Archives for category: Politics

We all know what left-wing identity politics looks like. It’s someone saying, “I’m black, and that’s the only thing that’s important about me!” Or someone else saying, “I’m a woman, and therefore I’m oppressed!” Historically marginalized groups whining about how they’ve been historically marginalized, and how that marginalization bleeds into the present. Boo-freaking-hoo. Also, they’re all postmodern neo-Marxists on top of it. This doesn’t actually mean anything, but that doesn’t stop it from being the highest condemnation of left-wing identity politics that most people can think of.

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Stalin’s best-kept secret was all the hidden pogroms for those who used the wrong gender pronoun

What’s interesting is the less-considered right-ring identity politics. And I don’t mean the, “I’m a straight, white male, and I’m being replaced by a black, dyslexic trans-woman!” kind of identity politics, though that certainly plays into it. I mean more the, “AH! That Muslim is going to blow up my twin towers!” or, “AH! That immigrant is going to rape my entire extended family!” or, “AH! That Mexican is going to bring the drugs into my delicate community!” Whereas left-wing identity politics is about the identity of the self, right-wing identity politics focuses on the identity of the Other.

Now, this isn’t some romantic idealization of the Other as some exotic utopian fantasy (which is very much a thing, and has its own problems as an ideology), but one driven by fear. Machiavelli is credited with prioritizing fear over love as a method of governance, and while he is commonly interpreted to mean fear of the ruler, that fear can be directed outward to great political effect. If the populace is afraid, it is far more likely to accept authoritarian control. There’s no need to worry about the bogeyman, daddy’s got you. Just do as daddy says, and things will be okay.

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Whatever kind of Daddy you’re into

A big problem with identity politics, left and right, is that no group is homogeneous, and so categorizing any group will always be disingenuous. The problem with right-wing identity politics in particular is that the reality and statistics are often skewed because fear is the ultimate goal, and if reality doesn’t back up that someone who looks different is inherently a threat, by Jove we’ll make them a threat.

The politics of fear never lets up, which is why right-wing identity politics is so dangerous. Imagine if the white nationalists get their wish, and all the blacks, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, gays, whatever, leave America. We’ll even say peacefully to avoid any overt Nazi parallels. Since the politics of fear was never based on reality in the first place, the underlying goal being emotional manipulation in order to maintain dominance, new out-groups would need to be created. All of a sudden people might start remembering that the Irish and Italians weren’t considered white, once upon a time, and then it’s time for them to go. And so on.

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Do you really think ‘hate’ has a retirement plan?

Diversity is a thing forever now. The world is global. This is not something that can be undone. Sorry? But also, at the same time, I’m not sorry. What this means is that pluralism must be included as a given in any on-going political conversation. Fear of the Other reeks of obsolescence and hangs on only in the propaganda of despotism. There’s no such thing as the bogeyman. It’s time to grow up.

In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, Bernie Sanders recently went on Fox News to discuss his vision for America. I say “recently” in the sense that Blog for Chumps is updated only ever infrequently, so this is about as Breaking News as you’re going to get. I’m only going to focus on the one section that I’ve set up in the hyperlink there, when Sanders is asked, if he likes high taxes so much, why doesn’t he take the initiative and pay more? Be the Leninist vanguard of the Keynesian welfare state!

Sanders, despite the positive reaction from the crowd, actually answers this question rather poorly. He states that he pays what he is obligated to pay, and then turns to whataboutism to ask for Donald Trump to release his tax returns to see if the President is following those same obligations. Of course, the question was not about meeting obligations, but exceeding expectations in order to conform with the ideology that Sanders allegedly espouses. Namely, higher taxes on the wealthy.

There is a much better response to this question: ignore it entirely and respond to the underlying ideology that drives it instead.

Social change is not an individualistic concept. Slavery was not abolished because one slave owner decided he didn’t think it was such a great idea anymore, and then everyone else fell in line like plantation-owning dominoes. Democracy didn’t come about because some monarch took it upon himself to diffuse his absolute power. Democracy is by definition a collective concept; imagining an individual shifting the gears of government, on their own, toward a government that literally requires the will of demos, is patently nonsensical.

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I live under a monarchy. I’m going to cast a ballot, and just hope that everyone else follows my shining example. NO OTHER EFFORT REQUIRED! YAY FREEDOM!

There is a prevailing myth about Rosa Parks that she was just some random woman who had had enough, and her stubbornness ultimately lead to the dissolution of the segregated seating on Montgomery transit. Yet Parks was already an active activist and member of the NAACP before her refusal, and then she engaged with the activist community in a lengthy bus boycott to overcome the racist practice. Her decision and the consequences that followed were heavily steeped in collective action.

It’s neither individuals nor their actions that change the world. It is when individuals organize into groups that they become effective. The Civil Rights movement overturned segregated buses, just as revolution brought about democracy. Bernie Sanders paying more in taxes would do absolutely nothing to implement his goals. The question is attempting to twist hypocrisy into a situation where the very premise it is pushing is meaningless. However, there is an even darker side to the way this question (and those like it) is framed.

What this question is suggesting, beyond twisted hypocrisy, is that individual action is the solution to social problems. Billionaires just need to start changing their minds about a system that privileges them indiscriminately, and income inequality will become a thing of the past. The peasants can just wait for the king to give them rights. The slaves can wait for their masters to have a change of heart.

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I tire of owning people. I guess you can have your freedom…

Immanuel Kant famously wrote that ought implies can. You are only morally obligated to make change in situations where you are actually capable of doing so. If individuals can’t change the world, then it’s not their fault. Poor people certainly can’t impact policy on their own, so they just shouldn’t worry about it. The moral duty to change the world falls entirely on the corporation, I suppose, since corporations are the only entities with the means to do so.

Individually, maybe, we bear no responsibility for the world, but we are useless as individuals. Collectively, however, we are capable of much, and that is where the responsibility lies. Here’s what Sanders should have said:

“I assume you’re asking this question because you want to frame me as a hypocrite. However, you’re assuming that anything I do makes a difference. The reason I’m sitting here talking to you at all is because I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a grassroots campaign, years in the making, that has relied almost entirely on a collection of regular people who believe this kind of policy is needed. My taking of any action on my own means nothing; it’s what we’re doing as a group that’s making a difference. In fact, in even asking this question, you’re asking the American people to look to me, or people like me, to improve their lives by, in this case, individually paying more than is legally required in taxes. Don’t do anything else, just wait for ol’ Bernie to pay more in taxes. That will start the revolution! That’s not what they should be doing, and shame on you for suggesting it! What they should be doing is joining this movement, join a union or an activist group, and push forward change that doesn’t rely on any one person to make a statement. ”

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No idea if I’ve captured his cadence or speaking style, but who gives a shit. I think I just want Bernie Sanders to refer to himself as “Ol’ Bernie”

 

The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 seems like old news, despite the fact that its consequences are a series of ongoing tragedies across the globe. However, the Iraq war is important because it represents the quintessential farce of American intervention abroad. Not because of the false pretenses that began the invasion, not because of the war profiteering of private mercenary companies and arms manufacturers, not because of oil market manipulation, not because of America’s previous support for the dictator, nor any other controversy that makes the doves among us shake our heads in disbelief. The farcical nature of the Iraq war is embodied in the trial of Saddam Hussein.

Maximilien Robespierre was a vocal member of the Jacobin Club during the French Revolution that overthrew King Louis the XVI, and boy, did he have opinions about overthrowing tyrants! In one instance, there was a movement to provide ol’ Louis with a trial. Robespierre had this to say:

When a nation has been forced to the right of insurrection, it returns to the state of nature in relation to the tyrant. How can the tyrant invoke the social pact? He has annihilated it. The nation can still keep it, if it thinks fit, for everything concerning relations between citizens; but the effect of tyranny and insurrection is to break it entirely where the tyrant is concerned; it places them reciprocally in a state of war. Courts and legal proceedings are only for members of the same side.

If government is the structure which defines the laws, and a government which is popularly considered illegitimate is put on trial under the basis of its own laws, a contradiction appears. Now, Robespierre is discussing the revolution within his own country, and America intervened in Iraq, which means that the laws to which the Iraqi government were held to account were not its own. A civilizing mission to instill sovereign democracy is founded upon an act that essentially removes Iraqi sovereignty by imposing foreign determination. Now, Saddam was tried by a tribunal of five Iraqi judges, but their biases make it unclear as to the extent of American persuasion. If there is none, the problem reverts to its original form. The idea of a lawful resolution in an act that is by definition unlawful is nonsensical, doubly-so when those intervening are associated with neither. Which brings us to point number two.

Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. If it is for their salvation that they take arms against their oppressors, how can they be made to adopt a way of punishing them that would pose a new danger to themselves?

The very nature of a trial implies a possibility of innocence. If King Louis, and Saddam Hussein for that matter, could be innocent, then what of the revolution that deposed them? How many families incurred death and dismemberment for the innocence of their respective despot? The dyad of a revolution and a trial is paradoxical because one type of judgement cannot exist side by side next to the other. If the police needed to kill thousands of people (with varying degrees of culpability) in order to arrest one man, putting that man on trial would delegitimize the entire institution of policing. How could Iraq possibly be invaded if Saddam Hussein was presumed innocent, a necessity in any fair trial? In one stroke, a trial abolishes all validity of the revolution and essentially resurrects the rights of the tyrant.

But of course, the American invasion of Iraq wasn’t a revolution. It was a civilizing mission to bring democracy and human rights to a beleaguered people. Trials are civilized. If Saddam Hussein had simply been executed, it would have been nothing more than a coup. The story matters in order for the appearance of legitimacy to be maintained, even if the actions taken necessarily contradict that legitimacy. The War on Terror (with its apparent function of producing more terrorists) can continue under the guise of America’s benevolence, if a bit bungling at times. That is the story of America.

The interesting thing about Donald Trump and his administration is that the dog-whistle that has been an intricate part of American politics for so long has finally been abandoned. No longer are immigrants taking our jobs, they are wild bands of invading criminals, rapists, and animals. No longer do we need to frame Muslims as a binary between moderates and extremists, they are all extremists. No longer are countries invaded “for their own good,” but now it seems like Donald Trump is going to invade Venezuela just because he wants to.

Previously, Trump has stated explicitly that countries that receive the beneficence of American intervention should recuperate the country with oil. Perhaps now that he is president his rhetoric might have changed, but no. His pick for National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has gone on record saying that the goal in Venezuela is to get American oil companies investing in and producing Venezuelan oil. John Bolton, notably, replaced H.R. McMaster who was against military intervention in the region. I don’t want to say that the Iraqi invasion was solely about oil because I’m certainly no scholar on the subject and have seen conflicting accounts, but the invasion of Venezuela will be because those directing it have said it will. No more false pretenses, I suppose.

The veneer has finally been scratched away. The farce has reverted back to the tragedy. Given Trump’s propensity to say and do openly what was merely under the surface for so long, I’m curious if and when Venezuela is invaded, whether or not Maduro will get a trial.