What are you reading?

off topic discussions
User avatar
kidoftheblackhole
Posts: 285
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:09 pm

Re: What are you reading?

Post by kidoftheblackhole » Sun Feb 03, 2019 1:46 am

Is The Three Body Problem that weirdo trilogy about trying to evade predator alien species in the far future or something like that? Heard about it a few years ago was never inspired to check it out.

Never read Brecht either but I don't "get" that kind of poetry either.

User avatar
blindpig
Posts: 4524
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:44 pm
Location: Cootiestan
Contact:

Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:43 am

Part of the prob with '3 body' is that it' ain't weird enough, it's really quite mundane, it reads like a Western potboiler. And there are pages of astro physics & computer theory...It's all communism's fault cause a woman traumatized during the Cultural Revolution tells the aliens how to get here, and abets their invasion. I've started the 2nd, 'Dark Forest' just cause I picked it up at the time but doubt I'll finish it, if I'd wanted Tom Clancy or Neil Stephenson I'd read them. Don't bother.

I can appreciate this poetry because of it's ideological content, but the random thoughts of 'deep thinkers', meh.
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

User avatar
kidoftheblackhole
Posts: 285
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:09 pm

Re: What are you reading?

Post by kidoftheblackhole » Mon Feb 04, 2019 8:18 pm

One of the worst things about these guys is that as insufferable as they are, their critics are worse.

Oh, Huxley feared that totalitarian dictators were taking over but clung to the hope that a properly "enlightened" elite could govern harmoniously? Well, let us critical critics inform you that he is wrong and only the horrors..err marvels..of free enterprise can save society.

User avatar
blindpig
Posts: 4524
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:44 pm
Location: Cootiestan
Contact:

Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Sat Mar 16, 2019 2:25 pm

blindpig wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 12:23 pm
Next on my reading list:

Materialism and Empirio-Criticism
Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy
V. I. Lenin
1908

http://marxistphilosophy.org/LenEmpCrit1.pdf

I will obtain a hard copy, 400 ppg of screen is way too much
So I'm reading 'Materialism' slowly bout a 3rd of the way thru. So far it is an extended polemic against Mach and anyone like him, ie. a gang of goofballs trying to smuggle idealism into materialism. I find their arguments ridiculous, only a fucking philosopher would give that silliness the time of day. It's bare-faced solipsism is what it is. Of course mebbe Lenin & hindsight got something to do with my conclusion....Remind me to never piss off Lenin.

***********

On a completely unrelated note I have received the 4th edition of the Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians and I gotta complain somewhere.Roger Conant died a while back & Joe Collins a couple years ago and now this Robert Powell has taken over. He is clearly a Lumper(in taxonomy there are 2 tribes, the Lumpers & the Splitters, their enmity is eternal). New techniques have shifted the scales distinctly to the Lumpers. I largely agree, in theory, subspecies are especially squishy things. Yet clearly defined forms with distinct geographic ranges should be recognized in deference to obvious reality.But Powell throws out the babies with the bathwater, axing subspecies wholesale. Meh, newer techniques and theories will likely move the pendulum back at some point but at this time the idealists have it.

Also of note in the new edition is the massive increase of introduced lizard species in Florida, something like 60 species to date, including Day Geckos & large chameleons. Now I got this probably self-destructive urge for one last road trip to S Florida...

Image
Image


https://news.nationalgeographic.com/201 ... ives-pets/
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

User avatar
blindpig
Posts: 4524
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:44 pm
Location: Cootiestan
Contact:

Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Tue May 07, 2019 3:14 pm

Eve's Review
Socialism Besieged
May 6, 2019
"A Socialist Defector"

Victor Grossman

Monthly Review Press, 351 pages

$22.34



Eve Ottenberg

From the perspective of 2019, it's often difficult to recall the cold war hysteria over East Germany. It was called a secret police state. Everyone there was said to be oppressively monitored if not actively harassed by the Stasi. For Americans, it epitomized communist tyranny. Then along comes Victor Grossman's memoir, "A Socialist Defector" – he fled US anticommunism to East Germany in 1952 – and the distortions about East Germany (GDR) go right out the window. While no worker's paradise, the GDR wasn't the vast grim, dreary prison portrayed for decades by Western media, intellectuals and some artists.



It was a state, like all communist countries, under siege. From the 1917 Russian revolution to the fall of communism over seventy years later, the capitalist world vilified, subverted, attacked, tried to destroy and besieged its mortal enemy. And the first thing to vanish in a besieged country is freedom of speech and, usually, political freedom, both of which are so easily perverted by besiegers to undermine the surrounded city or country. Grossman concedes these defects of the GDR willingly. But for him, economic freedom – always severely limited in the West – largely compensated. There were no beggars or homeless people in the GDR. There were no evictions or desperate citizens diving into dumpsters for a meal. No frantic parents working two and three jobs and still unable to afford health care for their children. New GDR mothers received 26 weeks of fully paid maternity leave plus a generous stipend for each child's expenses. Health care and all education was free. For recuperation, patients were sent to spas and sanitoria in gorgeous resorts at no cost. Everyone had work. Rent was roughly 10 percent of income and food was cheap. There were no billionaires with yachts, multiple estates, jets and skyscraper suites running corporations that treated thousands of workers like serfs.



But even today in Germany, Grossman writes, "the mildest praise of the GDR, even objective analysis, is quickly attacked by a hornet swarm of op-ed writers, historians and politicians." Clearly one thing capitalism produces very well is a class of violent ideologues dedicated to wiping any trace of socialism off the globe. Whether in intelligence services, the military, corporations or the media, these people do not need to be told what to do. These violent true believers currently have the run of the White House – they usually do – and many countries' presidential palaces. They do not want informed, civilized discussion of what communism was, of its strengths and defects, or which socialistic policies might be beneficially adapted to the present. They want the reactionary party line. Their vilification of leftism is not random, it is planned and systematic.



"I am relying on the German judiciary," Grossman quotes Justice Minister Klaus Kinkle telling German judges in 1991. "It must be possible to delegitimize the GDR system, which justified itself to the bitter end with its anti-fascist beliefs, its professedly higher values and its asserted absolute humanism." No matter that in truth most GDR leaders spent their youth fighting fascism "in defense of Madrid or Stalingrad, at backstreet barricades in Florence or mountain passes in Greece or Slovakia," at risk of guillotines and death camps.



Conversely, the West German government in postwar years was riddled with former Nazis and promoted corporations that had profited from slave labor. "During the war…Bayer [the pharmaceutical corporation] wrote the commander of Auschwitz concentration camp to inquire about 'purchasing' 150 women for experiments with sleep-inducing drugs." It got them. Later Bayer wrote of these women, "despite their emaciated condition, they were acceptable…The experiments were concluded. All persons died. We will soon get in touch with you regarding a new shipment." The GDR, unlike West Germany, did no business with Bayer. In fact, the GDR "threw out the Vialons and Scheels, the Krupps [over 280,000 slave laborers toiled in Krupp factories and "70,000 died miserably"] and the Flicks, the Thyssens and Deutsche Banks…" Not so West Germany.



In cold war West Germany, Grossman writes, "all but one top Bundeswehr officer had been a wartime general, admiral or colonel in the Nazi Wehrmacht, three hundred had been officers in the Waffen SS." By contrast, the GDR wanted a Nazi-free, war-criminal-free police force and military. GDR bases were all named after anti-fascist and communist heroes. These names "were dropped in a single day after unification in 1990."



Grossman argues that "the Soviet presence in East Germany was crucial in overcoming fascism and erasing fascist views. What was left of the mills and factories of bloody dynasties like Krupp, Flick, Siemens and the big banks was entirely confiscated…All this was only possible because of the Red Army's presence." Had the Red Army been in West Germany, de-Nazification would have truly proceeded there too. But Western capitalists – who always prefer fascists to even mild socialists, no less to outright communists – were having none of this.



"The West rejected Stalin's proposal of a united democratic and neutral Germany in 1952," Grossman writes. Western corporate power had other things in mind, and peaceful treaties with communists were not among them. Bulldozing communism then economically exploiting what remained was more on the to-do list. So we got the cold war and the CIA's cultural cold war, wherein it promoted Abstract Expressionism, New York's Museum of Modern Art, literary modernism and funded numerous intellectuals and distinguished literary journals, like "The Partisan Review." Artists and intellectuals who did not conform or who were too genuinely left-wing, watched their careers wither on the vine, or in the McCarthy years, were packed off to prison.





Thus proceeded the West's great siege to advance world capitalist hegemony and corporate access to global resources. If you think that agenda ended with the cold war, you are sorely mistaken. Just look at U.S. sanctions – compared by some to medieval sieges that starve populations and deprive them of medicine – of Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Cuba and other countries that dare defy Washington. It's not that the empire is striking back. It never stopped striking its perceived enemies for over a century.

http://www.eveottenberg.com/blog/posts/34097
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

User avatar
blindpig
Posts: 4524
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:44 pm
Location: Cootiestan
Contact:

Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Tue May 07, 2019 5:53 pm

Review of ‘Facing the Apocalypse: Arguments for Ecosocialism’
Posted May 02, 2019 by Eds.
Topics: Culture , Ecology , MarxismPlaces: Global
Originally published: Resolute Reader by Alan Thornett (April 27, 2019)
I’ve known Alan Thornett for many years, most recently through work in the environmental movement as part of the Campaign Against Climate Change’s trade union group. Alan Thornett is a longstanding socialist, a committed anti-racist and fighter for women’s rights. We have, over the years, engaged in various debates over some of the subjects in this, his latest book, and he wrote a friendly but very critical review of my book Land and Labour. I highlight this because in this review of Thornett’s book I will take issue with many of his arguments and suggest that he has a wrong approach for a socialist towards dealing with environmental disaster. These are, however, arguments between people who want to see an end to environmental destruction and to see society move towards a socialist model. They are part of clarifying our mutual understanding of our politics and our strategies.

Thornett begins by arguing that “breaking with the legacy of the 20th century will require big changes organisational and political… it means a serious re-examination of the strategic conceptions that the left has being applying to the ecological struggle for the last three decades”. Thornett shows how historically the left has not taken environmental issues seriously, except in a few individual cases and he rightly argues that this is in part a legacy of those regimes that labelled themselves socialist, but acted in a way that copied the capitalist states. However Thornett’s main ambition in this book is not just to highlight historical errors of the left, but to argue that key strategies and politics of the contemporary left are mistaken. It would be fair to say that I am one of the people he disagrees with here. In the introduction to the book Thornett writes:

Since modern humans migrated out of Africa about 180,000 years ago, we have had a disproportionate impact on other species. We destroyed the planet’s large animals… in what was a major global extinction event… More recently, as human maritime capability developed along with colonial expansion, sailors ate their way through vulnerable species… In the 18th century between 30 and 60 million bison roamed North America’s great plains. The construction of the railroad network and accelerated human settlement led to a remarkable mass slaughter of the bison, taking it close to extinction… We are the only species to have invaded every habitat on earth and capable of destroying the planet many times over… If we ignore the impact we are having on the planet, we will destroy all other species that live on it and ultimately ourselves.

There are, I suggest, two problems with this approach. Firstly Thornett repeatedly uses the word “we”, suggesting the human society today is the same as it was in the 18th century and 180,000 years ago. He also ignores the different historical contexts of these events – hunter-gatherer communities killed megafauna as part of their livelihoods which is not the same as the systematic destruction of bison as part of a genocidal approach to the indigenous population of the United States. However I am particularly concerned with the use of “we” as it implies that all humans are equally to blame for today’s environmental crisis, just as they were all to blame for megafauna extinction. For instance, the hunting to extinction, of megafauna in Australia by bands of hunter-gatherers, is in no way the same as the contemporary “Sixth Extinction” caused by capitalism – for example as a result of industrial agriculture.

Over population
This approach characterises Thornett’s wider approach which is to argue that over-population is a key problem for the environment and for the left. He argues that the left has failed to understand and respond to the environmental situation: “major issues remained to be resolved for Marxism and the ecological struggle, in terms of both analysis and response”. Thornett begins by criticising those on the left who argue that the solution to capitalism’s destruction of the planet is the struggle for socialism.

The standard ‘solution’; advanced by most on the radical left in this regard, is the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism – by implication within the next 12 years because that is how long we have to do it. It is what I call ‘one solution revolution’…. Capitalism is the problem and its overturn is the solution – and not just as a long-term perspective, which is a different matter – but as an immediate solution to global warming. Such an approach is maximalist, leftist and useless. We can all, as socialists, vote to abolish capitalism with both hands, and this is indeed our long-term objective. But as an answer to global warming within the next 12 years it makes no sense.

It is true that some on the left, and some socialist organisations, do have a position similar to that Thornett describes here. But in my extensive experience, those are organisations that have the least involvement with environmental politics, and the least developed understanding of Marxism and ecology. Thornett caricatures the whole left (excluding himself) as having this position. He writes, “The practical upshot of a maximalist approach of this kind is to deprioritise the struggle for changes in the here and now, and so demobilise the left”.

But this is plainly not true. For instance, Socialist Worker placards on climate demonstrations often say “System Change not Climate Change” and, as Thornett explicitly notes “One Solution Revolution”. But they also call for One Million Climate jobs and other reforms. Thornett has closely worked with socialists from a number of different traditions (including the SWP) to develop these strategies to deal with climate change under capitalism; so his argument here is a mis-characterisation of much of the radical left.

By downplaying slogans that highlight the need for a socialist alternative to capitalism Thornett makes a error about how socialists should approach the struggle to deal with ecological disaster. The starting point must be that capitalism is the problem, not, as Thornett implies the existence of humans or the use of industry and technology. Global environmental crisis is the result of the development of a system of generalised commodity production based on the accumulation of wealth for the sake of accumulation. Despite Thornett noting the work of Marxists like Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster, his own book fails to emphasis this aspect of capitalism. The reader could be left with the impression that Thornett believes that the problem is simply the existence of human society (of whichever form).

In my view, socialists who reject, as utopian, the slogan ‘System Change not Climate Change’ for the environmental movement fail to see that the demand is not simply about the result, but also a strategy for getting a sustainable world. This isn’t simply about whether or not socialism is the solution to the environmental crisis. Understanding that capitalism is the problem helps orient the movement. To argue anything else is to give ground to the idea that capitalism can solve the crisis – and if the last 40 years have taught us anything, it is that it can’t and won’t. It is only mass action that can force through reforms on the scale we require. Thornett’s alternative – to eat less meat, to take individual responsibility for our personal footprint (which socialists don’t worry about this?) and so on are thus fundamentally inadequate. Even Thornett’s preferred strategy – the use of taxation against oil companies to “bring down carbon emissions rapidly” would fail unless it is backed up by powerful forces that can make the oil companies obey. The tragic lessons of experiments in radical reformism over the years has been that the capitalists are prepared to use the full power of their state to restrict any attempts to stop the accumulation of capital.

Capitalism
This brings me to another key difference – the question of population. Thornett argues that the a key problem is the growing population and its environmental footprint. He notes that the footprint of people is different depending on where they are in the world, but writes that “African faces the most dangerous situation”. He argues that strategies need to be developed that will reduce population growth and encourage smaller families. Again he implies, perhaps inadvertently, that others on the left wouldn’t agree. For instance he says that “policies that involve lifting women out of poverty in the poorest parts of the globe and enabling the to control their own fertility through the provision of contraception and abortion services, need to be supported”. But I don’t know anyone on the left who would disagree. The problem is that this won’t stop environmental destruction.

Later Thornett writes, “how can rising population and women’s reproduction be separated? One determines the other.” But this ignores the question of social context. Women have children based on all sorts of factors – but most importantly the number of children they have is linked to wealth. But whether a society can support a particular population is determined by the nature of that society. It’s a point made well by Karl Marx:

overpopulation is…a historically determined relation, in no way determined by abstract numbers or by the absolute limit of the productivity of the necessaries of life, but by the limits posited rather by specific conditions of production…. How small do the numbers which meant overpopulation for the Athenians appear to us!

When we look at the causes of environmental disaster we have to point out that the problem is simply not caused by population growth in Africa (and to do this, as Thornett does, is to open the door to racist arguments about the developing world). Thornett does write:

I am not arguing that rising population is the root cause of the ecological crisis… That is the fault of the capitalist system of production and the commodification of the planet – although pre-capitalist systems of agriculture were already degrading the ecology and the biodiversity before capitalism arrived. What I am arguing is that rising population is a major contributory factor.

But if this is the case, the starting point is not population, but the nature of capitalism. The structures of capitalism and the nature of accumulation mean that population growth in the developing world is not the problem. But Thornett moves further into dangerous territory when he argues that

The question is not simply whether capitalism is ecologically destructive, but whether the ecological crisis can be reduced to capitalism…. If the problem is simply capitalism, this implies (in reverse) that its removal would resolve – partially at least – the ecological crisis. But there is no evidence that this would be the case. In fact, major existential challenges would continue to exist, and the ecological struggle would have to continue long after capitalism had left the scene.

Clearly there will be ecological issues to resolve once capitalism has been defeated, but that will require a system being put in place that is capable of dealing with the disaster. In other words a society that is not based on the competitive accumulation of capital. But here Thornett appears to suggest the problem cannot be reduced to capitalism, in which case you can never prevent ecological crisis, which is a very strange conclusion to draw for a Marxist.

In other sections of the book Thornett deals with other issues such as transport and jobs, as well as a discussion of the relative weaknesses of the British trade union movement on ecological issues. In the section on food he argues that we need a transition to a lower meat diet. I’ve dealt elsewhere at length with this question, and won’t repeat those arguments here. But I do want to note that Thornett’s figures are incorrect. On page 176 he argues that GHG emissions from meat production “are greater than the emissions generated by the entire world-wide transportation system”. But this is not true, as the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation [FAO] has pointed out here. Readers might suggest that Thornett is correct not to rely on figures from the UN which might have a vested interest in denying this, but Thornett does rely on FAO figures on the previous page. Similarly Thornett quotes the figure of 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions being due to livestock production, but this figure comes from a report that the FAO admitted was flawed and the correct figure is nearer 14.5 percent. Thornett does then use this figure a few pages later (p186) but attributes it to “meat production” which is incorrect as it is from the whole “livestock sector” which includes more than meat production. More worryingly Thornett uses the infamous figure from the film Cowspiracy that 51 percent of all worldwide CO2 emissions comes from livestock. But this figure has been widely discredited, as Danny Chivers, author and lead external carbon analyst for Christian Aid and ActionAid has written:

The 51 percent number comes from a single non-peer-reviewed report by two researchers—a report littered with statistical errors. This study counts the climate impact of methane from animals as being more than three times more powerful as methane from other sources, adds in an inappropriate chunk of extra land use emissions and incorrectly includes all the carbon dioxide that livestock breathe out.

I highlight these inaccuracies because if the left is to win an argument around the environment we must be absolutely rigorous in our use of evidence, or risk undermining our own arguments.

In his conclusion Thornett writes that the left cannot reduce its arguments around environmental disaster to propaganda for socialism. That is true but no serious ecological Marxist makes this error. But the environmental crisis is an existential threat to humanity caused directly by the nature of capitalism. Unfortunately Alan Thornett’s book undermines the struggle for a sustainable world because it obscures the real problem.

https://mronline.org/2019/05/02/facing- ... socialism/

Decent criticism of a deeply flawed book. I wonder why these Fabian types even bother calling themselves socialist. I also wonder if the reviewer advocates revolution or is damn near as wishy-washy himself.
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

User avatar
blindpig
Posts: 4524
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:44 pm
Location: Cootiestan
Contact:

Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Fri May 31, 2019 1:16 pm

How to Sell the Narrative of American Greatness
by JOHN STEPPLING FacebookTwitterRedditEmail
“Millions of people in the U.S. have learned innumerable lessons about American exceptionalism and American innocence from prominent television personalities. Bill O’Reilly, for example, taught us how to defend American “greatness” in his response to Michelle Obama’s public reminder that slaves built the White House. O’Reilly quickly retorted that slaves who built it were “well fed” and provided with “decent” lodging. Millions more learned about the pervasiveness of American exceptionalism from a 60 Minutes interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It was here on national TV where she famously declared the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children by way of U.S. sanctions as a sacrifice that was “worth it.” Albright was subsequently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2012. For O’Reilly and Albright, the inherent superiority and good intentions of the U.S. provide absolution for crimes against humanity.”

– Roberto Sirvent & Danny Haiphong (American Exceptionalism and American Innocence)

“Hillary Clinton personifies the hubris of American exceptionalism. She seems incapable of doubting that America is ‘the last hope of mankind.’ Above all, she certainly believes that the American people believe in American exceptionalism and want to hear it confirmed and celebrated.”

– Diana Johnstone (quoted from Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton )

” …Saidiya Hartman’s observation that “99.5% of U.S. cinema is a totally instrumental pernicious propaganda machine.”

– Roberto Sirvent & Danny Haiphong (ibid)

Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong provide a clear outline for how the public is sold a narrative of American greatness, or exceptionalism, and how the media is complicit in this massive propaganda effort. A manufacturing of propaganda that goes on 24/7, all year and every year. American’s sense of entitlement and their air of anti intellectual superiority, starts in the cradle and even before that. I think there is still a book yet to be written on untangling and tracing back the many strands of religious exclusion, xenophobia, Puritanical rigidity, and rank sentimentality — which are very deeply engrained in the American spirit and psyche.

They (the authors) state their intentions in this book from the first pages…“Ultimately, we want to equip our readers with the tools to locate, critique, and dismantle the twin ideologies of American exceptionalism and American innocence.” Now, one might want to quibble with certain passages (like suggesting..I think its being suggested anyway…. Bernie Sanders’ popularity represented anything positive… because of course Sanders is himself embedded in the propaganda machine. And that young people having a favorable opinion of the word *socialism*. I’m not sure that is a positive if the word is simultaneously associated with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. I would argue that is simply more disinformation and indoctrination, not a meaningful groundswell of opposition to the status quo.) That said, the providing of tools … meaning the critical thinking and vocabulary to dissect this stuff… is crucial.

And there is great insight in linking the critique of exceptionalism with innocence (is innocence an ideology, though?). As a tool of propaganda, a rhetorical tactic, the idea of innocence is indeed pernicious and ubiquitous.

“To cite just a few examples, American innocence has us remember slavery and settler colonialism as events of the past, not as structures of domination that haunt our present. It has us view our violent overthrows of democratically elected leaders around the globe as mere “aberrations” of what we truly represent as a country, or as “unfortunate transitional developments on the way to full-fledged liberal democracy.”

– Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

Or that the Iraq war was a “mistake” (or Vietnam, or Nicaragua, or Afghanistan, et al). Innocence is then the alibi that is always on hand to justify the violence of western capital. Innocence is also the foundation for the *bumbling empire* argument one so often finds (which is periously close to it was a *mistake*). As Sirvent and Haiphong note, innocence allows for the continued belief in honorable intentions. Now the authors quote Carrie Tirado Bramen, from her book American Niceness, and Bramen is kinda au courant at the moment in places like The New Yorker of LA Review of Books. This always makes me feel uncomfortable. I mean its that ‘I wouldn’t want to be a member or any club that would accept me as a member’ logic. But the innocence argument relates to Bramen’s book pretty directly.

“Bramen traces this impulse back to our nation’s origins, when the passive framing of the Declaration of Independence (“it becomes necessary”) presented the Revolution as a grudging act of war instigated by British tyranny. But niceness came into full fruition, she argues, in the nineteenth century, her area of scholarly expertise. This was the period when America became an imperial power, and Bramen demonstrates the ways in which niceness served as a cheery façade pasted over violence and injustice. The culture of “Southern hospitality” perpetuated the belief that American slavery was a kinder, more compassionate variety than that practiced in the Caribbean. Later in the century, the annexation of the Philippines was heralded as a mission of “benevolent assimilation,” a phrase that President William McKinley used in his 1898 speech to the occupied nation to suggest that, unlike the Spanish empire, Americans would be nice. “We come not as invaders or conquerors but as friends,” McKinley proclaimed.”

– Meghan O’Gieblyn (The New Yorker, review of American Niceness)

“Americans … because we have grown up believing that our country is at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of democracy and modernity, and therefore, often unconsciously, we analyze or perceive foreign cultures according to these standards. We also know very little about the history the US has had with each of these places — what sort of economic, military, legislative, social or cultural interventions took place and shaped that country.”

– Suzy Hanson (Interview with Black Agena Report, Nov 2018)

Again, the book is not a work of theory but almost a study guide for the majority (sadly) of Americans who actually still are fully functioning from within the U.S. state propaganda apparatus. A study guide to deprogram the indoctrinated. And, of course, it is a reminder for all of us that the creeping affects and secondary characteristics of propaganda can still infect your thinking, regardless how much you know about how it all works. And Bramen’s cultural examination of “niceness” is pretty sharp if not overly deep. The niceness in the American psyche is tied into sentimentality, a certain kind of salesman mentality that certainly permeated the US directly after WW2. But it is true, and Europeans I know all say this, that when they visit the U.S. they are bewildered by the amount of smiles they get. Its seen as obviously false and insincere. But for Americans, insincerity is just another form of sincere. And sincere is a sort of mythic beast, a unicorn of the American mind. The American version of nice is always, at bottom, a sales device.

One of the virtues here is that its probably as good a companion reader as is available for those wanting to learn the alternative reading of the propaganda machine that they live within. This is not to trivialize the work at all, only to take note of who who needs to read this. And the answer is, most Americans. I have taught at University level and had first year students come to class not having any idea what *colonialism* was. No idea of its history or meaning. And even when some few did know the general meaning of something of U.S. history, say Manifest Destiny, it was almost always from a strictly individualistic perspective. The Puritan and the rugged frontiersman, these merge in the collective unconscious of the U.S. This is what people learn from kindergarten onward.

“Blacks being unable to forget the terrible wrongs done to them would nurse murderous wishes . . . while whites would live in a state of anticipatory fear that urged preemptive violence.”

– Thomas Jefferson (quoted by Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852)

There was a recent article at VOX about class — representing it as a cultural choice, sort of. A lifestyle decision. And I recall Jacobin (which is only marginally more palatable than VOX) entered the discourse to provide a corrective, but in the usual manner of anything Sunkara touches, it was only half right. Actually it wasn’t right at all, but it was wrong in a microscopically less radioactive way than VOX. But my point here is that American Exceptionalism, American Innocence, IS in fact a corrective to the vast majority of highly reactionary arguments out there. There is a loss of something radical in so much writing today that self identifies as leftist. And the fact that standard bearers for liberalism today (The Guardian, The Atlantic et al) are simply openly fascistic. And I don’t believe that is hyperbole. The liberal attacks on Julian Assange are a case in point. Or the slurs against Maduro. These are the litmus tests for radicalism. I cannot imagine the alternative press of the Vietnam War era publishing hit pieces on a figure such as Assange.

“The liberty, freedom, and democracy that supposedly characterized the formation of the U.S. did not include the Indigenous people whose land made “independence” possible. English settlers spent centuries decimating the Indigenous people of the North American mainland prior to formal independence. Natsu Taylor Saito explains that between 1513 and 1900, an Indigenous population of fifteen million people was reduced to 250,000 in what now belongs to the United States and Canada.”

– Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

Saito’s number is a low ball figure by the by.

The land was unoccupied. “We” came to make it profitable (oh, and green. Make the desert green…wait, that’s Israel, but you see how this how this model works). This is the narrative I learned in school- and the genocide of indigenous peoples was not taught. Nor was *class* discussed. Settler colonialism feels close to the soul of North American white folk. Even today you can find *thanksgiving day* parties at grammar schools and pre schools in which racist colonial folk tales are repeated and enacted by the children themselves. And the fables of Christopher Columbus and the *new* world And as Sirvent and Haiphong point out, the Washington Redskins football team is a staple of Thanksgiving Day sport.

The book covers the eugenics work in the U.S. that so inspired Hitler, and has a requisite chapter on 9/11 (and it does occur to me that there is no topic quite so difficult, perhaps, to write about).

A mere fifty years ago, as I first attended Le Conte Junior High School in El Lay, one did not often have black friends come with you to certain places. I had a black girlfriend, and I was naive and hence surprised at the level of invective directed at us. A mere fifty years ago Americans believed in the post war fantasy and dream. And really, Vietnam marked the first really significant rupture in that illusion. And Vietnam marked, also, the consolidation of the intelligence community in response to that rupture. And it signaled the earmarking of *serious* money for military psy-ops.

The Edward Bernays century went into warp speed. (see what I did there? How many cool allusions *packed* into one sentence?) It marked “that”, too. The rise of pop culture. But it marked something else, as well. For while the fifties and early sixties are easy to parody, this was the era of Leave it To Beaver and Ed Sullivan, or hot rods and James Dean — it was also markedly freer and less structured than the pre fab daily existence that followed. The paradox is the conformist fifties were in many ways a less oppressive society then what followed. The genuine cultural eruption of the sixties…the antiwar movement, civil rights, and sexual openness was rightly perceived as a threat. So, what America was sold was *Freedom*….free expression, freedom to find yourself, etc. But in fact ever more laws were being written, more police were being hired, budgets for Intelligence and surveillance increased, and organized recreation became a thing. (Marcuse feels relevant again, here). From the seventies onward the more freedom and self expression were promoted the less there was of either. Today the U.S. feels like a strange exercise in personal self imprisonment, whenever I visit. Nowhere does so much petty meaningless legal paperwork and forms and applications and checks follow one around. Nowhere does one actually have less time to ‘do nothing’. Nowhere am I more aware of being under the gaze of the policing apparatus. When in the States today I am constantly aware that there must be some law I am breaking. The bigger the bureaucracy the easier to suffocate a populace with tedium and required forms. But Americans do remain nice about it..except they don’t. Until recently, maybe even ten years ago, the pathological niceness of American culture was ever present, in some form. Today, not so much. Today, there is too much anxiety, too much desperation. Nice is exclusive to the propaganda wing of the government.

“While radical labor organizers and Black freedom organizers were being labeled communists to justify racist and class-based repression from the FBI or the Ku Klux Klan, Koreans were subject to a similar anticommunist racism. Cumings explains that anti-Korean sentiment was pervasive in all spheres of American life, especially in the media and the military. Prominent publications such as the New York Times and Marshall Plan officials such as Edgar Johnson described Koreans as “fanatics,” “barbarians,” and “wild.” American military officials were trained to think of Koreans as “gooks,” giving fertile ground for the mass extermination campaigns that characterized American military policy during the war. Anticommunist racism followed an old formula in new clothes. “

– Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

And we see the legacy of this in the worlds of entertainment and the arts (sic). Haiophong and Sirvent have an amusing but accurate critique of the broadway hit Hamilton. And perhaps I feel this to be so insightful because I know many of those involved in the production. And one of the most undeniable and indelible truths of 21st century America (and maybe a good chunk of the 20th, too) is the collaboration of liberalism with White Supremacy and neo fascism. Liberals will always default to collaborator.

“Hamilton is a pitch perfect example of how practices of diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism often reinforce the ideologies of American exceptionalism and American innocence. Consider how Lin-Manuel Miranda explained his rationale for casting black actors in the roles of people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Such casting, he said, “allow[s] you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theatre that hosted Hamilton added his take. “It has liberated a lot of people who might feel ambivalent about the American experiment to feel patriotic,” he said. “I can feel it in myself— it makes me cheer to be reminded of everything great about America and to have the story reappropriated for the immigrant population.”

– Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

Now I happen to think American theatre is the ultimate example of what has happened to culture. (the Eustis quote is simply priceless). Of course I was involved in theatre and I knew firsthand the ascension of the beancounter, or rather the Ivy League beancounter, and the gradual but inexorable erasure of the working class from the stages of America. And I’ve seen the professionalization of the writer and artist. The rise of the University and its diploma system to further manage cultural outlaws. But I digress. The book rightly emphasizes again and again the inherent and caustic racism that operates at every level in the U.S. society. It targets very accurately the pieties of the white liberal class.

This is a book I would suggest people buy next Xmas, or for someone’s birthday, a nephew or niece, whoever. Those whose coats need pulling. Those heading off to college. Those heading off to high school. Those not heading off to high school. Shit, buy the book for the 60% of Americans who believe in angels and ghosts. Buy it for everyone who loved Eastwood’s film American Sniper.

“It is important to note that the U.S. has historically held disproportionate influence over the IMF and World Bank. The U.S. has by far the largest vote at nearly 18 percent in both institutions. U.S. influence is reflected in IMF and World Bank policy, especially in the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) that have ravaged nations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. These programs began in 1980 as measures of assistance to relieve poor and formerly colonized countries from debts imposed on them from their colonizers during the post-war period. Instead of lending assistance, however, SAPs have only increased the economic burden imposed by U.S. imperialism by forcing indebted countries to privatize state industries, open up their economies for corporate investment, and restructure their political systems to benefit American and Western monopolies. ( ) The IMF is the American-led face of what Ghanian revolutionary leader Kwame Nkrumah called “neocolonialism.” Neocolonialism accurately describes the continued foreign plunder of African nations despite formal recognition of their independence. American imperial dominance on the world stage has facilitated the conditions of neocolonialism.”
Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

In one sense this is the most important chapter in the book. For this is the ruling class alibi that blankets all of its crimes. We meant well. We had the best of intentions.

And it was liberal Obama who initiated the pivot toward Africa. And he was only intensifying the policies of his predecessors. AFRICOM grew exponentially under Obama, and military ‘actions’ rose 300% in 2015 (per Sirvent & Haiphong). The rise of global fascism is a dire concern today. But not if you read mainstream media news. The U.S. backing of a fascist opposition in Venezuela speaks to the U.S.complicity in this global rise. Anyone who does not defend Maduro and legitimate government of Venezuela is most likely a liberal, or a fascist themselves. That is where things stand now. The radical voices of opposition have to defend sovereignty wherever it exists. Just as anti death penalty advocates must try to stop Ted Bundy being executed, so must socialists and anti-imperialists defend the targets of U.S. aggression. From Maduro to Assad to the DPRK, to Iran — and personally the hardest part these days is making sense of how China fits into all this analysis. The cult of Xi is growing. And yes, while I am happy China serves as a bulwark against U.S. hegemony, I still worry China is itself gradually becoming another form of the U.S.

The racism that built America is expressed today is myriad ways. But lets take Haiti (since Haiphong and Sirvent do). And because Wikileaks played a critical role in exposing the criminality and sociopathy of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s plundering of that island.

“Following the earthquake, Haiti was known as the “NGO republic” due to the presence of anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 NGOs operating within the country. NGOs were ostensibly present in Haiti to facilitate the distribution of “foreign aid” but instead reinforced the United States’ historically imperial relationship with Haiti. Aid monies donated from the U.S. for emergency and reconstruction relief were funneled into American military and corporate investments.”

– Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

In fact nearly all the foreign aid and all the donations monies went into the pockets of U.S. organizations and businesses. And allow me to quote Haiphong & and Sirvent again…

“American corporate media outlets have struggled to maintain the legitimacy of white saviorism in Haiti, mainly due to the exposure of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s role in the looting of the country. The Clinton’s record in Haiti hurt Hillary Clinton’s popularity in the 2016 presidential election. WikiLeaks found that it was Hillary Clinton’s State Department that prevented a minimum wage increase in Haiti. As president, her husband Bill supported right-wing death squads that helped engineer the second coup of Haitian President Jean Paul Aristide in 2004. Through the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary Clinton accumulated billions of dollars worth in donations that were then siphoned to billionaire investors who built hotels and other profitable ventures at the expense of poor Haitians. The exposure of the Clinton Foundation produced a rupture in the legitimacy of the White Savior Industrial Complex in Haiti. Even Oxfam has come under recent fire for allowing aid workers to commit sexual acts in exchange for participation in the organization’s food program.”

One would hope that information such as that above, in a chapter on *White Saviorism*, would help to politically (and culturally) educate people to recognize the narratives of white goodness that are manufactured by the propaganda system of the state. And by Hollywood. I’m not holding my breath but I’d like to think books like this will help.

Of course the U.S. has done similar things in even European countries, such as the former Yugoslavia. After dismantling the FRY the U.S. aid agencies and mercenaries trafficked in both humans and drugs. And of course the U.S. support was on the side of the fascists during the assault on the former socialist state. But then the U.S. is only too happy to create new dependent client states (see Kosovo), too. I mention this because as exhaustive as this book is, in many respects, it still but scratches the surface of the crimes that can be laid at the feet of the Imperialist West.

“U.S. humanitarianism is therefore not part of the solution to the world’s problems. It is part of the problem. Thus, true revolutionary social change will not come from the generous donations of former presidents, poverty awareness campaigns by Hollywood celebrities, or American university graduates with a degree in international economics. As Maximiliam Forte tells his students, “It is important not to assume that others are simply waiting for a stranger to come and lead them, like a Hollywood tale of the usual white messiah who is always the hero of other people’s stories.” In fact, true change will not come from the U.S. ruling class at all.”

– Sirvent & Haiphong (ibid)

And that is the final word in a sense. Class. And the delusions of the ruling class.

“I say that the United States of America is a unique experiment in history. I believe in American exceptionalism. I wasn’t for sending ground forces into Libya. It would have been counterproductive, but we are an inspiration to these people. I know because I’ve looked them in the eyes, and they looked at me. They look to America for inspiration and leadership.”

– John McCain

There is more, including a cogent take on the LGBT community, drawing on work from Dean Spade and others. And a chapter on immigration and the wall. And a final chapter on the military titled Conclusion: Who Exactly Does the Military Serve? Starting with Rory Fanning’s now somewhat famous article (which I read, at least, at Tom Dispatch) titled “Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?” Its an appropriate ending.

I’d also suggest reading Max Forte’s entire book Good Intentions…a telling extract is here.

Aesthetic resistance means learning to read the codes. Learning what propaganda does, and how it does it. All resistance requires de-coding the propaganda apparatus. America’s hubris and arrogance inflicts untold suffering on mankind. The U.S. state is run on a strict hierarchy of class and race. This book is a concise catalogue of how capitalism manufactures inequality, sustains it, and profits from it.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/31 ... greatness/
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

User avatar
kidoftheblackhole
Posts: 285
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:09 pm

Re: What are you reading?

Post by kidoftheblackhole » Mon Jun 03, 2019 11:13 am

Have you read the Haiphong/Sirvent book yet, BP? I have it but only just started.

User avatar
blindpig
Posts: 4524
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:44 pm
Location: Cootiestan
Contact:

Re: What are you reading?

Post by blindpig » Thu Jun 06, 2019 6:25 pm

Naw, got it on order. If it is worth a damn I plan on giving it to a high school kid who has expressed interest in politics.
"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

User avatar
kidoftheblackhole
Posts: 285
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:09 pm

Re: What are you reading?

Post by kidoftheblackhole » Sat Jun 08, 2019 7:35 am

blindpig wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 6:25 pm
Naw, got it on order. If it is worth a damn I plan on giving it to a high school kid who has expressed interest in politics.
From what I've read it is less explicitly Marxist than Haiphong's BAR articles. But I see what they're trying to do.

Post Reply