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Analysis & Polemic
Edward Snowden: A Healing Voice
Like many people, I was surprised to hear of Edward Snowden’s decision to leave his job and move toward Hong Kong in search of a place where he could reconcile his conscience with his understanding of humanity and the US Constitution. Ever since, I have been trying to understand how he had come to a decision that, one may be certain, others contemplated, but then did not pursue for reasons that are not important, at this point, to figure out.
As days, weeks, months passed, most citizens of the US had difficulties in assessing Edward Snowden’s act: was he a hero or a traitor? In the midst of these hesitations, his father embraced him tightly. [His mother may have done the same, but more discretely, so discretely in fact, that no one but herself and Edward and his father know about it]. It was a very encouraging and courageous act even if it had to be handled, as too many things have to, in these days, with the help of a lawyer.
Is this lawyerly mediation of father-son love a sign of the times we are living in?
A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis
Several strands of green thinking maintain that capitalism is incapable of a sustainable relationship with non-human nature because, as an economic system, capitalism has a growth imperative while the earth is finite. One finds versions of this argument in the literature of eco-socialism, deep ecology, eco-anarchism, and even among many mainstream greens who, though typically declining to actually name the economic system, are fixated on the dangers of "growth."
All this may be true. Capitalism, a system in which privately owned firms must continuously out-produce and out-sell their competitors, may be incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world. However, that is not the same question as whether capitalism can solve the more immediate climate crisis.
Because of its magnitude, the climate crisis can appear as the sum total of all environmental problems -- deforestation, over-fishing, freshwater depletion, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, chemical contamination. But halting greenhouse gas emissions is a much more specific problem, the most pressing subset of the larger apocalyptic panorama.
And the very bad news is, time has run out. As I write this, news arrives of an ice-free arctic summer by 2050. Scientists once assumed that would not happen for hundreds of years.
Dealing with climate change by first achieving radical social transformation -- be it a socialist or anarchist or deep-ecological/neo-primitive revolution, or a nostalgia-based localista conversion back to a mythical small-town capitalism -- would be a very long and drawn-out, maybe even multigenerational, struggle. It would be marked by years of mass education and organizing of a scale and intensity not seen in most core capitalist states since the 1960s or even the 1930s.
Nor is there any guarantee that the new system would not also degrade the soil, lay waste to the forests, despoil bodies of water, and find itself still addicted to coal and oil. Look at the history of "actually existing socialism" before its collapse in 1991. To put it mildly, the economy was not at peace with nature. Or consider the vexing complexities facing the left social democracies of Latin America. Bolivia, and Ecuador, states run by socialists who are beholden to very powerful, autonomous grassroots movements, are still very dependent on petroleum revenue.
A more radical approach to the crisis of climate change begins not with a long-term vision of an alternate society but with an honest engagement with the very compressed timeframe that current climate science implies. In the age of climate change, these are the real parameters of politics.
The scientific consensus, expressed in peer-reviewed and professionally vetted and published scientific literature, runs as follows: For the last 650,000 years atmospheric levels of CO2 -- the primary heat-trapping gas -- have hovered at around 280 parts per million (ppm). At no point in the preindustrial era did CO2 concentrations go above 300 ppm. By 1959, they had reached 316 ppm and are now over 400 ppm. And the rate of emissions is accelerating. Since 2000, the world has pumped almost 100 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere -- about a quarter of all CO2 emissions since 1750. At current rates, CO2 levels will double by mid-century.
Climate scientists believe that any increase in average global temperatures beyond 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels will lead to dangerous climate change, causing large-scale desertification, crop failure, inundation of coastal cities, mass migration to higher and cooler ground, widespread extinctions of flora and fauna, proliferating disease, and possible social collapse. Furthermore, scientists now understand that the earth's climate system has not evolved in a smooth linear fashion. Paleoclimatology has uncovered evidence of sudden shifts in the earth's climate regimes. Ice ages have stopped and started not in a matter of centuries, but decades. Sea levels (which are actually uneven across the globe) have risen and fallen more rapidly than was once believed.
Throughout the climate system, there exist dangerous positive-feedback loops and tipping points. A positive-feedback loop is a dynamic in which effects compound, accelerate, or amplify the original cause. Tipping points in the climate system reflect the fact that causes can build up while effects lag. Then, when the effects kick in, they do so all at once, causing the relatively sudden shift from one climate regime to another.
Thus, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says rich countries like the United States must cut emissions 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- only seven years away -- and thereafter make precipitous cuts to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This would require global targets of 10 percent reductions in emissions per annum, starting now. Those sorts of emissions reductions have only occurred during economic depressions. Russia's near total economic collapse in the early 1990s saw a 37 percent decrease in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 1995, under conditions that nobody wants to experience.
The political implications of all this are mind-bending. As daunting as it may sound, it means that it is this society and these institutions that must cut emissions. That means, in the short-term, realistic climate politics are reformist politics, even if they are conceived of as part of a longer-term anti-capitalist project of totally economic re-organization.
COINTELPRO and Divisive Hate
Bill Weinberg, World War 4 Report
The very point of the FBI's COINTELPRO strategy of the 1960s was paranoia, divisive hatred, and ultimately cannibalization of radical opposition movements in the United States. And it was grimly successful. Now that there are signs that US police agencies are reviving such tactics, it is imperative that activists learn from the mistakes of their counterparts two generations ago, and find rational, principled, humane and above all tactically astute ways to respond.
The FBI's own webpage on COINTELPRO (from a section entitled "FBI Records: The Vault") states that the agency launched "COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. Although limited in scope (about two-tenths of one percent of the FBI's workload over a 15-year period), COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons."
"We Are All Ibus, and Basta!"
French Interview with bolo'bolo Author P.M.
[Translated and Introduced by Patrice Riemens]
The year 1983 saw the publication, in German-speaking Switzerland, of one of the oddest books ever: bolo'bolo, writen by one 'P.M.'. The book was nothing less than an overture toward an alternative model of society - at the global scale. A concrete utopia of sorts, based a multitude of self-supporting communities called Bolos. Thirty years later, the model has lost nothing of its potency. What probably can't be said of capitalism.
"It Is Simply All Too Much"
An Interview with the Italian Philosopher Franco "Bifo" Berardi
[Franco "Bifo" Berardi is an author, philosopher and media activist. Alongside Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Paolo Virno and Maurizio Lazzarato, he is one of the most influential proponents of so-called post-operaism. He was in charge of the magazine »A/traverso« (1975–1981) and associated with the left-wing radical radio station Alice (1976-1978). Like many other members of the Autonomia movement, he fled to Paris in the 1970s, where he made the acquaintance of Félix Guattari. With Guattari, he studied schizoanalysis, which led to experimental collaborations with many artists and activists. His most recent publications include "The Soul at Work" (2009), "Precarious Rhapsody" (2009) and "After the Future" (2011).]
Tim Stüttgen: Let us begin straight away with the theses put forward in your book "The Soul at Work".... In the book, you describe how all the characteristics of a person – language, creativity, affectivity – have been integrated into the working process of neo-liberalism, leading to new forms of alienation.
Franco Berardi: The most significant productive powers in our era are cognitive and affective forms of work. You can also call it semiotic work, as it mainly has to do with semiotic material. So the old concept of alienation moves away from its former Hegelian context and becomes relevant to a materialistic analysis of class make-up. Contemporary alienation is an effect produced by a combination of several factors: the technological acceleration of information combined with the neurotic compulsion to engage in economic competition, and the virtualisation of communication and the consequent isolation of bodies. In this context, alienation no longer means the loss of an allegedly human authenticity, as it did in the old humanist or idealist sense. Here, alienation means a psychopathological state, a psychological form of suffering, that has its roots in a new escalation of psychological exploitation.
The Reasonable “Madness” of Revolt
Fifth Estate Issue 390
In the existing world, largely governed by the logic of capital and the pathologies of accumulation, real madness is the absence of revolt. Wherever revolt is absent in the world today, we should worry about human health and sanity. A society that does not revolt against a social order that damages it with such escalating facility—psychologically, collectively, ecologically—is a society at the terminal stage. Revolt is the healthy expression of reasonable refusal.
For those who want to throw the existing world into question, the liberal political philosophy of John Rawls (1921 – 2002) is of little use. After the publication of his first major work, A Theory of Justice (1971), Rawls became the most influential liberal philosopher of the second half of the 20th century, receiving accolades and awards from scholars, and from politicians like Bill Clinton. He remains a touchstone intellectual for contemporary liberalism, and as one of its greatest advocates, Rawls is relevant to considerations of the disastrous limitations and contradictions of his own worldview.
Among Rawls’ many errors, the most fatal was his contention that “justice” and “fairness” could be satisfactorily realized within the limits of capitalist society. This same premise continues to ground the most fundamental liberal conceits, including that perplexingly unshakeable faith in “capitalist democracy.” Like most liberals, Rawls never took riot, revolt, or revolution seriously, since he viewed them as superfluous to the interests of the “least advantaged members of society,” as he frequently called them. Instead, Rawls devoted his life’s work to theorizing a “practical” way toward that greatest of all contradictions in terms, a fair capitalist society. Most liberals agree with these contentions, making it fair to conclude that they scarcely understand the logic of capital, and the countless catastrophes of capitalist society.
Arbeitselig, or, Blissful Work
Originally published as “Arbeitselig”, Der Sozialist, May 1, 1913.
Translated by Gabriel Kuhn
Every era of a people has different cultural layers, next to and above one another. This applies to the words that are being used as well. Words are full of nuances that have strong effects, yet people do not pay attention to these unless someone points them out. The word Heim (home/house), for example (a word that is slowly disappearing from everyday speech, entering the realm of “poetic” language), no longer evokes feelings of joy and comfort, but of yearning and alienation. We just need to look at the word Heimarbeit (housework), which refers to something unpleasant, shameful, full of privation. It is not that the home loses grace, comfort, and tranquility because of the work, but the work is considered dishonorable and dangerous instead of acceptable and endurable, as it would be if it occurred outside of the home. If we pay attention to these subtleties, we understand more deeply what the bare facts should already tell us, namely that, today, the home is a beautiful reality to some, the object of occasional nostalgic longing to all, and a cause of great concern to parts of the working class.
How about the word Arbeit (work)? In itself, it has become a neutral term. What is important is how it is used, that is, the sentence, in which it appears. This is what makes the implications clear; implications that may differ greatly. On the one hand, there might be an artist who, after domestic quarrels or problems with friends, pulls himself together, flexes his muscles, and says with utter conviction: I still have my work! On the other hand, there might be a factory worker who, after spending a few minutes in the early morning hours with his wife and children, tears himself away from the family by explaining: I have to go to work.
Looking Deep Into the Dark Matter
review of Dark Matter by Gregory Sholette: Mass Artistic Resistance to the Neoliberalization of Everyday Life
Finally, a history of collective precarity from a politicized artist. Author/writer, Gregory Sholette, in the final paragraph of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, at last clarifies the frequently cited metaphor of “zombies” and enormous digital casts, which likes of Annalee Newitz? have been preoccupied with in terms of popular culture and most noticeably, the big budget extravaganza digital films of recent decades. He writes:
“We go on picking the rags, but every now and again, this other social [non] productivity appears to mobilize its own redundancy, seems to acknowledge that it is indeed just so much surplus---talent, labor, subjectivity, even sheer physical-genetic materiality and in so doing frees itself from even attempting to be usefully productive for capitalism?, though all the while identifying itself with a far larger ocean of “dark matter”, that ungainly surfeit of seemingly useless actors and activity that the market views as waste, or perhaps at best as a raw, interchangeable resource for biometric information and crowd sourcing. The archive has split open. We are its dead capital. It is the dawn of the dead.”
This blatant appeal to the use-value of our necrophilia, artistic waste, the products of our labor and time, runs throughout an historical text, alternately conscious of its own limitations and brilliantly pervasive in its political critique and arts research. Sholette devotes himself to describing the animation of a diverse, selection of contemporary artists collectives and collective projects, American, European, South American, and “other”, for whom relationships as cultural workers to the neo-liberal art world in recent decades of the 21st century, has been a central concern. Among this history are crisp critical frameworks for understanding the art and its positioning against what he calls “enterprise culture” Or the current era of marked precarity in which artists are force to live, which is also marked by “enforced creativity” imposed on all forms of labor.
Occupied Times Interviews Michael Hardt
[Michael Hardt has combined his role as Professor of Literature and Italian at Duke University with political writings and activism. Together with the Italian Marxist Antonio Negri, he has produced an influential critique of our present time. Their trilogy of books – titled “Empire”, “Multitude”, and “Commonwealth” – have been described by Slavoj Zizek as a “Communist manifesto for the 21st Century.”]
The Occupied Times: In your recent work, Declaration, you and Professor Negri identified four political archetypes or ‘paradigmatic subjectivities’, as you call them, that you believe will be crucial to any political change. These are: the indebted, the represented, the mediatised and the securitised. In looking at the indebted, how can we transform what starts as consciousness-raising about the importance of ‘the debtor’ as a subject under post-Fordist capitalism, into a more viable means to challenge those who make us the indebted?
"Work: The Great Illusion"
[An edited extract from the English translation of the late author's L'Horreur Economique. Viviane Forrester, a co-founder of ATTAC, died in April 2013.]
We are living in the midst of a deception, where artificial policies claim to perpetuate a world that has in fact gone for ever. Millions of human lives are devastated and annihilated by this anachronism, which asserts the immutability of our most sacred concept: work.
Work is the foundation stone of western civilisation. The two seem so much a part of each other that even now, when work is vanishing into thin air, no one ever officially questions it. Doesn't it order all distribution and thus all survival? The networks of exchange deriving from it seem as indisputably vital as the circulation of blood. Yet today, work, regarded as our natural driving force, has become an entity without substance.
Our concepts of work, and thus of unemployment, around which politics revolve (or claim to revolve), have become illusory. Our struggles with them are as much of a hallucination as Don Quixote's tilting at the windmills. Yet we still ask the same phantasmal questions, allowing us to ignore the disappearance of a world where there was still some point in asking them. The climate of that world remains in the air we breathe. We still belong to it viscerally, whether we profited or suffered from it. We are still fiddling with the vestiges of that world, busily plugging gaps, patching up emptiness, fudging up substitutes around a system that has not just collapsed but vanished.