Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Ballot or the Bullet

The Ballot or the Bullet
Peter Schultz

            A long time ago, Malcolm X gave a speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet,” arguing that if blacks weren’t given the right to vote – the ballot – then they would resort to violence – the bullet. As Malcolm X put it, there’s a choice to be made and it has to be made. If black people didn’t have a meaningful right to vote, then there would be no peace.

            That Malcolm was correct is evident today in the United States. For some time now, the right to vote has been denied or compromised for a lot of people. Some are denied outright, e.g., as felons. Others are denied covertly, e.g., by actions that are allegedly needed to keep the voting rolls “clean.” Still others have their votes compromised by gerrymandering schemes. And then of course there is the fact that the votes of non-wealthy are compromised by the ways the wealthy are given a privileged position in determining the outcome of elections, ala’ Citizens United.

            And guess what? Our political process has become increasingly violent, with violent rhetoric and even threats of violence commonplace. “Lock her up!” “Send her home!” are cries that reverberate throughout our political debates, along with increasing appeals to violent-laced politics at home, abroad, and in the borderlands. Guns exist in very large numbers throughout the society and are seen by many as indispensable to their safety and wellbeing.

            Malcolm X was correct: We have a choice, politics by ballots or politics by bullets; a relatively peaceful politics or a politics characterized by violence. One key to a peaceful politics is the ballot; that is, the widespread and generally equal access to voting. Give people ballots and they won’t need bullets. Why? Because when people have ballots, have meaningful votes, votes that can actually create political change, they have power. They are empowered even though they might be unarmed. Peaceful change is possible.

            Take away meaningful ballots and people feel and are disempowered. And when human beings are disempowered, they will try to acquire power any way they can, “by any means necessary,” including by turning to violence. This has been true throughout recorded history and is still true today, as illustrated by the politics in the United States. People of every political stripe feel and are disempowered, primarily because they are being denied a meaningful ballot, a meaningful or realistic way to create change. And they have turned to violence, to “the bullet” to get what they want, to be powerful.

            Malcolm X wasn’t simply making a threat. He was stating a political truth.  Human beings have a choice: Empower the people, give them the right to vote, or create a violent politics and a violent society. Take your pick. But you have to choose And your choice will matter. Voting or bloodshed: that’s the choice. And if you choose the latter, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Humpty Dumpty and American Politics

Humpty Dumpty and American Politics
Peter Schultz

“Trump is the direct and predictable product of the progressive failure to have forged an effective opposition to corrupt plutocracy by the time of that strategic moment when popular trust has been lost in the plutocratic “center.” Lack of a unifying progressive strategy meant that volatile and highly manipulable proto-totalitarian element would look elsewhere. As Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (2014) 115, posits: “The rise of Fascism is not only the Left’s failure, but also proof that there was a revolutionary potential, a dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize.” Proto-totalitarian Trumpism is what arises when progressives are unable to unite strategically.

“The Plutocracy and its propagandists take a keen and well-financed interest in prolonging this division among progressives. They now back Biden, or Trump. Recent reliable polling shows Biden 30% – Sanders 19% – Warren 15%. This current data shows that supporters of the two progressives, if united, would defeat the plutocracy‘s status quo candidate. As the progressive choice between Sanders and Warren lingers through the summer of 2019 in a mere contest of subjective tastes it will aggravate yet another in a series of historical failures by progressives to unite strategically and competently at a time when the stakes are now the highest. Continued progressive failure to act strategically for decisively wresting control of the Democratic Party from its corrupt plutocratic establishment will only move the country further in the direction of totalitarianism. Sanders failed at this task in 2016 though progressives provided him resources and support to do the job. Yet another progressive failure to organize strategically behind a competent progressive in the 2020 primaries could be terminal. The likes of WaPo will not do it for them. The necessary exercise of their own strategic judgment in this choice needed to prevail in 2020 will be a useful exercise of an unexercised muscle by progressives. To elect a strategist progressives must master the strategy.”

There is something bothersome about this analysis, which is taken from the article whose link is above that argues for Elizabeth Warren in preference to Bernie Sanders. I am not so much concerned with this issue as I am with other issues the article raises. To get on with it. 

It is said that Trump’s success is the result of “the progressive failure to forge an effective opposition to corrupt plutocracy….” There was a “lack of a unifying progressive strategy” and this despite that there was “proof that there was a revolutionary potential, a dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize.” So “Trumpism …. arises when progressives are unable to unite strategically.” 

Let me focus on this idea of there being a “corrupt plutocracy,” which is a phrase Warren uses repeatedly in her rhetoric and campaign materials and which goes unchallenged here. There is something about this phrase that is, I submit, quite misleading because that phrase, “corrupt plutocracy,” makes it seem that these people are merely self-serving types who have been bought off by Wall St. et. al. They are not defined by, they do not embrace any political/economic principles like corporate capitalism or American interventionism. Once exposed then they should and would be defeated, if only the progressives would stick together. There is no legitimacy to their politics. Hence, progressive unity is or should be enough to defeat them.

But insofar as what is called a corrupt plutocracy is something other, is in fact a political movement that embraces corporate capitalism and American imperialism, and then progressive unity is not enough to defeat them. Rather, what is needed to defeat them is an alternative political movement, one that rejects corporate capitalism and American interventionism/imperialism. 

So when Warren speaks repeatedly of this “corrupt plutocracy” she is not doing what is most important, that is, offering an alternative politics to the politics of this “plutocracy.” And if in fact she does not reject corporate capitalism and American interventionism, whatever she proposes, no matter how “systemic” she claims the proposals to be, will not undermine, subvert the politics of the reigning plutocracy. It is necessary to start by rejecting the prevailing political principles in order to subvert them. So when Warren labels herself as, proudly, a “capitalist,” she is denying her commitment to a genuine political alternative. 

The results of such a politics is evident from the Obama presidency, which is described accurately as follows:

“For Warren this issue of the corrupt plutocracy is not just a majoritarian favorite adopted to boost a political campaign. Obama campaigned as one “tired of business as usual in Washington” who would “overcome all the big money and influence” there and get the “lobbyists … [who] dominate our government … system in Washington” and their “undue influence” out of ”our way.” But he woke up president not so “tired of business as usual in Washington” after all. Refreshed by record-setting campaign cash from the Wall Street plutocracy he did the opposite of what many thought to be his central campaign promise. Roger D. Hodge, Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010) (Obama “the best friend Wall Street could hope for”).”

The problem here is that Obama, like Warren now, attributed “business as usual in D.C.” to the influence of “all the big money….[and] lobbyists [who] dominate our government…system in Washington.” But the problem was not just big money and lobbyists. Rather, the problem was – and is - the well-established commitment to corporate capitalism and American imperialism. Obama did not end up serving “the Wall Street plutocracy” because of “record-setting cash” but rather because he was in favor of corporate capitalism and American imperialism. As his record as president illustrates, he was a corporate capitalist and American imperialist. So when push came to shove, he went with his politics, as all human beings do. Insofar as Warren is a corporate capitalist and imperialist/interventionist, she too will end up like Obama, supporting the status quo because that is what she believes in. 

“Draining the swamp” or confronting “a corrupt plutocracy” are nice sounding phrases, but misleading. The “swamp” and the “corrupt plutocracy” are the results our corporate capitalism and our imperialism. To do away with them, we need an alternative kind of politics, say a politics of justice, human rights, and popular government. So long as the reigning political order goes unchallenged just so long will it continue. As was noticed a very long time ago in a nursery rhyme: 

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Friday, July 12, 2019

The "Deep State" Isn't....Deep

The “Deep State” Isn’t Deep
Peter Schultz

            Here are portions of an exchange I had on Facebook with one friend of mine from high school and Metuchen, N.J., where we both were raised. It helped me clarify the character of our political, social, and economic order. My contributions are in red, and his are in green. It starts on the subject of “civilization” and its character.

Oh to the contrary. “Civilization” is inseparable from war-making, from racism, and other forms of madness, like religious fanaticism. “Civilized” people are deadlier than those called “primitive”people. No primitive people developed weapons of mass destruction. Only “civilized” people do that! Only the “civilized” have ideologies that justify the annihilation of the “others.”

Larger populations create weapons that kill larger groups. Smaller populations don’t need to because clubs, machetes and small arms will do the job adequately. So it may be just a matter of scale rather than civility.

Only in what we call “civilization “ is making war a “job.” For primitives war was/is horrific and therefore they ritualized it.

Again, a matter of scale.

Something to do with “scale.” More to do with the dehumanizing effects of what we label “civilization,” as revealed most clearly in, say, the Armenian holocaust or the holocaust Europeans created in the New World.

True. But the dehumanizing effects of civilization has to do with the exponential rise in the population of nations necessitating specialization. Everything is larger scale necessitating social changes in society. We need large scale corporate farms, cooperative cheese companies, clothing stores, government to tell us what we want and who to hate and yes, special forces to defend our country (and invade others).

Well, perhaps. But the dehumanizing aspects of civilization has to do with the repressive and oppressive governments that are needed to maintain such a inhuman way of life, or what you call”specialization.” Specialization is, for me, a euphemism for dehumanization and it can be found on small scales as well as large,scales. We don’t “need” large scale corporate farms, we have chosen them, just as we have chosen to create what Ike called the military-industrial complex. We don’t need “corporate capitalism,” but have chosen it. Civilization is a choice which can be walked away from, and people do it all the time.

Nice in theory but corporate capitalism is so darned efficient, well managed and easy to sell. I guess we should have learned from our experience with the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age but we didn’t. True history doesn’t mean anything anymore so we are bound to relive it. Catastrophes and all.

Corporate capitalism is efficient, especially for the "robber barons." And while I get your argument, it isn't easy to sell, which is why those oligarchs have created the national security state, engage in endless wars against fake enemies, combined with a humongous bureaucracy that pervades our lives, including militarized "police forces" who kill when they want, as well as the mass incarceration of huge numbers of people, especially blacks and Hispanics. In fact, corporate capitalism wouldn't exist without the oppressive government we like to think of as "democratic." I still can't believe how many people think our government is "democratic." But as advertisers like to say, you can sell shit if its packaged properly. And of course all the patriotic bullshit we embrace serves as that package. USA! US! USA!

            The point being that there is no need for the concept of “the deep state” to explain what is going on the US these days and for some time past. What is called “the deep state” is actually not deep at all; it is there for all to see if only we were willing to look at it for what it is.

            And it is also perhaps correct to say that our “economic arrangements,” that is, “corporate capitalism,” would collapse without our “political arrangements,” that is, the humongously centralized and pervasive “national security state.” This state, although sold as necessary for fending off foreign enemies, is actually as much geared to fending off domestic “enemies,” those who threaten our corporate capitalism and its controlling oligarchy. The oligarchy, in order to maintain its power, will do whatever is necessary, win or lose whatever elections it is deemed necessary to win or lose, and engage in war as it is deemed necessary to do so in order to fortify the people’s patriotism with the blood sacrifices of its young.

            It is, to say the least, an interesting state of affairs.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

American Politics: The Basics

American Politics: The Basics
Peter Schultz

            Basically, all you need to know about American politics can be gleaned from this quote from John Ehrlichman, senior aide to Richard Nixon:

            “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war [in Vietnam] or black, but by getting the public to associate hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did.”

            The trick to creating an effective government, one that “works,” is to manipulate people’s passions. What can’t be done directly or visibly, e.g., making it illegal to oppose a war or to be a minority, can be done indirectly or invisibly, thereby allowing the government to operate efficiently, effectively.

            There is no need to use what has been called “the bully pulpit;” in fact, secretly instructing people is far more effective. Visionary leadership may be what a lot of people claim they want, but secretly, covertly manipulating popular passions is far more effective. In this way, as Ehrlichman says, it is possible to vilify on a daily basis those who are opposed to the government’s policies. Those opposed to the government’s wars can be demonized as druggies, “hippies,” while minorities will become in the public’s mind “super predators” ala’ Hillary Clinton or “gang bangers in a hoodie” ala’ Joe Biden.

            And basically, American politics, American political discourse, such as it is, revolves around manipulating popular passions. Which popular passions? Well, as Ehrlichman’s assertion illustrates, the passions being manipulated are those that lead to vilification and that justify government repression. Nixon, et. al., labeled this “law and order,” which is quite interesting insofar as he and his administration were the ones engaging in criminal behavior. But Nixon’s success also illustrates just how effective manipulating popular passions can be. “Law and order” is still embraced by most Americans unthinkingly. For who would or could be against “law and order?”

            As a result, an underlying consensus anchors American politics, gives our politics a definitive trajectory, and limits our political debates within very narrow confines. Those who challenge this consensus are marginalized or, as it appears to many, marginalize themselves. They are not to be taken seriously and if the people begin to rally to them, they must be made to disappear, banished, much as Socrates banished the poets near the end of the Republic.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Putin, Trump, and Liberalism

Putin, Trump, and Liberalism
Peter Schultz

Putin asked Trump if he, Trump, agreed that “Western-style liberalism” was dead. Trump, obviously out of his depth, mumbled something. But what gets me is that a lot of people don’t think Putin was correct. Seems to me that such liberalism disappeared some time ago, about the time when JFK was assassinated, followed by the murders of MLK, Malcolm X, and RFK. Or I might surmise that such liberalism died when the establishment dismantled, repressed, and subverted the promise of the 60s. LBJ, Vietnam, and Nixon killed off liberalism, which was then buried by Reagan and Clinton. And any resurrection seems extremely improbable.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Gunshot Detection Systems in Schools: Recipe for Disasters

Gunshot Detection System in Schools: Recipe for Disasters
Peter Schultz

OK. Let’s think about this development for a little while, viz., that Brockton High School in Boston got a gunshot detection system as a gift from one of its alums who sells these systems on the east coast.

The system has an alarm and detects where the shots were fired, that is, which room in the school, and within seconds alerts school officials and each and every police person in Brockton. The police are to respond as if there was “an active shooter” on the loose, not someone who is suicidal or someone who has taken hostages. The detectors are battery operated. Sounds like it is as good as it gets, especially because as the salesman said, “It takes human beings out of the situation.” So what could go wrong?

First, it is really useful to have all the police in Brockton notified, and being expected to respond? Sounds like a possible SNAFU situation to me: Situation Normal All Fucked Up. I don’t’ know how many police there are in Brockton but the possibilities for screw ups increase as the number of officers involved increase. Where would all these officers meet? Who would take charge of them and direct them effectively? How would the SWAT officers interact with the other officers?

Second, the detectors pinpoint where the shooter is, allegedly. Actually, they only pinpoint where the shot or shots were fired, not where the shooter is because shooters are capable of moving, shooting and then moving. That is, this technology creates a picture, as it were, but there is no guarantee that that picture is accurate because like all technologically generated pictures, these are only virtual pictures. Mistaking virtual pictures for real pictures could lead to some pretty terrible outcomes, like mistaking innocent students for the shooter or shooters.

That the picture is merely virtual and not real is confirmed by the fact that the police are to assume that the shooter is “active;” that is, is not suicidal and not holding hostages. But what if the shooter is suicidal or holding hostages? If that’s the case then the police will be responding to a situation that doesn’t in fact exist; they would be responding to something like a mirage, something not real. If the shooter had hostages and the police didn’t know that, the danger to the hostages would increase. And if the shooter were suicidal, not homicidal, treating her or him as homicidal could guarantee that the shooter’s “suicide” would be successful, that is, suicide by cop. In other words, these situations are far more complicated than can be conveyed by such technological tools as gunshot detection systems.

And this is what happens when humans are replaced by technology. Technological tools don’t have what humans have, namely, imagination. Without imagination, these tools are essentially blind to the situations they are allegedly assessing. Without imagination, it is extremely difficult to assess situations realistically, although because we are so enamored of technology these days we have forgotten that imagination is absolutely essential for being realistic, for being in touch with what I like to call “real reality.”

The very last thing that should be done in dealing with situations like these is to remove human beings from dealing with them, or subordinating the judgment of human beings to machines. In every situation where either of these things is done, from drone warfare to facial recognition systems, the results are eventually but always inhuman. After all, why would you expect anything else when you take the human element out of the real world? With humans taken out of our situation, only the inhuman remains. Why is this so difficult to understand?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Being Civil

Being Civil
Peter Schultz

            Joe Biden has been defending himself against charges of racism, occasioned by his work with such segregationists as Senator Eastland of Mississippi and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in years past, by arguing that he was being “civil” and, thereby, was able to agree with these senators and get some things done in D.C.

            And that makes this a good time to think about the idea that being civil is the best way to do politics. Biden – and others too – tend to think that being civil is what we should all aspire to in our politics, but this is far from clear, for at least the following reasons.

            First, civility privileges the reigning political arrangement. That is, the powers that be, whether they be segregationist or capitalist, are put in a privileged position when people are being civil or thinking that civility is the only way to be properly political. Biden, by being civil in working with segregationists, could not challenge the prevailing racist political and social order in existence at that time. All he could accomplish at most would be to modify the prevailing racist order without undermining it or overturning it. Thereby, his actions would implicitly fortify the legitimacy of the prevailing racist system. And just as surely his actions would lead to civil unrest, incivility on the part of those who thought, as any thinking person would, that a racist political and social order is fundamentally flawed and should be overturned.

Second, as the above implies, being civil is not being just. When a person is being civil, justice becomes a subordinate, a decidedly secondary concern. “Why can’t we all just get along,” although a seemingly heartfelt and common sense appeal, ignores that we can’t all just get along because some are being treated unjustly, even inhumanely, in a segregated or racist society. Behaving civilly is not behaving justly and civility alone does not lead to justice or a just society. In the face of racism, the kind of racism that existed when Senator Eastland and Senator Thurmond were alive almost demands that people concerned with justice behave uncivilly; that is, demands sit-ins, marches, and organizations dedicated to black power. To tell those acting in these ways to behave civilly is to tell them to accept the injustices they are being subjected to, to tell them that the racist political and social order that exists is legitimate.

By reminding us that he acted civilly, Biden is then reminding us that he was, at least then, quite content to accept and legitimate a racist political and social order. In my neighborhood, that makes Biden a racist.