immaterial financial world, and invisible empire of risk and electronic counterfeit built on cynicism, profit, and global catastrophe. Hedging their bets against apocalypse these casino players of the new economics slip into pocket niches, playing the roulette will of capitalism with weak AI algorithms that can make or break a nation in at the speed of light.

Today we are living in the midst of Generation X’s coming of Age Party as the Middle-Class. The old structures and forms of the world based on liberal and conservative visions are dead, they were ruled by other media  and control systems than today… Generation X grew up with the net, children today even in some parts of the Third World are immersed in the net… it feeds their minds.

Yet, capitalism has migrated there, too. Colonizing the young with their capture systems, prodding them on into madness, chaos, video games, toys, global crapology… We had a chance in the 90’s to keep the net free, that’s gone… now we live in stupidland, a realm of commercial search engines that promote the fourth wave of industrialization, the second machine age, the capitalist anti-utopian future… and excess without humans… a future full of transhuman and post-human beings where auto-modification, cross-gender excess and biogenetic experimentation would make even H.G. Wells think twice…

I grew up in Podunkville U.S.A. in the fifties… the world is no longer my world… which is a good thing. Information overload may be here, but the children of our age know that and are developing tools to work this knowledge base and turn it into something that can shape and change our minds and our worlds. So, yes, I’m still a utopianist… it’s us, the oldsters who need to change, begin to listen to the youth once again. All these young philosopher wannabes are scattered across the world speaking to us of their hopes and dreams. Yet, before them there is this uncertain future of Climate Change, World Civil War, Secular and Religious turmoil, Ethnic violence everywhere, social decay… one wants to repeat Mao:

“Socialism must be developed… and the route toward such an end is a democratic revolution, which will enable socialist and communist consolidation over a length of time. It is also important to unite with the middle peasants (classes), and educate them on the failings of capitalism.”

Some saw Mao as a little too utopianist as well (cultural revolutions gone mad…), but in the above one sees a man shrewd enough to realize it was the Middle-Estate, the middle-classes that needed education and leadership… here at least in the U.S.A. the middle-class is Generation X’s coming of age party… those who were entering their teens in the 90’s are now the middle-class, and they know the difference, and are educating themselves the hard way. The democrats and republicans both speak to a middle-class that died long ago… the world has changed and neither the dems or the reps understand this. Populism seems to be the order of the day everywhere? Why? Because these middle-classes have seen themselves, their parents, and the future of their children sold down the river by thieves and scoundrels after the 2007 crash… they’ve seen the Bankers grow rich at their expense, the elite .01% walk away unscathed while they and their children gained nothing in return… this is the legacy of corruption and excess… Capitalist Utopianism at its degrading best… a legacy of doom.

I sometimes feel like one of those cranks on the street corner spouting from a soapbox the coming apocalypse. Problem is it’s not coming, it’s all around us but we can’t see it or believe what is in front of our eyes. Apocalypse from Greek apokalyptein “uncover, disclose, reveal,” a sort of mystery novel or noir disclosure of those old standbys of fate and freedom, the pendulum of time swinging on Poe’s horror flicked stage of the world. A post-cyberpunk tale replete with all the usual morbidity of normalcy. That’s the problem it is all so normal now that it’s ubiquitous, we can’t see it because it’s everywhere. We kept thinking apocalypse would be some drastic one-time event. Instead its just our normal madness. We have created a mentality that accepts as normalcy the apocalyptic time of no-time, a present without outlet. We call it global capitalism and have convinced ourselves there is no alternative. So we lie down in our pits of revenge, our hovels of critical theory and critique and poke fun from the sidelines as if we might make a difference. While the sleepers continue their sleep unaware that reality TV is no longer a fantasy.

I just keep wondering when this generation now entering their 30’s and 40’s is going to find its voice and take control of the stupidity and act before it’s too late? In our time Global Capitalism is divorcing itself from sovereign nations, tearing down the walls between Third and First world, seeking migrations as tools to further their agenda of no more democracy… the rich, elite, powerful conglomerates and corporations are creating networks, laws, systems outside the sovereignty of nations… the don’t need democracy anymore. We do! We’ll people wake up and realize this before it’s too late. The rich are abandoning sites like the EU for have cities, evil dream cities of City States around the planet where they can live in luxury and decadence unheard of while those left in the old democracies pay the bill. We seem to believe in outmoded philosophies, politics, and revolutions of emancipation from a different world. Things have changed… we no longer have the luxury of time on our side. If we do not act in this generation it truly will be too late. I know, I know… this has been said before, too many times.. by me and others… but that doesn’t make it false. What do we want? What kind of world do you want for yourself and your children?

On the Left we target a ghost, neoliberalism as if it existed, we have all our cards laid out in a line, theories, histories, economic and philosophical; yet, under it all the truth is that neoliberalism was our fantasy, our construction kit for a world that has moved on… we’re targeting and indexing an object that does not exist accept in our theories. Reality is where people live and die, not some theoretical construction kit one can model like a weather application. Oh, don’t get me wrong…. geez … we need the modeling, too. What I’m getting at is that we need to know things from the street-level, from the gut-level… we have too much theory… too much of it is now repeating the same gestures, the same idiocies, the same groove over and over again… When was the last time you read a book, an article of substance that actually had something new to say? We seem running in circles saying the same thing in new metaphors… this is hyperdecadence or hyperawareness with a vengeance. Most of the philosophical and political bric-a-brac one reads is warmed over thought from the pomo era, either castigating or promoting Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, or German Idealisms, Heidegger-Husserl, or the analytical Sellars-Brandomonian normative pack… then all these New Materialisms, Objects, Realisms spinning out what? What is ontology getting us? Is this going to change the world for the better? Are we just following the reality game into utter doom with either our direct or indirect access to it processual or structural insanity?

Maybe I’m an old fool, my time done or nearing… Nah… I’ll keep fending off the death-squad a while longer, thank you… and, I’ll continue being a Crank, churning out my little bit of narrative disruption here and there trying to wake people up… what else can one do? I still believe in hope… I dream… I seek a way forward… a world worthy of human love… maybe I’m just a stubborn old fool, and Jesus used to say we should just “turn the other cheek,” but I’m tired of turning that cheek, tired of watching the world sink down into oblivion, I’m – as Peter Finch in Network once said:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Think on it… notes from the Apocalypse…

 

Politics and War: Clear and Present Stupidity?

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This morning read a pundit on the Left, Slavoj Zizek on Turkey, and on the Right,  John Gray on ISIS and Syria, on the current stupidity of nations without leaders worth a dam. The Liberal West seems to be sinking fast, a world where the notion of freedom and democracy are shibboleths and icons of a bankrupt estate rather than the hard won concepts of the American and French Revolutions two-hundred years back. In an age of decline and decay when the world that many call fragile begins to waver and crumble into ruin one has to wonder what is next. For Gray a retrenchment and return to Hobbesian Leviathans, strong governments ruling with an iron fist; for Zizek, our world, being leaderless, is going the way of previous eras into slow decay and decline. Will Lacan’s Master-Signfier pop out of the wood work, a new Stalin or Hitler, some new dictator or strong man to fill the decadent vacuum for Gray’s Leviathan; or, will we just follow T.S. Eliot into that great silence where the world ends in a whimper rather than a bang?

John Gray in his article Islamist terror, security and the Hobbesian question of order tells us:

The West continues to reject co-operation with Russia on the grounds that Vladimir Putin and his client Assad are evil tyrants. From a Hobbesian standpoint, this is irrelevant. The salient question can only be: which is the greater evil? How is Assad’s dictatorship worse than a cult that abducts and rapes children, kills women it considers too old for sexual slavery, throws gay men off roofs, assassinates writers, cartoonists and Jews, murders dis­abled people in wheelchairs and razes irreplaceable cultural sites?

One really doesn’t like either choice. Maybe the answer is to clean house, replace Assad and put ISIS out of business. Oh, but that sounds like something we’ve heard before too: building democracy in the world. Has that worked? Let me count my fingers. No. Gray returns to Hobbes whose Leviathan took the hard line of support for a strong royalist State because without it there would be “no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

So for Gray the West has only one option, expand the State and its powers: “Concerted action against Isis on the scale that is required may not be feasible in current conditions. But even if the will to act can somehow be summoned, Isis will not go down without launching more assaults on western cities. That is why the powers of the state may need to be expanded, including restrictions on freedom that many liberals will want to reject out of hand.” Ah, the key: “restrictions on freedoms”. Where have we heard that before? War of Terror? Bush? Let’s clip the wings on our citizens, keep them safe from themselves and others: command and control, stronger law and violence. And, like the Hobbesian defender he is Gray digs in telling us: “A universal surveillance society is not a pretty prospect. Politicians who say that there is no conflict between freedom and security are deceiving themselves and us. The conflict is genuine but it is also un­avoidable. Those who want to treat liberal freedoms as sacrosanct should ask themselves what price they are willing to pay for these liberties.” The price of freedom? Being open and aware that freedom entails conflict and the realization that paranoia is not a defense against violence; being tolerant and realizing that in an open society one takes the risk. That risk is the name of the game in and Open Society? That freedom is not another word for lockdown and imprisonment, but rather for a belief that people have rights and liberties that cannot be infringed upon, that constitutions mean more than just words?

Slavoj Zizek for his part seems almost disgruntled. His article We need to talk about Turkey is so short this time one wonders if he just woke up with a bad hangover:

We are definitely dealing not with the clash of civilisations (the Christian west versus radicalised Islam), but with a clash within each civilisation: in the Christian space it is the US and western Europe against Russia, in the Muslim space it is Sunnis against Shias. The monstrosity of the Islamic State serves as a fetish covering all these struggles in which every side pretends to fight Isis in order to hit its true enemy.

So solidarity has become just another word for war by other means? We see the supposed global powers committing to non-commitments, to an uncooperative cooperation, to bombing and fly-bys without actually investing real time and energy in fighting a land based war. Of silently dispersing a nation of refugees around the planet as if this solves anything, anything at all. Zizek sees our current situation as a war of all against all, with the war on ISIS as just the staging ground for a larger global arena of war among the giants. Should one reread Gibbon on Rome rather than Hobbes on the Leviathan? What used to be called Progress has become the treadmill of a farcical repetition in stupidity and black humor. Our world is not so much a global civilization as much as it is one of Lovecraft’s slipshod gothic nightmares. Gnon is alive and well in the kingdom of Stupidity! Long live Gnon!

 

Slavoj Žižek: What options has the Greek government?

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– Cartoon by Paresh


Reading Slavoj Žižek: Thanks to the EU’s villainy, Greece is now under financial occupation – his latest entry on the New Statesman, brings me once again back to the bankruptcy of his dialectical vision. He tells us that the “problem Greece is confronting now is the one of the “Left governmentability”: the hard reality of what it means for the radical Left to govern in the world of global capital. What options has the government?” He mentions Yanis Varoufakis being accused of treason. He mentions Tariq Ali’s Diary: In Athens where Tariq reports the truth in the street back in July:

Conditions in Greece have been horrific: a quarter of a million Greeks applied for humanitarian relief to buy food and help with rent and electricity; the percentage of children living in poverty leaped from 23 per cent in 2008 to 40.5 per cent in 2014 and is now approaching 50 per cent. In March 2015 youth unemployment stood at 49.7 per cent, 300,000 people had no access to electricity and the Prolepsis Institute of Preventive Medicine found that 54 per cent of Greeks were undernourished. Pensions dropped by 27 per cent between 2011 and 2014. Syriza insisted that this constituted collective punishment, and that a new ‘deal’ was needed, one that aimed to bring some improvement to the conditions of everyday life.

Ali mentions Timothy Geithner, “the former US treasury secretary, who mentioned that the attitude of the European finance ministers at the start of the crisis was: ‘We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They lied to us, they suck and they were profligate and took advantage of the whole thing and we’re going to crush them.’ Geithner says that in reply he told them, ‘You can put your foot on the neck of those guys if that’s what you want to do,’ but insisted that investors mustn’t be punished, which meant that the Germans had to underwrite a large chunk of the Greek debt.”

Zizek in his own post goes into his usual philosophical renditions about the Event – a philosophical notion he’s taken from Badiou and made his own, etc. But after a long an seemingly quizzical post that seems to beg the question rather than answer it Zizek offers a futile and somewhat belabored answer:

There is no clear a priori answer here, any decision can only be retroactively justified by its consequences. There is a risk that the Syriza capitulation will turn out to be just that and nothing more, enabling the full reintegration of Greece into EU as a humble bankrupt member, in the same way that there is a risk of Grexit turning into a large scale catastrophe. What one should fear is not only the prospect of the further suffering of the Greek people, but also the prospect of another fiasco which will discredit the Left for years to come, while the surviving Leftists will argue how their defeat proves yet again the perfidiousness of the capitalist system…

Žižek seems to worry less about the human suffering to the actual people of Greece – even though he mentions it as rhetorical gesture, and seems more concerned about the “image” of the Left if Syriza’s government ends in a fiasco, one that he assumes will turn the Left into an self-annihilating artifact of its own dark mythologies of capitalism and its bane. Maybe its time for the Left to give up the ghost and for someone or something else to take up the struggle. Obviously the Left is already passé, a thing of the past, a retroactive dream and utopia that saw its day but is now just a graveyard of lost hopes. Bury the hopes and get out of the grave. Time for people themselves to take up their own struggles and forget the bankrupt Left and their fizzled mythologies of redemption. Time for something else… a Great Refusal whose time has come? Maybe as simple as: “We refuse to work…”. How would the world react to a united Greece who refused to labor for the masters, who would rather help themselves and live or die free than be enslaved to generations of debt? Do you think, then that the oppressed around the planet might just wake up? Come to aid of these desperate people and truly begin a global revolution against the stupidity of a global system that is in the end nothing but a tyrant?

No use going over the post, read it yourself… Thanks to the EU’s villainy, Greece is now under financial occupation.