The Unsaid

Unlike the physical world studied by natural science, political reality is not simply given, but is in part the outcome of people’s beliefs, actions, and interactions. There are of course objective structures and forces in social life (laws, institutions, resources), but their effects on people are not like the force of gravity (which is indifferent to peoples’ beliefs). Instead, objective social forces change as beliefs and actions change and give rise to new patterns of interaction in the service of different goals and values. One way to understand political power is as the collective capacity to define and change the given reality in according to a guiding value system.

Struggles for institutional power always involve struggles to define the scope of possibility for political action. Mainstream politicians of parliamentary parties all define political reality in such a way that changes to the objective forces that currently structure social life and the existing money-value system that legitimates those forces appear unchangeable. The way they accomplish this goal is to not speak about these objective forces as social, political, and economic products of collective human action and interaction, but as permanent constraints on human life which must be accepted as limits within which “realistic” policies must operate.

Hence, to understand the deeper identity of interest that all mainstream politicians and political parties serve, we need to pay attention to what they leave unsaid. Their differences—always superficial—are disclosed in their policies, platforms, and pronouncements, but to understand what they are really about we need to bring to light the unstated assumptions about what they take the field of legitimate political action to be.
One of the most difficult, but also most important abilities, that critical social philosophy teaches is this ability to uncover and understand the relationship between the unsaid in political speech and the attempt to make changeable institutional forces appear as unchangeable natural laws. While understanding the way in which what mainstream politicians keep silent helps them make the historical appear natural does not in and of itself lead to the solution to key problems, it is a first step in understanding why parliamentary politics never solves the problems the different parties all claim to want to solve. They never solve the problems because they accept the real causes of those problems as unalterable structures of social life. The result is that the real issues never even get discussed, let alone systematically addressed. Let me illustrate my point with three examples drawn from recent history and relevant to the on-going federal election campaign.

A few months ago the Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining the history of residential schools and their destructive impacts on the lives of people of the First Nations submitted its final report. It made a number of far reaching recommendations about how the historically oppressive relationship between the Canadian state and the people of the First Nations could be transformed and equality and justice promoted. While all political parties are courting the aboriginal vote, there is complete silence about the report. Why? Because the testimony, analysis, and recommendations it contains all smash key elements of the myth of Canada: as a historic compromise between two founding nations, as the triumph of conservative (in the true sense of the word) pragmatism over mutually destructive confrontation, and of democratic accommodation over revolutionary violence. Judged from the perspective of the people of the First Nations, the truth of the Canadian state is the opposite on every score: not a compromise, but an all-out attack on First Nations’ societies, not conservative, but destructive of First Nations’ cultures and institutions, and not democratic, but a colonial expropriation of First Nations’ lands. All of that must remain unsaid, because all parties (with the exception of the Bloc Quebecois, which relies on a different myth of origins) tie their own legitimacy to the resonance this myth has with many Canadians.

As always, “the economy” is the focus of most of the arguments between the three major federal parties. Occasionally, mildly critical arguments erupt about the level and extent of inequality, about the disappearance of ‘good jobs,’ and the need for financial security in old age. What is always left unsaid in these arguments is an explanation of why our society is so unequal and growing moreso, what a good job is and why they are disappearing, and why the financial security of more and more people, and not only the elderly, is being undermined. To answer those questions would mean using the term “capitalism” and lead into an analysis of its class structure. An analysis of its class structure would provide strong evidence that poverty, inequality, menial and poorly paid labour, and financial insecurity for everyone but the very wealthy is not a function of bad policy-making by the government of the day, but endemic to an economy that produces profits through the exploitation of labour, that treats working human beings as disposable “human resources” and has tied personal income security more and more to volatile stock markets that work for major corporate investors but only rarely for working individuals. To raise these questions would again jeopardize each party’s election strategy: of positioning themselves as the best party to manage the economy. Instead, it would allow people to ask the question of whether we need to build a different economy on the basis of a different value system if the goods of equality, meaningful work, and life-security are to be served.

Finally, let us take an example from international affairs. The refugee crisis gripping Europe might seem to have little to do with Canada (beyond the debate about whether the Conservative government has allowed enough Syrian refugees into the country). While the government`s response thus far has been shamefully inadequate, there is again an unspoken dimension to the problem. In large part the refugee crisis is testimony to the failure of the neo-liberal political-military and economic agenda in Africa and the Middle East, a set of policies which is never exposed to view by any of the parties, (even if some its results are lamented by the NDP and Liberals). No one is exposing to light the destruction of African economies through IMF structural reforms imposed through the 80s and 90’s until today, or the way in which the collapse of stability in the Middle East is a consequence of Western intervention. Instead, all sing from the same hymn book about ISIS and wave the flag in support of our bombing missions and blind, unthinking support for Israeli colonialism, when it is clear that no solution that can restore peace to the Middle East be achieved through bombing and that a better future for everyone will require the end of the occupation of Palestine and the creation of democratic Palestinian state.

Bringing these unstated assumptions to light shows us that mainstream political parties accept as necessary the very structures that cause the fundamental problems of our world. Understanding these causes cannot on its own solve the problems, but there is abundant historical evidence to support the claim that unless we understand and address the causes of key social problems, solutions will never be found.

Ocean Cycle: Eight Meditations

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Gulf of St. Lawrence:  West Mabou Beach

We call Henry Moore a sculptor, why not the sea?  What makes a sculpture? Intentional transformation of structure? Or just material transformation?  I stroll to the rhythm of the gently lapping waves and Moore’s supple organic forms come to mind. I think:  “There was a man who learned abstraction from spending time along the sea shore collecting bleached seal bones and caressing stones whose hard, dead, unloving, unlaughing mineral angles have been mollified into the rounder and receptive contours of living flesh.”  Metamorphosis of structure without conscious design, like John Cage, letting musical order evolve by ascesis to chance; not art imitating nature but nature as art.  I do not mean picturesque appearances-  they are merely pretty, pleasing to the eye, but the elemental forces of creation and transformation.  The art that created the human artist from molecules in this sea that I walk beside.

Gulf of St. Lawrence:  Inverness Beach

All along the coast the metronomic shwarshing of the waves, self-ramifying in their intensity under a steady North Easterly wind, relaxes the tension in my shoulders and dissolves the capacity to care about anything else but the next step.  The mind is free to think and the idea comes to me: a manifesto of mechanico-natural art.  The beautiful as the unintended product of blind natural forces doubling over against themselves:  creation as material structuring, beauty as recreation of the material structure to something approaching the appearance of conscious intention where there really is none.  And then further:  a museum of mechanico-natural art, artistic practice displaced from production to selection (not curation, for all commentary will be forbidden-  one will have to see without looking and feel without talking).  But then, immediately, the objection:  the human-loathing eco-crowd for whom nature is stasis and everything must  be left alone, just as it is (forgetting, of course, that “just as it is”  is an illusion born of human time consciousness, that a thousand years ago “just as it is”  was very different, and a thousand years hence, will be very different again, and everything in the universe changes form and without assemblage and re-assemblage there would be no one alive to worry about  the injustice of moving pebbles).  And then the solution:  the museum shall be empty, and the idea will be so irresistible that other empty museums of mechanico-natural art will spring up all along the world’s coastlines, and superstar architects will be hired to top each other’s hundred million dollar empty buildings, competing with one another to construct ever more impossible geometries, and the tourists will come by the thousands to marvel at the exquisite complexes of emptiness, and justify the entrance fees they paid by projecting ever more elaborate fantasies into the empty spaces, and then afterwards dine at snob restaurants, drink, and later stroll along the beach, pausing to piss on the pebbles that it would have been an eco-crime to move.

Atlantic Ocean, Dominion Beach

Fortunately for the locals, the bourgeoisie do not like coal dust mixed with their surf, so the good people of Dominion have escaped the fate of other indigenous shore dwellers, of being herded inland and allowed back only with pass cards as servants to the not-beautiful people who fill the resorts that rise alongside privatised shores.  A bay of irony: towering piles of coal feeding a generating station surrounded by wind turbines built along the headlands defying the Atlantic that will not be forever resisted.  The people and their proud clapboard homes have held out against January gales and unfavourable economic climates, their past no longer possible and perhaps not ever good; the future jobless spinning turbines.  But fuck ’em both, past and future, today the beach is a perfect crescent arcing from cliff to cliff.  Just off shore, a lobster boat is anchored, lifted gently from below by the curling waves while above an unrelenting sun smiles at the collective laughing satisfaction with now.

Atlantic Ocean, Ingonish Beach

The inexperienced swimmer has no way of knowing what is coming.  A dozen meters away what will be a six foot wave is just a dark exhalation; a gentle swelling of the sea then suddenly upon you, rearing translucent blue, at the bottom a turbulent green  churning engine driving it up and over, urged by the whole ocean cramming itself into this bay, curving two-dimensional surface into three dimensional body, accelerating, rolling, arching over upon itself, holding its topography long enough to propel you forward, gliding irresistibly along its solid liquidity before it breaks and releases you, its Platonic geometrical perfection disintegrating into a chaos of bubbles and foam,  and there you are submerged when only a moment ago the water was knee deep.  A respite.  Peace.  It all slides back out to sea, tugging at your ankles and saying, “just let go, come with us, out to that perfect blue infinity, we’ll carry you, you don’t have to work, just let your self float.”  But the peace of the whole is death for the part, so you sturdy yourself and walk laughing back to shore, and then look out again to sea, Cape Smokey driving hard and fast into the Atlantic to the right, toney Keltic Lodge sneering down from the left.  But here below a more proletarian feel.  Beyond the massaging sands and exuberant crashing of the surf, struggle and pain and sadness demand our time.  But they are not here, in this ephemeral democracy of playing bodies.

Gulf of St. Lawrence, Fishing Cove

Without contrast, no beauty.  The sea without headlands, the headlands without sea, the living green spruce without the dead grey stumps,  the dead grey stumps without the living green spruce, the sloshing of the waves without the trickle of the creek, the trickle of the creek without the sloshing of the waves, the peak of the mountain without the flat of the valley, the flat of the valley without the peak of the mountain, the slate grey of the Gulf without the copper of the river, the copper of the river without the slate grey of the Gulf, would never attract the eye or ear.  They would be the whole, and thus not noticeable in their particularity.  Their particularity depends on their opposition to what limits them, and this limitation is the difference that lets their beauty be perceived.  One thinks that one could tarry forever at the sight and sound, but as beauty depends on contrast, so life depends on movement.  The steep upward path awaits.  The pain the descent has produced in one’s thighs has been relieved;  the ascent promises a panting, gasping  chest. It is good to be a body that sees and  hears and sweats.

Atlantic Ocean, Middle Head Trail

A paradox of distance.  From afar it looks higher, but also, more gently sloped.  But then the trail ends like you can’t believe:  grassy plane, slight incline, then straight down, forty five meters, no danger-destroying railing or fence, just sea stirred to churning indigo-sapphire-emerald whirlpools by the rocks that will one day succumb but not today, and you think:  “There would be no surviving that!”  And then: “Yes, it is good to be a body that sweats and sees and hears the haunting roar of the waves,” and, wanting more, creeps forward a little more, apprehensive, but wanting to feel the sheerness in the tingle of the arches of my foot that say:  “Don’t go too far.”  But the good body is not a machine, and heights can summon strange thoughts: “Wouldn’t my aching muscles be soothed by that frothing turbulence, so inviting?  What if I were to just jump, ignore the height and the jutting rocks and leap?”  It would be too late for that censor reason, once the descent had commenced, to correct the course and return to the cliff, for my arms, unlike the egrets ignoring me on their perch, cannot command the sky, and then, at the bottom, it would no longer be good to be a body.  These are the thoughts a man thinks sometimes, when his mind is not set to working.

Atlantic Ocean, Aspy Bay

The clichéd response is to say:  “Yes, each is as insignificant as these pebbles slowly being ground to beach sand in which our footprints disappear after only a half an hour; each is as nothing against the waves, one withdrawing meeting the other advancing and in the collision spinning themselves, like a dynamo, from soothing sloshing to jet engine roar, lifting up and crushing down in a tremendous wet thud that shakes the beach; each has come from those elemental forces and will return to them, and the names of all of us will be forgotten.” But the truth is that it is the sea that is as nothing without the presence of the feet of each that feels the sand and the ears that hear the roar and the eyes that look out into the endless blue openness and the mind that is at once elevated and terrified by what it thinks in that moment.

Gulf of St. Lawrence, Pleasant Bay

Life and not just theory paints its grey on grey, but in the dreary absent colour of the withdrawing waves, in the force that sets the pebbles to rattlesnake hissing and the stones to haunted knocking (like someone trying to escape, but resigned to not being strong enough) there is beauty too: the beauty of subtle shading, of dynamic patterns in the ripples far out to sea, of its patient inhalation and exhalation; a beauty that requires attention.  But there is no beauty without contrast.  The clouds will clear and the grey will lift, the indigo blue of the Gulf will return, and then the sun will set in a Munchian palette of yellow and orange and red and magenta striations and swirls.  A last exuberance.  There is no beauty without contrast, but when the last purple line between sea and sky is erased, then there is disappearance.  Void.

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Credit Due, But …

August 6th, 2015, marked the 70th anniversary of the American atomic bomb attack against Hiroshima, Japan.  Contrary to widely circulated myths, the bombing was not a necessary evil to force the surrender of Japan and avoid an invasion predicted to produce even higher number of civilian casualties.  Abundant testimony from the highest ranks of the United States military and government, including Douglas MacArthur (commander of US forces in the Pacific), and Dwight Eisenhower, (Commander of Allied Forces in Europe and later President)  as well as military historians, conclusively proves that Japan was willing to surrender and that the bombing was really about sending a message to the Soviet Union.

August 6th, 2015  was also the day that Sen. Charles Schumer decided to cave into pressure from the Israel lobby and not vote for the recently negotiated treaty to limit Iran’s nuclear program to purposes of civilian power generation.  Succumbing to the Orwellianism of the Israeli threat narrative, according to which the strongest Middle East power by far (Israel) is under “existential threat” from forces with no where near the military capability to  carry out such threats (and only threaten in the ways that they are capable because of  on-going Israeli aggression and expanding colonialism); in which a nuclear capable Israel is threatened with non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons; in which a treaty to prevent Iran from acquiring those weapons (assuming, as is not certain, that Iran ever had their acquisition as a goal), becomes licence for the Iranians to acquire them, Schumer announced that after much “soul searching,” he would not support the treaty when it comes to Senate for ratification in September.

Schumer’s reasoning is deeply confused.  He argues that once European countries sign lucrative trade agreements with Iran, they might back down from the demand for rigorous inspections, even though it is the agreement and its inspections regime that would allow them to sign those deals in the first place.  Moreover, he has no answer to the question of why Iran, after signing a deal precisely to gain that investment, would risk it by re-starting a military program, or how it would do so, given the inspections regime to which  all parties including the Iranians have agreed.

Nor are his political calculations at all clear.  If he is worried about losing Jewish votes in New York, he should consult The Jerusalem Post, which recently published a poll showing that 49 % of American Jews back the accord, with only 30 % opposing it.  More than a dozen retired Israeli military officials also recently signed an open letter to Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to support the deal.

The reasoning of these groups is clear:  negotiations and verifiable treaties lead to peace from which new plateaus of constructive interaction can be built, while military adventures lead to wars whose outcomes cannot be predicted (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya …) but which are always life destructive to the targets of Western armed force and lead to violent revenge cycles that serve no one’s good.  When people are threatened and killed, their cultures demonized and their institutions and infrastructure destroyed, they fight back, because they have no choice since it is their home being attacked.  Their response fuels Western accusations of “terrorism,”  which is invoked to justify further military adventures, which generates more destruction, which fuels more resistance, and on it goes– for more than ten years in Iraq, for more than thirty in Afghanistan.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the political orientations of a threatened regime, or the variety of popular resistance organizations neo-imperialist invasion spawns, all historical evidence  proves that people will defend themselves, and any sound moral system must recognise and accept peoples’ right to defend themselves as an indispensable element of their right to life.  The best way of protecting one’s own life, politically, is then, not to threaten others’ lives, and the legal-institutional means of mutual life-affirmation is the international treaty.  The Iran-P5+1 agreement does not radically alter the balance of power in the Middle East, it does not erase decades of British, French, and American imperialism in the region, but it does prove that the military strategy pursued in the Middle East since the First Gulf War (1991) by America  and its allies and aided and abetted for the most part by the United Nations has been an unmitigated disaster.

Perhaps the real reason so many odious American congress members are vocal in opposition to the deal is because it obviously stems from a clear political defeat for American policy in the region.  Every political objective driving that policy as laid out in the Project for a New American Century and as pursued since the first Bush administration–  creating new client states, securing access to Iraqi oil, isolating Iran– has failed, and failed absolutely.  The failure of these neo-imperialist policies is a good thing, for worry all you want about ISIS or Iranian terrorists, they have not killed hundreds of thousands of Canadians, Americans, and Europeans, but Canadians, Europeans, and mostly Americans have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, as well as untold numbers of Pakistanis, Yemenis, and Somalis in the on-going “drone war.”

Western societies remain politically stable and relatively prosperous, while Syria and Libya are consumed by civil war, Egypt is back under the control of the generals, and Saudi Arabia is given a free hand to fund and support the very ISIS and al-Qaeda “terrorists”  we are supposed to fear.  The Second Gulf War  created the conditions for Shia hegemony in Iraq, which made it the natural ally of Iran, which that war was supposed to isolate and contain.  Now, in order to combat ISIS, the United States is forced  into a de facto alliance with Iran, while its NATO ally, Turkey, bombs another US ally, the Kurds, in Northern Iraq, and openly refuses to identify ISIS as the main enemy.

Oh what a tangled web we weave …

To support my claim that the current negotiations with Iran are a consequence of defeat of American policy in the region, let us turn to the explanation of one of the main architects of the strategy that led to the treaty, President Barak Obama.  While his recent speech defending the agreement was replete with the expected boasting and swagger about his military bona fides, it also contained this extraordinary admission:

If, as has also been suggested, we tried to maintain unilateral sanctions, beefen them up, we would be standing alone. We cannot dictate the foreign, economic and energy policies of every major power in the world. In order to even try to do that, we would have to sanction, for example, some of the world’s largest banks. We’d have to cut off countries like China from the American financial system. And since they happen to be major purchasers of our debt, such actions could trigger severe disruptions in our own economy, and, by way, raise questions internationally about the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. That’s part of the reason why many of the previous unilateral sanctions were waived.

 

What Obama is  clearly asserting is that it is time for Americans to shed the illusion that that their geo-political and economic power is unlimited, that everyone will simply fall in line with the demands of an American foreign policy conceived with  parochial American interests at its root; that the age of American exceptionalism is over.  This reading is further supported by the sharply critical barbs directed against supporters of the Second Gulf War that Obama included later in the speech:

For the last couple of weeks, I have repeatedly challenged anyone opposed to this deal to put forward a better, plausible alternative. I have yet to hear one. What I’ve heard instead are the same types of arguments that we heard in the run up to the Iraq war. “Iran cannot be dealt with diplomatically.” “We can take military strikes without significant consequences.” “We shouldn’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks, because once we act, everyone will fall in line.” “Tougher talk, more military threats will force Iran into submission.” “We can get a better deal.”

I know it’s easy to play in people’s fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich, but none of these arguments hold up. They didn’t back in 2002, in 2003, they shouldn’t now.

(APPLAUSE)

That same mind set in many cases offered by the same people, who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong…

(LAUGHTER)

… lead to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States than anything we have done in the decades before or since.

As Habermas once remarked, the human species seems to learn geo-political lessons only through  catastrophe.  Sine World War Two, those catastrophes have generally played out far from European and North American shores.  They have been visited upon peoples of Asia and Africa and Latin America by bombs wrapped in American flags and platitudes.  Despite the overwhelming military violence brought to bear against them, the peoples of the Third World have not surrendered their right to determine their own futures.   Perhaps at least a few people in the West have now learned from the latest series of Middle East catastrophes that real progress can only be achieved through real negotiations.

 

Essay of 1000: Campaign Blues

It’s not that it didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains the mindlessness of European politicians and bureaucrats.

 

The philosopher embroiled in politics has no choice but to stick by reason, not out of a self-righteous sense of superiority, but as a commitment to the human capacity to solve problems through dialogue, through commitment to letting the truth of the object decide the dispute between subjects, but at some point, this commitment to rational argument in politics becomes irrational, since it rests on faith against all evidence that arguments matter in politics; that the force of evidence and the better reasons will carry the day; that there is all-round shared commitment to objective evaluation of policy in terms of service to the shared life interest rather than one’s partisan advantage or ideological perspective; to changing that perspective and foregoing private advantage if the either demonstrably fails to serve those interests; to listening to critique and counter-argument, to admitting fault; but now the writ has been dropped and we know what is coming, not argument, not reason, but: derivative theatre; staged debates, a tired production, same story, different actors clustering around the safest of safe positions; defending, attacking, distorting, manipulating, spinning, selectively selecting, stoking fears and allaying fears and decrying the politics of fear while pointing the finger at something else to fear, posing, posturing, tendentiously packaging, repeating, emphasising, tweeking, hair-splitting, staying on message and subtly changing the subject, sloganeering, disseminating sound-bites, floating trial balloons and serving red herrings, fashioning the right image, striking the right pose, sounding the right note, choosing the right tie, timing the bad joke, pounding the fist and shaking the finger, standing on one’s record, downplaying the economic situation, evading the issue, playing up the failures, harping on the scandals, ignoring the evidence, sidestepping the inconvenient contradiction, concentrating one’s fire, holding one’s fire, feigning interest in the factory, looking for the fatal flaw and exposing the faux-pas, invoking history, puffing the chest, waving the flag, deflecting scrutiny, reminding of the gaff, taking the attention off, dodging, prevaricating, rewording, rebranding, qualifying, insisting, emphasising; all the while relentlessly campaigning, mobilising the base, getting the vote out, suppressing the vote, analyzing the data, gauging the influence, making the hard choice, sacrificing a region, seeking the women’s vote, pleading with the young to vote, cultivating the ethnics, demonizing the ethnics; energy devoted not to proving the case but mining the data, mapping the demographics, reading the tea leaves, seeing what the metrics say, analysing the polls, tracking the trends, predicting the seat distribution, currying the pundits’ favour, targeting the audience; at root fundraising and spending, an avalanche of spending, yes, building up the war chest, lengthening the campaign, emptying the war chest, advertising, messaging, busing, flying, flyers, social media strategizing, stupid faces popping up, dinner-interrupting door to door volunteering, securing support, spreading patronage money, hand shaking, hair tossling — to hug or not to hug– smiling, always smiling, polluting with lawn signs, rallying, asking for trust, decrying untrustworthiness, barbequing, regular-guying, promising, promising, promising:  change, stability, a different sort of change, the same sort of stability; all distractions distracting from the real issue: how the resources are used, to what ends, for who’s good, who owns them, who controls them, how are they valued and what alternatives are available; if we, we the people, so chose to exercise our energy and intelligence in a different way, to assume our responsibilities as free people to do more than complain and let someone else do it, to actually demand an accounting of what has gone wrong and why, what are the causes and how can they be addressed; to demand an argument and to respond in kind, not with platitudes but ideas that can be substantiated, with actual positions, not likes and dislikes and laundry lists; engaging, challenging, exposing, not-allowing-them-off-hook but setting it, firmly, in their ideological gums and reeling them in, proving that not only do they look the same (white, men) but also that they all affirm the same value system, hammer the same talking points:  security, economy, accountability, the other party’s misdeeds, floating free of the real ground, making lives better and explaining what they mean by that; instead, money-power rolls on whatever its costs; human costs, not jobs lost and gained, enough of  jobs, good jobs, bad jobs, well-paying jobs, we are not born just to find a job but to do things that  befit human beings, yes,  human beings, social self-conscious individuals, not just dumb unfeeling elements of a “labour force,” a mere/sheer surging to be absorbed, not tax payers to be appeased or voters to be groomed, but participants, citizens, the demos, subjects, the creators of social reality re-awakened to their constitutive role, for whom x marks the spot is not enough, but barely a beginning of self-government;  but never, it never happens  premise-supporting evidence-valid inference-conclusion-counter-consideration-repeat for as long as it takes, never an admission that expectations were wrong, predictions were off, assumptions were faulty, evaluative grounds and criteria inadequate to the object evaluated, the opposition correct; this road never taken is too long and too uncertain, along it lies weakness and vulnerability; politics is power, securing victory, exploiting positions of advantage, exposing the soft underbelly of the opposition, pouncing, crushing, imposing generational defeats, that is the way of politics, not truth but winning.

 

 

Readings: Frederic Gros: A Philosophy of Walking

If there is a book in the history of philosophy that I wish I would have written, it is this book, Frederic Gros’ s A Philosophy of Walking.  It is humble– “a” philosophy of walking, not the philosophy of walking.  It does not claim to lay bear the universal principle of Being as the great but now mostly ignored systems of classical and modern philosophy claimed to have accomplished.  It does not expose the depth contradictions of our social order, the primary task (I would argue)  left to philosophy now that its universe-comprehending efforts have been taken over by natural science.  What it does do is draw attention to the beauty of the mundane-  a minor function of philosophy (and the major function of poetry?) in such a way that unexpected depths are revealed in the very simplicity of the act of walking.  Walking is not treated as metaphor, metonym, or symbol for something grander, but is allowed to reveal the multiple ways in which it is, in its very banality and corporeality, one element of what can make the life of finite embodied beings wonderful.

There is a mystery to the world of ideas.  When one’s mind is intensely focussed on a problem it draws towards itself  the work of previously unknown other minds who give perfect expression to some aspect of the problem one initially thought no one else had ever explored.  Rather than professional jealousy (the response of the careerist, not the philosopher)  the discovery that someone is thinking as you think produces a sense of intellectual communion: an anticipatory knowledge constantly confirmed of what the book is going to say next. Just as an objection formed in my head– but what about urban walking?  is this a philosophy of walking of a philosophy of hiking?  my concerns were allayed, and Gros came around to the proper pleasures of walking in cities. The almost exact doubling of one’s ideas still leaves room– and this is crucial–for work to deepen one’s own thinking and push it in new directions. Ultimately, this space means that there is never any repetition in the field of philosophical ideas, but growth.

A Philosophy of Walking is an elegant book.  Its insights are not extolled over sentences as long as paragraphs and paragraphs as long as chapters, but in deceptively simple observations that the readers’ mind cannot leave hold of once they have been read: “Walking is a part of active melancholia”  (p.151, in commentary upon Gerard de Nerval); “Boredom is immobility of body confronted with emptiness of mind” (in explanation of why walking, though monotonous, cannot be boring); “When you hurry, time is filled to bursting, like a badly arranged drawer in which you have stuffed different things without any attempt at order,” (p. 37, in praise of the slowness of walking).  The text alternates between commentary on famous literary and philosophical walkers and the author’s reflections on what his own walks have taught him.  The commentaries– on Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, the Cynics, Gerard de Nerval, Kant, and Ghandi (with shorter discussions of Baudelaire, Benjamin, and Wordsworth) expose the different ways in which walking is essential to philosophical  and poetic creation.  Gros’s reflection on his own peregrinations testify to the simple goodness of being a sentient body in the world.

Considered from the perspective of its philosophical content, three truths are asserted rather than reached through argument.  I call them truths in honour of the richness and depth of experience from which they have been drawn by careful reflection. Some truths are learned not by following arguments but by paying attention to the world, (which is a material system not a logical principle).  The justification for these truths is not logical but experiential–  to confirm them, one must undertake the experience from which it they have been drawn.  If one undertakes the experience but does not derive the same truth, its universality is not thereby refuted.  The absence of acceptance only proves  that one is closed off to what the experience teaches (the truth is in the object waiting to be drawn out).  Before the truth is definitively rejected, one must work harder to open oneself to the object whose truth one resists.  In this struggle to open oneself to that to which one is initially closed consists human learning.

The first truth that Gros’s reflections disclose is that  the slow pace of walking allows us to savour being alive amidst the things of the world.  “Slowness means cleaving perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall, one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone.  This stretching of time deepens space.  It is one of the secrets of walking:  a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them familiar.  Like the regular encounters that deepen friendship.”  (p.37).  Like friendship, the encounter with the world in walking is an end in itself– we do not walk to learn about the world that which the scientist demands (abstractions, general forces, universal laws), but to allow it to reveal itself to us in its endless variety and specificity.  Walking thus returns us, Gros claims, to the “realism” of childhood-  the acceptance of material things as they show themselves to be in their concreteness:  “It is children who are the true realists: they never proceed from generalities.  The adult recognises the general form in a particular example, a representative of the species,  dismisses everything else … The child perceives individuals, personalities.  He sees the unique form … It isn’t a triumph of the imagination, but an unprejudiced, total realism.  And Nature becomes instantly poetic.”  (p.162).  In becoming poetic, the Nature we encounter in walking is beautiful, sufficient in its mere presence, and ourselves, in response, joyful just to be for those few moments. “When we renounce everything,” Gros, quoting Swami Ramdas notes, “everything is given to us, in abundance.  Everything:  meaning the intensity of presence itself.”(p. 9).  At root, what is the good of life other than this being here amongst the things of the world (everything, there is nothing outside of the whole world) and knowing that you are being here?  Everything else is instrumental to some purpose, but beneath the particular purposes there must be goodness in being as such– otherwise, what justification for the struggles to achieve the purposes?

The second truth that Gros reveals is that walking, as the most basic coordinated movement of the body, connects us to our finite materiality and the earth– it teaches us what we really are at base– bodies.  Bodies that think, yes, but bodies:  “What dominates in walking, away from ostentation and showing off, is the simple joy of feeling your body in the most primitively natural activity … When you walk, the basso continuo of joy comes from feeling the extent to which your body is made for this movement, the way it finds in each pace the resource for the next.”  (p. 143) This joy of simple movement simultaneously frees the mind from its mundane concerns, the demands that work and life pile upon it, so that thoughts can come.  The real thought, the idea that contains some insight, something previously unthought, in contrast to the explication and the proof, does not come hunched over at one’s desk, but when one is not expecting it, when one is not searching deliberately for it.  Walking untenses the body and opens the mind:  when the mind is open, ideas flood in, uncalled for: “The body’s monotonous duty liberates thought.  While walking, one is not obliged to think, to think this or that or like this or like that.  During that continuous but automatic effort of the body, the mind is placed at one’s disposal.  It is then that thoughts can arise, surface, or take shape.” (p.157).   As with the good of sheer being, the letting arise or take shape of ideas is the presupposition and validation of the hard work of putting them to work in arguments. The impoverished content of much of the philosophy of our age is perhaps a consequence of the fact that philosophers are mostly paid academics– too much time indoors, at desks and conferences, arguing about the same old ideas and not enough moving in space letting ideas for which there are as yet no supporting arguments arise.

The third truth can be understood as a synthesis of the first two.  Walking allows us to encounter the reality of the things of the world and free our own thoughts from the social forces that weigh them down.  It thus constitutes a form of resistance– (Gros calls it “subversion”)  of the competitive, technological, money-driven form of social life coming to dominate the planet. (p. 178).  The simplicity of walking, the fact that the body is ready-made to walk without any need for technological supplementation (not even shoes, if you choose not to wear any), the fact that everyone teaches him or herself to walk without any need for expensive lessons, that it can only be enjoyed at a measured pace (speed walking is a contradiction in terms), and that it is best done alone, makes it paradigmatically free:  it costs nothing and we can undertake a walk anytime we choose.  Reflecting on Ghandi’s use of walking in his campaigns, Gros observes that a determined political march requires dignity, discipline, and courage.  “Walking is the right speed to understand, to feel close.  Apart from that, you depend on yourself alone to advance.  Given that you are up to it, your will alone is in charge, and you await only your own injunction… Gandhi promoted through the marching movement a dimension of firmness and endurance:  to keep going.  That is essential, because walking calls for gentle but continuous effort.” (p.201)  Contrast this steadiness of purpose with the panicked fleeing of a riot in retreat from a police charge:  the rioters succumb to the superior violence of the state; the calm walkers refuse to engage on the level of state violence, and simply keep going, determinedly, towards their objective.

Techno-capitalism is trying to colonise every second of lifetime and every square centimeter of life space.  In the space time it controls, ever-accelerating activity is demanded.  Hence the pace of walking (and the refusal to respond to society’s demands which is sleep, as Jonathan Crary argues in his short masterpiece, 24/7)  is a revolt of the human body and a demand to reclaim life:

“These discoveries and joys can only be given to those who stroll with an open mind … they will come spontaneously to one who, summoned by spring sunshine, joyously abandons his work just to get a little time to himself … Only thus-  with no expectation of a specific profit from the outing, and with all cares and worries firmly left behind in desk drawers– will a stroll become the gratuitous aesthetic moment, that rediscovery of the lightness of  being, the sweetness of a soul reconciled to itself and the world.”(p.166).

 

 

 

 

 

Capitalism Against Democracy

By fortuitous coincidence, I happened to be reading Paul Virilio’s The Future of the Instant just as the breathless rush to judge the meaning and implications of Syriza’ agreement with the Eurozone consumed the left bank of the Internet.  Virilio makes a most salient point about the patience that historical understanding requires:  “we now have a better sense of the disastrous importance, for the human environment, of this information bomb that disintegrates all natural magnitudes, the very scale of all natural reality, whether geographic, cultural, historical.” (p. 78).  Unceasing streams of data flowing from every point on  earth demand instant response, whereas actual understanding of historically significant events requires that judgement be held in abeyance until the actual implications of particular decisions reveal themselves.  The web generates the illusion of omniscience, but no finite intellect is omniscient, and the whole truth of an event is never fully disclosed in the immediacy of its present.

The Syriza information bomb was detonated by Richard Seymour when he claimed, within hours of Greece’s agreement with its creditors, that Syriza’s capitulation was a “world historic defeat for the left.”

So it is important to be clear: if Syriza supports and implements this deal, it is over.  It will not recover.  It may exist as a party, but as a force of the radical left it will be all but redundant.  It may as well be a centrist, austerian coalition.  A left that goes along with this will be committing suicide.  And finally, don’t put your faith in the idea that maybe if Syriza hangs in there, does what it’s told, eventually, after a while, Podemos will come, maybe some other radical left formations will come, and the balance of power will tilt. Even if that was how the European institutions work – and they have proven they aren’t susceptible to that kind of pressure – this outcome will seriously undercut the chances for the European radical left.  Be clear that we are looking a world-historic defeat in the eye.
This outcome is certainly possible, but it is not inevitable.  Even if it were, Seymour does not answer the most important question raised by his position:  if European institutions are not susceptible to pressure of even multiple far left formations, then  how can it be the case that Syriza’s capitulation is a world historical defeat?  If Syriza plus Podemos plus other left movements cannot tilt the balance of power, then Syriza in particular, and the left in general, it would seem, was already defeated.   If not Syriza and Podemos and other far left groups winning power, then what real alternative would Seymour recommend? If there were an appetite for vanguardist revolution in Greece, or Europe generally, it seems reasonable to believe that it would have been satisfied by now.
Seymour’s criticisms drew a swift reaction from Leo Panitch.   Writing from Athens, Panitch argued that Seymour failed to give appropriate weight to the force of immediate circumstances:  the very real threat of the collapse of the Greek banking system, and the failure of workers in northern Europe to mobilise in support of their Greek brothers and sisters.  With no cards left to play, Syriza struck a deal which, according to Panitch, staves off an even more severe crisis and thus (perhaps)  saves the government to fight another day.
It will not be a “world historic” victory, for those who like such language, since it will still involve tying the revival of the Greek economy to the fate of what remains a very much capitalist Europe, but this would not mean that the Syriza government would exclude itself from the continuing struggle to challenge and change that. On the other hand, if Tsipras walks away today accepting the same conditionalities as before to debt restructuring, and without any guaranteed investment funds on top of this, then it will indeed be interesting to see where Lenin will take us once he is let out of his tomb, and sees that he faces yet again the sad fact that a break in the weakest link could not break the stronger links of the labour movements in Central and Northern Europe to both domestic and global capitalism.
While Panitch’s long-standing contribution to radical political economy earns his perspective the utmost respect, I cannot agree with this assessment.
To read the text of the agreement that Tsirpas signed, it is difficult, even on the most liberal application of the principle of charity, to understand Panitch’s interpretation.  Syriza has committed not only to wholesale privatization of vital public services like electricity distribution, increases in consumption tax increases, cuts to pension programs and social spending of all sorts, weakening job security, and mass layoffs of public sector employees. No:  after agreeing to all that and potentially more to come, it did not even secure agreement that they will get the money they are counting on to bail out the banks.  The transfer of funds is still conditional on the Greek parliament proving to Europe that they will make good on the promises made in the agreement:
Immediately, and only subsequent to legal implementation of the first four above-mentioned measures as well as endorsement of all the commitments included in this document by the Greek Parliament, verified by the Institutions and the Eurogroup, may a decision to mandate the Institutions to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) be taken. This decision would be taken subject to national procedures having been completed and if the preconditions of Article 13 of the ESM Treaty are met on the basis of the assessment referred to in Article 13.1.
In order to form the basis for a successful conclusion of the MoU, the Greek offer of reform measures needs to be seriously strengthened to take into account the strongly deteriorated economic and fiscal position of the country during the last year. The Greek government needs to formally commit to strengthening their proposals in a number of areas identified by the Institutions, with a satisfactory clear timetable for legislation and implementation, including structural benchmarks, milestones and quantitative benchmarks, to have clarity on the direction of policies over the medium-run.
In other words, this agreement comes at the cost of surrendering Greek economic policy completely, making Greece in effect a vassal-state of the European Central Bank.
It is difficult indeed to see anyway in which Syriza can regain any political momentum after this deal.
However, the fact that they signed this deal in the first place indicates something of importance about their bargaining position going in to the talks.  The courage that a majority of Greeks showed by voting no in the July 5th referendum was a direct challenge to the power of its Eurozone partners.  However, when a nation of eleven million people, without formal support from any other quarter, takes on an international coalition of three hundred million, it could only ever have been a bluff.  Bluffs can work, but only if the other party does not pay to see your cards.  The Eurozone could afford to pay to see Greece’s cards.  Once their bluff was  called, there were no politically real options left but to accept Europe’s terms, given how the process had unfolded up to this point.
Let us therefore be clear:  the real enemy and the real problem is the Eurozone governments and the European Central Bank, who have clearly set out to destroy Syriza as a potential challenger to the power of money-value, and as a warning to others (Podemos)  not to follow suit.  If this claim is true (and what evidence could falsify it?), then what others owe Syriza is support– critical support, yes, but support nonetheless.
In a follow up piece to his original (obviously rushed) intervention, Panitch and Sam Gindin make roughly this point:
Syriza’s unique capacity on the international left to build the type of party capable of both mobilizing against neoliberalism and entering the state to try to actually do something about this has always hinged on the way it sought to find room for manoeuvre within a European Union which has neoliberalism in its DNA, going back all the way to the Treaty of Rome let alone the Economic and Monetary Union thirty years later. Anyone who at all seriously followed developments in Greece over the past five years should have known that the leadership of the party would only go as far as the Europeans would let it, and that the balance of power inside the party made the Left Platform faction’s strategy for Grexit an effective non-starter. Those on the revolutionary left who hoped that after Syriza’s election this leadership would get swept away by a massive popular upsurge for Grexit in face of the limits and contradictions of a Syriza government were, as usual, dreaming in technicolor.
.
While it is true that technicolor dreams rarely come true, it is also true that anyone who is committed to a future in which the life-destroying norms of capitalism have been finally overcome must allow themselves to dream at least in black and white.  Otherwise, it is impossible to ever get beyond what capitalist normality dictates.
I am a philosopher and not an economist, but if there is a promise of debt relief that even the International Monetary Fund acknowledges is necessary in the agreement that Greece just signed, I did not see it.  Unless there is significant debt relief, then the measures just agreed to– which amount to nothing more than taking on more debt to pay existing debt– will only exacerbate the crisis.  Might that intensifying crisis produce a revolutionary break?  Perhaps, but there is no evidence to this point that a politically significant number of Greeks want socialist revolution.  They want a solution to the murderous austerity imposed upon them.  If they turn now turn on Syriza as the cause of austerity (rather than on the Eurozone and finance capital), a much darker future might be in store for Greece.
In a recent interview with The New Statesman, ex-Finance Minister  Yanis Varoufakis returns to an article he first wrote in 2013, and which explains Syriza’s reticence to choose the Grexit strategy.  (To be fair, Varoufakis also noted that he did set up a team to study a measured way of exiting the Euro, but those who favoured it could never win a majority to their side).  Varoufakis was afraid that a Greek exit from the Euro could have a cascade effect that would plunge Europe into a deep recession and strengthen neo-fascist forces:
A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the Eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe is would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the Eurozone.
Perhaps Varoufakis exaggerated the threat.  Nevertheless, if even left critics of Syriza like Seymour seem to rest their arguments on the weakness of the left, then it is not sheer cowardice or over-caution to worry about the potentially disastrous implications of forcing through anti-Euro policies without well-laid alternative plans in place.
The looming spectre of the Golden Dawn is another reason why the left has no choice but to (critically) support Syriza.  Its election was not a world-historic victory of the left; its signing on to this agreement need not be a world-historic defeat.  The Greek people retain their freedom of action.  They are not bound for all time by this agreement if they decide not to be.  But that decision has to be made in light of a social alternative whose first steps can be taken right now.  The difficulties standing in the way of even small concrete alternatives are formidable.  With no alternative source of funds to  the European Central Bank and the IMF, and without the natural resources of Venezuela and other Latin American countries which enabled them to  support small but real movements away from capitalist markets in the provision of life-necessities (at least until the price of oil fell) Greeks are in a profoundly difficult situation.
Whether it is a world historical defeat  for the left will depend upon whether they can mobilise effectively in the short term to protect public institutions and assets (as potential sources of funds for reinvestment in  need-satisfying economic activity) and in the longer term on their ability to mobilise effective (and not just rhetorical)  solidarity.  This solidarity must take two key political forms:  1) elected governments of broadly representative parties to the left of now fully complicit social democratic parties willing to challenge the hegemony of  the forces of austerity in Europe, and 2) a reactivated labour movement willing to organize behind demands for an economy that understands value in terms of  life-needs satisfied and life-capacities enabled.
 

 

Democracy Against Capitalism

The development of a body of philosophical work, in my experience, is not a linear progression from insight to insight but a constantly circling back and going further/deeper into a set of problems.  Hence, in the course of my own philosophical development I have found my thinking drawn back to certain books that continue to help make sense of structural problems as they manifest themselves in changing contexts.  One on those books is Ellen Meiksins Wood’s Democracy Against Capitalism. 2015 is its twentieth anniversary.  Far from being dated, it is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the current conflict between Greece and the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  Despite its unsurpassed insights into the limits that capitalism poses for democratic self-governance, Wood’s book, I feel, has never received the attention that it its due.

When it was published, it significantly advanced the state of Marxist political philosophy, replacing the unenlightening blanket rejection of “bourgeois democracy” with an historically rich and philosophically astute critique of liberalism.  Against received wisdom in both Marxist and liberal camps, Wood demonstrated the undemocratic origins of liberal democracy.  Drawing out the hitherto overlooked sophistication of Marx’s own critique of liberal democracy, Wood revealed that the essence of liberalism was a formal distinction between public and private realms, a distinction which allows the social forces generated in the ‘private’ economic sphere to undermine the democratic decisions made in the formally ‘public’ sphere.   The briliiance of the argument– and what should have made it more widely discussed in liberal circles- is that Wood substantiates her claims not through rote citation of Marx, but from an historical comparison between the practice of Athenian democracy and the pains English and American liberals took (following their respective revolutions) to normalise the identification of democracy with voting, and then  only on those issues which had no bearing on socio-economic life.  “In Athens, there was no …clear distinction between ‘state’ and ‘civil society,’ no distinct and autonomous ‘economy.’ … Political and economic powers and rights, in other words, were not as easily separated in Athens as in the US, where property was already achieving a purely ‘economic’ definition, detached from juridical privilege or political power, and where the ‘economy’ was acquiring a life of its own.  Large segments of human experience and activity, and many varieties of oppression and indignity, were left untouched by political equality.” (p. 224).  Political equality and voting rights might be necessary conditions of free social life, but they are by no means sufficient.  The current crisis in Greece illustrates clearly why not.

That which so alarmed European and global finance capitalists about the Greek referendum is that it forced open the normally closed  circuits of money-capital to democratic power.  Under normal circumstances, as Wood notes, economic forces are treated as if they were powers independent of human social activity to which that activity must conform in order to be rational.  “Freedom”  including democratic freedom, is thus identified with its opposite– compliance to external and unchallengeable forces.

To understand my point, consider any of a number of official response to the Greek referendum.  They all end up sounding the same alarm: the Greeks have defied the power of “markets” and will now suffer even worse consequences than had they complied with finance capital’s demands.  Here is one example amongst many that could have been chosen.  Simon Smith, an analyst at FxPro concludes:  “If Europe isn’t prepared to relax the terms it was offering Greece just last weekend, and there’s no indication it will, Greece will have to start printing its own currency so . On the other hand, if Europe compromises and agrees to write off some of Greece’s huge debt, the credibility of the currency will suffer. “Whatever the outcome of the next few days, there is no way that the eurozone or the single currency can come out stronger as a result.”  The point to pay attention to is the hidden framework within which Smith’s “no way” comment is made.  He assumes, not only as given (as is the case) the ways in which financial markets  operate today, but also that they are obligatory for all time and unchangeable by collective social decision.  It may well be the case that tomorrow a revived drachma will be weak or the Euro will decline, but that is not equivalent to the implication (which Smith wants us to draw)  that Greek society will be weaker, over the long term if it rejects the demands of its creditors. 

Smith thus excludes the possibility (of which human history is the living proof) of fundamental social change– change in the ruling value system and the purposes of major social institutions.   He cannot imagine that the Greek crisis could be the begining of transformational changes in the advanced capitalist West, changes which reconnect economies to their real purpose: the production of life-capital:  “the life wealth that produces more life wealth without loss and with cumulative gain.”  Life capital is not a fictitious or a utopian idea–  it is the food you eat, the water you drink (processed for safety) the education you have enjoyed, the health care that is available for you when you need it, the roof over your head.  If you live in a society in which these life-goods are not available, then you live in a society that is failing, regardless of what financial markets “think.”  Greek society is failing, precisely because governments before Syriza have obeyed the dictates of financial capital to convert their shared life-resources into money-capital for bankers to appropriate for themselves. Even mainstream business papers now recognise that the loans being given to Greece are part of a shell game in which money is advanced to pay back money that is owed–  Greek society starves, goes deeper into debt, and the banks receive back only that money they have already leant.  Money is certainly not being extended to the Greek people so that they can survive (the crisis has created a massive public health crisis that is killing people. (see Stuckler and Basu, The Body Economic, pp. 77-96).

By voting “no,” not only have Greeks magnificently refused to give into blackmail and intimidation, they have also exposed the fundamentally undemocratic character of capitalist society and the traditional parties, including social democratic parties, that support it. (If anyone needed more proof than Tony Blair that social democracy is fully incorporated into the capitalist mainstream, Francois Hollande and German Finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble are it).  What was so alarming about the referendum was that it gave Greeks an explicit say in the macro-economic policy their government would pursue.  Of course, part of the strategy here is brinksmanship of a thoroughly ordinary sort– Tsirpas trying to give himself some leverage in future talks.  But principles matter in politics– and the principle instantiated by the referendum is dangerous to the ruling financial oligarchy and orthodoxy:  if democracy is a formally legitimate political system, indeed, the one that capitalism is naturally supposed to lead to, and citizens begin to democratically reject cornerstone elements of capitalist society, capitalism will not be able to legitimate itself by its traditional means–  that it is the only democratic society.  The contradiction between capitalism and democracy will be exposed again, and the capitalists will have to choose to re-impose their will by force (as they have never been shy to do, when pushed)  or they will have to yield: in the short term, substantive concessions to Greece, and in the longer term, an opening into which more systematic transformational projects in democratic economic organization in the shared life-interest can be set up.

The no vote clearly does not solve all of Greece’s problems.  Nor can they be solved simply by reciting slogans about worker’s control.  While it is indeed time, as John Milios and Dimitris P. Sotiropoulos argued back in March, is for Syriza to mobilise the Greek people, not just against the bankers, but for concrete steps towards mobilising Greek labour to rebuild Greek society, not so that the surplus can be pumped out of the country as money-capital for the financial oligarchy to consume, but to satisfy the life-requirements of Greek citizens.  But in taking this step caution is required:  nothing will spell doom for Syriza more quickly than failed  experiments in socialising key sectors of the economy.  That is what must be done, but it must be done with care and intelligence, and it will require international solidarity to succeed.  That solidarity may be taking shape.  In May, Podemos and its allies swept the municipal elections in Spain and are poised to win parliamentary elections in the fall.  Should that occur, and the powerful social movements unleashed by resistance to authoritarian austerity in Spain keep a Podemos government pushing to the left, a period of serious challenge, not only to neo-liberal orthodoxy, but to capitalist misrule might really be emerging.

 

 

Epic Working Class Poem

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Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.

Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man.”

I

Earth,

with the money extracted

and sent down South,

is just this blistered mass,

prime matter heaped beside railway tracks,

far from discriminating eyes.

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But does that prevent

me, with broader tastes,

from suggesting (and not in jest),

that it is not waste,

but sculpture made by hands

that had no intention,

as they drilled and blasted,

crushed and roasted,

separated and poured,

colluded with the random geometry

of cooling and tumbling,

to produce something

that I am compelled to admire

here,

on this road,

that is quite literally,

the end of the line?

IMG_3618

II

Grown

in the North.

Beards and bear piss blueberries,

rhubarb and Blezzard Valley potatoes;

these thin acidic soils

will not suffice,

I fear,

to attract network attention.

IMG_3584

 

Unless,

in my long absence,

by grace of global warming blessing,

the sins of frost-bite winds

have been redeemed

with produce more exotic,

for your weekend farmer’s market,

just one more token of a type

now found everywhere,

and locally!

IMG_3604

 III

City,

perpetually off-balance,

wobbling atop granite pullulations

that seem alive,

although they aren’t.

Stubbornly, they refuse to hide

their still blackened surface from tourists,

otherwise impressed.

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They used to say:

“It looks just like the moon!”

[“Really, lady, have you been to the fuckin’ moon?”].

Buzz Aldrin has and he,

il miglio fabbro,

saw and said it best:

“Desolation. Magnificent desolation.”

 

Not everything beautiful, you see,

needs to be green and pretty,

and no one should be ashamed,

of how they had to make their living.

IMG_3602

 

IV

Work

you never had to live

is easy to romanticise.

The too-young dead might disagree,

if they could speak.

But only the living can tell stories

of heroic union battles

not to be repeated anytime soon.

2015-05-09 00.40.52

 

Somewhere,

a dusty archive proves

this place once had some fight.

But today all you hear

from the old timer in Rudy’s,

coming in for a coffee,

and almost the best burger in the city,

is defeat:

“Hey Petey, where the hell is everyone?

I just drove past Little Stobie

and there was hardly a goddamn person on the line.”

IMG_3609

V

Cold,

there is something clarifying about it

that you have to breathe to understand,

something that maybe unhinges a man,

and makes him think

that his monstrous trapper’s hat,

face of fox and tail of wolf

[I shit you not]

would intimidate the twelve year olds,

and ensure victory

for his son’s side.

IMG_3619

 

But no one traps a loon,

whose perfect melancholy

is never sung,

until he’s sure that work is over,

and the sky’s quiescent purple

has settled us on the dock,

to pour the rye and ginger,

and drink

a toast to each of us,

to the cliches we once were,

and loved.

IMG_3595

VI

It is summer now.

And the night is warm.

And no one needs to rush.

IMG_3637

 

Sudbury-Windsor, May-July, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring the Noise

In his superb  24/7, Jonathan Crary argues that blogging signifies the end of politics:  “The phenomenon of blogging is one example– among many– of the triumph of a one-way model of auto-chattering in which the possibility of ever having to wait and listen to someone else has been eliminated.  Blogging, no matter what its intentions, is thus one of the many announcements of the end of politics.”(p.124)  If blogging is reduced to its most narcissistic possibility-  immediate reporting on one’s state of mind, mere opining without reflection or filtering through a grid of principled argument-  then Crary is correct.  Politics is back and forth argument, not monologue, and if all blogging stems from dismissive ignorance of the reality of counter-argument, then it is anti-political.

At the same time, one must be careful not to confuse a platform with the substance the platform makes it possible to disseminate.  All writing runs the risk of being closed monologue, and nothing exemplifies the danger of “auto-chatter” better than much academic journal writing (especially in philosophy).  The medium need not be the message.  Authorial intention and content matter.

I begin with this quotation as a preamble to a reflection on my own work on this blog over the past year.  Since I first read Crary’s argument two years ago I have been sensitive to the double-bind I often find myself in here.  One of the reasons that I started Interventions and Evocations was to provide a forum for the philosophical discussion of politically and culturally significant contemporary events.  The timelines of peer review and academic publication preclude the incisive, immediate commentary that the best journalism provides, but even the best journalism tends to exclude the excavation of depth principles that socially relevant philosophy brings to light.  The danger is always that the desire to comment quickly (in order to be relevant)  undermines the time for reflection that philosophy demands.  (Perhaps one of the reasons philosophy is in crisis today is because it cannot operate at the speed the contemporary world requires).

There is no way out of this double bind.  Philosophy needs to be involved in on-going conversations, and philosophical thoughts also need time to gestate.  In the first year of writing this blog I think I fell victim to the temptation to write too early. Over the next three years I think I have become more sensitive to the need to let the thoughts form at their own pace, without having to delay comment so long that the urgency generated by the problem or event has dissipated.

The patience that philosophy requires is also served by having, at this point in my career, a body of work to draw upon and a set of principles which I think have been sufficiently tested in the crucible of peer reviewed academic publication and argument.  The intellectual value  of having access to a platform that allows for philosophical intervention into events as they happen is that those principles can be applied to current problems and their efficacy tested in living environments, after having proven their cogency in the more rigorous (but also more abstract) context of academic journals.  I see the blog as medium for a dialectic between commentary and philosophical argument and not just narcissistic reporting on what I happen to think.  Plus, the platform allows for critical response (one more reason why it need not be, as Crary charges, anti-political auto-chatter).  It is true that I have the power to not post responses, but it is impossible to become a philosopher without learning how to accept criticism of one’s principles and arguments.  All critics of the positions that I articulate here can therefore rest assured that their comments will posted, no matter how serious their disagreement with my perspective.

In sum, as I begin the fifth year of maintaining this site, I hope that it has done more than contribute to the cacophony of vanity that bedevils our culture (especially on-line culture).   At the same time, these posts are, for better or worse, my arguments.  I make no attempt to cloak them in the phantom objectivity of “One” or the contrived universality of “We.”  I have always hated the convention in social science (one fortunately not yet adopted by philosophy) of pretending that it is not “I” that takes a position.  All argument should be in the first person-  It is  “I”, not “one,” or “we”  that believes, asserts, contends, argues, etc.  Each mind is a unique perspective on the world, as Leibniz wrote:  “And much as the same town is viewed from different sides looks altogether different, and is, as it were, perspectively multiplied, it similarly happens that, through the infinite multitude of simple substances, there are, as it were, just as many different universes, which, however, are only the perspectives of a single one according to the different points of view of each monad.”  (Monadology, section 57).  There is one universe and multiple perspectives on it.  if we are ever to produce the harmony between perspectives that Leibniz believes already existed by divine choice, then we must share these perspectives with each other, not as auto-chattering monads, but politically and philosophically engaged social subjects, giving ground where proven wrong but courageous in defence of our position when it has proven right.

As I did with the first three years of posts, I have collected this years posts together in Thinkings 4. It can be downloaded by clicking on the link or from the right side-menu under the Heading Essays.  Thinkings 1, Thinkings 2, and Thinkings 3 can be downloaded in the same way.

 

 

Windsoria/Windstoria

 

If one wanted to argue that the mere telling of stories does not change the world, I would not disagree.  However, telling stories can change the self that tells them– by telling our own stories we objectify ourselves in such a way that we can see nuance, complexity, strength, failure, and beauty that we might not have known existed.  I think this is particularly true for those marginalised by class, by race, by ethnicity, gender, and anything else that the powerful can turn into a mark of Cain to justify not listening to what people have to say.  Too often the oppressed internalise the shunning and fear to which they are subjected and start to think they have nothing to say that is worth saying.  But in their stories not only their own truth emerges, but truths of our world, and truth is always worth speaking, and it must, eventually, be heard.

The stories collected and posted here were written for Windsoria/Windstoria, a night of storytelling and interactive map mapping held as part of Mayworks Windsor 2015 and hosted by Artcite.  They were written by Mireille Coral’s adult education class in response to my invitation.  Below is Mireille’s introduction to the collection.  The stories themselves can be found by clicking here, or the Windsoria/Windstoria link in the right-hand menu under the heading Essays.

 

Introduction, by Mireille Coral

Grade 12 students at St. Michael’s Adult High School were invited to participate in the Windsoria/Windstoria project. These are their stories. First, though, they had questions: “What should we write about?” “Who would be interested in our stories?” and “Are our stories worth telling?”

The stories in this collection are the end result of a process of introspection, sharing, writing – and telling. It was in the telling of these stories that a bond was formed. As one woman put it later, reflecting on the process, “When I heard my classmates’ stories, I felt closer to them. I felt we had become friends.” One young man described the experience this way: “I was just going to make up a story about ghosts or vampires. That didn’t work, so I decided to look at the broken part of my heart. It was scary, but I found my story there.”

These stories share some personal experiences of growing up, leaving home, coming to a new place, working, finding one’s way in the world. They demonstrate the power of naming your experience, putting it in words, telling your story. They also demonstrate, as one woman later told me, that everyone’s story is worth telling.

Mireille Coral

Grade 12 teacher, St. Michael’s School