Saturday, April 09, 2022

Macron, too clever by half, and oh so dislikeable

 The garbage analyses of the French election in the Anglo press are predictable - and silly. Le Pen is the opponent Macron wants and needs - he himself is a much disliked man, with at best a 30-35 percent base. Le Pen is a candidate who is almost stamped loser - she is even more disliked than Macron. In this election, Macron has run by being above it all, to avoid the flops that happened in his first run, like the debate among the candidates where he was easily bested by Melanchon. 

So, how to get re-elected as a rather disagreeable individual peddling "reforms" that have polled, forever, to be against the desires of the electorate? The best chance is to campaign so as to let the next candidate, Le Pen, with her solid 20 percent, have plenty of room to top the list of runners up. Which is exactly what he has done. 

His aids and fans in the press - and one thing about Macron is, his most ardent fans, Macronie central, are in the press - have floated the story that, preoccupied by Ukraine, our man just didn't have time to run - he's busy saving the ship of state!

Macronie, that diverse spectrum - from stockbroker to arms dealer - perhaps buy this. But it does not gull the French electorate. They can smell the disdain. Which might be his undoing. A man who so visibly dislikes French workers in both the private and public sectors, with at little more for the latter, might have overstretched in his cleverness. Certainly I can't be the only one who plans to vote in the first round and, if my candidate, Melanchon, doesn't make it, abstain in the second round.I see no reason to vote for one of two public nuisances.

an allegory of politics


I am not a great fan of the left-right distinction. The reason is not that my “opinions” don’t fit within it – the reason is that its very grounding, in  opinion, and not in practice, is a right tending structure. As a right-tending structure, it finds the end of politics is in voting, and the end of ideology is in arguments over the dinner table. Far be it from me to diss arguments over the dinner table – I was raised among them! – but politics and one’s leftness or rightness is as much a matter of practices. Many of those practices are embedded in situations that severely limit one’s degree of freedom. If I administer a workforce or invest in a 401K or do any of the innumerable things that constitute living a middle class lifestyle, that style is going to chose my politics much more than I am going to chose it. Which means that saying whether I tend “left” or “right” is a matter of existential analysis, more than a survey question about who I think is a greater human being, Donald Trump or Batman. That analysis is both of one’s choices and of the structures in which one is embedded without them necessarily being responsive to one’s choices. To choose to use less plastic, for instance, is a nice healthy practice, personally, but is likely to have zero effect on the sum total of plastic in the world. A conservative engineer who discovers, purely for profit, a less ecologically intrusive substitute for plastic would be objectively a much greater environmentalist, in spite of everything he or she thinks.

The way such a substitute would spread out in the world would, of course, depend on other objective structures that are “left” or “right” – and so on.

Tomorrow I am going to vote for a leftis . This is a very very minor political act. As I grow older, I become much more pessimistic about the meaning of such things; in America, even when I have voted for winners, they turned out – as I should have known they would – into net losers in relation to my “opinions.”

Opinions are epiphenomenal. Spinoza wrote that a thrown stone, if it could think, would think it was arcing through the air of its own free will. That’s a political allegory.  


Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Mirror violence - from Bucha to Fallujah to Grozny

 In William Everdell’s the First Moderns,the author explores and extends the notion of the modern by exploring the “vortices” of modernization, the various conjunctions of theory and practice not only in the obvious places, the big metropoles, but on the periphery. And, indeed, even in the metropoles modernization was a negotiation between outliers and the establishment. One of the monuments of the modern, a triumph of modernist architecture with form totally following function Everdell claims, was invented by Weyler y Nicolau, the Spanish overseer of Cuba: the concentration camp. Or campos de reconcentraciòn, as he named them.

It is an interesting story. According to Everdell, Weyler y Nicolau, fighting against the Cuban insurgents in 1897, decided to experiment with an American invention, barbed wire. Why not string barbed wire around areas that were insurgent strongholds? Since insurgents weren’t formally organized, it seemed like a good way to contain them, a sort of cordon sanitaire. No sooner thought of then done. Soon camps sprang up, thousands of potential insurgents were surrounded by good, healthy barbed wire, and the dying started. The U.S. decided to protest the inhumanity, sending a note to Spain on June 24, 1897. The Spanish reply was interesting: the Spanish government noted that the cruelty of the camps was not different from the cruelty exercized by Sherman on his march to the Sea in 1864. Everdell digs up a clever conjunction of names, here:
“But Secretary Sherman [John Sherman, the man who had penned the American protest to Spain] probably knew better than any Spanish journalist how "cruel" Weyler's policies were, for he was the brother of William Tecumseh Sherman, the general who had become famous by marching from Atlanta to the sea and becoming the first to treat civilians as combatants in a modern war. The Spanish knew it, too. With a fine sense of irony, Madrid replied to Secretary Sherman's protest against what Spain was doing in Cuba by calling attention to what the Secretary's brother had done in Georgia and Carolina thirty years before.
We don't know who in the Spanish foreign ministry put that reminiscence in the note, but the odds favor Weyler himself. At the time of the March to the Sea, the future Captain-General of Cuba had been twenty-five, serving as the Spanish military attaché in Washington, and writing home about how impressed he had been by General Sherman's remarkable new interpretation of the laws of war.”
We like Benjamin’s image of human history as a multiplying pile of ruins observed by an appalled but impotent angel, but in many cases history seems more like a frightened monkey making its way over the trapeze equipment hanging from the ceiling of some big top, a matter of hairy leaps and enormous swings.
Weyler’s invention soon caught the eye of the British, who tried it out in South Africa; soon that caught the eye of the Americans, who were fighting a pesky war against the Filipinos.
“As near as we can tell, the first American concentration camps were built for the Filipinos in that month of November 1900, which means that the British were just ahead of the Americans in adapting Weyler's invention. By December 20, when General Order Number 100 on the treatment of civilian "war rebels" was issued by General MacArthur (this was Arthur MacArthur, whose son Douglas was to follow in his and Weyler's footsteps as proconsul of the Philippines), the ''reconcentration camps" were there to receive them.”
And so one aspect of modernism was launched. An aspect that has been with us persistently ever since, although Americans don’t like to notice their own use of reconcentration camp – how much more comforting to read, for instance, about nasty Lenin and his proto-gulag than to contemplate the fact that William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt were responsible for more deaths in a lager than Lenin ever was.
We see the same game of mirroring violence today, and we produce the same blindsided moral judgments. What happened in Bucha was the kind of war crime that happened in Grozny – as well as the same kind of war crime that happened in Fallujah, in 2004, as the Americans basically laid waste a town, scattered 200,000 refugees over the territory in midwinter with nary a soupkitchen or outdoor toilet to aid them, and kept the Red Cross at bay for a month until letting them into the city – and even then keeping them away from where heaps of bodies were piled up.
These mirror wars can only be stopped by smashing both mirrors. Unfortunately, who can do the smashing with justice? Not those who designed massacres in the past, and are quite capable, having the tools for it, of dropping the drones of the future. Which leaves it to those who are outside the circuit of power – that is, the weak.

Monday, April 04, 2022



Spirit enough to be bored — Whoever doesn’t have enough spirit to be able to find himself and his work boring is certainly not a spirit of the first rank, be it in the arts or sciences. A satirist who was, unusually, also a thinker, could add to this, taking a look at the world and history: God must not have had this spirit: he wanted to make and did make things, collectively, too interesting.” – Nietzsche, Human all too H.

I am unsure about the jab at God at the end of Nietzsche’s bit here,  but every writer knows the moment that comes upon him like negative inspiration, when he detaches and to find himself and his work boring. That’s the moment that Bely cuts his masterpiece, Petersburg, by a third; that may be the moment when Rimbaud said fuck it, although I am too little devil or angel to venture there into that affair. However, I’ve been pondering the economist’s version of happiness and their refusal to understand the intricate dance between repletion and boredom. Economists are so fucking weird because they combine the most sophisticated mathematical models with psychological insights that would shame a ten year old. It is all about not only licking a lollypop, but doing it forever and ever, and getting everybody’s lollypop to lick. It is a gross and unrealistic view of happiness that leaves out of the picture the mysteries of happiness  which supposedly found not only the normative aspect of the system, but the incentive structure inside it. I suspect economists are so enthusiastic about growth not so much because growth is a good in itself, but because it perpetually puts off the question: what is the system for? And, of course, even Marxist economists will edge out of the room once you start pondering the many dimensions of alienation. Economics is really not the dismal science, but the clubbish science – and in clubs, it doesn’t do to pose such questions. They are so easily answered by dinner, especially if dinner includes port.

Now, in my flaming youth, amongst me and my pals, boredom was our mark of Cain – it was the boredom generated by capitalism that we were against. We tended to be big supporters of the situationists, without really having a vast or even a tiny little knowledge of them more than they pissed people off, and the autonomen, because we loved the autonomen boldness, the kicking ass, the taking over of buildings people weren't using, the contempt for the Polizei. This sounded like the shit to us, even though we heard overtones of peasant hut nostalgia in some of the way these micro-utopias turned out, with the holding hands and weaving or something and nothing that actually, after a while, wasn’t… boring. We liked, instead, the via negativa, through pure abjection, following the downward path of Bataille. It was all  “we’re so pretty, oh so pretty” with a sneer.

However, although it was quite the enemy, boredom was never really an issue, an affair, an object of thought. It wasn’t until we began to take writing seriously, and tried to write fiction, that boredom became interesting as a test. Boredom, after all, is always there guarding the path of inquiry into meaning and purpose – it has sphinx like properties. I often feel that at the heart of bourgeois vacuity is all the ways that are constructed to avoid boredom’s riddle.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...