Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Specter Is Haunting America


[This is a guest post by Sandy, who escaped from New York and is now happily living in Barnaul, in the beautiful and majestic Altai Region of Russia.]

“A specter is haunting Europe,” Karl Marx once wrote. He wrote these words on the eve of revolutionary outbreaks that began in Italy and France in 1848 and soon engulfed much of the Continent. Unbeknownst to most Americans, Europe is again engulfed in revolt, which threatens to spread. The financial crisis that started in the USA and swept the globe, along with the sovereign debt crisis that was inflicted upon the European Union as a result, has ignited the passions of strangled and enslaved masses everywhere. People have recognized their enslavement and have put a finger on their slave-masters. The largely capitalist regimes are no less affected than are the socialist, communist, or theocratic ones, for they all have the same owner.

On the heels of 2009 civil unrest that had swept through Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Russia and the Czech Republic in response to diverse austerity measures implemented by the ruling elites, a full-force revolt has broken out in France. Much like the political protests following the Iranian elections in 2009, months of protests and street demonstrations across France have taken a more violent turn, and signs of an armed insurrection continue to mount. Across the Atlantic, even the Canadians have taken their eyes off the puck long enough to become enraged, staging protests at the G-20 meeting in Toronto that would make a Frenchman proud, protests that have prompted one of the tamest looking of political beasts to bare its tyrannical fangs.

The American middle/working class is still preoccupied with gazing at the shadows cast upon the walls of its cave/prison, preferring to go on believing what they are told by their owners and handlers: that all will be right with their little world, provided they keep their head down and work hard (at trying to find a job). Political hucksters like Obama reassuringly tell us that “Yes We Can” survive this crisis and go on begging for a piece of the American Dream. The man behind the curtain is imploring them to go on ignoring what is before their eyes. He tells us that their world is intact and will continue to prosper. And they dutifully listen, and willfully refuse to see. But the disillusioned among us can no longer ignore the mountain of evidence to the contrary that is before us. This show is coming to an end, and it promises to be an inglorious one. The wave of extinction, peak oil, peak water, economic and financial crises worldwide, political unrest abroad that is about to spread to the homeland—are these not signs of imminent collapse?

But even our European brothers do not understand the magnitude of this seismic event. It is neither a fiscal nor an economic problem. It is not a matter of having the wrong political leadership, nor is it the result of confused or misguided personal priorities. It is a crack in the dome of the theater of the Spectacle that began with the advent of human history, of civilization itself. It is the endgame of the human evolutionary dead end that has pathologically sought artifices of manipulation and control at all costs.

As Thomas Hobbes proleptically though unwittingly stated centuries ago, this will be a “Warre of all against all.” But this will not be the war that he mistakenly assumed would have occurred among our pre-civilized ancestors had it not been for our constituting the social contract. Rather, it is a war resulting from that very contract, grounded in cold and calculating thinking, and from the momentum it imparted to civilization for these last six thousand years of recorded history.

The specter Marx was referring to was Communism: his contention was that it would and should be the final stage in the dialectical movement of history to a civil but classless society. He was mistaken: the communist experiment failed. The real ghostly apparition that is haunting us now is a natural reflection of the fundamental lethality of industrial civilization itself and the systems of hierarchy and domination it has devised and perfected, all based upon the power of the syllogism. This is the logic of objective science, the principle of our legal systems, the rationality behind our social contracts, the anonymity of our civil politics, and the narrative framework of history itself. It is this logic that binds us to the hierarchies that have worked to empty the world of all its resources and life, of all its significance, replacing them with impersonal systems that vainly attempt to control and manage all affairs, human or natural.

It is the inevitable culmination of six thousand years of unnatural, human history that began with the first urban empires emerging in and around Mesopotamia's once fertile Fertile Crescent. People can still perceive this basic lethality, though many of them have become empty parts of emptying hierarchical institutions—an emptiness expressed most baldly in the following formulation: If A is a B, and B is a C, then A must be a C. Whether to control nature or our fellow humans, in this view we are all interchangeable commodities within a single logic of control, a composite of test scores, job functions, marketable fashions and other objective criteria. Herein lies the reason for our emptiness and our sense of alienation from one another, from nature and from our own natures. In seeking to compensate for this emptiness, we have sought to acquire other commodities to make us feel whole again—televisions, cars, laptops and other gadgets. But flashy cars and widescreen televisions will not save us.

America is the most rationally conceived of all modern, civilized societies. We have more science and technology, more lawyers and laws, more prisons and prisoners, more military bases—in short, more and larger systems of domination than any other country on the planet. We also have more money managers and swindlers, more rat race, more mental illness and more lone gunmen acting out against whatever they perceive as an injustice in their world. And yet we keep marching straight ahead to the precipice. We are a nation of rule-followers, not a community of free persons—and we are committed to the syllogism as no other. There is no dignity in our enslavement; we have become the emptiest of souls.

What is haunting the globe today is the specter of primitive anarchy, a feral tendency buried deep within the marrow and musculature of every animal. The human species is no exception, and it too possesses a powerful instinct to escape death. We have an irrepressible will to survive the artfully, coldly created hierarchical systems of domination that are now failing. It is anarchic in the truest sense of the word: it seeks to be leaderless not merely in a political sense, but to be free from the tyrannical hegemony imposed by the civilizing logic of syllogistic reasoning itself. It seeks to make each person, each interaction, each moment unique, unclassifiable, open to will and chance. It seeks freedom in the polysemy of the senses, of the physical body—not the body politic. This specter is not imaginary: it is real, and it is upon us. It is now everywhere and has a will of its own. It can no longer be brought under control, through force or through reason, and there will be no escaping it. It is not interested in you; it is coming after who you think you are.

[Sandy's book, The Recovery of Ecstasy: Notebooks from Siberia, is available from Amazon.]

34 comments:

Chris Hall said...

Well written!

Larkin said...

I have been puzzled to hear that the youth of Paris are hitting the streets protesting the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62. Do they think that far ahead? Also realizing that people in their late 50's are hard to motivate makes me think that this can not be the whole issue. Here in the US, we are not getting more information then that?

I. M. Nobody said...

A very concise statement of where we are and why we got here. Methinks, Sandy may have caught a glimpse of the rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem. Also, a great title for the essay. I think one could also say that A Spectre is Haunting America, as in the old James Bond films with Sean Connery. I see little difference between Blofeld and Blankfein, except of course in their respective success at pulling off their caper.

jdl75 said...

Although I basically agree with :

"What is haunting the globe today is the specter of primitive anarchy, a feral tendency buried deep within the marrow and musculature of every animal. The human species is no exception, and it too possesses a powerful instinct to escape death. "

The part on France "a full-force revolt has broken out in France. Much like the political protests following the Iranian elections in 2009, months of protests and street demonstrations across France have taken a more violent turn, and signs of an armed insurrection continue to mount. "
is way overblown (and I am living in Paris), it isn't months, it isn't really more violent than previous movements (much less than what happened in 2005 in the suburbs), and it is in no way comparable to what happened in Iran.

And to answer to Larkin, I don't think the students think that much of retirement, it is more the political tradition of "being against".

Also on "it seeks to be leaderless not merely in a political sense, but to be free from the tyrannical hegemony imposed by the civilizing logic of syllogistic reasoning itself. It seeks to make each person, each interaction, each moment unique, unclassifiable, open to will and chance. It seeks freedom in the polysemy of the senses, of the physical body—not the body politic. " seems to me this is a bit on the "Romantic" side, I sense the feeling as a mix of fear, the feeling that the system is crippled and getting more unegalitarian by the day, and that something will happen, but all this mixed with the realization of all what the current system provides, no real goals there

Jb said...

@ Larkin:

I work with a French citizen who explained it to me this way.

In France, you have to work for 44 years before you can receive retirement benefits. Many years ago, kids started working at age 16. Thus by the time they were 60, they could retire.

Now young people start work at age 18. Therefore adjusting the retirement age to 62 is a logical step and not some brutal austerity measure.

Michael Dawson said...

Balderdash. Industrialism didn't invent hierarchy, and reason is not the enemy. Solipsistic reductionism isn't going to help anybody.

People are rebelling because they want a livable form of modernity, not because they crave chaos.

We've only been trying to figure all this out for a mere 300 years or so. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?

I. M. Nobody said...

Michael Dawson,

You are right, industrialization did not invent heirarchy or wealth disparity. Civilization did that. You are also nearly right in asserting that most people just want a livable form of modernity.

Unfortunately, for reasons that have been regularly expounded here and elsewhere, that livable form of modernity is not in their future and they are beginning to perceive that. Since very many of them have been expecting to get, not just that livable modernity, but in fact a rather luxurious modernity for the expenditure of very little effort, it seems not at all unreasonable to think that feral responses might ensue.

Is Randy Quaid in the vanguard?

hexsquared said...

Well it sounds epic, and has a couple of tricky, seldom-used words in it, but syllogism isn't the cause of everyone's troubles.
I'm just sipping a nice, disease free cup of syllogically purified water. Nice, and I'm so glad that someone strung A, B and C together to get the cholera out of it which was such a problem in 1847 over here. Now that there are thousands of books, films and other data to tell us not to put the shit pipe in the same river as the water pipe, do you think we will make that same mistake again even when civilization collapses?
Some progress seems to me to be permanent.
As far as I can tell, it's not syllogism but animal instinct that is screwing things up, if anything, and we don't have to wait for a collapse to experience it. Not only that but I cannot think but that piece is a little out of place because if the peak oil predictions and all associated predictions are anything, they are logical. Peal oilers are very logical people, predicting the future from the present.
Nah, it's a long winded way of saying people are going to panic.
Besides, I am sure Terence McKenna would say that it could all be simply a sign of an archaic revival.

Author says:
'It is a crack in the dome of the theater of the Spectacle that began with the advent of human history, of civilization itself. It is the endgame of the human evolutionary dead end that has pathologically sought artifices of manipulation and control at all costs.'
The previous post says it isn't the endgame of that, just a relocalisation of it. Spectacle, syllogism and primate politics are not going to disappear in a big bang any more than they have disappeared from current stone age villages, if that is your worst case outlook. They didn't go away during the Dark Ages, and resource shortage isn't going to make it all go away in the short or medium future.

Author says:
'we have sought to acquire other commodities to make us feel whole again—televisions, cars, laptops and other gadgets.'

That's a foolish over generalisation if ever I saw one.
Sometimes a car is not for atavistic reasons, it's just a vehicle - same principle with all the rest.

By the way, none of you mention the rich and the great time they are going to have evolving and heading into space while y'all (we) go back to the garden. Techno utopia may not be your destiny, but some people are gong to get it good, or are they going to be digging spuds like everyone else?

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

You can always tell when an essay hits the right notes.

The "critics" can only "criticize" the essay by turning its premises into hyperbole, by forecasting doom, and by suggesting they're correct and the author is wrong -- despite no evidence offer supporting the "critic's" supposed criticisms.

Childish doomsaying is amusing when done as black humor, but I don't see any tongues in any cheeks in several of the pro-industrialist comments here. Instead, I see sad misunderstandings driven by fear.

Great essay by Sandy. Can't say the same about some of the comments.

hexsquared said...

Mind you, the bits of his book on Amazon make a lot more sense.

RanDomino said...

Half-right. For one thing, communism was never imagined as what it became; Marx studied indigenous cultures and the early communists envisioned a society that had more in common with a tribal society than with a centralized authoritarian system. Obviously, things didn't go according that way, because of a critical flaw in the Marxist plan; namely, that the Revolution has to be lead by a central committee that operates dictatorially.

Progressives and Collapse-watchers have a frustrating ignorance of history. Yes, it's true, Communism failed... but Communism wasn't a monolithic Party like people seem to think. The First International Workingman's Union split over disagreements between Marx and Bakunin: Communism and Anarchism.

We've seen what happens when Communists take power, but people like Sandy here have a blind spot for Anarchism in history- it has failed only because wherever it appears the entire capitalist system brings to bear against free people all the violence it can muster- from Ukraine to Shinmin to Catalonia and Aragorn. That riot in Toronto you praise? 1,000 Anarchists!

Martin said...

@Jb:
"Now young people start work at age 18. Therefore adjusting the retirement age to 62 is a logical step and not some brutal austerity measure."

That just makes the rage in France all the more puzzling. I'm with Larkin, there must be something more to the protests in France I haven't heard about. If they are just anxious to retire at 60, they could just get themselves fired. From what I hear, the unemployment welfare in France is more than adequate to tide them over until 62 :)

panika2008 said...

There was almost no civil unrest in Poland in 2009 and 2010, and certainly none threatening the established status quo. First hand evidence. Also, there was actually no austerity implemented in 2009 and 2010, some is planned in 2011.

From what I know about the situation in Baltic states and central-eastern Europe, the fears expressed by author are exagerrated.

kollapsnik said...

A good crop of comments, although quite a few are from readers who are unhappy because the essay doesn't tell them what to do. That is inadvertently hilarious: "Captain, what should we do about all these rats fleeing our sinking ship?" The emotional attachment to the syllogism is also quite touching: some people want to go on learning more and more about less and less.

Larry Gambone said...

The reason why youth are protesting is simple and I am surprised why no one got it. If the retirement age is raised, older people will work longer, which means it will be all the harder for youth to get those jobs. The other point is that the French economy grew by 45% since the retirement age was set in 1981. So, in a sane economy, French workers should be retiring about age 55 or less. Trouble is, rather than the productivity going to the workers in the form of earlier retirement, it has been siphoned-off by the psychopaths who control the economy. The young understand this as well.

Of course the latter problem could be found everywhere. We ought to be angry, not only about the cut-backs, but of how we have been robbed of the economic gains of the last 30 years. If, as in Canada where I live, you could have a 40 hour week, 2 weeks vacation, retirement at 65, universal health care - IN THE 1960s - then what level of reforms could we have now with all the growth since then?

Schwerpunkt International said...

Is is neither as author nor we blog commentators think. There is nothing happening and something is happening. The French riots were a yawn, same with G20, and Greece yet something is going on and neither the author, while a good attempt, nor the reading and commenting public know what that "it" is. I think the shadow that hangs is over whatever the thing in the other room - that thing we cannot know and therefore cannot describe. A head stomp here (Rand Paul) does not a truck full of Nazi's setting a building on fire make, nor printing money for banks (Obama) a socialist or other take over. Our mountains are yet mole hills. Yet.... something is happening and we will see this something unfold in a few years and go... Oh... that, oh, I didn't see that coming.

Robin Datta said...

"What is haunting the globe today is the specter of primitive anarchy, a feral tendency buried deep within the marrow and musculature of every animal."

"It is anarchic in the truest sense of the word: it seeks tobe leaderless not merely in a political sense, but to be free fromthe tyrannical hegemony mposed by the civilizing logic of syllogistic reasoning itself."

Anarchy is the highest form of social order. it is the logical outcome of the universal application of the non-aggression principle, the non-initiation of force. It is based on voluntarism in the interactions free of coercion from outside parties and is quite different from chaos:

Everyday Anarchy

Practical Anarchy

The Sunset of the State

Bob said...

I can’t get behind this. It is in its way as reductionist as the reductionism it implicitly condemns. The oil has magnified out of all proportion both the best and the worst traits of humankind, and when the oil runs out and the worst of our natures wins out in the end, it will be the triumph of the medulla over the cerebrum, and not the other way ’round. The fault, dear Sandy, lies not in our syllogisms, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Martin said...

@Larry: actual per-capita economic production may have peaked in the 60s to 70s along with peak oil production per capita.

Tyler Durden with Guest Commentators said...

We have crossed the Rubicon. There is now no turning back." -- Julius Caesar

http://www.harborstandard.blogspot.com
twitter@harborstandard

Michael H said...

Schwerpunkt International:

As Bob Dylan put it:
"but something is happening
and you don't know what it is
do you, Mr. Jones?"

A small point to add regarding the riots in France. The proposed change is to raise the age for early retirement with partial benefits from 60 to 62, and to also raise the age of full retirement (with full benefits) from 65 to 67.

Steve Salmony said...

Hi Sandy,

Wondeful comments. You will be missed by those in the Orion community. Come back soon.

Always,

Steve

Rick said...

I strongly disagree with the author in tracing the woes of modern society all the way back to 4000 BC and the advent of agriculture and cities. There were plenty of ancient and recent civilizations that were more or less sustainable. Man remained dependent upon his environment and had to recycle his waste back into his immediate surroundings, as well as obtain his food, water, and shelter from that same environment. Of course, it can be argued that many ancient cities and agricultural societies caused environmental degradation (read Jared Diamond's Collapse for examples), but many others did not.

The real problems began with the Industrial Revolution, made possible by fossil fuels. There has not been a single sustainable industrial society. All are borrowing resources from the future.

The source of our problems isn't to be found in our attitudes towards the natural world (Marx also said, "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness"), but in economic forces that reward unsustainable resource exploitation and punish sustainability. The only reason these economic vectors keep pointing away from sustainability is because of cheap fossil fuels. Remove them, and within a matter of a few years the new norm will be local food, local materials, local waste recycling, local everything. Once relocalization occurs, sustainability is an almost inevitable side-effect.

(another U.S. expat writing from the former USSR...)

Jason said...

@Bob: It is in its way as reductionist as the reductionism it implicitly condemns.

That's pretty true IMO.

Not to mention, syllogisms are a little silly as a target. After all

A) Things based on syllogism are bad
B) Our culture is based on syllogism
C) Our culture is bad

... is itself a syllogism.

The syllogism is simply a codification by Aristotle of a natural process of judgment/conclusion formation that we all use. True, perhaps some over-use it, but there is really no either/or about using it and entering a different cultural space and existential condition. You can do both.

All that aside... although it might naturally agree with both Russian and American constitutions (I'm neither), this "either you are an over-mechanized cretin or you are an anarcho-romantic Derrick Jensen fan" thing is in itself a brutal logic that doesn't allow for much in the way of reality. I've learned a lot from the study of philosophies and psychologies, some of which (eg. Stoicism or modern cognitive approaches) have used syllogism in arriving at conclusions broadly compatible with ones that do not take any logic-based approach (eg. Taoism.) But wild romanticism need not be a feature of any of these. The opposite of the syllogism doesn't have to be Wagnerian eco-gotterdammerung, than which there is in any case nothing more western. Things are so much more interesting than that when it comes to the more-than-rational.

Please, could those who feel they have discovered a "new way to be", on the mental level, recall just how many valid personal ways forward there are that could work post-peak, and not make these with-us-or-against us oversimplifications. They strike me as very overcooked.

shojin said...

In the late 1990's I was a part of a scenario planning team helping CalPERS create their first ever strategic plan. One of the things we did was to convene a one day workshop made up of top CalPERS investment staff and the top money manager from Wall St. The subject of the workshop was: "what keeps you up at night?"

The consensus on the part of the money managers went like this:

1. There has been a complete discontinuity between the stock market and reality.

2. They feared that a global deflation scenario was inevitable; resulting in the bottom falling out of the middle class.

3. And they truly feared that when the bottom fell out of the middle class a violent revolution would ensue.

This made for a very interested conversation at CalPERS.

Bert said...

"What is haunting the globe today is the specter of primitive anarchy."

in a lot of ways, we agree, but i'd argue this 'specter' has been always in evidence, not especially today and not especially recently. humankind has always been faced with the potential of the dissolution of civilization -- the breaking of social bonds and social structures. watched ken burns' 'the civil war' recently?

there's no shame in being scared about it, but i'd be careful about going to great lengths to rationalize and dissect your fear. it seems to me to be spilling out of you in the form of careful sentences. others long before you have come to terms with the concept and managed to thrive in spite (or maybe as a result) of their worry.

while you build, plant, produce, and devise that which will benefit the next generation, pray, and then sleep each night satisfied.

Paul said...

This fascinating letter seems to me to tie in with a post I wrote to an online paper, yesterday - except that, obviously, I envisage a broadening of modern man's limited understanding of the scope of conscious reason's competence. I should say, our leaders' understanding of it.

"Bad science means that the dark shadow cast by the putative Age of Enlightenment still covers the West, even though the discovery of the first paradox in physics revealed that science and religion are by no means at odds with each other. Quite the contrary: they share a common epistemological spine.

The Kevins and Dave Sparts* of the atheist, scientismificist community like to jeer at Christians and other theists - even deists such as Einstein - as credulous purveyors of magic, woo-woo, mumbo-jumbo, unicorns, and what have you.

However, like the proverbial Black Swan, it only needed the discovery in physics of a single paradox (by definition, completely opaque, imponderable, irrational to the human mind) for their perfectly rational world, with its promissory note that science would one day reveal all, to be exposed as total idiocy.

In physics, on this side of eternity, the ever-proliferating paradoxes being discovered, are and will remain as imponderable as any of the Divine Mysteries of the Christian faith, which latter have served believers as 'spring-boards' to ever an greater understanding of everything, for thousands of years.

What an ironical God we have, who has forced scientists, by the very prosecution of their work, punctilious as it is, to accept that there are paradoxes, and that they simply have to be accepted, and integrated into the whole; but that, once accepted, all that remains is to manage them in the overall context of their work.

Indeed, secular scientists have obligingly demonstrated that the 'modus operandi' of theoretical physicists is identical to that of Christians in their search for an ever-broader understanding of their faith: namely, the use of paradoxes, 'a priori' insoluble, as 'spring-
boards'.

In 1960, Neils Bohr expressed it as follows:

"Physics is to be regarded not so much as the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods of ordering and surveying human experience."

He then goes on to point out:

"In this respect our task must be to account for such experience in a manner independent of individual subjective judgement and therefore objective in the sense that it can be unambiguously communicated in ordinary human language."

"The Unity of Human Knowledge"

My, how long it takes for paradigm shifts to be recognised.

Apparently, leading theoretical physicists, are currently postulating paradoxes to explain paradoxes. Now, that IS woo woo.

I prefer the credentials of religious mysteries, dating from four thousand years ago, on which our civilisation, twisted though it has become, even by historical standards, has been based. They are no less intractable, of course, than the mysteries, the paradoxes of physics, but they are ultimately the more important ones.

Philipek said...

Another poster made the same remark I wanted to make - there's been no civil unrest in Poland. I live here, the worst I've seen in my town is a small soccer riot.

It could be that the Smolensk Tragedy has got the economy off the radar here - but then again, the Polish economy is one of the few in Europe that's in reasonable shape - in 2009 Poland was the only EU country to experience growth and in 2010 growth was about 2%. The wheels are still on here - they'll fall off eventually but right now it's business as usual.

kulturcritic said...

Thought this might be of interest to the discussion as a follow up to the current post.

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Archives2010/AmericansRollOverLikeCattle.html

Rob said...

A great new book with a fresh angle on the diminishing ROI of civilization is Sex at Dawn. Really clears up the whole medulla vs. cerebrum issue... as it turns out the primitive anarchists weren't just better-fed, healthier, classless, and far more peaceful: They were getting laid all the time too! Specter 1, USA 0.

kulturcritic said...

Rob - thanks for the heads up on Chris Ryan's book; he also graduated from my alma mater, Hobart College

Marco said...

From italy...
same words, same feeling, same conclusion.
Failure is evident, those who do not see is because they do not want to see it.
My daughter is 15 months old and soon she ask me, about the future...and I will have to smile, but inside I'm afraid. Instinct tells me to run away from here, the lair is no longer safe but escape will not serve.
Or it will be the last thing that we will do.
One thing is clear the humans were the worst ever animal, no offense to the animals and we could not to do more.
We hope that Gaia could have enough strength to extinct ourselves without dying and return to be blue as before homo, finally liberated from this wrong chain of dna, cured cancer long 200,000 years.
Hold on Gaia!! it is true some chains are changing in this time of awareness but Homo, addition to being stupid, is also very slow to assimilate the changes, and maybe the time I had available is over. I'm 43 years old and my daughter at my age, if still breathing oxygen, will live in a new old world with different needs and different rules.
Will probably be more useful to be able to make bread that using the i-phone
good luck Gaia, good luck Sara

kulturcritic said...

Hey Marco-

I have a 19 month old boy; I know how you feel. I'm sure you will help her keep her expectations in line with reality.

AUGUSULUS said...

Is the author of this article which first appeared here
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25166.htm
the same Lance Freeman who teaches at Columbia University?