Sunday, November 16, 2008

Disguising the Infinite Crime

Liberalism: Legacy and Menace

Colonialism kills. It it humiliates; it devastates; it tortures. The damage it inflicts on societies and individuals is immeasurable. The violence of the colonizer, which stretches greedily into the past and future even as it devours the possibilities of the present, is really too vast to comprehend. Colonization is vast and moreover it is permanent -- its trauma cannot be undone, its violence and degradation are irreversible. Its scars and its shadows will never cease to echo in the screams of the future. Societies may begin to heal their present, but they cannot escape their past. Because colonization does not only conquer, it rapes; it does not only penetrate, it impregnates. It is borne and reborn. And so colonization is an infinite crime, the infinite crime.

All this has been said. And the truth doesn’t lessen with repetition. But let the academy hear once and for all: no amount of saying will reverse or atone for atrocity. No amount of analysis can expiate the undying complicity of colonization. History does not excuse us because history isn’t over. Of course, many would like to be excused. Who wouldn’t? So so many denounce and renounce, endlessly. Condemnation is one of the chief exports of the ivory towers. It offers grants and organizes conferences to produce scholarly condemnation. (And this, at best!) In moments of clarity, it even apologizes. And then, as if history were suddenly renewed, the “postcolonial” era is proclaimed. A “postcolonial” discourse is institutionalized and proliferated by thousands of universities. Well, it is a lie. A corpse in the mouths of those whose ancestors imposed the white man’s burden, and a gag in the mouths of those whose ancestors carried it. If you’ve fallen for it you do not understand the infinity of colonization.

The tower lies, but the ivory doesn’t. It knows where it comes from. It knows where it still is. The ivory knows what is not said enough, and this is what I write to say: Colonialism changes. It reacts, adapts and redeploys. It has before and it will again.

The first major deployment of colonialism was in the Americas. The Spanish conquistadors, the first colonizers, were the most unabashed in their plunder and indiscriminate killing. Others quickly followed; British, French and Portuguese colonizers established settlements and began the difficult but lucrative work of pillage and genocide. The second wave of colonialism was to Africa. Almost all of Europe took part and a continent many times the size of Europe was carved up irreparably. Ideologies of racism, developed in the Americas, ran rampant. Slavery was systematized, institutionalized and globalized. The colonizers were principally guided by profit, but soon in both places they claimed to offer something in return: Civilization. Christianity.

Coercion, of course continued. Domination was still essential and torture was indispensable to the enterprise. But colonialism was undoubtedly becoming more sophisticated, more complex.

Some individuals and groups collaborated with the colonizers. To be sure, not a few sold their mothers out of fear or greed or confusion. But let there be no misunderstanding. Everywhere, there was resistance. Nowhere, did a people surrender outright. Everywhere, dignity fought against disgrace. Nowhere, did a people welcome rape. Nor will they ever. Organized struggles for decolonization grew and spread. By the mid 1700s, the British and French had to send their armies to the Americas to crush the growing resistance. Increasingly, they were unsuccessful.

But while colonial armies retreated in the Americas, they advanced on the other side of the world. “The aristocracy wanted to conquer it, the moneyocracy to plunder it, and the millocracy to undersell it,” wrote Karl Marx. In the third major deployment, the British began the most strategically and ideologically sophisticated colonization to date.

The colonizers christened their new kingdom the Raj, and claimed to bring the many peoples of South Asia something new. Not Christian Civilization, but Secular Modernity. The difference is significant. This time, the British held back the Church and substituted the Corporation.

In the Americas, missionaries were often more powerful than merchants. This was less so in Africa, and least of all in South Asia. Of course the British were with few exceptions religious, but they didn’t make as much of a point of it as they had before. However, churches were an integral part of the infrastructure of control in the first major deployments of colonizers. (Liberation theology in Latin America is a notable exception to a dogmatic rule.) For the conquering and controlling of South Asia, religious infrastructure was replaced with corporate infrastructure. The British Raj began with the East India Company.

The East India Company brought capitalism, and capitalism promised modernity. Modernity replaced civilization in the colonizer vernacular and became the signifier for the ideal of social progress. Modernity was civilization 2.0. Colonizers still used the old program, but they increasingly experimented with the new model. There are some key differences, but like civilization before it, modernity meant many different and differing things. All of them were dramatic and most of them were utterly mysterious to the many peoples who were to be modernized.

The ideology of secular modernity was liberalism. Liberalism was quite distinct from previous colonial ideologies like racism and religious dogmatism. “At its heart,” writes the scholar Thomas Metcalf, “...liberalism can be seen as informed by a radical universalism.” (Ideologies of the Raj, p34) Unlike earlier colonial ideologies which reveled in exclusivity, liberalism called upon ideas of equality. “Above all,” continues Metcalf, “liberals conceived that human nature was intrinsically the same everywhere, and that it could be totally and completely transformed, if not by sudden revelation as the evangelicals envisaged, then by the workings of law, education and free trade.” (p29)

Liberals had specific ideas about this universal human nature, and in short order liberal colonizers would implement their ideas in South Asia. It is important to note that Britain was not liberal -- it was ruled by a conservative monarchy with a violent faith in traditional hierarchies. Liberals had a faith as violent, but in something different, something new, something they called modernity. Outside the shadow of the crown, the technicians of the Raj were the first to put liberalism into practice on a massive scale. Metcalf writes: “India could become something of a laboratory for the creation of the liberal administrative state... Away from the contentious political environment of England, liberalism, as a programme for reform, developed a coherence it rarely possessed at home.” (p29)

Two of the founding fathers of liberalism were the father and son James and John Stuart Mill. Both worked for the East India Company. Both were prolific writers and their ideas informed not only the colonial enterprise in South Asia, but have to this day been influential in the development of the liberal modernity of globalization. James Mill was famous for a widely published book called the History of British India, which he appropriately wrote without ever leaving Britain. The Mills gave liberalism a lot of its philosophical and scholarly foundations.

Against the ideological grain of the monarchy, they wanted to change society. They believed that society should be constructed around two basic columns: the maximum liberty of the individual, and the maximum utilization of private property. With these two fundamental conditions in place, liberals were certain that a utopian modernity would inevitably blossom. As long as society was organized around the rights of individuals and private property was protected, not much else mattered. “[H]appiness and not liberty was the end of government,” writes Metcalf of Mill’s philosophy, “and happiness was promoted solely through the protection of the individual in his person.” (p31) Individualism and private property were both the conditions for progress and the standards for measuring progress, and evaluation was strict.

“Exactly in proportion as Utility is the object of every pursuit,” wrote James Mill, “may we regard a nation as civilized.”(Metcalf, p30) This undeniably extremist ideology was introduced into South Asia not by recommendation or appeal, but with a double punch of coercion and imposed law. The British pedagogy of liberalism in South Asia had two faces, both of them white: The soldier, who could kill, and the lawyer, who could control. Colonial liberalism brooked no transgression. “Our law is in fact the sum and substance of what we have to teach them,” wrote James Fitzjames Stephen, a legal member of the viceroy’s council. “It is, so to speak, a compulsory gospel which admits of no dissent and no disobedience.” (Metcalf, p39)

On the printed page, liberalism appeared to value equality and to oppose tyranny. On the printed page, liberalism was a seemingly benign intellectual enterprise. But in the reality of the Raj, if liberalism was the theory, violence was the practice. “In the colonies,” wrote Frantz Fanon, “...there is something of the cowboy and the pioneer even in the intellectual. In a period of crisis the cowboy pulls out his revolver and his instruments of torture.” In crisis, the rules of colonial engagement become clear: first empire, then ideology. Secure land revenue at all costs; modernization will follow.

Major crisis struck the Raj in May of 1857 when over a century of oppression culminated in a widespread mutiny in the East India Company’s native army. The corporate army which had conquered the subcontinent was composed of 240,000 native South Asian soldiers (“sepoys”) and only 4,000 British troops. Previous insurrections had failed to spread, but in 1857 over half of the sepoy army mutinied, marched on the capital in Delhi, and briefly defeated the combined forces of the royal and corporate army. Self determination however, was to be short lived. By 1858, organized resistance was crushed, and British rule was reestablished. Liberalism demanded it: the laws of the universal human condition provided no space for difference or disagreement. Individualism and private property were non-negotiable, or modernity was impossible. In the crisis of a massive mutiny, the justice of colonial liberalism mandated murder. The intellectual reached for his revolver and liberalism’s skeletons came out of the closet. “As the victorious British armies moved on the rebel strongholds,” writes Metcalf, “the 1857 revolt was ruthlessly suppressed. Sepoys, even if only suspected of mutiny, were blown from cannon; villagers were, on occasion, indiscriminately shot...” (p43-44)

Did liberal pretensions of equality come into conflict with the bloody realities of colonization? On the contrary, liberalism’s novelty fueled the exploitation; if anything it revitalized the colonial project. Old avarice found new courage in the lofty language of liberalism. The ideal of a universal human project justified conquest, the apotheosis of property legalized pillage and the supremacy of the individual validated the defiance of ancient traditions. “Nobody is at liberty to attack... property, and to say at the same time that he values civilisation,” wrote a liberal British scholar named Henry Maine. (Metcalf, p68) The defense of liberal civilization (modernity) called for the annihilation of deviants who would attack its foundations. Liberal equality did not include any conception of the other. The modernity that the British promised was thus an apartheid; always violently exclusive of difference. Liberal Modernity was the Manifest Destiny of the Raj.

Liberal colonizers in South Asia made a serious and systematic attempt to disguise their greed as altruism. In this, liberalism was the most successful of all colonial ideologies to date. It succeeded in fooling not a few of us. “Imperialist nostalgia,” writes Renato Rosaldo, “uses a pose of ‘innocent yearning’ both to capture people’s imaginations and to conceal its complicity with often brutal domination.” (quoted by Metcalf, p79) The mutiny of the sepoy army in 1857 and the civil uprising that it provoked forced liberalism’s deep seated violence out of the shadows. But this incident only frames a concentrated example of the oppression and exploitation that was the everyday common sense of the Raj. “The only interest of the Company was the realization of maximum revenue with minimum effort,” writes Bipan Chandra: “Naturally, the revenue could not be collected without coercion and torture: in Rohilkhand there were as many as 237,388 coercive collections during 1848-56.” (p36) And aside from old fashioned torture and conquest, the company also dealt extensively in drugs and prostitution. Under the banner of liberalism, in a grand forced march to modernity, the Honorable Company held a fifth of the world’s population in subordination for 100 years.

The world has not recovered. The infinity of colonization bifurcates and converges, corrupting with equal veracity the colonizer and the colonized. Western and South Asian liberals today make apologies for exploitation and congratulate each other on the hard-won blessings of modernity. None less than the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a speech at Oxford in 2005, described British imperialism as “benign” and characterized by “fair play”. “As we look back and also look ahead,” he continued, “it is clear that the Indo-British relationship is one of ‘give and take’.” A more repulsive apology for over two centuries of catastrophic exploitation is difficult to imagine. But let us examine it. What does South Asia owe to the Raj?

“I hear the storm,” wrote Aime Cesaire: “ They talk to me about progress, about ‘achievements’, diseases cured, improved standards of living. I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out.” (p43) Railroads? They were payed for and built by the South Asians and “[a]s late as 1921,” writes Bipan Chandra, “only 10% of the superior posts in the railways were manned by Indians”. (p38) Commercial agriculture and mines? Financial institutions? Trade on the world market? “[T]he tendency,” continues Chandra, “was at best towards creating capitalist enclaves under foreign control which really inhibited the development of the rest of the economy.” (p38) Industrialization? On the contrary. Singh himself cites: “India’s share of world income collapsed from 22.6% in 1700, almost equal to Europe’s share of 23.3% at that time, to as low as 3.8% in 1952.” Having received so much from the British, what price did South Asia pay for the benign give and take of the Raj? What does the Raj owe South Asia? The scholar Nick Dirks demonstrates convincingly that both caste and religious communalism (two of the most violent elements of South Asian society today) were in large part colonial constructions. South Asians were given telegraph lines; in return they suffered famines that killed millions, diseases that killed as many, and structural violence. “Has the bourgeoisie ever done more?” asked Marx, “Has it ever affected a progress without dragging individuals and peoples through blood and dirt, through misery and degradation?”

The idea of progress advanced by colonial liberalism is perverse. “[B]etween colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance,” writes Cesaire. (p34) This distance and its disguise are the infinite crime. In his explicit collaboration, Prime Minister Singh is a lap dog in the wrong century; a loyal sepoy with a nose so buried in British ass that he missed the mutiny. The modernity his kind adores is poisoned. “For the great majority of people,” writes Samir Amin, “the modernity in question is simply odious, hypocritical, and based on the cynical practice of a double standard. Their rejection is thus violent and this violence is completely legitimate. Really-existing capitalism and the modernity that comes with it have nothing to offer them.” (p56) India owes nothing to the Raj, and Britain could never atone to the people of South Asia for its irreversible rapacity. “Europe is responsible before the human community for the highest heap of corpses in history,” Cesaire wrote: “Europe is morally, spiritually indefensible.” (p45, 32)

Liberalism is the most perfect disguise for the infinite crime. As the Paris Surrealists wrote in 1932: “The white man preaches, doses, vaccinates, assassinates and (from himself) receives absolution. With his psalms, his speeches, his guarantees of liberty, equality and fraternity, he seeks to drown the noise of his machine-guns.” Liberalism is the veil behind which currently deployed colonialism meekly hides its pathology. It is the only colonial ideology that hasn’t gone into hiding. Racists and even missionaries are widely condemned, but liberals seem to have escaped with impunity. Liberalism survived the wars of national liberation, and thrives as never before in the financial infrastructure of present day imperialism.

Liberalism is a menace. We need look no further than its colonial legacy. It should no longer fool us with its vaguely appealing rhetoric of equality. “The opinions of the bourgeoisie,” Bertold Brecht reminds us, “...vouchsafe no insights concerning the bourgeoisie itself. A large part of the bourgeoisie, for example, considers the making of money to be a dirty business, and yet that is its sole occupation.” Somehow, the liberal vision manages to survive on the hollow weight of its empty rhetoric. This seems to be no problem for liberalism ideologically or economically; both systems grow on the emptiness of unpayable debt.

The modernity that liberalism promised is also hollow. It too is built on an infinite debt to everything that it perpetually excludes and terminates. Its economic development has undeveloped its builders and enriched its parasites. Its political development has dedeveloped its potential for democracy and overdeveloped its capacity for corruption. “The modernity in question is born with capitalism,” writes Amin,” “and the democracy that it produces remains as limited as capitalism is.” (p43) From the beginning, liberalism was a hoax, and that people have believed in it makes not a whit of difference.

The equality proposed by liberalism is not only a lie, it is also quite impossible. Equality is only possible when there is difference, or it is an empty tautology. Equality without difference is meaningless. Liberal equality denies difference. The imagined universality of the liberal British colonizers was nothing but a glorification of a false white homogeneity.

The individualism proposed by liberalism is also a lie. By making liberty the exclusive domain of the individual, it simultaneously undermines the very social fabric that protects individuals.“[T]his discourse of the self satisfied,” writes Amin, “acknowledges only a single human value: individual liberty. Such an acknowledgment comes at the price of being unaware that, in the context of capitalism, this liberty allows the strongest to impose their laws on others, that this liberty is completely illusory for the great majority... that it strikes directly against the aspiration for equality that forms the foundation of democracy.” (p55-56) If we value equality, and if we respect the rights of individuals, then liberalism is the ideological enemy. If the possibility of democracy is to be resurrected, liberalism must be actively attacked wherever it is found.

Liberalism disguises itself as what it destroys. This makes it extraordinarily resilient. Its infiltration and its supremacy are subtle. To challenge it is a complicated process. “[T]his liberal virus” writes Amin, “which pollutes contemporary social thought and eliminates the capacity to understand the world, let alone to transform it, has profoundly penetrated the whole of the ‘historical left’ formed in the aftermath of the Second World War. The movements engaged at the present time in social struggles for ‘another world’ (a better one) and an alternative globalization will only be able to produce significant social advances if they get rid of this virus in order to begin an authentic theoretical debate again.” (p41-42) This warning must not be taken lightly. Let us admit it once and for all: Liberalism’s legacy is colonial, and its neocolonial menace is the globalized extermination of difference and the end of a livable world.

The struggle against liberalism is and must be recognized as a crucial part of an unfinished struggle for decolonization. This struggle will never be over; that is the infinite tragedy of infinite crime. Healing ourselves and our societies is possible! But healing can only begin if we can overcome this pernicious ideology that camouflages itself as salvation.

Ideologies of the Raj by Thomas Metcalf, 1995
Castes of Mind by Nick Dirks, 2001
A Dying Colonialism by Frantz Fanon, 1959
Discourse on Colonialism by Aime Cesaire, 1955
The Liberal Virus by Samir Amin, 2004
Art and Politics by Bertold Brecht (edited by Thomas Kuhn and Steve Giles, 2005)
The Future Results of British Rule in India, by Karl Marx 1853
The Revolt of 1857, and Bipan Chandra (chapter)
The Colonial Economy by Sumit Sarkar [?](chapter)
Murderous Humanitarianism, by the Surrealist Group in Paris (Andre Breton, Roger Caillois, Rene Char, et. al.) 1932

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What are we celebrating?

"Democracy will not be free until the last representative is strangled with the entrails of the last voter."

What are we celebrating?
Are we celebrating that our electoral process turned a community organizer into an elite-pandering war hawk?
Are we celebrating our compromise on our principles?
Are we celebrating the victory of a daydream over a nightmare?
Are we celebrating the surrender of individual integrity to communal passions?
Are we celebrating our failure to collectively create systemic change?

It's not about pessimism, it's about imperialism.

We are celebrating the spectacle of managed democracy, and by association we are celebrating the reality of globalized exploitation and permanent war.
We are celebrating a new color of settler colonialism.
We are celebrating a more sustainable rapaciousness.
We are celebrating a margin of victory over fraudulence at the price of a surrender of a democratic process.
We are celebrating our historic transformation from principled idealists to prevaricating apologists.

It is not a time to celebrate.
It is a time to think deeply, a time to get serious.


Monday, October 20, 2008

The 2008 Election: Is It Really Taking Place?

by Quincy Baudrillard
October 2008

We may well ask. On the available evidence (absence of substance and profusion of commentary), we would suppose it to be an immense promotional exercise, like the advertisement of a brand name whose product never becomes known. Pure promotion which enjoys an immense success because it belongs to pure speculation.

The election is pure and speculative, to the extent that we do not see the real event that it could be or that it would signify. It reminds us of that recent suspense advertisement: today I take off the top, tomorrow I take off the bottom; today we have an election, tomorrow we have a democracy. In the background, a third advertisement in which an avaricious and lubricious politician says: your vote appeals to me.

In this manner, the electoral process makes its way by promotion and speculation, including the use of candidates transformed into marketing ploys, and in the absence of any clarification of the most pressing issues. No normal enterprise would survive such uncertainty, except under the tutelage of practiced speculative risk managers, whose criminal syndicates run the show. Representative democracy itself has taken this speculative turn: it is highly profitable but uncertain. It can collapse from one day to the next.

Nevertheless, from this point onwards the promotional advantages are fabulous. Whether or not they win, the front-running candidates are assured an unforgettable and charismatic label. Legitimate or not, the American electoral apparatus will have acquired an unequaled technological label. (Near 80% of voters cast ballots on touch-screen computers.) And in any case, the sumptuary expenditure in material is already equivalent to that of a real election, even if it has not taken place.

We have still not left the virtual election, the sophisticated although often laughable build-up against the backdrop of a national indeterminacy of will to politically participate. Hence the absence of substance -- which is neither accidental nor due to censorship but to the impossibility of illustrating the indeterminacy of this election.

Promotional, speculative, virtual: Non-elections are a vulgar test of the status and the uncertainty of politics, just as a stock market crash (another speculative invention) is a crucial test of the economy and of the uncertainty of economic gains. Thus “real time” information loses itself in a completely unreal space, finally furnishing the images of pure, useless, instantaneous representation, where its primordial function irrupts, namely that of filling a vacuum, blocking up the ballot box hole through which escapes the substance of events.

Nor is this election the pursuit of democracy by other means. On the contrary, it is the pure product of uncertainty with regard to the political aims of society. This is why elections have become a relentless function, an emptiness which fills our screens to the exclusion of any democratic discourse or imagination. This is why it competes victoriously with the other farces on our screens (farces of a similar nature; “Survivor”, “American Idol”), both are bought and sold in the same virtual credit of the image.

The media promote the election, the election promotes the media, and advertising competes with democracy. Promotion is the most thick-skinned parasite in our culture. It would undoubtedly survive a nuclear conflict. It is our Last Judgement. It is also like a biological function: it devours our substance, but it also allows us to metabolize what we absorb, like a parasitic plant or intestinal flora, it allows us to turn society into a consumable substance. So, democracy or consumption?

The election, along with the fake and presumptive candidates, campaign managers, experts and television presenters we see speculating about it all through the day, watches itself in a mirror: Am I pretty enough, am I operational enough, am I spectacular enough, am I sophisticated enough to make an entry onto the historical stage? Of course, this anxious interrogation increases the uncertainty with respect to its possible irruption. And this uncertainty invades our screens like an oil slick, in the image of that oil-blinded sea bird stranded on a beach, which will remain the symbol-image of what we all are in front of our screens.

Unlike earlier elections, in which there were political aims of reform or policy implementation, what is at stake in this one is the electoral process itself: its status, its meaning, its future. It is beholden not to have an objective but only to prove its existence. In effect, it has lost much of its credibility.

Nevertheless, the spectacular drive to vote remains intact. In the absence of the will to power, and the will to knowledge, there remains to day the widespread will to participate, and with it the obstinate desire to preserve its spectre or fiction. Can representative democracy still be saved?

Certainly, candidates throughout history did as much as they could to save the fiction of a murderous, imperial, and sacrificial democracy. But they were savages and the elections from the past proved nothing with regard to the status and the possiblity of modern elections. The 2008 election has not taken place (nor, perhaps did the elections in 2000 or 2004), yet we are already beyond it, as though in the utopian space of a post-election, and it is in the suspense created by this non-event that the present confrontations unfold and the question is posed. Can an election still take place?

This one is perhaps only a test, a desperate attempt to see whether elections are still possible.

Empty elections: it brings to mind those games in World Cup football which often have to be decided by penalties (sorry spectacle), because of the impossibility of forcing a decision. As though the players punished themselves by means of “penalties” for not having been able to play and take the match in full battle. We might as well have begun with the penalties and dispensed with the game and its sterile standoff. So with the election: it could have begun at the end and spared us the forced spectacle of this unreal democracy where nothing is democratic and which, whatever the outcome, will leave behind the smell of undigested programming, and the entire nation irritated as though after an unsuccessful copulation.

It is an election of excesses (of means, material, etc.) an election of shedding or buying stocks (votes), of currency speculations (campaign money) and liquidation sales (values and promises), along with a display of the future ranges of democratic manifest destiny. An election between excessive, superabundant and over-equipped candidates committed both to corruption and the necessity of getting rid of it.

Just as the waste of money nourishes the hell of politics, so technological wastes nourish the hell of the electoral process. Wastes which incarnate the secret fascism of this society, covering us with its non-degradable techno-defecation. The renowned constitution of the founding fathers has become a suffocating burden, and representative democracy functions well within its possibilities in this role of purgative and expenditure.

If the critical politician has disappeared, it seems by contrast that the collective phobia of the real has been distilled throughout the bullish cerebral network of our institutions. In this sense, the entire society is caught up in a process of politicization.

See them become confused in explanations, outdo themselves in justifications and lose themselves in technical details (the election shifts slowly in technological mannerism). It is the deontology of a pure electronic democracy with no hitches: These are aesthetes speaking, postponing campaign promises into the interminable and decisions to the undecidable. Their managers, their parties, their donors and their volatile constituencies render the passage to representation futile and impossible, just as the use of a ballot box renders futile and impossible the passage to the act of participating, because it removes in advance any dramatic uncertainty.

The campaign coordinators also exhaust their artificial intelligence in covering their every single track, polishing their representative script so much that they sometimes make errors of manipulation and lose the plot.

Should we applaud the fact that all these techniques of electoral processing culminate in the elision of immediate tyranny? Only carefully, for the infinite delay of the election itself is itself heavy with deadly consequences in all domains.

By virtue of having been anticipated in all its details and exhausted by all the pundits, this election ends up resembling the hero of Italien des Roses (Richard Bohringer in the film by Charles Matton), who hesitates to dive from the top of a building for an hour and a half, before a crowd at first hanging on his movements, then disappointed and overcome by the suspense, exactly as we are today by the media bonanza and the illusion of democracy. It is as though it had taken place ten times already: why would we want it to take place again? It is the same in Italien des Roses: we know that his imaginary credit is exhausted and that he will not jump, and in the end nobody gives a damn whether he jumps of not because the real event is already left behind.

This is the problem with anticipation. It there still a chance that something which has been meticulously programmed will occur? Does a truth that has been meticulously demonstrated still have a chance of being true? When too many things point in the same direction, when the objective reasons pile up, the effect is reversed. Thus everything which points to democracy is ambiguous: the media build-up, the debates, the concentration of constituencies, even the green light from both the ruling classes and the grassroots. Far from reinforcing the probability of a genuine election, these function as a preventative accumulation, as a substitution for and diversion from the transition to democracy.

Virtual for years now, democracy will shortly enter its terminal phase, according to the rule which says that what never began ends without having taken place. The profound indeterminacy of this democracy stems from the fact of its being terminated in advance and interminable. The virtual succeeds itself -- accidents aside, which could only occur with the irruption of the other into the field. But no one wants to hear talk of the other. Ultimately, the pride of this democracy is grounded in the disappearance and rejection of alterity, of any other unreconcilable culture or society. Democracy has become a celibate machine.

Thanks to this election, the extraordinary confusion of the candidates is in the process of infecting the people. In return, the candidates try desperately to unify and stabilize the people in order to exercise better control. Meanwhile, between the candidates it is an historic arm-wrestle: who will destabilize the other before being destabilized themselves? When confronted by the virulent and ungraspable instability of direct participatory democracy, the political alchemists (who claim to forge democracy from imperialism) are in the process of demonstrating that the American people can no longer lay claim to any democracy but that dictated by the established representatives.

Faced with the liberal logic of reform, the blunt imperial logic of Bush responds with overcompensation. Although far from having proved himself to the West, he attacks the East. He operates beyond the reach of his own forces, there where only God can help him. He undertakes an act of preemptive provocation and it is left to God to do the rest.

By contrast, through a kind of egocentric generosity or stupidity, the Americans can only imagine and vote for a candidate in their own image, or in an image they would imagine is their own. Voters are at once missionaries and converts of their own way of political life, which they triumphantly project onto the world. They cannot imagine the Other, nor therefore personally vote for it. What they vote for is the exclusion of the other, to contain it, or failing that to annihilate it if it proves irreducible (in different ways from Ralph Nader to Paul Wellstone).

For their part, the ruling elite have no tenderness. They see real democracy in all its bare power without illusions or scruples. Democracy is unconvertible, its alterity is without appeal; it must not be changed, it must be beaten down and subjugated. In doing so, however, while they may not understand it, they at least recognize it. The American people, for their part, understand nothing and do not even recognize this fact.

This is not an important match which is being played out in the US between military and economic imperialism and the challenge from “civil society.” It is the US elite in conflict with itself, by means of interposed representatives. Bush remains the fake enemy. At first the champion of values against corruption, then the champion of corrupted values. In both cases he is a traitor to his own cause since, even more than his incidental constituency, it is the helm of the war machine that he holds hostage, captures for his profit and mobilizes in his suicidal enthusiasm. It is moreover near the end, at the very moment when he calls for Peace in Palestine and Israel (thereby skillfully stroking citizenry with the same demagogy that he strokes the children in front of the TV) that he launches his call to a new holy war against Iran.

It is a mistake to think that Obama would contribute to the unification of the American people and to honor him in advance for that. In fact, he does it only to hoodwink them, to make them work for him, to deceive them once again and render them powerless. People like him are necessary from time to time in order to channel irruptive forces. They serve as a poultice or an artificial purgative. It is a form of deterrence, certainly a Western strategy, one in which Bush, in his pride and his stupidity, is a perfect collaborator. He who loves lying so much is himself no more than a lie and his elimination can only further mystify this democracy by putting an end to only another lie.

The exhibition of the presidential candidates on foreign TV. Once more the politics of muckraking, the suspense and speculation of voting, the humiliation of the people by the spectacle of those “citizens” symbolically avowing to American democracy. Along with the spectacle of these candidates and citizens, the screens offer us the spectacle of our own powerlessness. In a case such as this, propaganda fulfills its role which is to convince us of our own abjection by the obscenity of what is seen and read. The forced perversion of our attention amounts to the avowal of our own dishonor, and makes repentant voters of us as well.

That the Americans have allowed themselves to participate, without departing from any of the neocon program including the war in Iraq, indicates a weakness in their symbolic detonator. Voting remains the worst kind of participation, arrogance (everyone’s) the worst kind of conduct, representative the worst kind of democracy and the adulation of party candidates the worst kind of dishonor. The fact that this virtual election, worse than any real election, should finally have been withstood without flinching testifies to the depth and the unconscious character of Western fascism.

Two intense images, two or perhaps three scenes which all concern disfigured forms or costumes which correspond to the masquerade of this election: the talk show pundits in their bustling studios, the angry and/or exultant constituencies thronging on the screens of the whole world, and perhaps that sea-bird covered in oil and pointing its eyes towards the sky. It is a masquerade of information: branded faces delivered over to the prostitution of the image, the image of an unintelligible competition. No images of actual political discussion, but images of masks, of blind or defeated faces, images of falsification. It is not an election taking place here but the disfiguration of a society.

There is a profound scorn in the kind of “clean” election which renders the loser powerless without shaming them, which makes it a point of honor to disarm and neutralize but not to kill. In a sense, it is worse than the other kind of election in that it spares a micron of the democratic idea. It is like humiliation: by taking less than life it is worse than taking life.

Just as the screen of the psyche transforms every illness into a symptom, so democracy, when it has been turned into information, ceases to be a realistic democracy and becomes a virtual democracy. And just as everything psychic becomes the object of interminable speculation, so everything which is turned into investigation becomes the object of endless speculation, the site of total uncertainty. We are left with the symptomatic programming on our screens of the effects of the election, or the effects of discourse about the election, or completely speculative evaluations which are no more than any other evaluations of opinion provided by polls. In this manner, each candidate swings on percentages of approval from week to week and day to day. The figures fluctuate exactly like the fortunes of the stock market. Whom to believe? There is nothing to believe. We must learn to read symptoms as symptoms, and the 2008 election as the hysterical symptom of a representative democracy which has nothing to do with its critical mass. Moreover, it does not seem to have to reach its critical mass but remains in its inertial phase, while the implosion of the apparatus of information along with the accompanying tendency of the rate of information to fall seems to reinforce the implosion of society itself, with its accompanying tendency of the rate of dissent to rise.

Campaign propaganda is like an unintelligent missiles which never finds its target and therefore crashes anywhere or gets lost in space on unpredictable orbits in which it eternally revolves as junk.

A campaign is only ever an erratic missile with a fuzzy destination which seeks its target but is drawn to every decoy -- it is itself a decoy, in fact it scatters all over the environs and the result is mostly nil. The utopia of propaganda is the same as that of the missile: it knows not where it lands and perhaps its mission is not to land but, like the missile, essentially to have been launched. In fact, the only impressive images of candidates, campaigns or constituencies are those before the election. The campaign launch is what counts, the impact or the end results are so uncertain that one frequently hears no more about them. The entire effect is in the programming, the success is that of the virtual model. Consider the Greens and Independents: their strategic effectiveness is nil and their only (psychological) effect lies in them having existed.

The fact that the production of candidates has become an important branch of the election industry, just as the production of placebos has become an important branch of the medical industry and forgery a flourishing branch of the art industry -- all of this is a sign that we have entered a deceptive world in which an entire culture labors assiduously at its counterfeit. This also means that it no longer harbors any illusions about itself.

It all began with the leitmotif of precision, of surgical, mathematical and punctual efficacy. The electronic election is another way of not recognizing a democracy as such, just as the lobotomy is a way of not recognizing madness as such. And then all that technical virtuosity finishes up in the most ridiculous uncertainty. The isolation of the candidate by all kinds of electronic interference creates a sort of barricade behind which he becomes invisible. As we saw with Bush, his capacity for resistance becomes indeterminable. In annihilating him at a distance and as it were by transparency, it becomes impossible to discern whether or not he is really gone.

The idea of a clean election, like that of a clean bomb or an intelligent missile, this whole election fanfare conceived as a technological extrapolation of the country is a sure sign of madness. It is like those characters in Hieronymus Bosch with a glass bell or a soap bubble around their head as a sign of mental debility. An election enclosed in a glass coffin, like Snow White, purged of any carnal contamination or citizen’s desire. A clean democracy that ends up in an oil slick.

Private corporations supplied the voting machines and the media machine, the Republicans the church, the Democrats the liberals, the citizens the money, the multinational financial elite the terms and conditions, while the campaign managers and lobbyists supplied decoy equivalents of everything -- votes, rallies, debates, etc.

Has the swing state swung? The question becomes burning, it is our honor which is at stake. That would constitute a proof of our involvement. Whatever the situation, it will be necessary here too to set up decoys, situated losses and well crafted victims and scapegoats.

An election of high technological concentration but poor definition. Perhaps it has gone beyond its critical mass by too strong a concentration?

It is a fine illustration of the competition schema in which emitter and receiver on opposite sides of the screen never connect with each other. Instead of issues, it is sound bites and superficial insults which fly from one side to the other, but any dual or personal relation is altogether absent. Thus an election may be read in terms of coding, decoding and feedback (in this case, very bad: we cannot even really know what we have elected). This explains the tolerance of the imperialists for this vaguely democratic process: they are only hit by abstract projectiles. The very least live demand for legitimate democratic participation in political decisions provokes immediate retaliation. “Don’t taze me, bro!”1

The innocence of some Americans in admitting their mistake (recognizing that the 2000 and 2004 elections were fraudulent) and all that counter-propaganda would be moving if it did not testify to the same strategic idiocy as the triumphal declarations at the outset, and did not further take us for complicit witness of this suspicious sincerity of the kind which says: you see, we tell you everything. We can always give credit to the Americans for knowing how to exploit their failures by a means of a sort of optical illusion candour.

An American bedtime story: the American citizenry awoke (or were awakened) from their glass coffin. As the coffin fell and was shattered, it spat out the apple and revived, as fresh as a rose, only to find at once the Prince Charming: the 2008 presidential election, fresh from the arms of the neocons. No doubt together they will give birth to a Newer World Order, or else end up like two ghosts locked in a vampiric embrace.

Seeing how the mass media use their cameras on the candidates, the handshaking, the (fake) rallies, on their own reportage (fair and balanced), on the eager analyses of experts and constituents, one cannot help thinking that in America we still have a hypocritical vision of television and information, to the extent that, despite all the evidence, we hope for their proper use. The candidates, for their part, know what the media and information are: they make shameless, unconditional, perfectly cynical and therefore perfectly instrumental use of them. We believe that they immorally pervert images. Not so. They alone are conscious of the profound immorality of images, just as puppet governments all over the world knowingly reenact the election spectacle of non-democracy. The secret of the postcolonial puppet democracy is to parody the model and render it invincible by exaggeration. We alone retain the illusion of information and of a right to information. The candidates are not so naive.

Never any acting out, or passage to action, but simply acting: roll cameras! But there is too much film, or none at all, or it was desensitized by remaining too long on the campaign trail. In short, there is quite simply nothing to see. Later, there will be something to see for the viewers of archival cassettes and generations of video-zombies who will never cease reconstituting the event, never having had the intuition of the non-event of this election.

The archive also belongs to virtual time; it is the complement of the non-event “in real time”, of that instantaneity of the scam and its diffusion. Moreover, rather than the “revolution” of which the Ron Paul constituency speaks, we should speak of an involution in real time; of an involution of the event in the instantaneity of everything at once, and of its vanishing in information itself. If we take note of the speed of light and the temporal short-circuit of pure elections, we see that this involution precipitates us precisely into the virtuality of the election and not into its reality, it precipitates us into the absence of democracy.

Utopia of real time which renders the event simultaneous at all points on the globe. In fact, what we live in real time is not the event, but the spectacle of the degradation of the event and its spectral evocation in the commentary, gloss and verbose facades of talking heads which only underlie the impossibility of democracy and the correlative unreality of the election. It is the same aporia as that of cinema verite which seeks to short-circuit the unreality of the image in order to present us the truth of the object. In this manner, the TV media seeks to be a stethoscope attached to the hypothetical heart of representative democracy, and to present us with its hypothetical pulse. But this only provides a confused ultrasound, undecidable symptoms, and an assortment of vague and contradictory diagnoses. All that we can hope for is to see the candidates lose or win live (metaphorically of course), in other words that some event or other should overwhelm the information instead of the information inventing the event and commenting artificially upon it. The only real information revolution would be this one, but it is not likely to occur in the near future: it would presuppose a reversal of the idea we have of information. In the meantime, we will continue with the involution and the encrustation of the event by and in information, and the closer we approach the live and real time, the further we will go in this direction.

The same illusion of progress occurred with the appearance of sound and then color on screen: at each stage of this progress we moved further away from the imaginary intensity of the image. The closer we supposedly approach the real or the truth, the further we draw away from them both. The closer we approach the real time of the non-event, the more we fall into the illusion of the virtual. God save us from the illusion of participation.

At a certain speed, the speed of light, you lose even your shadow. At a certain speed, the speed of information, things lose their sense. There is a great risk of announcing (or denouncing) the end of American democracy, when it is precisely at this point that the non-event becomes a black hole from which light no longer escapes. Democracy implodes in real time, history implodes in real time, all communication and signification implode in real time. The end of democracy itself, understood as the arrival of dictatorship, is unlikely. It falls prey to prophetic illusion. America is not sufficiently coherent to lead to the end of democracy.

Nevertheless, in confronting our opinions about the election with the diametrically opposed opinions of die-hard voters, them betting on revolutionary political escalation “inside the system”, and us on deterrence and the indefinite virtuality of representative democracy, we concluded that this decidedly strange election went in both directions at once. The election’s programmed escalation is relentless and its non-occurence is no less inevitable: the election proceeds at once towards the two extremes of intensification and deterrence. The election and the non-election take place at the same time, with the same period of deployment and the same possibilities of de-escalation or maximal increase.

What is most extraordinary is that the two hypotheses, the end of democracy and pure elections along with the triumph of the virtual over the real, are realized at the same time, in the same space-time, each in inplacable pursuit of the other. It is a sign that the space of the non-event has become a hyperspace with multiple refractivity, and that the space of democracy has become definitively non-Euclidean. And that there will undoubtedly be no resolution of this situation: we will remain in the undecidability of representative democracy created by the unleashing of two opposed principles.

Imperialism and pure elections go boating.

There is a degree of popular good will in the micro-anxiety distilled by the airwaves. The public ultimately consents to be interested, and to be gently excited by the bacteriological scenarios, on the basis of a kind of affective patriotism, even while it preserves a fairly profound indifference to the election. But it censors this indifference, on the grounds that we must not cut ourselves off from the world-scene, that we must be mobilized at least as extras in order to rescue democracy: we have no other passion with which to replace it. This is political participation under normal circumstances: largely second hand, taking place against a backdrop of spontaneous indifference. It is the same with God: even when we no longer believe, we continue to believe that we believe. In this hysterical replacement function, we identify immediately with the candidates. By contrast, the few who advance the hypothesis of this profound indifference will be received as traitors.

By the force of the media, this election liberates an exponential mass of stupidity, not the particular stupidity of representative democracy in America, which is considerable, but the professional and functional stupidity of those who pontificate in perpetual commentary on the event: the Bill O’Reillys and Wolf Blitzers for hire, the would-be raiders of the lost image and all the master singers of strategy and information who make us experience the emptiness of television as never before. This election, it must be said, constitutes a merciless test. But no one will hold this expert or manager or that intellectual for hire to account for the idiocies or absurdities proffered the day before, since these will be erased by those of the following day. In this manner, everyone is amnestied by the ultra-rapid succession of phony events and phony discourses. The laundering of stupidity by the escalation of stupidity which reconstitutes a sort of total innocence, namely the innocence of washed and bleached brains, stupefied not by the issues but by the sinister insignificance of the images.

Polls in the desert. We who are about to vote salute you! Ridiculous. The benefit of this election will have been to recycle our political suicide on television. One shudders at the thought that in another time, the candidates were politically operational.

Imbroglio: the Green and Independent parties rally and run, thus indirectly for the greater of evils, who want war, and against the Democrats, who want it too. Their participation from the outset gives all the signs of refusing to take part, and of doing so reluctantly.

Deserted shops, suspended vacations, the slowdown of activity, the city turned over to the absent masses: election day. It may well be that behind the alibi of democracy, this election should be the dreamed-for opportunity to soft-pedal, the opportunity to slow down, to ease off the pace of politics. The crazed parties calm down, the election erases the guerilla warfare of the campaign trail. Catharsis? No: renovation. Or perhaps, with everyone glued at home, TV plays out fully its role of social control by collective stupefaction: turning uselessly upon itself like a dervish, it affixes populations all the better for deceiving them, as with a bad detective novel which we cannot believe could be so pointless.

American democracy is being rebuilt before it ever existed. After sales service. Such anticipation reduces even further the credibility of representative democracy, which did not need this election to discourage those who wanted to believe in it.

The overestimation of the candidates is part of the same megalomaniac light show as the publicized deployment of “Shock and Awe” and the orgy of bombardment. The candidates no longer even have any issues, any targets. The pundits no longer even have enough decoys to cater to the incessant campaign promises. The same propaganda must be espoused indefinite times. Mockery. The voters unleash for hours and hours across the nation. Long since there was nothing left to vote for. Absurdity.

Bush is a mercenary, the candidates are missionaries. But once the mercenary is beaten, the missionaries become the de facto mercenaries of the entire world. But the price for becoming a perfect mercenary is to be stripped of all political intelligence and all will. None of the candidates can escape it: if they want to be the patriarch of the USA and the Newer World Order, they must lose all political authority in favor of their operational capacity alone. They will become pure executants and everyone else pure extras in the consensual and policed architecture of touch-screen politics.

Whoever is the president and cabinet to be deposed, any punitive force sure of itself is even more frightening. Having assumed the imperial style, the Americans will export it everywhere and, just as the Romans did, lock themselves into the spiral of unconditional repression.

For the Americans, democracy does not exist as such. Nothing personal. Your ideals of governance, your morals, are of no interest to me. I will vote for you when I am ready. Bush, for his part, bargains the remainder of his term in order to fall back, attempting to force the hand (over fist) by more posturing and propaganda, like a hustler trying to sell his goods. The Americans understand nothing in this whole psychodrama of the elections, they are had every time until, with the wounded pride of a Westerner, they stiffen and vote. They understand nothing of this floating duel, this passage of arms in which, for a brief moment, the honor and dishonor of each is in play. They know only themselves and they are proud of themselves. If a candidate wants a constituency, they will virtuously employ their vote. They will oppose any other discourse with character assassination and personality cults. For them, the time of democracy does not exist.

But the candidates, even if they know they must concede their agency, cannot do so without another form of procedure. The candidate must be recognized as a representative: this is the whole aim of the election. For the Americans, democracy is cheap, whereas for others it is a matter of honor, personal recognition, linguistic strategy and respect for the other. The Americans take no account of these primitive subtleties.

By contrast, they are winners from an efficiency point of view. No time lost in discussion, no psychological risk in any duel with the other: it is a way of proving that time does not exist, that the other does not exist, and that all that matters is the model and the mastery of the world (the Washington consensus).

From an imperial point of view, to allow this election to endure in the way it has is a clumsy solution lacking in glory and full of perverse effects (Bush’s aura among the masses). Nevertheless, in doing this, they impose a suspense, a temporal vacuum in which they present to themselves and to the entire world the spectacle of their virtual power. They have allowed the elections to endure as long as they take, not to win but to persuade the whole world of the infallibility of their machine.

The victory of the model is more important than the victory on the ground. Electoral success consecrates the triumph of the campaign, but the programming success consecrates the defeat of democracy. Electoral processing, vote counting, the transparency of the model in the unfolding of the election, the strategy of relentless execution of a program, the electrocution of all reaction and any live initiative, including their own. The elections are more important from the point of view of general deterrence (of friends and foes alike) than the final result on the ground. Clean elections, white elections, programmed elections: more lethal than the elections that reflect actual political life.

We are a long way off from despotism, totalitarianism and democratic apocalypse, the total collapse which functions as the archaic imaginary of media hysteria. On the contrary, this kind of preventative, deterrent and punitive democracy is a warning to everyone not to take extreme measures and inflict upon others what they inflict on themselves (the missionary complex): the rule of the game that says everyone must remain within the limits of their powerlessness and not make radical political change by any means whatsoever. Power must remain virtual and exemplary, in other words, virtuous. Just as wealth is no longer measured by the ostentation of wealth but by the secret circulation of speculative capital, so elections are not measured by their democratic content but by their speculative unfolding in an abstract, electronic and informational space, the same space in which capital moves.

While this conjuncture does not exclude all accidents (disorders in the virtual), it is nevertheless true that the probability of the irruption of a dynamic political process based on the power of representatives which we call an election, is increasingly low.

Bush the hysteric. Interminable shit kicker. The hysteric cannot be crushed: he is reborn from his symptoms as though from his ashes. Confronted by a hysteric, the liberal (the loyal opposition) becomes paranoid and deploys a massive apparatus of protection and mistrust. The candidates suspect the hysteric of bad faith, of ruse and dissimulation. They want to constrain Bush to truth and transparency. But the hysteric is irreducible. His means are decoys and the overturning of alliances. Confronted with this lubricity, this duplicity, the paranoid can only become more rigid, more obsessional (Hillary exemplified this well). The most violent reproach addressed to Bush by the American people is that of being a liar, a traitor, a bad player, a trickster. BUllSHit! Bush, like a good hysteric, has never given birth to his own presidency: for him it is only a phantom pregnancy. By contrast, he has until now succeeded in preventing Gore and Kerry from giving birth to theirs. But the hysteric is not suicidal, this is the advantageous other side of Bush. He is neither mad nor suicidal. Perhaps he should be treated with hypnosis?

The Republicans and the Democrats have at least one thing in common, two heinous crimes which they (and with them the West) share. Many things about this election are explained by these anterior crimes from which both sides sought to profit with impunity. The secret expiation of this crime feeds the 2008 election in its confusion and its allure of the settling of accounts. Such is the shared agreement to forget them, that little is spoken about these prior episodes, namely the stolen elections in 2000 and 2004 and the war in Iraq. The Democrats must avenge their failure to win, even though they were also aggressors and sure of their impunity. They must avenge themselves against the Republicans who trained them for it, while the voting Americans, for their part, must try to forget that the Democrats are the embarrassing accomplices in both of those criminal acts.

For any government official or despot, power over their own people takes precedence over everything else. The 2008 election provides the best chance to ensure the continuation of this power. Both Bush and whichever candidate “loses” will prefer to concede rather than destroy the internal hegemony or sacrifice profits, etc. In this sense, the more-obvious-than-usual no-bid-contract war profiteering by the Bush cabinet and others is a good sign: it is the ploy of a burglar who stashes his haul in order to retrieve it when he comes out of prison (the public eye), thus an argument against any heroic or apocalyptic intention.

While one fraction of the intellectuals and activists, specialists in the reserve army of political labor, are whole-heartedly in favor of the election, and another faction are against it from the bottom of their hearts, all are agreed on one point: this election exists, we have seen it.

There is no interrogation into the event itself or its reality; or into the fraudulence of this election, the programmed and always delayed illusion of representative democracy; or into the machination of this election and its amplification by information, not to mention the improbable orgy of propaganda, the systematic manipulation of data (and votes), the artificial dramatization... If we do not have practical intelligence about the election (and none of us has), at least let us have a skeptical intelligence towards it, without renouncing the pathetic feeling of its absurdity.

But there is more than one kind of absurdity: that of the election and that of being caught up in the illusion of the election. It is just as in La Fontaine’s fable: the day there is a real election you will not even be able to tell the difference. The real victory of the simulators of democracy is to have drawn everyone into this rotten simulation.

1. This was the cry of Andrew Meyer, a student at the University of Florida who, for repeatedly questioning John Kerry about electoral fraud during the question-answer session of a public lecture in 2007, was tackled and tazed repeatedly in front of the entire audience by the University Police.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I wonder as I wander...

Without the Protestant ethic, what will be left of the spirit of capitalism?

In the land of the pilgrims' pride, the Protestant ethic is all but abandoned.
Cheap energy, which replaced it, cannot sustain capitalism much longer.

Without any spirit to motivate the immense work that the maintenance of capitalism requires, all that contends to replace it is technology and old-fashioned ruthlessness.
There is not even a coherent ideology around any longer to drive it; only inertia, avarice and fear.

Capitalism has outlived the spirit that nurtured it.
Only decadence and misery, mediated by exploitation, will remain.

The rapacious ethic and the spirit of exploitation.
Who will have the time to write it?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

On Risk

Whence this ideal of entrepreneurship? Whence its mystique? The seducing quality of business is its riskiness. An entrepreneur who makes a risky investment is idealized like a fire fighter, a police officer and other action heroes. Risk is seductive. The naive adore it.

In capitalist societies, risk is taken for granted, but not questioned. But the fact that there is risk involved in business should clue us in that there is some fundamental controversy. Yet risk is so romanticized, so thoroughly tilled into the soil of our pioneer imaginary, that most of us do not question the reason for risk.

Why is business risky? Business is risky in capitalism because, directly or indirectly, it is an imposition, an injustice, or an exploitation. And exploitation is risky because, whether subtly or explicitly, it is built on the precarious submission, complacency, or ignorance of the exploited. The risk is of rebellion, upheaval and retaliation.

The risk, on the other hand, that is so often associated with resistance, often obscures the latent reality that resisting is the only dignified reaction to the risk inherent in exploitation, the risk taken by the exploiters at the expense of the exploited.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Alchemy of Struggle

for Anas Maloul

searching in the blood of martyrs for the light to free the land,
searching in the sky for the soil in our blood,
searching for the meaning of the blood in our soil,
searching for the meaning of the soil in our blood,
struggling for the light in our blood,
struggling for the light in our land,
searching in the sky for the earthblood of tomorrow,

in light, blood was born in the soil,
in light, soil will be born in the blood,
in blood, there is light to free the land,
in land there is blood that lights the darkness of our undefeated despair --

this is our impossible alchemy.
and soil
and blood
from infinite suffering,
invincible joy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


the cross our culture is nailed to
the closet we are skeletons inside
the mirror we have glued ourselves to
the refuge we find in meaninglessness

Decadence is
drinking off a hangover
what's left after you finish your candy bar
the prison that holds dignity hostage
the treason against history that the future will not forgive

Decadence is
the sour pride of cynicism
the pathology of laziness
the nostalgia for an illusion
the cruelty of a spoiled child

Decadence is
the shadow of civilization
the funeral song of progress
the exile of resistance
the hell of wisdom

Decadence is
a perversion of both the strong and the weak
a perversion of freedom
the freedom to forget
the delight of cowards and the disgust of the brave

Decadence is
the disintegration of vision
the apocalypse of art
highly contagious

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Chicken and The Egg

The question of the chicken and the egg and which came first is an epitomizing koan of the linear mind. It is a question only such a mind could ask and a question such a mind can never answer.

Entrenched in a narrow, uncompromising and violently defensive conception of time, the linear mind denies itself the thought with which to understand the very living processes that give life its deepest beauty and meaning. In as much as the chicken and egg question is a stupid question, it is also an exceedingly clever question, which if seriously contemplated can drive right to the heart of what is wrong with a cosmovision founded on linearity and a fetish for what comes first.

If anything comes first, everything comes first.

Bogota airport, January 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The End of the Fool's Golden Era

August 2008

It is nearly at an end, my friends and foes. It was indeed a golden era -- life was not perfect but
it was comfortable and convenient as it had never been before. Cheap oil and designer technol-
ogy gave us luxuries medieval kings only dreamt of. The equivalent in energy expenditure of
tens of slaves was at the disposal of even the lower-middle classes in the consumer centers. But
the age was foolish. Foolish because it only ever existed for a few at the expense of many. Fool-
ish because it never really acknowledged this. Foolish because it poisoned its planet. Foolish be-
cause it never imagined anything besides more of itself.

And now it is almost at an end. Professional eschatologists of all kinds-- spiritual, political, and
economic -- are jumping up and down with even greater alacrity than usual. This time, the
shit is really going to hit the fan. Of course none of these experts can be trusted wholeheart-
edly. But it is now obvious even in the worst newspapers that the beloved golden era is in mas-
sive crisis.

Of course, every crisis has its sandwich of pundits assuring us of utter stability. There is a de-
mand for calm reassurances and the market society supplies them with characteristic effi-
ciency. Whether in the shadow of tidal waves, landslides, cluster bombs or riot police, we are
all sure to hear voices saying: “Stay calm. Everything will be alright.” Hopefully these voices
will not distract us when the critical moments of our lives are at hand.

These critical moments are approaching, if not already underway. Three enormous crises are
currently ravaging the golden era; two at its peripheries and one at its core. On the outskirts of
this world-system, there is a first a crisis of food. Food riots (a phrase with which we will be-
come increasingly familiar) besiege much of the Third World, and forewarn the hitherto un-
known and terrifying prospect of a globalized famine. And compounding this terror with a ter-
ror as terrifying, is the second unprecedented and contingent crisis, lead undeniably by the
United States: Permanent war. And even in the metropolitan centers of our golden era, crisis
reigns. The incendiary financial crises in the First World are thoroughly interrelated with the
Third World crises of food and war. All of these crises are interwoven, with economic interest,
with political intrigue and with karmic resonance. Blowback is too limited a word. It’s like a
hurricane. Chickens are roosting everywhere.

At times like these, on the edge of crisis and already going over, catching glimpses of the empty
space beneath our feet, analysis is like a shot in the arm, and it carries the same high price.
Once you’ve got an analysis the price is on your head. Because analysis points fingers, it names
names and places and times and it spreads.

Forests are being written about the food crisis, and even more are being written about the cri-
ses of finance and war. It is often necessary to dig through kilos of trash to get to the heart of
the matter. But there is no time to waste -- we can’t be bothered at a time like this take up a
long disciplined study! We need an analysis soon. We must understand our present so that we
can learn from it as history, as we go on to build the societies of tomorrow.

How did we get into this mess? It seemed that things were running so much more smoothly
only a few years ago. Where did we go wrong? “How did Bush, Murdoch, Cheney, Kristol,
Rusmfeld, et. al. get where they did?” asks John Berger: “The question is rhetorical for there is
no single answer, and it is idle, for no answer will dent their power yet. But to ask it in this way
in the night reveals the enormity of what has happened.”

The politicians presiding over the end of the fool’s golden era are from the usual cadre of in-
gratiating misers and sellouts. People like Cheney are always lurking in the anterooms of abso-
lute power; these individuals are not the root of the problem. The problem is that people like
Cheney are allowed to get anywhere near a seat of power -- the problem is the system that
summons up this character and this stage, and places us in the audience as spectators.

In the North, the radical economist Gary Dymski writes that “the challenge is to find the crisis
within the crisis.” And from the South, Prabhat Patnaik, another radical economist, writes that
“What we are seeing today is not some kind of natural limit being reached by mankind, but the
limit to which capitalism has dragged mankind.”

We can see that this script, this system, is in serious crisis, and perhaps headed for an end. “But
a senile system is not one that shuffles peacefully through its last days,” writes Samir Amin.
“On the contrary, senility summons an increase in violence.” Indigenous people in the so-
called United States have a saying: “The dying bull kicks the hardest.” In other words, this is
not a time to relax. Danger is in the air. Less is inevitable than ever before.

The Unites States is in a particular spotlight in this end-of-an-era extravaganza of crisis. A ma-
jor leading instigator of all three global crises, its punishment fits its crime -- the people of the
United States are left at the end of their era with an empty economy, a poisoned soil, and a
crazed and armed populous. What people in the United States will do is, for the first time in a
while, quite unpredictable. Meanwhile, the world is watching like it is watching nowhere else.
And, fittingly, it seems as though nowhere more than in the United States, where comparatively
enormous resources abound, do people appear less capable of meeting the challenges that are
before them. Societies of the United States need to grab the dying bull that is themselves by the
horns, learn from their many mistakes, and summon the collective will to build a new world

“[O]ne of the major weaknesses of American thought,” writes Samir Amin, “resulting from its
history and its ideology, is that it has no long term vision.” This is the society that built itself in
a mirror and called it manifest destiny. The land that forgot time. The popular culture in the US
has some roots in a healthy revolutionary instinct, but this has been corrupted by its narcis-
sism, which it has done an awfully good job of globalizing. It is no secret that imperial America
(whose innocent monopolization of the name that belongs to two continents perfectly fits its
role) is the envied leader of the fool’s golden age. And in American politics, through a cash
nexus of representation and competition, the most ruthless strains of the fool’s golden age
mentality have made their way to power. “The sole principle and objective guiding Washington
in its new imperial policy,” Samir Amin writes, “is immediate pillage.” It cannot last much longer.

Regret runs rampant. So little was done with so much. So much potential was wasted. The col-
lective conscience of the consumer societies will plummet, from the haze of apathy and irony
to the crevasses of anger and regret. But regret now is idle. The fool’s golden era is nearly
at an end, and in its glamorous centers there will soon be no alternative but to start from
scratch. Not much came of their world but destruction, of itself and of everything else in
reach. Its artists were decadent or stifled. In the trauma of global transformation, painters tried
abandoning subjects, musicians forswore harmony and poets dispensed with form -- they tried
everything to find meaning in their world. But in the long run, as society increasingly exiled
nature, nothing remained to inspire their abstractions but sterility. Its philosophers were mostly
quiet and placid. They unlocked the secrets of minutiae as never before, but were silent before
crimes against wisdom, and were never out in the streets to make sacrifices. Its spiritual leaders
were mild or reactionary, powerless or corrupt. Its political leaders were boring and beholden
to ancient patterns of patriarchy all the more humiliating for their participative transparency.
Its people were essentially good, like all people, but they were trapped in a thick net of dozens
of different patterns of oppression and submission. They spent frightening amounts of time in trance states of
consumption, production, service and spectatorship. These people need to snap out of hypnosis
if they want to have a say in their lives. It is high time to move on, to recognize the end of a
world and to get on with work of building a new one, and defending it from the cultural fall-
out that will last for generations.

In the ancient legends of the Greeks, there was a giant named Antaeus that for a long time no-
body could defeat. Hercules finally was able to beat Antaeus only because he learned the giant’s
secret: it drew all its power from the earth. When Hercules fought with Antaeus, he lifted the
giant off the ground, and Antaeus lost all of his strength, and his life, to Hercules.

In the cataclysms that are coming, whether they come quietly or through the living room wall,
we must be like Antaeus. We must find our purpose and spirit and vision in the land, and learn
once more to honor and respect the soil to which we will return. In all of our struggles, as
Gandhi wrote, “we must refuse to be lifted off our feet.”

And whether we know it or not, we are living in the midst of a war over time. It is a war over
all aspects of time -- how it is understood, how it is organized, how it will be remembered,
how it is lived. When and if this battle is won decisively, the repercussions will echo for aeons.
The victories that last are never made in single lifetime. The struggle for dignity, for meaning
and for beauty may take place in a moment, but they are part of a struggle for all eternity. Not
only the present, but history and the future are at stake. Let the words of Pier Paolo Pasolini be
our battle cry: “Only revolution can save the past!”

“We live in extraordinary and fascinating times, poised on the brink of something either too
wonderful to imagine or too terrible to contemplate. Probably, given what we know of life, a bit
of both. But the mix remains vital and possibly still within our powers to control.” -Lyall Watson

Does Heterodox Economics Need a Crisis Theory? From Profit-Squeeze to the Global Liquidity Meltdown, by Gary Dymski, October 2007
The Accumulation Process in the Period of Globalization, by Prabhat Patnaik, 2008 (available at
Hold Everything Dear, by John Berger, 2007 (also the source of Pier Paolo Pasolini quotation)
The Liberal Virus, by Samir Amin, 2006
Young India, Mohandas Gandhi, October 1921
Dark Nature, by Lyall Watson, 1995

Friday, July 18, 2008

catastrophe is dancing in the dark

catastrophe is dancing in the dark
and we are holding hands in silence,

the war twixt ice and fire
has been extinguished,
buried in mud and ash.
and none,
neither the afraid or the fearless
know what will come next.

and so we are waiting in silence
for new suns and new moons to rise,
and we know something as we wait:
the silent and the still have secrets
that the shouters and shakers will never learn.

catastrophe is dancing in the dark,
it is as if there are no stars left to fall,
and we are waiting in silence for tomorrow.

at least, in the cataclysms that crush us,
in our enormous fears and in our small agonies,
we can know that somewhere, others are free and fighting,
that we are never alone in struggle,
that mind and heart are everywhere and with everyone,
and that yes,
everything will change,
in a blink of the eye
of the daughter of time.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where is God today?

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Where is God today, in this world tormented by borders and abysses? Don't the walls that divide our lands and our lives, the borders that penetrate even through our hearts, cut into God too? Don't the deepening dead zones in the ocean, and the poisoned horizons of man-made desert, kill and desertify God as well? Many souls and mine included, are weary in the utterly unnecessary destruction and suffering that tortures the Earth today. We are wondering where God is. And right there, as our hearts sink headlong into the enormous suffering and injustice of the world, there we find God. "Today," John Berger writes, "the infinite is with the poor."

"God did not bear the Cross only 1,900 years ago, but he bears it today, and He dies and is resurrected from day to day... Do not then preach the God of history, but show Him as He lives today through you." -Gandhi, Young India, 1927

Where is God today? Having asked, we must dare to answer. How is this living and dying God shown living through us? God is today bearing the crosses and consequences of our conveniences. In the consumerist metropolis and its suburban enclaves, in the off-shore world of penthouses and estates, in strip malls and on superhighways, God is shown living through us in all the services and commodities that compose our comfort, in all the surplus that international capitalism accrues to us. The face of God is poverty. God is the damned and the wretched of the Earth, God is the poor. And the poor are God: In every sense they die for our sins. Across the centuries, from the plantations to the sweat-shops, it is our gluttony that they are enslaved and worked to death to satisfy. It is our hate and envy and pride that make the wars and conquests that they always suffer the most. And now, in our regret and repentance, it is our sloth at overcoming this dreadful state of affairs that perpetuates their trauma and prolongs their sorrow.

God, today, is in prison.

The incarceration of God has created an extremely volatile situation: Today, resistance is divine, and both the means and the ends are nothing less than the emancipation of God. In a world order of permanent war against God, rebellion becomes sacred. In a society where God is systematically exploited, the cause of revolution is blessed above all things. "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God," as Jefferson wrote. The class war is now a holy war.

This is dangerous territory. Alas, we are not here of our choice. Some are born with territory, some are thrust out of their territory, and some have territory thrust upon them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Utopian Economics

“Don’t surrender to the utopia of having no utopia.” -Gilberto Valdes

History is rich with utopias, even if few historians have recognized them. They are mostly disguised; as small mysteries, as terrifying upheavals, or as malfunction, as regrettable anomaly. Feared and condemned by experts and other authorities, utopia timelessly haunts the local and global peripheries. Every conceivable countermeasure is deployed to prevent any kind of utopian becoming. But the threat of utopia is ineradicable. No power can uproot the possibility that the whole world can suddenly turn on its head. Utopia is invincible. No matter what, everything is just a hair’s breadth from something entirely different.

I would like to suggest a project of utopia: not the dream of a better world, but the radical and fearless creation of a better world, now. An economics of utopia seeks to leap beyond the desperate system of bargaining between labor and capital, between core and periphery; utopian economics responds to history and theory with the detailed, organized, joyful creation of visionary and prophetic economic alternatives.

“To our lack of alternative proposals they offer the continuation of the nightmare” - Sup. Marcos

There is no sense in hiding any longer from the rapacious trajectory of systemic capitalism. Today, the economy is become death, destroyer of worlds; a relentless project of expansion through assimilation, dispossession and extermination. No one escapes degradation: The hubris and paranoia of the developed metropolis is no way more desirable or redeemable than the violence and corruption of the underdeveloped colony. On the contrary, if anything, there is more humanity in the slum than in suburbia. But the death economy races forward -- record growth, record debt; it’s all part of the same package that makes the market society flourish and suffer. (In the alienation economy, these always go together.) Life was born free and everywhere it is on sale.

No one person is at the controls of this lab rat race. “Maybe there’s nobody to shoot”, one of Steinbeck’s characters pondered astride a bulldozer in The Grapes of Wrath. We understand that there’s a system, but there must be something real -- people, buildings, something! Is The Man really a myth? The economic system to the average person seems like a vast and complicated forest without trees. Caught in the vice of this paradox, most of us resign ourselves to watching the deserts grow. After all, how do you cut down a forest with no trees?

The only option is to plant a new forest. Now. Utopia has become the only realistic prospect for transforming a world whose reality is controlled, humiliated and path dependent.

My intention in this place is not to propose a personal utopia but to emphasize the importance of utopian thought, desire and action. I think that utopia is one of the most important concepts we can contemplate, and that certainly the immediate creation of a better world is the most meaningful thing we can participate in.

Utopia is no trifle; it is not to be tried haphazardly -- utopia must be nurtured carefully, compassionately and fearlessly. When everything else is ready, utopia will emerge, as the Situationists promised, gradually at first, and then suddenly.

In an essay titled ‘Underdevelopment and Its Remedies’, Immanuel Wallerstein writes:

“We have been historically constrained not to engage in utopistics: first by arguments of authority... then, by arguments of impossibility... Nonetheless, those who have power engage in utopistics all the time. That is how they conceive the new structures that emerge out of historical transitions, structures that maintain our hierarchical world. In a sense, I am not calling for the launching of some new activity called utopistics, but for the democratization of a very old activity.”

We must recover our capacities for utopian discourse. An astute taste for utopia must be cultivated, rejuvenated from the depths to which society has banished it. The real possibility of utopia needs to enter our language and inform our communication so that we can live it together and spread the word (and the action) to others. Wallerstein continues:

“[W]e have to engage seriously in the project of inventing the future system -- not by a philosopher-king, but collectively. We need to debate priorities and the nature of institutions that could implement them. If we want equality, that means equality in what, and when, and exactly how? It is not that these issues have never been discussed, but that they have never been collectively and widely debated...”

We need a new forest, and soon. The severe maldevelopment of the global economy can be seen even from space. Nearly everywhere, the commodity is emperor, nearly everywhere, as Emerson foresaw, “things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.” At the end of the day in the global village, the story is tragically familiar and redundant; wealth and power are ruthlessly accumulated, ecology is converted into garbage and humanity is driven into misery. The death march economy accelerates to the rhythm of the stock ticker and the nightmare continues...

“The hegemony of capitalism has convinced normal people that their essence is greed and convinced intellectuals that there is no such thing as an essence.” -Anas Maloul

“What do we do?”

“Stand up fight back!”

The utopian movement will deliver. To fragmentation and alienation we will bring essence and rhythm. An essence is a tricky thing -- you cannot own it, and for the most part it can’t be spoken either. An essence can only exist in action, in becoming. Like rhythm.

Forward, utopians! Which essence shall we choose to become today? Let us choose one that will strike fear into the foundations of the system that oppresses us. And let us choose one that will frighten us as well -- after all, we can’t build a utopia out of overconfidence or pride. Out of the aether of all essences, let us pick -- equality.

“Along a little path in the forest the real movement is finding itself by pointing to a great utopian objective: go beyond rights to the full reality of the deed.” -Alfredo Bonanno

Who of us today understands equality enough to somehow embody it? We are mired in an increasingly virtual swamp of laws and rights and have lost ourselves. Terrified of equality, the powerful bullies lay upon the dispossessed the blindfold of rights.

Seeing on paper our right to equality, we sometimes forget that it is just ink on paper. But the hustle can’t last forever. The hologram of equal rights implodes beneath the weight of real inequality, it collapses into its homogenous and self-referential non-existence. Then the walls are scaled again; equality is demanded by being enacted. Power leaps.

But who today understands equality, who can comprehend its essence? A million reductions masquerade as essences, some of them quite convincingly.

An Indictment: Moral Objectivism and Cultural Relativism, Guilty of Fraud
Between the Scylla of cultural relativism and the Charybdis of moral objectivism we are sent off to navigate towards equality. These two conceptual contrivances have become a recurring bane of ethical discourse. They poison our thought.

Moral objectivism says that there is only one truth. It is a whirlpool with an insatiable mouth at the bottom, drowning and devouring all disparities into its uncompromising unity of vision and purpose. Cultural relativism says that everything is truth. It is a beast with a hundred heads. Even if some might kill us, we must stomach them all, warned that if we cut one head off, then at least two will grow in its place.

The whole situation is a trap. We will not find what we are looking for in the violence of these two monsters. For too long our ethical consciousness has been tangled in these mutually intolerant totems. Instead of equality we get a theoretical headache and fatigue.

Each of these monsters would demand a conceptual monopoly over our morality. If we don’t find either monster appealing, it seems as if we must base our morals on a compromise between them; on some reduced point of a spectrum between poles. And if we don’t want any part in this spectrum then it seems that we must surrender our morality altogether.

We have been trapped into this, and we are continually trapping ourselves into it.

If we believe in them, the lesson of the monsters is that we must reject essences and embrace reductions. But moral objectivism and cultural relativism are reductions posing as essences. And the essences they pose as are monstrosities! They reduce truth to a battle between two unimaginative contrivances, one which tolerates suffering one that justifies it. In holding as essential that which is really monstrous, these concepts trick us into rejecting essences on principle. In this, they deprive us of the only thing that can ensure us what we demand.

What is so essential about an essence? We live in postmodern times; can’t we grow up and learn to abide by a deconstructed world of fundamental uncertainty where fragmentation is the only universal? No, we cannot abide there. We reject reductions and all other alienations. We demand essence. Because we demand change.

Equality as an essence and a utopia demands specificity, context and embodiment. It cannot be reduced to any concept, much less a concept that can be universally applied to any situation. It is not vague or general. Equality as a concept, as a right for example, is an excrescence. Equality as a deed is an essence.

There is nothing of being in the pedantic negotiation between cultural relativism and moral objectivism. These fake essences smell of dust and manipulation. Concepts will not fill our hearts when our stomachs are empty, they will not warm our souls when we must brace against cold winds that threaten death.

The essence that we need has been purloined by these monsters who tell us to reject it, who tell us to stake our spirits on a see-saw. We must slay them both.

We who insist upon the essence of equality will not hang ourselves on this pitiful pendulum between constructs. They are ashes of a desperate history. We seek fire to forge a new one.

“There are some things for the understanding of which, a new being is necessary,” wrote George Gurdjieff. If we desire equality enough to try and really understand it, we cannot do it sitting down, simply said. The grand old concepts of equality will continue to beleaguer our movements, shouting from the clouds the concepts of the past and never listening back. But the utopians among us will hear a different drummer, and they will live to spread the message of rhythm: As every dancer knows, actions speak louder than words. Equality is either embodied or it is surrendered, either enacted or sent to conceptual exile to be forgotten or occasionally dredged up by concerned scholars and other gravediggers.

What is the history of equality? It was not written or read into existence.

I will be quite clear. Today, equality begins with resistance, with a declaration of essential war against all structures of inequality, external and internal.

A Word on Methodology
“[T]he truth is that if you’re in the business of effecting change, then we have to take the risk of envisioning the future. It’s not a scientific exercise, I’m sorry, but we have to engage in the artistic, political exercise of envisioning the future.” -Eqbal Ahmad

It’s not math. One does not “solve” the problem of inequality as one solves for an algebraic equation. Peoples, cultures, ecosystems and histories are not variables to be reordered into a mathematically balanced geometry.

We live in the era of the machine, whose pantheon is science and technology. Machinists and technocrats encroach and enclose increasingly around our world; our economies, our concepts, our moralities. So alas sometimes even those who oppose the status quo think that through methodical science, they can calculate everyone’s way towards equality, this concept which none of us understands. By all means long live utopian science! But control the machine and quarantine the technophilia!

“There are no atheists in foxholes,” said those who knew. We will not find many scientists there either. Nothing less than a powerful essence, a complete utopia, can motivate the radical changes which not only dignity but survival demands. A future must be risked, and we must dare to demand utopia, indeed, to become it.

The Principal Objective (let’s be honest here)
The central problem to which utopian economists must devote themselves today is very simple: A few have far too much and too many have far too little. Almost all of politics revolves around this. The rules are simple in this problem. “We can have democracy,” wrote Louis Brandeis, “or we can have the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”

There are other sources of the problems that plague our many worlds, but this basic economic inequality takes the lion’s share. “Possession,” as John Lennon wrote, “is nine tenths of the problem.” The consequences of the problem are quite obvious, easily observable and predictable: alienation, fragmentation, suffering, waste, and structural violence.

It is a simple problem with a simple answer:


Power shrieks, orders are shouted, truncheons fall, doors slam shut and lock.

But the problem only grows and the answer only gets more obvious.

“The fundamental duel which seemed to be that between colonialism and anti-colonialism, and indeed between capitalism and socialism, is already losing some of its importance. What counts today, the question which is looming on the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question, or be shaken to pieces by it.” -Frantz Fanon

Getting There
All fortresses will fall upon themselves eventually, but we simply cannot wait any longer. It is not a question of patience, but of survival. We are in the grips of a destructive system that permeates our ecology as much as our economy, our spirits as much as our wallets, a system that will not settle for anything less than absolutely everything. Cecil Rhodes spoke for the system when he said “I would annex the planets if I could.” We who are cornered, who have everything to lose, can only risk losing it. The utopian praxis is fundamentally risky.

“I really think that the notion of taking risks has to enter into our lives,” Eqbal Ahmad said: “If we do not take risks, we cannot serve the common good. The risk is not often taken, but the willingness to court it has to be there.”

The question of getting there inevitably brings us to the old game of means and ends. On this, the aspiring utopian Alexander Berkman wrote from prison:

“It all depends, as you see, on what your purpose is, what you want to accomplish. Your aims determine the means. Means and aims are in reality the same: you cannot separate them. It is the means that shape your ends. The means are the seed which bud into flower and come to fruition. The fruit will always be of the nature of the seed you planted. You can’t grow a rose from a cactus seed. No more can you harvest liberty from compulsion, justice from dictatorship.”

But what means for redistribution remain in a world economy of patented seeds? What if there is really nothing “outside the system”? If our means determine our ends, what happens when every means is controlled and contaminated? At that moment utopia becomes our only choice, whatever the cost. We burst out of the endless complicity of the system by creating the new world this very instant.

Getting there also will also involve us in the antagonism between “revolutions” and “reforms”. This debate has consistently failed to produce anything innovative. Without further ado we will throw it to the dogs at the academy along with moral objectivism and cultural relativism. Reform and revolution, insofar as they masquerade as essences on poles of a political spectrum, are also guilty of fraud, of obstruction of utopia. John DeMartino reminds and suggests that

“insofar as there is no essential source of all oppression, there is no basis for privileging any one kind of political campaign as necessarily fundamental, true, or deeply efficacious -- in a word, as revolutionary.... Rather than undertake exhaustive battles over which contradiction is the irreducible source of all oppressions, activists, can instead seek space for cooperation in broad campaigns for justice.”

Reforms are traditionally criticized by utopians with good reason. Apologists who seek to ameliorate the most brutal aspects of the system in order to preserve it deserve to be exposed as collaborators. But while a revolution implies a more significant change in the existing order, there is nothing essential or historical that guarantees that all “revolutionary” change is for the better. The Zapatistas have said wisely that a revolution only secures the territory in which life can change.

From a utopian perspective there is no essential difference between revolution and reform; they are simply different tactics for changing life. At best, they can work together, (like the good cop and the bad cop, to use a terrible analogy) to push a new world into being. To this end, whether actions come in the form of reforms or revolutions is of far less consequence than whether the results are substantive and the actors are accountable.

Social Movements
“If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;

Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.

Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill;

Fleets and armies of the nation will at their command stand still.” -Joe Hill

Leaders are of little consequence to utopia -- they are at best an inevitable side effect of the social movements from which they draw their power. Leaders may have the capacity to inspire, but ultimately it is the movement that makes or breaks utopia. Gandhi and Che may be great role models, but it is the movements in India and Cuba that count. All this hubbub about lack of leadership is dystopian nonsense, the psychic debris of a repentant paternalistic nostalgia for change-from-on-high. But there is no deus to save us from the machina. There is only movement, rhythm and the possibility of something entirely different.

“Social movements are the most unpredictable of historical phenomena,” writes Eqbal Ahmad: “No one, no scholars have yet found a formula for predicting revolutions or upheavals.”
Social movements spring from the primordial aether of collective human subjectivity, they are inherently unpredictable and unstable. This is both their fundamental strength and weakness; the source of both their vulnerability and their invincibility. They cannot be preemptively created or destroyed.

Given these organic conditions, social movements must maximize the strength of their unpredictability with decentralized, effective and joyful subversion on every front, and minimize their instability with alternative structures that can provide the necessary support and services for utopian becoming.

Administering Utopia
“Create, wait, watch and let the fake fall...” -Blackalicious
While the utopian movement should not (indeed, cannot) surrender itself to the tyranny of any universal blueprint, it is just as essential that it not reject the necessary work of administration. While there are no sanctioned steps, we must find a way to dance together and keep the music playing. New rhythms must rise before old drums can be safely destroyed.

The creation of new, alternative structures is what Eqbal Ahmad called “the fundamental characteristic of revolutionary warfare: to be successful, the revolutionary movement must outadminister the enemy before it starts to outfight it.” Outadministration is the real utopian objective; elections, strikes, and the armed struggle are merely complementary, if sometimes unavoidable gestures. Our semi-repentant fetish for “the revolution”, generally conceived of vaguely as some kind of violent upheaval, distracts us from the real work of the utopian movement: the creation of alternative schools, hospitals, courts, banks, media, spiritual centers, sports teams -- everything.

Most of us are unaccustomed to this kind of work; there will of course be plenty of trouble along the way. The course of utopia never ran any smoother than the course of love. But just as we will persevere in love in spite of all danger, so the movement will persevere in spite of the turbulence of utopian becoming, because the collective spirit demands nothing less. As Rosa Luxembourg wrote, “Let us put it quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers’ movement are historically far more fruitful than the correct decisions of the finest Central Committee.”

The most powerful social movements are intrinsically utopian; the movement becomes the new world. Within the utopian movement, the microutopian economics creates itself -- social relations are reconstituted, and participants are resurrected from exploitation and dependency into creativity and collective self reliance. Utopian systems of production, distribution, communication and coordination are all nascent within the social relations of the movement.

Utopia itself is never institutionalized -- it is continually recomposed through a counterpoint of structure and surprise. A new world is created, and gradually at first, but then suddenly, the old and fake hierarchies become irrelevant and will fall, if necessary with a little help from our friends. None of this is at all improbable. It has happened many times before.

Understanding Equality: Back to the Essence
“Soul exposed, no material protection,
Low and behold we’re going back to the essence.” -Blackalicious
We have talked and thought about equality as an essence. We know that it cannot be understood as a concept, but that it demands real and specific application and embodiment. But this doesn’t bring us all the way to understanding it. If the deed is the path to understanding equality as an essence, where must we go to comprehend the essence of equality?

“Detras de nosotros, somos ustedes.”

“Somos iguales porque somos diferentes.”

These Zapatista axioms capture perfectly the recognition of the essence of equality. The essence of equality, I think, exists in the elemental interconnectedness of all life. “Behind ourselves, we are you.” This is not to be confused with the vulgar understanding of equality as sameness. Nothing could be further from equality than homogeneity. On the contrary, “we are equal because we are different”.

Nothing could be further from the dominant moral code of dystopian economics than this fundamental interconnectedness. The alienation economy thrives on competition, on fragmentation, on winners and losers, on a collective perception of the world that is composed entirely of objects for use or abuse. As Eqbal Ahmad said, “[t]he history of humanity is replete with the rejection of the Other. It is replete with callousness toward the Other, toward the habit of and traditions of and the intellectual outlook of that which is not you or not yours.”

This history has reached a fit of pique in our fresh but already overripe millennium. The decentralized conquest of neoliberal globalization increasingly disintegrates priceless and irretrievable nature and culture into lifeless objects. Beauty and uniqueness are humiliated beyond recognition through the relentless exploitation of buying and selling. Never perhaps, has the essence of equality been more desperately needed.

Perceiving the world as composed of interconnected subjects instead of competing objects shatters the foundations of this history along with its vulgar pretensions of “equal rights”. The rejection of objectification and the embrace of intersubjectivity turns the classical economic constructs of incentives, utility and preference functions on their heads. What is the incentive to win if it means that part of me must lose? Why would I try to maximize my own utility at the expense of collective utility (as maximizing personal utility must do)? What will my preference to consume be if, behind myself, I am what is to be consumed?

A feverish shiver runs up the spine of capitalism.

But just as this understanding liberates us, it also leaves us with no escape. As Martin Luther King Jr. knew, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. No matter where we go, no matter who we are, behind ourselves, we are them, inextricably bound up with the destiny of every life. “[T]he world does not spare me,” wrote Aime Cesaire: “There is not anywhere in the world a poor creature who’s been lynched or tortured in whom I am not murdered and humiliated.” To understand is to resist. To recognize the essence of equality in your interconnectedness is to commit yourself to untiring struggle for the elimination of inequality everywhere. There are no limits, there is no turning back. As Eugene Debs had the courage to tell the courtroom: “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

When we return to the essence, the conceptual strength behind every hierarchy collapses. Every incentive for exploitation becomes unthinkable. Utopia begins the moment we understand. Alienation and greed are turned on their heads. For all this time they always have been only a hair’s breadth from something completely different. “Superiority? Inferiority?” asked Frantz Fanon: “Why not the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to myself? Was my freedom not given to me then in order to build the world of the You?”

Without the Other

What is cold and what is hot?

Are they there when we feel them not?

What is dark and what is light?

Do they exist without our sight?

And us, my friends, would we be real,

If cold and hot we did not feel?

What would our perception be

With neither light nor dark to see?

Listen sisters, listen brothers,

All is none without the other --

Spread the word and then take cover!

All is none without the other!

The other is not only a part of us: we are nothing without it. The other not only complements and completes us: without it we do not exist. A system of production and exchange that homogenizes, that assimilates, that dispossesses, oppresses and annihilates otherness, is nothing less than a suicide economy.

In today’s hyper-capitalist societies, individuals have been turned into vacuums desperate to be filled. This is the strength and precondition for the system, but also its fundamental and ineradicable vulnerability. The kamikaze business model fills the vacuum with routine, commodities and spectacle. We must fill it with rhythm, new values and utopia.

We must offer consumers and producers a world beyond consumption and production, a world, as the Zapatistas say, where many worlds fit. As social movements sow new values and fresh understandings, a new economy will harvest itself. Resistance is contagious. Utopian economics is not a dream, not a specter, not a toy or a tool: It is real, inherent, ready and willing, waiting just beneath a surface tension that is crying out to be broken. A new system is not inevitable, but it is only a hair’s breadth away. All that is lacking is the collective courage to seize the day.


Propulsive Utopia, by Alfredo Bonanno
Confronting Empire, interviews with Eqbal Ahmad
The Making of the Battle of Algiers, by Eqbal Ahmad
Counterinsurgency, by Eqbal Ahmad
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
Black Skin, White Masks, by Frantz Fanon
The Rebel, by Aime Cesaire
Global Economy, Global Justice, by John DeMartino
Underdevelopment and its Remedies, by Immanuel Wallerstein
Localized Economies, by Anas Maloul
Back to the Essence, by Blackalicious, from the album “A2G”