Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Threat of Suburbia

In 2016, Donald Trump received 62,980,160 votes in the General Election. We often hear that Trump voters correspond to education levels, but that is on true in that aggregate. Forty-two percent of Trump voters, that is 26,451, 667 in the United States in 2016 . . . which is 13 percent of registered US voters, when voter turnout was 61 percent (200 million are registered). If we claim that lack of education is what leads to reaction, then these numbers are hardly convincing. One might discount a million college graduates voting for Trump as anomalous, but twenty-six-and-half million is something much bigger than a mere anomaly. People often forget, based in part on the influence of a media commentariat that is constantly spinning some “working class” theory about Trump and the Trump cult, that the majority of Trump’s votes, raw votes, came out of the suburbs.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Calling All Lawyers—Toward a New Constituent Assembly

Climate change and peak-everything have moved the clock up on capitalism, outrunning those more abstract contradictions of old. Mark Jones, attending well to these heretofore secondary environmental matters, called the final stage of imperialism “exterminism.” For good reason. People are going to get killed or left to die in great numbers, along with every other form of life. It has already begun. We are living in a dangerous pre-interregnum in which the existing powers are too entrenched to remove and increasingly too ineffectual to govern. We begin to sense that something long and hard and ugly may be coming that will last for generations after things fall apart, and we feel the pull of the tempo task—Eisenstein’s film convention when the direness of an emergency calls for a suspension of all the civilized rules for its resolution.

Every day, the Lenin question comes to the fore: What is to be done? And with each day, the answer becomes: A hell of a lot more than what needed doing yesterday. Over, under, around, and through every order of existence and practice there is self-organization. The mind of a person is self-organized, each aspect relating particularly with each other aspect, and that mind is likewise self-organized with other minds, other bodies, other things and happenstances, knitted together in a kaleidoscope of semiospheres, social structures, buildings and roads and power lines, institutions, enterprises, layers of management and governance, and so it goes. Even in that realm where practice theorists dwell—between personhood and culture, combining them—there is self-organization. Different practices and combinations are tried until entire systems become cyclic and comparatively stable, each individual practice demonstrating agency, but agency constrained, and within those constraints is self-organization . . . which remains until it doesn’t, but until it doesn’t it resists change by wrapping the status quo in layer upon layer of self-organized protection. Resistance need not be crushed. More easily, resistance is swallowed.

Some of us are pretty sure that whatever people do as this “exterminist” phase in global governance plays out, it will require tremendous change precisely because self-organized systems are full of micro-articulations that relate to and ramify through many more micro-articulations. No “system” can be corrected superficially, or the deeper secular stability of self-organization will simply swallow it. We can’t even talk about these things, because the conversation leads us down a very hard path.

Let’s pretend, then, that in a few years, one of the least bad scenarios plays out, and that is one where a re-energized and environmentally literate left gains sufficient political power to actually effect policy changes. If I didn’t think this was at least possible, I wouldn’t bother writing this down in the first place. My optimism about that, of course, is tempered by my conviction that this re-energized left will inherit a massive, broken system for which no one can honestly promise the perennial “better future” of 1950s US white capitalist boosterism, as well as an absurd claim made by every political campaign on record. There is no better future. That is disappearing at the same rate as non-extinct species, ocean-side real estate, and fresh water aquifers. I hope we heed that caution and not make silly promises like this, because political enterprises can get pretty tangled up by failing to deliver. The choice is between nose dive and controlled crash landing, and about that I hope we remain honest. Progress is a blood-drenched cannibalistic myth.

Pretending as we are that we have been democratically seated to deliberate on and develop policy, we confront in every potential policy its likely effects, the likely responses it will draw, and a whole host of unintended consequences. At a national level, this process is even more fraught, even if every single elected official is on board for the common good (f’real), because the greater the scope of any policy or practice, the more unforeseen exceptions that disrupt the reason for the rule (lack of granularity), the more layers of management and administration (which tend to become the tail that wags the dog), and the more unintended (and potentially problematic) consequences, from whence come unintended responses, and so forth. We are going to talk about the Constitution in a bit, because that’s where this post is headed, but for the time being, just consider all the unintended consequences of our current Constitution, because every consistent failure of compassionate humanity in the history of the US is failure unfolding beneath the overarching legal edifice of the US Constitution. The potential for unintended consequences at these grand scales demands that we observe some version of the precautionary principle: “an expression of a need by decision-makers to anticipate harm before it occurs. Within this element lies an implicit reversal of the onus of proof: under the precautionary principle it is the responsibility of an activity-proponent to establish that the proposed activity will not (or is very unlikely to) result in significant harm.”

When we talk about emergency transformation, then, and contextualize that in a self-organized system that is riding its mass and inertia into the abyss, then any restructuring in one aspect will have to anticipate how that restructuring will interact with every other aspect. What happens when you decide to abandon one transportation grid and begin development of an alternative? How do we most effectively organize a public work force that attends to the most critical needs in redesign of the built environment and rehabilitation of biomes? What happens to Los Angeles as the water dries up? How do you redesign a food system? This stuff doesn’t happen using existing models with simple redistribution.

Key among those legal challenges that will accompany redesign challenges—let’s be clear, leaving capitalism will require dramatic redesign of pretty much everything—will be the definition of property. And property—along with every other legal question—takes us to the Constitution. Which in turn brings us to the main point: We’ll need a new Constitution. The old one won’t work, because the Divine Judge at the center of American law is a seventeenth century white male bourgeois notion of property.

Backing up a little here, big stuff that will have to change to have a prayer of mitigating the misery of billions for a century and salvaging enough of the biosphere to eventually recalibrate its climate systems . . . includes watershed restoration and management, the development of regional and local sustainable food systems, topsoil replenishment, reforestation, nationalization of all critical enterprises as public utilities (beginning with banks), the transformation of the Department of Defense into a Department of National Service overseeing a national public works jobs program (aimed at biospheric remediation), free public health care, free public reskilling training, and a power-down strategy that moves toward dramatic energy conservation as well as conservation-as-principle (old fashioned supply economy . . . thrift) being incorporated into the new constitutional ethos. (For reasons outlined in Mammon’s Ecology, I think we also need a multicentric money economy, but I’ll point readers to that little book for the details.) Any reader who’s stayed with this so far is already thinking about other things that have to change so the people you see every day around you can go through what you might imagine without ever being terrified or further immiserated in the process. When you redesign a transportation grid, without its raison d’etre being business, what does it look like? If you had fifty really smart people on many of these issues and how they relate to one another, within a few days you might begin to be able to map out what a new constitution might require to escape the errors of the past and minimize the new errors in the future.

That’s where you might need some lawyers whose job it is to listen to the fifty smart people and begin to design a legal constitutional edifice that most closely approximates the combined wisdom of your fifty smart people and some smart lawyers. Put together fifty more of these groups of fifty smart people and some smart lawyers, and you have the beginnings of a New Constituent Assembly. By smart people, I don’t mean academics and experts. I mean practitioners of many kinds. Small farmers, designers, doctors, builders, craftspeople, parents, students, people who have practical insight about how things are done where they live and about how people might best begin to change the way things are done. Local, local, local, local.

I know what I’d want to see, based on one conviction—if you disagree with this conviction, then you can throw out everything else I say.

Conviction: For socialism to succeed, it must be the basis upon which several dramatic changes are made in policy and practice to be as proactive as possible in dealing with the emerging reality of a simultaneous climate and economic crisis. For reasons governed by unshakable physical laws, the regime of global capitalism cannot be sustained, but for those same reasons capitalist practices that rely on high flows of energy and materials across long distances cannot be sustained. Redistribution does not solve this problem, when people are utterly dependent on those flows. Practical economies quite simply must be re-localized as far as is possible in any given period. If you want to summarize the practical problem, think of production and consumption. No matter what kind. Re-localization is the process of systematically moving every form of production as spatially close as possible to those who consume it. Move production and consumption closer together in space.

We need this restated by a bright legal mind into a constitutional principle that guides all other decisions, not as a Kantian imperative (can we get this guy out of the law, please), but as a telos that assumes there are (there are, demonstrably) a host of social, economic, cultural, and ecological benefits that accrue from re-localization alone. Relocalizing is not The Silver Bullet to slay the monster; but it makes a pretty handy compass.

Other thoughts on a New Constitution developed by a New Constituent Assembly (would that we had a water group, a food sovereignty group, an energy group, a home economy group, etc etc etc etc…..).

Something else suggested in Mammon’s Ecology comes to mind—watersheds. Constitutions draw lines, but those lines once drawn—think US states, counties, municipalities—create their own reality. For ecologic concerns to be integrated into a new Constitution, it seems somehow essential that those older lines be allowed to languish and new lines be drawn for local governance along the boundaries of watersheds. In my state, iirc, we have 83 counties, and 63 major watersheds. Somehow, over time, through a series of policies, portions of responsibility and jurisdiction between the old and the new would have to be transferred, but the end result would be an actual integrated geographic feature that has the most direct impact on its residents. All politics comes down to water in the end. There’s a reason for that. Water is life.

Inviting others to think about it, a bluesky exercise.

What are the problems we might see eight years from now? What would we want to see if the left won? There’s a better chance they will succeed after they win if there’s already some thought put into it.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The idea of Africa

“Africa is a big country.

-George W. Bush

The term, the idea of “Africa” creates more confusion than clarity. Africa is a continent, one that covers 11.73 million square miles. North America, by contrast—and this includes Greenland, Canada, the United States, and Latin America to the border between Panama and Colombia—covers 9.54 million square miles. In the present day, there are fifty-four sovereign nation-states and ten non-sovereign territories on the continent, and almost 2,000 languages and dialects that represent at least that many past cultures. Geographers divide Africa into eight major regions—Sahel, Sahara, Savannah, Swahili Coast, Ethiopian Highlands, Rain Forest, Great Lakes, and Southern Africa.
Generalizing about “Africa” now, then, is comparable to generalizing about all of Eurasia. Generalizing about Africa’s history is even more problematic. Because there was a sort of continuity of record-keeping in the Judeo-Christian West, not least because of conquests, we have more access to “Western” history than we so to “African” history, except beginning with the violent Mediterranean and Western colonization of large portions of Africa—which presents a whole new set of problems, those histories themselves written from the limited points of view of a few conquerors.
This set of problems impinges with special force on any speculation about the many different forms of organization of kinship, gender regimes, and political structures that preceded colonization. Speculations about how “African” customs were imported into and modified by the institution of commodified slavery in North and South America, then, are highly tentative. Patricia Hill Collins rightly generalizes about pre-colonial Africa engaging in widespread subsistence agriculture, a fairly safe conclusion for many peoples living throughout Africa, for the same reason that we can speculate beyond the various European “histories” of kings and generals, that tend to ignore the overwhelming majority of peoples (also with many subcultures, languages, and dialects) throughout Europe and West Asia as being subsistence economies, too. Subsistence was the only means of survival that was available to the majority. Even early proto-states and states were unable to administer most territories in any detail. And they exercised political authority in ways that were more or less compatible with the plethora of prevailing customs. So what Collins says also applies to most “Europeans” prior to nation-state formation, capitalist development, and its attendant industrialization/urbanization.
The history of “Africa’s” lack of “history” pivots on the trans-Atlantic slave trade inaugurated in the sixteenth century. Any study now of the importation and modification of “African” customs into slave populations has to pass through these catastrophes. And North American slavery differed in several key respects from slavery elsewhere. For example, by the time of manumission in the United States, no slaves had been born in Africa, and few if any knew their own genealogies. By contrast, when the Haitian Revolution began, in which former slaves successfully gained independence, around seventy percent of Haitians had been born in the African continent. During my own numerous travels to Haiti, it was no uncommon for a Haitian to know that he or she was, e.g., Kongo, Fulani, Yoruba, etc.
US slavery accounted for only around six percent of the total slaves born in the African continent, because after the trans-Atlantic importation of slaves was prohibited in 1804—a direct response to the Haitian Revolution that succeeded that year, provoking terror among US slave holders—US slave owners “bred” slaves. Over the next six decades of selling, re-selling, and general suppression, US slaves were effectively cut off from their own histories in any significant detail.
What we can know is that more than half of all US slaves’ ancestors originated in the Western continental area generally now known as Senegal, Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Angola, Gabon, and Congo. The rest came variously from the zones that include modern Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Eastern Nigeria. These same areas, prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade were kingdoms and empires including the Wolof (who were the first to cooperate with the Portuguese in the trans-Atlantic slave trade), Songhai, Ghana, Kangaba, Mali, Akan, Yoruba, Benin, Hausa, Kongo, Lundy, Musumba, Fulani, Nri/Igbo, and Luba. While there were, just as in Medieval and pre-Medieval Europe, many conquests and cultural interchanges that defy clear lines of demarcation between many of these earlier social entities, there were also distinct, and now largely unknowable, distinctions between them with regard to kinship, gender regimes, and political structures.
The first thing in history that gave any coherence to the notion of “Africans” was the diaspora created by colonization and slavery, which began to homogenize slaves through the horrific experiences of that practice and institution, a homogenization that corresponded, in the United States after its independence, to the systematic erasure of the cultures and histories of the enslaved.
There were certainly matrilineal (not matriarchal) groups, as Collins also notes, and there are many East and Central African cultures that are matrilineal to this day (our reason for making educated guesses about pre-“history”). The same kind of educated guess applies to marriage forms (in some areas) that include monogamy, polygamy, levirate/sororate, (rarely) polyandry, and even in a few instances woman-woman marriage.
I'm working on a book about gender relations and race, ergo this preoccupation with kinship and gender, that will concentrate first on Western social evolution of family, gender, and marriage in light of the public-private distinction, because the history of the Roman and post-Reformation churches is largely Western,[1] and the hegemonic global Western-designed economy we have now grew directly out of Christendom.
As is evidenced by the contradictions between Black and White experience, even those who were not of “the West” (white capitalist Atlantic state patriarchies) have been pulled into the orbit of the West by conquest, military and economic. On the other hand, we cannot incorporate the invention of race and Black experiences without incorporating speculations about this general pre-“history” of people’s who were swept up in the slave trade. The invention of Whiteness as normative is, in too many ways—note the example of Haiti, absolutely dependent on the corresponding invention of Blackness as definitive of what White (or in liberal evasions, normative) is not. And while we can but speculate based on what evidence there is about the unrecorded past,[2] we have ample evidence from historical records with regard to the actual adaptations and accommodations that have been made, with regard to family, gender, marriage, and law, by African Americans during and after slavery, up to the present conjuncture.
The purpose of this particular constellation of subjects in the book draft, from an interdisciplinary standpoint, is twofold: to begin unpacking the public-private dichotomy with attention to how the idea has differed in our racialized society, and to denaturalize the subjects of family, gender, marriage, and even law as seen through the public-private lens(es?). Gender, as custom and structure dividing power, remains the core issue for the book, and it cannot be separated out from kinship, marriage, law, and, in the case of the capitalist metropoles, especially the United States, race.

[1] With the spread of neoliberalism through globalization, what was once Western ideas and culture are growing in influence around the world, especially through consumerism. Urban Chinese, for example, are experiencing an explosion of childhood obesity and diabetes rates with the increasing popularity of McDonalds and other junk-food outlets.
[2] All pasts are selectively recorded, at any rate.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Status of Forces--Left, Right, Center

This is a 12 page word document on the state of play between left and right before the November elections. Click here for the document. Share, but please do not modify.

The Master Race

Friday, August 24, 2018

Trump, Pedophile Priests, and Molly Tibbetts

What could possibly be the common denominator between the President, the cover-up culture of the Catholic hierarchy, and Molly Tibbets—a young murder victim from Brooklyn, Iowa? Here is the answer . . . lean in close now . . . the common denominator is . . . men. We are taught to devalue women almost from birth. We are taught that to become a man we must detach from Mother (woman). We are taught that we are entitled to sex. And we are taught that our phallocentrically-enculturated desires, including the eroticization of power, is a “natural” male entitlement.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Caeneus--sneak peek of Preface

Violent Women in Film as Honorary Men
By Stan Goff

Copyright 2018 (to be released by Wipf and Stock . . . soon)

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. —John 1:5

‘Elatus’s daughter, Caenis, loveliest of the virgins of Thessaly, was famous for her beauty, a girl longed for in vain, the object of many suitors throughout the neighboring cities and your own (since she was one of your people, Achilles). Perhaps Peleus also would have tried to wed her, but he had already taken your mother in marriage, or she was promised to your father. Caenis would not agree to any marriage, but (so rumor has it) she was walking along a lonely beach, and the god took her by force. When Neptune had enjoyed his new love he said: “Make your wish, without fear of refusal. Ask for what you most want!”
‘“This injury evokes the great desire never to be able to suffer any such again. Grant I might not be a woman: you will have given me everything,” Caenis said. She spoke the last words in a deeper tone, that might have been the sound of a man’s voice. So it was: the god of the deep ocean had already accepted her wish, and had granted, over and above it, that as a man Caeneus would be protected from all wounds, and never fall to the sword. Caeneus, the Atracides, left, happy with his gifts, and spent his time in manly pastimes, roaming the Thessalian fields. —Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book VII

“A commitment to sexual equality with men is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered.” Andrea Dworkin