Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Quiet Giant

Chicago's Distribution Industry

by Quincy Saul

this article was first published in AREA Chicago:

and is also available at:

A metropolis of many worlds, Chicago in the summer is at the height of its glory. The Daley empire presides over a diverse equilibrium of populism and plutocracy. While the city enchants politicians and business people with Olympian dreams, its center enthralls no less the leftists and revolutionaries who gather for demonstrations and conferences. A mecca of irreconcilable interests in the middle of North America, Chicago holds together even its most antagonistic ingredients. It is a city built in its own image.

Meanwhile, this same summer, an hour outside Chicago in the town of Joliet, Maria (name changed), a “temp” working as a packer in a warehouse, has another story to tell. Bent over a line packaging frozen pizza destined for Walmart, Sam’s Club, 7-Eleven, and Trader Joe’s, she works alongside many others who are employed in the fastest growing industry in Will County, one of the Chicago’s southern “collar” counties. The company she works for employs only Latino/a temporary workers. All are paid minimum wage, receive no benefits and are offered no opportunities for advancement. Many have been working in these “temporary” positions for years.

Concerned about her pregnancy, Maria asked her supervisor to move her to a different job with less physical stress. Her supervisor refused. If she didn’t want to work, she was free to leave, something Maria could not afford to do. In late July, six months into her pregnancy, she was rushed to the hospital, bleeding. The doctors had to induce the birth and performed a Caesarean section. Two days later, her baby died.

It is no coincidence that Chicagoans don’t hear her story, or that of other workers like Judy (name changed) who, untrained, fell off a piece of equipment and hurt her back. The company refused to compensate her, disciplined her, and leaves her no choice but to continue to work at a job that now barely covers the cost of rehabilitation.

Why haven’t we heard of the countless stories like this that wash up every day against the invisible blast walls of the center? In order to break through these walls, it is necessary to reverse this perspective, to tear our eyes away from the center, and toforce ourselves to learn from the periphery.

Our story begins a few decades ago with a dramatic shift in the United States economy. In Chicago and other cities across the continent, factories, once located in city centers, were gradually pushed out into the suburbs, the South and eventually overseas. The jobs followed them. As manufacturing has moved, retail has grown to fill the vacuum of power and profits. GM Nation has become Walmart Nation.

While retailing replaces manufacturing as the core of the U.S. economy, very significant changes are taking place in the global and local peripheries. We have moved from a “push” economy, where manufacturers dictate the markets through sales of their products to retailers, to a “pull” economy, where retailers dictate the markets through purchases of products from manufacturers. [1] Thus, the major retailers in the economic centers are able to effectively control the peripheries because, just like with the pizzas that Maria packages, they are the only buyers.

The magnetic north of commercial capital pulls not only commodities towards the world economic centers, but labor as well. We are experiencing global migration of truly biblical proportions: a record 1,046,539 people were naturalized into the U.S. in 2008. People from the global peripheries are moving en masse to the centers, in search of a piece of the wealth that was “pulled” out of their native countries. These migrants are increasingly channeled into the relatively new logistics and distribution industry.

The logistics and distribution industry is a complicated network of warehouses, ports, and transportation hubs that links big box stores across the continent with factories overseas. This new industry is the circulatory system of the global economy, providing not only jobs but delivering everything from food to furniture to workers and consumers. People from the global peripheries migrate to the suburban peripheries of the major cities, where they work at distributing goods to every nook and cranny that can pay for them.

The Chicago area is quickly becoming one of the logistics centers of the world. Because all six major railways in North America meet there, almost all the products produced overseas pass through warehouses and distribution centers just outside Chicago. The construction of the BNSF intermodal container facility in Elwood makes the Chicago area as a whole the third largest container port in the world by capacity, according to the Will County Center for Economic Development. [2]

An estimated 100,000 people work in this industry in the Chicago area alone, facilitating not only the U.S. but the world economy through shipping and receiving, packing and repacking, loading and unloading. [3] Largely workers of color, many of them not fluent in English, they routinely suffer from discrimination, underpay, and in cases like Maria’s or Judy’s, extreme abuses.

For labor organizers, the logistics industry is mostly unmapped terrain. Several factors converge to make the logistics industry a hard place to organize. Firstly, workplaces are almost all multi-employer sites where temp agency employees work alongside people directly hired by the retailer, and also third party logistics firms that are contracted to run the warehouses. All this makes the traditional union strategy of collective bargaining to win contracts difficult. Secondly, workers are mostly immigrants who speak different languages and come from diverse cultures. Thirdly, they live and work in a place with few community allies and little or no history of labor organizing.

In recent years, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), whose members won international fame in December of last year with their victory at Republic Windows and Doors, have taken up the challenge. UE is using the momentum from Republic to launch their new campaign. This summer, a team of staff, interns, and union members mapped out the logistics industry in Joliet, Romeoville, and Bolingbrook.

This work has brought them in touch with people like Maria and many others, who, ignored by their city and country, nonetheless do much of the essential and pivotal work in the United States today. Without workers like Maria there is no frozen pizza at Trader Joe’s. Everything stops. The UE has started a community organization called Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), with a toll-free workers’ rights hotline.

WWJ has been facilitating legal workshops and working with different community organizations and churches to bring attention to the situation of these workers. The UE and WWJ are some of the first organizations to attempt to organize these workers, upon whom the world, in a very material and immediate sense, depends.

The secretive industry that employs Maria thrives on her isolation and our ignorance about where our goods come from. Maria and her coworkers are counting on organizations like WWJ to build unity among groups that this industry has been systematically dividing. Only these alliances are capable of humanizing an industry where their pain is a way to increase profit margins.

In an era of economic crisis, people look to the center for answers. We bail out the largest economic centers first. Chicago is no exception. Nevertheless, its concerned citizens must learn to look out, to the peripheries, where the life of the center is made possible. The celebrity of Chicago is a villainous one if people like Maria must lose their children in order for its citizens to buy frozen pizza.

The UE and WWJ are working to build nothing less than another kind of relationship between center and periphery. But they will need all the help they can get. Will we cast off our legacy of urban myopia, and join the movement to give these people on the peripheries the very central respect they deserve? Maria, Judy, and a hundred thousand other workers are waiting for an answer.

To speak out on the rights of warehouse workers, join the movement. Tell your friends and help us build solidarity in Chicago with warehouse workers in Will County. Sign up to receive updates and to pledge your support, make a donation, or volunteer your time and skills to WWJ. ◊

1. E. Bonacich and J. Wilson, Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor and the Logistics Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007).
2. Will County Center for Economic Development,
3. Derived from the method developed by Bonacich, ibid.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Lies do not come in a cape,
or with flashes of smoke.

They come smiling,
dressed plainly,
with open hands,
offering explanations.

Lies rarely come suddenly.
They do not stand tall and alone
but neither are they huddled underground --
they are in the thick of the crowd,

Lies never travel in a straight line;
they are not always interested in the quickest distance.
Lies always have time on their side,
not because the world disdains truth,
but because we forget more than we learn.

A discovered lie is not a defeated lie,
and a lie can live forever if it is not completely defeated.
A discovered lie can still rule
by force, by persuasion, by persistence,
by convincing us that truth
is too difficult,
or doesn't matter that much.
And destiny has declared,
so far,
that lies usually win.

Truth alone cannot defeat a lie,
because lies are usually more patient than truth.

So truth is not enough.
We must also fight,
across countless generations,
we must also fight.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The 2008 Election Did Not Take Place

October 2009

Since this election was historic in advance, we will never know what it would have been like to have really influenced it. We will never know what citizens demonstrating their power by voting would have been like. We will never know what a democracy that demonstrated the power and rule of the people would have been like. What we have seen is an ultra-modern process of electrocution, a process of paralysis or lobotomy of an experimental politician away from the common people with no possibility of contamination. But this is not an election, any more than numbers of votes cast are sufficient to make it an election. More than the direct transmission by Fox News of real time information is needed to authenticate an election. One is reminded of Capricorn One, in which the flight of a manned rocket to Mars, which only took place in a desert studio, was relayed live to all the television stations in the world.

It could be called a surgical election (removing the Neocon tumor), and there is something in common between this in vitro democracy and in vitro fertilization. -- the latter also produces a living being but it is not sufficient to produce a child. Except in the New Electoral Order, an election arises from a democratic process. Except in the New Electoral Order, a democracy is born of a substantive, antagonistic but mutual relation between contending sectors of society. This election is an asexual surgical election, a matter of vote-processing in which the candidate only appears as a computerized target, just as sexual partners only appears as code-names on the screen of Minitel Rose. If we can speak of sex in the latter case then perhaps the 2008 election can pass for an election.

The parties and candidates fabricate differences in order to give the impression of a debate. The loyal media disguise information to give the impression of a legitimate democracy. Everything in trompe l’oeil! The final Neocon ploy: let them win and thereby mock the Democrats. With hindsight, the Democratic opposition was perhaps only a mirage; in any case, it was exploited as such until the end. All this was no more than a stratagem and the election euphoria ended in general boredom, or worse in the feeling of having been duped. Republican hubris and Democratic spinelessness. It is as though there was a virus infecting this election from the beginning which emptied it of all credibility. It is perhaps because the two candidates rarely confronted each other face to face, the one lost in his virtual election won in advance, the other buried in his traditional election lost in advance. They never saw each other: when the people finally appeared behind their curtain of party banners the candidates had already disappeared behind a curtain of smoke...

The general effect is of a farce which we will not even have had time to applaud. The only escalation will have been in decoys, opening onto the final era of great confrontations which vanish in the mist. The events in swing states still give the impression of a divine surprise. No such thing in Washington, where it is as though events were devoured in advance by a parasite virus, the retro-virus of history. This is why we could advance the hypothesis that this election would not take place. And now that it is over, we can realize at last that it did not take place.

It was buried for too long, whether on the campaign trail or in the Americans’ electronic sky, or behind that other form of sepulcher, the chattering television screens. Today everything needs to get televised, including politics in its corporate bunkers. Even democracy has gone on TV in order to survive. In this forum of politics which is the 2008 election season, everything is hidden: the ballots are hidden, the issues are buried, McCain plays dead, the images are censored and all information is blockaded in the editor’s office: TV functions as a medium without a message, giving at last the image of pure television.

Like an animal, the less loyal liberal opposition goes to ground. It hides in the sand, it hides in the sky. It is oddly like the ultra-right Christian fundamentalist cults: it knows that it has no chance if it surfaces. It awaits its hour... which will never come.

The parties themselves are the vectors of this catalepsy. There is no question that the election came from their plan and its programmed unfolding. No question that, in their election, the voters voted. No question that the other came from their very own machines. All reaction, even on their part (as we saw in the brief episodes concerning racism, which should have produced a violent reaction), all abreaction against the program, all improvisation is abolished. Agitators on both sides are muzzled. What is tested here in this foreclosure of the other, this experimental reclusion of Blackness (in the White House), is the vindicated strategy for the entire planet of this type of suffocating and machinic performance, virtual and relentless in its unfolding. In this perspective, elections could not take place. There is no more room for democracy than for any other living impulse.

Democracy stripped of its passions, its phantasms, its finery, its veils, its violence, its images; democracy stripped bare by its technicians, and then reclothed by them with all the artifices of electronics, as though with a second skin. But these too are a kind of decoy that participation sets up before itself. Some decoys still aim to deceive the enemy, but the American technological decoy only aims to deceive itself. The first hours of the polls, dominated by this technological mystification, will remain one of the finest bluffs, one of the finest collective mirages of contemporary History. We are all accomplices in these fantasmagoria, it must be said, as we are in any publicity campaign. In the past, the unemployed constituted the reserve army of Capital; today, in our enslavement to political parties, we constitute the reserve army of Constituency.

US white supremacy constructed this election as a decoy (whether deliberately or not), including the decoy of defeat which even more resembles a hysterical syncope of the type: peek-a-boo, I am no longer there! Concerned citizens also constructed their affair as a decoy, like a concave mirror of their own power, taking no account of what was before them, or hallucinating those opposite to be a threat of comparable size to themselves: otherwise they would not even have been able to believe in their own victory. Ultimately, all were accomplices as thick as thieves, and we were collectively abused. This is why the election remains indefinable and ungraspable, all history having given way to hegemony.

One of the two adversaries is a hope salesman, the other is a stability salesman: they have neither the same logic nor the same strategy, even though they are both crooks. There is not enough communication between them to enable them to compete. McCain will never change, while the Americans will hope against a fictive double on the screen. They see McCain as he should be, a conservative hero, worth defeating. McCain remains a stability salesman who takes Obama for a stability salesman like himself, stronger than he but less gifted for the scam. He hears nothing of change. For there to be change, there must be communication. A game of rational strategy presupposes real time communication between the two adversaries. In this election there was never communication at any moment, but always dislocation in time. Meanwhile Bush evolves in a long time, that of blackmail, between procrastination and preemption, exactly the inverse of real time. An election presupposes a virtual escalation between the two adversaries. By contrast, Obama’s entire strategy rests upon de-escalation (one sets a maximal price then descends from it in stages). The failure of the sales pitch is marked by evasive action: the salesman closes his briefcase and leaves. Thus democracy disappears without further ado. Once again, there is no relation between the campaign and the constituency. Each plays in his own space and misses the other. We cannot even say that the Americans elected Obama: he defaulted on them, he de-escalated and they were not able to escalate sufficiently to really empower him.

Finally, who could have rendered more service to everyone, in such a short time at such little cost, than Barack Obama? He reinforced the security of Israel, assured the glory of American arms, gave precarious US puppets the world over a political chance, opened the door to Pakistan and Syria, and green lighted the looting of the treasury under the grand old banner of bailouts. Not bad for a beginner! Can we conceive of so admirable a man? And he is just getting started! He even remains a hero for the exploited masses. It is as though he were an agent of the CIA disguised as a black Jesus.

What have we learned from the 2008 election? To resist the probability of any image or information whatever. To be more virtual than events themselves, to not seek to re-establish the truth. To have the means to participate, but to be duped, and to that end re-immerse the election and all information in the virtuality from whence they come. To turn democracy back against itself.

In the case of this election, it is a question of the living illustration of an implacable logic which renders us incapable of envisaging any hypothesis other than that of its real occurrence. The realist logic which lives on the illusion of the final result. The final resolution of an equation as complex as managed democracy is never immediately apparent in the campaign. It is a question of seizing the logic of its unfolding, in the absence of any prophetic illusion. To be for or against a candidate, or the election itself, is idiotic if we question the very probability of this election. But its credibility or degree of reality has not been raised for a moment. All political and ideological speculations fall under mental deterrence. By virtue of their immediate consensus on the evidence they feed the unreality of this election, they reinforce its bluff by their unconscious dupery.

The worst politicians live on the ideology of the veracity of this election, while the election itself wreaks its havoc at another level by trickery, hyperreality, simulacra, and by the entire mental strategy of deterrence which is played out in the facts and in the images, in the anticipation of the real by the virtual, of the event by virtual time, and in the inexorable confusion between the two. All those who understand nothing of this involuntarily reinforce this halo of bluff which surrounds us.

It is as though the Republicans were electrocuted, lobotomized, running towards the television journalists in order to surrender, or immobilized at their desks, not even demoralized: de-cerebralized, stupefied rather than defeated -- can this be called a democracy? Today we see the shreds of this election rot in the suburbs and in the slums just like the shreds of the map in Borges’ fable rotting at the four corners of the territory.

Fake democracy, deceptive democracy, not even the illusion but the disillusion of democracy. It is linked not only to political calculations, which translate into the monstrous prophylaxis of this election machine, but also to the local illusion of the voters and the global disillusion of everyone else by means of information. The election is a total machine (it is a war machine), and it not only operates at the heart of the event -- where electronic coverage (the decoy, programming, the anticipation of the end) devoured all the oxygen of democracy like a fuel-air explosive bomb -- it also operates in our heads. Propaganda has a profound function of deception. It matters little what it “informs” us about, its “coverage” of events matters little since it is precisely no more than a cover: Its purpose is to produce consensus by flat encephalogram. The complement to the unconditional simulacrum of the election race is to train everyone in the unconditional reception of broadcast simulacra. To abolish any intelligence of the event. The result is a suffocating atmosphere of deception and stupidity. And if people are vaguely aware of being caught up in this appeasement and this disillusion by images, they swallow the hope and remain fascinated by the evidence of the montage of the election with which we are inoculated everywhere: though the eyes, the senses and in discourse.

An example: deterrence itself. It only functions well between equal forces. Ideally, each party should possess the same constituency before agreeing to renounce their commitments to it. It is therefore the dissemination of the two party system alone which can ensure effective democratic deterrence. Of course the present politics of non-democracy plays with fire: there will always be enough madmen to launch an archaic challenge -- witness Ron Paul. But things being as they are, we should place our hopes in the spread of participation rather than in its (never respected) limitation. We are forced to escalate in the virtual (of democracy) under penalty of de-escalating in the real. This is the paradox of deterrence. It is like information, culture, or other material and spiritual goods: only their profusion renders them indifferent and neutralizes their potency. Multiply lies in order to ensure the collective good.

That said, the consequences of what did not take place may be as substantial as those of an historical event. The hypothesis would be that, in the case of the 2008 election as in the case of the events in the market, we are no longer dealing with “historical events” but with places of collapse. The economic crisis saw the collapse of the dream of neoliberalism, the construction of which had been a historic event, borne by a vision of the new world order. By contrast, the collapse of democracy in the United States is borne by nothing and bears nothing, but only opens onto a confused desert left vacant by the retreat of history and immediately invaded by its refuse.

Congress and the Senate are also places of collapse, of a virtual and meticulous operation which leaves the same impression of a non-event where ideological confrontation fell short and where inertia proved itself against political will. The collapse of the Republican party and the stupefaction of the Democrats are the consequences of a confrontation which did not take place and which undoubtedly never could have taken place. This non-election in the form of victory also consecrates the political collapse of the Left in the US, incapable of eliminating the war party or of imagining or organizing anything apart from this new desert and police order called hope.

As a consequence of this non-event and as living proof of Western political character, Bush is indeed still there, once again what he always was, the mercenary and decoy of the transnational ruling class, deserving punishment for not remaining in his place. It would be typical of Republicans to prove their combativity and ferocity against their enemies: as in every true dictatorship, the ultimate end of politics, carefully masked elsewhere by the effects of democracy, is to maintain control of one’s own people by any means, including terror. The function embodied by non-elections -- that of being politically revealing and at the same time an alibi for imperialism -- no doubt explains the inexplicable eagerness of the people towards them. Obama liquidates the race debate, it flirts even more with him; he defends the Patriot Act, it is not held against him, he escalates war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and receives the Nobel peace prize. This ignominious mounting of Obama, placing him in the saddle of a clown act at the head of a holy war, clearly shows that on all sides the election is considered not to have taken place. Even the last phase of this armed mystification -- withdrawing from Iraq, were it to occur -- will have changed nothing, for the 100,000 Iraqi dead will only have been the final decoy that democracy will have sacrificed, the blood money paid in forfeit according to a calculated equivalence, in order to satisfy power and capital. What is worse is that these dead serve as an alibi for those who do not want to have been excited for nothing, who don’t want to have been had for nothing: At least the dead prove that this election was indeed an election and not a shameful and pointless hoax, a programmed and melodramatic version of what was the drama of democracy. But we can rest assured that the next soap opera in the genre will enjoy an even fresher and more joyful credulity.

What a job Bush has done for the Americans, from his combat with Osama up to this full scale debacle of the clash of civilizations! Nevertheless, everything is ambiguous since his collapse removes any demonstrative value from American power, along with any belief in the Western ideologies of modernity, democracy, or secularity, of which Saddam had been made the incarnation in the Arab world.

We can see that the liberals dreamt of a Democratic perestroika, on the newly formed model of the young multicultural grass-roots cyber-constituency: democracy irresistibly establishing itself in those political blocs conquered by the forces of Good. The tax paying consumer will be liberated, and non-white citizens will enjoy equal rights everywhere. Alas! This is not to be. The conquered have not been convinced and have withdrawn, leaving the victors only the bitter taste of an unreal made-to-order victory. Defeat can also be a rival bid and a new beginning, the chain of interaction never stops. The eventual outcome is unpredictable and certainly will not be reckoned in terms of freedom.

No accidents occurred in this election, everything unfolded according to programmatic order, in the absence of passional disorder. Nothing occurred which would have metamorphosed events into a duel.

Even the status of the votes may be questioned, on both sides. The minimal effectiveness of Republican voter fraud poses a serious problem, which never arose in any earlier national election. The lesser number of Republican votes may be cause for self-congratulation for some, but nothing will prevent this satisfaction from being paltry. In an electoral system where most people don’t participate, an election does not seem like a real election but rather the prefiguration of an experimental, blank election, an election even more inhuman because it is without any real majority. And there are no heroes among the many disenfranchised voters, whose role was most often that of sacrificed extras, left as collateral damage in prison trenches, serving as martyrs for manifest democracy. Disappeared, abandoned to their lot, in the thick fog of propaganda, held in utter contempt by their party and their society, without even the collective glory of a number (we do not know how many there are).

Along with the party candidate and the voter, the figure of the “disenfranchised" has become emblematic in our political universe. Before there were voters and constituencies, now there are the disenfranchised and the uncounted: both blanks. Even the dead are blanks: “We have already buried them, they can no longer be counted,” said Schwarzkopf. Why not voters too? In 2000 and 2004 there was too much fraud, in 2008 there was not enough, but the effect is the same. The non-will to know is part of this non-democracy. Lies and shame appeared throughout this election like a sexually transmitted disease.

Blank out the election. Just as the Democratic party was rebuilt before it was destroyed, so at every phase of this election things unfolded as though they were virtually completed. It is not for lack of brandishing threats of crisis, depression, terrorism -- everyone had their say -- as though it were necessary to give ourselves a fright, to maintain everyone in a state of erection for fear of seeing the flaccid member of democracy fall down. This futile masturbation was the delight of all the TVs. Ordinarily we denounce this kind of behavior as emphatic or as empty and theatrical affectation: why not denounce an entire event when it is affected by the same hysteria?

In many respects, this election was a scandal of the same type as in 2000 and 2004. Not so much the election itself but the manipulation of minds and blackmail by the scenario. The worst scandal being the collective demand for intoxication, the complicity of all in the effects of politicide. We could almost speak of media harassment along the lines of sexual harassment. Alas! the problem always remains the same and it is insoluble: where does real politics begin, where does real participation end? Bluff and information serve as aphrodisiacs for this election, just as the numberless disenfranchised voters and forgotten detainees and their global diffusion serve as aphrodisiacs for imperialism in Iraq.

But ultimately, what have you got against aphrodisiacs? Nothing so long as orgasm is attained. The media mix has become the prerequisite to any orgasmic event. We need it precisely because the event escapes us, because conviction escapes us. We have a pressing need of stimulation, even that of war, much more than we have of milk, jam or liberty, and we have an immediate intuition of the means necessary to obtain it. This is the fundamental advance of US democracy: the image-function, the blackmail-function, the information-function, the speculation-function. The obscene aphrodisiac function fulfilled by the decoy of the event, by the decoy of democracy. Drug-function.

We have neither need of nor the taste for real drama or real democracy. What we require is the aphrodisiac spice of the multiplication of fakes and the hallucination of participation, for we have a hallucinogenic pleasure in all things, which, as in the case of drugs, is also the pleasure in our indifference and our irresponsibility and thus in our liberty. Here is the supreme form of the American dream. Through it our definitive retreat from the world takes shape: the pleasure of mental speculation in images equalling that of capital in a stock market run, or that of the corpses in Fallujah. But, ultimately, what have you got against drugs?

Nothing. Apart from the fact that the collective disillusion is terrible once the spell is broken: for example when Obama escalates the war in Afghanistan, or when awareness of the subterfuge of the two-party system takes hold. The scandal today is no longer in the assault on moral values but in the assault on the reality principle. The profound scandal which hereafter infects the whole sphere of information lay in the compulsory attention of the public, the transformation of citizens into constituencies which in the same moment transforms all those who saw and believed in it into compulsory extras, so that they themselves become participants in the square booth of the US electoral-industrial complex. The odium lies in the malversation of the election. The touch screens of US democracy are such a parody, so paltry by contrast with the real democracies of history! The 2008 election is such a sham, so paltry: the point is not to rehabilitate political legitimacy, but rather that the recourse to the same pathos is all the more odious when there is no longer even the alibi of a real majority.

The presumption of information and the media here doubles the military arrogance of the Western empire. All those journalists who set themselves up as bearers of the universal conscience, all those presenters who set themselves up as insiders, all overwhelming us with a flood of useless rhetoric. Emotional blackmail by propaganda, fraud. Instead of discussing the threshold of social tolerance for immigration we would do better to discuss the threshold of mental tolerance for propaganda. With regard to the latter, we can say that it was deliberately crossed.

The delirious spectacle of politics which never happened: the transparent glacier of voters that never participated. All these events, from Maine or from Los Angeles, which under the colors of the parties led only to political and historical disillusionment, were like post-synchronisation events where one has the impression of never having seen the original. Bad actors, bad doubles, bad striptease: throughout too many months, the election unfolded like a long striptease, following the calculated escalation of undressing and approaching the incandescent point of explosion, but at the same time withdrawing from it and maintaining a deceptive suspense (teasing), such that when the naked body finally appears, it is no longer naked, desire no longer exists and the orgasm is cut short. In this manner, the escalation was administered to us by drip-feed, removing us further and further from the passage to action and, in any case, from the election. It is like the truth according to Rumsfeld: we no longer know what is known once the veils have been removed from knowledge. Similarly, we come to believe that elections are elections when all uncertainty is supposedly removed and it appears as a naked operation. The nudity of democracy is no less virtual than that of the erotic body in the apparatus of striptease.

In the ghettoes of almost every city in the world, the news from this election is relayed by television, paper and radio during the polling. Did the others in there, the politicians in Washington, receive the news from the ghettoes?

Stuck in traffic, one can always amuse oneself by listening to the election updates: the time of information never stops, the slower things are on the roads the more things circulate on the wavelengths. We think of the young couple who, switching between watching the polls on TV and their child to be, filmed and recorded in the mother’s womb and made available on ultrasound cassette. When the election stops, they will watch the kid. At the level of images it is the same biological process: democracy before it has broken out, the child before it has been born. Democracy in the virtual era.

All the good souls who cried out for years, for checks and balances and always for another election, those who denounced the aberrations of preemptive wars years after the event when it was no longer relevant, and all the repentants of the Rights of Man, once again are doing nothing. The world accepts this as the wages of defeat, or rather, on the Democrat side, as the wages of victory. The same Democrats who, after having dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs, today bring hope to the White House.

It’s interesting that liberals calls conservatives traditionalists with almost the same repulsion that they call someone racist, even though we live in a typically traditionalist society although one simultaneously on the way to disintegration. We do not practice hard fundamentalist traditionalism, we practice soft, subtle and shameful democratic traditionalism by consensus. However, consensual traditionalism is every bit as fierce as that of any tribal religion or primitive society.

The difference between the two traditionalisms (hard and soft) lies in the fact that our own (the soft) holds all the means to destroy the other and does not recoil from their use. As though by chance, it is always the Enlightenment fundamentalist who oppresses and destroys the other, who can only defy it symbolically. In order to justify ourselves, we give substance to the threat by turning the fatwa against Hugo Chavez into a sword of Damocles hanging over the “developing” world, sustaining a disproportionate terror in complete misrecognition of the difference between symbolic challenge and technical aggression. In the long run, the symbolic challenge is more serious than a victorious aggression. Meanwhile, if a few hanging chads and can plunge US democracy into such confusion (the vaudeville of reporting by TV anchormen and women could never be portrayed cruelly enough), if the American Public continues to prefer to believe in this election, it is because it is paralyzed by its own power, in which it does not believe, precisely because of its enormity. If the American People believed in their own power, they would not give a moment’s though to this election. The most amusing aspect, however, is that the President does not believe in his powerlessness, and he who does not believe in his powerlessness is stronger than he who does not believe in his power, be this a thousand times greater.

This is how we arrive at an unreal election in which overdimensioned technical power in turn over-evaluates the real forces of an electorate which it cannot see. And it it is astonished when it so easily triumphs. This is because it knows neither how to believe in itself nor how to ruse with itself. By contrast, what it does know obscurely is that in its present form it can be annihilated by the least attempt at defiance.

The Democrats would do well to be more astonished at their “victory,” to be astonished at their constituency and to find an equivalent for it in the intelligence of their leadership, lest their power play tricks with them. Thus, if the cunning but stupid Bush had stepped down one week earlier, he would have inflicted a considerable political defeat on the Democrats. But did he want to? In any case, he succeeded in his own reinstatement, while the Democrats had sworn to unseat him. But did they swear it? Bush played the Democrat’s game at every turn, but even departing he is the better player at ruse and diversion.

Brecht: “This beer isn’t a beer, but that is compensated for by the fact that this cigar isn’t a cigar either. If this beer wasn’t a beer and this cigar really was a cigar, then there would be a problem.” In this same manner, this election is not an election, but this is compensated for by the fact that this democracy is not a democracy either. Thus everything is in order. If this election had not been an election and the votes had had real political power, there would have been a problem. For in that case, the non-election would have appeared for what it is: a scandal. Similarly, if the election had been a real election and the information had not been information, this non-information would have appeared for what it is: a scandal. In both cases, there would have been a problem.

There is one further problem for those who believe that this election took place: how is it that a real election did not generate real political confrontation? Same problem for those who believe in the grass-roots “victory”: how is it that the war party is still there as though nothing had happened?

Whereas everything becomes coherent if we suppose that, given this victory was not a victory, the defeat of Bush was not a defeat either. Everything evens out and everything is in order: the election, the victory and the defeat are all equally unreal, equally non-existent. The same coherence in the irreality of the adversaries: the fact that the Republicans never talked to the Democrats (except in staged debates) is compensated for by the fact that the Democrats never ran against them.

The New Electoral Order is made up of all these compensations and the fact that there is nothing rather than something, on the ground, on the screens, in our heads: consensus by deterrence. At the desired place (the voting booth), nothing took place, non-democracy. At the desired place (TV, information), nothing took place, no images, nothing but filler. Not much took place in all our heads either, and that too is in order. The fact that there was nothing at this or that desired place was harmoniously compensated for by the fact that there was nothing elsewhere either. In this manner, the global order unifies all the partial orders.

In Waco, Texas, global order was re-established in accordance with the same paradoxical dialectic: where there was something, today there is nothing, but there is order. Things are in democratic order, even if they are in the worst confusion.

The people: there where they should not be (immigrants), there is disorder. There where they should be (voting) but are not, there is order. The fact that in the popular world nothing is possible, not even democracy, and that the people are deterred, disappointed, powerless and neutralized, that is order. But this is harmoniously compensated for by the fact that at the marked place of power (the Presidency) there is no longer anything but a total political powerlessness.

Such is the New Electoral Order.

A variant on Clausewitz: non-democracy is the absence of politics pursued by other means... Democracy no longer proceeds from a political will to participate or from a vital impulsion or antagonistic reaction, but from the will to impose a general consensus by deterrence. This is already at work in all the democracies taken one by one; it operates today on a global level which is conceived as an immense democracy governed by a homogenous order which has as its emblem the UN and the Rights of Man. This was the goal of the dualistic (East and West) deterrence; today we pass to the monopolistic stage under the aegis of corporate power. Logically, this democratic and consensual form should be able to dispense with elections, but it will no doubt continue to have local and episodic need of them. The 2008 election is one of these transitive episodes, hesitating for this reason between hard and soft forms: pure security or virtual hope? But the balance is in the process of definitively inclining in one direction, and tomorrow maybe there will be nothing but the virtual mandate of consensus, the simultaneity in real time of the global consensus: If this happens tomorrow it will be the beginning of a world with no tomorrow.

Electronic elections no longer have any political objective strictly speaking: they function as a preventative electroshock against any future political engagement. Just as in modern communication there is no longer any interlocutor, so in this electronic democracy there is no longer any participation, there is only a refractory element (votes) which must be neutralized and consensualized. This is what the party members seek to do, these missionary people bearing electroshocks which will shepherd everybody towards democracy. It is therefore pointless to question the political aims of this election: the only (transpolitical) aim is to align everybody with the national lowest common denominator, the representative denominator (which, in its extension, approaches ever closer to the degree zero of politics). The lowest common multiplier being ignorance in all is forms, which, as it extends towards infinity, also approaches ever closer to the degree zero of its content.

In this sense, consensus as the degree zero of consumer democracy and consumer information as the degree zero of opinion are in total affinity: the New Electoral Order will be both consensual and televisual. That is why official political discourse has carefully done as much as possible to avoid the issue of race (which stands out like a sore thumb everywhere in the US). Democracy is no longer what it used to be...

The crucial stake, the decisive stake in this whole affair is the consensual reduction of popular sovereignty to the global order. Not to destroy but to domesticate it, by whatever means: modernization, multiculturalism, militarization, nationalism, elections, the Rights of Man, anything at all to electrocute the resistances and the symbolic challenge that real democracy represents for the entire world. The 2008 election is no miracle; such elections will last as long as this process has not reached its term. It will not stop until radical challenges have been liquidated.

Our elections have less to do with the confrontation of candidates than with the domestication of the refractory forces of the nation, those uncontrollable elements as the police would say, to which belong not only the African American community in its entirety, but all non-white ethnic groups, minority languages, etc. All that is singular and irreducible must be reduced and absorbed. This is the law of democracy and the New Electoral Order. In this sense, the 2008 election was a successful strategy: Obama served to neutralize the violent face of imperialism, without having defeated it.

The fact that the Bush regime’s mercenary prowess should give rise to the present reversal and perhaps to the necessity of its own resurrection is a cruel irony, but perfectly justified. We will have shamefully merited everything which happens to us. This does not excuse the Democrats, who remain the objective accomplices of the Republicans, even in the present confrontation, to the extent that the challenge of Obama, with his irreducible and dangerous alterity and symbolic challenge, has been channelled, subtilized and politically, militarily and religiously deflected by his own undertaking. Even in the war on terror he has played his role in the domestication of an Islam for which he has no use. His elimination, if it should take place, will only raise a dangerous mortgage. The real stake, the challenge of popular sovereignty, and behind it that of all the forms of culture refractory to imperialism, remains intact. Nobody knows who will win. For as Holderin said, “where danger threatens, that which saves us from it also grows.” As a result, the more the hegemony of the global consensus is reinforced, the greater the risk, or the chances, of its collapse.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Poesia de Venezuela

Las siguentes poemas humildes fueron escritos entre Febrero y Abril de 2009, mientras yo estaba viviendo en Venezuela.


Los torres de vidrio reflejan los barrios
igual que los placeres absurdos
reflejan el dolor de los inocentes.
Y asi vamos, pintando en los espejos
de otras vidas.
Nada y nadie puede escapar --
La ignorancia tambien refleja y refleja.


En la lluvia de mi soledad
crecen selvas de memorias embrolladas
de un suelo de amor y pena.
Quiero seguir,
pero ante la luz del nuevo
me encanta su sombra profunda,
y su olor de retorno eterno.
Tengo que seguir,
pero ante el oscuro del futuro,
extraño las manos frescas de nuestra pasado,
mi amante,
¡Que me abrazan!
¡Que me sueltan!


Aqui, en el centro,
rodeada por pobreza y contradicciones,
se bebe el Babilon con limon,
se come el Babilon con papas fritas,
y incluso el amor huele a mierda.


El cuerpo es un argumento
entre deseo y cansancia
que sueña entre insistir y olvidar.
Juntos, los cuerpos aman, matan, y esperan
por enterderse.


En la niebla de inocencia
y entre las neblinas de culpa
ando yo, indultado por destino
y condenado por fortuna.
Espero hazañas imposibles
mientras espero escombros.
Amo lo que no entiendo
y desprecio el odio.
Siempre sospechoso de fe,
andaré lejos sin destinacion.
Con mapas y brujulas adentro
y lagrimas y creaciones afuera
ando yo, en la neblina de inocencia
y entre las neblinas de culpa,
indultado por destino
y condenado por fortuna
a reflejar.


En la ciudad,
ser humano es dificil.
Mirar a cada quien en los ojos,
escuchar a cada una que te habla,
hablar a cada cual que te escucha,
es decir, tratar a todos iguales,
se necesita ser casi superhumano.
Y asi va y viene la gran paradoja urbana;
espacios de humanos hartos de humanos,
tiempos de humanos rechazando humanos,
geografias de humanos sobreviviendo,
calendarios de humanismo mortecino.
En la ciudad, es dificil ser humano.
Es como una mala sueño que solo a veces despierte,
lleno de pendejos y profugos,
abajo la sombra de la amenaza
de una pesadilla inmunda e infinita.


Antorchas de destino industrial
fluyen de bocas metalicas
en noches ahumados y ominosos.
Bosques oxidizados de fuego
gimen su angustia toxico
entre vastos desiertos de infraestructura,
pero la arenga sinfin de las antorchas
no entendemos por nada.
Hemos producido un mundo
que no podemos traducir,
achicharrado y en blanco.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Departures #2

[the philosophy of empire]