Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Philosopher, backchannel man, spy: the case of Alexandre Kojève

This spring, the rightwing French journal, Commentaire, published a story about the philosopher, Alexandre Kojève, by Raymond Nart, a former officer with the DST, French Counter-intelligence. Commentaire, in the past, had published articles in praise of Kojève and even articles by Kojève. Kojève, after WWII, declared himself a “Sunday philosopher”, and had proceeded to devote most of his time to reconstructing France’s economy as an subminister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this post, Kojève became one of the great behind-the-scenes architects of France’s thirty glorious years, that experiment in dirigiste capitalism under the Bretton Woods system which finally came a header in the period of rampant inflation and the Oil crisis of the seventies. Notably, he helping to lay the foundation of the Common Market.
 Nart’s article was entitled, ominously, Alexandre Kojevnikov dit Kojève. Scholars of the great Cold War Communist hunts will be delighted to learn that the old rhetorical maneuver of tearing away the legal name to reveal the old, Russian name spying behind it still lives. Nart has nothing new to say about Kojève’s famous Introduction to Reading Hegel, a series of lectures that he gave between 1933-1939 which were  edited and published by Raymond Queneau in 1947. Nart’s attention, instead, is all on the Kojève who was giving the Soviets microfilm and packages of documents. What was in those documents, Nart regrets, we can only guess. But they must have been of value! Nart relies for his story on other documents, files that come from now defunct Eastern European and Soviet espionage agencies. Nart has used these sources before, in the 1990s, to claim that Charles Hernu, Mitterand’s first war minister, spied for the Soviets in the fifties. Nart is of the walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck school of thought. His conclusion is that the philosopher was a spy.
To the broader mind, though, one that has a knowledge of both ducks and other creatures with bills, like platypuses, Nart’s proof is far from convincing. As Kojève was helping build the framework for the Common Market, he would have every reason to establish a backchannel to the Soviets. Stepping back from the narrow image of Kojève Nart presents, we might consider the mores of French ministries that enacted long term policies that were often indifferent to the political figures heading the governments, a sort of background hum of the machinery keeping it all going. Constantine Melnik, a counter-intelligence expert who has worked at Rand, has already pointed out before in the matter of Nart’s Hernu accusations that there is a difference between having a backchannel relationship with the Soviets and spying. Using Nart’s method, one could as well say that Henry Kissinger, the emblematic back-channel man, was a Soviet spy.
Yet Nart’s story is not the first time Kojève’s loyalties have been suspected. This is the White Russian who proclaimed that Stalin was the philosopher-king, the end of history, in the Paris of the Popular Front of the 30s. He was a man who had a talent for both entrancing and mystifying, and an audience that went out and changed French intellectual culture in the 50s and 60s. He was, as it were, a back-channel philosopher.
It would be nice to have an English language biography of Kojève. I thought I’d found one this summer when I picked up Jeff Love’The  Black Circle: a Life of Alexandre Kojève (Columbia University Press, 2018), but it turned out that the sub-title belonged to a book in some other parallel universe, for this book is as little like a life of Kojève as a donut is like a spare tire. Love, a professor of German and Russian literature at Clemson, is after the life of the mind, not the intrigue of the exile. Love has given us a reading of Kojève that is now fascinating, now plodding, now insightful – especially about the last sections of Kojève’s lectures on Hegel, which have mostly not been translated into English – and too often lengthy paraphrase.
Read the rest at Willetsmag.net

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

For a democratic, rather than autocratic, Senate

I have long been an advocate of radically reforming the senate by making it a trans-state office. Every ten million people should elect a senator - which means that, starting from Maine, there would have to be districts drawn that would swallow some states. The House of Representatives, I think, is the proper place for state-based representation.

However, the issue has been debated before. In the run-up to the 17th amendment, North American Review published an article surveying the many attempts to constitutionally reform the Senate that had been debated by states and Congress. The author of the survey, John William Perrin, was not an advocate, but a historian. This part of the article caught my eye:

"Two others of still different type have been proposed. On January 9th, 1882, Mr. Bayne, a member of the House from Pennsylvania, introduced a resolution for an amendment having the principle of representation found in the " plan of government " offered by Governor Edmund Randolph in the Convention of 1787. It favored doing away with the present basis of representation in the Senate and substituted a proportional one instead. Each State was to have two Senators as now, but for " each million of inhabitants in any State in excess of two million " an additional Senator was to be allowed. 

On January 17th, 1892, Mr. Miller, of Wisconsin, introduced a resolution which also provided for proportional representation. It differed from the Bayne resolution in that each State was to have
but one Senator, unless its population exceeded a million of  inhabitants. For each additional million in any State an additional Senator was to be allowed. "

What is interesting here is that the idea of the direct election of Senators, which finally resulted in the 17th amendment, was logically driven by the notion that no minority should hold governing power in the Congress, whether that minority was the state legislature that selected the Senator or the less populated state that exerted outsized power by putting two senators in the Senate. 

Conservatives, who take their Constitutional studies by listening to Rush Limbaugh, will insist that the U.S. is a republic. But any study of the constitution, which is an open and amendable document, will tell you that the U.S. is a democratic republic, and the logic of its evolution has been in the direction of greater, rather than less, democracy in its governance. Democracy doesn't mean majority rules - democratic culture, in order to make its process of election authentic, has to guard the rights of all, even minorities. There is a dialectical connection between the bill of rights and the democratization of the governing process. 

The senate as it is constituted now will fall. The only question is when. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018


Apollinaire died from the Spanish flu on November 8, 1918. I've been meaning to do a series on Apollinaire's Paris. In the meantime, a translation of Tree from Calligrammes.

to Frederic Boutet
You sing with the others while the gramophone plays
Where are the blind men where have the blind men gone
I plucked a single leaf It turned into a deck of mirages
Don’t leave me here alone among the women in the marketplace
Isfahan exudes a blue tile sky
And I hitchhike with you to the outskirts of Lyon

I’m not going to forget the coco man ringing his little bell
I can already hear the future vocal fry of his voice
From the dude who roadtrips with you in Europe
While never leaving America

A child
A skinned calf hanging from a hook
A child
And this sandy suburb around this central Asian ville
A border guard stands like an angel
At the gates of this miserable paradise
And the epileptic traveler in the first class waiting area foams.

Finger-licking Badger
Ariane the Hooker
For more, go here. 

Thursday, November 08, 2018

a geneology of "the worse, the better"

The famous phrase, “the worse the better”, is often attributed to Lenin. Supposedly, this is Lenin’s addition to the black book of political strategy, and no doubt in Hell he is discussing it over chess with Old Nick Machiavelli himself.

As far as I can tell, however, the phrase appears in Lenin’s works as a quotation from Plekhanov. In Three Crises, writing in 1917, Lenin sets himself the task of analyzing the revolution thus far – after the fall of the Czar. He remarks that so far, the demonstration, as a political form, has accrued a peculiar importance. And he backs away from the situation to analyze it:
The last, and perhaps the most instructive, conclusion to be drawn from considering the events in their interconnection is that all three crises manifested some form of demonstration that is new in the history of our revolution, a demonstration of a more complicated type in which the movement proceeds in waves, a sudden drop following a rapid rise, revolution and counter-revolution becoming more acute, and the middle elements being eliminated for a more or less extensive period.
In all three crises, the movement took the form of a demonstration. An anti-government demonstration — that would be the most exact, formal description of events. But the fact of the matter is that it was not an ordinary demonstration; it was something considerably more than a demonstration, but less than a revolution. It was an outburst of revolution and counter-revolution together, a sharp, sometimes almost sudden elimination of the middle elements, while the proletarian and bourgeois elements made a stormy appearance.

As an aside: I think this is a very wonderful passage, which surely earned Nick Machiavelli’s other-world applause. It projects a light upon a feature that occurs consistently in our contemporary history, even if the various forms of demonstration are tied to class in more complex, that is, mediated ways than could be admitted by Lenin, that great simplifier. I am thinking of the #metoo movement, for instance. Here, again, what rose up traversed the class scale, mixing up an issue of gender with one of the workspace. I would call it an abuse of emotional labor, which is itself an exploitation founded on the body of the worker. The connecting links from the coerced smile to rape are both gendered and based in an economy of exploitation. But to return to the form of Lenin’s analysis… See the rest at Willett's

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Oana Mateescu: The Romanian family referendum: Or, how I became a sexo-Marxist

This is my day not to read the news, since all the forces in play in the election in the U.S. are now immovably set, and there is nothing I can do but stress. I learned my lesson in 2016, when I kept assuring A. that there was no way Donald Trump was winning, since at the last minute vote counts would adjust to what everybody knew. That was a year after, I believe, I grandly predicted that Brexit was a flash in the pan, no way the UK was going to break away from the EU. So my predictor of what the masses - at least the masses of voters - will decide is somewhat out of synch with what they, after being sorted out by racist laws and administrators who go the extra mile to preserve Jim Crow, decide. And as to the Jim Crow, the lack of urgency on this issue by the Democratic party is an astonishment that -- I won't go on about.
Rather, today I am going to read analyses of the Romanian referendum on marriage. I was unaware that rightwing groups - the usual drooling orthodox churches, the evangelicals, the fascists - had worked long and hard, in conjunction with the ruling party, to put the anti-gay legislation to a vote. I was heartened that they lost, since less than 30 percent voted. I was also heartened that the new denigratory term in Romania is Sexo-Marxism - that is, any questioning of the "natural" Christian order. This long reort by Oana Mateescu is definitely worth a read. Lately, I've been reading Jeff Love's book about Alexandre Kojeve, The Black Circle, and thinking about Kojeve's crazy view of History as a sort of real force, which closes on itself at some point (after Jena? After Stalin?) and leaves us all outside of history - in post-history. I'm going to review that book for Willett's. Though I don't agree with it, the Viconian idea of historical cycles has always fascinated me. If we are in a cycle now, it is hard not to think that it is a vast cycle of imbecility, in which we - that is, a goodly number of human beings - have deliberately turned against what we know, or have learned, in every field, from the humanities to the hardcore sciences. This hypothesis depends, however, on a silly assumption - that to know is a listing function, so that x becomes the object known, in no relation to y, another object known, and so on. Epistemic listing is a misleading way of accounting for that always philosophical modal verb, to know. Still, to remain with this pov for a second, one of the great beliefs of the liberal era was that once we know something, we can't go on denying it. The crime against the intellect is a crime against the very self, which is bound to knowledge the way Odysseus was bound by ropes to the mast of his ship so he could withstand the song of the sirens. The liberal era could countenance every perversity, it could even countenance sacrifice - that ultimate act against self-interest - but not the deliberate choosing of ignorance. And then, here we are...
Read Oana Mateescu's article. Here:

Oana Mateescu: The Romanian family referendum: Or, how I became a sexo-Marxist: “By the way, Russia had the first sexual revolution. Lenin was a big homosexual; as for Karl and Marx, I think they were together. But they realized on their own it was going nowhere.” — 3 milioane1 On 6 and 7 October 2018, in what has become known as the family referendum, some Romanians voted on changing the definition of…

Thursday, November 01, 2018

When American Conservatives met Russian Nationalists: a love story from the Cold War

The two dominant factions among the country clubbers who lord it over the morlocks in the United States of Dreamland consist, on the one hand, of a rightwing group who spend a lot of time producing and decrying fake news, and a center-right group of Eloi who have produced a fake consensus history and spend a lot of time contrasting the present barbarians with the beautiful normality of once upon a time.

The murder of 11 mostly elderly Jews in Pittsburgh has produced a lot of articles about how anti-semitism could be happening in Dreamland, of all places. But anti-semitism is, as Rap Brown might put it, as American as apple pie. A minor story this week about Trump sponsored anti-semitism gained some attention: Radio Marti, a government funded propagandastation that broadcasts to Cuba, took up the cudgels of American whitenationalists (and Hungarian anti-semites and the rightwing government of Israel) against George Soros. Soros is a billionaire with liberal leanings, and hence must be thoroughly scourged as a cosmopolitan, a secret Nazi accomplice when he was 12, etc., etc. He’s today’s Rothschild, with the difference that in the 19th century a Zionist country with a total contempt for liberal Jewish culture did not yet exist to add its noise to the moronic inferno.

This news story, however, pinged my memory of the good old days, specifically, the old entanglement of American propaganda outlets and anti-semitism during the Cold War. So I went into the archive and looked up some of the material, and I thought, wow, here’s an unexpected predecessor of exactly those gang colors worn by members of the Trump gov today!

For the rest, go here.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Great Disenchantment

I have given much thought, in my life, to a certain intellectual history that characterizes the stages from the early modern age until now in terms of increasing rationality and the dis-enchantment of the world. This story seemed wrong to me – wrong on the level of ordinary life, at least, and probably wrong on the level of intellectual life within the epoch of capitalism – or more broadly, the epoch of industrial production. Just as the money-nexus did not replace the gift economy, but rather relies upon it, so, too, did the collapse of the belief in an enchanted realm, a realm in which the rules of causality are bent to the charisma of certain figures, happen only partially, with the forms of it still in use as a support for the administered world, the world of parity products and neo-liberalism. Read a fairy tale and watch a police series on Netflix and you will see causality bend in both cases, adhering in both cases to our greater belief in charisma than in contingency. Cause and effect, deduction and inference, obey rules that were discovered at least in part long before the Great Disenchantment of the world happened, but they go against elements of the human grain as it has adapted to thousands of years of agricultural community to be repressed too absolutely as we bid goodbye to peasant cultures. What is culturally dominant is a compromise. This is not to say nothing has happened since 1499 – it would be sheer blindness to insert “universal human behavior” directly into history like it was some lego piece in a toy construction. Rather, there is a surprising elasticity in collective belief systems, which allow parallel and bifurcating systems to flourish and remain at once as distant from each other as the hot tip and the rabbit’s foot.  This is why I liked and disagreed with Doug Sikkema’s article for the New Atlantis, “Disenchantment, Actually: Modern disenchantment may be a myth, but it is still the water in which we swim.” It is a review of The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences by Williams College religion professor Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm.  More here

Sunday, October 28, 2018

choleric in the time of writing

Salmagundi (the Summer issue) features an essay by Dubravka Ugresic, entitled Artists and Murderers, that is right up my alley in terms of being a scathing and total denunciation of the world of art and culture in the time of genocidaires and businessmen (the two types often trading positions, now collecting civilians in camps and massacring them, now setting up chains of folky fast food restaurants). It seems that in Croatia, where Ugresic hails from, the writing, artmaking and artcollecting fields, which were once overflowing with the botched, the bewildered and the bohemian, the eccentric heiress and the surrealist poet,  are now booming thanks to the participation of the usual masses of  scum: politicians, celebrities, and the whole herd of tv talk show guests who at one point or another stole, killed, defrauded, scored, screwed, lied, and otherwise made their heap out of an almost transcendental assholery. You see them in the glam magazines, they roost in the lists of the 100 most influential. Or, more innocently, they are heirs of the heap, children of the rich, having traded in Daddy’s very real semi-automatic for a goldplated squirt gun. Croatia, in other words, sounds much like the United States. Here’s a couple of grafs:
“All that would be fine. Why not let a thousand flowers bloom? Each of us can be nourishment for the mind of a child, in the words of a Croatian amateur poet in celebration of literature. Murderers and criminals are, however, remarkably ambitious, their appetite is growing, it is not enough for them that they have published their own books, have had their own solo and group shows, garnered media attention; they want acclaim, they want the society which they have bestrewn with their artworks to bow down before them. Front and center at every theater's opening night, at every new show, they pontificate on the aesthetic values of each movie, book, performance. But even that is not enough, they aspire to wield total control over any realm of art inhabited by their hobby. They are more than happy to join committees, editorial boards, councils, they become members of juries, elbow their way onto school curricula, into primers, textbooks, anthologies. Their hunger is insatiable.”
And this, after Ugrasic receives an email from a friend explaining at length who were the drowned and who the saved in the current cultural industry in Croatia, lamenting that she is the only person in the world who can’t get her book published because – well, she really is a writer:
“The email from my friend sparked my imagination. Chilled by the nightmare vision of millions of people worldwide from an array of occupations clutching their books, and millions more adamant that it was only a matter of time before they, too, had their book in hand, and inspired by the movie Fifty Shades of Gray, which I watched along with millions of other earthlings, I went off to a store that sold practical merchandise. There I purchased the strongest rope I could find, sturdy iron stakes (as if off to scale a mountain), a drill. The salespeople jollied me into buying it all and as a bonus they threw in adhesive strips. The usually snarky salespeople proved unexpectedly solicitous in my case.
I'd decided to end it all. As far as suicidal practices and strategies go I may be an amateur, but I am well-read. Recent statistics suggest that women who commit suicide no longer rely on pills nor do they lean toward the good-old technique of slitting wrists; instead they tend to embrace the Bye-bye World! trajectory of the "male" technique of - hanging. This, then, was why a key item on my shopping list was the rope. Only a few months later we learned that hanging is not a man's preference; General Slobodan Praljak, having heard his sentence read out in The Hague, downed a little flask of poison before the "cameras of the world." One might say that his theatrical instinct had the upper hand; he did die. On television screens lingers his grimly frozen head, his gaping mouth, looking more like an immense fish than a human being.”
This is my kind of stuff, served piping hot. My pantheon leans towards the critics of the grotesque who through a sheer hatred of vice (and a entropic decline in the love of virtue) became grotesques themselves: Swift, Leon Bloy, Karl Krauss, Pasolini.
So read the essay – it is very funny, very sick – and look around you.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

on the decline of storytelling

As I went out one evening – not really just one evening, but a dateable dusk, with my son, Adam, here in Paris, October 14 – I came across a number of photographs pinned to a brick wall on Rue des blancs manteaux. It was a warm Sunday. Rue des blanc manteaux always has a crowd going down it on Sundays, when the automobiles are banned,  and this always brings out a number of buskers and beggars as well, looking for pocket change or at least an audience. Adam was interested in this scene. We passed a harpist entangled in his reverb and speculated about the difficulty of moving his huge instrument – which towered over his sitting figure - around the city. We passed a painter, or at least someone who painted vaguely impressionistic street scenes, the kind of thing spawned by such memories of impressionism as those sustained in the heads of tourists, who might think that this school of art is still of current interest. And perhaps, I thought, their interest in the work might be their real and genuine encounter with art, so who am I to turn up my nose? Nevertheless, when Adam tugged at me and made me turn back to the photographer’s piece of sidewalk property, I did not feel that democratic charity was called for: I looked at it and saw it was bad, very bad.

On the wall there was a sign (dancers from 1980-1990) and a series of colored photographs depicting ballerina like dancers. Most of them, on second glance, were the same dancer. And again, here she was in profile, and in repose.  There was a vaguely David Hamilton air about it all, although the dancer was not a gauzy nymphet. Down on the sidewalk itself there were spread similar photographs, plus a scarf and a plate with some remains of a meal and a bottle that held some clear liquid that could be eau or could be eau de vie. The photograph that attracted my six year old son’s attention was of a woman’s face in profile, the whole stained red, with brownish cracks in a web across the image. Adam is a boy who is always alert for horror imagery, and he took it for granted that the red stain meant blood. We were discussing whether this was so when the vender and begetter of the photos came up to us. See the rest here. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

News from the post-anthropocene era

Another corporate gift to our children: Trump's EPA fires science panel because they were scientists and all. And scientists wildly believe the climate is changing disastrously because of... science! What could be sillier. Instead, believe your stock portfolio. So here is to the people making 2050 such a bad place to live. Thanks, and fuck you throughout all eternity.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

11 degrees of shakespeare

The discovery of degrees of separation is supposed to have been a mid-20th century event. The story goes that Stanley Milgram invented this idea and did a famous experiment to show how many degrees of separation there are between two arbitrarily chosen persons. The experiment involved sending a package through the mail to an arbitrarily chosen person and telling that person that the package was intended for a certain other person. The receiver was to send the package to someone who might know the ultimate recipient.  Milgram published his work in 1967.

All credit to Milgram. In an article on the small world hypothesis, as it is called in The Cut, Thomas Macmillan mentions some of Milgram’s predecessors:  

Some thinkers, however, had been quietly wondering if apparently unconnected people might in fact be linked. The idea of six degrees of separation is sometimes traced to a 1929 essay by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy. And Milgram’s work was preceded by some calculations by political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool and mathematician Manfred Kochen who in the 1950s estimated a greater than 50-percent chance that any two people could be linked by two intermediate acquaintances.”

However, I recently came across an essay by Leigh Hunt, written in 1834, which could have been called 6 degrees of William Shakespeare – instead of its real title, Social Geneology. Hunt’s idea is much like Milgrams, save for the fact that it is diachronic:

“It is a curious and pleasant thing to consider, that a link of personal acquaintance can be treaced up from the authors of our own times to those of Shakspeare, and to Shakspeare himself.”

And this is how Hunt diagrams the links:

With some living poets, it is certain. There is Thomas  Moore, for instance, who knew Sheridan. Sheridan knew Johnson, who was the friend of Savage, who knew Steele, who knew Pope. Pope was intimate with Congreve, and Congreve with Dryden. Dryden is said to have visited Milton. Milton is said to have known Davenant ; and to have been saved by him from the revenge of the restored court, in return for having saved Davenant from the revenge of the Commonwealth. But if the link between Dryden and Milton, and Milton and Davenant, is somewhat apocryphal, or rather dependent on tradition (for Richardson, the painter, tells us the latter from Pope, who had it from Betterton the actor, one of Davenant's company), it may be carried at once from Dryden to Davenant, with whom he was unquestionably intimate.  Davenant, then, knew Hobbes, who knew Bacon, who knew Ben Jonson, who was intimate with Beaumont and Fletcher, Chapman, Donne, Drayton, Camden, Selden, Clarendon, Sydney, Raleigh, and perhaps all the great men of Elizabeth's and James's time, the greatest of them all undoubtedly. Thus have we a link of " beamy hands " from our own times up to Shakspeare.

I love this list. Instead of the mystery of influence, which has long served as a linking word between the texts of authors, here we have a recognizable map of degrees of separation.  It is a fun exercise to see how many degrees of separation one has from William Shakespeare. My map would go something like this: I interviewed Carol Muske-Dukes, who told me that she met her late husband at a party held at her friend Jorie Graham’s mother’s house. Jorie Graham’s mother is Beverly Pepper, a sculpture, who knew Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway’s wife.  Hemingway knew Ford Maddox Ford, whose great aunt, Frances Rossetti, had a brother who was Lord Byron’s secretary. From Byron it is easy to proceed back down the links Leigh Hunt points to: Byron was great friends with Tom Moore, with whom he’d “go a-roving”, for instance. So from this I get 14 degrees from Will Shakespeare. I think I probably could do better than this if I cast a wider net. My grandfather’s father knew Mark Hanna, President McKinley’s eminence gris, due to the fact that he tried to sell the government on his torpedo invention; Hanna was on  the board of directors of a railroad with Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Henry’s brother. Charles remembered John Quincey Adams, his grandfather, who, when merely a teen, worked with his father, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin on diplomatic assignment in Paris during the American Revolution, and met the great whigs, among whom of course there was Sheridan. There are other ways I could do this: undoubtedly John Adam father knew Cotton Mather, whose own father was the child of the second marriage of John Cotton. John Cotton was the great debater and opponent of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Roger Williams clerked under Sir Edward Coke, Elizabeth’s hardhearted justice, who investigated the Essex rebellion, which was lead by Shakespeare’s patron, and interrogated Shakespeare’s partner with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Augustine Phillips. I imagine Shakespeare at least knew of Coke, and probably met him.  So I can end up anywhere from nine to eleven degrees from Shakespeare.

This is a great game, and if I were a coder, I’d make it into a Facebook quiz and earn a sum that I could retire on. Being merely a sucker, I give it away free and challenge one and all to top my degrees.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Patience and the restless sleeper

There’s a thing about living in France that always amazes some outward suburban zone of my American brain: I go into the store, I get checked out by the cashier, I pull out my credit card, I put it in the little credit card machine, and a word appears on the screen: Patientez.
Be patient. In the United States, when dealing with machines, the signs and recordings are rarely rooted in such a quasi-moral, such a Ciceronian admonition. Rather, they tell you that they are busy processing your information. Or maybe they tell you that all operators are busy and please wait on the line until the next operator is available. But to be asked to wait is a moral degree away from being asked to be patient. Waiting, after all, can be done impatiently – it is all physics, it is all being a body in a place in time. Patience, however, is being a certain kind of subject, having a certain kind of attitude.
I’ve long had a Barthesian revery that if I could just understand the “patientez” sign, I would grasp some larger mythological characteristic of France. See the rest here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

the trouble with the saudis and the trouble with the Americans

If I went to sleep in 2002 and woke up yesterday and read Tom Friedman's non-apology for kissing the ass of Saudi Arabia's young dictator - I would not know that it wasn't still 2002. The Middle Eastern "expert" clique is still morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt, roll over Beethoven and give Grandma the news.

Also relics of 2002 is the cry that the only reason we are allies with, or complicit with, or in bed with, or making passionate love to the Saudis is cause of oil.

This is a half-truth. If you check, you'll notice that the level of American imports of oil from Saudi Arabia are at 1987 levels. We could easily do without that oil - we could substitute oil from Iran in one diplomatic turn, or Venezuela.
But the truth of the chestnut is that, as a result of decades of oil sales, the Saudi royal house and its hangers on had trillions of dollars to invest. Since the seventies, one of the best places to park your money and see it grow has been in the American financial sector. Money followed the usual track, then, which is how Saudi money is mixed up in whatever giant enterprise or IPO is on tap at the moment. The Saudis were notoriously dumb about this in the seventies, and the princes are notoriously lazy, but the had some smart hangers on, and they were able to buy fleets of smart American MBA types, and so the learning curve and American foreign policy bent together. The Saudis definitely made a smart move by investing in American media - at one point, notoriously, al -waleed bin talal owned a hefty piece of Fox News, as well as bits of Times-Warner, et al., which didn't hurt. The money went out, as well, to think tanks, lobbyists, and the ivory towers. Oftentimes, this was touted as some multi-cultural opening to Middle East culture, with the subtext, that the opening would be subservient to Saudi sensibilities, being muted. Sometimes, as recently, it is just your open, convivial corruption, typical of the T-Rump era. As for instance Harvard and MIT's offering of their prestige to Bin Salman in return for a chance to get in on an academic gold rush. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/30/elite-universities-selling-themselves-mit-harvard-saudi-arabia-mohammed-bin-salman

Even these modalities of Saudi influence would not explain the Saudi-American lockstep. To explain that on the political level, it is necessary to look at how the US (and the UK, and France) has used massive arms sales to the Saudis as an offset to the de-manufacturing policies they have generally pursued to keep consumer prices low and the return on investment for the wealthy high. Here, one must doff one's partisan hat: the status of the U.S. as the leading arms seller in the world became policy under Bill Clinton. Since then, it has been sealed in place through all the changes in the white house.

Here's a report from 1995 about the beginning of it all.

"In fiscal years 1993 and 1994, the executive branch (and Congress) signed-off on a staggering $100 billion of government and industry-negotiated arms deals. Moreover, the administration actively assisted industry by subsidizing marketing activities, lobbying foreign officials to "buy American," and financing several billions of dollars of sales.

The "new" guidelines call for business as usual: "the United States continues to view transfers of conventional arms as a legitimate instrument of U.S. foreign policy-deserving U.S. government support when they enable us to help friends and allies deter aggression, promote regional stability, and increase interoperability of U.S. forces and allied forces."

The prosperity of the nineties was the coming together of many streams, and this was definitely a politically fruitful one. Arms sales doubled in Clinton's first four years in office.

One could tell similar stories about other countries. Britain is notorious for sucking up to the Saudis to keep its airplane manufacturing alive. And so on.

Let's round out this little screed with an even more depressing observation. In 2002, Americans accepted, without a qualm or a quiver, the idea that certain weapons were weapons of mass destruction and certain weapons weren't. As the biggest arms dealer in the world, the U.S. was in a moral pickle here, but admirably, through a lack of any analysis of the phrase whatsoever, we were able to thread the needle that allowed the U.S. to sell the jets that could deliver nuclear missiles and even the missiles themselves, but not the atomic warheads - and pat itself on the back for its liberal and democratic way of life. Back in those days, this drove me crazy. Around the time that Libya "gave up" its atom bomb program - in return for contracts with the west that would sell it other weapons - I wrote a little blog column about it all.

268. Why can't my right hand give my left hand money? -- My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt. -- But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift. When the left hand has taken the money from the right, etc., we shall ask: "Well, and what of it?" And the same could be asked if a person had given himself a private definition of a word; I mean, if he has said the word to himself and at the same time has directed his attention to a sensation. – Wittgenstein

The philosopher treats a question like an illness. – Wittgenstein.

The disarmament of Libya is the latest episode in the preposterous policies generated by the bogus classification, “weapons of mass destruction.” The moniker applies, ironically, to weapons that have very rarely been implicated in mass destruction. The Uzi, the tank, the bomber – these very vendable items, of course, aren’t weapons of mass destruction. Rather, with its right hand, the West has stocked every country that could afford it with a supply of such things. That right hand has been busy, as even a cursory look at the arms sales totals could tell you. It is here, especially, that the 9/11 lie – the lie that 9/11 ‘changed everything’ – is stripped of its plausibility. While political factions in America throw charges of lying at each other, they both are comfortable with the structural lie, the one that kept Bush 1 and Clinton in the arms sales business, and that keeps Bush 2 there too. And the Swedes, Brits, French, Germans … let’s not leave out anybody. The Russians, of course, primus inter pares.

Ah, but then we have the sweep of the punitive left hand, disarming rock n roll tyrants like Khaddafi and putting all the editorial writers of the NYT to sleep with sweet dreams.... Libya giving up its laughable nuclear capacity is being taken as a sign of disarmament. We suspect that, long term, this is really a move to re-arm – to buy all the conventional weapons that Khaddafi longs for, and that the EU and the US longs to sell him. It has, after all, been a moneymaker in the past. Libya’s interest is not to regain some international stature – it is to keep up with its neighbors, to which it has been hostile in the past. In fact, recently Khaddafi has been stirring up coups in Mauretania. This, of course, without using the weapons of mass destruction – weapons of conventional destruction will do very nicely, thank you very much. So much for the tie between WMD and aggressive behavior. "

So this is just to say: our problems long long pre-date Trump. We don't need resistance, we need transformation.