15 November 2002

The new threat to your life

It's irradiated food, it's received the blessings of the powers-that-be, and the place to fight it is the Organic Consumers Association. It's not so far from the notion that there's profit in cancer, to say that the notion of profit is itself cancerous.

14 November 2002

On Fantasy and Ecosocialism

Here I am, it’s a day of deadlines, and I have to cook up an exam and an exam-preparation for some of my students -- two classes full of them. But anyway I while away my time reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, in anticipation of its upcoming movie release December 18th.

There is clearly something that fascinates humanity about fantasy. Fantasy empowers, for its power to create whole realities, to endow reality with a new hue, and to bring inspiration to planning. It was part of Paulo Freire’s idea of education -- the process of “conscientization,” of coming to an understanding of reality, involved a moment of “utopian dreaming,” of the discovery of a vision of a better world worth the effort of struggle. The steely logic of “realism,” so used to inspire the Henry Kissinger vision of “realpolitik,” is really just a conceptual vise to crush fantasy visions of a world better than the fantasy vision that the world-society has acquiesced into being, and so the “realists” use their “realpolitik” to fight for a world that drags on in dreary installations of corporate hegemony: the world as future site of the next Wal-Mart franchise, suburban subdivision, factory farm, privatized prison, or landfill.

The “realist” philosophy is itself, of course, just a disguise, a Potemkin village of material success to disguise a historically-unprecedented expansion of the world of fantasy that shines from every Nintendo gamecube, every college student’s aspiration of social change, every entrepreneur’s vision, every rock star’s drug-inspired brain, every end-of-year holiday season. Should we do something about this? It’s the wave we currently ride, and for all the fun things that it brings us today we might recognize dawningly that when it craps out we don’t really know if there will be anything so spectacular at the end of the society of the spectacle.

We must examine, then, the form of the dominant fantasies of today, to criticize the ways in which the life of fantasy has made today’s society. The fantasies of the past and present, we can say for sure, are all infused with this historic process of conquest, this S&M reality of dominance and submission (described so thoroughly in the bondage enthusiast Michel Foucault’s theoretical tour-de-force Discipline and Punish) that conquers the world anew with each rising regime. As we enter the atmosphere of world war at the beginning of the 21st century, we can see the fantasies of conquest as clearly as they ever were in the 20th. Cowboys and Indians on the wild frontier of Afghanistan. Hitler’s thousand year empire, taking shape today in the form of the WTO and the IMF and UN Resolutions against Iraq (whose dictator’s grisly fantasy is to be the next Stalin) and the Fortune 500 and the other organs of world dominance. (Hitler, remember, was himself merely an ugly, totalitarian echo of French and British imperialism.) The Kingdom of David and Solomon, taking shape today in Greater Israel. The end of the business cycle. The paradise of Alvin Toffler. We might have a need for a fantasy life -- but do we need to conquer others to get it? This is the question that humanity will have to ask itself as it goes through the coming ecological and economic crises.

And then there's the biggest conquest-fantasy of all -- the jealous God of the proselytizing religions. Given their explosive growth, we can see in all daylight the desire for a Church that conquers all humanity with faith, so that we can all pray to a God that tells us to be fruitful and multiply (until we screw up the planet somehow) and to view all nonbelievers as going to a Hell too horrid to even imagine permitting the others of our society the freedom to believe what they want. And what more powerful fantasy is there than to have an all-powerful God on your side? It should be of no little import to historians of the "God concept" that Bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE), during the period of the disappearance of the old polytheistic religions in the Roman Empire, started his City of God Against the Pagans with this retort to non-Christians: "My God is more powerful than any of your gods." Since then, the contest in the West has been between competing versions of the same all-powerful God. The culmination of it all will be when the conquest-fantasies get together in the "Holy Land" to declare war on each other. Too bad for the half-million-or-so victims?

Ecosocialism, on the other hand, is the ultimate in realism -- a world where everyone shares (for the sake of survival) and where the world's group survival isn't something that takes the planet apart. It's about survival in communities of solidarity -- or resistance to conquest. Which explains why it should be the object of our fantasies -- what better fantasy than the dream of being around tomorrow to fantasize?

13 November 2002

The recent piece by George Monbiot confirms the value of a "protest vote" -- this idea that Nader "spoiled the election" is all a Democratic Party pretext for handing the government over to the Republicans. This year they have only themselves to blame. The apparent victory of Nancy Pelosi in ascending to the leadership of the House is just another giveaway.

So the two-party system is, for now, dead. It will probably take awhile for an opposition Green Party to take shape. When will it happen and what will it look like?

Today the global economy is threatened with stagnation -- even Greenspan admits this -- and the quick fix the Bush Administration promises in the form of more war is likely to fix consumption patterns in their current form, emphasizing fossil fuels while leaving the American and global economies helpless before the stagnation that is the inevitable result of an excess of capital. This situation is likely to end, abruptly and drastically, when the global Hubbert Peak occurs, precipitating a permanent oil crisis, as production increasingly fails to keep up with raging global demand for oil. If the Green Party in the US is poised (at that point) to take advantage of that situation, to offer a real alternative to the status quo (and not just a few wimpy campaigns by unprepared idealists), it could become a serious second party.

This is, in my humble opinion, the GPUS's best hope. The emergence of third parties in American politics is exceedingly rare, and the one major occasion for its occurrence was a crisis that precipitated not only the beginnings of the Republican Party and the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, but the secession of a huge chunk of US territory and the Civil War that was precipitated by that event. We had better hope that tomorrow's crisis precipitates something of political-party value as well.

12 November 2002

An article by Walt Sheasby reveals how worker co-ops are invading the economic vacuum created by the retreat of Argentine capitalism. Thanks to Walt for pointing out the renascence of hope.

Meanwhile, it’s official -- the age of national competition is over, and the good old U.S. of A. has won. What this means, on the other hand, is a matter for serious debate. The national struggle was, of course, only one facet of the overall human struggle, and its absence will make the overall struggle appear to be all the more glaringly there to those who dare to shut off Fox News and look at the world. This overall struggle (despite a general denial of its existence) is a real struggle, which political scientists nevertheless exclude from their theories at the risk of forsaking many aspirations for a better world.

The landmark historic decision (of last week) by the U.N. Security Council to provide U.S. President George W. Bush with ample pretext for a war of conquest against Iraq’s oil fields is the clearest sign of the forthcoming end of the national struggle since Serbia was asked to sign the Rambouillet ultimatum. Yet, whereas Rambouillet was a trap forced upon Serbia by NATO so as merely to punish its citizens, last week's decision was the UN acquiescence in the complete surrender of Iraq.

Even so, it will be clear to that portion of the world which dares to look that, even though the national struggle is decidedly over, with winners and losers in clear daylight, the end result will be a permanent state of war. We will see, courtesy of the “wars” on terrorism, drugs, etc., a real live bellum omnium contra omnes in the world at large, which will be a mere reflection of the endless competition for limited opportunities for financial success in today’s “national” world. If political struggle were the only struggle, we would not see the triumph of the U.S. accompanied by the beginnings of a permanent state of "warfare." Of course, following the money might help one understand this state of affairs, but that's only half the story.

Americans may have “won” against other nations in the political world, while having lost in other ways, the most important of which is in the class struggle, the struggle for a more equitable world in general. Getting them to admit this, though, is a most difficult task, for they are blind to the world of politics that they have created in their “triumph,” and they tend to respond to challenges to their blindness by blinding themselves still further, so as to continue the heedless creation of new enemies in the name of “national victory” in spite of the surrender of the serious opposition of the previous ones. Yesterday, Manuel Noriega, today, Saddam Hussein, tomorrow, Hugo Chavez.