Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All is Allowed, Nothing is Possible

Much like the Soviet Union co-opted Marxist rhetoric to justify Russian imperial ambitions, so do American libertarians co-opt the language of radicals from Bakunin to Bookchin to justify their own material comfort.

Case in point: John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. The organic "green capitalism" grocery chain beloved by white liberals and supplied through cheap prison labor. That might seem a little incongruous at first - an avowed supporter of personal liberty benefitting from state incarceration - but it really makes perfect, awful sense when you factor in Mackey's hatred of unions and labor rights. 'Cause prison workers don't get that kinda liberty at all:
And it’s not just that Colorado’s prison laborers are cheap: Smith made clear that, as director of a prison labor program, he had more ways to motivate an employee than an ordinary boss. What would happen if a worker was late? I asked. “Straight back into the general population,” Smith said.
But that's par for the course for "libertarians" these days, isn't it? What once included such anti-property revolutionaries as Proudhon has degenerated into rationalization for the status quo. Rand Paul, of the perennial dark horse candidates, even took the side of the police against outraged protesters of Baltimore - a position that both goes all the way back to his father in the 1990s and reflects the dominant sentiment among the conspicuously white middle-class males who identify with the L word.

The most pressing "liberty" issue in America today - besides a woman's liberty in reproductive health - is the rate at which police assault and murder unnarmed citiznes. But you never hear modern libertarians talk about it; their victories thus far consist of lionizing Edward Snowden while conveniently forgetting all about Chelsea Manning. This highlights the solipsism at the heart of modern libertarianism: Manning exposed US complicity in war crimes while Snowden exposed a meta-data collection project. The thought of other office drones reading their emails is a much more threatening and galvanizing issue to libertarians than the murder of a couple thousand brown people whether abroad or in their own neighborhoods.

It gets down to the ugly guts of American culture, specifically the culture of not-too-rich but not-poor white dudes. The sorts who spend more time on Reddit than on dates and who swing their atheism like a cudgel, eager to "debate" religion despite their only experience being the bland Protestantism of Middle America. "Libertarianism" for this vast cohort isn't so much a coherent political theory as an identity, like a gamer or a furry (both disproportionately represented in this same crowd). The very name Reason Magazine is a signal to these sorts: "Come, our analysis is rational. If you parrot our pundityr, you too shall be as logical and infallible as Mr. Spock." They decry the opinions of others as sentimental  while celebrating their own cranky fixations as some empirical Good. They are, put simply, insufferable assholes.

And they never achieve real power. They can be born to it, like the Trumps and the Pauls and the Mackeys who arrived in this world with all the hard work of accumulation and network building done by their parents, but there's a noticeable lack of people who started from poverty and followed the Horatio Alger path to the Fortune 500. There is only hereditary plutocrats and a mass of suckers. While that's nothing new in history, these neofeudal dupes then go and piss all over the great works of the original libertarians, embracing the "privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest" because it furnished them with an Xbox. They are not only authority-worshipping reactionaries but mendacious creeps who conflate the full expression of human liberty with rote, blinkered consumerism. Their ideal "freedom" is nothing but a gilded cage.

The late, great Joe Bageant said it best:
Freedom is freedom, and you have it across the board or you do not. It does not come piecemeal and is not defined by any single freedom. Human freedom is holistic -- full spectrum. It covers everything because, well, it's freedom.
The world of American libertarianism, with its reactionary twerps and hypocritical oligarchs, is about as far from freedom as you can get. It deserves to join it's cousin, Soviet Communism, in the trash bin of history.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recovered History: Michael Moorcock on the Previous Generation of "Sad Puppies"

Earlier this year, the venerable Hugo Awards were vote-rigged and spammed by a conspiracy of neofascist lunkheads. This upset everyone who isn't a goddamn moron but also prompted a discussion on the politics of the sci-fi and fantasy genre that - for better or worse - dominates popular Anglo-American culture. Are the stories of spaceships and dragons getting too liberal and PC? Is there room anymore for "good old fashioned SF" - which for some reason always means Robert Heinlein's hackneyed Americana futures and never the brutal weirdness of Jack Vance.

Being an internet debate, it's miserably ignorant of history. Michael Moorcock, fantasy author and creator of the endearing rat-bastard Elric, answered these very questions back in 1977:

The bandit hero -- the underdog rebel -- so frequently becomes the political tyrant; and we are perpetually astonished! Such figures appeal to our infantile selves -- what is harmful about them in real life is that they are usually immature, without self-discipline, frequently surviving on their 'charm'. Fiction lets them stay, like Zorro or Robin Hood, perpetually charming. In reality they become petulant, childish, relying on a mixture of threats and self-pitying pleading, like any baby.

John W. Campbell, who in the late thirties took over Astounding Science Fiction Stories and created what many believe to be a major revolution in the development of sf, was the chief creator of the school known to buffs as 'Golden Age' sf and written by the likes of Heinlein, Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt wild-eyed paternalists to a man, fierce anti-socialists, whose work reflected the deep-seated conservatism of the majority of their readers, who saw a Bolshevik menace in every union meeting... They were xenophobic, smug and confident that the capitalist system would flourish throughout the universe, though they were, of course, against dictators and the worst sort of exploiters (no longer Jews but often still 'aliens'). Rugged individualism was the most sophisticated political concept they could manage -- in the pulp tradition, the Code of the West became the Code of the Space Frontier, and a spaceship captain had to do what a spaceship captain had to do...

Over the years Campbell promoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology... a perpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plans to ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of other half-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also, when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposed and went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who were unhappy if freed.

Heinlein's paternalism is at heart the same as Wayne's. In the final analysis it is a kind of easy-going militarism favoured by the veteran professional soldier -- the chain of command is complex -- many adult responsibilities can be left to that chain as long as broad, but firmly enforced, rules from 'high up' are adhered to. Heinlein is Eisenhower Man and his views seem to me to be more pernicious than ordinary infantile back-to-the-land Christian communism, with its mysticism and its hatred of technology. To be an anarchist, surely, is to reject authority but to accept self-discipline and community responsibility. To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of a judge he respects for his office...

Here's the full essay. It expands on some things I've touched on myself in the past but Moorcock is much better at placing the reactionary trend of genre fiction within a larger political context. For those of you too lazy to click the link, it's basically how Ayn Rand is to "liberty" what Adolph Hitler is to Hanukkah.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Straw Dogs of Europe

Greece is screwed.

I know that must sound like the easiest summation of current events but it really gets to the heart of the matter much more than any wrangling over debt and pensions and whatever else. By the end of the summer, Greece will either have surrendered its democracy to the ECB's glorified money laundering scheme, or they'll be in the orbit of the Kremlin. That's as lose-lose as it gets.

Others are saying just how much this is about power rather than fiscal policy: "almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there... Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve [French and German] banking systems." But that's been clear to anyone willing to look for years now. It was inevitable that the ECB, IMF, and European Commission would keep pushing the Greek government on the unpopular - and perpetually failing - austerity measures that lead to Syriza sweeping the Samaras government out earlier this year.

What happens next has gotten much less attention. A bunch of think pieces here and there about a "Grexit" which all the Very Serious People agree would be much worse for Greece than just biting the pillow and accepting the Eurozone's terms. But very little talk about the biggest player waiting in the wings: Russia.

All the reporting on the manufactured Greek "crisis" has ignored anything outside the immediate Euro-American context. Western economists and pundits have ameliorated their fears of Greece leaving the Eurozone with the assumption that Syriza won't go that far due to the pain Greece would suffer from the resulting hyperinflation and lack of foreign investment - and the Greek economy is but a house of tourist dollars and euros. Except they never factored Russia into the equation as a potential trade partner for post-Eurozone Greece, something Putin obliquely proposed just recently.

Let's backtrack to some earlier European history. Following World War II, the US and UK worked to jump start the shattered economies of Western Europe while Stalin consolidated his control over the East. Tito and his Yugoslav partisans proved particularly problematic because Tito didn't much care for the Soviet model and had earned himself tremendous popularity by fighting Nazi occupation. While the rest of the Eastern Bloc sat out the Marshal Plan, Tito brokered his own deal with the US for millions of dollars gifted to Yugoslavia - not because the US was all that excited about Serbo-Croat self-determination but because it served a strategic role in the burgeoning Cold War.

Seventy years later and the same could very well play out again, this time with Russia adopting Greece as a jab at NATO and sanctions. Greece needs friends in the international community and Russia is already outside the "respectable" sphere of Euro-American power, so this would be a natural alliance. Some Greeks might even get a kick out of sticking it to the some priggish Brits and Yankees who helped extirpate their own heroic partisans at the same time Washington was cozying up to their socialist neighbors up north.

Except it's Russia. Being their ally has historically been about as healthy as being an enemy of Rome. Putin's territorial ambitions rival those of Stalin, he's just much more shrewd in his methods - the Siloviki can now holiday in Crimea like they did in the Brezhnev era, but you won't see any VDV parachuting into Ukraine no matter what the hysterical neocons say. Putin arguably believes in the Eurasianism he espouses - at least more than Stalin believed in Marxism - but like ol' Koba is determined that Russia be the "first among equals." Greece won't get Sovietized like the Poles or Czechs in 1950, but they'd still be a client state, beholden to the whims of the Kremlin as much as they're now beholden to French and German bankers.

But what options does Greece really have? The austerity imposed by the ECB broke the last government and the people in Syriza are smart enough to understand that buckling will cost them the next election. More importantly, the austerity still demanded by the Eurozone is simply untenable given the current Greek economy. A lawyer in Athens makes less these days than a dishwasher in Baltimore while university students dream of being moderately successful farmers. Talk to any Greek and they'll point to a feeling of hopelessness throughout the country, among all professions and classes. If one Great Power is threatening you with insolvency and a crushed economy, why not sign on with the other Great Power even if only out of spite?

That's the ugly reality of the Eurozone's failed love affair with austerity. At best they've broken one of their own members and kneecapped the periphery market Germany's much-vaunted economy desperately needs to maintain its own profits. At worst, they're pushing more of Europe into Russia's orbit. For Greece, it's two sides of the same bad future.