Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What is Immunism (not Communism)

It is a great film - "Communism" (youtube about 50 min long) - narrating roughly the marxist theory and its current, and forced, application to our world - about 150 years after the "Communist Manifesto". It has a surprising conclusion about which in a moment.

Much of the film are interviews with lesser and better known intellectuals and luminaries of the world of business. They all can take positions with respect to the merits and demerits of the capitalist system with its centrality of the profit motive. Other significant concepts are those of money and commodity. Money is what makes it all possible and as kind of commodity that enables fluid exchange - one of the speakers admits - it allows for mostly peaceful exchange on a massive scale. Economists refer us to psychology saying that the reason that we wish to acquire things is some spiritual intangible value in them. That is aligned with Marx's insight from long ago that the transformation of an object of nature into commodity, that is for a product that is for sale, imbues it with some quality that is not its own but is imagined by the consumer. From a bag of potatoes to an elegant suit the consumer attaches a "spiritual" value - to a degree so - to his purchase. Marx originates here the idea of fetish. For Marx consumer is a fetishist.

Another challenge posed in the film is the metaphor of the blue and red pill - from the Matrix. Marx, in a cartoon character actually, is offered the choice either of seeing the capitalist system clumsily forge along (the blue pill choice) or the choice of seeing the consequences and true motives of the capitalist system destroy it and usher into an era of communism (the red pill). As we know the communist systems collapsed - almost all of them - and the capitalist system manages to reinvent itself.

The modern advocate of the Marxist condemnation of the capital and the free market is in a difficult situation. I would say he or she does not know how to restate the "Communist Manifesto" in a contemporary form. It is harder and harder to condemn the markets and the system of money for the prosperity it appears to facilitate.

Toward the end there are interesting voices brought into the conversation. First is Slavoj Zizek who says the the production of knowledge became nowadays more important than the production of material goods. But then he says that "knowledge is the antithesis of commodity", because "... when it is shared it even gets bigger." (minute 45) If this is the case then we are leaving the land of scarcity and are happily on a path to abundance - not that it does not bring new yet unknown problems. Still the situation changes drastically and Marxist assumptions are to be abandoned.

Another interesting voice is that of Peter Sloterdijk (minute 47 or so). He talks for "immunism," which he defines as finding basic solidarity against common destruction.
He says that people need to "forge alliance against the lethal." They "... must provide mutual security and offer each other communities of solidarity, even on planetary scale ... because for the first time collective self-destruction is possible". Then, "...before we say communism we must understand the principle of immunism". "...or the principle of our mutual insurance, which is the most profound motive of solidarity."

I have not heard of Peter Sloterdijk before but his observation resounds quite profoundly with me because it is minimalist. That is in the solidarity against destruction of value (i.e. against evil) we seek the most universally common aspects of value to protect - with force and vigor and possibly authority of government. That means that such things will be few. Also the solidarity means that the protection against evil could be offered in individual and community arrangements - entered into and dissolved by free agreement. The current alternatives to Marxist Communism seem to be maximalist - we will take all your freedom and offer you all the goods. I think we ought to strive for a world where we pursue our own goods individually and share with others the pursuit of such goods when we are really really sure they are shared.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Our troops are defending our benefits

Our troops no longer defend our freedom - they are defending our benefits. We can no longer be proud of their mission. The US has become a global bully defending its interests using military force and secret violent means all over the world. The violence that we unleash in the world is not for our safety but for the stability of the price of oil which allows us to live comfortable lives and drive large cars. We use the inherently coercive nature of government, its monopoly for legal use of violence, to bolster a business model of our lives that we imagine as the only one possible. Since we demand affordable healthcare, free education, cheap gas, well-paying jobs without heeding the intrinsic cost of delivering such goods. Someone has to pay the costs - and in our inability to face them we have shifted that burden away from ourselves on the most powerful player and the most dangerous of them all - the government. In this case the US federal or, shall I say, imperial government.

What shall the government do to pay the cost of our benefits? The obvious thing is to raise taxes and tighten the enforcement of its revenue collection. The other thing is to influence the world around us - China, Japan, Europe - with economic, political and military pressure - to protect what is perceived as the American interest. We went already almost full throttle on that foreign account by unceasing aggression abroad. This is so because the government is acting out its role as the enforcer which we have indeed authorized. The unique privilege of using violence is placed in the hands of government to protect freedom, but we have asked the government to use it to secure the practical, material side of life - to protect our benefits. The practical side of our life is supposed to be secured by peaceful economic process where the government is involved only to assure the honest execution of voluntary transactions.

We have asked the government to use its unique power in a corrupted manner. In the pursuit of the wrong goal.

What will happen next? Or has already happened in consequence? The coercive power of the government is a commodity for sale - today sold to large corporations. They are the suppliers of materials goods the government is to deliver to us as benefits, they are there to make money helping the government fulfill and expand its coercive function. They will be the suppliers of helmets, bullets, tazers, vehicles, prison cells and jailers, intrusive health care, intelligence analysts, data collection facilities, jobs in the security sector. The corporations will also pursue their goals by prodding the government to discipline us as consumers - by enforcing draconian penalties for so-called intellectual-property violations, for any activities perceived as computer fraud even when they might be research projects. The government will intrude into our lives to all the medical and intimate details - when it sees its role as provider of health care it will be an enforcer of compliance with proper health practices. We are already restricted from self-medicating by the intricate system of licensing and drug delivery rules which allows the health care industry and big pharma to rise above us as a cartel. And we are sponsoring that!

People, we are asking the government to kick our collective ass! Wake up! Do we want to be cattle raised for the glory of monstrous organizations which we had initially created to protect us as humans aspiring to life in freedom? Wake up!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Edward Snowden's act of sacrifice

Indeed, on hearing about Snowden's revelations of NSA domestic spying on US citizens I went on quickly to conclude that there is another hero and a revival of American spirit of freedom is possible and maybe even imminent. But then I hear about the belittling of his person and motives by the likes of Thomas Friedmann and David Brooks as reported on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. Snowden is also coolly treated by legal scholar (and Obama's academic boss at the University of Chicago) Geoffrey Stone who very strongly argues that he is simply a law breaker and as such would not be tolerated by any government.

On the program of June 12 Chris Hedges, however, argues passionately, that lawbreakers such as Snowden may be heros as they expose other larger crimes committed behind the cover of the law. He speaks in defense of the "act of conscience" and about Snowden and "people who, within systems of power, have a conscience to expose activities by the power elite which are criminal in origin or unconstitutional. And that’s precisely what he did." In response to Stone he says: "When you have a system by which criminals are in power, criminals on Wall Street who are able to carry out massive fraud with no kinds of repercussions or serious regulation or investigation, criminals who torture in our black sites, criminals who carry out targeted assassinations, criminals who lie to the American public to prosecute preemptive war, which under international law is illegal, if you are a strict legalist, as apparently Professor Stone is, what you’re in essence doing is protecting criminal activity. I would argue that in large sections of our government it’s the criminals who are in power."

On the program of June 13, Christopher Pyle, a former whistleblower who exposed illegal government spying on US citizens in the late 60's, argues again in favor of Snowden's actions. Pyle says that Congress has lost the power of oversight because of the terrific degree of dependency on corporate sponsorship of their political office and because of the legal bind in which the secrecy of the object of oversight. Pyle: "Members of Congress do not go to those briefings (on security agencies), even if they’re offered, because once you go to the briefing, then you can’t talk about what you’ve been told, because it’s classified. So the briefing system is designed to silence Congress, not to promote effective oversight." Further: "Members of Congress don’t want to spend time on oversight. They’re too busy raising money. New members of the House of Representatives this winter were told by the Democratic Campaign Committee that they should spend between four and six hours a day dialing for dollars. They have no time to do the public’s business. They’re too busy begging for money. President Obama himself attended 220 fundraisers last year." And he describes the situation of fascist merger between private business and government: "the reason that private contractors get this business is because members of Congress intercede with them with government agencies. And we now have a situation where members of the Intelligence Committee and other committees of Congress intercede with the bureaucracy to get sweetheart contracts for companies that waste taxpayers’ money and also violate the Constitution and the privacy of citizens. This is a very serious situation, because it means that it’s much more difficult to get effective oversight from Congress."

So we have a very serious situation in this country. The government has excused itself from justifying its secret actions ostensibly taken to protect the Constitution. Citizens trying to force the US government to show the legal basis of its actions and would be met with persecution in the name of the law: Espionage Act, etc. The government acts behind the veil of secrecy with legal impunity while the citizenry is to exposed to indiscriminate spying and subject to prosecution. How do we make sure that the government is not exceeding its prerogatives? We can't. Furthermore, we can be sure that it is exceeding its constitutional prerogatives because it is in the grip of corporate, economic influence.

What about Edward Snowden, the low-level employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a private entity entrusted with the mission of spying on us. He shows us the difference between what is right and what is legal. Sometimes what is legally called for is not right and the law needs to be broken because it is immoral and unjust. It would be better if we just change the law but first those who will reveal the injustice will be sacrificed. It is not the first time.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Queer Tango in the eyes of Marta Savigliano

Marta Savigliano is a theorist of dance especially focused on Argentine tango and author of an unusual book - "Tango and the Political Economy of Passion" [Westview Press, 1995]. In that book she describes the mechanisms of that create a structure of power out of the elemental human desire for sexual connection. In the country populated by excess numbers of men women fell into the possession of those who were materially better off while the revenge of the lower class of men was that of capturing the hearts of the scarce group of women by the superiority of the love drama expressed by the figures of tango. Marta Savigliano describes how the product of that "political economy" became an object of admiration of the rest of the world making the tango culture into an exotic good suitable for touristic consumption and for export abroad. The book is an excellent collection of observations that allows us to see tango as a laboratory of heterosexual love relations and their impossibility envisioned by Lacan. One of her most interesting ideas is that of exotic gaze and has ramifications both for Lacanian psychoanalysis and for aesthetic theory. But this is now left aside.

In the article "Notes on Tango (as) Queer (Commodity)" [Anthropological Notebooks, 16(3): p135-143] Marta Savigliano takes on the question of the newly arising phenomenon - that of queer tango, queer milongas (milonga=tango dance event), where apparently the heterosexual pairing paradigm is abandoned. She asks: in favor of what? why would individuals with queer interests seek tango - the quintessential expression of heterosexual love drama? And it even happens in Buenos Aires - the capital of heterosexual polarization through the culture of tango.

In order to answer these questions Savigliano reaches to observations about incidence of same-sex pairings in the classic tango culture. She makes remarks about the male-male tango performances that appear to be more acceptable than the female-female pairing. The first one appears to have a better aesthetic value than the latter. Also male-male tangos never make use of cross dressing and yet deliver an aesthetic value whereas female-female couple looks very much for a masculine sort of lead and quite often generates one - by subtle cross dressing. She explains that by the incompatibility of female alliances with the culture of tango while the men create and uphold the system of power that delivers the women into their embrace. I don't quite agree. To me it seems that male-male tango performance can be aesthetically pleasing because tango as a movement style came out of fights between males where one has to keep an eye on each movement of one's opponent. The impossibility of women's alliances on the tango scene is caused, on the other hand, by the submission to the gaze of men, the sexy dress - the high heels, that deliver the woman, crippled as it were, as a high fetish object into the arms of men, and disqualify her from community with other women.

Explanation for the queer milongas is sought in the interest of newcomers in the formal aspects of tango rather than in an expression of the "political economy of passion". Savigliano says that indeed many newcomers, especially foreigners, are purely aesthetically oriented and are not interested in joining the melodrama of the traditional tango scene. The formula for tango indeed expresses, in my view, a highly original plan of approaching another human being, a new erotic style. These newcomers do not want to submit to the traditional Argentinian "education of desire" into an intensely heterosexually polarized affair. They are attracted to tango by its novel aesthetic and erotic qualities.

However, there are definitely actual homosexual individuals and couples that are attracted to the queer milonga style. This poses the most difficult question - why would they be interested in a cultural environment insistent on the heterosexual separation of gender roles. The author has rather unconvincing answers: "relationality through touch and bodily responsiveness drive their interest in tango." Or "tango queer desires are sensual, aesthetic and romantically playful." If it is so in my view it would point into the direction of a certain dilution or dissipation of desire. But I dont think this is the case. I think queer, homosexual, or sexually ambivalent individuals are attracted to tango because it demonstrates a strong definition of gender roles which is necessary for a robust sexual relation.

In my view tango is a demonstration of the prerequisites for a strong sexual relationship - which is not to say a happy one, but more likely dramatic and conflictual, - one showing the hallmarks of the truth of desire. Savigliano says at the end of the essay: "Queer tango, unmarked by heterosexual tensions,...". Maybe at some level it can be unmarked, but I suspect that queer individuals are attracted to tango precisely in order to be marked with the polarizing male-female gender difference. I do think that the homosexual lifestyle longs for that difference and frequently seeks to regenerate the male-female polarity. It is easily seen among gay and lesbian couples that they desire to produce the gender that is excluded on the basis of anatomic sex. Thus gay couple has one of the men more effeminate and among lesbian couples we typically observe one of the women stepping eagerly into the male role. The desire of homosexual individuals to introduce a fantasy of the excluded sex into their culture cannot be unnoticed. All the drag queen and king shows, as well as many everyday behaviors, testify to the role of the excluded sex as a fantasy in homosexual culture. Tango is another cultural innovation along the path of regenerating the male-female polarization in queer culture.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Americans motivated by fear

I have written about fear in the past - a few years ago. It seems that since then fear as a factor motivating the behavior of Americans has expanded.

At a hip-hop concert one of the rappers wears a T-shirt with text: "Marijuana is safer than alcohol". So now safety is again a major justification. At a gun rally, where people openly carried firearms, someone comments on the experience on facebook: "I never felt safer". I agree with the sentiment for the marijuana as well as for gun rights, yet these minor expressions of the desire for safety are cropping up very frequently nowadays.

These sometimes innocuous expressions of the desire for safety are likely manifestations of a deeper seated issue. That is the issue of fear. Why are people fearful? Where is the threat? Where is the enemy? This sense of fear allows them to tolerate the US government's lethal activities abroad: in Pakistan, Yemen and now Mali. It allows them to tolerate the abuses of and outright attacks on civil liberties - such as spying on US citizen's private communications and even activities in their homes through drone technology, such as the right to indefinite detention and even assassination the President arrogated to himself under NDAA. Americans tolerate unspeakable cruelty of US criminal law that recently drove an admirable young human rights activist - Aaron Swartz - to suicide after he was threatened with 35 years in prison for clearly a victimless crime of improper use of so-called intellectual property. And they tolerate cruelty against immigrants, drug dealers and their often clueless helpers - allowing the prisons to be populated by perpetrators of victimless crimes.

This all is motivated by fear! This happens because we will allow anything that makes us safer! Fearful, rich and heavily armed - we are spending ourselves into the ground and spreading violence and hatred!

Similarly much of the left-liberal agenda is responding to the fear of capitalism and the market system. The free market system has advanced our material well being enormously over the last century. The poor people of today have much more at their disposal than the rich of 100 years ago. Of course we face problems, such as global warming, environmental challenges, health care market issues - but we are capable of facing them. Somehow the left-liberal view is that we are not and must call in the greatest coercive forces around - those of the US government, EU and UN and what not - and police and regulate the free forces of the market. This is condescending as it deprecates the genius of enterprising individuals and values the overbearing inefficiency of the officials.

The impulse for the federal health care mandate is another expression of fear - or anxiety that we as freely cooperating individuals cannot take on the challenges of life, its individual decline and death. Fear that for the challenges of life we will not be able to turn to our fellow humans but will have to rely on the paternal hand of the government. For all the talk about a spiritual renewal of the world among the left-liberals the drive toward government-controlled health care system sounds a loud tone of resignation from the hope for a change of the human heart.

The fear comes from the distrust of the fellow human. Directing all the trust toward the coercive hand of the government leads to violence and decline.