Wednesday, June 13, 2018

I'm Running for Public Office


Hi there. My name is Stan, and I am running for                 (fill in the blank).

A little biographical background.

At one point or another in my life, I have violated every one of the Ten Commandments, and several more besides. I killed human beings and burned down their houses (for which I was paid and praised); and then I did a lot of drugs and alcohol. I used prostituted women, too, in my youth, as well as masturbating to pornography. I violated quite a few secular statutes, too, from selling weed to assault and battery to driving drunk, conspiracy, grand larceny, and a few things I can't afford to admit in this public venue.

Later in life, I felt pretty badly about some of this stuff, and I directed my own guilt into rage at the system that formed me, so I became a communist. Some of my friends are still communists, even some (gasp!) Black communists!

I've also been a go-along coward in more ways than I can count, especially as a white man.

And sometimes I don't wash my hands after I pee.

Now I'm a Christian, but not what most people think Christians are—I pretty much hate my government and the whole US economy, I find nationalism (and the flag) repulsive, I don't think veterans (I am one)  are any more special than anyone else, and I am convinced that most White people (I am one) are racist as hell. Likewise, I think most men (I am one) are sexist as hell. America is not the City on the Hill; it is a malevolent empire that has "turned a fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who rule there."

So if anyone is campaigning against me, there are some sticks to beat me with . . . have at it.
My guiding principle once I am elected to whatever office will be to disassemble American power abroad, and promote the antithesis of "growth" (degrowth?) in the economy at home. I also want to fire about eighty percent of the nation's police forces, because they are like armed gangs running amok. I’d definitely try to take away their guns—like they do in Great Britain. I want to take most of the guns away from citizens, too.

I want to open the borders unconditionally, because if capital can cross borders without any hassle, so should labor . . . eh?

The Constitution might be an impediment to me taking office, because one has to swear fealty to this dusty old document, which, in my own view, is virtually worthless. Also, as a Christian, I don’t take oaths. But . . . freedom of religion, yeah?

I am not conservative. I am not progressive. I am not Republican. I am not Democrat.

I will not tell you about "our" glorious past," and I will not pump sunshine up your collective ass about our brilliant future. As a freshly minted politician, I am telling you right now that no matter what we do, things are going to go dramatically downhill—they are already—and most of the Big Problems on the horizon (?) we are powerless to fix.

I'm also going to emphasize something you won't hear in much political-rectal-sunshine talk: every last one of us is going to die. You can't win. You can't break even. You can't get out of the game. Life ends, often with pain, misery, and diapers. I can't fix that, nor can anyone else running for office. You could hand over absolute power to the most brilliant leader the world has ever known, and still . . . you, me, your loved ones, and the great leader, are all destined for debility, death, and decay. What does this have to do with politics? Well, in our culture, we want to deny death, and it becomes kind of a dirty political secret. Rectal sunshine is all about the eminently saleable eternal bloom of youth, the New Future, space colonization, and happily ever after.

And another thing . . . 

Rights are political fictions. All "men" are NOT endowed by their creator with certain rights, because there is no such thing as a universal right that everyone actually has. There never has been. Not once. And there never will be. Ever. Pipedream.

We don’t often think of the political fiction of “rights” in terms of how rights are associated with technology; and likewise we seldom think of technology as representing—as capital does—an asymmetric relation between people disguised as a morally neutral relation between things. Marx was half right . . .

(I am an ally of the left, just because I hate macho authoritarianism, war, and capitalism . . . but I am not a leftist. Like I said, I am a God-bothering theocrat.)

Nonetheless, even the left—ostensibly having some passing familiarity with the notion of fetishism—speaks of a right to, say, “health care,” which is manifest in practice as a highly technological enterprise, one that embodies the same unequal-exchange-as-imperial-tribute as most modern technology. And so, rather than raise the discomfiting contradiction between (a) an opposition to African child miners scratching precious metals out of a ruined earth to support the computers that run everything from hospital administration computers to MRIs to proton therapy, and (b) the “right” everyone in, e.g., the United States has to institutionalized medical assistance.

If that care is extracted to the detriment of child miners, the child miners are consistently sacrificed, because money is the basis of modern power, and those with more have more. The computer you are reading this on is courtesy of an African child miner, a poisoned river, a newly extinct species . . . out of sight, out of mind, eh?

So if there is a universal right to "health care," you're going to have to describe with a great deal of specificity what "health care" means. Does it include heart transplants for all? Does it mean every single person in the world (if it's just in one place, it ain't universal) has a right to extended end-of-life time extensions based on every drug and every machine that has been invented? Does it means pretending that death is not an inevitable part of life?

A universal right to education? Define education. Beyond a glorified daycare zoo that sorts children by age, no matter how different otherwise, and sorts them by rehearsed performances, and sets them up in cruel little age-segregated internal pecking orders, and teaches them that if you are disinclined to read, for example, you are a failure as a human being. Beyond the actual content of these "educations," which are mostly state propaganda designed by the ruling class's faithful retainer classes. The content matters. The method matters. Most childhood drugs (a boon to the drug industry) are designed to make children who don't like the environment of school for myriad and quite justifiable reasons more compliant with this decade plus of capitalist conformity indoctrination. Schools are indispensable day-care centers for parents who are forced to work for some boss to survive: they sort children into multiple creepy hierarchies that damage many of them for life.
You can't fix that. Stop lying. And you can't universalize it . . . thank God.

And so the Promethian left, pumping its own brand of sunshine, seizes on “development” initiatives, institutional charity, and redistribution as the “solution,” which it is demonstrably not; because the more environmentally attuned on the left also know that to “develop” the whole world to technological parity with the Atlantic powers would require a couple of extra planets. There is an Elon Musk joke here, but then Musk and his Martian fantasies are already eminently lampoonable.

The right can admit this, because they couldn't give a shit less about other people, who don't have their money-entitlement, and they know their power to do whatever they want without actually working for it is based on keeping people in a state of desperation.

And I'm all about a single-payer health system, but no, everyone does not have a "right" to a heart transplant—not in any substantive sense—because the procedure, which only delays the inevitable, is not available to everyone, and before it is, well . . . there's that three earths thing again. We are all going to die, by and by.

This having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too delusion is based on radical technological optimism; and it ought to concern the left that is seeing an historical window open for it that hasn’t been opened in decades.

In short, it is possible that within a decade or less, socialists might actually win elections and inherit the shit show that is neoliberal failure, a self-cannibalizing process of financialization accompanied by collapsing infrastructure, popular revolt, and loony demagogues in positions of power. When Teen Vogue carries friendly articles on Marx, we can infer that the political ground in the metropoles has shifted. So an urgent question emerges.

What if the left wins? So who knows? I’m running for office, too . . . not sure which one yet . . . and I’ll caucus with y’all.

The danger, of course, is that, once in power, the left has the opportunity to fail spectacularly and discredit themselves, whereupon the also resurgent right-wing can rebound. No doubt, the right and the “civil society” center will attempt to sabotage the left at every turn, which provides an excuse (as if we don’t already know that a snake behaves like a snake) for future failures.

Repeat: If you blow it, because you have a really poor grasp of how self-organized these structures are, then you can fade back into oblivion for another hundred years.

Given that this will be the case, the left—especially if it fails to come to terms with the radical technological optimism in its ranks—cannot afford to compound these predictable obstacles with blunders of its own: the first being making promises that cannot be met; the second being cooking up schemes to fulfill the unfulfillable promises that give the right and center a stick with which to beat the left.

All your talk about imperialism, and you promote millions of solar panels, closing the digital divide, and sex change surgery for ten-year-olds, when all these rights are accomplished through material flows that embody unequal exchange between the imperial centers and the subjugated peripheries. Let’s eat an African child. Let’s kill off a species. Let’s poison a river that is out of sight and out of mind.

The production of technology presupposes the production of energy, which makes both inherently two things: exploitative and unsustainable. Alexander Dunlap recently wrote: “Industrial-scale renewable energy does nothing to remake exploitative relationships with the earth, and instead represents the renewal and expansion of the present capitalist order.” Yep!

So as your candidate, I want to pop these “renewable energy” balloons, too. Just one of those pharaonic wind conversion towers is a collection of 170 tons of steel, fourteen tons of fiberglass, almost four tons of carbon fiber, twenty-five tons of cast iron, two and a half tons of copper, fifty-four tons of aluminum, and 600 tons of lubricants. And a poisoned river, a poverty-stricken child, a fresh extinction. Long as it’s far away where we can’t see, okay?

And so you will ask, chagrined by the loss of an illusion, “Then what are we to do?”

The right refuses to map the flow of labor-value in order to isolate the exchanges between employee and employer, for example, as an unequal exchange (by externalizing any contradictory terms). But the left is often guilty of the same kind of externalization with regard to technology, which is what Alf Hornborg calls “machine fetishism.”

The actual energy "footprint" of the wind turbine has to include mining, milling, fabrication, transportation, maintenance, et al, for each piece, each component; and in the pre-fabrication extractive enterprises, the imperial tribute of unequal exchange. That's the stuff you get cheap here from child miners and sixteen year old girls in sweatshops and un-landed peasants working for peanuts abroad.

There is no clear line of demarcation between this exploitative plunder and the big capitalist's oversized share from the points of waged production.

When we assert a right to education, a right to health care, a right to a job, we have externalized all the particulars in our incessant phrase-mongering, especially the supporting technology, with its material and energetic flows that are necessary for, say, an American surgical suite, and American classroom, or a particular American job (hauling waste to a landfill? Peddling insurance—the “commodification of uncertainty”?).

When Engels wrote Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, he criticized the Levellers and Anabaptists for promoting a socialism that was “unscientific,” but he and his hirsute colleague themselves described a happy end-time where, with the assistance of technology, the state withers away around a self-regulating communism (Ha! Our technology is not possible without the state!) that was “scientific” precisely because it saw technology as the basis of our future bliss. They had the dreaded machine fetishism disorder! (soon to be included in the DSM XXV)

Our radical technological optimism’s now revealed as an illusion by science itself (beginning with the Second Law of Thermodynamics), Marx and Engels were, by today’s lights, utopians. And many of their intellectual offspring cling to that Promethean optimism, even as climate change has confronted us with a century-to-come of unpredictable climate destabilization.

What the evidence available to us now shows, with regard to imperialism and ecology (including environmental racism), is that the future over the next few decades will confront us with a choice, not between socialism and capitalism, but between riding a vehicle over a cliff or leaving the vehicle behind and taking our bruises from the leap. My campaign motto: “No to Rectal Sunshine!”

And you Malthusians and devotes of male survivalist adventurism? You like to frame this as a problem of human nature and the chance to avoid the issue altogether by escaping into outlandish dystopian fantasies, respectively. The reactionary illusion complementary to the "progressive" one! Let the Devil take the hindmost.

But the dangers of unpredictable political destabilization are far greater, as we have all ascertained after Trump started rattling his nuclear sabre. And the ecology that is evolving called late capitalism cannot long sustain the already shaky status quo.

Capitalism developed industrialism, and industrialism developed capitalism. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Marx-inspired state socialism was a reaction, an afterthought, a crude imitation. From Lenin’s Notes on Electrification:

Significance of Electrification

1. Modern technics.
2. Restoration of productive forces. Increasing them.
3. Centralization-maximum.
4. Communism= Soviet power + electrification.
5. General integrated plan: focusing the people’s attention and energies.
6. Raising culture (of the working people).
6. Not simple literacy.

 Towards Electrification

 1) Decree endorsing the plan ....
2) Mobilization of technical forces.
Assembling both electrical engineering and labor forces.
Utilization of stations.
Agitation and propaganda.
Teaching of theoretical and practical knowledge about electricity.
 3) Decree on GOELRO.
4) Decree on Engineering Department ....
5) Decree on All-Russia Electrical Engineering Congress.
6) Petrograd. Coal from abroad via Murmansk.

Really? The uber-left still thinks this guy is our leading light?

As Jason W. Moore explains,

It is difficult for me to read the Soviet project as a fundamental rupture. The great industrialization drive of the 1930s relied massively on the importation of fixed capital, which by 1931 constituted 90 percent of Soviet imports. The Soviets were so desperate to obtain hard currency that “the state was prepared to export anything and everything, from gold, oil and furs to the pictures in the Hermitage Museum.” If the Soviet project resembles other modes of production, it is surely the tributary, not socialist, mode of production, through which the state directly extracts the surplus. Nor did the Soviets turn inwards after 1945. Soviet trade with OECD countries (in constant dollars) increased 8.9 percent annually between 1950 and 1970, rising to 17.9 percent a year in the following decade a trend accompanied by sharply deteriorating terms of trade and rising debt across the Soviet-led zone.

It is apparent from Lenin’s notes that—admittedly out of an urgent sense of self-defense among other things—the drive to industrialize was paramount; and to get there (by decree) necessitated the worst kind of alienated labor, the Party embracing Taylorism and attacking local subsistence economies (their own version of industrial enclosure). Combined with the conviction that socialism could be developed by decree, the experiment was violent and short-lived, morphing into yet another patriarchal, aspiring capitalist core nation in search of exploitable peripheries to sustain accumulation for its ruling class.

So there! 

Two massive forces are coming together in today’s capitalist ecology. The first is climate destabilization, as the major driver. Capitalism's last little gift to us. The second is the as yet unforeseeable end-game of self-cannibalizing global financialization, the creation of trillions of dollars (and satellite currencies) in completely fictional value looming against a troubled sky like the Hindenberg. This reliance on rents to sustain accumulation will only continue apace with the increasing scarcity of capitalism’s essential “cheap” feedstocks—cheap food, cheap labor, cheap energy, cheap raw materials.

Which means I have to pop another progressive bubble: redistribution of money. That's not gold you're talking about. It's not even cowry shells. It's a cipher whose "value" is sustained by illusions, and when the illusions crumble, you have people pushing wheelbarrows of cash to buy a loaf of bread.

Neither climate destabilization nor the dangerous dominance of rentier capitalists can be grasped without a theory of money that addresses them both simultaneously. And yet you treat it as if it is an artefact of nature, like gallons in an aquifer, or joules in a liter of gas.

Money is the entitlement, the sign, the institution, the social and biospheric solvent that confers power; and if we can’t sustain “growth” with bricks and mortar, so to speak, we’ll put the whole show in the hands of rentiers who would, like most of us, rather gamble than work. This fact is overwhelming in its force and simplicity, and yet the left has undertheorized money itself. 

So the polemical refrain of “Money for X (schools, hospitals, transportation, et al), and not for war!” does four things at once:

(1) demonstrates a complete absence of understanding how the rentier (war) economy sustains the purchasing power of the dollar (the world’s core currency), which can shrink before that redistributive spending begins, based on economic cascades generated by policies preceding redistribution;

(2) demonstrates an even more common failure to grasp how general-purpose money itself and inherently reproduces capitalist social relations;

(3) makes promises socialists will inevitably break, undermining future socialists in power, opening the way to reactionaries in their wake; and

(4) reiterates (or "reinscribes," if you like the po-mo idiom) radical technological optimism.

In Dunlap’s article quoted above, he indicts “industrial scale renewable energy,” wherever that fuzzy boundary between non-industrial and industrial scale is, and scale is certainly part of the problem. But scale is to industrial production what fever is to malaria, symptom and not source. Malaria begins as a protozoan organism; and industrial scale is the outworking of general-purpose money.

Industrialism, the technical outworking of capitalist accumulation, is an inherently imperial process that requires inputs from exploitable peripheries that always represents an increase in the rate of dissipation (thermodynamic) and disorder (ecologic). What money ensures, as an exchange accelerator and disciplinary institution (enforced scarcity and dependence, combined with enclosure and progressive commodification), is that the most ecologically destabilizing practices are rewarded: the greater the ecologic destabilization, the greater the reward. Redistribution does exactly nada to change this.

Conservation is actually the greatest threat to accumulation. So if you want to overthrow the system, become radical conservationists.

To develop the whole world to the “level” (as if this were independent of the core-periphery dynamic) of the core industrial nations would require several planets, this is correct; but in its Malthusian assumptions, it fails to account for the fact that the industrial development and maintenance of these core nations is constituted fundamentally by their parasitic relationship with the peripheries. In a different scale, this is also true of cities and countryside.

Dear American, your life cannibalizes the life of an African child miner.

The collapse of the Roman Empire was substantially caused by imperial overstretch necessitated by the despoliation of land and water, first in near geographical proximity, then successively further away. Imperial systems import order and export disorder. Your lifestyle is maintained by this dynamic. The rest was recorded as history, but it was what medics call sequelae. The knock-on effect.
In Rome, they went from Republic to dictatorship, dictatorship to civil war, civil war to dissolution. We might be headed the same way . . . in our own special way.

The scale of Roman conquest was limited by reliance on the military. General-purpose money is a far more effective agent. One uncited reason, prior to the groundbreaking work of Alf Hornborg, is semiotic. Let’s review.

Marx (using Aristotle’s concept) described the difference between use-value and exchange-value in the commodity. Extending that analysis as we consider general-purpose money-as-a-sign, how do we account for the difference between general-purpose money (as opposed to local currency and specie money of various kinds) and other signs?

“In politics all abstract terms conceal treachery.”
-CLR James

Abstraction is decontextualization. General-purpose money is among the highest flying of all abstractions. As a sign, it is unique. Modern general-purpose money is not a symbol, because it stands for nothing. It is not a language. Money is not to a thing-for-sale as a word is to an object. Money doesn’t relate to money itself like words, as describing differences and forms, because the only difference in money is more or less. General-purpose fiat money is not symbolic of anything for which it is exchanged. There are no cultural conventions that establish a symbolic relation. The red on the traffic light is understood in a cultural context. Prior to car traffic, or in the absence of car traffic, it has no meaning. We might be able to say that a pizza symbolizes a particular sum of money (even this is questionable), making money a referent; but we’d never say that a sum of money symbolizes a pizza.

The pseudoscience of economics tells us that money is the measure of all things without differentiation. This is why we can exchange “rain forests for Coca-Cola.” Money appears only as a cipher (i.e., $). “Growth,” for example, using only $ is how we measure the economy. “We had three percent growth [in $] this year.” What does that actually mean? Does it tell us how many people are rich? Poor? Homeless? Does it tell us anything about food quality? About illness? The state of a power grid? The fitness of water to drink in Flint, Michigan? Births? Deaths? Soil health? Air quality? Types of employment? What are the economic preoccupations of you and your family right now?

Economists use the measure called Gross Domestic Product, an averaged calculation of how much profit there is overall, how much money is spent overall, and how much money is received in income overall. These are reduced to a single number; and that number represents only a bald quantity of a single formless quality: $. In 2015, that was around $18 trillion for the United States. It made no difference whether that money circulated through goat farms, resort hotels, convenience stores, or weapons factories. They are all reflected by the same code: $. One thing might be $$, and another more expensive one $$$$$$$$; but the code is otherwise undifferentiated, like a piano with one key. Even computer code, because it has to accommodate specific information, differentiation, and context, requires two. Even the simplest DNA requires four nucleotides, points out Hornborg. “We could regard money,” he says, “as a communicative disorder.”

When you say “Money for stick candy instead of war,” you are still saying $$$$$$$$$. Duh duh duh duh duh.

The conceptual cornerstone of economic science [$] is thus as vague as the most abstract definition possible of the most elementary unit of communication. It specifies absolutely nothing about the substance of economic processes. The all-engulfing character of modernity is generated by this tendency toward abstraction— that is, by the use of signs (including concepts such as “utility”) that can stand for anything to anybody. The core of our “culture” is a black hole; at the heart of our cosmology are empty signs. (Hornborg)

So why does a semiotic analysis of general-purpose money matter in a discussion of political ecology?

An image that occurs to me when I think of this is from the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. A crew member on a spacecraft has been biologically colonized by an unknown life form that has attached to his face. When the crew member is laid down in the infirmary, another crew member takes a scalpel and nips at one of the creature’s joints. The laceration expresses a gooey fluid that, rather than hit the floor and stop, burns through the floor. The crew then run downstairs, one level, then another, watching the acid burn its way toward the hull, whereupon the craft would lose its seal and the crew would become space litter. Eventually, the acid stops, to everyone’s relief.

When I sign by pointing to the dog, the sign finds its resting place, its stopping point, at the dog. If I utter the word red, the sign finds its stopping point at the appearance of the color red. Money does not do that, because it has no referent. Nothing says—pun intended—the buck stops here. In this respect, then, general-purpose money is very much like an infinitely powerful acid, or solvent. It moves between things, and between the parts of things, and separates them from their context. It separates the gold from the geography in which it begins. It separates people from the communities in which they live. It separates the fish from the fishery, then separate the keepers from the by-catch.

The entire counter-entropic assertion of the biosphere is fundamentally based on the webwork of relations that are mutually contextualizing, and that contextualization is selected for in the evolutionary process. Biotic systems become more resilient through ever greater diversification, and that diversification progressively demands more complex relations of interdependency. In other words, natural systems are dynamically stable based on this mutual contextualization. Massive interventions by human beings disrupt that stability, and, seeing as how humans are not apart from nature (the Cartesian delusion), in turn disrupt the stability of human communities.

Redistributive schemes, whether through democratic, tributary, or communitarian economies, cannot on their own resolve unjust social relations, without taking into account both the dangerous nature of money—as a solvent, as an acid.

Moreover, no system, even a socialist one, can overcome this difficulty without taking into account technology, in its specificity, which itself already—like capital—embodies an unequal social relation.

So now that I'm the skunk at the party on this "money-thing," let me say what I believe will likely happen.

Once in power, these realities--in conjunction with outside pressures you can't even imagine yet--will force you to get right back in line with the "money-thing" and don't even think about using the imaginary "power of the state" against them, because the military-security-police apparatus will already be plotting with the ruling class—who pays well in a pinch—to wipe the political floor with you, while the media cheerleads.

But if you get on the Sanderista wave and ride desperation and partial-consciousness into power, what happens then? Well, I'm running for office, so I'll tell you what I propose.

My Program

Ruthless conservation. Decades of psychological dislocation and hardship. And letting a lot of institutions and practices die of neglect.

Because general-purpose money is an ecological phenomenon that dissolves traditions, communities, and the biosphere, any transition worth its salt will have to begin the long march to reduce our dependence on general-purpose money, which inevitably means some form of the radical relocalization of all basic production, draconian control of “markets,” the gradual death by benign neglect of old transportation grids, and the reorganization of political subdivisions around watersheds instead of arbitrary lines drawn on the map.

To this end, the state’s role would be crucial. Once key industries and infrastructure are placed under public control and price controls established, nonessential industries would need to be systematically closed down. As they are closed, massive public works training and jobs programs would be established to guarantee uninterrupted full employment at living wages; and those jobs would need to be geared to the transitional projects for repairing environmental damage and setting the stage for thoroughgoing relocalization. With price controls, the state could print money for this purpose (they’ve printed about a trillion dollars to bail out bond traders so far). Priority programs would remediate areas and communities where environmental injustices have been the worst.

A maximum wage system would need to be established for various professionals—doctors, lawyers, etc. Dramatic conservation measures would need to be taken and enforced, beginning with energy rationing and including any nonessential production that relies on imports that depend upon postcolonial (neoliberal)  unequal exchange relations abroad. All subsidies and allowances in agriculture and forestry would be cancelled and/or redirected for both relocalization and sustainability. Any industry that exceeds a certain number of employees and which is not directed wholly by the state would be reorganized as worker-owned. All industry oversight and management would be conducted by subsets of the central authority who are representative of their watersheds. All subsidies to fossil energy extraction and refinement would need to be ended, and a transition program for all workers in those industries into public works.

As to money, and this may be the most radical proposal of all—but it takes into account what we have studied with regard to money as the sign with no referent—one proposal has been a two-money system. Hornborg sums it up:

Perhaps transforming our money system is the only chance we have. General-purpose money rewards the dissipation of resources with every more resources to dissipate, until they are gone, or at least inaccessible. The dilemma of sustainability thus seems to be the very juxtaposition of this socio-cultural institution with the . . . facts of entropy, limited land area, and finite stocks of resources. The problem could thus be expressed as the consequences of money in a universe obeying the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If this is indeed recognized as our fundamental problem, it is much less problematic to conclude which of these factors—general-purpose money or the Second Law of Thermodynamics—can be changed through political decisions. Money is a cultural sign system invented by humans and in the long run perhaps the only factor we can hope to transform in the interest of sustainability.

What Hornborg and others have proposed is a dual money system—which they call a multi-centric economy. The state or other polities issue two forms of currency. One form would be the existing national currency, which will be eventually transitioned into a currency for long-distance exchange. The other would be local scripts, exchangeable only within certain boundaries (watersheds?) and only for subsistence commodities produced within those boundaries: locally grown food, locally produced tools, re-used items (thrift shops), organic fuels, materials extracted from local land (wood, fibers, plants, mulch, compost, et al.), local transport assistance, and local services. This script would be issued as a substantial portion of the guaranteed minimum income. Local script would be absolutely tax-free and could be used to hire temporary informal labor. In the short term, this may actually increase the exchanges using national currency, because it would free more income for non-local commodities; but over the longer term, the advantages afforded by local script, in conjunction with policies that promote increased local production, would strengthen the script as well as stabilize the local economy. In particular, given that local food production would be exchangeable for local script that is issued as part of a guaranteed minimum income, this system would promote small-scale, local agriculture, which is an essential—if not the essential—component of any larger transition. It would likewise inoculate local production from the solvent-effect of the national general-purpose currency, and set the stage for the most important general change of all: a de-financialized, de-growth economy.

The goal of short and mid-term social control over the economy through a democratic state is not the stabilization of a social-democratic state, but the transition to a de-financialized, de-growth economy. Without this kind of emergency program, what we have now—crisis-wracked and headed for disaster—will stutter along and crash, leaving us even more vulnerable to authoritarian reactionaries than we already are, as evidenced by the narrow election of Trump. Long-term and intentional watershed-based relocalization is far more radical than the nationalistic and nostalgic Keyenesians of Bernie Sanders’ stripe, but a real alternative needs to be articulated, with a vision upon which to build a real resistance to the period of reaction we are now entering. How that looks will depend on many things that are yet to be discovered in the process of redesigning the built environment; and if we do not redesign the built environment, that very environment will return us to our present practical and epistemological default positions on the runaway train.

Like it or not, we are already miles along the path of a world emergency. We may fail to take this kind of dramatic action, to mount this kind of resistance, to enter into this kind of mass movement; but if we fail at that, we will categorically leave our grandchildren a desperate, insecure, miserable, and more dangerous world. For far too many around the world and at home, this is already the reality.

But there you have my program. Elect me . . . but you’ll need to elect about ten thousand more who are ready for the same.

No Rectal Sunshine!

If you want this razor-keen analysis in the form of an unassailable and extended argument, buy my new book, Mammon's Ecology: Metaphysic of the Empty Sign, from Wipf and Stock Publishers. (For the time being, we are still using money.)



Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Mirror: Football, Race, and Nationalism


The US national anthem is a racist barroom ballad, celebrating militarism and slave-catchers. Which is appropriate, because that's who we are as a (White) nation, and those racialized Others, especially African Americans, are mere signifiers for us White folk, interpreted to demonstrate two things at once: White normativity and Black deviance to define the boundaries of that norm. All our most cherished social, economic, and political norms are White as can be, because they were all developed in milieux of unquestioned (by White people) White supremacy, conscious White supremacy, whiteness being the core cultural organizing principle of the American polity. Whiteness is a sin, our original sin, because the invention of whiteness was a rationalization for the bloodthirsty development of capitalism in the Atlantic states, which devoured brown and “black” bodies by the millions . . . and whiteness devours them still.

American football began as White nationalism and White imperial militarism.

By the end of the nineteenth century, football, a new game promoted in the schools and military academies and modeled on war, was vigorously embraced by those who bewailed the crisis of masculinity in urban Western culture. Theodore Roosevelt (an arch-racist) was an avid supporter of football in universities; he and his masculinity-obsessed contemporaries saw universities as training grounds for the master race. In a letter to a famous football coach, Walter Camp of Yale University, Theodore Roosevelt wrote,

The man on the farm and in the workshop here, as in other countries, is apt to get enough physical work; but we were tending steadily in America to produce in our leisure and sedentary classes a type of man not much above the Bengalee baboo, and from this the athletic spirit has saved us. Of all games I personally like football best, and I would rather see my boys play it than see them play any other. I have no patience with the people who declaim against it because it necessitates rough play and occasional injuries. The rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage.

In 1910, when Black boxer Jack Johnson stunningly defeated the undefeated White champion, James Jeffries, Roosevelt wrote to the magazine Outlook that prizefighting should be banned. This boxing victory did not fit the racial narrative of Roosevelt or of most White Americans at the time.

Football was a rendition of rugby, a British White man-sport that imperial ideologues in the United States credited for the ability of the British to seize and hold an empire. Football coaches were used as military advisors to develop physical training programs; and the Army-Navy game between West Point and Annapolis was promoted as a nationwide spectacle. While the first Army-Navy game was played on a roped-off field at West Point in 1890, by 1908 it was attended by thirty thousand at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field and heavily hyped in the New York Times.

The game, drenched in military metaphors, was also a business opportunity:

Because football seemed to reflect the aspirations of modern business, which was the greatest beneficiary of imperial expansion, it supported the imperial destiny. In so far as the fostering of the expanding professional and administrative middle class was concerned, American football provided strict rules for the Ivy League players compared with the ill-defined organization of traditional rugby. In this way, the organization of football came to resemble the newly emerging vision of scientific management of business. (Perelman and Portillo, “Football, Eugenics, and Imperial Destiny.”)

The legacy of this military-sports-business model can be seen today in the crossover between books on management that cite military leadership and successful sports coaching.

Football resulted in an alarming number of injuries and deaths, conjuring the wrath of a few public women and fellow male critics of both sports and militarism; but Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, an ardent militarist, made his case before the graduating class of Harvard in 1896, saying, “Injuries incurred on the playing field are part of the price which the English-speaking race has paid for being world conquerors.”

The racial integration of football didn’t happen at once. In fact, Black players have participated in the sport professionally since Charlie Follis played for the Shelby Steamfitters in 1902. But Black players were limited by quotas, attacked, ridiculed, and kept out of the supposedly “brainier” positions, like quarterback, into the 1970s, and there were very few Black coaches . . . today they number 11 percent in college ball, with four out of every ten players being Black; and in the NFL, white coaches, offensive coordinators, and general managers are still overwhelmingly white, even though 68 percent of NFL players are African American. Only five of 32 quarterbacks were listed last year, and only one had ever been played as a starter by 2016. So White fans can still love their fastest Negroes the same way they love their fastest horse, knowing football intellection (I know) is still the province of the master race.

And football is sexist as hell, a whole nuther editorial. It promotes sexism, celebrates sexism, and sells the shit out of sexism, so there’s that, too. Cheescake cheer squads, sexist humor during ads, macho bluster, rape, you name it; it’s there.

But one player queered the pitch, as they said back in the day. Colin Kaepernick, a mixed-race player (face it, if you can’t “pass,” you’re wearing the Black brand), raised by an adoptive White couple in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a place so White you could go snow blind, started as a baseball player, then exploded into the limelight playing Nevada football in 2007-8 as one of the best QBs of all time. Drafted into pro ball in 2011 by San Francisco. By 2016, however, Kaepernick, apparently convinced by Ferguson and the depressingly, maddeningly, enragingly long list of other now iconic locations where cops gun down unarmed people, including kids, who are branded with blackness, that he could not sit by any longer. So he did this little thing. He sat out the American national anthem—a kind of collective loyalty oath to the White Nation taken by players and audiences alike.

It was one small protest against cops, mostly White cops, but cops (and vigilantes), killing Black folk in America, and getting away with it.

So let’s back up, especially fellow White people, and think through some of the contradictions here. Because it’s different for Whites and Blacks in America, and we are reluctant to admit why.

Why . . . would Black people participate in a sport with such White imperial roots, celebrate “their” success in it, when it is racist, militaristic, and rooted in White supremacy from the first? Why . . . would Black players, who make millions sometimes, then risk the perqs by protesting by “taking the knee”? Why . . . won’t Black players and Black people—who have attained some class privilege in the US, at long last—just learn to be as “color-blind” and “post-racist” as nice white liberals? Why . . . choose the NFL, of all places, as the site to protest racist cops and a racist criminal justice system? Why can’t we separate the struggle against white power from patriarchy? Why? Why? Why?

These are, of course, questions that White people ask, because we can perch upon the lofty peaks of our own racialized privilege, and our White educations, and see the world as a unified, abstracted, morally intelligible whole. Especially if we remain ignorant of what Black people, from W.E.B. DuBois to Patricia Hill Collins have been pointing out since the nineteenth century. Black people cannot survive, or even find a way to exist, in a White society, the hegemony of which is sustained by branding the Black body as the boundary, the definition of deviance, or conversely, the exotic, the transgressive, the bearer of some primitive wisdom, the background in our hallucinations of White Saviorhood. Black people cannot afford our high altitude binocular vision; because they are hunted.

Black people have to look both ways at once, to the world of Black people where there is common experience and where pockets of survival have been organized, however unevenly, and to the world of White people, where there is danger and opportunity, however contradictorily tangled . . . the structures that dictate the limits of lives. White people cannot possibly know this dual consciousness. We can only vaguely comprehend the endurance required to live this duality every goddam day, from birth to death. We can only, and with great difficulty and effort, begin to perceive what it is like, and that it is a wonder Black people will even talk to us in our cluelessness . . . or that if and when Black people let their guards down around us, it is pure grace, and nothing we deserve.

White parents don’t tell White children how to keep their hands visible on the wheel during a traffic stop; or bear the terrible knowledge that White men with guns actually seek out opportunities to kill Black people as probative of White masculinity. Our White children do not leave our sight each day in this miasma of familial fear.

White liberal “journalists” actually tried to co-interview bell hooks and Ice-T once, with the clear intention of getting hooks to confront Ice-T about sexist lyrics in his songs. Ice-T and bell hooks, however, both well-schooled in these paternalistic tactics, called this out together and refused to take the bait, leaving a wake of White disappointment. This was only clear-cut from those lofty White peaks of abstraction; and they both knew that what distinguishes the White liberal above all else is the penchant for telling other people what to do in order to make the world over in their own image. Celebrate diversity celebrates ourselves celebrating diversity . . . that anodyne, neutralized abstraction that is our own covert version of All Lives Matter.

People under attack resist how they can from where they are, the way they can.

Why? Why do they have to wear their hats that way? Why do they wear their pants that way? Why do they use that profanity? Why do they play that music so loud? Why won’t they walk, talk, write, sing, dress, worship, and dance like us . . . why, why, why . . . (because we are what they aspire to, no? the norm? the pinnacle?) Why can’t they all be the Cosbys? (oops, and yes, the politics of respectability is one of those contradictions that exist apart from White world) And if they don’t, well then, we can appropriate what is theirs, make it ours, and render it safely neutral. White people’s greatest weapon is enclosure. And White saviors are about White saviors.

You won’t hear it from them, so maybe you’ll hear it from me. I’m right here in the middle of this privilege pool with you. Get the fuck over yourselves.

Colin Kaepernick did what he could with what he had where he could, and he has probably sacrificed a great deal. Then more Black players joined, and some Black fans (with precious few White allies), and rather than confront the fact that this little gesture of resistance was about the fact that even after this protest, almost 400 more black people have been killed by cops, White people made it about their White flag and their White Nation, because you will accept your inclusion on our terms, or we will destroy you. If you hold up the mirror to us, we will break it, then we will come for you.

To hell with that flag and to hell with that nation, but that’s not what Kaepernick and the rest were on about. They were holding the mirror up, the mirror of dead Black bodies that we buried under the White hallucination of providence and progress we built on those bodies, and the bodies of countless other Others.

What White America hates most about this is that it went viral. If forced us to have the conversation in the Big Public, which is why there is such a cacophony of counter-protest trying to drown that conversation out.

And now, with 53 percent of fans (according to one poll) opposing the Kneel, the NFL has decided to fine players for refusing to stand for the anthem that includes “the home of the free” buried in among the lyrics about killing runaway slaves. This may be the NFL’s Bull Connor moment. It won’t play out the way White America wants. This won’t go back in that hallucinatory box. Time will tell, but football—with all its contradictions, like boxing for Ali—has become an insurgency zone. The lines are drawn, and getting clearer each day.

And it can’t be dismissed by saying, as even I have, “Well, I never watch football anyway.”

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Political Demography - Feb 28, 2018



White people are 62 percent of the population (and falling).

White people constituted 71 percent of all voters in the 2016 General Election (partly from turnout, partly from voter suppression)

White voters favored Trump over Clinton 57 to 37 (most 3rd Party votes were for Libertarians, with a few for Greens).

Latin@s were 18 percent of the population and 10 percent of voters. CLOSING THIS GAP WOULD HELP.

Latin@s favored Clinton over Trump 67-28, with concentration of Trump-Latin@s among Floridian Cuban Americans. Obama won Latin@s with 71 percent, four points ahead of Clinton.

African Americans were 14 percent of the population and 13 percent of voters.

African Americans favored Clinton over Trump 88 to 8, with some young black voters drifting to the Greens. Obama received 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, five points ahead of Clinton.

Asian Americans were 5 percent of the population and between 3-4 percent of voters. Asian Americans favored Clinton over Trump at 65 to 27. 73 percent Asian Americans voted for Obama in 2012, a difference of eight points.

Other non-white voters constituted 2-3 percent.

Since 2006, the Democratic Party has steadily lost electoral shares in every general and off-year elections, in every single group.

In the 2016 GE, Clinton received 55 percent of the 18-29 year-old vote, with Trump receiving 37 percent.

Clinton received 50 percent of the 30-44 year-old category, with Trump at 37.

Clinton received 44 percent of 45-64 year-olds, with Trump winning 53 percent.

Clinton and Trump's shares were 45-53 respectively among voters 65 and up.

During the Democratic Primaries in 2016, ages 18-44 went for Sanders, with 60 percent for Sanders among whites and 49 percent of non-whites for Sanders. Clinton ran slightly ahead among white voters 45 and over, but the biggest gap was non-white voters over 45 years-old, which Clinton won by more than 40 percent.

The 45 years-old and up category turns out at around 70 percent.

30-44 turns out at about 60 percent.

18-29 turns out at about 45 percent. RAISING THIS BY TEN WOULD BE A GAME CHANGER.

By 2032, whites will lose their majority status and become a dominant plurality.

Here are the median ages for each state.

Here are the median ages for each county.

Here is a racial diversity map for each county.

More cool maps.

African American population by county map.

Latin@ population by county.

I contend that Sanders would have beaten Trump, but we'll never know, will we?

But what I will say is that by 2020, the demographics favor Sandercrats in electoral challenges within the Democratic Party; and they will be well-positioned (IF YOUTH IS MOBILIZED) to defeat Republicans en masse.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

ALL MASCULINITY IS TOXIC IN TEN EASY STEPS


(1) Masculinity is a set of behaviors, attitudes, language, clothing, comportment, associations, and tools that are associated with and expected of MEN. A pseudo-essence for men.

(2) Femininity is a corresponding and "complementary" set of behaviors, attitudes, language, clothing, comportment, associations, and tools that are associated with and expected of WOMEN. A pseudo-essence for women.

(3) An individual virtue, for example courage, or an individual vice, for example cowardice, is courage or cowardice whether enacted by a MAN, WOMAN, OR OTHER.

(4) Masculinity-femininity are not "simply" natural and not "simply" cultural. They are cultural codes imposed on biological men and women (which exclude and-or demonize the intersexed, LGBT, et al, because they are an abjection of the cultural code. They disrupt the symbolic universe of gendered power.

(5) Masculinity-femininity constitute a system of gender--here defined not expressively or individually, but gender as the organized and systematized domination of men-as-men over women-as-women. A system of power with an attendant division of labor (or vice-versa).

(6) Calling an action, attitude, or behavior "masculine" or "feminine" is participating in that code and reinforcing that power. It is not the action, attitude, or behavior on its own that is "gendered" male or female by the masculine-feminine code; it is the EXISTENCE of masculinity-femininity and its arbitrary divisions of labor-culture-power between men and women (and its marginalization and demonization of sexual "minorities") that has led to the association of (material) violence with "masculinilty" (the pseudo-essence for which violence and other "masculine" phenomena become probative).

(7) There is no "good" masculinity and "bad" masculinity, one benign and one toxic, but standards of common decency, which if applied fairly are applicable to anyone, regardless of sex or sexuality.

(8) The only reason, then, for promoting "non-toxic" masculinity is to preserve the masculine-feminine code.

(9) If gender (defined as above) is a system of unequal power, then the continued division of practices and attitudes into masculine-feminine--even if we are promoting "non-toxic" versions of either--is an attempt to preserve the dipole.

(10) All masculinity is toxic.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Where Dwells the Christian? Guns, Masculinity, and Whiteness

  

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

― Matthew 26:52

Beware, my body and my soul, beware above all of crossing your arms and assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium, and a man who wails is not a dancing bear.

― Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land


Stupid is is stupid does

When I was growing up, our Mother prohibited us calling anyone “stupid.” I’m not at all sure why, but I’d speculate this epithet was used against her when she was a child, and she remembered the hurt. So even though I sometimes use the term now that I’m—shall we say—an elder, I am still more circumspect than many about when and how I apply it.
I know the word gets used in a broad range of ways in an assortment of contexts.  I know some people who use it lightly as a synonym for silly. Others to mean senseless, or foolish.  Many people whose texts I read online refer to people who disagree with them as stupid, and what’s wrong with that is fairly obvious. Less directly, some refer to others who are uneducated or use street grammar or are ignorant of particular facts and ideas as “stupid,” being fallacious and offensive at once.  “I’m smart and you are not.” Maybe Mom had an effect.
When I use the word “stupid,” it has nothing to do with one’s native cognitive capacities nor one’s education nor one’s class.  I associate stupidity with intentional obduracy, with that dig-in-your-heels, stubborn-assed refusal to do something or not do something when you already know better. Without that element of intent, using the term as an epithet or accusation strips the term of any moral content. Doing something or not doing something “because I can” is a species of stupidity. None of this may accord with Merriam-Webster; I just want it be clear how I’m using the word here.
I grew up with the things. Our Dad taught us to shoot very young with .22 rifles and .410 shotguns. He was born in 1906, an excellent shot and a skilled hunter who never ever kept trophies. He had some Olde School rules about guns and hunting:  never kill it if you won’t eat it; and never point a gun—real or toy—at another human being. That’s right. If we got caught pointing toy guns at each other or anyone else, we were in deep doodoo. All guns were real; and all guns were loaded; and the guns we had around our house were not intended to be used on human beings.
On the other hand, I was born in 1951, and we were the first generation to be raised on television. So we were awash in gunplay, predominantly Westerns. In television and movie stories, people pointed guns at each other all the time; and they shot each other, a lot. Gunsmoke (GUN smoke) ran weekly, and the opening shot for every episode (pun intended) was a deadly quick-draw contest in the middle of a dusty city street. One of the things that these stories taught us about shooting—aside from the fact that it was the only way, ultimately, to ensure justice—was that God favored the good white guys (with guns) with more talent for marksmanship than God did the bad guys (this good and bad thing was crystal clear). Bad guys always missed at the crucial moment, and good guys could drop a bad guy (or a “hostile Indian”) from a cliff two hundred yards away, shooting from the hip with a post-Civil War revolver. This correspondence between masculine moral superiority and markmanship underwrote the most overt teaching of the show or film—that violence is redemptive and that, in the end, only violence was capable of midwifing redemption.
The exception to the pointing guns rule in our house was permission to pop over green rubber army soldiers—bought by the bagful—with BB guns. We learned that payoff, that instant of satisfaction when your round hit its mark.
Then I joined the Army. There, all we did was practice shooting human beings. We did our marksmanship qualification on human-shaped targets that would actually fall when you hit them. And we played war games with blank-adapters on our assault rifles, so we could shoot at one another and get the feel of associating the trigger squeeze and the noise with an actual human (dressed in black “pajamas” then to simulate being a “bad” Vietnamese).
In Vietnam, I carried an M-16 assault rifle for a couple of months (an AR-15, the kind favored in mass shootings now), then I was assigned an M-60 machinegun. These were not Daddy’s .410 rabbit gun or .22 squirrel gun. When you saw, smelled, disassembled, assembled, cleaned, aimed, and shot these weapons . . . when you felt their solidity and weight in your hands and pushed the high-powered rounds down into a magazine, you also felt the power of life and death. That M-16 fired a round that left the barrel at 3110 feet per second. The M-60 has a muzzle velocity of 2800 feet per second, rounds that are linked into belts of 100.
In the nanosecond it takes for these projectiles to pass through a human body, there are effects on that body that are summed up clinically in something called “terminal ballistics.”  I won’t review these effects except to say that they are devastating, more than merely something that pierces a body, but something that causes a phenomenon called “cavitation,” and all the messy physics of projectiles that are misshapen or shattered on impact with muscles, organ tissues, bones.
My first glimpse of real gunshot wounds from real assault rifles on real people wasn’t in Vietnam, it was at McChord Air Force Base waiting to go to Vietnam, when some of the returnees would share their death photographs—pictures of dead Vietnamese with limbs blown off or skulls emptied. This wasn’t what I’d seen in the Westerns, and those who shared the pictures proudly, almost gleefully, were not the Men I had idolized as a child in front of the TV. They were in some parallel moral universe, where the measure of cruelty was the measure of manhood. So much for “heroes.”
What I brought back from Vietnam was fear, suspicion, and the intimate and visceral knowledge that I could inflict this kind of devastation—that I could end a life—by properly aligning the sights of a firearm and applying pressure with one trigger finger. I was a skinny little lad with big ears and freckles; but fuck with me and I had the experience and the hardware to utterly erase you. I’d become like those young men—as young as nineteen—coming back with their trophy shots. I had been empowered, but at a cost to my soul. That thing in my hand, I knew the terrible power in that thing, that weight, that peculiar tool that can change everything in a split second. That’s why our Dad didn't even allow us to play-shoot each other. He didn't grow up with TV and toy guns. He grew up with guns.
In 1982, I was selected for membership in the Army's counter-terrorrist unit. I was specially trained as a gunfighter. Not an infantry grunt, but a precision shooter of pistols, submachineguns, and sniper rifles. We fired thousands upon thousands of rounds in practice, and we were conversant in the variety of gun technologies. We could quick-draw, rapid-reload, discriminate “targets,” hit sequence targets, and shoot with precision from a series of positions.  We learned the art of the “double-tap," two quick rounds in succession to the thorax to double the damage. I was not merely a man with a gun, but that man who can effectively fight other men with guns at close range and survive. Here is the thing about constant practice.
Practice it long enough, and you will want to actually do it.
That’s precisely what many of today's “gun nuts” do. They spend untold sums to practice, practice, practice. The hardware and ammo are mad expensive, but they idolize, fetishize, obsess about guns.
I’ll tell you a little secret about many of them who are white guys and members of the National Rifle Association (the largest white nationalist militia in history). They’ve confided in me, because I am a white man. Their predominant shooting fantasies are about shooting black people, especially black men—of whom they harbor an immense fear. But with a gun, one need not fear, because one has the power of life and death literally at one’s fingertip. Bang! Threat eliminated. And yes, they identify guns with their penises. Yes, it is a powerful phallic symbol.
I recently heard a news story that revealed that in my state of Michigan, there are now more than 400,000 people with permits to carry concealed firearms. Most of them are men, and most are white, and many of them live in a fantasy where they will—like Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke—get their chance to prove themselves (as Men) and deliver justice by killing another human being with their guns.
[For the record, there are more and more women nowadays—mostly white women (Stand By Your Man)—who are falling into the same fantasy, and who are practicing, practicing, practicing with guns. But it’s still far more essential to the construction of masculinity.]
As someone who used to carry, I can say that—when I was armed—I would go anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, respond to anyone any way I wanted, be as rude as I wanted, as inconsiderate as I wanted, and meet those little non-verbal challenges that strange men throw at each other because it’s a man-thing any way I wanted, and respond to rudeness and idiocy (to which I could choose not to respond) . . . because I could. There it is! The criterion for stupid. I have a damn gun, and I know how to use it. I can put two rounds in your thorax in less than a second. I can erase you.
I used to claim it was for self-defense; but for quite a few years now, I’ve gone unarmed and miraculously survived. I do avoid certain people and places, i.e., drunk people (the most dangerous of animals) and places with a lot of drunk people. These were the people and places that most often put me at risk back in the day. I don’t do that anymore just “because I can.” I am also deferential, courteous, and friendly (when possible) with strangers; I don’t do the dominator-stare-down thing with other men. Common decency/common sense stuff, that you can abandon—stupidly—when you pack heat.
The memes for gun nuts are pretty stupid, too.  Gun people already know, when they post things like this . . .


. . . that their ammunition can penetrate walls when they miss, pass from one (intended) body to the next (unintended) one when they don’t, ricochet around the house and into the kids’ bedrooms, and that in the event that someone breaks in while they are home, they are likely to lose the gun to the assailant. Moreover, and far more likely than an armed confrontation with an invader, having guns around the house increases the probability of suicide, accidental shootings, or one family member shooting the other during a drunken argument.
Few things jump as high on the stupidity-meter as openly carrying a gun. Because most of us are understandably not comfortable knowing that some total stranger—who may have the judgement of a six-year-old for all we know (open-carrying has already cast suspicion on you)—has the power of instant life and death on his hip in a grocery store where people are pushing their baby-strollers. The guys who do that are doing it “because they can.”
The portable power of life and death means there are lots of things you can do simply “because I can.” This stupidity has another name—masculinity (calling it “toxic” masculinity is redundant—the existence of masculinity is toxic).
The reality is, this fixation on guns is rooted in irrational fear, not of actual dangers—but of two other kinds of fear really: fantasy dangers (often racialized), and fear of being too effeminate.

Guns in America

This collection of reflections was triggered (gun metaphor) by the latest in a string of mass shootings at public schools, and I can still turn on the television and see guns as instruments of redemption. American cops kill around a thousand people a year in the US; and there is the development of the Redneck Revolutionary movement—supposedly antifascist, even though fascism is significantly about armed men and their fragile masculinity—in which ostensibly antiracist white people remain rooted in, and celebrate, gun culture. “Racism no – Guns yes” is their mantra apparently.
American culture is Baudrillard on steroids, Baudrillard on acid. The simulacra has taken over as we withdraw into our electronic life-support and hallucination dens. We come to believe that what we read and see in audiovisual media is true, in part because we have eschewed real experience as too troublesome or risky.
The Army disabused me of simulation.
When I was at my old counter-terrorist unit, we thought about ammunition a great deal, especially how it passes through targets (terminal ballistics) and ricochets. Because, if you are supposed to be ready to rescue hostages, it kind of defeats the purpose if you shoot the “bad guy” and the bullet passes through him and enters the body of a rescu-ee. This was a special concern for aircraft hijacking scenarios, because everyone is lined up tightly in seats like human sardines. One’s shooting sector is a long, linear tube.
We decided to test ammunition, and we spent a week testing it at an "aircraft graveyard" in the Arizona desert. Terminal ballistics were tested using gelatin blocks to simulate human bodies. We made gelatin blocks that were body-sized, gelatin blocks that were super-sized, and even gelatin blocks that were supplemented with ribs from a local butcher. We lined up the blocks in frames on aircraft seats, in frames that were lined up outside, and in frames that were separated by variable distances. And we shot them, again and again, photographing and recording data along the way.
We found that the most common pistol round (and our submachine gun rounds), the 9mm, when fired from various pistols, would pass through around three blocks and seat backs before coming to rest in the fourth gelatin block. Okay, this was not so good. Fortunately then, our own standard sidearms were souped-up M1911 45 calibers, firing a fatter, slower round than the 9mm; and when we tested the 45s, they only went through one block, one seat back, and partway into the next block. Combining this subsonic round with careful shot placement (in split seconds) might at least minimize collateral damage. Shotguns were better the lighter the load, so the 00 buckshot that was our standard went into a second block, whereas the substitution of #6 or smaller “birdshot” kept the projectiles in the first block unless one was almost at point blank range.
Cops use 9mm ammunition for the most part. Assault rifles (AR-15s) as long guns (usually 5.56mm or .223 caliber), and 00 buckshot in their shotguns (they also have “bean bag” loads for “riots”). Think about that, and you’ll see why places like UK don’t have every cop running the street armed.
Gun nuts like assault rifles and 9mm or other hot (supersonic) loads for their sidearms. NRA type gun nuts love to talk about the technics and ballistics; and they fantasize about killing home intruders, rescuing white damsels, fighting bad governments in the woods, and shooting black people, “Mexicans,” and Muslims. I’ve been to a couple of guns shows and shooting events, and they talk about this quite openly.
Now we have the Redneck Revolutionaries, who may have different fantasy targets, but they are still mostly boys who can’t relinquish the fantasy of proving their manhood by shooting “the bad men” (in the fantasies, the targets are mostly men, because killing men is more probative of masculinity than shooting women, unless you’re going for the full-on Ted Bundy masculinity).
Kill the bad men. Camera angle from below, sun on face, wind blowing that masculine causcasion hair, True Heroes. Because they are fantasists and paranoids, gun nuts are looking for a fight; and the immediate possession of a gun, carrying that is, amplifies this pugnaciousness . . . a lot. The quest for masculinity is fundamentally predicated on (deep, unconscious, sexual) fear, and the possession of a firearm is not merely an antidote to fear; it generates that belligerent “courage” that can only originate from a deep, unconscious fear. So guns don’t only make people physically more dangerous; they make people psychologically far more dangerous. Stupid.
An armed society is not a polite society. I’m not talking about hunters in Canada or Iceland who keep a deer rifle in the closet. I’m talking about the exploding mass of sexually-insecure white males who are carrying their Sig Sauers and Berettas into Walmarts and Krogers and middle schools to pick up their kids. At the most extreme, the Preppers—Lord, have mercy, who are armed to the teeth even as they’ve lost their collective mind.
I’ve proposed elsewhere that Just War theories lost their raison d’etre with the advent of modern war, in no small part because automatic weapons, cannon fire, and bombs of all sorts cannot distinguish friend from foe, and even were they able to, their impact areas/bursting radii are too large to use these weapons without accepting in advance that they will kill bystanders. And soldiers inevitably kill civilians on purpose, quite often; but we’ll stay with bystander casualties.
In World War I, 7 million combatants died alongside 6.6 million civilians. Fatality counts exclude the even larger numbers of combatants and civilians who are injured, often in ways that cause permanent suffering and disability. In World War II, some 70 million died, and even excluding the ethnic cleansing campaigns, bystander deaths outnumbered combatant deaths by nearly three to one. Sixty-seven percent of Korean War casualties were civilians, and with Allied operations against the North, North Korea lost fully twenty percent of its total population. Around 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed during the US invasion and occupation, compared to around half that number in combatants. Four out of every five casualties in Afghanistan since 2001 have been civilians; and two of every three casualties in Iraq since the 2003 invasion have been non-combatants. Drone strikes, which are called “surgical,” kill ten non-combatants for every combatant—if you believe the remote operators can really distinguish such a thing through a flying camera. So there’s my point, in brief, about “just” war.
My point about guns is similar, if on a smaller scale. Modern rifled firearms and, at close range, shotguns, have been refined toward a telos of ever-increasing efficacy—and by efficacy, we mean lethality at various ranges. They are designed for the instant destruction of enough living tissue to cause death in another human being. That was the specific design telos for the AR-15.
In 2011, there were around 34,000 fatalities from firearms and around 74,000 non-fatal injuries in the US. We use guns in 67 percent of homicides, 50 percent of suicides, 43 percent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults. I myself survived eight conflict areas in the Army without sustaining a gunshot wound, and was finally shot outside a bar in 1991 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. These statistics can be deceiving, because when we compare homicides with suicides, the percentages lie.
We kill ourselves more often than we kill others here, and 60 percent of suicides use firearms. Suicides account for 65 percent of suicide deaths—in part because the shooting is more effective, and in part because successful suicides, while the numbers compared to attempts are unknown, have a high correspondence to the method used. Firearms, at above 80 percent as far as we know, are the absolute most successful method. So, all other things being equal, a firearm in the house dramatically increases the odds that it will be used for some confused, sick, broken, humiliated, and-or lonely person to extinguish themselves. In 2013, 41,149 US suicides were successful—men far more than women, because men choose firearms, naturally. By comparison, just over a thousand home invasions were ostensibly repelled by the threat of a firearm, and actual burglary-homicides in the US are around 100 a year nationwide. Do the math: 1/3,200,000. You are quite a bit more likely to have a suicidal person among family or friends in the house than a lethal burglar.
Or kids. We kill more kids per capita with guns than any country in the world, and around 320 kids are snuffed out each year here in home gun accidents, more than three times the probability of repelling an actual homicidal intruder with a gun. (Not to forget, if your home is intruded upon by a killer—which is about twice as likely as being killed by lightning—the best course of action is to leave and call 911. Burglars look for guns, because they have a great resale value.)
All that aside now, however, let’s get down to the creepy business of what exactly gunshots do. A contained explosion sends missiles down a barrel at speeds that can go through the average elm tree. When a bullet hits a body, it doesn’t simply punch a hole and slice through a tiny column of skin, organ tissue, bone, etc. At high velocity, projectiles have brand new physical properties. Three of the immediate outcomes are in-flight deviation, distortion of the projectile, and cavitation. The projectile begins responding to its environment as soon as it leaves the barrel—so it might tail-drop ("yaw"), or wobble, or turn. The projectile is distorted by the impact with material (like the flesh and bone of a human being) and loses its sleek, perfect cylindricality. The projectile pushes a shock wave through the air around its flight path which enters the body and tears through the tissues surrounding the bullet path in a nanosecond “cavity,” leaving behind extensive damage not only along the path, but through tissues distal to the path. That’s why entry wounds can be quite small, but exit wounds can look like bomb craters in meat. If it hits the upper arm, for example, it might break the bone without ever touching is, or tear up the brachial artery (fatal), or destroy large amounts of muscle tissue (resulting in shock, future infections, permanent disability). A small caliber, subsonic round like a .22 might leave the gun your three-year-old has found, enter the head of your eight-year-old, then ricochet around inside the skull until all its kinetic energy is gone. In a nanosecond. No do-overs.
All this is true if you’ve just shot Hannibal Lecter; but it is equally true if you missed old Hannibal and the bullet passed through a sheetrock wall and hit the lawyer Hannibal has tied up in the next room for tonight’s dinner. Or you may shoot at that fourteen-year-old heroin-addicted home intruder, miss the “bad” child, have the bullet strike your stone veneer, ricochet, and end up in the lumbar spine of your niece who’s come to visit and sleeps in the spare bedroom. If you fire ten times, maybe you can hit the bad child, too, and punish the kid-burglary by blowing holes in his skull and abdomen. That should make you feel better.
Even if you are a crack shot at the range where you hang out with your buddies and talk about how you’ll “double-tap” the bad guys, when something actually happens that provokes you to draw your weapon (instead of the smart thing to do when there is danger, which is to haul ass out of there  . . . but the gun has made you stupid now), another person will not be standing still like a target in good light with a range master to ensure no one is downrange when you fire. You cannot, not under any circumstances, guarantee that you will not miss, that you will not hit a bystander, that you will not overreact. Trained cops hit their targets in street confrontations about 18 percent of the time. And for that reason, no one should be allowed to carry firearms around with them, because they are already, knowingly or not, accepted that they might shoot someone unintentionally. I include armed cops in this calculus.
Anyone who calls oneself a Christian and carries a firearm—given our absolute inability to control outcomes in the employment of firearms—ought to be ashamed and turn in your Jesus credentials. You cannot follow Jesus with a Glock.
No matter what cockamamie scenario you construct to justify carrying a gun (not talking about someone hunting) for “protection,” you cannot escape the reality of this inability to control what happens when a firearm is used, because you cannot predict the circumstances of its use.
Your penises will not fall off, boys, when you refuse to carry. And you are far less likely to have that unpredictable instant that saddles you with a lifetime of howling regret.

White masculinity in crisis

American Sniper, the stylized biopic of a SEAL sniper who killed more than 200 human beings,   was Clint Eastwood’s directorial paean to the (re)inscription of a national masculinity by the (re)narration of history.
I have never seen, nor will I ever see, American Sniper.  Nonetheless, I have the screenplay here at hand, which I recommend to others, because screenplays pull back the curtain on the abracadabra audiovisual hypnosis of film. One can see their constructed-ness.

EXT. STREET, FALLUJAH, IRAQ – DAY

The sun melts over squat residences on a narrow street.  The MARINE COMPANY creeps toward us like a cautious Goliath. FOOT SOLDIERS walk alongside Humvees and tanks.

COMMANDING OFFICER (OS)

(radio chatter) Charlie Bravo-3, we got eyes on you from the east. Clear to proceed, over.

EXT. ROOFTOP, “OVERWATCH” – SAME

Sun glints off a slab of corrugated steel. Beneath it-- CHRIS KYLE lays prone, dick in the dirt, eye to the glass of a .300 Win-Mag sniper rifle. He’s Texas stock with a boyish grin, blondish goatee and vital blue eyes. Both those eyes are open as he tracks the scene below, sweating his ass off in the shade of steel.

CHRIS KYLE

Fucking hot box.

GOAT (24, Arkansas Marine) lies beside him, woodsy and outspoken, watching dirt-devils swirl in the street.

GOAT

Dirt over here tastes like dog shit.

CHRIS KYLE

I guess you’d know.

This is the opening scene in the second draft. The scriptwriter, Jason Hall, sets a tone with his own language—“dick in the dirt”—so the director and actors are cued into the appropriate affective register. This is a film about tough guys, so he uses tough guy talk, white male bonding talk. This is a film about Real American Men—a man-movie. Rosemary Hennessey writes,

As one of the most pervasive forms of cultural narrative in industrialized societies, commercial film serves as an extremely powerful vehicle of myth. The mythic status of Hollywood films is of course enabled and buttressed by corporate endorsement and financial backing for distribution and promotion. To some extent the scripts that do get picked up manage to be supported because they already articulate a culture’s social imaginary—the prevailing images a society needs to project about itself in order to maintain certain features of its organization.

Clint Eastwood is a veteran actor and director, so he knows what works, which film conventions are recognizable by the American public, especially the males. He understands the “social imaginary” at work here.  He launched his career through Westerns, that American mythic genre that revolved around the conquest of the frontier and the men with guns who were unafraid to sally forth into untamed places as the dusty paladins of white civilization. American Sniper is a transplanted Western, “based on a true story.”
“Men with guns” is a Hollywood staple. American Sniper is unremarkable in this regard, though this film is part of a sub-genre that taps into gun culture, that peculiar version of white masculinity in the United States that idolizes guns. Modern snipers actually grew out of that subculture, which was promoted by the National Rifle Association at the turn of the twentieth century, with strong support from the Progressive Movement and its militaristic white supremacist leader, President Theodore Roosevelt. Prior to that period, marksmanship was a rare gift for which the technology didn’t exist until the American Civil War. It was only after gun culture gained a foothold in the American male imagination, that a history could be constructed about the United States that put the steely-eyed marksman at the center of a national myth.
In truth, during the Westward expansion of the U.S., armed men were generally soldiers, law enforcement, criminals, and semi-official thugs. Men who hunted with guns, as they do today, would dust off the rifle or shotgun that was stored in the house. Gun control laws in the Olde West, that is, legendary towns like Dodge City, Tombstone, and Deadwood, were actually far stricter than most gun control laws today. Municipal law enforcement generally required that any firearm inside city limits had to be stored at the local law enforcement office. Films reconstructed the history of the “Old West” in the American male mind. Films like Last of the Mohicans and The Patriot have reconstructed history with American male marksmen (no phallic associations between sex and aggression there) at the center of the Revolutionary War, which is utter nonsense.
In truth, during the latter eighteenth century in the thirteen colonies, not one in a hundred men had a gun, and the guns they had were muskets, barely capable of hitting another man beyond twenty feet. A dozen colonials once ambushed Major Pitcairn of the British Army at ten yards, all firing, and neither Pitcairn nor his horse received a scratch. It took up to four minutes to reload a musket. A soldier could run a third to half a mile in that time, the reason bayonet charges followed infantry volleys. The single most effective combat weapon after artillery was the bayonet. The reason the Revolutionary War dragged on as long as it did was the extreme shortage of weapons. Successful hunters employed traps, not guns, and Americans overwhelmingly consumed livestock for meat. Only white male Protestant property owners were allowed by law to have firearms, and most of them opted against it. A decent gun cost as much as a skilled laborer made in six months.
American Sniper, “based” as it may be on a true story, has adapted that truth to a set of well-worm film conventions that—as Hennessey said—“articulate [this] culture’s social imaginary—the prevailing images [we] need... to project about [ourselves] in order to maintain certain features of [our] organization.”  But it has done more than that in its (re)construction of history. It has turned a brutal invasion that killed, maimed, or displaced more than a million human beings, destroyed the infrastructure of an entire society, poisoned their environment, and left what was once Iraq split into bloody, competing militia fiefdoms—including ISIS—into a “war story.”
Susan Jeffords, in her essay, “Telling the War Story,” notes, “This trend away from the war itself to the people who fought in it shifts the war form a national to a personal experience, making it possible for viewers to forget the specific historical and political forces that caused the war.” Chris Kyle is the story, told with pathos, hitting all the resonant notes, and the utter criminality of the whole enterprise that was the U.S. invasion of Iraq is made to disappear. What is left, strengthened yet again, is our idolatry of the military, our idolatry of the nation, and our idolatry of an idealized, hegemonic, and violent armed masculinity.
Opposition to male supremacy, to white supremacy, has repeatedly engendered backlash; and the backlash of crisis-wracked white masculinity bore its weird political fruit in the US in 2016 with the election to the presidency of a man who celebrates the most venal form of white male stupidity, Donald Trump.

The Roman Genn cartoon of Donald Trump (above) was published with a David French article in the conservative National Review, entitled “Donald Trump’s Counterfeit Masculinity: Feminism’s Dream.” The thesis, trading on the “toxic” masculinity notion, is that Trump’s unrefined masculinity threatens to legitimate the “failed ideology” of feminism.
Aside from the failure of the article to distinguish between “feminisms,” an indication that the writer is not actually familiar with feminism, the thrust of the article is that Trump's uncivilized construction of masculinity is dangerous to conservatism, because it reinforces David French’s caricature of what feminists have to say about men like David French. French and his National Review partisans, within the intellectual wing of conservatism, are threatened by Trump’s open display of a hypertrophied and undisciplined version of masculinity—that in-your-face, entitled, frat boy machismo.
How did this particular construction of masculinity come to be? What about masculinity was Trump channeling? How big a factor was masculinity in the election? Based on what we can discern about these questions, how does this look four years from now? How did this particular construction of masculinity come to be?
Trump’s particular manifestation of one particular masculinity has a history of some kind, a genealogy. David Clines can help with his five basic rules for being masculine in the modern West.
First, do not be like a woman.
Second, be successful. While the meaning of success has changed, over time, from accomplishments of various kinds to the making of money, it relates in every case to “winning.” Be a winner.
Third, be aggressive. This can be conflated with, and even overlap with, courage, but it also and primarily has something to do with demeanor. Get in some faces. Don’t back down. Don’t be a pussy.
Fourth, be sexual. By that Clines means displaying a constant interest in sex that suggests you are always “up” and ready for it. It also generally suggests the objectification of women, understood as a primal male drive.
Finally, be self-reliant. Real men don’t need other people.
With these points of reference, we can readily see them in ourselves, and amplified in the puerile performances of Trump.
Clines establishes the coordinates for understanding what he calls a “hegemonic masculinity.” Masculinity is more than just a set of disembodied ideas. It is comprised of clothing, mannerisms, positions, privileges, attitude, language, and most of all, strict boundaries—physical, symbolic, imaginary, and affective. A crisis of masculinity begins as some kind of social change that destabilizes former constructions of masculinity. That destabilization translates into fear and the sense of crisis. There is a fightback, a reaction. Masculinity reinvents itself for the new conditions, always and invariably with an eye to the preservation of male prerogative.
With the growth of the feminist challenge, as well as technological change, the veil between the spheres of men and women has been torn and torn again. The distance between the clothes, works, spaces, languages, and practices of men and women has progressively closed and in places burst over the breach. Law schools, as a key example, as well as medical schools, are full of women, smart women.
Destabilizations hit men (and their masculinity) by eliminating what had formerly been male prerogative, and each destabilization produced its own brand of backlash. Computerization of many jobs is just one of many examples of the ways the work space—as well as work availability—more and more female and male (the externalized exceptions defined or pathologized to reinforce the dipole).
At one point, masculinity was the man measured against the boy. Totally separated spheres between male and female.
At one point, well at most actually, masculinity is idealized in war. War makes the man.
Men are protectors, and women come to exchange obedience for protection in the marital contract—the sexual protection racket. Women fear all men, and need the protection of one man from all the others. That protection is bought as the price of obedience, what Carole Pateman called the “sexual contract.”
The way we think about masculinity, including the way Donald Trump thinks about masculinity, has to be understood symbolically. Everything is a metaphor for everything else. The symbolic universe of gender changes, but again male prerogative is either defended or retooled for new realities.
The Catholic masculinity of a tenth century Frank peasant man would probably be apparent in some form of power over his wife and children, but on all the particulars, if we were to observe them day-to-day through the lens of a time machine, we’d have absolutely no idea what the hell was going on, because social hieroglyphics in each time and place are idiosyncratic. They are based on whole epistemes that are simply no longer available except through hard inference and imagination. But we can be pretty sure that the masculinity of Trump would be offensive to that peasant insofar as he might be able to figure it out at all.
When Europe dove headlong into colonialism then industrial capitalism, masculinity came to be defined as unapologetic imperial conquest. This was a big change, and the metaphors reflected it. We thought of conquering nature as conquering women, and conquering women in the same way imperial men conquer colonies. The template slides from one metaphor to the next, and somehow fits all three (defined as they all are, “into nature”).
That’s the beginning of whiteness there, too, by the way, which is a thing for Trump. Trump is channeling a distinctive form of a postmodern white-victimhood masculinity. It is distinct from white masculinity or white supremacy though an aspect of both. Every backlash against feminism has drawn on the victimized male trope. Trump managed to generalize it.
             What about masculinity—this form and others—was Trump channeling? Trump’s masculinity is postmodern. Postmodern because it is all a performance. Politics-as-performance is proof of Heisenberg’s principle that observers change what they observe by observing it. We all know, for example, that you will have one dynamic in a room full of people on their own, and that by conspicuously introducing a person aiming a camcorder at everyone, that dynamic will suddenly change, become more self-conscious, more performative, more simulated. Baudrillard squared.
Trump’s masculinity is a performance, a series of simulations, and a system of symbols with which many men have developed a powerful affective resonance. People cry listening to the National Anthem, and they quiver a little, that frisson that feels like something sacred.
When women’s and men’s spaces began to merge in the latter twentieth century, and when masculinity was more and more difficult to assert in a protected gender-sphere, the twin notions of sexual domination and masculinity-defined-as-not-woman merged into a fresh new form of misogyny.
The hatred of women, enculturated relentlessly in patriarchal society, is now carried out of the integrated spheres or work and general consumption and into sexual relations directly. The devaluation of women in a nineteenth century Parisian drawing room (premium on gentility, with male and female spheres, “rational masculinity” complementing “domestic femininity”) was different than the kind one sees, now, for example, in much pornography, where the sexual humiliation of women is eroticized for male consumers. Trump channels this creepy masculinity in his every performance.
Destabilization, reorientation, then re-establishment of male power in a revised form. This is the historical process for patriarchy. This shift from enforcement of gender (as a system dividing power) to gender-inclusion in public space, redirected the learned sense of male entitlement more directly to sex itself. Gender, as division of power between men and women (which is reflected in the fear of sexual minorities) has been sexualized. Women are made the targets of sexual humiliation in the service of this probative neo-masculinity. Most pornography today emphasizes female degradation, and it has an enormous following. Pornography as it is today is partly a function of technology; but the content is driven by men reasserting control through the humiliation of women. All hail the weaponized phallus!
One of the main assertions of feminism has been that men do not have some inborn entitlement to the bodies of women. Specifically sexual entitlement. Trump boasts that he can—through his power as a rich white man and a celebrity—“grab them by the pussy.” An act of ownership, of sexual entitlement, of eroticized humiliation, and finally of vengeance. Backlash. Teaching those bitches a lesson about who is in charge. Because men who have lost one shred of entitlement, like all those who feel entitled, will feel wronged—victimized.
Men will inevitably lose some privilege and prerogative as women continue to be liberated from male domination. There is a sense in which—as regards power—like all struggles to throw off unjust power, this is a zero sum game.
What does the sexualization of gender have to do with guns? The gun has become the symbol for white victim masculinity. For women, the white male victim has his weaponized penis; for men, he has a bullet. The writhing terror underneath white victim masculinity is palpable, and that is in itself frightening, because no one is more dangerous than a frightened man with a gun.
The sexualization of gender is likewise an outcome of a highly specialized, technological society that has effaced many of the markers and obligations that were formerly understood as developing maturity or character formation. Embedded in earlier gender regimes to be sure, we understood, for example, that growing up meant abandoning the instant gratifications of Mine, More, and Now. Growing up meant becoming less selfish (mine), more prudent (more), and more patient (now). Work is no longer embedded in a moral matrix; and the narratives to which we are exposed in the ongoing social experiment of indoctrinating billions of people with electronic media have brought Ayn Rand to life. Selfishness is a virtue, recklessness and gluttony a sign of providential favor, and patience a burden. Selfishness has become a mass cult. Trump himself was featured on a creepy “reality” TV series where people were forced to grub and grovel and take to become winners. Mine. More. Now. Our entire society is now organized around concupiscence. What we used to consider a passing phase in the process of character formation—the self-centered preoccupations of a ten-year-old suburbanite school kid—have become our telos. We are a society of early adolescents.
Trump channeled that. Mine. More. Now. And all that diffuse resentment of adolescent white boys for whom things didn’t turn out the way they wanted. In their America—because America was etched onto their psyches in a particular way—they would be like their white male TV and film heroes. They would have all the right stuff, do all the manly things, enjoy deference and respect from women and kids, live with an adoring and obedient woman, and people around them will share in the fantasy. Each man imagines his own version of the fantasy. Broken fantasies are dangerous things.
Make America Great Again! Restore my fantasy, a part of which was our national masculinity. Mine. More. Now. “Men are successful.” Trump has succeeded in getting mine, more, and now.
Masculinity that has developed increasingly apart from the older moral frameworks (nostalgically represented in the French article) has de-homogenized the older masculinities, wherein, for example, the association between the heroic act of the soldier during a just war, motivated by the virtuous love of country and one’s comrades, and his actual courage—the willingness to risk life and limb, has been broken. As the moral matrices, imaginary as they may have been, were degraded, courage came to be simply the willingness to take escalating risks. Extreme sports. The cage fight. Masculinity finds its own way through the wreckage, wherein being brash in pursuit of a worthy thing becomes being merely brash, a kind of masculine threat display.
When Vietnam queered the pitch on just war, and the American defeat in Vietnam undermined the national masculinity, there was a spate of compensatory films from Hollywood. Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) came on the scene—nihilistic splatter-flicks featuring a lone male avenger and set inside the United States—just as the U.S. was seeing the inevitability of its defeat in Vietnam. This year, after the grinding fifteen-year-old defeat in progress for the US military in Southwest Asia, Hollywood is re-releasing Death Wish, a male revenge fantasy, a vigilante fantasy, where a lone white man with a gun fills the gap left by the “pussified government.” The destabilization of masculinity is followed by a reactionary reassertion of it.
The NRA, as the institutional expression of gun culture sees itself more and more as the white nationalist militia, restoring the national white masculinity. What we commonly call “gun culture,” when we see its instantiation around guns themselves, is white nationalism. Last year, in a controversial internet video ad, an NRA spokesperson called for the NRA, as an armed white militia, to take up the slack for beleaguered police by attacking social movement protesters “with a clenched fist.”
R.W Connell, in Masculinities, describes “hegemonic masculinity” then fascism as a masculinist reaction against challenges to it.
“Men’s interest in patriarchy,” Connell writes, “is condensed in hegemonic masculinity and is defended by all the cultural machinery that exalts hegemonic masculinity. It is institutionalized in the state; enforced by violence, intimidation and ridicule in the lives of straight men . . . and enforced by violence against women and gay men (241). . . The defense of injustice in gender relations constantly appeals to difference, “to a masculine/feminine opposition defining one place for female bodies and another place for male. But this is never ‘difference’ in a purely logical sense.” (231) Difference is felt in the body. We have all been trained in what we find erotically arousing, for example, and that training is embedded in a culture where gender does not merely constitute difference. That difference is used to justify hierarchy, domination, and conquest. Eros is culturally trained. Masculinity as institution and ideology posits a subject-object duality between Man and the Other and defines masculine practice as conquest (be that other woman, lesser man, colony, or nature). “In gender terms, fascism was a naked reassertion of male supremacy in societies that had been moving toward equality for women. To accomplish this, fascism promoted new images of hegemonic masculinity, glorifying irrationality (the ‘triumph of the will,’ thinking with ‘the blood’) and the unrestrained violence of the frontline soldier.” (193)
When Kimberle Crenshaw wrote “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” she noted that a “singular focus on rape as a manifestation of male power over female sexuality tends to eclipse the use of rape as a weapon of racial terror,” pointing to black women’s virtually “unprotected” status. In the same essay describing the mixture of white and male social power, she shows how white men attempt “to regulate the sexuality of white women.” (158–9)
White-nationalist masculinity is profoundly threatened by a perceived inability to control the “sexuality” of white women, creating what Connell calls “sexual vertigo.” This recombinant mixture of sexual and racial construction that obliges white men to both “control” and “protect white womanhood” is ignited as violence against both women and black men.
The bogeyman of the potent black satyr raping the white woman has accompanied virtually every call in the United States for anti-black pogroms. It is hardly coincidental that assertions of black social agency have been met with expanded outbreaks of racial terror, or that rape was projected onto black men by white men; and it is likewise not a coincidence that police
rapes increased in Bombay when women began organizing politically. Connell says that “violence is part of a system of domination, but is at the same time a measure of its imperfection. A thoroughly legitimate hierarchy would have less need to intimidate. The scale of contemporary
violence points to crisis tendencies in the modern gender order.”
The Olde School masculine deference to “the ladies,” our politesse, was a reward for women’s obedient service and acceptance of male prerogative. When women “act out,” however, they have to be put firmly back into their places—which, in the age of sexualized gender, means relentlessly reducing them to sex objects and judging them accordingly. Trump’s repeated objectifications of women and his attacks on women based on their appearance were met with applause by men suffering under the terrible burden of entitlement slippage. Then they stroked their guns for the guns’ cold comforts.
The French article cited earlier is grounded in a highly syncretic amalgam of masculinities, influenced by the genteel white masculinity of the nineteenth century, the probative masculinity of Theodore Roosevelt and his posse of eugenics-promoting white boy adventurists, several comic book heroes, class warfare masculinities from the thirties, WWII masculinity, post-war and finally suburban masculinities. Masculine culture hasn’t grasped the ways in which hegemonic (exemplary) masculinity has detached from its moral frameworks—however you might judge those frameworks deficient—and has circled the wagons (there is a Western film convention in the myth of our national masculinity) around recovery of male prerogative, rolling back the assault on white male entitlement, finding enemies against which to measure oneself, and rescuing the fantasy.
The televised fantasy, the snapshot fantasy that props up all our bloviations, the performance called Ultimate Macho Fuck You. That was Trump.
In the age of mass media, we posture. As MacIntyre said, we have lost the capacity to differentiate between manipulative and non-manipulative communication; and that means that even our leadership is vetted in a process that favors public relations, that euphemism for mass manipulation. If getting in front of cameras and saying something poetically is effective in one period, then “showing your ass”(as my mom called acting out) in front of millions will be effective in another period. Donald Trump appeared at a time and place where the realignment of masculinity has placed a premium on showing your ass.
Trump: First, do not be like a woman. Second, be successful. Third, be aggressive. Don’t be a pussy. Fourth, be sexual. Objectify women as a demonstration of your virility. Finally, be self-reliant. Real men don’t need other people. Learn the art of “fuck you.” If you don’t like it, I’ll shoot you.
The cult of white male victimization is growing on one end and diminishing on the other. It’s worse among us older fellas, and less an issue among many younger folks I know. In less than one generation, the simple statistical certainties of death and life will result in fewer and fewer of older white folks like me who were raised on movie Westerns, Disney, and the Cold War. Maybe not so great when the most cheerful statistic you can rely on is a death rate.
We listened to and watched untold hours of know-nothing bullshit. We were blind to our own privilege. We came to embrace fantasies and avoid some realities that needed tending. Everything didn’t work out the way it did on TV though, and being the spoiled brats we mostly were, that pissed us off. But we also ended up joining the military. Some of us were drafted. Lots of us are veterans. The wars that have been cranked out over the last two decades are definitely adding to that number. We go to war, hopefully survive, then come home. For Americans, it’s like a safari. Militarism breeds conquest masculinity, and we are a militaristic society.
We took millions and millions of young boys in front of countless hours of film that hammers home the same messages again and again. Be a man. Here is an ideal man. Everyone loves and obeys the ideal man. The ideal man fights. The ideal man therefore must have enemies in order to prevail. The ideal man redeems the world by violence—and in 999 times out of a thousand, that redeeming violence is accomplished with a gun.
If any cult kidnapped your toddler, they would have a hard time developing a more effective means of permanent indoctrination. Television was one artifact of the era, but is was more and more in a suburban home; semi-isolated, segregated from commercial space, a commute away from a job in the city, and—for a very long time—exclusively white. It was very easy to live in the suburbs and say, I have nothing against black folk, and call that Exhibit 1 for your non-racism. But this great social experiment continued. These same boys who had been raised on movies about the Good Guy with a Gun, a bunch of them, got a few chances to go on Extreme War Safari—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.
I wish we thought more about degradation. It’s all around us, and we hardly have the words to describe it. I say that because the experience of war, for many, while embarked upon almost like a safari, ends up morally degrading the soldier who gets in the habit of doing morally degrading things. But the entire culture is undergoing a process of degradation now, not least because the entire damn society is on a permanent war footing. And that has created a concomitant construction of masculinity—warlike, embittered, nasty, self-centered, and deeply misogynistic. When I came back from Vietnam, the taboo on killing was lost. But before I ever went, I had five steady years of Ayn Rand’s creepy pseudo-philosophy pumping me up with ideas like “selfishness is a virtue,” and “the masses are parasites,” and other deeply morally degraded notions that should have been shed with my infantile narcissism. Instead, my own culture—before the Army got its claws in—was already teaching me how to grow up and become Donald Trump. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, war degrading society, or a society so degraded it is inevitably at war? War, by the way, is men’s work. Even when a few women are allowed to play.
There is perhaps nothing more disconcerting about the prospect of a Trump presidency than the idea that Donald—maturity level 10—will have a Caligula moment around the military, if he hasn’t already by the time this is published. Not the hallucination that he has become a god, but the hallucination that he has become a military mastermind. I can think of nothing more terrifying, in substantial part because Mine-More-Now has the keys to the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Two days before Christmas, Trump tweeted (tweeted!!!) that he intended to expand the US nuclear arsenal. Masculinity is one of those things that consistently leads us into ever-worsening situations. There is a recursive feedback loop between war and masculinity.
Whole families buy into the white-male-victimhood shtick. There are women who believe this and support the men who believe it. Nobody said oppressed classes of people never participate in their own oppression; and nobody ever knows the circumstances and struggles involved in women finding their way through a male world. But I digress.
Donald Trump has been happy to manipulate white male protectionism by stoking not only aggrieved entitlement, but also aggrieved victimhood. Thus, the list of nefarious “others” out to threaten white masculinity is seemingly endless: Mexicans are taking our jobs, Muslims are threatening our lives, feminists are destroying our manhood, the Chinese are taking our sovereignty, liberals are taking our freedoms, the list goes on. In a world where everything is out to get you, where nothing you have is safe, where women seemingly want to be men and men want to be women, where nothing seems to make any goddamn sense anymore, Donald Trump is there to tell that it’s not your fault; that everyone else is to blame. He’s not “politically correct” because he’s not afraid to grab him some pussy just because he can, to hell with what other people think. Aggrieved loss of entitlement, a form of mass hypochondria. Suffering from imaginary wounds.
How big a factor was masculinity in the election? And how did gun culture vote?
The Republicans were juggling their own coalition, big business (which played both sides of the street), white evangelical culture warriors, and middle-class tax libertarians. The demagogic sub-text for the Republicans ever since Nixon’s “Southern strategy” had been the profound negrophobia of many, many whiter voters (the more generalized xenophobia was being fanned in the outer reaches of the party by tinpot commentators like Lou Dobbs, and Islamophobia didn’t take hold hard until after 9-11).

Race and class

The dog-whistle racism that was employed instrumentally by Republican operatives for so many years to hold the old Republican coalition together, slipped its leash in 2016. So-called blue-collar voters did not elect Trump. The middle class did. Reference nowadays to “blue-collar” America are largely fictional, if by blue-collar we mean the working class prior to the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and “free-trade” offshoring. This untrue Bubba critique was leveled mostly by snotty liberals.
Fifty-three percent of Americans, mostly white, now live in the suburbs—the high end barracks for freeway commuters and result of white flight from the cities. As Matthew Lassiter pointed out in his groundbreaking but little studied book, The Silent Majority, these suburban denizens were not ideological in the old sense of a left-right continuum.
They carried multiple political identities based on self-interest: consumer, taxpayer, school parent, mortgaged homeowner. This new majority class has become the strange attractor of all American politics, because in sheer numbers it can be a political juggernaut. This is the reason both parties divested of the term “working class,” in favor of the term (and demographic) “middle class.” They are all going to “restore the American middle class.”
Middle classes are in a peculiar position in the social pecking order. They are specialists who cannot see the forest for their particular trees. They gain a benefit from a system that is mystified for them by a media in the pay of a quiet and cunning ruling class, but they recognize at some gut level that they live under the threat of being converted into car washers and burger flippers, a fate almost worse than death. They have something to lose, and when that seems threatened—as it has been since 2007—given that they don’t recognize the role of that cunning and carefully concealed ruling class, they become vulnerable to any demagogue who can provide them with a target for their insecurities.
The rawest majority of Trump voters was from suburbia—insulated, clueless, alienated, self-absorbed, and white. No leader, teacher, philosopher, or theologian can grasp America - not the myth, but with the myth - without an appreciation of the phenomenon, the American car suburb. It is this class of people, classed by work to some extent, but equally by the built environment and the politics that created it. Everyone needs to know the history of Levittown, the first American suburb, a prototype that was developed as a kind of top-down intentional community. See how it has spread like cancer and functioned on behalf of the re-segregation of America.
Do you know what most of those white men in the suburbs are doing when they are alone in their suburban smart-houses? They are on the computer, like I am right now. Do you know what most of them are doing in front of their computers? From outer space, they seem to be sitting there in one spot for hours and hours, like they are hibernating. But up close we see that they are busy with their hands. They are playing war games (shooting, shooting, and shooting their guns) in the refractory periods between jacking off to images of humiliated women in online pornography. Like monkeys driven mad by their cages. That’s why so many of them are also medicated.
A paranoid masculinity thrives in middle classes; that lethal combination of having enough to have something to lose and the gnawing sense that my independence is a posture concealing my utter dependence upon something I cannot even comprehend. This will make you see witches.
And so we are driven deeper and deeper into fantasy, fantasies to protect fantasies to protect fantasies. I am a victim, afraid, in a game-land of spooks, and I need my totem. A gun. And basic cable. Preppers, next episode. You know what I can do, the white suburban man, to push back on this unfocused despair? I can build a safe room in my house, stockpile weapons and dehydrated food, and pretend that my current alienated existence is the preparatory phase for an upcoming adventure, starring me as Man with Gun. Why am I voting for Trump? Because, goddamnit, he is co-signing my fantasy. He is coming inside it with me, he and I, in our blanket fort. Fascism is a middle class phenomenon. Memorize that.
            You have a pretty good grasp now of fascism. A destabilized or anxious middle class confronts economic hardship and a seeming inability of the system to self-correct. Withdraws into comforting fantasies, bolstered by a demagogue, and orients itself toward a reassertion of white male authority. When the armed, Tiki-torch Nazis descended on Charlottesville last year, they didn’t come from the farm. They came from places with names like “Harrington Grove,” “Quail Hill,” and “Willow View”—from suburbia. And when these aggrieved white boys decide to make their mark with a mass shooting, they aren’t arriving from the farm. Nicolas Cruz was from a Broward County suburb, a member of Junior ROTC, who did competitive shooting in NRA sponsored competitions.

Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa. 

― Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism


He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

— Luke 1:51–53