Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Point of the Circle

Just as the circle is the perfect figure, so is Thanksgiving the perfect holiday.  It requires neither more nor less to be entirely satisfying. 

The heart of Thanksgiving and the all of it is simply feasting with friends.  This is the core of all religious commemoration, of all reconciliation, of all exultant howling around the carcass of the prey.

Thanksgiving entails none of the ego of birthdays or motherdays nor any of the impossible obbligatos of Christmas which more often than people will admit are simply a set-up for misery.

No.  Thanksgiving can be celebrated anywhere, with anyone with as little or as much as one has.  It is always good.

But the idea of giving thanks has always appalled me.  I can't count the number of times, while my host has rattled through a veritable laundry list of things he is thankful that God has vouchsafed to bestow on him, that i have wanted to add:

... and we thank you Lord, for the terrified animal whose pain and death has provided us with these succulent loins to savour; and that Thou, in Thy Gracious Mercy, have deigned not to number us among those starving children who are this night wandering streets and sniffing glue to stifle their hunger; and we thank You also, Oh Fount of Mercy and Love, that Thou has been so  very good to us, your unworthy but fortunate servants, that Thou has not let us fall among those despised and desolate, the truly blessed recipients of Your Grace....
The idea of giving thanks for accounted blessings has always struck me as an insufferable exercise of egotism wrapped in self-deluding and hypocritical humility, no different in spirit than the miser, gleefully counting his coins. Does anyone give thanks for suffering and going without? Saints perhaps.  

How is it possible to be grateful for having without necessarily being grateful for not not having? The catholic prayers a table which i dimly remember were always on the aesthetic side along the lines of:  "teach us to hunger after your spiritual blessings as you have given us food for our bodies..."  That at least was more of a cautionary reminder than an indulgent or indifferent reckoning.

Some may protest that life cannot always be so morose and i would heartily agree.  There are times to simply exult and be happy... and bringing in a harvest that yielded rather than not is one of those times too.  But being happy -- and limitlessly so -- is not the same as numbering one's acquisitions and successes.

What makes the circle perfect is that it points nowhere.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Aftermath - The Vulgarity of Empire.

The morning after Kennedy was buried, the country awoke to find a stranger in its bed.  The indefatigable vulgarity of Lyndon Baines Johnson made unfavourable comparison inevitable.  As I.F.Stone put it,

"He is a sharp drop from Kennedy.  He has hardly read a book in years; never reads when he can help it; prefers to get information by ear, but rarely listens.  He is one of the most long-winded men in Washington... with a remarkably small stock of basic ideas....

"Money and power have been the motivating passions of his life.  He was a New Dealer when that was the road to power; he became a conservative when that was the way to stay in.  ...  He is the perfect extrovert,  with no convictions and a passion for getting things done, anything.  ... [¶]... His vanity, his thin skin and his vindictiveness make even the mildest criticism ... dangerous.  ...
"Johnson is not a racist or a reactionary. ... As a shrewd politician, he knows he must move slightly leftward and make civil rights his number 1 issue... if he is [to become more] than a Southern politician with a basically stand-pat philosophy.  ... The hope is that men change and grow.  The sense of role, the maturing effect of responsibility, the consciousness of duty and love of country, the sense of humanity and history, all have their effect.  ... There may be surprises in Johnson and we wish the new President luck."  (Vol XI, No. 24 12/9/63;

The sting of Stone's portrayal gives it a taste of truth and he was right in his prediction that the "level of literacy and civilization will fall again, as it did after F.D.R."

But it is a tad unfair to subject public figures to too much light.  Men do not accomplish anything without power and do not get into power by being poets. Politics is the art of the sordid.

If Kennedy was -- as his ghost writer once put it -- the author of his poetry, it was only because his father, Joe Sr.,  had authored all the sordid deals for him.  Jack was untouchable because he hadn't touched a damn thing.  Johnson, a true nobody from nowhere, had to claw his way in and clawing is never pretty.

Johnson was a figure cut from Shakespeare, at once the bumbling peasant and the despicable overseer promiscuously out of place in the Court of Savoir Faire that did not know how.

And so, in a curious and indirect way, the country also awoke to an awareness of the stricken hero's imperfections. The whispered coda on everyone's lips was: "but maybe now things can get done."  Johnson stood for the drudge work of a dream Kennedy could evoke but not accomplish. 

It was Johnson who pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even if, as he said, it would be the act that destroyed the Democratic Coalition, which it did and which more than anything else enabled Nixon and Reagan to come to power. 

It was Johnson who pushed through Medicare which is the one program that keeps senior Americans from literally dying in gutters including those who once chanted "Hey, Hey, LBJ - How many Kids Have you Killed Today."

It was Johnson who enacted a slew of small social and economic programs which in small but real ways made the difference for small but real people.

It is unfair to excoriate politicians for impurity of motive as if they should do good without the slightest hint of egotistical drive or satisfaction.  No one can pass such a test. It was Johnson's misfortune that, following upon the pseudo saintliness of Jack Kennedy, his ordinary vices and even his virtues appeared for the worse.

Beneath the vulgarity and ambition Johnson retained simple but humane instincts.  He really had wanted to bring rural electrification to Texas and he really did want to make the United States a more fair union. 

The tragedy of Lyndon -- and it was a tragedy --  was that he had embraced power with the notion of doing something good and found that Power had embraced him for her own ends. 

Johnson might fix and finagle things in what I.F. Stone called "the decayed underside" of the U.S. Senate.  What  Johnson could not fix was the decayed underside of Kennedy's lofty Inaugural Address.   Vietnam was the pustule of America's status as a world power.  The war was no more avoidable than America's chosen "manifest destiny."

The unending slew of homiletic pieties which passes for American rhetoric has convinced us that America is a basically good and decent land which from time to time makes atrocious mistakes.  Rubbish.

Ever since 1776, when the Colonists revolted against the Quebec Act which had forbidden westward expansion (and which Jefferson denounced as inciting the "merciless Indian Savages" against us), the country has been about expansion and empire.  The endeavour reached its culmination in 1945 when the United States stood astride a devastated world which it more than anyone else had blasted into rubble.  Americans are wont to think of themselves as liberators but such self-massaging is one thing that doesn't gratify beyond our shores.  Any European understands that the United States no more liberated Europe than Rome liberated Greece.

With the success achieved in 1945, U.S. policy became one of consolidation and extension.  The aim was to erect a cordon sanitaire around the Communist world (what Churchill, in a delirium tremens of deflected accusation, called the Iron Curtain) and then to foster what were called "zones of democratic freedom" in the no-man's land of the "third world."  The Cold War consisted in ongoing skirmishes over "push points" in the Congo, Cuba, Laos or Iran -- outposts, colonies and satrapies tied to one or the other of the blocs by "shared values" and trade.

Five decades later, all that really changed was the unvarnished candour with which the policy got stated.  The aim of Dick Cheney's doctrine of ongoing "power projection" operations was to "preserve and extend American preeminence" and "to secure and expand" “zones of democratic peace;” "in line with American principles and interests."

The unvarnish was inadvertent. It resulted from the fact that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was nothing left to contain and the U.S. could no longer cast itself in the shining armour of freedom's guardian.   Thus, the essential thrust of NeoCon doctrine was a colossal "Who Gives A-Fuck."  America was top dog and would stay top dog by kicking ass around the world. Containing Communism transmuted into Maintaining Preeminence. 

It is pointless to ask whether John Kennedy would have gone that far.  The answer is, no; but only because Kennedy was not president that far along on history's trajectory.  It is a different question altogether whether Kennedy would have seen the "need" to "contain and push" in Vietnam.  The answer is, yes.

It is worth remembering that it was Kennedy who first institutionalised the use of "full spectrum" forces and "special operations."  That was what the Green Berets were all about, even if they were decked out as some kind of uber-athletic bivouacking team, replete with their own best-selling, pre-Weider,  fitness manual. 

Vietnam was the first muddled test of the new strategy.  It began with black ops (an assassination) was carried on by "pacification" programs (the murdering and concentration of entire villages) and ended in all out aerial and chemical bombing short of nuclear war.
Vietnam was a "necessary" war because (as Kissinger would later say) it was necessary not to be perceived as weak -- in other words to be seen as ever-ready, ever-eager to project power.  That was the entire dynamic of the post-war construct.

The notion that Kennedy was back-tracking from engagement in Vietnam is too pretty for words. It was Kennedy who had loftily intoned that we would "pay any price, bear any burden, .... oppose any foe, in  order to assure .... the success of liberty."  His administration was already implementing the play-book Johnson would continue to use.  To think that Kennedy would call the whole thing off two years later, one has to believe that Kennedy would have ignored the very same cadre of cabinet officers and advisers who stayed on to advise Johnson.  It is possible but not probable.

Even to say as much erroneously presupposes that leaders exist independently of the forces that thrust them forward and sustain them.  They do not. As President of "the most powerful nation on earth" Johnson had to serve the cause of power once in power himself.  There was no way out from that  Faustian embrace and he was just as trapped as Kennedy would have been.

The difference between Johnson and Kennedy was that Saint Jack would have let loose a noble and inspiring War Whoop which would have had an entire generation marching off to war under fluttering flags instead of half of it being surreptitiously shipped off to slog around in rice paddies while the more privileged half sloshed around in mud-fields protesting and what-not.

At bottom, Kennedy was a jock.  Although he had the good sense to keep it within limits, he relished a good fight.  As he said in his Inaugural,

Only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.

For all his physical presence, Johnson never spoiled for a fight.  Some said he was a physical coward.  He had lusted for power with the idea of improving the lot of poorer Americans.  Vainglorious as it might have been, he did want to go down in history as the Great Benefactor of a Great Society. 

Caught between the demands of power and the empowering of his dreams, Johnson pursued an ambivalent course.  The disaster of his "guns and butter" policy was that it succeeded at neither and drove a permanent wedge into the country between those who got the guns and those who got the butter.  That was something Kennedy would not have permitted.

But Kennedy's crusading spirit did not mean that the war would have ended sooner or bankrupted the country less.  The war was unwinable because it was the kind of war that cannot be won, even by Green Berets!  Only conventional wars have conventional endings.  The idea that you can "win" an unconventional war is an oxymoron because there is no one around to admit defeat.  The best one can do (as was said of Rome) is to "create a desert and call it peace."

It would take U.S. policy makers 40 years to realise that it did not matter if you won or lost because power projection was an end in itself.  But in 1964 U.S. policy makers were still tied to the tinsel of "democratic values," to the notion that nation building mattered and to the idea that "winning" (over what was not very clear) was a possible outcome.

Was it possible to alter the historical trajectory the nation had embarked upon in 1776?  No; and no one wanted to.  But Kennedy had led us to think that our undoubted preeminence could be used for good,

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts  If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.   ....  [T]he trumpet summons us again– to struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

It was stirring stuff. The Inaugural  beckoned to the idea of a beneficent empire.  It was America's Ara Pacis -- a New Rome uniting the Free World within New Frontiers of peace, progress and prosperity.  We thrilled to the challenge and thought it possible.

But despite the friezes and phrases, no empire is beneficent because the essence of empire is exploitation.  There is no such thing as "gentle power."  Empires are what they are and they exact their price from rulers and ruled alike.

Kennedy was the noble fraud, the way we wanted to see ourselves.  Johnson was the ugly truth and we hated in him what we did not want to acknowledge about us.  His tragedy will be ours.

©WCG, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Saint Jack

Anyone over the age of seven, the world over, can tell you where he was on that day.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy had evoked the imagination of the world even among those who  considered him to be an inexperienced, preppy playboy, little different in political substance from Nixon or among those, like Kruschev, Castro or DeGaulle, who were not mired in sentimentalities about America or the forces that drove her. 

There was something about Jack that shone through the carefully cultivated propaganda as opposed to Ronnie who only shined because of it.  And what shone through was simply a reflection of the projected hopes of mankind.  Truly great statesmen are devoid of content; the greater their emptiness the more they can act as a transparent prism for the light that appears to emanate from them. 

We were curious about what I.F. Stone -- the great counter-journalist of the Fifties and Sixties -- had to say about that day.  We were struck by how, of all the blather that streamed over the coffin, Stone's remarks bear the balanced judgement of time.  

"There was a fairy tale quality about the inaugural and there was a fairy tale quality about the funeral rites.  One half expected  ... some winged godmother would wave her wand and restore the hero whole again in final triumph over the dark forces which had slain him. ...

"Of all the Presidents this was the first to be a Prince Charming. ... To watch the President at press conference ... was to be delighted by his wit, his intelligence, his capacity and his youth.  These made the terrible flash from Dallas incredible and painful. 

"But perhaps the truth is that in some ways John Fitzgerald Kennedy died just in time ... to be remembered as he would like to be remembered, as ever young, still victorious, struck down undefeated...

"For... in the tangled dramaturgy of events this sudden assassination was ... the only satisfactory way out. The Kennedy Administration was approaching an impasse ... from which there seemed no escape. 

"In congress the President was ... confronted with a shrewdly conceived and quietly staged sitdown strike by Southern committee chairmen determined to block civil rights even if it meant stopping the wheels of government altogether. ... Never before ... has the Southern oligarchy dared to go so far in demonstrating its power. ...

"In foreign policy the outlook was as uncompromising. It was proving difficult to move toward co-existence a country so long conditioned to cold war. The president recognized the dangers of an unlimited arms race... but was afraid ... to move at more than a snail's pace toward an agreement with Moscow. ... In Vietnam, the stepping up of the war by the rebels was deflating all the romantic Kennedy notions about counter-guerillas. ...

"Abroad, as at home, the problems were becoming too great for conventional leadership, and Kennedy, when the tinsel was stripped away, was a conventional leader, no more than an enlightened conservative... with a basic distrust of the  people...."
[ Stone went on to list the belligerent deeds undertaken by Kennedy the Cold Warrior from the assassination of Lumumba in the Congo to Diem in Vietnam, from the Bay of Pigs fiasco to the Cuban Missile Crisis,  before concluding:  ]
"Where the right to kill is so universally accepted, we should not be surprised if our young President was slain.  It is not just the ease in obtaining guns, it is the ease in obtaining excuses that fosters assassinations. ... When a whole people is in a state of mind where it is ready to risk extinction -- its own and everybody else's -- as a means of having its own way in an international dispute, the readiness for murder has become a way of life and a world menace.  ... It would be well to think it over carefully before canonizing Kennedy as an apostle of peace."  (Vol XI, No. 24 12/9/63 ©
It was all true enough and equally as depressing that so little has changed.  But that is not why Kennedy has been canonised.

Kennedy's clarity allowed us to see our better selves in him.  He was the man we wanted to be.  The husband we wanted to have.  The hero of our own ideals and the embodiment of what we expected from that cornucopia of hopes called "America." 

I stood on the tombstone of a long dead patriot atop the knoll that overlooked where the slain man was being laid to rest.  The air was crisp under a clear azure sky and the rays of the setting sun turned marble monuments a golden pink.  The bagpipes droned their plaintive dirge as the flags whipped into the wind.  I had never felt so sad, so proud to be an American. 

That was the last time.

©WCG, 2013.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gleaming Death

We were reading in article in Der Spiegel about how the BRIC countries were overtaking the West in just about everything and about how no city in Europe was on the cutting edge of anything.

This news has been in the wings, as it were, for several years now and we have taken note of the sparkling space-age cities rising up in the vast flat-lands of Asia.  Next to those examples of futuristic modernity, U.S. cities appear hokey if not downright shabby.

It is important not to loose sight of what is really going on here.  It is somewhat off the mark to think of Brazil, Russia, India and China as solely national sources of a new vitality. Their prosperity is equally due to capital flows from the West.  European and U.S. companies are investing in these countries.

Bill's Bullshit was that by exporting the dirty jobs to backwater, cheap-labour places like China, India, Pakistan and Malaysia, the United States would be become the gleaming headquarters of the future, full of hi-tech, hi-skill,  hi-paperpushing jobs.  Instead all the gleam and clean fingernails followed the grime.  The paper titles may be parked here (USA) but not much else anymore.

But we are overcome by other, sadder thoughts, when we sit and stare at pictures of these Futurama Cities.  There are no trees.... no chirping birds... no tigers on the prowl... no elephants bathing in pools.  They are vast expanses of gleaming DEATH.

These are cities planned for millions, and for millions with hundred of thousands of cars, driving on grass-killing concrete.  The cities are fed, not by milk from cows grazing on a hill -- as in old backwater Europe or parts of Cascadia -- but from cows debased into milk producing things and "sources" of meat.

All the metal and gleam bespeak an exciting future full of artificial "growth" and the death of Creation as we know it.  Very few people are open to  the necessity  of mandated non-reproduction. The money makers and their beholden policy whores are downright against it.  Close to twenty years ago we sent letters to editors noting the need for a reduction in the number of humans on the planet.  Not one got printed.

What is actually anathema has become orthodoxy. The insane pursuit of endless market growth coupled with unrestrained population growth is an evolutionary derangement which obviously has no cure except its own self-destructive consummation.  Chipsters hope it comes sooner than later.  Humans are simply a blight on the world.   That is an objective fact whether your ego likes it or not.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Suffering Beauty

We had some thoughts about beauty when we read that,

“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people.

The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

It was a stunning, if not altogether unknown, reflection of our civilisation and it made us think of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the 20th Century Catholic theologian who wrote.

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past — whether he admits it or not — can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love"

But this in turn stirred a question in my mind for Mr. Bell.  It is a near certainty that among those who disposed of his music by rushing past it were members of the very same bourgeoisie who would or had paid $100.00 a seat to hear the same piece in a proper setting.  Why would Mr. Bell want to play for them?  

Of course, we understand that Mr. Bell needs to make a living; we all do.  However, anyone who has worked at Bach comes to understand the intimate relationship between player and listener, between (as Bach would certainly put it) score and soul. Once again, von Balthasar,

"Seeing is the organ with which the world is possessed and dominated.  [Perception] denotes distance, separateness and subordination to our perspective.  Hearing is a wholly different, almost an opposite mode of the revelation of reality. ... The basic relationship between the one who hears and that which is heard is thus one of defencelessness on the one side and of communication on the other. The hearer belongs to the other and obeys him."
We cannot pass judgement on every concert goer; but we are confident that those who did not stop to listen were refusing to obey.  Were those same people in one hundred dollar seats hearing music or listening to the mask of technique.  If they were deaf in the Metro are they not also deaf at the Met?  Just how much are we going to surrender to the rationalisations of prioritising?

The surrender involved in listening to Bach seems to explain why the children alone were the only ones who were uncontrolled enough to stop and submit.

Were all these children moved by the sublime profundity of Bach?  Perhaps we ought not to make more of innocence than is wont.  Certainly the music arrested them which is more than it did for their parents.  Once arrested,were the children moved by the sounds or fascinated by box that emitted the sounds or entranced by the gesticulations and motions of the violinist?

In our view it does not make any difference because all these elements were of a piece.  It seems rather to miss the point to fuss over which component was prevalent in any child's awareness. Isn't the point that they were open, defenceless and trusting enough to suffer experience?  Which brought us back again to von Balthasar,

"Whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens... where 'faith' and 'knowledge' are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated — a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique"

Mr. Bell is certainly a "technician" and the whole point of article was that the exquisite features of his technique were ignored by a stampede of humans except for the children whom, we have just said, might not have been all that attuned to his technique.  So was the beauty which Mr. Bell produced, in the end, wasted on all or was the beauty of the matter somewhere else?

Street musicians are a relatively new and still rare  phenomenon in the United States.  Our cities are without centres, have few useless spaces and have been handed over to the stampede of cars.  But there was a place and a time when we grew up where street musicians were commonplace.

Every other or third day, the organ grinder would come onto our street in the late afternoon just before dusk and start cranking out his flutey toones.  "Ayyyyy" the maids would cry as they ran to front windows to throw coins at the music maker.  Coins, i will add, taken from very meagre earnings.  But nothing got done -- for we all stopped whatever we were doing --  until everyone had got their fill of the music. 

And maybe once a month, a band of village peasants would amble onto our block with their cracked violins, battered horns and leaky tubas or patched drums. With an uneven, barely coordinated start they would then crank out their missed beat, out of tune, rasping, flubbering music which was beautiful in its sheer awfulness.  It was never clear that they were not paid to go away but their semblance of music did make us smile and isn't that too the point of music?

And then there was music which made one cry, made perhaps by a grizzled old violinist making a free gift of his rasping melody to the Blessed Virgin, at the foot of the altar.  If the image is paradigmatic it is because it was prevalent; and here i have to say, with no disrespect to Mr. Bell and certainly not to Bach, that there was more beauty in that poverty than in all the mask of technique in the world.

©WCG 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On the Beggar's Art

Beggars were ubiquitous in Mexico, even more so than in today's metastasizing urban sprawl.   They crouched in dirty doorways holding up scrawny hands and pathetically mumbling things like "Ten piedad por amor a nuestra santísima Señora...

They mumbled these mantras so continuously that begging became a sort of meditation, which in a way i suppose it is.   kyrie eleison...

Among beggars there was a sort of rush toward the bottom to see who could be more positively pathetic and wretched.  One wonders if they held a convention somewhere to hand out awards for the "best costume" and "grimmest disability" or "lacrimose lament."

There was one woman who had attained a sort of fame in this respect.  Her "post" was somewhere in the vicinity of Avenida Juarez and Niño Perdido - in a well concoursed older part of downtown.  Almost everyone had passed her at one point or another or so it seemed. Oh wretched art though among women....

And then one day an article appeared in the paper exposing her game.  The woman was indeed a beggar, but she brought in a hefty income.  She had a bank account and sent her children to a private school. 
It was of course classic, like the Chaplin or Keystone movie where the veteran amputee on the sidewalk, gets up and stretches his tucked legs at the end of the day.  And like the audience at a Chaplin movie, people read the article, laughed and went on to talk about other good begging acts they had run across.

There was the sense around the table that if you had fallen for the woman's act you had been suckered, which was of course true.  But, at the same time, no one felt that she had committed a cheat or a fraud, which was also true.  After all she was a beggar and that's what beggars do. She could hardly be blamed for being good at her "profession" -- and given the litanies involved it was a profession.

This was a very different attitude from that which prevails in the United States what with all the self-righteous snarling about welfare cheats.  No one felt that our now-famous beggar had been a cheat.  At what exact degree of hunger does misery cease to be a deceptive act?  How many rags are "too many"?

Well she could of gone out and got an honest job....

That refrain which flaps in the north like so many stripes in the wind would simply not have occurred to anyone at the table.  After all, the poor are poor because they are poor. They have no capital: no education, no competence, no skills, nothing to sell for money.   If she could have gotten a job she would have... if jobs were to be had.   Who can trace the what's, why's and wherefore's, except to say,

To he who hath more shall be given; to he who hath not even that which he hath shall be taken away.

There will always be poor because people are born without and because there are never enough jobs for all.   No one in Mexico discounted the value of hard work or talent. But neither did anyone beguile himself with the canard that these alone were sufficient for "success."  Everyone understood that, at bottom, any one person's success is always someone else's gift. There is no such thing as an "honest job." We are all beggars after a fashion.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Cum vix iustus sit securus?
 Rex tremendæ maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,

 God saves freely,
as even the just are in need of mercy

But this humble circumspection is beyond those who feed upon a hill, and who feel cheated by someone else's need.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Zeitgeist for a New Century

One way or another, what goes around comes around and it did not take more than ten years for the securitization inflicted on Baghdad to come back and bite the citizens of Boston.

Since 9/11, we chipsters have repeatedly warned against the constabularization of military forces and the militarization of  the police.  We have warned that every wall has two sides and that, of necessity, a war on terrorism over there is  a war on terrorism in here. We warned that the grotesque images of our "post combat stability operations" in Iraq were merely the preview of peacekeeping operations at home.

To no avail.

The logical mind, duly focusing on concrete specifics, will protest that there is "no proven connection" between any bombing in Iraq and the pressure cooker explosion in Boston.  It will argue that the "tragedy" in Boston is an "isolated incident" sprung from the brain of a deranged loner acting from idiocyncratic impulses.  It will point out that the technology and procedures used by the police in Boston are no more connected to the technology and procedures used by peacekeeping forces in Baghdad  than a hammer in Iowa is connected to the use of a hammer in Okinawa.

In all this, l'esprit de geometrie, is specifically correct but fundamentally wrong.  It is not a question of facts but of symptoms.  What is needed is not a delineation of inferences but a perception of Zeitgeist.

Put another way, the fact that a hammer exists in the first place means that people will be hammering in Okinawa as in Iowa.

We were first alerted to the hammer by an 2002 article in the Moscow Times concerning a think-tank paper entitled "Rebuilding America’s Defenses -- Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century” (Sep. 2000) which the Times had called America's Mein Kampf and which we have repeatedly analysed and discussed over the past decade.  In actual fact, Hitler's notorious book was no more than a meandering discursive auto-biography. In contrast the PNAC paper was a prescription for total war.

Rebuilding America's Defenses outlined a weltanschauung in which both the means and the ends of American policy was simply and brutally global power projection on land, in the sea, in the air, in "space and cyberspace." 

We have discussed this paper so many times, we are loathe to do it again.  But perhaps the most important thing to grasp about Rebuilding is that it has nothing to do with causes and goals but simply outlines an ontology -- a manner of being.  As George Orwell, famously put it,

"Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."  (1984)
The PNAC paper was a sequel to the still semi-classified Defense Planning Guide, drafted in 1992 by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and a cadre of zionist neo-cons whose smudge marks are all over the "securitization" of U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

Although both papers talk vaguely about promoting American "principles and interests" (Rebuilding, p. i) or establishing "democracy and free-market institutions world wide" (D.P.G, p. 1), these phrases are simply passing tissues over a what is simply a naked culture of "forward presence operations" and  "power projection." (D.P.G, p. 10; Rebuilding, p. 20.) 

In fairness, "power projection" is nothing particularly new in American policy.  It was the essence of Theodore Roosevelt's Big Stick policy.

But Roosevelt's Big Stick was tied to the achievement specific economic goals. Cheney's neo-con mavens advocate swinging the stick just for the hell of it.

This is not to say that the policy is devoid of political or economic goals. Nothing in life has the abstract neatness of a fictional account. It is to say, rather, that as the policy becomes increasingly entrenched, goals become correspondingly reduced to collateral or incidental benefits. The means simply swallow the ends. The ontological clue can be found in statements that  the potential for any other state to present a threat to American preeminence, becomes the raison d'etre for "preemptive response."

Cheney's Defense Planning Guide explicitly stated that U.S. defense policy needed to "refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential global competitor." (Id., p. 4.) or "of any potentially hostile entity." (Id., p. 26.) Accordingly, defence strategies needed to  maintain "mechanism[s] for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.  (D.P.G  p. 2.) 

Such a formula is simply the rubric for ongoing kick-ass actions around the world.  The policy is so utterly perverse -- so diabolical in fact -- that even 20 years on, and despite all the allusion's to 1984, most people still do not get it.

"Shaping the security environment" (Rebuilding, pp. iv and 6) in order to deter other countries from even thinking about having some weight and influence in the world is simply a bureau-burble for a strategy of ongoing degradation, debasement, and "negative reinforcement" much the way bullies and abusers intimidate slaves and wives into submission.

It was from this premise, that Cheney's mavens derived their doctrine of what ultimately came to be called a full spectrum military.

Since a "potential threat" can arise in any number of different ways, it becomes necessary for America to have the capacity to respond or preempt that threat in as many different ways.  While some enemies might confront us on a field of battle, with flags a-fluttering; others might potentially endanger us by means of subversive agents and "Fifth Columns."

Accordingly, Cheney's memorandum and the PNAC paper outlined a full range of strategies for meeting these potential threats from "space to cyberspace." (Rebuilding, p. 27.) The inevitable result is the militarisation of civil society. Just as the military would have to engage in so-called "constabulary" operations abroad, the domestic police would have to engage in military operations at home.  The only difference between a soldier and a sheriff would be the colour of the uniform.

Among the missions of the new full spectrum military, the PNAC paper listed something it called "post-combat stability operations." If one's ear does not burn, he is not atuned to the times.

Traditional military "operations" are comprised of invasions and battles. Maintaining law and order in the aftermath of war, while a responsibility of the occupying power, has never been regarded as a military operation. The use of the word "operation" in connection with "stability" pointed to a peculiar proactive peacekeeping which was in actuality simply a lower level of war.  As Rebuilding itself put it, these "post-combat" actions were "lesser included" operations of sustained traditional infantry missions.

Of course, in such a case, there is no "post" to anything.  "Post combat" is just Orwellian double-think for ongoing combat operations. Keeping the peace is simply a form of war.  It was for this reason that the PNAC paper frankly acknowledged that "constabulary missions" were "likely" to "generate" violence. (Rebuilding, p. 11.)

What kind of world is it where peacekeeping generates violence?  It is a world in which mili-cops engage in the the use of "organic intelligence units," the "acquisition and management of information," in "political-military environments" including the "battlefied of the internet."  As needed "skin patch pharmaceuticals" will be employed to enable soldiers to to perform and cope with these expectedly high-stress missions.

All of the phrases in quotes are taken from the PNAC's dystopian blueprint.  Stripped of their bureaucratic varnish, they betoken a world of spies, provocateurs, recorded surveillance of public and supposedly private venues, data mining, censorship and propaganda within an overall context of force and violence.

Such a full-spectrum strategy is not calculated to bring about any wholesome result.  It is designed to do what it in fact does, which is to degrade civil society, or as the PNAC refers to it, the "security zone." 
Within the terms of this policy, Iraq and Afghanistan are not failures but successes.  The rubble that passes for "democratisation" is the intended result, because the destruction of the country's political infrastructure and national cohesion incapacitates the possibility of nationhood and with it the "potential" to present a threat. By the same token, it exposes the once nation to ad hoc exploitation (aka "investment") of the region's natural resources.

It is mistake to fall for the euphemisms. Whenever Cheney or Bush or Obama or anyone else speak of combating terrorism, democratisation and open markets they are referring to a policy of political incapacitation and economic penetration.

It is equally a fatal mistake to imagine that this policy of power projection and zonal degradation is something that takes place "out" there and not "in" here.  In the PNAC blueprint, places like Lithuania, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea are simply the America's security "perimeter."  Within the  “security-based” mentality, “security” begins at home and the Homeland is the preeminent zone of democratic peace,  requiring its security environment to be shaped as much as any other.

It is a lazy misconception to think that all those nasty things taking place abroad are the price they pay so that we can "enjoy the fruits of freedom" at home.  To think as much is to think teleologically whereas, as we have said, the policy is ontological and aims to practice security at home as well abroad.

Lastly, it is important not to loose sight of the imbecility induced by double-talk phrases like "potential threat." The word "threat" means a possible or potential harm. Thus a potential threat means a possible possibility of harm.  To say that the police are tasked with protecting us from an evil which is twice removed from any present reality is to render everyone a "potential suspect." 

It is astonishing the unthinking carelessness with which pundits, politicians, jurists and academics use destructive pleonasms like "potential threat" or "potential suspects."  The effect of such phrases on the infrastructure of thought is as devastating as an atom bomb on the infrastructure of a city.

Strictly speaking such redundancies mean nothing. But the poison lies in the fact that they induce the sense that nothing contains something.   A potential threat "exists" (we've just mentioned it, right?) even if it is unseen, unknown, unspecified.  Given that it is "exists" (as a potential) we must take action against it even if it there is no evidence of  any specific "threat" (i.e. the potential).  Given that the potential threat is inchoate action against it encompasses countermeasures against any arbitrarily asserted possible potential.

It was thus that back in 2008, CIA chief McConnel informed Congress that the "enemy" had "acquired" the capacity to "blend in" with the rest of us.  Of course the enemy had "acquired" no such capacity.  Suits, jeans and baseball caps have been around for quite some time.  McConnell's discovery was simply the realization of what it means to say that we are all potential suspects.  As Pogo famously put it:  We have met the enemy and he is us.

Enthralled to such destructive constructs, two successive Administrations have already sought to dispense with constitutional limits on data mining all currently available information on U.S. citizens. Law Enforcement is already at work erecting security perimeters and audio/video monitors around and within the country. Police agencies of every type are already “organically” penetrating alleged “suspect” and “target” groups, without ever specifying exactly what makes them suspect and, once an arrest is made, the alleged criminal conduct more often than not has all the clarity of an entrapment sting.

The notion that the State should “control” the internet and wage net-war on it, basically extends power projection and security shaping into the realm of information and thought. This has nothing to do with preventing a possible terrorist act or even sleuthing it after the fact.  It has everything to do with disorienting the capacity for grounded reflection.  Like a person spun around to the point of staggering dizziness, disinformed society is one that simply cannot function as social organism; it is simply humanoid putty.

However, as Plato might remark, the civic constitution is simply a mirror of the human soul, so that the corruption of one becomes the corruption of the other.  It was therefor hardly surprising the PNAC's American Kampf ended with a Strangelovian orgasm forseeing the day when

"Future soldiers may operate in encapsulated, climate-controlled, powered fighting suits, ... “and  [s]kin patch” pharmaceuticals help regulate fears, focus concentration and enhance endurance and strength."
Such "regulation" is required because the human conscience rebels against inhumanity and there comes a point when even brutalization no longer works sufficiently. This is particularly the case when the enemy alien is replaced with the suspect neighbour.

It follows that if the America's rulers are willing to turn U.S. soldiers into drugged up killers, they will see no objection to pharmaceutically enhancing domestic security forces. All the images we see in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq today are a foretaste of the Homeland tomorrow.  It will be so.

The denouement was foreseeable at least since the first kevlar-encased cops began appearing on our streets after 9/11.  But it goes deeper than that.  No cancer seizes hold without a precursor of bad habits. Beyond mephisto-phelian memoranda, the degradation and brutalizing of American civil society has its roots in a culture of aggression and avarice; in the worship of success and hardness.

Why do people love flowers?  Because they are beautiful, soft, fragile and helpless. These are the qualities that inhere in their beauty. The theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar put it this way

"[When] the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics,  [t]he result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation – a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated ..." (Love Alone pp. 114-15.)
In the United States, flowers are a commodity you give mothers, wives and girls to keep the peace, before going back to being tuff among men. Power projections and profit-margins which are two hydra-heads of the same impulse have long been the most salient characteristic of U.S. culture.  This is not to say that the impulses of power and profit have not existed elsewhere or in other times.  Nor is it to say love of beauty does not exist in America.  All cultures rest on a fulcrum between beauty and the brute. But in the United States brutishness has been turned into a cult which overrides and will eventually extinguish other values.

The most obvious manifestation of the cult is our cultural worship of hardness, action and militarism-as-sport.  This is not simply a question of "gun violence."  It is rather a question of an impatience or contempt for what is soft and at-rest. 

The banner of women's liberation in the 60's was "we are just as good as men" -- a motto which implicitly accepted that there was nothing more contemptible than to act "just like a woman."  It took 30 years before it dawned on them that femininity was an inherent virtue in itself; but by then the disconnect was so pronounced women had only the a false, fantasmagorical and equally exagerated notion of what "feminine" really is.  Emphatically heterosexual as American culture is, it basically hates women.

But men fare no better.  The idealisation of a hyper masculinity which is impossible to achieve renders men mere spectators of an alienated self they shamefully feel they ought to be.  The performance deficit is made up with a full spectrum of pseudo combat activity from junk car racing, to paint-ball to football, most of which ends up being a mere spectator sport.  The brutalisation of the American male psyche is so complete that the average male secretly worships the hyper-robocop that comes astompin' on him.  It is trés gai.

This is not to deny that men, by nature, have hormonally aggressive impulses which are best channelled and displaced.  It rather to say that aggressive impulses which include the desire to penetrate into things and to accomplish a result are not limited to forms of destructive violence but also manifest themselves in action which is quiet and creative.  Instead, a technological, consumer culture of aggresive and primitively domineering action is cultivated.

The failure of reverence occurs in subtly and seemingly innocuous ways; as for instance when excursions into our magnificent outdoors becomes the occasion for equipping and endurance contests.  What is really occurring is a technocratizing of the simple beyond what is minimally necessary, so that the means crowd out the end. Thus, whereas Saint Francis walked El Camino barefoot, techno-man fusses over which is the lightest, strongest, most aeriated  walking boot.  In the end, the pilgrimage gets turned into: "Do the Camino on Bike!"

The brutishness of American culture at all levels is unbalanced and unremitting.  It has been perhaps since its inception and was something Alexis de Tocqueville commented on, in various contexts, in his great work Democracy in America.   In so saying, I do not mean to suggest that the issue is solely a sociological one concerning "cultural attitudes."   On the contrary, the driving force behind the cult of power is a specific kind of political-economic based on profit margins.   I mean only to focus on the psychological attitudes and the strategic methods employed and necessitated by an economic system.

It is not psychologically susprising that despite all the worship of brutishness, Americans themselves are actually scared and cowardly.  This is hardly a mystery.  The addiction to anything which is inherently false produces the opposite effect of that sought. As Gibbon repeatedly noted in his history of Rome's decline, displays of power became the cover for an enervated expectation of security.  We have become a Ninnie Nation, and Official Brutishness is simply the compensatory circus.

The Emperor Honorius, who spent his days tending chickens was no more a general in the field than George Bush, surrounded by chickenhawks in the palace, was a  fighter pilot.  But the cultivated and obligatiory image of hardness was presented as a form of vicarious exercise to a supine public which is convinced it is the deserving master of the world.

It is through this lens that the events in Boston need to be viewed.  The issue presented by the Boston Bombing is not whether the alleged suspects acted alone, in connection with terrorist group or whether they were the patsies or scapegoats of a false flag operation (as some blogs have inevitably theorised).  The issue presented by the Boston Bombing is not whether it was necessary to search for the culprits or whether the city was or was not under partial or total, de jure or de facto lockdown.  Other times and other places have survived a declaration of martial law.  The issue is the stick which lies in waiting.

In a sense the United States is already the perfect paradigm of the degraded zones of democratic freedom we are securing and extending abroad. 

Overseas we must inflict power projections and post-combat operations in order to induce a despairing, submissive, lumpen attitude which does not even aspire to self-realisation.  In the United States the process has evolved in reverse.  Over time and especially since the World War, our culture had induced a acquiescent, misinformed lumpen attitude which, while drunkenly thinking of itself as living in the land of the free and home of the brave, actually begs to feel the projection of power during post-crime operations.

The heteronomous result is that not only are the good citizens of Boston demanding more surveillance cameras they are reassured when armed mili-cops come pounding on their doors demanding entry.  Few Americans and even fewer Bostonians were appalled at the sight of militarised police conducting post-event stability operations in the same manner as was done in Baghdad.  If one asks why, the answer must be that the brutalisation of the American psyche is already so complete it welcomes the degradation which has already been achieved.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spitting On an Outstretched Hand

It is amusing -- in a spitting sort of way -- to watch the media and bloggerati speculate whether Pope Francis will alter the Church's stance on homosexuality.  That some should even ask reflects a childish incomprehension as to what the Church is and how it operates.  That others should caution not to expect an "overnight" change leaves one wondering what happened to their voice of moderation during Benedict's tenure.

We have written at length, before and elsewhere, on how Benedict was laying the groundwork for a radical repositioning of the Church's teaching on sexuality.  To summarise very briefly,

Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, was on love. Within the first few paragraphs he managed to quote Nietszche and allude to Aristophanes.  To anyone familiar with what Aristophanes had had to say about love -- and about the three sexes --  it was the hint of a clanging gong.

But Benedict did not leave it at  hints.  In the ensuing paragraphs he espoused the doctrine of "ascending love" which naturally begins in eros and matures into mutual caring. "The essential nature of love," he wrote, is "a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery" (Deus Caritas Est., § 6.) If eros is merely the enticement that pulls us out of ourselves, what possible difference does it make if a person is led to care for one of the same or the opposite sex? None. In the Christian lexicon, caritas, agape, "love," is absolutely not gender-conditioned.

It is within this context, that what Benedict omitted to say was as significant as what he did  say.  Nowhere did he quote from Humanae Vitae, the previously enunciated doctrine that the redeeming purpose of sex is to transmit life.  While Benedict did acknowledge that matrimony between man and woman "tends" toward the transmission of life, in the next breath he went on to caution that  love should not be "relegated to the purely biological sphere." (Deus Caritas Est, § 5.)

At least as critical was Benedict's volte face on relevant Scriptural passages.  Anyone knows that the Christian condemnation of homosexual acts is based on Corinthians 6:9, Romans 1:18-32 and  Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.  Ghost writing for John Paul II,  then cardinal Ratzinger certainly knew the drill. But as pope, Benedict interpreted these passages as condemnations against ecstatic fertility cults in which humans were "exploited" as mere "means of arousing divine madness."  That was a very different (and essentially liberal) reading of the passages.

But it is on the reading of Scripture generally that Benedict showed his true colours. In the Introduction to his book “Jesus of Nazareth” (Ignatius Press, 2007), Benedict took as his premise that historical criticism was “indispensible” to Biblical exegesis. (Op. Cit., p. xv.) "A voice greater than man’s echoes in Scripture’s human words; the individual writings [Schrifte] of the Bible point somehow to the living process that shapes the one Scripture [Schrift].” (Op. Cit., p. xviii.) Thus, he continues, the Bible “does not speak as a self-contained subject” but “in a living community... in a living historical movement."  The writings in the Bible "become Scripture by being read anew, evolving in continuity with their original sense, tacitly corrected and given added depth and breadth of meaning."

In so saying Benedict was not so much being a "radical" as a tradtionalist in the true sense of espousing change within continuity.  The Church is not guided by a merely present consensus on things, like a political party.  It is a trans-generational community of "saints" whose experiences and inspirations are all alive in the present which shapes the past as it is shaped by it.

A cycnic may be excused a smile at the notion of "tacit corrections" by "deeper understandings."  But the process is not one of rhetorical exploitation for present purposes.  Traditionalism has to be practiced in good faith with circumspection and constraint; but it does seek to evolve, permute and change.

I cannot but view these writings of Benedict's as other than an invitation to participate in a movement toward a deeper understanding of human love -- one that transcended (without denying) the biological and aimed at loss of ego in caring for another.  But the liberal Catholics and the majoritairan gay community spat in his hand.

Not only that, but in its incessant drumbeat the media fabricated out of whole cloth "condemnations" which Benedict never uttered.  Of course, Benedict publicly urged support for the heterosexual family.  Why wouldn't he?  Most of the world is heterosexual and the Church must speak for them.  But he was very cautious not cast that support in dichotomous terms.

In January 2012, Benedict spoke of social settings necessary for personal and social development. Of these, he said, "pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman."   The phrase "pride of place" necessarily implied other places.  How this got translated into the screeching headling "Pope says Homosexuality Imperils Civilization"  is any monkey's guess.

Alas, three months later, "pride of place"  gave way to language cribbed directly from Humanae Vitae.  Matrimony, the pope said was  "essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation." 

People we talked to, who are more in tune with subterranean currents at the Vatican, were convinced that Benedict had been ambushed by conservatives on his speech writing staff.  But ambushed or not, the media turned it into a kill.  The pope delivers scores of homilies, addresses and greetings in any given week -- all chock full of pre-approved phrases and researched references. While they are not "meaningless" they do not involve the careful word-weighing process that goes into an encyclical and for that reason do not carry much doctrinal weight.  But the Hate Benedict Crowd -- as if needing a bugbear for their own self-definition -- treated it as the bull of the century and drove the nail into the very change they avowedly sought.

Nine months later, an exhausted Benedict resigned.    He has been replaced by a "humble" pope who in all humility has said that gay matrimony is an affront to God.  That's the kind of  crime against nature language that reverts back to the 19th century.   Tacit corrections?  Not likely.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

An Embracing Plunge

Someone posted the video of a baby elephant joyously discovering and frolicking in the surf.

Two quotes came to mind as I watched  with tenderness and affection the frolick of this fellow creature. 

"Eternity is not an unending succession of days  but  something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists." (Pope Benedict XVI,   Spe Salvi, § 12.)

And from Schiller's Ode to Joy,

 Freude trinken alle Wesen  All creatures drink Joy
 An den Bruesten der Natur, At nature's bosom;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,  Pleasure was given (even) to the worm,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.  And the Cherub stands before God.

At the same time it painfully saddened me to think that this beauty is being exterminated by man's avarice and this made me think of Hans Urs von Balthasar,

"Whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens... where 'faith' and 'knowledge' are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated .... " (Love Alone pp. 114-15).  

With all my heart I wish this baby elephant well and many happy frolicks. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Revolutionary Resignation

Pope Benedict's announced resignation has triggered a lot of political speculation and some theological consternation.

From a theological perspective, the question of whether a pope can resign depends on whether he is viewed as the vicar or the image of Christ.  If he is only a vicarious agent of Christ then his position is fundamentally a question of management which can be handed over at any time.  If, however, he is the representational image of Christ, then following in his footsteps, a pope cannot resign from the Cross.

Pope Benedict's concise statement of resignation explicitly recognised the distinction.  He began by stating that the papacy "due to its essential[ly] spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering."  This was an express acknowledgement that the cardinal office of the Pope is to suffer representationally of Christ as Jesus suffered representantionally for Mankind.  In short, the papacy is a spiritual sacrifice.  And yet, in his next breath and repeatedly throughout the statement, Benedict referred to the papacy as a "ministry" a word laden with more Protestant notions of trusteeship and stewardship.

Pope Benedict's resignation manifested the latter perspective and was therefore fraught with revolutionary doctrinal implications. 

The idea that a priest is the representational image of Christ is the springboard for both celibacy and the exclusion of women from the priesthood.  As cardinal, Benedict  himself put it succinctly: women could not be ordained as priests "because Jesus was a man."  Jesus was also celibate, according to tradition. 

There is an arguable distinction between the priesthood as such and the office of pope.  One must be a priest to become a pope, so that the representational imagery of the priesthood is something that pre-exists pope-hood.  It follows that the office of pope is not that which brings or bears the element of representational imagery to a person. It already inheres in the priestly office and is nothing brought by the papacy as such.  On this basis, it could be argued that whereas a person, as pope, is not the image of Christ, a priest as such is.  But this argument, aside from being overly clever, runs into a host of  problems, not the least of which is the retirement and/or defrocking of priests. 

The plain fact is that by resigning, Benedict has consigned to history the notion that a pope cannot resign because he is the image of Christ, who did not "retire" from the Cross.  Once this decoupling is accepted there becomes ever less reason to insist on celibacy or to deny women the priesthood.

We, ourselves, are not convinced this was a well-advised move but we are certain Benedict was well aware of its implications.

As usual, Benedict is subtle and perhaps too subtle for a world (and Church) filled with braying dolts.  Noisiest among the dolts are the liberal Catholics and secular non-Catholics (which are much the same thing) prattling about the "scandals" that beset Benedict's papacy, his undeviating attempts to turn the clock back on Vatican Two, his relentless opposition to women and homosexuals, his botched outreach to Muslims and (despite his Rottweilerian instincts) his enfeebled incapacity to control the Curia and, at last, the opportunity which his courageous (or at least welcome) resignation presents for cleansing, reform and change ---  all of which simply reflects the discontent and panting of their own desires.

One wonders if anyone in this crowd ever read anything Benedict wrote and if they read it whether they had the erudition and capacity for reflection to understand it.

It has been our view, that Benedict was a tempered reformer.  He was, in his professional youth, part of the so-called "liberal" wing  of the Church.  But within the first decade after Vatican II, Benedict saw that the process had unmoored the Church, casting it afloat on the choppy waters of personal opinion, situational relevance and, worst of all, liturgical kitsch. 

But it is equally the case, that Benedict rejected the dead-end fetishism of the SSPX and those "traditionalists" who insisted on remaining precisely adherent to tried and inherited norms. He struggled to make room for their practices without surrendering to their insistences.

Benedict came to see the true nature of tradition as comprising of change within continuity and involving "tacit corrections" (his phrase) of unerring doctrine.  That is not the language of what people nowadays call a "conservative."

But the idea that we each see "the right, as God gives us to see the right" is fundamentally a Protestant error which leads to alienation and disoriented extremes.  "Room for all under the tent" misconceives who the all of us is.   

Faith, Benedict has said on more than one occasion, is not personal and subjective but communal and performative.   But this community -- the whole  Body of Christ --  includes the seen and the unseen, vivos et mortuous -- now. The Church lives within an eternal present which is not eternally static but eternally ever growing larger as more and more faithful are born and added to the host of Heaven.

We cannot ignore what those who got here before us had to say.  Nor can we (like modern day lawyers) mine what they said for nuggets of "precedent" and "dicta" favourable to our own aims and desires.  Even less in an effort to be innovative or Reformist can we "go back" to some fantasised original state of early Christianhood because such a return can only result in a grotesque (and ultimately pathological) parody.  As an astonished Mussolini once told Hitler, "(mio caro Adolfo) you can be like a pagan but it is impossible for you to be a pagan."

In practicing doctrine, we must not only "consider" by-gone theologians and philosophers as if they were the subjects of a doctrinal anthropology.  We must walk and talk with them by means of imaginary dialogues in which we play both parts of the conversation.  And to keep our own selves in check we must do this together with others in the here and now. This is not done by "bringing the Church up to date" or by abrupt, habit-breaking corrections under the banners of necessity and relevance and inclusion.  It is a a slow, evolutionary and organic process which equally honours continuity-community-change in the ever present.

It is our belief that Benedict viewed the matter thus and was accordingly laying the patient groundwork for organic but solid and lasting change.  It is a shame that he his great gifts were ignorned by hot-heads and fusspots each operating from their respective repressions, guilts and self-love.   It  is equally a shame that the Church's exit from her present deadlock is left to the  expedient calculations, ambitious machinations and bald hypocricies of fattened eunuchs who could stand some hungering and humiliation.

We are not sanguine about it, but perhaps Benedict will be more widely appreciated once he is out of office. Perhaps too, his resignation was simply a matter of exhaustion.  But even if it was, we cannot believe he was impervious to its far-reaching implications on which he managed not to shut the door.


Monday, January 28, 2013

National Capitalism & Obama's Second Epiphany

President Obama began his second term with an address that was a resounding rehash of his commencement address in 2004.  Addressing the Democratic Party in his maiden national speech, the young Senator from Illinois intoned,

    "I stand here knowing... that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.  ... 

    “Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of [our power and wealth but because]  "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    “That is the true genius of America, a faith...  a faith in simple dream"
 Eight years later, the simple dream rings on.

    "We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

        “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    “Today we continue a never-ending journey, ..."
 It is perhaps true that all nations need a binding continuity; but the advantage of monarchy is that the unity can be expressed silently in the flesh without the clanging of clichéd concepts. Alas, since the founding of the Republic, American oratory has felt obliged to make up for lost pomp with parades of hortatorical pomposity.

Apart from invocations of National Conceptual Unity, equally clichéd were Obama's policies for implementing the Idea.  Back in 2004, Obama declaimed,

    “People don't expect -- people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But ...  with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

And eight years on,

    “We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  ... We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.”
How is it that this most exceptional of nations is still trying to give every child a "decent shot at life" and a "basic measure of security" 80 years on from Franklin Roosevelt's call to assure economic security for all?

The basic reason is that for the past 40 years, the United States has renounced Social Justice in favor of Social Darwinism.  Obama's political economy is more in tune with Calvin Coolidge than with either of the Roosevelts.

The key to Obama's "exceptionalism" is precisely the fact that he limits Government responsibility to exceptional situations in which through no fault of their own people "encounter" a sudden illness or job loss.  This is simply a restatement of the Calvinist doctrine of charity for the deserving poor -- those wretched poor, who may be deemed worthy enough, having committed no fault on their own, of our more fortunate gracious charity.

Obama graduated from Harvard where he was imbued with a simple faith in the political virtues of the free market. He truly believes that the individual pursuit of private selfish interests will best insure the public common good. How the sum of zeroes produces a one is “demonstrated” with a miasma of complicated graphs and mathematical formulae, all of which fly in the face of simple reason.

But within this Millsian-Calvinist construct, the role of government is to help those “unfortunate few” -- now numbering around 40 million -- who manage to fall through the cracks, somehow, through no fault of their own.  However, if the fall was not their fault, then whose?  The question is not asked. Rather than focus on the systemic economic faults which produce predictable misfortune (the fetish of the commodity), attention is misdirected toward personal psychological issues (the fetish of sin). 

At the bottom of Obama’s exceptionalism lies the exceptionalism of self-righteousness covering an absence of social-solidarity. To see where Obama is truly coming from, it is helpful to contrast his address with Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural in 1933.

Within the feel good wrapping of Guiding Principles, which all political oratory must inevitably invoke, FDR's inaugural was surprisingly specific. 

After decrying the "mad chase of evanescent profits" and holding forth that "our true destiny" was to "minister" to our fellow men, Roosevelt descended unto a more prosaic politic, stating that national "restoration" called "not for changes in ethics alone" but "for action and action now."

Under Roosevelt's action plan the "greatest primary task is to put people to work" through "direct recruiting" by Government, if necessary.  He called for a national "redistribution" of people back to government-supported family farms. He promised an end to the "tragedy" of home and farm foreclosures and stated his intent to replace uncoordinated, local half measures with "national planning" for those "utilities which have a definitely public character."  Lastly he called for "a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments" and "an end to speculation with other people's money" which had been responsible for the great catastrophe in the first place."

Roosevelt's plan was at once comprehensive and specific. It was much the same economic plan as Germany's and it rested on the fundamentally fascist (sic) premise that "If we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline." 

Roosevelt "frankly and boldly" spoke the truth about capitalism: it does not produce commonwealth.  This truth was recognized even by the most conservative Bismarck at the end of the 19th century.  It is an empirical fact, not an opinion, denied only by economic "creationists" whose protestations are the product of either incalculable stupidity or cunning hypocrisy. 

Given that the free market does not reliably generate  collateral benefits for the greater part of the people; and given the fact that capitalism has always received a cornucopia of government licenses, privileges and protections in return for its own social and economic irresponsibility, what then is the solution? 

The socialist answer was to abolish private ownership of the means of production.  The “third” way alternative by whatever name it was called (fascism, state paternalism, national syndicalism, progressivism, national socialism, social democracy, Peronism, etc., etc.) was that private enterprise could be made to work if it was harnessed, regulated and controlled by government. 

Being a middle ground, “fascism et al.” gets pummelled  from both ends.  Socialist types accuse fascism of entrenching corporate interests under a dispensary populism. Capitalist types accuse it of infringing individual rights in favor of lazy-fair collectivism.   But these are ideological polemics. The functional metapolitical facts are more straightforward.

State intervention in the economy is nothing new under the sun.  It has been the default condition of virtually all political systems, the sole exception being the 18th century canard of economic liberalism -- and even then the exception was frequently honored in the breach.

Of necessity, economic "intervention" entails cooperation between Government and Capital as well as a regulation of Labor.  The success of the regulatory economic model, in any given instance, depends on the ability to modulate cycles of economic sowing and economic harvesting and to balance the needs of different economic sectors comprising the overall (national) economy.  It is a complicated task which requires transparency to preclude corruption and an effective (not formal) democracy to insure that it continues to serve the common good as perceived by the common man.

Historically speaking and depending on their temperaments, socialists either deplored or welcomed this "third way." Those who welcomed it accepted the premise of socialist gradualism; and, in truth, Bismarck's watershed adoption of social insurance policies within the framework of capitalism (1880) was cribbed entirely from economic platform of Germany's democratic (i.e. non-revolutionary) Socialists.

Those on the Left who deplored the economic hybrid saw it as a mere contrivance of Capital.  Lenin scathingly dismissed the German Socialists as "social chauvinists" whose socialism, being tied to the nation state, would die on the battle-fields of nationalism.

However, most great statesmen from Augustus to Bismarck are pragmatists.  When accused by outraged National Liberals and Conservatives of being a socialist, Bismarck famously shrugged "Call it socialism or what you will, it's all the same to me."

Franklin Roosevelt was equally indifferent and pragmatic. He waved away ideological labels as unnecessarily strange and complex....

and feigned astonishment at being accused of  feasting on a breakfast of "grilled millionaire."  He was, he assured his college audience, a "devotée" of capitalism whose breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs.

A straight and pragmatic line ran from Bismarck, through Herbert Croley's  "New Nationalism" and Uncle Teddy's Bull Moose Progresivism to Roosevelt's New Deal

"Why should not the labor soldier receive a pension as much as the veteran?"  asked Bismarck.  Why not? answered Roosevelt, "Americans are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to [soldier-like]  discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good."  What Leader could have said it better?

Too many Americans have been turned into political illiterates by a propaganda which intentionally confuses geo-political issues and matters of racio-cultural policy with questions of political-economy.  Although these three areas are functionally inter-related  they remain analytically distinct.  No one in his right mind would confuse FDR's New Deal with those policies of juridical segregation and disenfranchisement which were intentionally left in place by a political coalition that was one third Dixiecrat. 

The point here is not to excuse racist policies or to rehabilitate the "fascist" brand mark but rather to get a clear and sure footing within the political spectrum so that Obama's policies may be correctly assessed.

Between the canard of liberal capitalism and the allure of pure anarcho-socialism there lies a middle ground in which government assumes levels of overall economic control in order to bring about a harmonious and equitable social result.  "Call it what you will," by the middle of the last century, those policies had been adopted by almost every advanced country in the world.  Astonishingly, in 1980, the United States did an about face and has since then doggedly marched back into the 19th century. 

The volte face was the work of capitalist reactionaries who wanted to make money for themselves freed from the irksome restraints of social responsibility.  They argued that economic regulation was counterproductive and that only "the war" brought us out of the Depression.

The argument was despicably contrived. Let us cut to the chase by assuming the truth of what is stated: only "war" got us out of the depression.  The question then is, why?  The answer is that "the war" got us out of the Depression because at that point the Government took near total control over the economy. It promoted productive stimulus, set the terms of exchange and regulated conditions of employment.

The "war" did not get us out of the Depression because somehow -- magically -- we started shooting and bombing.  It revived the economy because what had been Roosevelt's half measures now became a full measure of stimulus and control.  The neo-liberal deceptionists substitute the situational circumstance of war for the underlying economic substance of economic stimulus and regulation.  It is an intentional confusion, aimed at getting people to except war as "productive of good times."

However, “regulation” alone is not a sufficient panacea.  As stated, all governments at all times have regulated trade and production in some manner according to the circumstances of the times.  Pure capitalism, as pure socialism, are mythical endpoints on the ideological spectrum.  The real question concerns the degree of regulation and the distribution of economic product. 

The virtue of mid-century fascist models -- including FDR’s “fascism lite” --  was that they aimed at a populist distribution of economic product. The defect of end century American National Capitalism is that its highly regulated economy is calibrated to protect corporate monopolies and privileges at the expense of the working class.

Put another way, the two variables at issue are degree of regulation and direction of economic flow.  Regulation of itself is a two edged sword. Milton Friedman, the great prophet of Neo-Liberalism, pointed out that regulation could be used and perverted by the very corporate economic interests the regulations were intended to control.  This is indeed the essential feature of National Capitalism.  However, Friedman’s argument that the solution was to do away with all regulation and redirection of wealth was a return to the “pure” liberal capitalism which had been historically shown to systematically produces national poverty.  Friedman’s polemic was simply “heads I win; tails you loose.”

Another polemic used by the hawkers of liberal capitalism is to push the correlation between economic and political freedom.  However, this is but a shell game that switches the topic from government as economic regulator to government as social arbiter. As France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries have demonstrated economic regulation and political freedom are entirely compatible.

With these considerations in mind we are able to assess the differences between Roosevelt’s gradualist social democracy (i.e. faux, faux-socialism) and Obama’s National Capitalist Security State. 

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt pinpointed the failure of capitalism: "a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return." 

A more trenchant summary was hardly possible. A majority of Americans faced starvation or austerity.  The solution was not to provide soup kitchens for the ‘unfortunate’  while calling for ‘sacrifices’ from the rest -- an America where the great number of people were left scrambling for scraps, while avoiding the inconvenience and scandal of watching people shiver and starve on street corners. 

No. His aim was to demand sacrifices from the banks and corporations so that all people could have both economic security and opportunity, including a decent education “remunerative employment,” health care, recreation and retirement. 

Roosevelt's simple casting of the problem was far removed from Obama's characterization of the problem as one of "falling on hard times."   What Obama simply refuses to acknowledge is that, without redistributive economic regulation, the free market system is in the business of producing hard times; i.e. a consistent, unabated decline in real wages and an existence now blithely labelled austerity.  

To the extent Obama acknowledges the problem his solution is to make a pretence of ‘progressive’ solutions, either through give-aways to Big Bucks Inc., disguised as popular entitlements (the Obamacare fiasco), or by taking away with one hand what is given with the other in the name of “fairness (as in raising the taxes - a tiny bit - on ‘the rich’ while seeking to cut social security benefits - a lot - for the aged poor).

Not only did Obama's inagugural speech refuse to properly frame the problem, not only did it fail to propose nuts and bolts specifics, it fell back instead on another false substitution: the substitution of cultural validations for economic security.

    As he neared the summit of his hortatorical heap, Obama intoned that “our journey” was not complete,

    1) until our daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts;

    2) until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law;

    3) until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

    4) until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants

    5) until all our children, and always safe from harm.

Imagine if Roosevelt had assumed office in 1933 vowing to protect school children and shortening waits at the ballot box.  

None of Obama’s “untils” addressed what income security any of these precious cognized groups were entitled to “under the law.” 

Buried within the muck of irrelevancies was Obama's true promise to "make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit."  Why is the choice "hard"? Would Roosevelt have spoken of the "hard choice" to provide a "measure of social security" to the aged?  Are we to assume that Big Pharma, Big Sure and Big Med are going to be hit hard by the choices "we" must make?  Nonsense.  This is simply WashTalk for cutting back on benefits for the old and sick.

Incredibly, the mudia pundits have palavered insipidly about Obama's Second Epiphany -- his political turn-around and his recovery of courage in a second term free from the constraints of getting elected to another. 

There was nothing "progressive" about Obama's address.  It was a rehash of the same old neo-liberalism assuaged by a minimalist Social Calvinism.

If Obama’s exceptionalism were nothing more than a retrograde insistence on marching back into the early 19th century, one might laugh as "The Shining Bacon on the Hill made a global ass of itself. But the neo-liberal sludge generated by places like Harvard is in fact toxic to everything natural and moral. 

The real Obamagenda is the institution of a global regime of full-spectrum repression and plunder, which degrades both the environment and civil society while it debases the vast bulk of mankind into an illiterate insecure and desperate lumpen mass of de facto sub-humans.  This is the Orwellian reality behind “austerity” and the “war on terrorism” and behind Obama’s inaugural double-talk.

“A decade of war is now ending,” he intoned, “An economic recovery has begun.” 

I.e,  A decade of war in Afghanistan is ending as we get ready to pursue new strategic initiatives in Ibero-America, Africa and Syria. Banks, investment funds and global corporations have had their chestnuts pulled from the fire and are back to reaping profits. 

“We will support democracy  from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests  and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of (take advantage of) of those who long for freedom.”

I.e we will continue to promote zones of free market capitalism in Africa and against Russia and China because that’s what we are about and we are shamelessly willing to take advantage of those who hope (that word again!) for a better life.

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”  BUT   “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.” 

I.e., malgré nous, we will reluctantly and against our loftier hopes continue to pursue our interests through military means.   

And lastly with a toss-away bone, to the environmen talists: “We will respond to the threat of climate change.” Although “the path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult” we must protect our “national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks....”

All that was lacking was a swelling chorale to Amurrka’s Purple Mountained Majesty. But nothing Obama said can be read as an even half-hearted acknowledgement that endless capitalist “growth” and environmental sustainability are simply not reconcilable.

In so singing, Obama merely rounded the sharp edges of America’s neo-liberal strategy as postulated by Cheney and his gang of neo-cons in academe and think tanks around the world.

Among those tanks was the Project for the New American Century founded in 1997 (with money from Raytheon)whose stated aim was to polemicize “a new century favorable to American principles and interests?  (PNAC charter 1997)

In its now infamous September 2000 paper (Rebuilding America’s Defenses) PNAC argued that “America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces” in order to promote “American interests and ideals.” through “U.S. power projection around the world.” (Op.cit. pp. iv & v.)

The tasks of this “American-led security order,” the PNAC argued, was  “to secure and expand the ‘zones of democratic peace;’ to deter the rise of a new great power competitor; defend key regions of Europe, East Asia and the Middle East, and to preserve American preeminence through the coming transformation of war....”  (Op cit. pg. 2.)

A couple of tips are needed to parse this garbage. The first concerns the use of what chipsters call the "Conjunctive Confusion” which takes place when someone speak of a dual object, as in “principles and interests” or “preserve and extend” or “communists and jews.”

Yoking two objects together as if they were one, beguiles the listener into assuming that they are in fact one and that there is no tension or contradiction between the two.  The two elements become a single piece which can -- magically!! -- march in any and opposite directions.  At the same time, the more sordid aspect of the conjoined elements becomes softened by the loftier.

Thus, “interests” looses it’s sharper character as the pursuit of filthy lucre at the expense of others, and acquires a feel good glowiness from the ideal of “principles.”  Likewise “extend” looses it aggressive character and acquires a sub-silentio defensive justification from the word “preserve”

The second tip concerns “democracy” and "zones of democratic freedom”  The latter is a geo-political term of art and refers to America’s post war policy of containment.  This policy was pursued by two correlative strategies, viz: (a) the geographic and defensive cordon sanitaire around Russia and China and (b) the establishment of pro-American “outposts” in regions that were contested and up for grabs.  These “outposts” -- like Pinochet’s Chile -- shared our “values” (anti-communism, most importantly) and were coupled to our “interests” (free-trade, capitalist economies, American corporate mining or farming or entertainment.)  Functionally, these zones of democratic freedom were no different than “outposts” in Injun Territory or Roman colonae in Gaul.

Thus, when Obama intones that our “conscience” and “interests” require us to promote “democracy” from “Asia to Africa” and from “the Americas to the Middle East” he is simply restating the neo-con PNAC doctrine in somewhat softer, fuzzy-wuzzy terms.  As we have said before, a neo con is simply a neo-liberal gone punk.  But the two are minted from the same alloy.

The last tip concerns “our.”  Who we?  Obama’s use of a collective singular pronoun necessarily implied that, at some level and with respect to something, each of the separate all of us are one.

To be sure, in all societies, divergent classes find unity on some points or issues.  In terms of economy, however, the unity does not concern cultural or racial or other “personal issue” issues but economic ones. ( One would think it was obvious.)  The question, in this context, is: how are “we” an “us” with respect to commonwealth.  

To recapitulate our previous summary, the strict socialist answer is that the abolition of private property makes all wealth common and to the extent the State exists it exists to protect the equality of sharing.  The strict capitalist answer was just the inverse: the State exists to protect private property and common wealth is simply the sum total of privately owned wealths.  The “middling” answer is that the State does both, protecting private ownership but also redistributing wealth among and down.

Thus, in the regulatory state, it is assumed that the “our” inheres in a balanced stimulative-distribution as determined by an overarching “referee” known as “government.”  But in the National Capitalist state, stimulating the "economy" without accompanying distribution of wealth is regarded as a sufficient policy so that, in the end, the state becomes a mere agency of Capital, and  exists to use the political, juridical, fiscal and military means at its disposal to promote the interests and maximize the profits of corporations and banks. 

The difference between theoretically pure Liberalism and National Capitalism is one of maturation and degree. In the former government assumes the relatively simple role of protector of private property and constabulary of public peace.  In the latter, government becomes the aggressive promoter of private wealth and the repressor of public unrest.

By way of example.  Under classical liberal policy, the state will protect Mozart’s work by allowing him to maintain a private suit against Salieri for copying a symphony and peddling it as his own work. Under National Capitalism, however, “copyright” is interpreted to mean a “guaranteed lock on a market” and a legally protected entitlement to maximum profit share.  The government becomes the enforcer of a future and maximum profit stream even if this entails violation national surveillance, dipolmatic interventions, and government initiated prosecution as if the private infringement were a public crime.  The ambit of private and public are confused in favor of private capital. At the same time, public services are privatized so that the State’s role as as servant of public conveniences and goods becomes progressively restricted.  What is left of the State as “third party referee” of overall, collective wellbeing is simply an argument that by making the wheels of private profit spin fast and furious, enough collateral grist will be kicked up to benefit the remainder.  

Once parsed, Obama’s “Second Epiphany” boiled itself down to a regime of domestic austerity coupled with ongoing war abroad and “securitization” at home on behalf of corporations and financial institutions which are no longer even “American” in any meaningul sense of the word.  Obama’s regime is in fact, as it always has been, nothing more than the dystopian Orwellian state, operating on behalf of corporate interests.

Unfortunately, 1984’s dramatic devices -- everpresent video screens and Winston’s mind-breaking torture -- have tended to obscure the softer, self-executing delusions of hell.  Simply put, Orwell’s state could not exist if it had to torture and terrorize everyone.  Rather, as the iPhone aptly illustrates, people can be happily lulled into the necessary habits and mind-set.  The image of 1984, is indeed as Orwell wrote, “a boot in the face” but it is also sustained by a self-executing institutionalism feeding off its own rhetoric and bad grammar.

The structural result is a society managed by an inner circle of elite bureaucrats overseeing a relatively small outer circle of techies, technocrats and enforcement thugs living content in their illusions and secure in their zones and “supervising” a mass of lumpen work-drones and an even larger mass of “unemployed no-longer-counted”.

As at all times, society will be divided into three classes, but rather than lifting the “bottom” into the benefit-level of the middle, the upper two will be severely shrinked and controlled, whereas the lower third will be brutally repressed.

President Clinton was quite candid about it.  The whole thrust of his “new economy” was to export the grunt-work to yellow, brown and black countries, leaving America to take care of the “high tech” and managerial white collar jobs.  The “homeland” would become the core of the inner and outer party, while the rest of the world was consigned to the drudgeries of manual labor broken down into ever smaller, mind-numbing components.  

The lie of Clinton’s new economy was that America’s blue collar workers would be “retooled” for “new, well paying jobs” in our “new economy.  Refooled would be more like it.  There was simply no realistic prospect of retraining a generation of industrial workers to become office managers and computer geeks.

In fact, there is no realistic prospect that anything close to a substantial majority of the so-called “middle class” could be trained and employed as office managers and silitechs. What the Clinton economy really assumed was that masses of Americans (and in fact masses of people around the world) would simply be written off as “service sector” workers or simply consigned to official oblivion as “homeless.”

Nothing in Obama’s progressive epiphany indicates the least deviation from the dystopia of these domestic and geo-political goals.  Rather, it is a cautionary script, to be read more like a car-sale sticker, while ignoring the huckstering puff talk.

Alas, America was built on puff talk as was Obama’s career.  In 2004, as was catapulted in the Nation’s Limelight, Obama intoned,

“We have a righteous wind at our backs  ... We can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us.  ... And out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come”
And Eight years on,

 "America’s possibilities are limitless ... Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom."

America is beyond ridiculous.  After reaching a crescendo laden with all the pomposity and hubris of Ozymandias, Obamba and Michelle, took to walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, pied a terre, like or'dnary folk.... surrounded by a triple phalanx of armed security thugs.

Orwell himself could not have described the scene as progressives tearfully, joyously lapped it up.