U.S. Dictatorship

January 13, 2018

Can the USA become Fascist?

A lot depends on what you mean by fascism. After all Hitler and Mussolini’s ideas were significantly different and had significant resemblance to Stalin’s. If you mean a militaristic and nationalist state of the kind found in Germany and Italy in the 1930s, then yes its possible if the US keeps increasing military spending, militarizing its police, supporting arms manufacturers, threatening other States, or expelling inferior people who are not “real Americans”. If you mean a state which unifies and includes the established corporate sector, then yes its probable (if that is not already standard practice). If you mean a State in which it is respectable and beneficial to be a self proclaimed neo-Nazi, then yes. If you mean a state which sacrifices its people to fantasy, then we already have that. Fascism requires people have a flexible attitude to reality and truth; truth is what the party says it is.

It is, however, probably better to scrap the term fascism and ponder about dictatorial governance. If, by fascism you really mean a personalized dictatorship in which everyone has to say how wonderful the dictator is, and there is constant heavy likelihood of war – then the US is also pretty close to that.

Conservatives say that dictatorship cannot happen under the Republicans because they believe in individual responsibility and free markets. However, not all well-intentioned ideas work out in practice, or are even implemented by those who espouse them. To me, it often seems that Republicans primarily act to increase the powers of the wealthy and the corporate sector and remove any inhibitions on those powers – this is what they mean by ‘free markets’ – and this has nothing to do with freedom or liberty. Likewise conservatives are supposed to respect traditions and procedures. However, the Republicans seem largely to respect traditions and procedures when those traditions support their ‘side’. The difference between the way they have encouraged investigation of the Clintons over relatively trivial matters and seem to be trying to shut down investigations into this President on relatively serious matters is otherwise remarkable. Dictatorship encourages ‘sides’ and ‘allegiances’, and the idea that the other side is evil. To some extent, it depends on this.

Dictatorships often start off abusing people that disagree with them, turn blind eyes when people on their side try to threaten others physically, and then try to shut opposition down (Charlottesville). If a member of the party brings bad news or agrees with the other side (even once) then they are to be exiled and punished; setting an example and warning against independent thought for the others (think of Bannon). This seems to be the current US President’s only mode of debate. Fellow Republicans appear to be falling in line.

In accordance with the idea of allegiance being truth, dictatorships do not like the idea of umpires, neutral observers or scientists, if these people do not always obey the ideology and swallow the ideological truth. This position is never clearly enunciated, because the ideology must be true and disbelievers are criminal, so umpires are always potentially ‘biased’. Lies, confusion of knowledge, accusations of lies, false theories, common-sense that is wrong, and so on are part of dictatorship. People live in fantasy and denial (climate change, ‘free markets’). The position clearly does not respect individual rights, or reality. Dictatorships also try to stack positions of authority with people who are loyal and subservient rather than competent. This is true to a great extent of many of Trump’s appointments.

The Dictator is said to be a super-genius who everyone must look up to as their savior. He is unique, beyond the law and an exemplar for everyone, no matter what his real history, because he is the best. He knows more than generals. Knows more than scientists. Knows more than specialists in any field. He instinctively knows what is right…. criticism of him suggests the critic is an evil fool who must be repudiated and stomped on. Remind you of anyone?

This pattern is entirely in keeping with what social category theory would predict, and indeed suggests it may well be deliberately engineered. So how do you make dictators?

Firstly, you remember that people are more easily persuaded by people they identify with, who claim to be on their side. You increase the negative reactions towards people from outgroups. You take over the news media and make it more extreme. You say all other disagreeing media is hopelessly biased. You persuade people that other media is attacking our group. You make it up if you have to. You get people angry. Your audience is said to be abandoned, they are the victims. This makes your viewers less likely to use other media. You lie shamelessly. You repeat the falsehoods continually so they become part of the background. You destroy any linkages with the other side, by making this a matter of loyalty and of distrust of others. You expand into extremism, linking people together who are hostile to your ‘enemies’. This further destroys links between moderates, and moves people to defend extremists and separate themselves further from those on the other side. You pretend that your side is fighting against power, even when its policies do nothing other than support power. Everyone who argues differently must suffer or be exiled. This helps reinforce group loyalties. You gradually keep increasing the tensions until the system breaks and a savior from your group comes along, and its does not matter that he treats the outgroups badly, because they are the villains. You say you are defending the nation and tradition, while you tear those traditions down. You help the above with abuse, force and violence, making the violence more and more natural.

These are some steps towards making a dictator. They boil down to: reinforce group identities, together with group boundaries and exclusions. Control information, and build anger against outgroups.

What do you do to prevent loony personalized Dictators?

Don’t think that because you are a nice person and well intentioned, that other people on your side cannot do bad things. Be suspicious of in and outgroups, the more the boundaries seem forced.

Imagine your response if the other side behaved the way your side is behaving, and see if you are consistent. (ie what would your response be if the Russians had helped Clinton win, they had had contact with high up people in her electoral campaign, people in Campaign headquarters had lied about those contacts, and Democrats where trying to shut the inquiry down as it was a harmful witch hunt). This helps restore perspectives and spread ‘evil’ around, rather than concentrate it.

Make sure powerful people obey the law and get punished equally to poorer people, and don’t have special exemptions for them – especially if they are identified with your side.

If powerful people look like they have committed treason or other crimes then it must be investigated, no matter how inconvenient it may be for your side’s victory.

Support traditional checks and balances, and traditional procedures – especially if they seem inconvenient.

Make sure you don’t strip away rights from ordinary people. (And recognize that rights always involve an inhibition of other people’s rights to take away those rights. For example, a right of private property depends against stopping the rights of others to take that property away, or paying a portion of that property to guarantee the rest of it. So rights are always in conflict, especially with previous privilege.)

Make sure you don’t help a powerful class of people get more powerful.
Do not support increases in military spending, especially if the threat is vague.

Do not support the expansion of weaponry sales elsewhere, as that just encourages instability and increases the likelihood of war.

Support candidates who actually listen to the other side, because not listening to any one else is a mark of dictatorial attitudes.

Don’t support people who argue by abuse or threat.

Support people who listen to science rather than ideology – they are more in tune with reality, and used to letting ideology go.

Recognise that Dictatorship, and ‘cult of personality’ is a particular form of intensive group loyalty and unquestioning allegiance. It usually comes together with scapegoating, intolerance and militarism. It seems well suited to large scale societies and requires vigilance to avoid.

Virtue is not easy. Organize, before you get organized.

Never think it cannot happen simply because of the virtue of your side of politics, and then it is far less likely to occur.

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C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and the Spiritual Problems of Our Time

January 2, 2018

In a great Post John Woodcock drew attention to the importance of visionary experience amongst other things. However he also drew attention to C.S. Lewis, and this is where I have a problem.

John reminds us of the end of the Perelandra Trilogy in which the (literally) demonic scientists aim to bring about immortality. He quotes them

It is for the conquest of death: or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic life, which sheltered the babyhood of mind, the New Man, the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away.

The people on the side of the angels (again literally) are joyous when Merlin (yes that Merlin) breaks up the possibility of the scientists communicating, and then summons hoards of animals to eat them. Unlike John, I don’t find this denouement either satisfying or hilarious.

Indeed, the passage from Lewis reminds me exactly why I find him so disappointing. He is caught up hopelessly in surfaces and binaries. It’s spirit/matter, godly/ungodly, good/evil and so on. If God is on our side then whatever happens must be right, whatever discomfort our enemies suffer is wonderful. There are no tensions because God will win. God is all powerful after all, and the good guys are on the side of all power. Suck on that Demons!

It’s reminiscent of the bits in Narnia where the young woman is exiled because she likes stockings and make-up and the good crusaders slaughter heaps of evil Muslims in the battle to end all battles. All surface, dressed up to be deep. Faced with imagined people who think life is a bit more complicated than he does, all he can imagine is to break up their attempt at communion and praise murder. What a righteous attempt at solution! What imagination! What empathy! Lewis cannot even suspect the shadow of his spirituality, or his God, which he projects onto what he sees as science. His own spirituality can have nothing to do with the problems we face – it is all elsewhere and he is not responsible even a bit.

Its easy to imagine Lewis an inquisitor sadly condemning someone to excruciation until death, and thinking that if there is any sin in the matter its the fault of the secular authorities alone – he is innocent and unsullied. [As a caution we should all note that when we start condemning people, especially collectivities of people, we are probably engaged with the Jungian Shadow – ie the ‘evil’ in ourselves which it is less painful to see in others.]

Lewis needed to dream more freely rather than confine vision to allegory, see deeper and depend less on dogma for his interpretations.

By comparison good science is precisely about not stopping with surfaces but exploring reality and letting it impress us; not trying to trap it in binaries and given understandings. And we find an awe – even in people like Dawkins – which is perhaps more spiritual than almost anything in Lewis. The world revealed by science is weirder and more complex than anything Lewis or his characters could imagine. The God revealed in creation is not the tyrant of the Bible, but a being who delights in complexity, chance, freedom, creativity, who puts life in to the fundamental bits of existence. Sure science has limits, but what doesn’t? While scientists are more Merlin than Lewis’s Merlin, science probably needs a little more more alchemy (in Jungian terms).

Perhaps Lewis’s apparent spiritual impoverishment (yes that is strong, but that is the kind of language he might use) arises not because of his Christianity, but because of his Platonism. Platonism constructs an ideal world and then regards this world as a falling away, a bad copy, which is of little value, except for the elite to transcend. Dying is good, as it could get you to reality; we must make sure everyone dies. Hence Lewis’s anger that anyone might want to live for ever, unless this life is non-material and it involves his elite and no one else. We probably don’t need Nietzsche to point out the problems with a mythology that seeks its fulfilment in death, either personal or in the death of others (indeed they might well tend to be the same). In that sense Platonism seems to be at the root of our ecological problems, and perhaps our problems of power – in which everything living has to be ordered to be good, when everything that is living is, in reality, messy and unpredictable. For platonists the only good creature is a dead creature. Platonism, and the demand for order is almost certainly one of the roots of the Anthropocene.

Let’s compare Lewis with another and far greater writer: G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton does have his low moments (in Father Brown, you always know it was the atheist what done it), but his work is full of the sense of mystery impinging on and in the world, and the joyous knowledge that arises from catching a glimpse of this reality.

Chesterton’s books on Aquinas and Francis are amongst the best of their kind, and full of the glory of spirit, faith and intellect. He does not see intellect as evil but as part of God’s way, part of the way we go beyond appearance to reality. The Man who was Thursday explores the complexity of an omnipotent God, even if Chesterton denies it does, he can do it. Chesterton fights with what he sees as the evils of the modern world; fiercely as with Shaw and Wells (although he accepts their point that unfettered capitalism is not good), but he never lets go of the insight that his enemies are also expressions of the glory of God, and he remains friends with his foes and engages in dialogue – as that communion is more important than righteousness and murder, even while he admits that sometimes war may be necessary. There is no poverty of imagination here. The real ‘material’ world is potentially holy, or even holy already (God made it and it was good).

Life is a constant potential for transfiguration – although he would probably use the model of the mass rather than alchemy or hermeticism. Chesterton has no need to be of the spiritual elite, because he knows real humility and not the display of humility. He can celebrate the joys of ordinary people who are not perfect, because it is not his business to exclude people from ‘heaven’ or the heaven of Earth. He knows surfaces are holy, and that there are depths beyond the capacity of allegory to imagine.

My only complaint is that Chesterton is largely ignored, except by those usually on the political right) who would confine him, and pretend he was one of theirs – when he most certainly is not.

Russia

January 2, 2018

I guess this is repetitive…. but does everyone really think that Republicans would be poo-pooing and calm if:

a) The Russians had intervened to help the Democrats win a Presidential election

b) High level members of the Democrat campaign had been having contact with known Russian agents to the extent the FBI was interested.

c) High level members of the Democrat campaign knew in advance of stolen documents from the Republican Campaign and encouraged the Russians to make them public.

d) These people lied about their contacts with Russians and their advance knowledge.

e) Various people including the presidential candidate had lied about their business dealings in Russia.

f) The newly elected President had tried to discredit the investigation, get rid of the investigators, and threaten those involved. And the President’s party had tried to obstruct the enquiry.

g) More and more evidence kept implicating the Democrat campaign, and non supported their claims that they were ignorant.

We can guess they would be screaming about treason, and taking the latest piece of evidence that members of the President’s campaign thought the Russians had dirt on the opposition in May 2016, very seriously indeed.

Clearly Putin would not support Trump if he thought Trump had any chance of making America Great Again. He, like most people who had followed any Trump news probably expected an ignorant, thin skinned mass of confusion who would try to make money out of his office and alienate his allies. At the least he would know Trump would be erratic and would probably fold under personal threat.

Humanities, Universities and Neoliberalism

January 1, 2018

The problem of the usefulness of the Humanities again. The problem is really “how do you do anything in a neoliberal age?” I’m not sure you can deal with the question of the value of the Humanities without some idea of what you are talking about, and some of the problems arise from this confusion so.

a) Humanities is the study and understanding of, and thinking with, the best works of art, literature and philosophy that we think exist. This list should always be challengeable, because tastes and appreciations change. For example, I personally do not think the absence of Virgil is a problem, it’s an improvement. In general, this understanding requires knowing something about the socio-cultural background and reception of these works. So humanities is bound up with:

b) Social Studies (note I’m not using the term social sciences, as there is massive dispute about the extent to which any social study can be a science in the way physics is, or biology is, or geology or astronomy are) Social studies inherently involves meaning and interpretation (so it requires (a)). Social studies is the study of how human social and cultural life works in general. Economics is a sub branch of social studies, even though it pretends not to be, primarily to protect itself from a criticism of its values.

c) Linguistics – not the learning of languages, which could be part of (a), but attempting to understand how languages work, what the impact on thinking is, and how they function in social life. For me this includes Rhetoric, because there is little language without attempts at persuasion.

There might be other divisions one can make, the categories do not have to be firm or bounded.

Humanities tend to be conservative and social studies tend to be leftist or critical. On the whole, neoliberals think both are a waste of time; subjects should simply support capitalism and corporate power. Ultimately humanities (a) cannot be justified in terms of profit; criticism (b) should simply be stopped as its wrong; and everyone knows how to speak (c) so all are vulnerable in corporatised universities.

Neoliberals control universities, as they control most things in our societies. They like building, restructuring and making money, more than thinking. Money goes into CEO and star performer salaries, not to the academic staff in general or student services. Making money is the only mark of value. The idea that a university exists as a space for independent thought, or for learning how to think is, in neoliberal terms, a pointless waste of money. If there is no job at the end of it, and no profit then subjects should go. Consequently, academics should teach paying students what they want to hear, or do research which is profitable and brings in money. I recently read of computer science academics who were not interested in supervising PhD’s that would not lead to a start up company; this may not be true of course.

If work ends up criticising the contemporary establishment, then it is usually treated as drivel by that establishment. Scientists have started to learn this point as well. We all know how climate scientists have been attacked for speaking unwanted truth to power. Nowadays pure science that is of no corporate interest, or which shows corporate ‘science’ is faulty, is unwelcome. It is seen as political, rather than as part of a search for greater accuracy. Humanities and social studies are automatically considered political, because they are about people and how people behave, and all politics makes assumptions about humans. Even historical research which challenges clichés about socially foundational events, such as Athenian democracy, the American Revolution, or the invasion of Australia, or the beneficence of capitalism, is inherently political, and therefore either to be ignored or persecuted.

Humanities and social studies are useful, if useful is worthwhile considering. Writers and media people, might find courses on poetry, literature, language and rhetoric useful, as might other people who want to gain some cultural depth and independence of thought, or who might want to persuade people of something. People who want to go into governance, management or journalism had better know something about social studies, if they don’t want to mess things up in normal ways. If values or ethics are important, then having an idea of the range of possible values and how they tend to function is useful as well – although again it will seem pointless to neoliberals as it conflicts with their decided understanding. In neoliberalism, ethics is always about making money, and that is pretty obvious and may need no complex thinking.

Finally, in neoliberalism there is no such thing as ‘community’, the only class positions that are allowed to exist should be marked by wealth, and human connection should be financial – everything else is simply false. The idea of a community of scholars of intellectuals has no meaning in modern politics. If neoliberals want thought they will set up a think tank, and know what they are going to get in advance; that’s value for money.

Basically the struggle everywhere is between life and neoliberalism. The more the neoliberal ‘free market’ mob win, the less there is to live for. And conservatives should know this as well; they used to.

Materialism, Spirit and Shadow

December 31, 2017

I’m sometimes surprised when people say that we live in a ‘material age’. It is true that we are governed by an economics and politics that only values money, profit and power, but that is not usually the subject of their disapproval.

Irrespective of this, the reality is that we (and it’s a Western ‘we’ here, apologies to everyone else) have probably lived in one of the most exciting spiritual and theological periods of human history. Since 1880 or thereabouts the flourishing of spiritual thought and action has been extraordinary – partly because of the, perhaps beneficial, decline of religious authority.

In theological terms we have had Mary Baker Eddy, Albert Schweitzer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Wolfhardt Pannenberg, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teilhard de Chardin and Mathew Fox to name some of the original and more well-known writers (That’s just of the top of my head and I’m not a theologian, I’m sure people will think of other influential originals). We have had important movements such as liberation theology, death of god, process theology, ‘traditionalism’, feminist theology, historical Jesus, and green/gaian theology. We have had the popular recovery of alchemy, hermeticism, gnosticism, kabbalah, sufism, goetic magic and altered states of consciousnes. We have had the ongoing and again, popular, cross fertilisation between Christianity and Buddhism (to the betterment of both in my opinion). We have had the influx of Indian religious practice, and we may have some popular understanding of Taoism. We have popular contributions from science (Haldine, Bateson, Capra), philosophy, (Bradley, Wittgenstein, Edith Stein, Heidegger, Barfield, Agamben, Vattimo), anthropology and comparative religion (Frazer, Eliade, Levi-Strauss, Victor Turner, Evans Pritchard, Rene Girard (ok this list could go on :), literature (From Kazantzakis to Dan Brown and C.S. Lewis) and of course psychology (Jung, Maslow, Ornstein, Houston, Mindfulness, AA etc). We’ve had arena’s full of popular spiritual writers and practitioners. We have probably had more channelled texts than at any time in history (from the ‘Book of the Law’ to the ‘Course in Miracles’). The world is full of spiritual healers. We have even had important and influential ‘joke’ spiritualties like Discordianism (All hail Eris!).

If ‘materialism’ means not limited and not dogmatic, then we have had a materialistic age. However, if ‘materialism’ means non-spiritual then this has not even remotely been a non-spiritual age. It has been an age of flourishing experiment rather than authority, and an age in which few people have been burnt at the stake for heresy. We should probably celebrate it, rather than denigrate it.

However, this does not mean we have had an age without shadow. Clearly not as the ‘spiritual’, (like everything human) is rarely without shadow or its specific ‘evils’, and it is dangerous to think that because something is spiritual it is automatically good or constructive. Part of the spiritual problem is that spirit sometimes can only see its own as spirit and protects its own and only its own, and attacks all else. Hence, perhaps, the apparent inability to perceive current spiritual flourishing, and the (perhaps necessary) descent to dogma.

As for the ‘darkness’: we now know about child rape in church and the protection of rapists for the spiritual good of authority, of the insistence on obedience and not thinking, of spiritual violence against the failing world. There was Nazism (and if you don’t think Nazism was a spiritual movement you have not read enough of the original Nazis), we have the unity of some Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists who work to bring about the apocalypse in the middle east, with the second coming of Jesus and the birth of perfection in the death of millions, and we have religious terrorists, sexists and racists – every ‘evil’ you can think of will have some spiritual defenders.

We have many spiritual programmes that primarily seem to seek personal wealth as the mark of divine favour, and who often condemn the poor as unspiritual or undisciplined. Is condemnation an inherent part of spirit, so as to justify the elite who ‘get it’ and their position as beings of influence?

Then we have Platonist spirituality where focusing on the ideal spirit, or absolute perfect forms, can lead to denigration and attacks on the ‘fallen’ ‘imperfect’ real/material world and help foster ecological crises and the destruction of Nature. In this wordview only death opens perfection as we escape the material we hate. Only a dead or transcended world seems a good world. Or we can say everything is in the hands of God, and nothing harmful will eventuate from human action – spirit is already perfect and that is all that matters. People can attack their bodies, their minds and their empathy for others, in the name of spiritual perfection. We can see murder of the ‘evil others’ on whom we have projected our spiritual shadow, as the solution to problems – particularly if our God is good because ‘he’ is all-powerful and prone to vengeance. In that case, what difference is there between our spirituality and existential fear? Our righteousness seeks to prove we are on the right side, by condemning before we ourselves are condemned.

This idealist shadow can penetrate all modes of life, making the possible seem deadly material by comparison, and lead to the sacrifice of both humanity and nature for a perfection which exists elsewhere – and possibly only imaginally.

If we need more spirituality then we need as much care in identifying its shadow and integrating it as we do in all other parts of life, rather than keeping it in some far off transaction. We may well need a material spirituality, in which the world itself is part of the sacred and, if we transcend, it is as in alchemy, and endless circulation in which we bring back the spirit to this world and unify the two – neither being complete without the other. We respect what is, as we live amongst it.

To repeat, just because something can be called spiritual, it does not mean it is unalloyedly good or beneficial for either humans or nature. This has to be discovered rather than claimed in advance – anything can have unintended effects.

Buying Green

December 29, 2017

We are sometimes told that we should use our money carefully and buy green, healthy and low polluting, and that way corporations will start producing more green, healthy and low polluting goods.

While this is obviously better than buying any old thing, it does not solve the problem, because it can just as easily shift business competition into making it harder for people to find out what is in products (for example rendering it not necessary to declare when food involves GM products), into claiming products are ‘healthy’ or ‘good for the environment’ when they are not, or into persuading people to show their bravery, or status, by doing cool ‘unhealthy’ things. “Guaranteed to clog your arteries, don’t eat if you’re scared!”

As well, if people don’t get paid enough to live comfortably, and if they are time poor with several jobs (and still not living comfortably), then it is very hard for them not to choose the cheapest, most convenient, thing irrespective of whether it is good for them or the environment or not.

Its easy under capitalism to defer responsibility to someone else. That is what the dominant factions do all the time. “People won’t buy healthy stuff, so we don’t have to make it”. So the strategy can be said to have the ultimate result of making the relatively powerless carry the blame for corporate depredation.

Economics and Climate

October 17, 2017

Its simple really.

If destroying the environment makes a profit and saving it has a potential cost, then saving the environment will not happen – especially under capitalism.

However, this point can be generalised.

If destroying the environment allows more tax payers’ money to be given to the established wealthy then that will happen especially under a ‘free market’ government

If destroying the environment conserves the power of the established elites, and saving it might challenge them, then saving it will not happen.

If it is easier to destroy the environment by continuing as we have done or persisting with the default position, and saving it takes effort and thought, it won’t happen.

That’s all the economics you need to know

Trump as ‘Radical’

October 10, 2017

I recently asked a person why they thought Trump was working for the benefit of the American people.

Their reply mentioned the employment figures, ending the TPP, and peace in Syria.

I have to agree that the employment figures are nice but it seems that they simply continue the trend established under Obama. So far, I have not heard any evidence which supports the idea that Trump had anything to do with the continuation of this trend or had actually increased the trend. I’d be surprised if, without any large scale legislation, the first six month’s of any president’s office did not express the last six months of their predecessor.
What policies did he implement, or actions did he perform, that have changed things in that six months? without this data it could easily be that he is riding on the results of Obama’s policies?

I won’t object to abandoning the negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership. People on the left have been arguing against the TPP for ages, as being a surrender of national sovereignty to corporate power, especially given the secret courts which would have allowed corporations to challenge wage increases, health restrictions and environmental laws as impinging on ‘free trade’. There has been massive amounts of right wing screaming against these objections. So it was good that Trump has now almost made it an orthodox position. However Clinton argued similarly, and in either case the TPP was not in force, so it was probably not yet impacting, and having only having a minor effect on the economy.

I’m certainly not sure about ceasefire in Syria. The war still seems to be going on as far as I can tell and I’ve recently been reading reports about the Russians complaining about American backed rebels. Trump may have bombed an airport, but that seems to be it, everything else seemed to be giving Putin the free hand he wanted, although Trump denounced the Syrian government as a major enemy in his speech to the UN, implying something should be done, or that he might strike again.

The idea of the ‘deep state’ and the autonomous power of the military, is now recognized by some on the right, thanks to Trump’s rhetoric. But the question remains how much of this is mere rhetoric. The general idea of the “military-industrial complex” has been part of Left orthodoxy for years (I can’t think how long Chomsky has been going on about it), so its only recently that the right has taken it onboard, even if they tend to blame Clinton rather than Bush Jr. for the wars in the middle east. However, the point is that it is the collaboration of corporations and the military that seems to be the prime problem, whereas the usual impression I get from the right is that they think that giving the corporate sector more power and money will solve the problem, which it probably won’t. I don’t know of any evidence that private military contracting has declined under Trump, and his deep commitment to boosting military spending will only increase the deep state and the bonds between government subsidy of corporations and military power.

Trump is threatening Iran and sometimes China, tearing up treaties, and threating nuclear war again (he already threatened that for the middle east during the elections). Nuclear war probably poses a reasonable threat to the safety of the American people, and his threats could increase the possibility of anticipatory strikes. He also seems to oppose disarmament or attempts to contain the spread of nukes. As far as I can tell, by his own account he appears to be continuing the mess in Iraq caused by the Bush Jr Admin ignoring all the advice they received. In March this year he said “our soldiers are fighting like never before” in Iraq and doing really well.

We shall see what wars arise in future, as the idea of combat seems appealing to him.

Mr. Trump also appears to be proposing to continue the Republican project of tax cuts and tax holidays for the wealthy, while removing health care and increasing military spending beyond its current level of excess – usually if military spending increases, the products get used. The money to pay for this spending has to come from somewhere, as so far the Laffer curve has never appeared to kick in and provide those increased tax revenues. We can guess the money will not be taken from corporate subsidy, but there is always a possibility.

Mr. Trump has also continued the Republican project of making it easier for US corporations to pollute and poison people and has abandoned an enquiry into the health effects of coal, not just because we already know coal is bad for people, but because his policies imply he just doesn’t seem to care about people’s ill health if that bad health increases profit. That he won’t tackle the elites producing climate change is to be expected. He is following the old trickle down economics always popular with the wealthy elites, and which might just help him make more as well.

Health care is one of the things the supposed master deal maker cannot apparently negotiate a deal on, even when the Republicans have spent years arguing against the Affordable Health Care Act. Now given the opportunity Trump cannot persuade them to repeal it, let alone make it better as he continues to promise – let us hope he can improve it. He did however make a deal with the Democrats on another issue, perhaps they are less prone to elitism, and they might help improve health care, if that is what he wants.

I still do not understand why a group of billionaires, (some hereditary), high corporate figures and the billionaires who have been supporting them with their media is not an elite, and one not particularly shown to be sympathetic to the people. They even behave as an elite; Trump seems to be the most expensive president in history because he want to go to his elite clubs and resorts. From what I’ve seen Trump also does not appear treat his ordinary workers that well. That there is a war in the wealth elite does not imply that either side has an interest in really supporting the people.

Indeed one of Trump’s problems as one of the hereditary wealthy seems to be that he has always been the boss. He has been able to do what he wants and fire those who disagree or give alternate advice. He is renown for the catch phrase “your fired,” and genuinely seems to have enjoyed uttering it. He has no preparation for working in a field in which he is nominally first among equals – he is part of an elite used to obedience.

We also have the Russia problem. That is not yet proven. But if Clinton had won, and the Russians had supported her covertly, and members of her team had had contacts with them during the election, and Clinton had lied about her business interests in Moscow, then we know that Republicans and the media would be screaming for her impeachment. Trump would probably be demanding her execution for treason. I personally don’t hold it likely that Putin supported Trump because he thought Trump would help the American people, or make America great again… precisely the opposite.

Government as business?

October 7, 2017

One of the classic neoliberal arguments is that the country should be run like a business.

But why? The country is not a business. A country has to value things that do not make a profit, and sometimes has to do things which only have monetary cost and which business would not do – such as try and preserve the ecology for future generations and their survival. Likewise, a country should ideally not treat ‘big customers’ better than small customers because they pay more or use services more. Justice should apply equally, not by how much profit administering it makes. You should not only have free speech if you can afford to pay for it, or agree with the publisher, as is usually the case in business.

The only benefit of this neoliberal idea is that it gives the corporate sector more power and respectability, as they supposedly must know things about running a business and ideally should know how to run the country, or even be left to run the country. They are the ideal to which everyone should aspire and which should be emulated. The idea also allows a degree of pleasant abuse, of the form “those well intentioned left wingers are nice people but they don’t know how to run a business, so they are useless”. The idea also suggests that government should judge business actions by business morals: “do those actions make the business a profit?”, not whether they might harm people or the country or are a waste of government money. In this system, government should get out of the way of business, no matter what. It also justifies corruption, because it suggests all relationships are monetary, and if business wants to buy relationships with the government to give it advantages then why not? – that’s just competition? Similarly, if CEOs can get massive subsidies and special treatment, just for doing their job (even badly), then so should politicians, especially leaders, so it can be welcome to governments.

The idea promotes the lowering of government supervision of business and any efforts to prevent fraud, because clearly business knows best and the market will punish any real dishonesty or harmful behaviour – which it does not; the market may even reward such behaviour in the short term as the behaviour is profitable. The idea also suggests tax-payer subsidy of business, public private partnerships, commercial-in-confidence, because they are ‘clearly’ better than government by itself. All of these profitable relationships take responsibility away from government and distributes that responsibility where it can never be found – just as the corporate structure is intended to do (corporations are organisations designed to avoid personal responsibility). However, a government without visible responsibility for the arrangements they enter into is not even remotely democratic as that involves responsibility to the people and the whole of the people, not just the wealthy.

If we were to propose that military organization should be the model for government then we are suggesting that ‘the people’ should be fodder for the military. If we think that business is the model for government, then we are suggesting people should be fodder for business: people who consume what they have to choose whether it harms them or not; docile workers who are low paid and flexible at their boss’s request, who never think and never question business power or respectability, and who don’t have the support or information to do anything about it.

This idea can even permeate the union movement who sellout their members for business interests – after all the whole point is that business supposedly knows best, and business people are the best. So workers are perceived as merely an appendage, no longer the centre of what gets produced or gets done.

Where in life do we most heavily feel the unlistening hand of management? At work, which is usually in business, or governed like a business. Business models a form of authority which makes the state even more authoritarian and untouchable.

Capitalism vs Feudalism

October 5, 2017

Capitalism and Feudalism are not the same, but it is useful to make a comparison between them focusing on power and privilege – however much free market apologists do not want to talk about these issues.

In feudalism we basically have the following set up – a largely hereditary class system composed of:

  • 1) Aristocracy, Lords etc. with command of land, law and violence.
  • 2) Crafts people, restricting knowledge of their ‘mysteries’, organised in guilds. Some travel, some are stationary.
  • 3) Merchants and traders who convey goods between cities. Monetary wealth starts to concentrate here. Some cities manage to establish a degree of independence.
  • 4) Church: control of communications, more esoteric non-craft based knowledge, cosmology, salvation.
  • 5) The peasantry, largely bound to a Lord and an estate. Peasants are dependent on the Lords for their livelihood.
  • There is also division by gender. Aristocratic women have more power, privilege and opportunity than peasant women, but they can still lead a relatively constrained life, being bargaining chips for their fathers for alliances. There is some upwards mobility (the idea that people can move up from their parents’ position in life). Historians dispute how much, but there are examples of people being recognised for combat virtues, mercantile abilities and intellectual virtues and moving up the class system to a degree.

    The Church and the Lords have an uneasy truce, but in general the Church promotes the ideas that the Lords have the necessary inherent virtues to rule, and are put there by God, and revolt is bad.

    There is little resembling the present day state. Lords are tied together by ties of oath and kinship. The king is the supreme lord, but he only has a small administration and his own loyal troops. As Shakespeare said “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. A quick study of British feudal history will show kings being killed or displaced or disciplined with regularity. It was only with the end of the Wars of the Roses that we get the start of something approximating a modern State. Henry VIII takes over the church and builds a new aristocracy loyal to him through redistribution of its wealth. Elizabeth continues the trend with a secret police and more admin, but even she is so poor that she has to regularly travel the country with her court living on the beneficence of fellow aristocrats. Merchants get more and more control over the wealth. In the middle of the next century a mercantile and largely popular revolution kills Charles I, and sets up an independent government. The Merchants and Presbyterians crush the more democratic elements. Eventually the kings come back, but they are subordinate to Parliament and mercantile wealth for funding – James I and the Stuarts are thrown out. Capitalism develops.

    Out of this history the traditional power and class structure of capitalism appears and is something like this:

  • 1) State: control of law and violence.
  • 2) Capitalists and remaining aristocrats: owners and controllers of business, wealth and land.
  • 3) Professionals: control of knowledge (science) education and entrance to the professions.
  • 4) Media, distribution of knowledge.
  • 5) Unions, representative bodies of workers. Workers are generally dependent on capitalists for their livelihood.
  • 6) Churches.
  • However over the last 40 years, since the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal (talking about the freemarket) revolution, wealth has become the dominant source of power, purchasing, curtailing, taking over or destroying all the other bases of power. Wealth has the potential to be the ultimate source of power because it can take over anything.

    We now have a situation in which wealth controls State, law and violence though politicians and party funding; it controls knowledge through think tanks and corporatisation of universities; it largely controls media and the distribution of knowledge; and has largely destroyed or crippled unions.

    We live in a hierarchical capitalist plutocracy. This is perhaps the inevitable consequence of putting business and profit first. Business people become the only people worth talking to, or listening to, and their think tanks promote ‘free markets’ (ie the total dominance of business interests) as the only important part of society. They funded Hayek, Mises, Cato inst etc. to make a coherent justification for their unimpeded rule. We now know that the wealthy are wealthy because they “worked hard”, have “special talents”, are “innovative”, are “blessed by God or the market” etc. Revolt, or even objection, is bad.

    This is not to say that the corporate class is completely united. There are divisions which struggle against each other. For example a rough division occurs between those capitalists (and their hangers on) who have a relatively humanistic attitude to the rest of the world, think environments and people require some support or equalising of opportunity, and those who don’t, or who think all good and only good all arises through ‘the market’ or the actions of corporate capitalists.

    There are also gender divisions, relatively few women control wealth production, and the same is true of race/ethic divisions within the country. Everything I have read suggests that upwards mobility has declined over the same period. This implies that class has ossified the more free markets are valued.

    Basically in such a system, the “billionaire next door” can do whatever they like, unless they are opposed by another billionaire, and we see this happening all the time. All other controls on the power of wealth have largely evaporated. It is possible to see most right wing policies at aiming for the removal of any restrictions on wealthy individuals, or any possibility of poorer individuals curtailing the impact of these individuals on their own lives.

    It seems pretty obvious that has well as ‘totalising’ power into plutocracy and rendering it largely (if not completely) hereditary, capitalism likes to displace the costs of its activities on to others, through distribution of pollution, injury environmental destruction, subsidy and so on. So the rest of us end up subsidising their wealth. This increases profits and anyone who does not do it, is at risk in loosing investment, and of being destroyed by a less principled company….

    So one difference between capitalism and feudalism, is that there were more bases for power in feudalism and likely more freedom to exit the system, or to curtail excessive destruction of the system by one particular group. Another is that there was less material wealth. Most of the practical benefits of that wealth have arisen through better technology and medicine, whether the professional organisations could have done that in western feudal society is unknown, but it certainly started there.