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Links and Notes for November 6th, 2020

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for this week, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.


Of Size and Scale by Morris Berman

“America, too, will (I believe) have its own secessionist breakup, probably within two or three decades, or even less; yet it is not likely that these new independent states will be able to shed the narcissism and competitive individualism that seems to be woven into the American DNA.”
“I do believe that if we are to have any future at all, as a human race, it is going to have to be green, sustainable, and decentralized, containing elements of both capitalism and socialism, and free of the ideology of “growth.” But these are necessary conditions, not sufficient ones. For enlisted in the service of ego, these things can also turn into “religions.””
“As James Joyce famously put it, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Waking up: this is the long road ahead.”


Donald Trump and Being Deplorable by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“There is a conventional story that dominates economic and policy discussions, in which people without college degrees (still a majority of the workforce) have lost out because they don’t have the right skills to prosper in today’s high-tech global economy. That is nonsense. The high-tech global economy was deliberately structured to redistribute income away from workers without college degrees to those at the top.

“Learn to code” as Joe Biden, the Democrats, and their Silicon Valley backers like to say, smugly and condescendingly not only disparaging any worker who doesn’t want to code as below-par intellectually or spiritually but also making it seem as if anyone who is already coding is doing a job so simple that pretty much anyone could do it with no or little training.

“[…] a really good first step would be to acknowledge that their poor prospects in the economy were the result of design. It might still be good for them, as an individual matter, to get more skill and education, but as a group they are hurting because people in power wanted to redistribute income upward.
“Whatever the political implications, we should pursue an anti-inequality agenda because it is the right thing to do. It is also the honest thing to do. Telling the victims of a four-decade long policy of upward redistribution that it is their fault, is a lie of Trumpian proportions.”


Robert Fisk Was a Reporter Who Brought the Wars Home and Shaped the Thinking of a Generation by Harry Browne (Jacobin)

“In his mostly warm-hearted recollections of the late John Hume in August this year, Fisk recalled scolding the Irish politician, over dinner in Derry two decades ago, for glib efforts to translate “peace-making” from Northern Ireland to Israel/Palestine: “The nearest Irish approximation to the Israeli-Arab struggle, I suggested, would be an attempt to mediate an end to violence after the 17th century dispossession of the Catholics.”

“It is difficult to imagine a more “Fisky” passage, in its stentorian tone, its historical reach, its political acuity, its intellectual confidence, its personal cockiness — the shine was still on Hume’s Nobel Peace Prize, after all, as Fisk lectured him about making peace — and yet also its context of affection and conviviality. In Ireland as elsewhere, such moments will be missed.”


Abstain from Beans by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“I personally have never been able to bring myself to contribute a single cent to any campaign, not because I am relatively less committed to the survival of liberal democracy than those in my peer group who do make contributions, but because, I take it, I am more committed (with a suitable faute-de-mieux clause) and I see this expectation, this Venmo-isation of the political process, as incompatible with its survival.”
“But as Friedrich Engels loved to say, at some point quantitative change passes over into qualitative change, and the quality of American electoral politics in 2020 is that of a pair of irrationalist cults each experiencing their collective unity as a form of transcendence.”
“To manifest yourself in public as a Tom Arnold or a “BrooklynDad_Defiant!” is to allow yourself to be caught up in the same vortex that spun Trump into existence as the public figure he is, and so it is to mistake your own life, in truth a symptom of our present malady, for a treatment of that malady.”
“It was clear very early on that Trump’s reign was going to be, as someone nicely put it at the time, one of “malevolence balanced by incompetence”. I was relieved over the coming years to see that the latter of these two traits predominated by far, and that Trump —no doubt an opportunist willing to deploy racism for his own ends when useful, as we saw with the shameful “birther” gambit that launched his political career— was too infantile and stunted even to be a right-wing ideologue in any meaningful or consistent sense.
“[…] because we are living in a spectacle, in a video-game simulation of public debate rather than a true deliberative democracy, the prevailing tenor and focus of most resistance to Trump’s defilement of his office were set by Trump himself. The right was right: the “Resistance” was indeed deranged, and delegitimised, as a result of accepting the terms of political engagement established by Trump and positively enforced by the algorithms of social media.”
“While there is obviously nothing comparable to the horror of the Moscow show trials in American academia, still the rigid imposition of a very narrow set of cultural-ideological shibboleths that must be displayed in order to establish one’s own legitimacy and, one hopes, to feel secure in one’s career, is antithetical to liberal cultivation of humanity.
Humanism, for example, holds that we are in a position to imagine ourselves into another person’s plight no matter how different they are from us in their social identity. It holds moreover that such imaginative work is necessary for recognition of our common human plight, and therefore also for building bonds of solidarity.”
“As for tomorrow [Election Day 2020], think for yourself, and, if you find you agree with me, vote for the candidate who will best help to bring about the social conditions most amenable to thinking for yourself.”


The Politics of Cultural Despair by Chris Hedges (Mint Press)

“The United States is a shadow of itself. It squanders its resources in futile military adventurism, a symptom of all empires in decay as they attempt to restore a lost hegemony by force. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Tens of millions of lives wrecked. Failed states. Enraged fanatics. There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 24 percent of the global population, and we have turned virtually all of them into our enemies.”
“We are piling up massive deficits and neglecting our basic infrastructure, including electrical grids, roads, bridges and public transportation, to spend more on our military that all the other major powers on Earth combined. We are the world’s largest producer and exporter of arms and munitions. The virtues we argue we have a right to impose by force on others — human rights, democracy, the free market, the rule of law and personal freedoms — are mocked at home where grotesque levels of social inequality and austerity programs have impoverished most of the public, […]”
“All of our activism, protests, lobbying, petitions, appeals to the United Nations, the work of NGOs and misguided trust in liberal politicians such as Barack Obama have been accompanied by a 60 percent rise in global carbon emissions since 1990.
“We are less than a decade away from carbon dioxide levels reaching 450 parts per million, the equivalent to a 2 degree Celsius average temperature rise, a global catastrophe that will make parts of the earth uninhabitable, flood coastal cities, dramatically reduce crop yields and result in suffering and death for billions of people. This is what is coming, and we can’t wish it away.
Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule, this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures.”
“Freud, like Primo Levi, got it. The moral life is a matter of circumstances. Moral consideration, as I saw in the wars I covered, largely disappears in moments of extremity. It is the luxury of the privileged. “Ten percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction,” Susan Sontag said.
“Varlam Shalamov, imprisoned for 25 years in Stalin’s gulags, was equally pessimistic: “All human emotions–of love, friendship, envy, concern for one’s fellowman, compassion, a longing for fame, honesty–had left us with the flesh that had melted from our bodies during our long fasts. The camp was a great test of our moral strength, of our everyday morality, and 99% of us failed it…Conditions in the camps do not permit men to remain men; that is not what camps were created for.””
“Those overwhelmed by despair seek magical salvations, whether in crisis cults, such as the Christian Right, or demagogues such as Trump, or rage-filled militias that see violence as a cleansing agent. As long as these dark pathologies are allowed to fester and grow–and the Democratic Party has made it clear it will not enact the kinds of radical social reforms that will curb these pathologies–the United States will continue its march towards disintegration and social upheaval. Removing Trump will neither halt nor slow the descent.
“Forty-eight percent of front line workers remain ineligible for sick pay. Some 43 million Americans have lost their employee-sponsored health insurance. There are ten thousand bankruptcies a day, with perhaps two-thirds of them tied to exorbitant medi[c]al costs.
“The proportion of American children who do not have enough to eat, the study found, is 14 times higher than it was last year.”
“A study by Columbia University, found that since May there are eight million more Americans who can be classified as poor. Meanwhile, the 50 richest Americans hold as much wealth as half of the United States. Millennials, some 72 million people, have 4.6 percent of U.S. wealth.
“The country’s largest voting-age bloc, the 100 million-plus citizens who out of apathy or disgust do not vote, will once again stay home. This demoralization of the electorate is by design.
“Our opinions and prejudices are skillfully catered to and reinforced, with the aid of a detailed digital analysis of our proclivities and habits, and then sold back to us. The result, as Matt Taibbi writes, is “packaged anger just for you.” The public is unable to speak across the manufactured divide. Politics, under the assault, has atrophied into a tawdry reality show centered on manufactured political personalities. Civic discourse has been poisoned by invective and lies. Power, meanwhile, is left unexamined and unchallenged.
If we had a functioning judicial and legislative system, Biden, along with the other architects of our disastrous imperial wars, corporate plundering of the country and betrayal of the American working class, would be put on trial, not offered up as a solution to our political and economic debacle.”
“Barrett, as a circuit court judge, heard at least 55 cases in which citizens challenged corporate abuse and fraud. She ruled in favor of corporations 76 percent of the time.”

Here I would be careful, even with Hedges, whose generally not fast and loose with facts. Is there a reason, though, that that number should be different? What should it be? 50/50? 0%? Do the facts of the case even matter? Could it be that 76% of the time the facts of the case supported the conclusion? Or is it that, no matter the evidence, anyone who rules against the little guy is a corporatist?

“If you are poor, if you lack proper medical care, if you are paid substandard wages, if you are trapped in the lower class, if you are a victim of police violence, this is because, according to the Prosperity Gospel, you are not a good Christian. In this belief system you deserve what you get. There is nothing wrong, these homegrown fascists preach, with the structures or systems of power. Like all totalitarian movements, followers are seduced into calling for their own enslavement.
“Peter Drucker observed that Nazism succeeded not because people believed in its fantastic promises, but in spite of them.”
“The ruling elites will no more restore these ruptured social bonds and address the deep despair that grips America than they will respond to the climate emergency. As the country unravels, they will reach for the familiar tools of state repression and the ideological prop provided by Christian fascism.”
This requires us to acknowledge that our systems of governance are incapable of being reformed. No one in power will save us. No one but us will stand up for the vulnerable, the demonized and the earth itself. All we do must have the single aim of crippling the power of the ruling elites in the hopes of new systems of governance that can implement the radical reforms to save us and our world.”
“The most difficult existential dilemma we face is to at once acknowledge the bleakness before us and act, to refuse to succumb to cynicism and despair. And we will only do this through faith, the faith that the good draws to it the good, that all acts that nurture and protect life have an intrinsic power, even if the empirical evidence shows that things are getting worse.”


The inner life of American communism by Corey Robin (The Nation)

“If Platonic politics elicits an ever-wider consciousness of worlds beyond one’s own, the family sustains a competing enterprise, sapping the public of its civic energy.”
“Dean interprets the tragedy through psychoanalysis: The healthy ego ideal of the comrade becomes the ravenous superego. In the same way that the superego feeds off the transgressions of the id, growing ever more powerful from the punishment of impurity, so do comrades turn inward, generating a feeding frenzy of their own. Collective power, once a source of freedom, becomes a prison.”


Are the Democrats Losing on Purpose? by Daniel Bessner & Amber A'Lee Frost (Jacobin)

“Having won the major battles of the culture wars, all they have to offer potential converts is a vague feeling of moral superiority: “vote Blue, because you’re not a cretin or an ingrate.” It’s a presumptuous and sanctimonious argument, made all the more ridiculous by the fact that Democrats are big fat losers.”
“Why would wealthy suburbanites switch to a losing brand when the only thing it offers is the same performance as your reliable old stand-by, which gets the job done without being smug about it?
“[…] defeat after defeat after defeat, so many true believers return to their pocketbooks with renewed ardor, almost Millenarian in their absolute faith that the party’s failure only proves that they need to be more deeply committed to it.”
“The truth is, it doesn’t really matter if the Democrats are trying to lose; what’s important is that their political strategy is indistinguishable from that of a party trying to lose.
“[…] In the end, for the people who need political solutions to live dignified lives, ineptitude and intention are a distinction without a difference: the most important takeaway is that Democrats are losers, whether they’re throwing the fight or getting KO’d in the first round.”