Saturday, August 31, 2013

the accident

Western man, according to some accounts, was born out of a traffic altercation. It was the same kind of thing you can see any day at the intersection of Wiltshire and Lincoln. Here comes the geezer with the bigass Lincoln, and here comes the young hotshot with the convertible Lexus. The argument about who yields the right of way proceeds to murder, of course, and then a future that includes incest and the fall of a principality for the young hotshot. It is no surprise, to the Gnostic historian (who takes coincidences seriously) that psychoanalysis and the automobile arose at the same time. And thus it is that Western man with the parricide watermark floating in his unconscious takes to the road.  Look for details in Ballard’s Crash.
Myself, I’ve never been much for Western man – I keep saying to Western man, don’t you come around. But imagos to us humans are like mousetraps to the meezes: we are so entranced by the bait that we don’t recognize that we’ve crossed into the danger zone until it is too late. I tried to avoid getting a licence when I came of age, at sixteen, in Georgia because did I want this shit? But peer and parental pressure intervened, and thus, from the Marxo-Freudian viewpoint, the collective reproduced its neurosis in my soul. However, in the course car driver class, there was something that disturbed me, and that I’ve come to dislike more and more: the emphasis on “defensive driving”.
This phrase, as we can immediately see if we are wearing the right glasses, is definitely connected to the change of names that signaled the Cold War from War Department to Defense Department. At that moment, anything was possible. Similarly, driving prudently is one thing, but regarding all fellow drivers as enemies is something else. We must free ourselves from the delusion that we killed pa and slept with ma – that it is Mann gegen Mann und Gott gegen Alles out there on the highway. No, in actual fact, drivers are brothers and sisters. They are a community. We must help one another.
It is rather a paradox that in the age of Identity, the car driver still lacks one. Still lacks, that is, the imaginative community that is, according to Benedict Anderson, the framework for the romantic state – a collective of narratives and symbols that bind a disparate people together.
Yet because a social reality has not be socially constructed in the sense that I can say it is here or there doesn’t mean it doesn’t practically exist. Driving would be massively impossible if we didn’t depend each on the other in our hot little driver’s seats.Yes, of course each is dimly aware that the highways began as military projects and are imbued with a military rationality. But we are more than onward merging soldiers. We do sense a fleeting relationship to one another, although it is rare to express it. Drivers are very quick to label one another cretin, fucking idiot, etc. But where is the gasp of admiration when a particularly elegant solution is enacted to a particularly sticky driving problem?  Driving is a feat, performed in a metal cave at speeds 20 to 30 times one’s normal walker and jogger speeds. We are ballerinas, even though it is as though we have safes and iron balls attached to our ankles.  And we mostly do it well – the parking, the turning, the stopping and starting, the staring ahead through the windshield and the use of a mirror system (upon which our lives depend) that would have fascinated the natural philosophers of the Isle of Laputa.
I wrote the above while sitting waiting for two hours in the DMV in Santa Monica. Then I paid my dues, got a photo made of myself that makes me look like I’m on serious crack, and passed the test with its sometimes irrelevant questions – who cares what percentage of alcohol in your blood makes you legally intoxicated? I’ve never met the drinker yet who took blood samples between cocktails.  The DMV is a bordel, an immense waste, and I have a distinct feeling that never in its history has someone sat in one of its plastic scoop seats and had the best day of his or her life. But at least we are in this together, eh?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I hate having to write posts about another fucking war

As in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the world war ii analogy has been let loose to justify the bombing/whatever of Syria.
Famously, there are huge problems with arguments by analogy. But if we brush those to one side, for a second, the biggest problem with the perpetually recurring analogy to WWII is that it is an analogy of form that represses the content of the analogon. But as any Hegelian or Freudian can tell you, it is the destiny of the repressed to return.
World War IIs are not cheap. They require, for one thing, an immense mobilization of the population. In the U.S., all males between 18 and 30 had to sign up for the selective service. Taxes were hiked to the world war I level, and they did not substantially fall again until 1960. The occupations that ended the war were manned at a militarily appropriate level. The end of the war itself caused a fallout among the victorious allies, which led to a series of wars during the long cold war period.
In brief, the analogy should show us that World War IIs aren’t cheap.
This, however, is not a conclusion that the hawk establishment in D.C. wants to face. Partly this is due to the fact that this establishment is conservative, and true World War IIs – which involve the mass mobilization of people – lead, usually, to socialistic programs in peace time – in healthcare, education and housing.
Mostly, however, this is due to the fact that the hawks in D.C. have a very incomplete grasp of the dialectic of war in modern times.
Alas, those hawks are in power. In Iraq, it was obvious from the get go that the force invading Iraq was about a fourth of the size it should be. Furthermore, the Bush administration had, with the logic of a mad candy store operator, decided to hold a war and cut taxes at the same time.
Now, even before the war in Iraq took place, there were people – myself for instance – who knew that the whole thing was fucked from a military point of view. In other words, if the military-humanitarian intervention (to use that oxymoron for a moment) was serious, then its means would have to be serious. And if the means were serious, the domestic population of Americans in whose name the war was hatched would have to sacrifice, and not fatten themselves on SUV tax discounts.
I’ll quote myself, from 2006, re Iraq:
This [ a passage from an analysis of Iraq by Tom Ricks, a wapo reporter] misses the bloody crux, the structure, the very moral economy of the American way of warfare. If forces are kept to a minimum and if force is proportioned to some threshold point beyond which you antagonize the population, you will, inevitably, suffer much higher casualties. If American soldiers winnow through a village, looking only for insurgents, they are much likely to be injured or killed than if they plow through the village in the balls out, mega-American way. And the soldiers know that. The American soldier has been trained to think that the preservation of his life is the prime objective. He has been raised in the spirit of McLellan, and advances with the firepower of Grant, which is why America always wins the wars that it loses. This is why the American soldier is good in a battlefield situation such as presented itself in WWII, or in the First Gulf War, and entirely sucks at counterinsurgency. And will always suck. Because the higher risk brings with it the question: what am I doing here? Since American interests have nothing to do with the Iraq war – it was commenced and continued solely to serve the vanity of a small D.C. clique – the only way to keep waging it as what it is in reality – the usurpation of American forces for mercenary purposes on the part of a power mad executive – is to wage it with as few American deaths as possible. The Bush doctrine converges with the Powell doctrine – overwhelming force = lucrative contracts to war contractors + lack of visible sacrifice to the Bush base.

The logic here is inexorable. Either a greater number of Americans die, or a greater number of Iraqis die. Americans have decided to pretend that the greater the number of Iraqi deaths, the more the Americans are winning. That, of course, is bullshit. Which is why the argument that the U.S. troops should stay in for humanitarian reasons is bullshit – the logic of American strategy will continue to maximize the number of Iraqi deaths, or it will have to face the repulsion of American public opinion as American deaths go racheting up. It won’t do the latter. The rulers actually fear the American population in their nasty, prolonged wars. Fear that the population doesn't want to fight. This is their worry. This is what they work at. Both parties, it goes without saying. This is what all the bogus talk about "will" is about.”

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...