Sunday, August 5, 2018

Caeneus--sneak peek of Preface




CAENEUS
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



Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgements
Introduction
Perky princesses and lovable rogues: Princess Leia
“Here, kitty, kitty” and the toothy vagina: Ellen Ripley
Clarice has three daddies: Clarice Starling
Earning a penis to kill Arabs: Jordan O’Neil
Recapturing normal from the zombie apocalypse: Selena
Monstrous women and the idol of success: Karen Crowder
Bad rape, good rape: Lisbeth Salander
Reluctant war and the practice of virtue: Katniss Everdeen
Conquest of the frontier: Jane Hammond
The F-word 

Preface

Borderline was published in February 2015, a book in which I argued that war and masculinity are part of a self-reproducing reciprocal feedback loop. War produces violent masculinity, which in turn reproduces war. Wipf and Stock graciously published it, and the sheer size of the thing raised the cost of the book above fifty dollars. I had also overwhelmed all but the most intrepid of readers with the interdisciplinary scope of it—history, theology, psychanalysis, virtue ethics, gender theory, literary criticism, autobiographical anecdotes . . . Borderline has it all. I’m still happy with the book itself, and I’m not saying people ought not to read it. By all means, buy copies for everyone in your family as gifts. My little truck is twenty-seven years old and drives like a sloppy tractor. If friends and family won’t read it, it’s still big enough to make an attractive and interesting doorstop.
            In February 2017, two years later, as I was working on Mammon’s Ecology, also for Wipf and Stock, my editor Charlie Collier emailed me with the suggestion that we take some of the sub-themes of Borderline and turn them into smaller, more accessible books, to reach beyond Borderline’s readers. This book is the first fruit of that very sound suggestion.
            One of the commonest arguments in response to Borderline, and consistently in discussions I’ve observed over two decades now of immersion in controversies surrounding sex as practice and gender as power structure,[1] is that my claims and the claims of several feminists are becoming outdated because women have made tremendous advancements over the years, especially with regard to filling roles that were formerly and nearly exclusively filled by men. Not so fast, I say. Because the subtext here often seems to be, let’s apply the brakes before this equality stuff goes too far.
When I use the term “gender” in this book, I am referring to a set of social structures that divide power unequally between men and women. There is another use for the word “gender,” which is a category that includes all the various forms of sexual difference, personal and cultural—a vaguely post-Neitzchean notion that incorporates “identity,” “representation,” and “performance.”[2] So for this book, remember: gender means the difference in power, and it is expressed through the cultural association of men with “masculinity” and women with “femininity.” This book is, however, about several performances, in the actual theatric sense.
Sex-gender is complicated in the same way that discussions of race are complicated inasmuch as there is truth in this assertion that some forms of injustice have been overcome. Sexual harassment is now a crime, and interracial couples show up on television ads without white riots. But these facts can serve to mask the myriad ways in which gender and race—as unjust social structures that separate power—continue to operate beyond these obvious improvements. “It can look like a duck,” as my old pal Daisy Duckhunter used to say, “but it could be a decoy.”
The social movements that broke legal segregation in the United States were a Good Thing, as is the fact that law schools and medical schools now enroll many women. Rape, in its strictest definition, is now prosecutable within marriage, which didn’t used to be the case. People of any ethnicity can now intermarry without crosses being burned on their lawns. Lots of young people I know hang out effortlessly with “different” folks, when, during my own youth, we had to stretch pretty hard across those boundaries to establish friendships. Good stuff. Real stuff. Worthy of our affirmation . . . and vigilance.
At the same time, an African American President did not substantially improve the lot of most African Americans, a few female CEOs have not substantially improved the lot of most women, and the violent power structures that preceded the incorporation of female persons and persons of color into those same power structures has not changed the fundamentally violent and unjust character of these structures. In fact, these symbolic victories can actually stunt our ability to effectively recognize and criticize the violence, injustice, and historic “masculinity” of those structures.
“It can look like a duck, but it could be a decoy.”
A transnational corporation can pollute air, land, and water, acquire raw materials from the hellish landscapes of East Asian sweatshops or African mines, and still be publicly congratulated for its first black/woman/Latin@ CEO or its policy of supporting same-sex domestic partners in the United States. We have achieved progress, because women as well as men can remotely pilot unmanned aerial drones to blow up the heathens’ hospitals and weddings.

We learn the rules for to sex-gender earlier than any other aspect of our personhood. Sex-gender is policed more vigilantly and personally assimilated more deeply than other forms of identity-formation. Tell the average three-year-old boy he’s a girl, or girl she’s a boy, and prepare for a little blitzkrieg of tantrum and revolt. Sex-gender as a power structure is woven more tightly into the fabric of our lives, both public and private, than any other boundary. Sex-gender is more mystified by ideology, pop-psychology, and pseudoscientific malarkey, more the bone of contention of increasingly arcane and impenetrable academic and theological debates, and more consequential in its implications for all our other philosophical assumptions, than any other aspect of human sociality. That is why the twinned evils of patriarchy and woman-hatred (as well as their first cousin, homophobia[3]) have proven to be the most difficult, persistent, and adaptable forms of social injustice to confront.
            Two related notions in Borderline, in response to the arguments that women are now in the military and that women are now supporting war as public officials, are the “female decoy” and the “honorary male.”
[EXT]In a plural society like the United States, male social power does not assign women one monolithic “script.” Zillah Eisenstein has said that modern society restlessly “renegotiates” masculinity and femininity, often using what she calls “gender decoys”—individual women in power and individual women as spokespersons for enterprises that are still dominated by males and for males . . . We can easily see that the corporate boardroom lacks females except to take the minutes and serve the coffee; but we typically think of the corporation and its boardroom as the product of the history of male dominance. This blind spot is maintained by norm-alization and gender-neutral liberal speech. We are then seduced by the argument that something called “equality” can efface history by putting more women on the board (as “gender decoys”). Shuffling the board may lead to small changes in its practices, but the function of the board is imbricated within the larger context of society and law. A few women in the boardroom does nothing that improves the lot of women generally, nor will they force the institution to adapt standpoints shared mostly by women. On the contrary, women in power have consistently adapted to the existing masculinized culture, where they serve as honorary males. This is why we need to read between the lines of gender-neutral speech. (italics added)[/EXT]
The woman who becomes an “honorary male” is allowed to occupy a limited number of positions in the male world provided she behaves like the men before her. In doing so, she provides that ideological gender-cover without changing either the masculinized character[4] of the surrounding society or institution, without disrupting masculinity constructed as violence and conquest, and without changing any of the power structures that continue to exist (like racism, class power, and imperial crimes like wars, economic pillaging, and coups) in spite of minor sex-gender disruptions.
True story. When I taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the 1980s, around ten percent of the Corps of Cadets were female. West Point: male institution that fought against female inclusion until they were nearly forced at gunpoint. Masculine institutional character. In the cadet lingo of the day, anyone who did anything very well was called a “stud.” He’s a football stud. He’s a chess stud. He’s a PT [physical training] stud. Interestingly, when minority female cadets did things well, they were also called studs. She’s a lacrosse stud. She’s an academic stud. The women who were disliked were still called cunts and whores and dykes and whatnot—pretty standard misogynistic Army talk—but if a young woman managed to gain the respect of some of the men, by not rocking the boat and taking the sexist shit of cadets and faculty without complaint, her sign of acceptance was to become Storm Cat, the uber-ejaculate sire of many flat-racing thoroughbreds. She became an Honorary Male. Stud.
Move along.
Two bits of film criticism I’d included in Borderline to exemplify this idea were GI Jane and Man on Fire, a story about a woman who becomes an Honorary Man by becoming a gunfighter, and another story about a black guy who becomes an Honorary White Guy by becoming a gunfighter. Americans love gunfighters, and we love war. Our truest faith. When Charlie emailed me with his suggestion that we do more and smaller gendered-power books, Sherry and I had embarked on the long journey through five seasons of Game of Thrones—an often-pornographic, quasi-medieval, fantasy television series that could keep sex-gender analysis folks and sexual psychoanalysts busy for the next two centuries. It was this confluence of events, then, that gave me the idea of taking nine well-known films, released over a period of forty years, from Star Wars to Jane Got a Gun, in which there were well-recognized, strong female leads, and putting each of them under this particular gender microscope. Honorary Males and Gender Decoys.
It was bell hooks, introduced to me by my sister many years ago, who convinced me of the value of cultural criticism. Bell hooks has shown again and again how popular culture, especially television and film, reproduces power structures. But she has also shown how critical engagement with popular culture is a pedagogical method that can reach a lot of people, meet them on familiar ground, and lead them through a process of defamiliarization that allows them to look past the mystifications of power that are written into these stories.
I doubt I can get many people to read sociological surveys; but I’m pretty sure a lot of people have seen the films included in this book. Also, if you are really intrigued by the way gender analysis unpacks into a complex architecture of heterodox insights, you can save up fifty dollars and buy Borderline.



[1] We’re going to employ a clumsy, hyphenated phrase from here forward: sex-gender. It’s not pretty, but it is a reminder that the sex and gender distinction often underwrites a larger nature-culture distinction that exists only in our minds and never in reality.
[2] People’s actions interpreted as “performance” is an easy idea to share in our own epoch, and it is shared widely and uncritically even within the Academy. Performance calls to mind actions taken before an audience, self-consciously fabricating our every posture, gesture, and word to convey something to observers. We all know, for example, how the introduction of a camera alters our behavior, how it makes us self-conscious, taking our minds off the objectives of our actions and fixing our consciousness instead on how we appear. When film and, especially, television came on the scene, we began to see actors and other public figures—who were always performing when we saw them—as (and here is a telling theater term) “role” models. I argue that prior to the introduction of the every more ubiquitous camera, this was not part of a dominant episteme except for politicians and the like, public figures, and con artists, and so on, whose job was to manipulate the public. The only reason we can get away with notions like “gender performance” is because we have naturalized this lack of sincerity, this self-conscious acting, which is profoundly alienating, as a way of living, as our primary waking experience. Performance has been further naturalized by psychologists, influenced by Nietzsche, like Erving Goffman, who essentially deny that an authentic “self” exists, rewriting human beings as “subjectivities” without any actual subjects. That naturalization needs to be called into question, especially in a book about film performances and how they affect social life.
[3] An umbrella term to cover all forms of fear, disgust, and hatred directed at those who—in various ways—fail to conform to what Adrienne Rich calls “compulsory heterosexuality.” Compulsory heterosexuality does not mean someone is being forced into what we refer to as sexual orientation (a personal trait). Rich described sexuality as encompassing much more than the erotic, in particular she calls “lesbianism”—which she promotes—as women being women-identified, whether they have sexual relations with men or women or are sexually abstinent. In a system of compulsory heterosexuality, what are compulsory are the roles, where women see other women as competition for men, e.g., or where they favor their male children, or wherein men feel obliged to do all those “masculine” things that identify them as men. It goes to the division of men from women in support of sustaining men’s power over women—in which we participate, willingly or not, through our many accommodations.
[4] Not calling masculinity an essence of some kind, like a Great Penile Spirit that takes possession of people. Masculine means that constellation of characteristics that men-in-power are expected to exhibit, emulate, and-or hold in high esteem: aggression, lack of “emotionalism,” toughness, the desire to conquer. Men were associated with power, power associated with these characteristics, and those characteristic were then separated out by social norms as the province of men.

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.”