Archive for the ‘Capitalism’ Category
The Silence of Animals. John Gray. Allen Lane. 2013.
“If a lion could speak we could not understand him” Wittgenstein tersely commented.
John Gray claims by contrast that, “if you turn outside yourself to the birds and animals and the quickly changing places where they live – you may hear something beyond words. Even humans can find silence if they can bring themselves to forget the silence they are looking for,”(Page 165) What cannot be spoken if of the greatest significance. Max Picard, in the World of Silence (1948), described the importance of these moments. About them does The Silence of Animals have anything to say?
This tract praises the birdspotter J A Baker, who preferred “deanthropmorphising himself” in the study of peregrine falcons of the fields near Chelmsford – places he described as ancient countryside – to human society. It ends with an appeal to “godless mysticism”. Does it merit any attention? Or should we be like the apes that appear in its pages, who pass life, and obviously books, blithely by?
That the Silence of Animals figures on Books of Year lists indicates an audience for interested in sallies against the “unique value” of human beings. We are treated (if that’s the word) to broadsides against the illusions of progress (the title of a pre-Great War book by the syndicalist contrarian Georges Sorel that Gray, otherwise the literary magpie, seems to have passed over). There are lurid references to the mass murders, totalitarian dictatorships and capitalist crises, of the twentieth century, and beyond.
In what could be described as an extended exercise in logorrhoea, (a polite way of describing verbal incontinence), the progressive claims of humanity, “highly civilised apes”, are torn to shreds. Progress, we learn is a legacy of Christianity, “a Socratic myth of reason and Christian myth of salvation,”(Page 80) Science shows that this is false, “Human knowledge increases, while human irrationality stays the same.”(Ibid)
From the Enlightenment onwards humans are wedded to an explicit faith in progress and the growth of liberty. History shows however shows repeated “mass killing, attacks on minorities, torture on a larger scale, another kind of tyranny, often more cruel than the one that was overthrown – these have been the results. To think of humans as freedom loving, you must be ready to view nearly all of history as a mistake.”(Page 58)
Progress as Flying Fish.
Gray cites Alexander Herzen (1812 – 1870), the 19th century Russian romantic socialist. Herzen, in his darkest moments, criticised the belief in ‘humanity’ (Consalito Paris. 1849). He described as ‘ichthyophils’ people who think humans long to be free. There can be no deduction of the “possibility of a better world” from our potentials. This ponderous term – a reference to a drawn out analogy with those who deduce the possible capacity for flight in all fish from the existence of flying fish, is employed to dam all reformers, all Enlightenment hopes, and all of the Left.
Every one of the believers in these ideas is “devoted to their species as they believe it ought to be even not as it actually is or as it truly wants to be. Ichthyophils come in many varieties – the Jacobin, Bolshevik and Maoist, terrorising humankind in order to remake it one a new model; the neo-conservative, waging perpetual war as a means to universal democracy; liberal crusaders for human rights, who are convinced that all the world longs to become as they imagine themselves to be.”(Page 60)
Humanity, in short (or at length), is “a fiction composed from billions of individuals for each of whom life is singular and final.”(Pages 6 – 7). Or, rather later, after much pondering, humanity is a selection of “fragments”, which are “as unknowable to humans”. “The settlements they have made for themselves can be as impenetrable as the deepest forests.”(Page 168) Yet, we inhabit this world of our own “fictions”.
Gray thinks then that we are creatures caged by our own myths. Unlike Georges Sorel (cited above) this gives no emancipatory quality to our innate mythic projections of the better future. They are the bars that contain us. And the ‘us’ are “cracked vessels”. We are Devils, not even worth the effort, as Kant advocated, of Taming to bring out our innate rationality.
Gray’s reflections lead from recognition of absolute finitude and meaningless back to something “beyond”. “Admitting that our lives are shaped by fictions may give a kind of freedom – possible the only kind that human beings can attain, Accepting that the world is without meaning, we are liberated from confinement in the meaning we have made. Knowing there is nothing of substance in our world may seem to rob that world of value. But this nothingness may be our most precious possession, since it opens to us the world that exists beyond ourselves.”(Page 108)
What this beyond is the Grail of the Ontology that nobody has yet discovered, the Kantian Noumenal, that has driven so many, from Roy Bhaskar onwards, to the strangest sides of the flux of Being, is a matter of worship for Gray. He considers letting things go, letting the World Be.
Our most “precious possession” – this “Nothingness” is illuminated by Negative Theology. Yet such “Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being, There us no redemption from being human. But no redemption is needed.”(Page 208)
Or, one would add, possible. We cannot possibly imagine what payment we could make to be liberated from what we are, and becoming what humans could be, if our premise is that we want to consider what being free from our humanity could be.
Some might go further and say that it perhaps through science and its rationality that we can at least indicate something of the physical ‘beyond’ human culture.
But what of progress and emancipation?
Alexander Herzen’s comments, many will have noted, came in 1849, following the failures of the 1848 revolutions. Yet shortly after these doleful reflections he could assert, “There are periods when man is free in a common cause. Then, the activity towards which every energetic nature strives coincides with the aspiration of the society in which he lives. At such times, which are rare enough – everything flings itself into the whirlpool of events, and in it finds life, joy, suffering and death.”(Omnia Ma Mecum Porto. Zurich 1849).
Against Gray, we remain with Herzen on this.
Far Right Tries to Attract Anti-Imperialists.
On Voltaire Net we read, “Thierry Meyssan French intellectual, founder and chairman of Voltaire Network and the Axis for Peace Conference. His columns specializing in international relations feature in daily newspapers and weekly magazines in Arabic, Spanish and Russian. His last two books published in English : 9/11 the Big Lie and Pentagate.
He is not content with conspiracy theories about 9/11 in New York and the claim that the “Pentagon was the target of a guided missile, fired on as the result of a right-wing conspiracy within the United States.”
Currently Meyssan’s defence of the Syrian regime is being widely broadcast.
On Meyssan’s own site he has taken upon himself to defend the Syrian regime.
What has been happening in Syria for the past three years? According to NATO and GCC* media reports, the “regime” has shed blood to suppress a democratic revolution. However this version is contradicted by the current support for the government estimated at, according to sources, between 60 and 90 % of the population. The truth is quite different: NATO and the GCC have successively lost a war of succession and a fourth generation Nicaraguan-type war. It is they, and they alone, who organized and financed the death of 120,000 Syrians.
Meyssan is currently (according to the weekly Le Point) cited on Wikipedia) , “professeur de relations internationales au Centre d’études stratégiques de Damas », qu’il « signe des éditos dans al-Watan » et qu’il est « conseiller particulier de Bachar el-Assad »” – Professor of international relations at the Strategic Studies Centre of Damas, and a special adviser of Assad.
In October Le Monde Diplomatique published an article, Les embrouilles idéologiques de l’extrême droite, (the deliberate confusions of the far-right) largely about Alain Soral. (1)
It drew attention to the mixture of “anti-imperialism”, conspiracy theory, and (barely disguised) anti-Semitism peddled by a fringe of extreme-right ideologists.
They are designed to attract a ‘left’ audience, with anti-globalisation, anti-imperialist themes, and the ‘right’ with an appeal to (French) nationalism.
Meyssan participates the site Egalite et Réconciliation founded by Soral. (2)
It does just that.
It is devoted to promoting this ideology.
Equality and Reconciliation advocates the union of the “Labour left” (Marxist) and the “Moral Right” (Nationalism and Patriotism) in response to capitalist globalisation Many consider that it takes as its model the pre-great War Proudhon Circle, which brought together syndicalists (not, despite the legend, Georges Sorel himself) , and Maurrassians (followers of the Action Française, the French ‘Royalist’ party of the extreme right).
It would be a great mistake if the left, in its justified hatred of the jihadist killers in Syria, their international recruits and backers, working in Syria, forgets that Assad has attracted people of Meyssan’s stripe.
(* GCC: Cooperation Council of Arab States in the Gulf)
Soral defined himself as a Marxist, and was a member of the French Communist Party in the early 90′s. He left the PCF because of his opposition to the party’s renunciation of revolutionary content. Soral supported left-wing dissident candidate Jean-Pierre Chevènement during the 2002 presidential election.
In 2005, Soral turned to the far-right, joining the National Front‘s campaign committee; he was given responsibility for social issues and for the suburbs under the authority of Marine Le Pen. Soral’s personal journey has led some to compare him with Jacques Doriot, one of the neo-socialists in the early 1930s and Collaborationist under Pétain. He supported the Bloc identitaire‘s distribution of food in January 2006.
Since 18 November 2007, Soral has been a member of the central committee of the National Front which he left in early 2009 because of some ideas he was in conflict with (especially the menace of Islam which is not an actual threat for him).
In 2007, he founded the group “Egalité et Réconciliation”, a think tank led by the ideas he developed in his books and his several interviews (an innovative mix between social and economic ideas from Left, and Values like Nation or morality from Right).
(2) Interestingly Meyssan is described as a “personal friend” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a recent post on this site, criticising Iran for giving way to the West over its nuclear programme.
Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts. New Left Review. No82 (New Series) 2013.
“American capitalism has resoundingly re-asserted its primacy in all fields – economic, political, military and cultural – with an unprecedented eight-year boom.”
Perry Anderson. Renewals. 2000.
“(New Left Review’s Relaunch)…scandalised many by demanding from the left a lucid registration of defeat ‘No collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon’ Anderson noted……These judgements stand.”
Susan Watkins. Shifting Sands. 2010.
“In contrast to the economic structure, the political structure cannot be expanded indefinitely, because it is not based upon the productivity of man, which is indeed, unlimited. Of all forms of government and organisations of people, the nation-state is least suited for unlimited growth because the genuine consent at its base cannot be stretched indefinitely.”
Hannah Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (1)
The “unprecedented” American boom ended in Autumn 2008. But despite the absence of what Anderson has called an “answer to the prolonged slow-down of the advanced capitalist economies that set in forty years ago” America remains, post Soviet Collapse, the uncontested, hegemonic, global authority. (2) American power reaches outwards across the globe. This is not just grounded on the attraction of its economic strength, cultural appeal, or technological advances. An active exercise of domination is at work.
Within this received wisdom on the left, the Special Issue of New Left Review, Imperium, sets out to present the “outlook and continuity of objectives” of the “administration of empire, the thinking behind this rule. It also aims to “asses” this vast field, centring on what is decidedly not a “poverty of strategic theory.”
To former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, writing in 1997, U.S policy goals must be “to perpetuate America’s own dominate position for at least generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework” that can evolve into “shared responsibility for peaceful global management.” (3) By contrast, for Anderson, in 2002 the US’s objectives unfurling before the rather less peaceable invasion of Iraq, were described as part of a “structural shift in the balance between force and consent within the operation of American hegemony…” (4)
The present study is only the latest, then, of Anderson’s efforts to understand the leading role of America in what David Harvey has labelled the “new imperialism” and the global dominance of neo-liberalism. Following indications signalled by Robert Brenner he looks further into history to explain the particular form that the American state has taken. Imperium begins by stating, “Since the Second World War, the external order of American power has been largely insulated from the internal political system.” The focus is therefore on the “narrow foreign-policy elite, and a “distinctive ideological vocabulary” of “grand strategy.” (5)
Imperium concludes with, and starts from, the following historical narrative, “In the course of four decades of unremitting struggle, a military and political order was constructed that transformed what had once been a merely hemispheric hegemony into a global empire, remoulding the form of the US state itself” (Page 110 Imperium) Included in the Special Issue is a study of the above American “literature of grand strategy”, Consilium. We discover (to no particular surprise) that it is soldered around the idea that the “hegemony of the United States continues to serve both the particular interests of the nation and the universal interest of mankind” (Consilium Page 163)
These were the long years of the global fight against the Soviet Union. For Anderson the USA, he concedes, graciously or not, “was indeed an electoral democracy, did confront a socio-political system that was not” (Page 33 Imperium). During those decades the country has witnessed domestic opposition to “imperial force”. This, volatile, “constraint”, the limited “public tolerance” of foreign expeditions (we immediately think of the aftermath of Vietnam) has played a role. It continues to shape the decisions of the Obama administration. (Page 108. Imperium)
But behind this is there is, as he has commented on the second Obama Presidential victory an “all-capitalist ideological universe – a mental firmament in which the sanctity of private property and superiority of private enterprise are truths taken for granted by all forces in the political arena.” The Democrat President cannot ignore the culture that feeds Obama’s Republican opponents. One feature stands out, a domestic “nationalism peculiar to the United States as the capitalist superpower in the struggle with communism, intensely more hyperbolic than that of any Western society.” (6)
Outside this native soil there is little alive that is capable of offering a serious political challenge to policies dictated by the “new regime of accumulation” and the “liberal-capitalist order”. Gloomily in 2002 he talked of ‘resistance’ as “chaff in the wind.” In 2007 Anderson had a brief flicker of hope in “spectacular demonstrations of popular will” the World Social Forums in the first half of the last decade, and a “patchwork of resistance”. But they could not halt, “a further drift to the right” as a “new Concert of powers has increasingly solidified.” (7) Read the rest of this entry »
French Radio stations (France-Inter and Europe 1) were full of this story this morning.
The lone gunman arrested on Wednesday night for carrying out two shootings and a carjacking in Paris had “recently returned from England”, it was reported on Thursday.
In a coup de theatre, police caught the gunman on Wednesday night in an underground carpark and named him as Abdelhakim Dekhar – convicted in 1998 for giving a gun to a leftist couple that went on a “Bonnie-and-Clyde”-style killing spree four years previously.
Investigators suggest Abdelhakim Dekhar went to live in Britain after serving a prison sentence in relation to a high-profile French murder case of the 1990s.
Police found “confused” notes on Mr Dekhar containing rants about the situation in Libya and Syria that “might be an attempt to explain his acts”, although they said it was far too early to say whether there was any “political motivation” behind the violence.
Mr Dekhar – known to have moved in leftist circles – also slammed the French media and capitalism in general as a “fascist plot”, according to the Paris prosecutor.
The suspect was previously sentenced to four years in jail for buying a gun used in the 1994 attacks by Florence Rey, a 19-year old political science student, and her lover Audry Maupin, who murdered 3 policemen and a taxi driver in a case that gripped France.
Mr Maupin died in the chase, while Miss Rey, a fresh-faced student from a middle-class family, was a figure of fascination, as she showed no emotion during her trial in which she maintained a stony silence.
She had claimed that Mr Dekhar, 46, was the “third man” in their killing spree.
More in Libération.
Details on the Rey-Maupin (‘Natural Born Killers’) case on Wikipedia (French).
English Wikipedia says,
“Florence Rey (born August 25, 1975) and her boyfriend Audry Maupin (born October 4, 1972) were involved in a shoot-out in central Paris on October 4, 1994 following a high speed car chase. The incident caused the deaths of five people; three policemen, a taxi driver, and Maupin.”
“Florence Rey was a 19 year old student studying philosophy at the Science-Po and Audry Maupin was a 22 year old drop-out from the faculty of medicine at Nanterre. At the time of the incident they were living together in a squat in an abandoned bourgeoise house in Nanterre. The pair were already under observation by the Renseignements Généraux, the French secret police, prior to the incident due to their involvement with an underground political group. When the police searched their squat after the killings they found revolutionary and anarchist literature, such as The Society Of The Spectacle by Guy Debord. They found the couple’s writings, which echoed surrealism, radicalism and situationism.”
Abdelhakim Dekhar was the “third man” in this affair.
The Nouvel Observateur reports that Dekhar claims that his actions had something to with a “fascist plot”.
Le tireur présumé avait écrit une autre lettre “non datée”, remise par l’homme qui l’hébergeait, dans laquelle il dénonçait “un complot fasciste” et accusait “les médias de participer à la manipulation des masses”. Il s’en prenait également au ”capitalisme” et à “la gestion des banlieues”, qui s’apparentait, selon lui, à “une entreprise de déshumanisation sur des populations dont le grand capitalisme ne veut pas”.
The presumed gunman had written a ‘undated’ letter, left in the hands of the man who lodged him, in which he denounced a “fascist plot”, and accused “the media of participation in the manipulation of the masses”. He also attacked “capitalism”, “the management of the suburban housing estates”, which is part, in his eyes, of an “enterprise which dehumanises the population of which big capital has no need.”
Rue 89 adds there is a second letter,
in which Abdelhakim Dekhar evokes Islam, the situation in Syria and condemns a ” conspiracy that aims to bring back fascism. “
The letter ends by quoting a passage from “Song of the Partisans ”
Le Monde reports that will undergo a psychiatric examination.
Strange Days: Cold War Britain is a three part series shown on BBC.
The second section was broadcast last night.
The BBC describes it as follows, “Dominic looks at the front line of the conflict as a newly prosperous Britain of consumerism was pitched against the Soviet ideal of communism.”
Historian Dominic Sandbrook, the presenter, is a master of supercilious superficiality.
The Great Contest (Isaac Deutscher) was played out in the UK in the late fifties and sixties between the ‘Guardian reading’ CND – all solemn and po-faced – and the threat of imminent nuclear war.
Britain’s main contribution to fighting the Cold War was pop culture (the Beatles) of, and there were some missiles somewhere. There was James Bond to help us, and John le Carré (whose name Sandbrook managed the hard task of pronouncing ‘la‘ Carré) to muddy the waters.
Strange Days had some serious real-life stuff, with the Soviet blackmailing of British Navel Attaché John Vassall for his gay sexuality.
Strident left-wingers presented Play for the Day, which were little more than class war rants. Joining the Communist Party of Great Britain, one clip was reeled out to show, was a serious commitment, not far of becoming a Jesuit.
Come 1968 and the ‘seventies and Communism turned groovy.
We had the evidence of Rising Damp’s Alan Guy Moore (Richard Beckinsale) to demonstrate it.
In the battle between the Ideal Home exhibition and Nikita Khrushchev capitalist consumerism had the edge.
Who needed left-wing politics when you had white goods?
Now there are reasons to think that some of Sandbrook’s underlying arguments tilt in the right direction.
Sandbrook is, if the word is appropriate for somebody I’ve only just heard of, well-known for arguing that the 1960s far from being a decade of Revolution were conservative.
In the New Statesman (2005) he stated,
…anywhere you look you can find evidence that belies the myths of permissiveness and revolution. Was there really a cultural revolution? A million people rushed out every Saturday to buy the latest hit singles; but two million men and boys went in pursuit of fish, and a staggering 19 million people pottered about the garden.
It is indeed striking that you can meet people (Coatesy writes as somebody who actually was part of the counter-cultural left in the early 1970s) and who, on the basis of a few trips to the Roundhouse think they were part of this ‘cultural revolution’.
Those of us who were (and I know some of them as well) were acutely aware of how much a minority the ‘counter-cultural left’ was at the time. We had only to see the reactions of other people in pubs to tell us.
But that’s as far as it goes.
Sandbrook has apparently never heard of the New Left, anti-Stalinists and a lot more.
Despite these (and many other) gaps Strange Days tries to be too clever for its own good.
Sandbrook has faced charges of plagiarism in the more recent past.
Strange Days is just pastiche politics.