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Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

Capitalist Stockholm Syndrome

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What Mr. Rutten is peddling in the LA Times today is an apology for non-unionized workers’ stockholm syndrome. Most of them have no alternative means of livelihood to the market of private labor contracts that the owning-class monopolizes and co-ordinates to their advantage. The owning-class (speaking on behalf of their god, variously known as the market, capital, economic necessity, value – or if you’re going to get really Old School, Mammon) has told those workers they are going to get less, and being the unorganized lot they are they have had little choice but to accept. However, having so thoroughly identified with the owning-class, these non-unionized workers don’t even begin to think they’ve been screwed by that class and its economic laws of value, growth and capital accumulation. They have been hosed though, and not only should they not be angry at those who refuse to be screwed, but Rutten shouldn’t be trying to legitmate their misplaced resentment. To do so takes us back to 1930s Germany when it was popular to point to the well-organized Jews as not just racial but economic scape-goats for the German workers’ own struggle with global depression. Unions are not to blame for the current economic malaise, which Rutten offers as a token of pseudo-objectivity, but their non-capitulation to the forces of global capitalism is the only hope this country has.

One commenter, who at least seems to have read the comment I left on this article (essentially reproduced above), lashes back:

So we should all have contracts/pensions/free healthcare like the public employee unions? And we would all be better off and thrive happily ever after?
Hey, What the heck. It worked well for GM and Greece. Lets give it a try.

I never said anything about happily ever after. This union-busting stuff is part of a struggle to which we may see no clear-cut end in our lives. I make no arguments about the economic desirability of unions either (i.e. from the “bargain” perspective). Yes, though, we should ALL have the kind of livelihoods that public employees unions (fight to) secure for them. That this is at odds with an economic system rooted in principles of value, growth and capital accumulation is an argument against the latter.

Written by Joe

February 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm

A Specter is Haunting The Globe… The Specter of Capitalism

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Armando Salvatore wrote this great essay for The Immanent Frame about the pitfalls of Egypt’s revolutionary moment. The way he ends up talking about the State in terms of Zizek’s cartoonish cat – that has stepped over the precipice but fails or refuses (or to use a Zizekian term, short circuits) to recognize there is nothing holding it up – should be applied to all talk of the economy. I don’t just mean the official cult known as finance, but the much more pervasive popular following behind value, its production and accumulation, and profit. Zizek’s Tom and Jerry analogy, as worn out as it threatens to become, has to be applied not just to the capitalist nomenklatura, but the larger population of devoted capitalists – everyday people who operate on a principle of “getting ahead” and affirm that in their capacity as consumers, workers and voters.

Armando contends with Zizek’s tired cat-and-mouse analysis though:

If the mythology of revolution indicates a pure state of popular will, the mysticism of the state—its modern political theology—reposes on a redundancy: a mysterious ritual of self-establishment that literally allows it to float in the air without the need to look down; it does not need awareness since it is itself, in Hegelian parlance, the peak of consciousness, spirit incarnate. Every state, by definition, walks on the edge of—and indeed across—a precipice: not just by demanding that millions of citizens comply with the law by imposing just a modicum of violence in routine times but also, as more people in the world are now becoming aware, by piling up hundreds of billions of “sovereign” debt for decades without anybody really worrying about it.

This might happen with or without corruption—surely, if the “fat cats,” all the way up to the president, took a large part of that pile of cash into their own accounts, the cat’s game of floating in the air becomes a caricature of itself. Yet, in itself it is neither a caricature nor a cartoon, but the very image of what the state is about, the outcome of a collective entrancement that makes a docile subject out of popular multitudes who know how to organize themselves. Indeed, matching this kleptomaniac, steady drainage of resources under the regime of Mubarak, these thirty years witnessed a spectacular rise of social self-organization and solidarity in a variety of sectors (health and education first) that has blurred the boundary, imposed by the modern state and its weak imaginary, between “formal” and “informal” associations and networks, between “religious” and “secular” NGOs.

Yet, within the collective trance staged by the state, the multitudes as “the people” are none other than the state. In the trance routine, they are its very collective body: at best, they can imagine inhabiting a parallel space called “civil society,” which, however, only exists and flourishes in a symbiotic relationship with the state and manages to pump citizens’ energies “voluntarily” in the “non-profit” sector, thus creating social cohesion at low or zero cost.

We should think of David Cameron’s “Big Society,” which has this vaguely populist cant to it while simultaneously affirming the sovereignty of the economy and its “leaders” by cutting taxes to the rich and privatizing or simply auctioning off State services and property. Not all Brits seem to be taking to cool-aid, but the vague sense of being taken hostage looms. Just a few years ago, when the market began to crash in the United States, the ultimatum given Congress and Wall Street and not a few well-to-do Main Streeters was that if Wall Street (i.e. the institutional face of capitalism) fell then so would Main Street. Even Zizek wouldn’t or couldn’t admit that Wall Street had stepped off the precipice in 2008 when he repeated in the LRB that

The problem is that there is no way to separate the welfare of Main Street from that of Wall Street. Their relationship is non-transitive: what is good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily good for Main Street, but Main Street can’t thrive if Wall Street isn’t doing well – and this asymmetry gives an a priori advantage to Wall Street.

That ultimatum is really not that unlike “Mubarak or chaos,” which Zizek got right in the Guardian saying ‘The argument for Mubarak – it’s either him or chaos – is an argument against him.” The same stance needs to be taken against the position we hear all the time that if we do not do X (cut taxes on the rich, work longer hours, take care of our own healthcare/retirement, deregulate this or that industry, get rid of or otherwise compromise our unions, make ourselves more competitive, and the like) then jobs will go away, and we’ll starve or else succumb to chaos.

Written by Joe

February 18, 2011 at 7:05 pm

The Na’vi Do Not Exist

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In response to an article from Alter-Net, “Will Avatar’s Pro-Indigenous Narrative Bother Oscar Voters”:

Shouldn’t the title of this piece be “Will Avatar’s Pro-Noble-Savage Narrative Bother Oscar Voters?”

The militaristic invaders are portrayed, in a way, as the actual savages of the film, but few seem to see that the Na’vi (the official or formal “savages” of the film, in Lenin’s sense of actual/formal) are part-n-parcel of our own savageness the film arguably is showing us.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that one of Cameron’s ideas behind the film is an eye-opener about Western imperialism for some (while preaching to the choir for many more, probably). In a very important sense though, the Na’vi don’t exist. They do not exist as savages apart from the savagery of the imperialists. Avatar will do well at the Oscars because it offers a way of enjoying imperialist savagery.

Written by Joe

February 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm

What Is In Buddhism More Than Buddhism Itself

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Jacob Libby leaves an excellent comment on my now somewhat old post on Western Buddhism (redux), which I have been meaning to update and otherwise revise. I would like to put it up for its excellence in itself, and as a way point for further discussion. The only thing I will say now (there will be updates) is that I whole-heartedly agree in dropping the true/false-buddhism angle. I even think I have in subsequent posts, when I pick up on Zizek’s critical/therapeutic religion distinction (though I wouldn’t isolate this split to an effect of modernity; Walter Breuggemann employs this same distinction, though without naming it, when discussing “the religion of God’s freedom” and “the religion of God’s accessibility” or religions of transendance and immanence in his book “The Prophetic Imagination”).

Set aside the question of whether Plum Village is capitalist in its Essence. Ask rather, what would it take for Plum Village exist in Port-au-Prince, Haiti? This is the revolutionary question: can Buddhist “practice” undermine the Capitalist relations of production that warp and control the social and economic space of our choices — that ultimately determine where and when Buddhist practice can flourish?

If you love Haiti and you love Buddhism, please read my words!

Joe claims that the Buddhism Zizek critiques is not the real Buddhism. The properly Zizekian response here would be to claim that the division between so-called Western (postmodern) Buddhism and “true” (scriptural) Buddhism is not an aftereffect of Buddhism’s cooptation into America and European society but rather is a primordial cut inherent to Buddhism itself. In other words, the postmodern “interpretation” of Buddhism was part of Buddhism from the beginning, one of its intrinsic possibilities. In this case, Western Buddhism expresses what is to the scriptural Buddhists the repressed core of Buddhism proper, its relativistic complicity with the violence of Global Capital. So, for example, Suzuki’s commentary on affirmation “not conditioned by a negation” (mirroring Nietzsche’s notion of the Yea-sayer as well as Foucault’s double circumscription of meaning and truth in philosophical archaeology) strikes a relativistic chord sharply contrasting Zizek celebration of Divine Violence, which depends upon a double negation. For Zizek, such an act must first step out from the coordinates of world-perpetuating activity by a radically negative gesture of non-participation; only by means of this negating gesture of freedom is the space opened for a true act. In what Zizek would call “a properly Hegelian paradox,” freedom is the condition for freedom.

But does this not put Plum Village alongside the Shanghai Commune and the Paris Commune in a line of radical communities who have dropped out of society and forged ahead with a new non-Capitalist vision? The answer is clearly “No.” No where does Zizek celebrate the apolitical compassion of the sustainable, non-exploitative, and egalitarian Buddhist community. Plum village does not fit alongside the death-defying radicalism of Robespierre or the Red Guard in Zizek’s narrative of world transformation for a simple reason: a Plum Village alive and well in the heart of capitalist Europe offers no fundamental challenge to the hegemony of Global Corporate Power. The Paris Commune and Shanghai commune occurred at the epicenter of world-transformative revolutionary violence — to Zizek they were failed attempts to directly institutionalize the spirit of the revolution. Plum Village is what Zizek would call decaffeinated revolutionary — the impossible revolutionary without the revolution. If, instead, on the proverbial day after the apocalyptic scene at the end of Fight Club — after Tyler Durden destroys the computer databases of the main central banks — yes, then Plum Village would be the site of revolutionary activity (the revolutionization of the revolution) — and Durden’s death would represent his truly Buddhist detachment from commodity fetishism. But without the explosives, the personal transformation does not make it into Zizek’s pantheon: while Global Capital still calls the real shots, still controls the economic realities that interpolate and warp our reality and our choices, Plum Village remains an ideological appendage of Capitalism.

My question is therefore a different one. Does a “True Buddhist” really care whether his faith is admitted into Zizek’s pantheon? If so, why? Does he inwardly doubt this his path can build the world he envisions in the age of global ecological collapse and continental enslavement? The political dynamics of the modern world demand new questions of the original Buddha. The questions of freedom in the age of global finance cannot but change Siddhartha’s path. The modern circumstance begs Buddhism to reveal what is in Buddhism more than Buddhism itself.

And apropos to today: Who will build (and fight for!) a Plum Village in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

(PS: My understanding of Zizek is based on “Tarrying with the Negative”, “Parallax View”, “Violence”, and “In Defense of Lost Causes”)

Written by Joe

January 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I don’t know man, I don’t know…

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Where is the Real in this image?

These are babies, pretending to be stupid animals; see how the one on the right has a human ear. It is somehow significant that we only see one, but are likely to assume there are two. This is what babies would say if they could really talk, and this is how they would appear to us if we really heard them.

Written by Joe

December 2, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Buddhist Church Inc.

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From Buddhist Geeks:

We continue our discussion with Shambhala acharya, Judith Simmer-Brown, about how we can strategically invest in American Buddhism so that it survives in the long-term. We explored the first three areas of importance in-depth in part 1, which included the translation of core texts, the development of a monastic lineage, and the appointment of dharma heirs.

In this part of the discussion we flesh out the details of the fourth area, which is royal patronage. Judith speaks about how, given a lack of that kind of support, most dharma teachers and organizations turn whole-heartedly to the market to sustain them. And with that come all sort of issues–including the pursuit of fame and fortune. We finish the discussion, going back to the question of whether we’ll be able to develop a monastic community in the West, and why that’s important to the healthy development of Buddhism in America.

What better than a Buddhist Church Inc. to supplement the post-modern feudal order? I mean, Nazi Germany was nominally Christian, right? Stalin’s Soviet Union was still haunted by the big Other. What about nationalism is consonant with a vision of universal liberation?

Written by Joe

November 10, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Utopian Abundance and Its Abuses

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From Zizek’s recent appearance speaking at “Marxism 2009”:

“The whole wager of communist revolutionary is: you can make State work against itself.”

This is what you could say is at stake in Jesus suggesting that we “turn the other cheek.” Turning the other cheek means using the impropriety surrounding the using your unclean left hand to force the abuser to hit back with an open palm, which is a gesture of equalization. Zizek’s ideal State, in keeping with his emphasis of class-struggle over social-antagonism, is what Nietzsche would call one’s good-enemy.

This is a society where even the enemy is loved.

Nietzsche and and Zizek, like Jesus before them both, are both philosophers of and *advocates* for (in the biblical sense) the good enemy.

This is the radically liberating equality that Nietzsche strikes at in his support of the agon, what Zizek gets at in his insistence on the necessity of class-struggle for creating a classless society, and is really the only way we can understand why the event of Jesus would lead to something like the Christian tradition, with its Church-state structure. Jesus advocated for that sliver of radical equality which broke with the Lawful (pagan) hierarchy of distinctions – that is, for that moment in equality that was itself freedom. Equality before the (Capitalist/Jewish) Law doesn’t get us very far when it is also the Law that you are untouchable or a slave or property, but it’s in a sense necessary to get as far as we have.

You have heard it said that we should feed the poor, and when the Ayn Randian or similar Libertarian says that is only rewarding or sustaining weakness, we should understand what’s true and untrue about it. It is true that this act sustains poverty, but to be kept poverty is hardly a reward. The latter, to put it as Zizek would, is ideology at its purest. This makes it both a useful example for Leftist ridicule, but perhaps one that has lost its symbolic efficacy. It’s not as distasteful among (at least the American) working-class anymore to suggest, as many right-wing propagandists and their liberal fellow-travelers do, that welfare is something that can in some sense be abused. It functions as both an a condemnation and a defense: a bad-apple doesn’t spoil the bunch. We see its bourgeois-double in the excuse for Capital made by those who sanctify CEOs left and right as “abusers” of Capitalism’ natural bounty. These abusers are really its heros, because we recognize in their abuse of the system their fundamental affirmation of it also: it’s got so few bad-apples that we’ll keep letting it grow. The problem is not simply that Capitalism rewards abusers, at the top and bottom, which must be regulated, but that the abusers are a structural necessity for its functioning.

You will know a tree by its fruits, and cut down the bad ones. We should be clear here though: jesus tells us we should cut down the bad trees, not just the apples. The liberal, pragmatic apology for capitalism is: so what if it produces bad-apples, it produces more apples total and less bad apples porportionately than anything we can imagine.

Cue John Lennon song.

True abundance cannot be abused, cannot be founded on abuse. This is why Ursula K. LeGuin’s short-story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is so fundamentally ANTI-Utopian: the choice between a living in paradise founded on a fundamental abuse and walking away from it is a forced one, and choosing to change Omelas (for the better) is impossible unless you want to take away everyone’s happiness and well-being.


Written by Joe

July 9, 2009 at 3:28 pm