“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, March 21, 2008

What would Jesus say about the warmongers?


In one of those fits of risking our sanity for the sake of our blog, LI went and read the fucks. We read the fucks last week in the New York Times, explaining what went wrong in the war. Of course, the only way to commemorate five years of pointless slaughter is to ask the fucks who promoted it what they had to say about it. We are so all ears. And we read the liberal hawk fucks over at Slate. Contrarianism out the ass, over there – the general fuck consensus was that the shame of the war is that it is preventing another war on Iraq. Actually, a couple of years ago, in 2005, we made the sick joke that the only good thing about the Iraq war was that it was preventing a war on Iraq. Ah, the fucks – the vampires in their upside down world, rustling their leather wings for the blood, the glory, the shit, the proxyness of it all.

But it was the fuck Ann Marie Slaughter who concentrated our attention, over at Huffington Post. She took the highminded approach of contending that anybody who reminded her that she had helped initiate a slaughter leading to the death of about a half a million people and three million refugees was being so gross in the extreme. And she finished up her heartfelt fuck lament like this:


“I'll start by offering a metric for how to assess any candidate -- and any expert's -- plan for Iraq. The test for the best policy should be the one that is most likely to bring the most troops home in the shortest time (to stop American casualties, begin repairing our military, and be able to redeploy badly needed military assets to Afghanistan), while also achieving the most progress on the goals that the administration stated publicly as a justification for invading in the first place: 1) ensuring that the Iraqi government could not develop nuclear or biological weapons of mass destruction (done); 2) weaken terrorist groups seeking to attack us (this goal was based on false premises then, but is highly relevant now); 3) improve the human rights of the Iraqi people; and 4) establish a government in Iraq that could help stabilize and liberalize the Middle East. No policy can possibly achieve all of those goals. But the policy that offers the best chance on all five measures is the policy we should follow, in my view. And applying those measures to concrete policy proposals is the debate we should be having.”

Of course, I’m not telling you a big secret if I tell you that the fuck’s don’t get it, still. To find a comparable mixture of vanity or rather narcissism, bloodlust, entrenched arrogance, blindness, and lack of analysis, you’d have to go through the court records of the Nuremberg trial.

So what don’t the fucks, the newspapers, the politicians get? Well, take a gander at Slaughter’s laughable list and it should strike you right in the face that these so called policy makers think policy is a shopping list. Since there is no chance they will be tried for their crimes and every chance they will be given the spurs and the bridle to mount us once again, hey ho silver, LI decided to give them some advice. When you write a shopping list, perhaps you should make the cost of the list part of your, you know, set of suppositions. To put it simply, five years out and none of these moral entrepreneurs, these specialists in humanitarian sensitivity, have the least clue that war is a project.

Now, here’s a little down to earth reasoning. Projects are constructed around goals, usually incremental goals, towards some end, with some deadline. It is not planned simply by envisioning the great payoff at the end – which comes, if it is successful – but it is always balanced against resources, manpower, and scheduling. In other words, costs are built into projects. Projects that are proposed without costs – such as the fucking insane shopping list presented by the aptly named Slaughter – are not things to be discussed, they are things to be laughed at.

Once a project gets going, it is vulnerable to a lot of things – and, in particular, to scheduling problems. The problem when a project doesn’t achieve step A at a certain time often requires one to adapt and revise the project; at a certain point, in perpetually delayed projects in which no step is achieved that was forecast, the payoff has to be written off, the costs have to be added up, and – most of the time – the project has to be completely reshaped or bagged. Let’s see, what would I say about a project that has burned through 600 billion dollars with projected future costs in addition of another 600 to 700 billion dollars that only has to go another, oh, four more years at the 200 billion dollar burn rate to perhaps achieve, well, we aren’t sure what. What can one say about a project that has succeeded in killing four times the number of people Saddam Hussein killed on his last killing spree – the war against the Shi’ite revolt in the south in 1991 – that has produced ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, a Taliban like state in Basra, three million refugees, and of course 4,000 American military deaths, a thousand mercenary deaths, 20 + thousand casualties – with the promise that those Iraqi deaths will be halved in the next four years. Goody! Only one hundred thousand Iraqi deaths to go! This is, of course, fuck advice from aliens.

So, how have the newspapers reported on the fucked up war? On this fifth anniversary, they still don’t fucking get it. One is amazed at the level of sheer stupidity. Take, for instance, the moaning and groaning about the disbanding of the Iraqi army. Here is what happened. Shinseki advised that the occupation would take 400,000 to 500,000 soldiers. Shinseki was laughed at and is not invited to write scintillating crap for Huffington Post, the New York Times, or Slate. Why did he advise that many soldiers? Did he think they’d be hanging around, handing out candy to grateful kiddies? No. One of the reasons he recommended that is because he knew, as all the fucks knew, as the whole world knew, that Saddam Hussein had an army of about half a million men. If Saddam Hussein surrendered, or was blasted into another sphere, which seemed 90 percent likely, there would still be 500,000 armed men. In these situations, you have to process the armed men, get rid of the bad armed men, and rebuild the army. To do this, you have to have enough soldiers to secure the country while you are processing this amount of armed men. There isn’t a shortcut here, fucks. None – although, being fucks, these people had no personal acquaintance with military life, having other priorities than serving, until of course it was time to give fuck advice. So, Bremer drops his dime, and there’s nobody to provide security, and there’s no way to process the army, and the country is, as anybody could easily predict from a country that has been under sanction for a decade, in fuck shape, and the insurgents start blowing up soldiers, collaborating Iraqis, and etc., etc. Everybody who supported this war knew what the figures were, knew what Bush was saying about the price. Everybody knew that was a gross, fucking lie. Either they knew that, or they are as pig ignorant as, say, Michael O’Hanlon. They, in short, lied American lives into a situation where it was clear they would be unsafe, and it was even clearer that 25 million Iraqis would be very unsafe, and all they have to say now is – hey, here’s my shopping list, where is fucking Santa Claus?

It is a disconnect so vast that it acquires a symbolic meaning all its own. These fucks are representatives of the gated community – not especially wealthy themselves, they are the talking heads for the oligarchy, and in their minds they are removed from it all. Slaughter no doubt thinks of herself guiding the yacht of state over seas of blood while her fellow liberal interventionists sunbathe on deck, occasionally cannonballing in, and laughing and having a good time – although the water is a little grodey, what with the eyeballs, the heads cut off, the dentistdrill holes in the faces of the dead corpses. I mean is that a children’s cute little ripped away finger on your bathing suit? Brush it off, man!

As Jesus said, the fucks you will have with you always, but (let’s see, where’s my Gospel) me, I’d kick their fucking asses if they tried that shit in my time, I really would.

Men in chains 3


Livy’s history was the hunt and peck book for generations of philosophes. Machiavelli wrote his discourses about it; Montesquieu studied it for L’esprit de lois; and, I’d contend, Rousseau opens his Du Contrat Social, an essay that begins with an epigraph from the Aeneid, with a reference to it: “L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers.” As LI has been pointing out (with my usual autistic artistry, winding theme around theme) in my Man in Chains posts, the chain looms large in the history of freedom – and it seems that the ideologues of freedom have been a little too hasty in consigning the chain to the figurative, all the better to speak of freedom as a matter of will, or of rights. But the figurative does seem to operate a return of the repressed, a memory of irons, of yokes, of chains, which runs through Rousseau’s essay and contacts the plebian notion of freedom, as expressed in such fons et origo texts as Livy’s history.

In George Dow’s Slave Ships and Slaving, there’s an account by J.B. Romagne of life aboard La Rodeur, a slave ship that entered the Calabar river in 1819, and loaded up with Africans, intending to sell them in Guadaloupe. This was life in the chains completely:

“ Since we have been at this place, Bonny Town in the Bonny river, on the coagt of Africa, I have become more accustomed to the howling of these Negroes. At first, it alarmed me, and I could not sleep. The Captain says that if they behave well they will be much better off at Guadaloupe; and I am sure, I wish the ignorant creatures would come quietly and have it over. Today, one of the blacks whom they were forcing into the hold, suddenly knocked down a sailor and attempted to leap overboard. He was caught, however, by the leg by another of the crew, and the sailor, rising up in a passion, hamstrung him with a cutlass. The Captain, seeing this, knocked the butcher flat upon the deck with a handspike. “I will teach you to keep your temper’, said he, with an oath. “He was the best slave in the lot.’ I ran to the main chains and looked over; for they had dropped the black into the sea when they saw that he was useless. He continued to swim, even after he ahd sunk under the water, for I saw the red track extending shoreward; but by and by, it stopped, widened, faded, and I saw it no more.


Dow records an auction of items ‘suitable for a Guinea voyage’, held at the Merchant’s Coffee house:

One iron furnace and copper, 27 cases with bottles, 83 pairs of shackles, 11 neck collars, 22 handcuffs for the traveling chain, 4 long chains for slaves, 54 rings, 2 travelling chains, 1 corn mill 7 four pound basons, 6 two pound basons, 3 brass pans, etc., etc.”

In Livy, Book 2, a section is devoted to the first secession of the Plebs – which forms the background, incidentally, to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus – which occurred as the plebians and the patricians fought over liberty in the city after the successful conclusion of three small wars, the final one against the Volscians. The disturbances in the city, according to Livy, were always about the same thing – debt. The first story that gives rise to uproar is this one:

“An old man, bearing visible proofs of all the evils he had suffered, suddenly appeared in the Forum. His clothing was covered with filth, his personal appearance was made still more loathsome by a corpse-like pallor and emaciation, his unkempt beard and hair made him look like a savage. In spite of this disfigurement he was recognised by the pitying bystanders; they said that he had been a centurion, and mentioned other military distinctions he possessed. He bared his breast and showed the scars which witnessed to many fights in which he had borne an honourable part. The crowd had now almost grown to the dimensions of an Assembly of the people. He was asked, `Whence came that garb, whence that disfigurement?' He stated that whilst serving in the Sabine war he had not only lost the produce of his land through the depredations of the enemy, but his farm had been burnt, all his property plundered, his cattle driven away, the war-tax demanded when he was least able to pay it, and he had got into debt. This debt had been vastly increased through usury and had stripped him first of his father's and grandfather's farm, then of his other property, and at last like a pestilence had reached his person. He had been carried off by his creditor, not into slavery only, but into an underground workshop, a living death.
Then he showed his back scored with recent marks of the lash.

On seeing and hearing all this a great outcry arose; the excitement was not confined to the Forum, it spread every where throughout the City. Men who were in bondage for debt and those who had been released rushed from all sides into the public streets and invoked `the protection of the Quirites.' The formula in which a man appealed to his fellow-citizens for help."


Livy mixes news of the wars with news of the uproars of the plebians. Finally a dictator was chosen, and the Volscians were defeated. But still there was debt, the increasing power of the creditors over the debtors.

“The moneylenders possessed such influence and had taken such skillful precautions that they rendered the commons and even the Dictator himself powerless. After the consul Vetusius had returned, Valerius introduced, as the very first business of the senate, the treatment of the men who had been marching to victory, and moved a resolution as to what decision they ought to come to with regard to the debtors. His motion was negatived, on which he said, `I am not acceptable as an advocate of concord. Depend upon it, you will very soon wish that the Roman plebs had champions like me. As far as I am concerned, I will no longer encourage my fellow-citizens in vain hopes nor will I be Dictator in vain. Internal dissensions and foreign wars have made this office necessary to the commonwealth; peace has now been secured abroad, at home it is made impossible. I would rather be involved in the revolution as a private citizen than as Dictator.' So saying, he left the House and resigned his dictatorship. The reason was quite clear to the plebs; he had resigned office because he was indignant at the way they were treated.”

It was then that the plebians made the famous decision to withdraw in a body from Rome. The patricians sent Menenius Agrippa, to address them, “an eloquent man, and acceptable to the plebs as being himself of plebeian origin. He was admitted into the camp, and it is reported that he simply told them the following fable in primitive and uncouth fashion. `In the days when all the parts of the human body were not as now agreeing together, but each member took its own course and spoke its own speech, the other members, indignant at seeing that everything acquired by their care and labour and ministry went to the belly, whilst it, undisturbed in the middle of them, did nothing but enjoy the pleasures provided for it, entered into a conspiracy; the hands were not to bring food to the mouth, the mouth was not to accept it when offered, the teeth were not to masticate it. Whilst, in their resentment, they were anxious to coerce the belly by starving it, the members themselves wasted away, and the whole body was reduced to the last stage of exhaustion. Then it became evident that the belly rendered no idle service, and the nourishment it received was no greater than that which it bestowed by returning to all parts of the body this blood by which we live and are strong, equally distributed into the veins, after being matured by the digestion of the food.' By using this comparison, and showing how the internal disaffection amongst the parts of the body resembled the animosity of the plebeians against the patricians, he succeeded in winning over his audience.”

Thus, the famous apology of Menenius Agrippa. It is striking to me that the stomach, which is described as the hub of the body – it returns nourishment by way of blood to all parts of the body – is maintained by the chain-like actions of the body’s ‘accidents’, its minors, its rude mechanicals – Hands to mouth, teeth to mouth, mouth to stomach. Here the body divides into two, one part of which is linked together by a chain of debt that must be paid to support the other part, the center and hub. An invisible chain links together all those acts by which we survive, and the body’s possibles – its particulars, its bits – become, each separately, slaves, insofar as the slave is defined, practically, as the one who is in irons. Until, of course, we are useless: “…for I saw the red track extending shoreward; but by and by, it stopped, widened, faded, and I saw it no more”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

baby steps

LI hears the sounds of baby steps:

“In a document outlining a speech to be given to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said it was important to bring under scrutiny new financial players and older institutions that are doing new things.
“To the extent that anybody is creating credit they ought to be subject to the same type of prudential supervision that now applies only to banks,” said the speech outline.

Mr. Frank proposed that if non-bank institutions wanted access to the Fed’s discount window for cash, they would be subject to requests from the risk regulator for timely market information and be subject to inspections.”

That Frank is the man sticking his neck out here shows what a timid place the bought and sold village of D.C. has become.

Timely market information? What the Government should do is place all securities under the sweeping powers of the same kind of agency that regulates drugs. And, just as drugs are tested for their real effects and approved with regulatory strings, securities too should be subject to testing (which would be in the nature of simulations) and approved, if found not to have malign side effects and found to be useful, only with their own regulatory strings. The ‘shadow’ financial system, as Roubini calls it, has become a giant ectoplasm of iffy puts and options, in a system that really has already developed the vehicles it needs for investment, thank you very much. And, as we have seen, Alien turns to the nanny state as soon as the downside whacks it. Thrust the fuckers into the light. Regulation now, regulation forever.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fifth year in Iraq

To commemorate Year 5 of the Iraq vanity war, everybody seems to be publishing a retrospective. These two posts are what we wrote on March 17 and 18, 2003:


Monday, March 17, 2003
Remora

The WP headline reads: Baghdad Panicky as War Seems Imminent and the first graf reads:

"People cleared stores of bottled water and canned food, converted sacks of Iraqi currency into dollars and waited in long queues for gasoline. Merchants fearful of looting emptied their stores of electronics and designer clothing, while soldiers intensified work on trenches and removed sensitive files from government buildings. Cars stuffed with people and household possessions drove out of the city."

Surely there must be a mistake. Isn't it the Washington Post that has insisted for over a year that Iraqis will greet American soldiers with flowers? I imagine they are simply stocking up on those essential items now, before their streets, buildings, florist shops, kids and pets are flattened by liberating American bombs. It is so hard, climbing through the rubble, to find good orchids.

This weekend we listened to a call in show -- yes, we are going crazy -- about the war. A woman called in and commented that she supported it. She remarked that the government needs to keep us secure from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. She said that 9/11 proved this.

She seemed like a reasonable American citizen. She wasn't bloodthirsty. There is a standard comment that floats around about this time to the effect that no one wants war. Of course that is nonsense. The Bush administration has wanted war since early 2002. But this woman didn't strike me as the warmongering type. The host of the show was resolutely anti-war. But, as is the case with so many anti-war people, he asked her questions about the morality of killing people. He asked her, in other words, about justifying the war morally. This, we think, is merely doing the devil's work for him. The case against the war doesn't begin with the morality of war in general. It begins with looking at the justification of this war in particular. Remarks like this woman's are simply passed off as [obvious]. This P.O.V. has been released into the American system for a year by the media and the government, to devastating effect. The goal of propaganda is to make you believe what you are told instead of what you see. Here is what we have seen. We have seen two giant structures, two skyscrapers, collapse. We have seen around 3 000 people killed. And we have seen the Weapon of mass destruction that did it. It was two jet airliners. And we have discovered how they did it -- they were hijacked by men bearing boxcutters. We have seen this, and we have decided not to believe it. We have decided, instead, to believe we are threatened by secret weapons stockpiled in secret places that only the U.S. seems to know about. We have decided that Saddam Hussein is not only our enemy, but a threat that requires the deployment of 200,000 troops, the shock and awe of 3,000 missiles, and a conflict that will, according to all accounts, be extended to a two year occupation of Iraq.

The 19 hijackers cost around 1 million dollars, to wine, dine, and train. If our new doctrine is that American security over-rides international law, let's forget the Weapons of Mass Destruction excuse. Any country that is both hostile to the United States and can cough up 1 million dollars is, according to this doctrine, justifiably a target.

This is madness. It is blindness. This war will not end when the press expects it to end, will be paid for out of the skin of the Iraqi people, will destroy the few shoots of civil society that exist in Northern Iraq, will entail an occupation that can only be a temptation, an overwhelming temptation, to the periodic staging of guerilla attacks, and, no doubt, the politiicization of those attacks as the Republicans try to jingo their way to re-election in 2004. The war is a crime, the excuses a sham, the warmongers a junta bound together by bad intents, and led by a man of outstanding ignorance. This is, I think, the beginning of a very bad cycle.

"It may easily be observed," wrote David Hume, "that, though free governments have been commonly the most happy for those who partake of their freedom; yet are they the most ruinous and oppressive to their provinces: And this observation may, I believe, be fixed as a maxim of the kind we are here speaking of. When a monarch extends his dominions by conquest, he soon learns to consider his old and his new subjects as on the same footing; because, in reality, all his subjects are to him the same, except the few friends and favourites, with whom he is personally acquainted. He does not, therefore, make any distinction between them in his general laws; and, at the same time, is careful to prevent all particular acts of oppression on the one as well as on the other. But a free state necessarily makes a great distinction, and must always do so, till men learn to love their neighbours as well as themselves."

Goodnight David. Goodnight ladies. Goodnight sweet ladies. Good night.

March 18, 2003
As I've said before in a previous post, I can only retain my sanity in these maddening times by using second hearing -- which is rather like second sight, except that it goes backwards. I've been hearing the War through Burke -- but Bush's address last night overwhelmed the rather ornate and beautiful structures of Burke's thought. One needs something more scabrous. I looked up a piece Swift wrote, on the art of political lying.

In that Swiftian way, he begins by admiring the devil for inventing the lie, but then registers an objection: the devil's lies, as is often the case with the initial run of a product, were full of glitches. Luckily, man has added an infinite amount of features to the devil's machine, making it much more useful for all ocassions And among the most useful of those occasions is the government of man, herds of which can be entranced by very simple lies, sworn to vehemently by a bunch of cut-throats who are otherwise known as "men of peace," "presidents," "undersecretaries of defense," "editiorial writers" and such others (known, since school days, to be lackies, taletellers, cheats, braggarts and snobs) who are attracted to power but who lack the courage to assault the innocent in the street by night; and so, to the temproary applause of the cowed populace, devise mass murders in their offices by day. About the political lie Swift has this to say:

"But the same genealogy cannot always be admitted for political lying; I shall therefore desire to refine upon it, by adding some circumstances of its birth and parents. A political lie is sometimes born out of a discarded statesman's head, and thence delivered to be nursed and dandled by a rabble. Sometimes it is pronounced a monster, and licked into shape: at other times it comes into the world completely formed, and is spoiled in the licking. It is often born an infant in the regular way, and requires time to mature it; and often it sees the light in its full growth, but dwindles away by degrees. Sometimes it is of noble birth, and sometimes the spawn of a stock-jobber. Here it screams aloud at the opening of the womb, and there it is delivered with a whisper. I know a lie that now disturbs half the kingdom with its noise, which, although too proud and great at present to own its parents, I can remember its whisperhood. To conclude the nativity of this monster; when it comes into the world without a sting it is stillborn; and whenever it loses its sting it dies.

No wonder if an infant so miraculous in its birth should be destined for great adventures; and accordingly we see it has been the guardian spirit of a prevailing party[2] for almost 20 years. It can conquer kingdoms without fighting, and sometimes with the loss of battle. It gives and resumes employments; can sink a mountain to a mole-hill, and raise a mole-hill to a mountain: has presided for many years at committees of elections; can make a saint of an atheist, and a patriot of a profligate; can furnish foreign ministers with intelligence, and raise or let fall the credit of the nation. This goddess flies with a huge looking-glass in her hands, to dazzle the crowd, and make them see, according as she turns it, their ruin in their interest, and their interest in their ruin. In this glass you will behold your best friends, clad in coats powdered with fleurs de Us and triple crowns; their girdles hung round with chains, and beads, and wooden shoes; and your worst enemies adorned with the ensigns of liberty, property, indulgence, moderation, and a cornucopia in their hands. Her large wings, like those of a flying-fish, are of no use but while they were moist; she therefore dips them in mud, and, soaring aloft, scatters it in the eyes of the multitude, flying with great swiftness; but at every turn is forced to stoop in dirty ways for new supplies."

But what am I doing? This is not satire, but pure fact, and as such surely seditious, in the best traditions of our wondrous attorney general.

Storm, clouds, and crack your cheeks.

Liberal alienation 2

Early on in Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber makes a point of asking what the rather “pretentious sounding” word spirit meant. Instead of defining it, Weber plays a game of fort/da with the definition – offering some features of the “spirit”, and then saying that the spirit is only recovered at the end, a composite extracted from the historical details. LI loves this answer. Long ago, in grad school, we worked long and hard to produce a schema distinguishing “epistemic” from “doxic” texts, with the major division being that epistemic texts tended to treat the work of the text as the work of stabilizing signifiers, whereas doxic texts tended to treat the work of the text as a circuit in which signifiers are de-stabilized. To put forward a thesis, a metaphor, a literal term, and then claim that the meaning of the term accrues only at the end of one’s work is exemplary of the doxic text, which recognizes that the text is not a transparent and ephemeral thing but has an unexpected density over which one has limited control. And just as in Freud’s grandchild’s game, it is a game of throwing things out and bringing them back as a buffer against an overriding anxiety that one can’t name. For what is the name of the total collapse of one’s world? And if you do speak its name, won’t that speaking cause it? Weber’s text is about one world collapsing and being supplanted by another. The world, in this case, is the world that Scheler calls “precapitalism” – and Weber, wiser than Scheler, calls modern capitalism, to distinguish it from previous forms, and forms that have flourished elsewhere, as for instance in China.

Another note on the text itself before I get to Weber’s point about modern capitalism. Most philosophy texts, since the Platonic dialogues, have presented themselves as epistemic texts, definitions first, thus completely missing the Socratic point, which is that, as the dialogue carries its participants further, the definitions they begin with unwind, prove to be insufficient, decay, and leave us standing more nakedly before the ideas, no longer in the position of the successful hunter or soldier – the one who captures them – but, rather, in the position of the supplicant. One of the things Weber absorbed from the pessimistic tradition is the possibility of regressing to this moment of Socratic irony within the human sciences – but to go on with this would be to go further out on a tangent than I want to.

Anyway: Weber, famously, compares Benjamin Franklin’s advice (rather cherry picked from Franklin’s works) to a passage in the Fugger correspondence.

When Jakob Fugger tells one of his colleague, who had retired and advised him to do the same, since he had earned enough and should let others earn now, that this was “small spirited” and answered: he [Fugger] had many an other idea, wanted to gain (win) while he could,” the “spirit” of this utterance thus obviously differentiated it from those of Franklin: what was expresssed, in the former, as the overflow of the adventurous commercial spirit (Wagemuts) and of a personal, ethically indifferent inclination, takes on in the latter an ethically colored case as maxims to live by. We are using the “spirit of capitalism” in this specific sense. Of course: of modern capitalism. Then that we are talking, now, of this western European-American capitalism is self evident in the face of the posing of the question. ‘Capitalism’ occurred in China, India, Babylon, in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. But just this particular ethos was lacking to it, as we will see.”


Scheler, in the essay to which we will revert in our next post about liberal alienation, pretty much follows Weber, here. Ourselves, we take ethos to be, among other things, the norms governing self understanding and self fashioning – in particular, with regard to one’s emotions. The spirit of happiness triumphant is not a thesis about some change in what the emotions are, but how they are socially understood, and how that understanding, in turn, changes the organization of the social.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Liberal Alienation

Max Scheler began his essay, the Bourgeois, written on the brink of WWI, with these words:

Among the many signs that show us the death throes of the life order under the power and direction of which we still live, I see none as persuasive as the deep alienation in the face of this life order that fills the best heads and strongest hearts of those who inhabit their own particular orders. The history of this alienation is still recent. I find the new attitude that I have in mind firstly – as one might expect – among the scholars and poets – worldly men might say dreams – as for instance Gobineau, Nietzsche, J. Burkhard, Stefan George.”


Scheler was impressed with the work of Sombert, Tonnies and Weber on the “capitalist spirit”, which he took to be a particular social mode of the life order. He sensed something new in the fact that these sober sociologists, surely, if anyone, the inheritors and promoters of liberalism in the German sphere, seemed to have arrived at conclusions that echoed those of the names in the above passage. Although he didn’t use the phrase, what Scheler was talking about was liberal alienation – a dissent, I would say, from the culture of happiness. In January I wrote a post analyzing the dissents, in the nineteenth century, from happiness triumphant, and I tucked them into three classes roughly corresponding to the traditional European tripartite class division – the pessimists who, keenly aware of the irrevocability of the decline of the aristocracy, attacked the ‘decadence’ at the root of that decline; the revolutionaries, who in the name of the working class attacked the bourgeois notion of the consumerist ideal, the salaryman bound in the circle of self-advantage; and then, a much more conflicted group, the bourgeois thinkers themselves – Hazlitt, Mill, Tocqueville, Heine. At the time I wrote that post, I hadn’t read Scheler’s essay, which nicely sets up my point.

So, it is time for me to do a few posts on this essay.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

American Adam takes a header

Hyperreality is bullshit, in one way. Most people live, as I do, in the species crashing, bread eating reality for which you have to pay out of pocket most days. But it is real in another way. The form of life of the working class is another reality from the form of life of the superwealthy, and that form of life has gone down the class ladder, becoming a habit for millions of the middle class. Hyperreality has little to do with nerdy headsets and hyper real media, but a lot to do with derivatives and the pooling of mortgages. It has to do with the transformation of the economy by credit.

There is, supposedly, around 60 trillion dollars worth of derivatives out there. Now, that fact alone ought to crash the value of derivatives immediately. There isn’t 60 trillion dollars out there. It is like claiming that the distance from the earth to the sun is actually 400 million miles, if you simply leverage and compound it right. You can fold, spindle, and mutilate yourself, but the distance from the sun to the earth will remain 180 million miles (oops! see in comments below).

So what is that financial stuff made of? Well, it is a form of fiat money, made of collective belief. But the belief is itself leveraged. It isn’t belief in a nation. It isn’t a fetishistic belief in gold. It is simply a belief that a thing exists if it is traded. And if it is traded fast enough, disbelief will never catch up with it.

Bush’s presidency went rotten when two high towers in NYC were destroyed, and now we watch as another highrise, the Bear Stearns building, is, in essence, rifled, to bookend the reign of this man with the brainpower of a garbage fly.

I’d recommend my readers turn to Edward Chancellor’s Devil take the Hindmost for the entertaining account of the origin of derivatives out of the spirit of Goldwater’s America – or, actually, out of a deal between Lee Melamed, president of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and Milton Friedman to build a market for currency futures. At the time there was no market for such things, and strictly speaking, they were illegal. Friedman wrote a paper, for which he was paid by Melamed, justifying them – Nixon’s treasury department approved – and the International Money Market on the Merc was opened in 1972.

And so it was. In this American Adam’s fall, we sinned all.

ThomasVaughan puts it like this in Anthroposophia Theomagica: “ … his Fall had so bruised him in his best part that his Soule had no knowledge left to study him a cure, his punishment presently followed his trespass: “All things became hidden and oblivion, the mother of ignorance, did enter in.” This Lethe remained not in his body, but passing together with his nature made posterity her channel. Imperfection’s an easy inheritance, but vertue seldom finds any heirs.”

We’ve trusted the mother of ignorance. But her trick, that tricky bitch, is to not remain oblivion always. Sometimes there is the flash of what is inside. And it is nothing.

We have to get the veils up again, otherwise it will be pop goes the weasel.

PS – a lot of people out there in the heartland couldn’t sleep last night because – like me – they were worried about Alan D. Schwartz. He’s a mensch among menschen, the CEO of Bear Stearns, and according to this fluff piece in the NYT, a very well liked guy. A dancer? You talk about suave. A bridge player. Close personal friend of none other than Michael Eisner.

“But there’s some truth to the old aphorism that a financial firm’s assets go out the door every night. Citing people involved in the deal talks, The New York Times said Monday that up to a third of that work force may not come back, involuntarily.
Still, JPMorgan is trying to retain some of that human capital all the same. Up in the air, however, is whether the bank will retain one of Bear Stearns’ most valuable assets of all: its chief executive, Alan D. Schwartz.

It’s notable that in announcing the deal Sunday evening, JPMorgan made no mention of what would happen to Mr. Schwartz or other senior executives if the deal goes through. Bear Stearns has been similarly mum.
JPMorgan has floated a couple of ideas about how to retain Mr. Schwartz, according to people involved in the talks. One idea is to make him a vice chairman and, unofficially, a deal maker at large who can parachute into different situations. Such a position would similar to the post held by James B. Lee Jr., the JPMorgan banker known as Wall Street’s money man.”

So – how are you going to keep a multi-talented guy like this? He’s probably looking around, and let’s face it, he may suffer a little emotionally from presiding over the fall of Bear Stearns, whose value went from 80 dollars a share to 2 dollars per under his golden leadership in the last two months. So, given that the tax payers are making the loan here, and the vig is like whatever you say, JPM – perhaps we could set aside a hundred million, carrying around money for Mr. Schwartz. It would be sweet. Maybe we could have a photo op of Treasury secretary Paulsen, all smiles, writing the check.

I love these people. I really love these people. America does give a guy a second chance is all I have to say.

For Amie

And, just to add further to the sweetness of Amie's day, here's the headline in Figaro:
François Bayrou battu à Pau

Getting the dead bodies out before mom comes home

I have had no time to blog decently lately. But I have noticed a certain thing, a certain panic point spread between the political blogs, all eyes on the prize and the Obama Clinton slug orgy, and the financial blogs, where everybody is on code speedy, fleeing the Wall Street Chernobyl. Interesting discrepancy, there. It is the equivalent of slow motion in the flicks – the bullet travels ever so slowly towards the body. And so it is with this, the dramatic and entertaining part of the 3 trillion dollar recession.

The strategy of the Fed is a lot like the strategy of the guy who disposes of bodies in Pulp Fiction, although you have to imagine that guy trying to cover up for the St. Valentine’s day massacre. How does the Fed take out the dead bodies in full public view while pretending that nothing is happening? Very carefully. Some third party action here, a casual announcement that it is opening up half of its resources, 400 billion dollars, as a sort of charity fund for predatory meta-lenders there. And it is treating the dollar like skeet, of course –let’s shoot that value down and treat the American consumer to some real, good old fashioned inflation – ein bisschen Weimarmusik, if you will. Later on, maybe we will all sit down and try to figure out why the economy was put in the hands of Milton Friedman's mutant ejaculate. Fun while it lasted, boys!

Here’s the grit in the grift: if you keep saying shit that turns out not to be true and it turns out to be not true the very next day, it can get embarrassing. If you say we have no liquidity problem one day and the next you say, oh, did I say liquidity? I meant to say liquids – we have plenty of liquids here in the Boardroom. Single malts galore! Then people begin to suspect you not only don’t know your shit, you never knew your shit. Now, you can tell the yahoos and suckers out there almost anything – the last eight years have shown that. But the slightly more elevated yahoos and suckers who are aspiring to the yacht class get all panicy when they realize they have serious money in the Liars Club. Hence, they rush in to get it out. They start to shake the very bones of the system, moan, groan, and shit in public. It is very hard, in the midst of this freak show, to discretely dispose of the victims.

All of which leads me to this quote from Chernow’s biography of J.P. Morgan:

The 1907 panic would be the last time that bankers loomed so much larger than regulators in a crisis…

“The panic was blamed on many factors – tight money, Roosevelt’s Gridiron Club speech attacking the “malefactors of great wealth,” and excessive speculation in copper mining and railroad stocsk. The immediate weakness arose from the recklessness of the trust companies. In the early 1900s, national and most state-chartered banks couldn’t take trust accounts (wills, estates, and so on) but directed customers to trusts. Traditionally, these had been synonymous with safe investment. By 1907, however, they had exploited enough legal loopholes to become highly speculative. To draw money for risky ventures, they paid exorbitant interest rates, and trust executives operated like stock market plungers. They loaned out so much against stocks and bonds that by October 1907 as much as half the bank loans in New York were backed by securities as collateral – an extremely shaky base for the system.”

Pikers! in our new supersystem, places like Carlyle Capital thought nothing about being leverage 32 to 1 - keeping money as a sort of white elephant being so fucking passé.

Well, we will see what tricks in the body removal trade the Fed will come up with next week. This is the new, ”please don’t notice you are in a recession and your 401(k)s are crap” recession. There’s even a Faulknerian note – Birmingham, Alabama is rapidly becoming a sink hole as the stock market plunging done by the good uber-Christian city managers there have lost more money than anybody knew one midsized city could lose.

So this song goes out to my Birmingham Alabama buds who obviously were doing this whilst planning Jefferson County bond issues!