Empire of Empiricism

I just got called a “crypto-reactionary” for laughing at a “leftist” American for tweeting this bit of intellectual frippery:

“Capitalism is empirically unsound and can only survive in a culture hostile to empiricism. From a humanistic standpoint it is no less grounded in mysticism and dogma than any other reactionary ideology.”

Hard as it is to disagree with the notion that capitalism has attracted a set of intellectual apologists who indulge in “mysticism and dogma” in praise of their chosen subject, it’s even harder to see how “mysticism and dogma” are somehow unique to reactionary ideologies.

While there is little doubt that Marx used the word “science” in a way that is not precisely consonant with what most people think of when they think of physicists working on the A-bomb or chemists brewing up ever more clever plastics with which to destroy the environment, he was hardly a dogmatic mystic. This is absolutely not the case with all the varieties of “leftist” critique of capitalism-patriarchy-white supremacy that today claim to be downstream of Marx the social scientist. If there is an ideological faction out there in the world today that is not saddled with “mysticism and dogma” I would love to meet it in the flesh.

My real problem with this vaguely tautological bit of hollow virtue-signalling is the double whammy of absurd claims made in the first sentence.

“Capitalism is empirically unsound”: what can this even begin to mean? Empirically, capitalism has grown from its meager beginnings in 16th C England and Holland to a world-straddling colossus the likes of which has quite frankly never before been seen. “Empirically”, that is.

“[Capitalism] can only survive in a culture hostile to empiricism.” Now what this means seems rather evident even though it also seems to be referring to life on another planet.

Empirically, if we allow that something as reliant on textual interpretation as history can be called empirical, the opposite appears to be true. The earliest incubators of capitalism were also arguably nations where the cultures were far more accepting of empiricism than most of the rest of the world. Some writers might even go so far as to suggest that one reason capitalism was born in England of the 16th century, rather than 13th century Siam or even 15th century England, was the embrace of empiricism after centuries of intellectual enslavement to dogma and mysticism.

After a little hostile back-and-forth, it emerged that our interlocutor actually meant: ” my critique is that the theoretical basis for capitalism is empirically unsound”. So now we see that it isn’t capitalism that is “unsound” as stated ever so clearly in the initial tweet, it is “the theoretical basis for capitalism” that is “empirically unsound”.

It is my impression that capitalism was a praxis well before it ever gained such a thing as a “theoretical basis”. This would seem to me to mean that “theories of capitalism” are not remotely its “basis” but merely post facto rationales or analyses of its reality. Once this is taken on board it becomes rather mundane to point out that attempts to “theorize” a reality as complex and ever-shifting as actual existing capitalism fall short “empirically”. This would be as true of Adam Smith’s formulations as of Marx’s or Hayek’s.

Unlike socialism or communism, whose theorizations have always preceded and outrun and indeed usually denied its realities, capitalism is what it is and theories run around trying to keep up with its chameleon-like disappearances into whatever social and cultural background it inserts itself.

It’s almost as if Karl Rove or whoever it actually was had put it this way:

“Capitalism’s an empire now, and when it acts, it creates its own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—it’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. It is history’s actor…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what it does.”

This is the reality that anything calling itself “left” has to confront if it is going to further the cause of a socialist future rather than impress followers on Facebook and Twitter with just how apparently intellectual we can be in our little snippets of “anti-capitalism”, regardless of how actually inane they turn out to be.

The problem of course is the virtual impossibility of contemporary westerners, especially North Americans, attaining escape velocity from the liberalism that they stretch and crimp here and there to represent themselves as leftists. When identitarian left-liberals want to let their “leftist” flags fly, they say things like what I laughed at in that tweet exchange.

Looked at closely, these “leftists” rarely manage anything remotely close to a hard-edged critique of the bourgeois society and culture they so perfectly reproduce in almost everything they think and say.

If seeing and saying so makes me a “crypto-reactionary” in their eyes, I suppose I’ll just have to live with that. It sure beats playing middle-class revolutionary while scrambling to get a better job and taking my political stances from Column A, B or C of the contemporary left of neoliberalism.

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Nothing Left

Well, well. Here we are again.

You really have to ask yourself why it is that Americans will flock spontaneously to their local airports to protest their president’s illegal banning of immigrants but can’t be bothered to do the same in equal numbers to protest their president’s illegal bombing of yet another war-torn nation in the global south.

It could be that immigration falls naturally under the “racist-white supremacist” clause of the identity politics version of the social contract, whereas illegal wars that take place far away among “people of colour” who are on all kinds of different “sides” just cannot be comprehended in the “racist-white supremacist” analysis of the world.

It could also be that Americans of whatever political stripe are vaguely in favor of war because they can never really be sure whether it is for good or for ill, so best to just let the bosses have at it.

But really, the failure of the American “left” to actively oppose American imperialist militarism since the last gasp of that One Big Rally back when Cheney and Rumsfeld organized Bush II into invading Iraq is not a failure of any actual “left”.

Because for all intents and purposes there is no American left, just a simulacrum thereof consisting of online identity politicking claiming the leftist label and the occasional socialist-materialist leftist so frightened of the attacks from the Id Pol Vampire Squad that they might as well be on the radical liberal team themselves.

The Emperor has orange hair and bad clothes and zero effective internal opposition.

May we hope that Russia and Iran backed by China will step up where leftists fear to tread?

Send in the Clown: Trump and American Credibility

With all the knicker-twisting going on about how the big baby with the brain of a reptile and his own transplanted anus for a mouth is dribbling the world toward the brink of a possibly nuclear exchange with North Korea, it might be wise to try to remember at least one previous American approach to war even though it’s not really a part of anyone’s Twitter stream or the all-revealing/all-disappearing news cycle.

According to David Halberstam, in his monumental pre-Twitter takedown of the notion of meritocracy, the ironically titled “The Best and The Brightest”, the sainted John F Kennedy remarked to James Reston, apropos of having had his ass taken to the woodshed over American imperialism by Nikita Kruschev, that he needed to beat up on some little 3rd world country that couldn’t be expected to fight back because

“…now we have a problem in trying to make our power credible, and Vietnam looks like the place.”

look ma no hands

Let that sink in while others of our kind are reveling in Ken Burns proto-fascist contention that the Vietnam War was entered into in “good faith”. One does not normally associate the brutal slaughter of millions and the near-total destruction of 3 small countries in order to make a nation’s power “credible” with anything like “good faith” but, you know, American.

Halberstam’s book makes a hash of the currently popular notion that intelligence and an Ivy League education make for better political decisions than knuckle-dragging racist morons like Trump are capable of making. And given that Kennedy and his circle of really smart white men were also profoundly racist, a lot of what passes for “insight” in the era of Trump versus all the smart people is obviously profoundly a-historical and as dumb as the proverbial sackful of hammers.

But I digress.

The bottom line is this: American Presidents and their co-conspirators in the security and defense establishments go to war on a regular basis. And those wars are pretty much always aimed at killing lots of people who aren’t white and not part of “The West”.

It is also the case they they are often entered into to establish the “credibility of American power”, an ever-shifting notion that is, apparently, regularly in need of reconfirmation. And nothing confirms power better than images of little mountains of dead men, women and children of a colour other than American white or black.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would question the observation that American power is perceived to be at a very low ebb at the moment; the wailing and the gnashing of teeth over the end of the “liberal global order” can even be heard over the sounds of the record-breaking seven wars that Obama-the-Intelligent conducted during his graceful and educated sojourn in the White House.

It is not so commonly noted but equally clear that yet another invasion of yet another military non-entity like Iraq is not likely to impress anyone the American establishment thinks needs to be impressed with “the credibility of American power”. Now that Russia is back on the military intervention circuit and China is transmitting images of its ultra-modern hi-tech weaponry and building military bases in the South China Sea, establishing the “credibility” of American power might take something more along the lines of a limited nuclear exchange with a feisty little rabbit like North Korea.

And who better to establish the innocence of Ken Burns and all those American tax-payers who can’t stand being held responsible for the actions of their democratically-elected leaders than Donald “Not My President” Trump, “progressive” America’s very own Hitler?

I mean, think about it, once the smoke clears (not the radiation mind you or the global fear and trembling), all Good Americans will be able to blame the war on Evil Clown Trump and most of the dead will be non-white foreigners anyway.

Just the way they like it in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Just the way they blame Bush-Cheney for Iraq and Johnson-Nixon for Vietnam. And hell, they’ve already forgotten what they did to Korea last time around.

As George Carlin once sagely noted:

What did we do wrong in Vietnam? We pulled out! Huh? Not a very manly thing to do is it? When you’re fucking people, you gotta stay in there and fuck ’em good. Fuck ‘em all the way, fuck ‘em ‘til the end, stay in there and keep fucking ’em until they’re all dead. We left a few women and children alive in Vietnam and we haven’t felt good about ourselves since!

 

 

Yanki Go Home and Just Stay There… Please?

Whatever else an American may or may not be, an American is an American first and foremost: socialist, Nazi, Radiohead or Beyonce fan, liberal or paleoconservative, each and every one is an American.

What this means for people outside America is that there is no effective internal or domestic resistance to American cultural imperialism, to American economic imperialism or, and most obviously, to American militarist imperialism (which is arguably little more than a wing of the economic variety but kills a lot faster).

Americans go to work and pay their taxes,  and no matter what sort of personal “branding” they engage in on social media, in the pages of mid-to-main-stream media or simply over a glass of merlot with like-minded friends, they support the national project. Dead bodies lined up after an airstrike in Iraq or farmers lives and livelihoods destroyed by Monsanto in India and beyond are not brought back to life by sarky Tweets about what an evil clown Trump is or whether a presidential candidate believes America is in decline or is doing just fine as the globally indispensable nation.

One of the more offensive absurdities of the utterly American identity politics “left” is the tendency to label all white people as essentially racist and to deny the possibility that non-whites can be racist. There are, of course, any number of intellectual strategies that can be used to circumvent the bald idiocy of such a position- and the export of the “American Model of Racism” to destinations all around the globe is one of the more pernicious elements of American cultural imperialism- but there can be little doubt that this article of identitarian faith is one of the most powerful conditioners of how Americans see themselves and how they conduct themselves through all the various forms of media at their disposal, from the New York Times to Twitter and Facebook.

But there are ways a white American can wriggle out from under the racist label: by calling other white people racist on Twitter or by liking everything Beyonce does and never mentioning black-on-black crime; by shouting that everyone white that isn’t you should STFU and listen whenever a PoC has anything to say about just about anything; and if you are an administrator or a faculty member or a graduate adjunct on a university campus, you can organize and/or submit to unconscious bias sensitivity sessions where you will learn the truth of your own iniquity and how you can behave toward your moral betters to begin to atone for the sin of “whiteness”. And given the flaccidity of contemporary political language, you can, pace Orwell, just start calling everyone who disagrees with any tenet of the SJW creed a fascist.

In reality, the number of ways Americans can shop and preen on social media to deny their default Hitler-clonism is literally limitless. What many non-Americans would  just love to see, however, will almost surely never happen: hundreds of thousands of video clips of white Americans proclaiming their racial/genetic guilt and then punching themselves in the face until they bleed profusely then fall unconscious. Or better yet applying booster cables to their own genitals and really really screaming their heads off, just like countless folks around the globe have done when their American-trained and -funded security forces have defended  Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut so that young Americans can continue to buy their Chinese-made iPhones in peace.

American “socialists”, to give them their due, are naturally opposed to all this, and some are even aware of the joke involved in invoking international solidarity using a phone made by a worker making $6 a day while also calling for a fight for $15 on the same phone. Unlike many of their compatriots, some socialist Americans can actually find Myanmar on a map and are pretty certain the war in Vietnam was a “bad take”. What these “socialists” appear to be unwilling or unable to do for various reasons is make a clean break from their inevitable association with the identity politics people who all the varieties of the American right just revel in calling “the left”.

So while identitarians and antifa with the blessing of “socialists” will no doubt be out there bravely tearing down statues of racist slave-holding white assholes from 150+  years ago, not one of the whining bitches will have the nerve to go and smear shit all over the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. They are Americans after all and, you know, support the troops. Or excuse the troops. Or turn the troops into the good guys by invoking victim status for the troops. Some of them were, after all, black, so any suggestion that Vietnam was a racist imperialist war that the racist imperialists have yet to acknowledge or apologize for is just silly.

It is, after all, important to remember that 58 thousand Americans died killing those 4 million “orientals” who, as General Westmoreland (who was never tried as a war criminal) famously said, “doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner”.

African-Americans are quite rightly up in arms about police abuse and the systematic disenfranchisement and murder of black citizens by the American justice system, but they are also up in arms as members of the military whose primary purpose (besides deploying expensive weaponry so the American arms industry can keep on keeping on) is the calculated murder of people of colour outside the American homeland. The American ideology doesn’t really have a handy term to describe what is made manifest when a black American jarhead calls Arabs “camel-jockeys” and takes a few bucks from Uncle Sam for kicking in their doors and killing them since racists is what white people are. By default.

It’s painful to think that it might have been the black son or daughter of parents who marched in Selma that operated the drone that killed Anwar Awlaki, his 16-year-old son or his 5-year-old daughter. Black soldiers helping a black president to normalize the extrajudicial execution of American citizens of whatever ethnic or racial heritage has just got to be a major victory for diversity and surely a harbinger of the day when white Americans will be able to stop bashing themselves in the name of equality because Americans of all colours and creeds are out there killing the shit out of people of color in really poor countries.

 

Trump(ets) of Doom: America the Beautiful

The American “left” has a new hero today: a young woman, apparently a DSA member, was killed by a fascist using his car as a weapon in an ISIS-style attack against anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her picture has been posted on my Twitter timeline a number of times already and I’m sure over the next few days we will be seeing and hearing more about her.

This is in sharp and meaningful contrast to the faceless, nameless hundreds who die every week in American missile attacks, bombing runs and various other military actions undertaken by American-armed and -supported militaries around the globe. Outside of a small number of journalists who relentlessly make noise about the various ongoing imperialist wars being conducted by or with the complicity of the US, the “left” in America seems indifferent.

Let a few hundred or a couple thousand white nationalist fascists gather somewhere to make a bogus case for “free speech” as a cloak for racist ranting, and the American “left” is there to oppose them. This is probably a good thing, considering the history of American police and local officials tending to side with such people when push comes to shove.

But let a few American drone operators working at a base in Nevada go to work of a morning to kill a few dozen brown or black people in some country where people earn less in a day than most American “leftists” earn in half an hour and there is no one there to stop them. There is racism and then there is killing PoC in the name of freedom and democracy.

Let American soldiers and marines and sailors go to work all over the US to do their part in support of the American imperium and no one is there to draw attention to the reality of what these people do. The “left”, like Americans of every political stripe, pays its taxes and makes its choice. And that choice is the same one made every day by every other citizen complicit or proudly supportive of American militarism: America! Fuck yeah!

I imagine that some proud DSA member will be able to theorize that killing PoC in poverty-stricken nations half a world away doesn’t approach the levels of evil achieved by marching with swastikas and making Kekistani memes in your spare time.

But I call bullshit on that. I mean, that Trump, he’s a fascist. Right?

 

Trump(ets) of Doom: On Bringing der Fuehrer Back Home

As a 60s teen who read Camus and Sartre and fancied himself an existentialist, I used to think that all serious moral-ethical-political challenges were in the past and all we could do now was ask ourselves what we would have done had we been German in the 30s or whether we would have gone to fight like Orwell in the Spanish Civil War.

Somehow growing long hair, dropping acid and protesting the Vietnam war, or getting kicked out of high-school for refusing to stand for the Lord’s Prayer (among other things), just didn’t quite reach the level of the political and ethical challenges to personal integrity that confronted so many in the 30s.

It never occurred to me then that hindsight (especially the hindsight embodied in a historical tendency to valorize “the left” in the literary world that I entered almost every time I opened a book) might have been creating a clarity that people alive at the time could not possibly have experienced in reaching for a decision about which road to take.

I realize now that part of the reason nothing in my then-contemporary environment seemed to require the level of moral-political commitment that had characterized the left in the 30s was due to the elevation of fascism, especially in its Nazi variety, to the heights of metaphysical evil. I mean, LBJ was bad, but he wasn’t Hitler, right?

Ultimately the Vietnam war killed around 3 million SE Asians and devastated 3 countries. The United States used chemical weapons, anti-personnel bombs and massive non-stop terror bombing as well as torture and assassination in a pointless and ultimately fruitless display of callous disregard for international law and human life.

But within a few years, American politicians, American media and Americans in all walks of life were wallowing in self-pity over the Vietnam Syndrome and the high cost of gasoline. Oh, and the 58 thousand American soldiers who died so that 3 million SE Asians–men, women and children– would never again threaten American freedoms.

By the end of that episode of mass murder in the service of democracy, a majority of Americans had come around to the view that the war was a bad thing. The mind boggled. The combination of Richard Nixon and the Kent State shootings had somehow trumped the mindless slaughter and finally motivated Americans to oppose the war.

In recent years, various Arab dictators have been promoted to “Hitler-status” as the American public is primed for yet another war on yet another poor country filled with yet more non-white people whose children will die in massive numbers so that freedom and democracy can replace the Hitler du jour who oppresses them.

While domestic politics in the United States often revolves around what looks like nothing more or less than a game of “victim-victim, who is the victim?”, foreign policy often revolves around the question of “who is the Hitler that the American war machine needs to take out next?” This is known as liberal interventionism. So it’s liberal.

Putting aside the utility of maintaining a pervasive awareness of a “Hitler-Nazi = Ultimate Evil” equation for the apartheid and genocidal state of Israel, it is even more obvious that by never quite reaching the levels of iniquity of Nazi Germany,  Americans can usually obscure their own marked tendency to mass slaughter from themselves.

The Vietnam War in popular memory was not so much an American travesty as it was a Nixon crime. Gulf War II was not an American crime against humanity so much as it was a Bush crime, a Rumsfeld crime, a Cheney and a neocon crime. It is never about America and Americans and their constant rush to support American wars.

But along comes Trump, a genuinely ugly and vulgar man from the get-go. Suddenly Americans are able to envision a homegrown Hitler and an American Fascism sprouting all around them like unwelcome weeds on the otherwise pristine suburban lawn surrounded by the white picket fence of American feigned innocence.

The man isn’t in office for a month and “Antifa” are out in skinny jeans and hoodies bashing fashis and setting off fireworks in order to keep media darlings like Ann Coulter from speaking at universities. A “Resistance” springs up, and immediately all kinds of folks who’d gladly bomb the shit out of brown folks are “anti-fascist”.

It’s almost as if history began, yet again, on the day Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. And what distinguishes Trump and “the Trump era” and “Trumpism” from all the other American administrations that have deliberately and consciously slaughtered millions of non-white poor people?

Racism apparently.

Who knew?

Trump(ets) of Doom

January 29 2017

Well here we are at last, ladies and gentlemen. America is waking up.

America is waking up to the shocking sight of itself in the mirror provided by Mssrs Trump and Bannon and– surprise, surprise– much of America doesn’t like what it sees.

America and Americans and the thuggo halfwits they call “the troops” slaughtered and tortured and napalmed their way through SE Asia back in the day, but America is shocked by Mssrs Trump and Bannon because that was only 4 million non-white folks that died.

America and Americans have funded and trained and armed and provided tactical support for death squads and rightwing insurgents bent on overthrowing popular governments throughout Latin America, but America is shocked by Mssrs Trump and Bannon because banana republics are like that, don’t you think?

America is missing its most recent President because he glided through 8 years with dignity and grace and a lovely family and America just loves to watch that kind of reality TV while the thugs are out acting on the orders of President Dignity-Grace, killing kids and sustaining brushfire wars wherever The Dignity decides.

But America is shocked by Mssrs Trump and Bannon because one or both of them seems to think that all the hiding of what Amerika really is is no longer necessary and so might as well let it all hang out.

So fuck you all America. Let’s see how you like it.