Friday, December 14, 2018

Is the Opinion Page of the New York Times just for stupid people? a rhetorical question

The NYT opinion page never fails to come up with the stupidest headlines that one can imagine - headlines that put National Enquirer to shame. The headline today is: Is Environmentalism Just for Rich People? A WTF juxtaposition of words if there ever was one.

I propose an elementary exercise in logic, here, substituting for the class "rich people" tokens of rich people (you know, the demographic that voted most strongly for Donald Trump): For instance: Is Environmentalism just for the Koch Brothers. Or: Is Environmentalism just for Exxon executives? Or: Is Environmnetalism just for bitcoin billionaires? Or: Is environmentalism just for bankers who lend to Freeport Macmoran? Is environmentalism just for corporations that demand taking law be inserted into Trade Treaties? Is environmentalism just for Monsanto Investors? Is environmentalism just for Agribusinesses? On and on. the beat don't stop until the break of dawn - and your brains are mush.

This is such obvious nonsense that there must be a powerful override behind it, one that ignores the massive, falsifying counter-evidence. And there is such an override: it is called neo-liberalism. It is a handy portmanteau term, to encompass everything from the Romney wing of the R party to the Clintonite wing of the D party.

Such is the power of illusion in the rentier class, however, to which the NYT directs its rays of enlightenment, that this class thinks of Macron as a radical environmentalist. You know, the president who raised the carbon tax, but not on corporation using a lot of carbon.

The problem here is that the walls are thick and will not hear anything to upset the "narrative".Neo-liberal deafness and Trumpian deafness dominate the "discourse", to the detriment of 99 percent of the world's population. And this is the nuclear weapon that is heading for the planet's climate.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Macron's program, and the ex-Miss France's

In the state of economic emergency, proclaimed last night by our fearless leader, we look for comedy where we can find it. I found it in this declaration signed by, among others, Bernard Henri-Levy and Miss France (of the two, of course, it it Miss France who has all the brains) that the gilets jaunes should immediately stop what they are doing, which has been successful, and begin debating, which would be utterly unsuccessful but would give Bernard Henri-Levy (and Miss France) a chance to appear on TV with a few random Gilets Jaunes and pontificate. 

Miss France might gain an audience with the Gilets Jaunes, but not, I’m betting, the well coiffed, faux philosophe.

More seriously: we watched Macron’s speech last night. Macron started off with a song of love, and he ended like a Chanel commercial. The song of love was directed to the cops. As we know, from the affair Benalla, which involved Macron’s body guard donning police gear and beating the shit out of some passive protesters this spring, there is one exception to Macron’s general contempt for public sector employees: the cop. Macron’s handlers made a mistake in not cuing his words to music: surely this heartfelt paen to order and its masculine forces should have been backgrounded by Gang of Four’s “I love a man in a uniform”.  

The rest of the speech was a curious performance. The raising of the minimum wage by something like 75 centime per hour “without costing the employer anything” seemed like a magic act. In American terms, it is like raising the minimum wage by subtracting the amount from the Earned Income Credit. It was as if Mr. Burns on the Simpsons told his workers that they all get Christmas presents, and then deducted it from their paychecks. But it sounded good – it must have been rehearsed to have the feel good vibe, which is why it was announced as one hundred euros per month rather than 75 centimes per hour.

On the main point, though, Macron held firm. His supply side tax cut to the wealthy still stands. His reasoning still stands too: cutting that tax is supposedly going to bring investment money into France. It is what the late George H.W. Bush, in 1980, called voodoo economics. At least under Reagan the tax cut was made with a fine indifference to the deficit, since investment is not going to happen in an atmosphere of declining demand. The Reaganite solution was, in fact, to inflate two deficits: by easing regulations on credit, the medium household can take on a larger amount of debt in order to sustain a consumer lifestyles that feeds into an economic boom. The second step here, of course, involves mock horror about the government’s debt, which then leads to cuts in the social welfare system, which then leads to either further indebtedness by the household or bankruptcy. In France, the loosening of consumer credit on the American model has not happened, at least on the Reaganite scale. What has happened, especially as Macron is all about being a deficit hawk, is that his policies have essentially been deflating consumer demand. The carbon tax, with its exemptions for big carbon producers – the corporations – was a final straw. In France, one can actually see what taxes are paying for, in terms of healthcare, infrastructure, education and retirement: and what the people see is a decline in the degree and quality of all of these things. You can’t sustain Popular Front programs on a Thatcherite fiscal policy.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Macron in the chocolate factory

As was obvious from the beginning, Macron is unsuited, temperamentally and intellectually, to be the president of France. His astonishing reaction to the rejection of the "reforms" - a word that oozes with bad faith, since the reforms are actually the stripping away of the reforms of the past, and should be so characterized - by the French street is to flood said street with armed policemen in tanks if necessary, and to send his friendly unshaven front man, Édouard Philippe, out to talk about how thousands of hoodlums are going to rock and ruin lovely Paris and murder people. Oh, and ps, we'll postpone the gas tax and use this issue to make a plea to lower our funding of France's social insurance system. Nothing says responding to the cry of the lower and middle income level that their lifestyle is seriously deteriorate than feeding them a big dose of neo-liberal whoopass. You want healthcare? well let's lower funding on that! you want a clean ecology? Let's do nothing about rising housing costs that force people to live out where the car is their only means of access to job and life. Oh, and for good measure, let's just manage the railroad system into ruin, then auction it off and let the ticket prices go sky high. You want education? Well, tyr to get it as we freeze funding. The Macronists came from some casting call for the movie, "Atlas shrugged, then pissed, then had champagne and oysters" - a movie only a banker could love.
It appears that France is saddled with this boy-prince for another four years. That is going to be a long fall down the stairs. Macron is another in the long line of French conservatives who refuse to understand that a crisis in capitalism caused by the shortfall of demand cannot be solved by weakening even further the purchasing power of consumers. Rather, the magic formula is "investment", which magically appears when you shuffle money to Capital with no strings attached. You then partition off the part of your brain that just performed this trick from the part that urges the reality of globalisation - which is, precisely, about the liquid flows of capital that seek the highest return on "investment" globally. In other words, the investment you have generated is not going to go to productive activities in France, but to hedge fund bets in New York.
It is all the logic of the spoiled child, which aims at one thing: getting all the candy. We have been trapped with the spoiled kids in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for some time now, with the plot twist that these kids took over the factory, and made Charlie work for them. In my view, Macron's candystore visions are going to be stuffed down the throat of his party if some grown up doesn't call a halt. Not that I think said grown up is going to appear: when the problem is so simple - the insane divide between the misery of the producers of wealth and the opulence of the profiteers - the solution has to be obfuscated into an incredible complexity, suitable for many a Le Monde editiorial about how complex things are.
Lefty parties were, as usual, late to the gate, but with opportunity throwing a brick at their heads, they finally are waking up. Not totally - connecting the dots between a French foreign policy mainly interested in bombing and droning peeps in the Middle East and North Africa and refugees streaming out of said countries still seems to be a conundrum they don't get. But at least they are getting over the idea that gilet jeunes are just your dumb racist hicks who should pipe down and die behind the screens of the video games they all probably play. Let's hope this goes much further. Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin, or Boil Boil, Toil and Trouble - mottos of the day! And now for a video the French cops proudly released.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Fin de régime

Macron’s first instinct, after the uprising Saturday, was to go around getting photographed shaking hands with the cops. He of course cold shouldered anybody looking like a gilet jaune – such bad taste! Why, if only they had a good tailor maybe they would be part of the “dialogue”.
Melanchon, at least, did not spend a lot of time patting the boys in blue on the back. Nor decrying the tagging of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, and the generation of 1968 that is now retired, spent a lot of time patting themselves on the back this year. Those 68 days – weren’t they the cards! And those wonderfully witty graffiti slogans: under the street is a beach, for instance.
Under the street, as we’ve learned since, there’s more street.  I much prefer the tag left Saturday on the Arc de Triomphe that reads, simply: Fin de régime.
Not that I believe that such things are accomplished in a weekend. If Macron actually did, by some miracle, fall, he’d be replaced by another suit. The suits have had a good fifty years since 1968. The rest, not so much. Inequality has skyrocketed, and finally, the people in “deep France” – or the people who work in your shops and restaurants and call you up for debts and drive the trucks that get you your goods – have watched their time for “living”, as opposed to making a living, shrink. Along with their services. The faux “eco” president has fed the inflation of housing prices in major cities and raised taxes on those who can least afford them – and who now have to commute on an increasingly ill funded mass transportation system, or in a car, to get to work. As Jeremy Harding, in a good article in the London Review put it:
“Macron has embarked on an admirable policy to mitigate climate change but he’s failed catastrophically to heed the advice of his former environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, who resigned in August. Hulot said the project would only work with grants, attainable tax incentives and green job creation for less advantaged sectors of the population. Not nearly enough of this is in place, or even in the offing. Meanwhile the people now blocking the roads in France have been left to suck up the blame for climate change. But there are few Jeremy Clarksons among them – the motorheads are mostly the ones who try to power their way through a go-slow – and no gilets jaunes I’ve talked to can afford to trade their elderly diesel vehicles for low-emissions alternatives, even with the subsidies announced in January, which are aimed at more prosperous classes and the car industry.
A recent survey carried out for the European Commission finds that transport is still the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, and that ‘rural living’ raises the per capita footprint significantly outside the cities. Nevertheless the decisive factor across urban and rural communities alike is how much money we have: the wealthier we are, the larger our footprint, by anywhere from 150 to 450 kg per person per additional €1000 in earnings. This is why wilderness-free Luxemburg has one of the highest carbon footprints in the EU and countries in the former eastern bloc – notably Romania and Hungary – have the lowest. It is inconceivable that Macron, a technocrat and number-cruncher before his entry into politics, is ignorant of these conclusions and similar findings in other climate-change studies. Why has he chosen to comply with the caricature put about by his enemies: Macron, ‘president of the rich’? Probably because he is. But shouldn’t he be bluffing by now? Even just a bit?”

I don’t think Macron is as aware of the numbers as Harding claims – the ignorance of economists when their ideology puts out its hand and says halt as they are looking at “figures” is a perpetual source of merriment and mockery to the rest of us.
Go to Willett's for the rest of the article!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Poke their eyes out

You have to poke out the eyes of painters like you do with songbirds, to make them sing better. – Picasso

The Beaubourg advertises its current exposition of cubist artworks as the most comprehensive show of its kind in Paris since 1953. How time flies. Well, I had to see this, so I bought some tix and went with my inlaws, who were in town. First things first: we had to eat. And drink, which we did sitting in the restaurant on the top of the museum – up, is it six or seven stories? In New York City, this would be nothing – we’d be face to face with the back of some mirror windowed business headquarters – but in Paris this gives you quite a view. I could see, a long way off, the Eiffel Tower, rather wobbly in a cloud. The day was misty and drizzly. To the left arose one of my favorite fragments of old Paris, the Tour Saint-Jacques, and beyond that, a little more in the headtwisting direction, Notre Dame. The buildings below us extended in yellow squares and rectangles – very, as it were, cubist. There was a famous exchange between Picasso and Gertrude Stein over Picasso’s portrait of her. Stein pointed out that the portrait didn’t look a thing like here, and Picasso said, it will. Picasso had a strong faith that life bends towards art – and he could see the proof of it all around him the streets of Paris. Life, that thing we have taken from the country, is more like the raw material of art than its opposite. This is a theory that reverses the whole romantic pastoral. That reversal was just one of many brought about by the cultural explosions of the first twenty years of the twentieth century.
See the rest at Willett's

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

all I want for Christmas is less dead Yemeni kids!

If you are like me, this Christmas you are probably thinking of giving to some charity, of making a difference as well as having your dinner. I'm thinking that for Americans, this is easy! You can do your part: don't starve more Yemeni children to death!
Yes, in pursuing a Middle Eastern policy that is about democracy, and keeping evil Iran from evilness, we might have gone an intsy-wintsy bit too far. 85,000 dead kids too far. Oopsy, I think we can all collectively say.
In fact, gosh darn it, starving to death a kid - instead of say some Yemen adult, who surely has it coming to him for obscure reasons that the liberal hawks can come up with in a heartbeat - just might not be something you want on your Christmas agenda!

So, have a heart, write your congress critter and propose a moratorium on starving Yemeni kids to death for the 12 days of Christmas. It will make Jesus happy!

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

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