January 04, 2007


THIS PAST WEEK I was beset by a worse-than-usual conjunction of the kinds of crippling disasters that typically mean financial ruin when we are impoverished -- disasters that invariably plunge us ever deeper into poverty and thus underscore the inescapable misfortune inflicted by life under capitalism. First my too-old-to-ever-again-be-reliable automobile broke down once more; next my left eye began showing symptoms suggestive of retinal detachment; then I was hammered by the emotional one-two punch of a deeply respected employer felled by a heart attack and my primary source of income suddenly threatened as a consequence; and now finally atop everything else, I have come down with a truly miserable chest cold -- all these Happy New Year presents from Jesus leaving me either terrified or depressed or both and thus utterly draining me of the emotional energy to write or indeed do anything much more productive than sullenly stare at my apartment walls.

Hence instead of writing anything original, I’ll quote other writers' works in enough detail to show why I regard their particular essays as significant -- not to my personal circumstances (to which, with all the taboos on writing about poverty, virtually nothing published these days has any relevance at all), but significant in terms of shedding light on some of the greater issues by which we are now collectively confronted. As always, I have followed the excerpts with links to the complete texts.


On the top of this week’s recommended-reading list is Christopher Hitchens’ superb Slate piece reminding us why it is entirely appropriate to be nauseated by the funereal production-numbers and general graveyard histrionics surrounding the burial of the late President Gerald Ford. (I was similarly sickened -- though at the time I chose not to say so -- by the mindless deification of Ronald Reagan, who was the most methodically vicious enemy of organized labor in U.S. presidential history.) In any case, Hitchens seems to be the only English-language journalist anywhere who dared give voice to what a lot of us were surely thinking -- that by pardoning Nixon, Ford made himself one of the greater villains in the death of American liberty.

Quoth Hitch:

One expects a certain amount of piety and hypocrisy when retired statesmen give up the ghost, but this doesn't excuse the astonishing number of omissions and misstatements that have characterized the sickly national farewell to Gerald Ford…Instead, there was endless talk about "healing," and of the "courage" that it had taken for Ford to excuse his former boss from the consequences of his law-breaking. You may choose, if you wish, to parrot the line that Watergate was a "long national nightmare," but some of us found it rather exhilarating to see a criminal president successfully investigated and exposed and discredited. And we do not think it in the least bit nightmarish that the Constitution says that such a man is not above the law. Ford's ignominious pardon of this felonious thug meant, first, that only the lesser fry had to go to jail. It meant, second, that we still do not even know why the burglars were originally sent into the offices of the Democratic National Committee. In this respect, the famous pardon is not unlike the Warren Commission: another establishment exercise in damage control and pseudo-reassurance (of which Ford was also a member) that actually raised more questions than it answered. The fact is that serious trials and fearless investigations often are the cause of great division, and rightly so. But by the standards of "healing" celebrated this week, one could argue that O.J. Simpson should have been spared indictment lest the vexing questions of race be unleashed to trouble us again, or that the Tower Commission did us all a favor by trying to bury the implications of the Iran-Contra scandal. Fine, if you don't mind living in a banana republic.

The remainder of Hitchens’ commentary is linked here.

Next is Le Monde’s thought-provoking report on Venezuela and Hugo Chávez’s new approach to socialism -- an approach that seeks to solve the structural deficiencies that became so evident in the Soviet model:

Before Chávez was elected in 1998, two parties shared power for 40 years: the Venezuelan Christian Democratic party (Copei), and the social democratic party, Democratic Action (AD). They were adept at using petrodollars to deal with problems. They handed out government posts to calm social unrest but had to comply with the neoliberal ideology of the North and the need to limit public policies. The only way to offset the bloated state apparatus was to organise its inefficiency. With Venezuela’s social divisions, skilled civil servants often come from backgrounds resistant to social change, sometimes because of ignorance of the conditions in which most Venezuelans live…

The Fifth Republic Movement that brought Chávez to power is not a political party. After 1994 (3) it grew out of a coalition of leftwing parties and former guerrilla movements disgruntled with their leaders, who some thought settled too comfortably into the society they had struggled against. Young activists trained by AD and Copei quickly realised that the Chávez candidature would open up new ways to reach power and many joined his ranks…

Now the community is the basic structural unit of government of the new state, legally defined as 200-400 families in urban areas, around 20 in the countryside and from 10 up for the indigenous population. The Spanish political analyst Juan Carlos Monedero observed that the main reason 20th-century socialism failed was a lack of participation by the people. Communal councils may be instrumental in the construction of Venezuela’s 21st-century socialism.

The full text is linked here.

Last is a Le Monde analysis of the psychodynamics of the war on terror -- the best work of its kind I have seen anywhere.

In the global war on terror…making money has been a key aim. US interest in Afghanistan is inseparable from the oil and gas fields of the Caspian, just as US interest in Iraq is linked to the oil. Beyond that, fresh legitimacy has to be found for the vast US military-industrial infrastructure that burgeoned during the cold war (another profitable war in which the enemy was rarely directly engaged). The demon-du-jour has been redefined as fundamentalism, rogue states, drugs, narcoterrorists, al-Qaida, Hizbullah. The terrorist remains elusive but the targets for retaliation — Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Lebanon, Iran — are readily found on a map.

As Hannah Arendt understood in relation to 1920s Germany, when a military reversal (defeat in the first world war) is combined with serious social and economic uncertainty, the search for a clearly identifiable enemy may become intense. The point is not to be right but to be certain, however flimsy the evidence. The lack of evidence linking Saddam and 9/11 is seen as an irrelevance.

Through actions that provoke the enemy, both sides may prove themselves “right.”… Today’s terrorists have turned the US into something that resembles their own propaganda: the indiscriminate nature of the US war on terror (targeting Iraq after 9/11) creates the impression that victims are targeted just because they are Arab or Muslim…If terrorists can seek to nurture the enemy’s brutality, the same may apply to counter-terrorists. Those waging a counterproductive war on terror stand to gain the perverse satisfaction of confirming that the enemy was just as dangerous, brutal, indiscriminate and pervasive as they imagined.

The imprecision of retribution may be functional, as in the ancient witch-hunt. There need be no logical connection between the crime and the chosen victim…Those who challenge the morality or efficacy of the witch-hunt may be labelled as witches, or now as anti-American…Punishment may be taken as evidence of guilt. (Arendt observed of the Holocaust: “Common sense reacted to the horrors of Buchenwald and Auschwitz with the plausible argument: ‘What crime must these people have committed that such things were done to them’.”) Many Americans, deferential to their president, took the targeting of Iraq as evidence that it must be linked to 9/11. On the eve of the war, a poll suggested that 72% of Americans believed it was likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.

This disturbing analysis -- which explains why the so-called War on Terror has become self-sustaining and is therefore inescapable without outside-the-box thinking (precisely the mode of thinking our de-evolving species increasingly finds impossible) -- is linked here.


As to my own circumstances:

My employer’s condition has stabilized and, contrary to earlier reports, is markedly improving, and just as his original affliction caused me double grief, this new development gives me double pleasure: the pleasure of a revered colleague apparently saved from deadly danger, and the pleasure of renewed hope our work together will continue toward the mutual fruition we each envision.

Meanwhile, thanks to the intervention of my best friend, who is among other things not only a skilled mechanic but a former automotive service manager, my car is running again: this time the problem seems to have been a combination of an under-charged new battery and over-corroded old contacts (and not the total charging system failure I suspected), a diagnosis supported by voltmeter readings.

Because I am among the rapidly decreasing number of retired persons who can still afford supplemental Medicare insurance -- I belong to Group Health, a truly wonderful nonprofit healthcare cooperative that dates from the era my present home-state was damned as “the Soviet of Washington” -- I now know my eye problem is vitreous deterioration, an unavoidable consequence of aging, and not retinal detachment, which is a complication of vitreous deterioration and presents with nearly identical symptoms but, unlike vitreous deterioration, demands immediate surgical correction lest blindness ensue. As to this damn cold that has lowered my voice to a gravel-crusher bass, it feels as if my lungs are filled with wet cement -- though now at least the clean-up crew (spelled “Robitussin”) is starting to hose it away.

As to my penchant for anticipating the very worst of outcomes whenever such disasters threaten, I will make no apology for that. It is merely the voice of experience: the coldly rational response of a person who has been literally wiped out by many such episodes before, the infinitely bitter personal history of one who has always been impoverished in a land that not only criminalizes poverty but despises the poor -- and therefore the undeniable fact that under any such circumstances it is the deepest and most profound wisdom to expect nothing but ruination -- no matter how hard one struggles to achieve the opposite.

Posted by Loren at January 4, 2007 01:57 AM | TrackBack

I think no one's posting bc Hitchens is such an insufferable asshole :D

Posted by: Kid Of The Black Hole at January 5, 2007 11:02 PM

The Hitchens link is a perfect example of my own political INcorrectness -- precisely the alleged "unreliability" that makes me forever unwelcome in dictatorships of dogma such as Democratic Underground or Progressive Independent. Speaking as the editor I once was of the ethics I still hold dear, I don't give a damn how ideologically unattractive someone might be if what s/he writes is at least occasionally true -- and in this case, Hitchens seems to be the only big-name commentator (at least the only one I could find) who had the courage to speak the ugly truth about Ford: that Ford's pardon of the archcriminal Nixon publicly and to our nation's eternal disgrace proved the American claim of equal justice under law is but another Big Lie -- that the U.S. Ruling Class has a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card. Had even a robotic rightist like George Will dared make the same point, I'd have linked him too. Journalism -- at least journalism as I practice it -- is not a popularity contest. Which is no doubt one of the reasons I'm not a "popular" journalist.

That said, another reason for the loud silence might be that the Pacific Northwest, where a lot of my relatively few readers live, is being kicked around by yet another Pacific storm: the power is already out in a couple of places, and a lot of people are staying off-line to avoid incipient electrical surges. I'm shutting down too after posting this reply.

Nevertheless -- and this is NOT sarcasm -- thank you for the observation. At the very least you provided me with a unique opportunity to make a point about my own values.

Posted by: Loren Bliss at January 6, 2007 12:21 AM

Actually I wasn't trying to be snide really, although I've seen Hitch on TV a copule times and..

I was thinking that the three articles you linked to at least merited some discussion, although I haven't had time to digest them as of yet.

Posted by: Kid Of The Black Hole at January 6, 2007 12:03 PM

Have you considered cross-posting this on PopI? Specifically the article regarding Chavez? Because I would REALLY love to see what Mike and Anax and Raph have to say about all of that.

I understand exactly what you are saying about the message being greater than the source, or even gleaning the significant parts of about what's being said and discarding the rest (chaff)

For instance I just revisited this article today:

http://www.harunyahya dot com/articles/70national_geographic.php
(I had to break the link bc the blog classifies it as questionable content)

To me the challenge is to take those critiques and turn it around so it isn't about God. As a related primer, here is an article thats (half-spoken) theme is that Platonic thought amounts to fundamentalism and is actually only thinly separated from Creationism


I wish you guys would get busying righting societal wrongs already so I could go back to studying outer space :)

PS sorry if none of that stuff particularly interests you or is passe

Posted by: Kid Of The Black Hole at January 6, 2007 04:21 PM

Am taking a mental-health break from blogging (or any other kind of thinking), but will be back soon. Meanwhile please note that Populist Independent in it's present form (or at least as it was late Thursday) is still under construction and had no provision for registering new members; I said nothing to Mb et all because I didn't want to bug them while they're in the throes of site-building. As to the Venezuelan piece from LeMonde, you're absolutely right it would be perfect for PopI, especially if it were linked in such a way my blog got credit for finding it.

Posted by: Loren Bliss at January 7, 2007 02:49 AM

I read the Sheldrake material with great interest but could not access the herunyahya site no matter how I reassembled the link. As to Sheldrake, the notion of constants "being immanent in nature" (and thus as subject to change as anything else) is implicit in the core principle of modern paganism: that the entire cosmos and everything thing/being in it is the body and spirit of the Mother -- that in the beginning the Mother gave birth (perhaps so she might experience herself to the fullest extent possible). This is the breathtakingly ancient principle rediscovered by space-age ecological research and embodied in the Gaia Hypothesis -- that the Earth (and thus by extention the entire cosmos) is alive, conscious and self-regulating. It is also the reason every younger scientist I have ever known is a genuine pagan, not in the absurd woo-woo/look-at-me/rituals-in-the-park sense but out of the deeply private spirit-quest encounter with what Zen calls Suchness that is science itself, whether practiced now by physicists in a particle accelerator at Stanford or 4500 years ago by astronomers on the Salisbury Plain. This same immanence is also among the many meanings of what I regard as the most infinitely profound spiritual observation ever set down by humans, the opening lines of Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu's epic exploration of Taoism: The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.

Posted by: Loren Bliss at January 7, 2007 07:24 PM

This is something I'm hesitant to bring up at PopI because Mike and anax and the rest of hypercritical of New Age-ism (rightly so IMO) and I suppose you could lump what you are talking about here -- the Gaia hypothesis if I understnad it correctly -- into that category.

This closely mirrors my own thinking, although I don't particularly see the need to frame it with all the trappings of ancient mythologies and religions.

I want to bust out a Phillip K Dick quote here but I don't know which one..

I agree that sometimes these guys do get caught up in some pretty absurd fantasy-land crap like 10 dimensions in String Theory.

Lets stick to first principles at least, e.g. dimensions can be measured with a ruler

PS I also think this is vitally important to the PopI mission, because without some kind of reawakening, I don't see how we are ever going to escape the hierarchical social order whether it calls itself theocracy, capitalism, socialism, whatever.

I got think link form chlamor and maybe it helps put it in perspective a little, even though it all seems so vague to me.


Posted by: Kid at January 7, 2007 10:06 PM

Nah, the "Gaia Hypothesis" is a metaphor, with perfectly good science under it. Snot New-Age-y at all (tho it can be, probably has been, co-opted). The "it's alive" part means "it exists in a complicated dynamic balance", which is a pretty good heuristic definition of life when you think about it.

Good to hear that things are not as bad as your pessimism made them seem, Wolf. I find that I go off the deep end that way too, but with me it's an artifact of the (untreatable) depression that's been hanging around my neck since childhood.

Posted by: Mairead at January 8, 2007 03:24 AM

As Mairead observed, the Gaia Hypothesis is anything but New Age: Gaia describes a universe in which individuals are twigs on an exquisitely branchy tree, implicitly therefore with a consciousness (though the Gaia Hypothesis does not address this question) that is but the pinpoint of the greater tree-consciousness -- or as our pagan ancestors believed, the extended consciousness of our mother the goddess focused to an infinity of individual pinpoints whether inanimate or animate: Ed Sander's "tiny sparks of the universe." Hence Taliesin's "there is nothing in which I have not been"; hence too the formidable logic behind the central chant of the Ghost Dance: "we shall live again." And -- if I may return once more to the analogy of the branchy tree -- beyond this there is the greater community of treeness, what Gary Snyder aptly calls "Earth Household," the implicitly socialist, implicitly communalist realm of being that was instinctively recognized by most of humanity throughout most of its history -- that is, until the advent of patriarchy spawned the absolutism of Abrahamic separatism which in turn produced capitalism and is now predictably metastasizing into fascism: its ultimate form -- of which New Age is a vital support-element.

Indeed New Age is the diametrical opposite of Gaian community and solidarity. New Age is the quintessence of existential isolationism, the ultimate (and ultimately selfish) exclamation of the fascist concept of ubermenschen und untermenschen, man and superman -- and thus absolute self-centeredness rationalized as maximum virtue -- in exactly the same way capitalism is absolute greed rationalized as maximum virtue.

To enlarge slightly on something I recently wrote (in a New-Age-infested venue from which I was ousted for daring to express these very observations): never mind that the core of New Age doctrine is a fuck-you-I-am-god belief that can only further defiance of the environmental mandates of Earth Household; the fascism implicit in the New Age credo lies in the fact that -- even more than the doctrines of Abrahamic religion (which divide all the word into the ubermenschen of the "saved" and the untermenschen of the "damned") -- the mind-over-matter dogma of the New Age cleaves humanity into the “evolved souls” of the "fully conscious" or "enlightened" elite (those “spiritually progressed beings” -- hence "progressives" -- allegedly able to control their own fates merely by the power of their own thoughts), and the dunce-cap proletariat of the "un-evolved" masses, (all the rest of us who for whatever reason refuse to accept the New Age gospel). And just as the Christians elevate wealth to proof of divine favor, denounce the poor as “sinners” and rail that our poverty is proof of our “sin,” so do the New Agers exalt riches as proof of enlightenment, dismiss poverty as nothing more than a “self-destructive lifestyle choice” and sneer at us poor as “hopelessly un-evolved.” In either case, what is deftly ignored is the fact that capitalism is a slave ideology -- a giant pyramid scam fueled by the ever-worsening survival struggles of an ever-expanding underclass increasingly condemned to inescapable wretchedness.

Thus we see the true function of New Age dogma: to replace the dying dogmas of Abrahamic religion and thereby reinforce the genuinely Nazi ethos at the core of capitalism. Just as Christian capitalists relentlessly savage their workers but find reassurance of their righteousness in church on Sunday, so now New Age executives do likewise in the privacy of their own posh dwellings: they chant some self-affirming mantra and assure themselves of their superiority merely by believing they can "visualize peace." Thus too the so-called New Age is merely the latest attempt to rationalize capitalism -- the most ecocidally parasitic, genocidally selfish ethos in human experience -- a fact proven beyond a scintilla of doubt by the huge corporate beneficence that finances the propagation of New Age beliefs. By contrast, the Gaia Hypothesis is positively subversive: it is the missing link that harmonizes ecology with socialism and -- by implication -- bonds spirituality and science in a mutually supportive manner unknown since the rise of patriarchy. It does all this because it brings us back, via science, to the ecological interdependence of all being -- the ancient knowledge that if one part of Earth Household becomes so predatory it jeopardizes the whole, the entirety of the household is programmed to rise against it and kill it: precisely the self-inflicted apocalypse we now euphemistically describe as global warming. To which adherents of the New Age -- defiantly self-centered to the pollution-bitter end -- will no doubt respond with yet another bumper-sticker: "visualize global cooling."

Posted by: Loren Bliss at January 8, 2007 08:35 PM

Sorry, I wasn't really using clear terminology. I just meant that it is easy for doctrinaire types to dismiss these things as psychobabble and/or argue that it doesn't belong as part of the sober, deliberative discourse PopI is shooting.

Which I'm cool with, even while disagreeing

Posted by: Kid at January 8, 2007 08:59 PM

While I emphatically agree with the need for sober discourse, I also believe that includes serious metaphysical scholarship and speculation. Here are a couple of good examples: Graves, Robert: The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; New York: 1966 (original copyright 1948). Sjöö, Monica and Mor, Barbara: The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Harper & Row, New York: 1987. These works are important because they show how the present apocalyptic crises are the direct result of the values implicit in Abrahamic religion, from which capitalism and fascism are each logical progressions. To round out the anthropology and metaphsics with solid eco-political theory, try Kovel, Joel: The Enemy of Nature: the End of Capitalism Or the End of the World, Zed Books Ltd.: London 2002. The last volume, which I am reading now, is predictably difficult to find in the United States but can be ordered through Amazon (no doubt with your name reported to Homeland Security accordingly).

Posted by: Loren Bliss at January 9, 2007 12:30 AM

You have an uncanny ability to integrate things that superficially seem partitioned off from each other.

Remind me never to debate metaphysics with you :)

Posted by: Kid at January 9, 2007 08:23 AM

Kid wrote: "I just meant that it is easy for doctrinaire types to dismiss these things as psychobabble and/or argue that it doesn't belong as part of the sober, deliberative discourse PopI is shooting."

In doing that, they betray their shallowness of understanding. Consider: we ourselves are not unitary organisms. We're actually a bundle of cooperating organisms that somehow has acquired an overarching, unitary-feeling sense of identity.

But if one of the famous bug-eyed aliens came down and picked one of us up to do a little anal probing or whatever, they could pick their victim to bits without ever discovering the bit that holds the "me" part. Each and every part of us is the same little "poached egg"-looking cell, mas o mene, yet something about their juxtaposition appears to create a gestalt that somehow, somewhere, holds the "me" part.

How could we even test whether Earth also has a "me"?

Posted by: Mairead at January 11, 2007 04:26 AM

Well said, mairead.

Posted by: Raphaelle at January 11, 2007 05:38 AM

[i]How could we even test whether Earth also has a "me"? [/i]

Well, coming at the problem from alot of different angles helps


Posted by: Kif at January 11, 2007 10:25 AM

"kif" was me, typo

Posted by: Dumbass of the Black Hole at January 11, 2007 10:26 AM

Kid writes "Well, coming at the problem from alot of different angles helps"

Can you say more about how you feel that would help with this particular problem? Despite being a physicist, Ernst Mach did make some useful contributions to cognitive psychology, but I'm not sure how your citation of his physical principle would fit in here.

Posted by: Mairead at January 11, 2007 11:17 AM

Well, like you said we ourselves are not unitary organisms and in the same sense, it appears that all things in the universe are inter-connected.

One of the re-statements of Mach's Principle is that you can predict inertial force using the positions of the stars.

So in context maybe there's no such thing as a unitary organism.

It's subtle and I'm not that good at connecting the dots, so hopefully you see where I'm going with that.

Posted by: Kid Of The Black Hole at January 11, 2007 11:22 AM

Hey guys, there's another English person about, :)
I'm a new on wolfgangvonskeptik.mu.nu
looking forward to speaking to you guys soon

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