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The Apparatus

The Apparatus

John Steppling

December 29, 2019

 

 

Jose Luis Cuevas, photography.

“First, at an ideological level, any movement away from social explanations, particularly wider economic and political ones, moved the debate away from looking for causes and solutions, particularly revolutionary political ones, in that area. Economic and political solutions, it could be argued, were not relevant where the problem is biological and individual weakness.{ } Second, the biological approach elevated the status of doctors and chemists as authorities and experts and undermined the standing of sociologists, psychologists, journalists and others with a more social and less individual approach. At the same time, doctors and chemists were just what the rising industrial power of Big Pharma, the major drug companies, needed to develop, test, trial and prescribe their drugs.”

 

Peadar O’Grady (Stop Making Sense, Alienation and Mental Health)

 

“The empire relies on its organs—popular media that includes but is not limited to print, broadcast, and online newspapers, the Hollywood entertainment industry, and generally the policies of the handful of companies that own all media in the world. These organs continually repeat discourses to incite fear, such as the use of chemical weapons. Control of discourses is crucial, which is why US policing apparatuses like the NSA must monitor, retrieve, and store all personalized electronic communication.”

 

Geoffrey Skoll (The Globalization of American Fear Culture)

 

“…according to one meta-analysis, you are seven times more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with schizophrenia if you are born from a deprived economic background, and four times more likely with regards non-schizotypal disorders.”

Peter Sedgewick (Psychopolitics)

 

“Americans have come to believe that science is capable of almost everything.”

 

Dr. Louis M. Orr (J. Young, The Medical Messiahs)

 

“…the meaning of fairy tales can only be fully grasped if the magic spell of commodity production is broken.”

 

Jack Zipes (Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales)

Giuseppe Penone

It is increasingly important to breakdown and examine the elements of delusion and irrationality that seem ubiquitous today in the West. To do that, however, requires a clear picture or historical frame for how the U.S. became the global Imperialist power and how it sustains that role.

“The United States relied on local elites for day to-day control after military pacification had ended armed resistance. US companies used the Philippines to gain a commercial foothold in the western Pacific. The islands also provided a station for US naval forces. To the degree that pacification was needed shows that the Philippine War was a less successful imperial enterprise than US imperialism elsewhere, especially in its own hemisphere, where only occasional displays of force have been applied in Latin America to keep those countries in line. The Philippine War is understandable as the first model of the United States beginning to take over from Britain as the lead governmental administrator of world capitalism.”

 

Geoffrey Skoll (Ibid)

Today, discussion, especially on the left, seem to exhibit near total amnesia regards the employment of comprador assistance and native elites who are exhibited by mainstream (corporate, ruling class) media. Think of Syria, of the DPRK, or Iran. Think Venezuela and Bolivia and Brazil. If there are Syrian voices denouncing Assad, you can bet your pink slip that they are western educated and members of an affluent class.

Ziad Antar, photography (Mecca).

“In the Reich everything could be interrogated for its propaganda potential, every surface inscribed with polemical meaning, every building block of public consciousness from typeface and newsprint to the expression of military communique?s to the architecture to the very design and deployment of weapons themselves. Every medium carried the propaganda, not just art or film.”

 

Nicholas O’Shaughnessy (Selling Hitler, Propaganda and the Nazi Brand)

So much like the Nazis, the contemporary West (by which I mean the ruling class and its organs of mass communication) cannot create anything that is not propaganda, even if they tried. Not every surface is an advert, but most are, and even if some of this commodification or marketing is actually unintentional, the result is largely the same.

In Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic (mental illness) he sites a statistic …. for Schizophrenia the number of patients in 1955, in mental hospitals, was 28,482. In 1987 the number was 267,603. The same enormous leap in manic depressive cases. I want to return to this, but it is worth keeping in mind just how dramatic that leap in mental illness was. And Whitaker goes to pains to make clear it is not simply a matter of labeling or definition or access to treatment, because its not. Then of course from 1987 till today there is an even more dramatic increase in the numbers of mentally ill, and the numbers being treated with SSRI drugs or the like. These are pretty well known numbers.

Francesco Vezzoli

But before breaking those numbers down more I want to return to the ideas of propaganda and how they work.When Adam Curtis made Century of the Self, it created a good deal of discussion in educated circles. And that was fair, and it was a pretty singular piece of filmmaking, Today it doesn’t look or feel nearly as good. And his later work is paleo-conservative rubbish. But the point is that film made a good many people aware, or more aware of the concept of marketing. Of persuasion. And the real serious first wave of advertising employing Edward Bernays theories occurred after WW2. And on into the early and mid fifties. In other words, in a simplistic sense, the marked increase in mental illness diagnosis coincided with the rise in advertising and then marketing.

Geoffrey Skoll in his book (Globalization of American Fear Culture) notes (and quotes others observing the same thing) that 1968 (really 64 through 70) a significant turning point in western culture. In what C.Wright Mills called the cultural apparatus (Skoll quotes Mills). And I have written before not dissimilar things about the *sixties*. There was a conscious concerted counter revolution against that apparatus. It was the ruling class, essentially, redirecting ideology. But not just the ruling class, per se. There was already the built in tendencies of American history and capitalism, and a movement toward destroying unions and crushing dissent. The working class were already indoctrinated by the apparatus. After the Chicago 68 Democratic Convention there were polls taken that indicated nearly 60% of Americans approved of Mayor Daley’s handling of the protest. The police actions were approved, and validated. The backlash against the sixties social revolution was already in place.

Nixon and Elvis, Dec 1970.

When Reagan became president the counter revolution began to globalize. Now U.S. foreign policy was already operating at a global level, but under Reagan, as Skoll notes, the actions were really no longer secret. Partly this is connected to the evolution of the marketing/cultural apparatus. And Hollywood was already playing a significant part in this propaganda effort.

“During the 1980s the Reagan administration oversaw three innovations in imperial control: counterinsurgency warfare; a shrinking national military with increased reliance on mercenaries and increased dependence on technology to replace military personnel; and application of a broad-spectrum public relations campaign to transform the cultural outlook of national populations. These three innovations developed at different rates, but by the twenty-first century they converged to form the main enforcement apparatus for the new empire.”

Geoffrey Skoll (ibid)

Among the top grossing films of the 1980s were Sixteen Candles, The Terminator, Die Hard, The Breakfast Club, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. If you look at the most popular films of the 1970s there is an evident shift. The 70s saw Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Rocky, Serpico, Five Easy Pieces, Three Days of the Condor, Annie Hall, Being There, and The Conversation. It may well be that the pivotal moment for Hollywood was the failure of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977). Released the same week as Star Wars. The Friedkin film, a remake of Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953) and its lack of box office signaled the end of studio willingness to back auteur projects. The George Lucas stamp bled into everything in the 80s.

Matthias Bitzer

The Friedkin film remains a singular achievement however, and an epitaph on serious work from Hollywood. It was much like Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). Perhaps what Friedkin lacked was a Klaus Kinski, but in any event the bloated budgets and tortured location filming, all in developing countries (all Latin American) suggests something additional, as well. These were the guilt films of European and North American imperialism.

The rise of neo-liberalism is worth a footnote of sorts here and Skoll devotes an entire chapter to it. The key element for the purposes of this post is that it formally introduced that Ayn Randian version of individualism into the bureaucratic and institutional sphere.

“An interesting aspect of neoliberalism is its connection with philosophical individualism (sometimes called methodological individualism). What makes the connection interesting is how this philosophy sustains scientific public relations and professional advertising. It is also linked to political and legal theories via the works of Gary S. Becker (1974) and Richard A. Posner (1981) who combine methodological individualism with marginal utility theory. What they all have in common is the positing of an abstract homo economicus as an eminently rational actor who makes decisions about how to spend money, what politics to support, and the degree to which s/he follows the law according to strictly rational calculations. Of course such people do not exist, but their importance lies not in their correspondence to reality, but to their atomism.”

 

Geoffrey Skoll (ibid)

Rafael Coronel

Neo liberalism, or neo-conservatism essentially ratify inequality as natural. It is also the purest expression of instrumental thinking. And that hyper rationality that not only influenced institutional thinking but infected western consciousness and the cultural apparatus. So, one relationship worth looking at is between this neo-conservative ideology and a cultural apparatus infused with, saturated with (by the 80s) marketing. The individualism of the Ayn Randian neo con and the individualism of the Puritan and frontiersman, and the individualism of the savvy consumer all merged.

The 80s saw the dramatic increase in diagnosis of mental illness. The Prozac generation was sitting down to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Terminator, and trusting in the Reagan dream. The individualism of the consumer. An individualism that carries with it the residue of the frontiersman and the Randian selfish businessman (business man of action).

Henry Kissinger and Shah of Iran, Zurich Hotel.

The 80s was also the escalation of the war on drugs. And a globalization of that war and a refinement of the propaganda terminology (the appearance of “narcoterrorism”).

“That is, the new fascism is not confined to a few centers of capital, as it was in post–First World War Europe, but to the entire world system. It is this world systemic fascism that the globalization of fear culture supports and represents in symbolic form.”

 

Geoffrey Skoll (ibid)

A quick survey of 80s TV shows reinforces that sense of a shift: Dallas, The A-Team, Cagney & Lacey, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, The Wonder Years, Family Ties, Cheers, and Magnum P.I. There is a profoundly reactionary core to all of this stuff. Much of that reaction traffics in a nostalgia for fantasy landscapes of the American dream. It also marks the beginning of a pronounced growth of infantalism. And the signal event that gave birth to this was the fall of the Soviet Union. It is interesting how the U.S.S.R. worked as a defense against a wholesale unregulated violence of capitalism, but also against the intensification of racism and xenophobia seen since that time. The fall of the U.S.S.R. also opened the flood gates to the new infantilism. It was the fall of seriousness in a sense.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog dr. With Klaus Kinski). 1972.

The counter-revolution that began in the 60s was complete by the beginning of the 1990s. The cultural apparatus was now devoted to a new level of jingoism (which also spiked, rather obviously, after 9/11) and a new version of rank sentimentalism. The sentimentalism of a Norman Rockwell was repurposed and expressed in a post modern style code. This new post modern sentimentalism was also increasingly infantile. And here one runs into the promotion of the apolitical solipsistic theory of writers like Derrida, and Lyotard. But this is not a simple equation at all. The salient point is that most radical French theorists (and there were good ones in this period) self identified as left wing, but were nothing of the sort. This led the way toward the ultimate embodiment of the new fascist posing as socialist in the figure of Zizek.

But not to get ahead of myself here. The Hollywood product of the 80s was the real watershed for the cultural apparatus. The best films out of Hollywood in the preceding twenty years were now impossible to get made (think Boreman’s Point Blank, Penn’s Nightmoves, Karel Reisz’s Who’ll Stop the Rain). It is worth noting that in American TV the counter-revolution was underway already in the 1960s. The half hour dramas of the 1950s (some of them taped live) were replaced with network kitsch. Film caught up with this counterrevolution in the 80s. And the post modernist theory went along in subtle ways (and sometimes obvious ways) to reinforce this and to validate a camp aesthetic that overvalued junk, an exaggerated appreciation of the bad.

Tomma Abts

The problem with much of the anti-post modern critics is that they end up both exhibiting a tacit anti-intellectualism and a deep strain of conservatism. It is why Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment remains so useful and important. It is also problematic that while Foucault was indeed, in the end, reactionary, he was also often not, and often very insightful. Baudrillard was mostly rather good, I think. But what haunts all of them in a sense is the spectre of Nietzsche and even more that of Heidegger.

The additional problem is that the critics of post modernism are almost unfailingly ignorant of Marxism. There is never a class analysis to their complaints about post modernism. Helen Pluckrose wrote a much circulated piece at Aero that derides Edward Said’s Orientalism and then quotes Andrew Sullivan. Pluckrose is a moron, essentially. Maybe we should leave it at that. But the important and relevant factor here is that the CIA was clocking and following French theory and saw it as a way (correctly or not) to get students to stop reading Marx and Gramsci, and hence to stop thinking in terms of revolution. To stop thinking in anti Imperialist ways. But much like the exaggerated CIA attempt to co-opt Abstract Expressionism (which I have written about twice on this blog)

http://john-steppling.com/2014/04/revisiting-the-new-york-school/
http://john-steppling.com/2018/05/the-dying-light/

Esther Bubley, photography. (Greyhound Bus Station, 1940s).

This didn’t necessarily invalidate the work. It certainly didn’t with Ab-Ex. But it no doubt had an effect. I suspect there were a whole array of other factors that contributed to the popularity of post modern French thought. Students were already not reading Marx, and in fact were already not reading — not as they had twenty years earlier. But French theory can also be set against this backdrop of counterrevolution in the apparatus. It was both effected by it and part of it. The influence of Heidegger was unquestionably pernicious.

Gabrial Rockhill wrote about this (the CIA and French theory), too, at the LA Review of Books (which might suggest the first problem) and it contains some useful info on the cultural encouragement given to anti Soviet interest and by extension anti Marxist thought by what undercover operatives were about. However one tweezes this apart the effect of the worst of Post Modernism was only part of a general propaganda effort to demonize socialism (something that had gone on for forty years already) and stigmatize dissent overall. The problem again is that most of the criticisms of French Theory is itself either reactionary or just bad and ill informed. And the reflexive embrace (uncritical embrace) of science (and again by extension instrumental thought and positivism) is unfortunate but blends seamlessly with the ascension of the unserious and the applause and valorizing of kitsch and camp. To explain this, at least in a short hand manner here, requires a quick trip back to the German Positivist dispute of the 1960s. One cannot give it too short a treatment however, for that is the problem itself — the tendency to short coded equations or formula. But the Karl Popper side of the dispute is, in a sense, the precursor for a kind of neutralizing rationality in later politics. The lesser evilism of the Democratic Party liberal is directly connected to Popper and to ‘critical rationalism’ (in opposition to Adorno and the Frankfurt School and critical theory). But that lesser evilism is also connected to the psychology of adjustment (and resentment) that fuels the personality disorders of advanced capitalism. The notion of maturity is one that is guarded and reactive, it is unyielding (in a Reichian sense) and it is anal sadistic in extreme cases. The clear political expression of the positivist rationale is that of incremental reformoism. Popper himself was not really a positivist (he certainly denied being one) but his position was one closely tied into instrumental thinking, and was at pains throughout his life to conflate fascism and communism.

Eko Nugroho, installation, various media.

“The French social sciences we are familiar with now were thus a postwar invention, and in all aspects of French modernization after the war their ascendency bore some relation to U.S. economic intervention. To a certain extent the turn to this kind of study was funded and facilitated by the United States in a kind of Marshall Plan for intellectuals. A review of the literature makes a convincing case that the foremost American export of the period was not Coca-Cola or movies but the supremacy of the social sciences. { } A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1947 helped finance the founding of the VI section of the Ecole pratique des hautes etudes under the directorship of historian Lucien Febvre, who had seized the initiative from a rival group of sociologists headed by Georges Gurvitch. Home to Fransois Furet in the early 1960s, this institution would be central to the future of the social sciences in France: in 1962, when Febve’s successor Fernand Braudel gathered all the various research laboratories scattered around the Latin Quarter and housed them in a single building on the Boulevard Raspaid, the Maison des sciences de l‘homme, the Ford Foundation helped finance the operation.”

 

Kristin Ross (Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture)

Torkwase Dyson

Without belabouring this point, one needs to note that Ross herself is part of the counterrevolution — is a part of the anti-communist agenda launched directly after WW2. It is subtle, in a sense, but her critique is by clear implication anti-Marxist and anti-communist. Michael Barker wrote a piece at Counterpunch that touches on something perhaps even more to the point here. Discussing John Krige’s book American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe and the role of the Rockefeller Foundation in shaping post war French thought and science…

“…and the foundation were not simply interested in supporting good science and new directions in France. They wanted to use their financial leverage to steer French scientists along quite definite lines. Weaver in particular believed that the French were parochial and inward-looking. He wanted to transform them into outward-looking, “international” researchers, using techniques and tackling questions that were current above all in the United States. It was a vision inspired by the conviction that, without a radical remodeling of the French scientific community on American lines and the determined marginalization of Communist scientists in the field of biology, the country could never hope to play again a major role in the advancement of science.”

 

John Krige (ibid) { quoted by Michael Barker, Counterpunch 2017}

Jane Alexander

What seems more important here is that the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation very consciously worked to undermine any working class unity, both nationally and internationally. It also marked the beginning of ruling class purchases of media. And the consequent erasure of leftist voices in that same media. The apparatus was being intentionally shaped to discredit communism and the working class itself.

It is important to note the co-opting of French science. I say this because of the direction taken by the climate discourse today. There is a countless appeal to the authority of “science”. The idea that somehow, in this landscape created by the apparatus, science exists in a pure clear plastic bubble that is unaffected by the events of the world around it. Science is never simply science. And the positivist debate in Germany in the 60s is, at least symbolically, a pivotal moment in the critique of society — the defining of the word “society” and the (then) growing mystification of class, technology, and those loaded words “democracy” and “freedom”. The Frankfurt School critique of the Enlightenment, and especially in their critique of the Odyssey, remains stunningly relevant today.

One could spend some time untying the various and myriad knots of influence in philosophy that would give birth to an Agamben (Italian), who is close to fascist once one looks more closely. Or to publications such as Jacobin that are the step children of Rockefeller Foundation influence, or the Grand Mufti of post modern fascist thought, Slavoj Zizek. And the manufactured culture wars and media hype that give us the preposterous figure of a Jordan Peterson. Such things are not accidental. Nobody who suddenly appears in mainstream media, which is ruling class media, is there by accident. Nobody is there who is not vetted, as it were. Just as nobody becomes a well funded Presidential candidate without vetting, or becomes Pope.

Audrey Casalis

But back to life under the sign of the apparatus.

“Phenothiazines had first been synthesized in 1883 for use as chemical dyes, and Rhône-Poulenc’s scientists were trying to synthesize phenothiazines that were toxic to the microbes that caused malaria, African sleeping sickness, and worm-borne illnesses. Although that research didn’t pan out, they did discover in 1946 that one of their phenothiazines, promethazine, had antihistaminic properties, which suggested it “might have use in surgery. The body releases histamine in response to wounds, allergies, and a range of other conditions, and if this histaminic response is too strong, it can lead to a precipitous drop in blood pressure, which at the time occasionally proved fatal to surgical patients. In 1949, a thirty-five-year-old surgeon in the French Navy, Henri Laborit, gave promethazine to several of his patients at the Maritime Hospital at Bizerte in Tunisia, and he discovered that in addition to its antihistaminic properties, it induced a “euphoric quietude…. Patients are calm and somnolent, with a relaxed and detached expression.”

 

Robert Whitaker (ibid)

This marked the birth of today’s chemical warehousing. What the surgeon discovered subsequently was that promethazine disconnected different parts of the brain from each other. It also partially inhibited memory, and most importantly, the patient felt no anxiety. The patient was tranquil, slightly dim and slow to respond, but mostly content. Viola!! The potential was immediately apparent. One doctor at the time described it as a medicinal lobotomy. Clearly it would inhibit a good deal of mobilization, initiative, and impulses to organize. In a sense it was the indifference drug.

Reagan and Donald Trump, 1987.

I have written before, several times in fact, on the evolution of psychoanalysis and psychiatry once they crossed the Atlantic to the U.S. That psychiatry saw potential in Thorazine and soon after a host of other related drugs, is telling. This might, they thought, be useful for depressive patients. But think on that a moment. The very idea of a cure for depression is diabolical, and is something that might only make sense in the shadow of the apparatus.

Whitaker’s chapter on the history of schizophrenia is particularly good, and it is useful today because of the role eugenics played. That eugenics has never left the contemporary Imperialist mind set has to be pretty obvious by now, but the story of pharmacological treatment of mental “illness” is something from which it cannot be separated.

“According to the conventional wisdom, it was Thorazine that made it possible for people with schizophrenia to live in the community. But what we find is that the majority of people admitted for a first episode of schizophrenia during the late 1940s and early 1950s recovered to the point that within the first twelve months, they could return to the community. By the end of three years, that was true for 75 percent of the patients. Only a small percentage—20 percent or so—needed to be continuously hospitalized. Moreover, those returning to the community weren’t living in shelters and group homes, as facilities of that sort didn’t yet exist. They were not receiving federal disability payments, as the SSI and SSDI programs had yet to be established. Those discharged from hospitals were mostly returning to their families, and judging by the social recovery data, many were working. All in all, there was reason for people diagnosed with schizophrenia during that postwar period to be optimistic that they could get better and function fairly well in the community. It is also important to note that the arrival of Thorazine did not improve discharge rates in the 1950s for people[…]“get better and function fairly well in the community. It is also important to note that the arrival of Thorazine did not improve discharge rates in the 1950s for people newly diagnosed with schizophrenia, nor did its arrival trigger the release of chronic patients. { } “The discharge of chronic schizophrenia patients from state mental hospitals—and thus the beginning of deinstitutionalization—got under way in 1965 with the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid. In 1955, there were 267,000 schizophrenia patients in state and county mental hospitals, and eight years later, this number had barely budged. There were still 253,000 schizophrenics residing in the hospitals.9 But then the economics of caring for the mentally ill changed”

 

Robert Whitaker (ibid)

There was money to be made by keeping people sick, and keeping them in hospitals. That’s the short version but it pretty well sums things up. And this is to not even mention that defining schizophrenia is perhaps impossible.

So how do all these threads connect. Fascism, Imperialism, the anti communist ruling class reshaping of western culture and mental health and mental illness? I want to suggest that the shift seen in popular entertainment, mostly from Hollywood, is actually a sort of key to reading the apparatus.

“Judged overall, however, the current expansion of private therapeutic practices, although often framed within a non-medical or even anti-medical rationale, amounts to a trend very similar to that contained in privatised, fee-for-service medicine itself; it funnels money, skills and careers away from the severe and the chronic personal problems of the lower socio-economic orders (who cannot foot the bill or speak the language of the more affluent private sector) and into the less chronic, less severe but financially rewarding and culturally voguish difficulties of the well-heeled.”

 

Peter Sedgwick (ibid)

The shift in entertainment narratives to stuff like Sixteen Candles ushered in the post modern Rockwellian kitsch ethos. It was infantile, intentionally so, trivial and sentimental. It was also broadly applauded and reviews were almost unanimously positive. The flip side of this was The Terminator. Equally childish but more narrowly targeting a specific audience; young white (mostly) males. It got a good deal of white feminist (mainstream version) affirmation because of the ‘bad ass’ Linda Hamilton, but overall it was another cartoon, but one in which a great deal of money was spent. Unlike Sorcerer or Fitzcarraldo, this was studio product. Cameron is the anti-auteur. It was paint by the numbers calculation. But the point here is that the 80s saw the front wave, in diluted form, of the later and far more acute jingoism of the 2000s. Today there is almost not a single TV drama (sic) that is not overtly an advertisement for the military. But not only that. It’s something else, something more complex and illusive. The military advert aspect is even weirder than earlier versions of the same. It is now strangely infused with a sacrificial nihilism, a glamorous mutilation awaits.That the child of a Nazi policeman and a body builder was the star of Terminator only adds to the overall fabric of uncanniness here. All of these films, the studio work of the 80s (and TV) are representing an ersatz reality but one with almost hidden embedded elements. And these elements are almost the unintended uncanny, the spillage from the marketed message, an unconscious remnant from the half-life of capital.

Boris Kossoy, photography. (Brazil, 1970 State of Sao Paulo).

The films of the 80s were very markedly different than those of the 70s, or before. And perhaps this has to do with the absence of personality of the mise en scene. Look at Yates Bullit, from 68, or Friedkin’s French Connection (which now seems far better than it did upon release, though it looked good even then) from 72, or Don Siegal’s Dirty Harry from 71. The fingerprints of the director (or whoever the real author was …though usually the director) are inseparable from the overall experience. Friedkin was one of the most visibly suffering filmmakers of his era. Yates was a UK product dissecting American culture and style, and a style that contained an always latent violence, and Siegal as the mouthpiece for Eastwoodian fascism. But each was authored. The films of the 80s are not, largely, personal. By the 90s Hollywood stopped pretending films were anything other than the creation of robots.

The mass shootings that are so astoundingly common now feel increasingly like small media narratives that combine in their total exposure to feel as if meant for aesthetic appreciation. The number one cause of gun death in the U.S. is suicide. Mass shooting account for only ten percent or something, depending how you count. And mass shootings in public spaces account for even less. Most of these shooters are young and white (the curious case of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter and the one responsible for more deaths than any other was in his 60s) and a good many are on anti-depressants. The causality here is by necessity, I think, muddy. People with histories of violent fantasies and anti social behaviour tend to get prescribed medication. But I’m not sure that solves the question. One of the problems with such discussions is that of defining many of these terms. What does ‘doing better at work’ actually mean? Just as the U.S. government finds new euphemisms to describe invasion and occupation (humanitarian intervention, et al) the mental health industry seems to work to mystify the parameters of what success or failure mean in terms of treatment.

Ed Atkins

“Antidepressant drugs in depression might be beneficial in the short term, but worsen the progression of the disease in the long term, by increasing the biochemical vulnerability to depression…. Use of antidepressant drugs may propel the illness to a more malignant and treatment unresponsive course.”

 

Giovanni Fava (Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, quoted in Whitaker, ibid)

Anti depressants, antipsychotics and benzodiazepines all cause permanent changes to the brain. The longer they are used, the more acute the depression and psychosis when they are stopped. So, with all the available treatments today one has to ask why more people are diagnosed with depression?

Lives led in an ocean of propaganda, in a culture mired in screen habituation, with information streamed to the brain pretty much constantly, and with a growing economic precarity, the effects of a adumbrated narrative system, a system that is increasingly impersonal, childish, and artificial (see CGI as an example) the loss of a sense of humanness has reached a critical state.

Celso Brandao, photography.

“To many people the theory of alienation is still unfamiliar (Marx ironically also called it the ‘estrangement’ of labour). While our lack of control over work is arguably the most important social factor in the cause of human misery it is also the most potentially politically explosive and therefore suppressed. It is remarkable how, when financial worries are ranked the most common; and workplace stress is also very common and distressing; and that stressed parents are such an important factor in mediating fear and mental health problems in children; we hear so little of work as the cause of mental illness and distress but often hear of the concern of the effect of mental health problems on someone’s ability to work (it is possible even to view the choice of use of stimulating or sedating drugs as reflecting whether or not there is pressure on a person to go to work or not). Even though effects on ‘Social and occupational function’ are a defining feature of mental illness in official classifications, most discussion is on immediate social relations but very little if any thing is said about wider social, economic and political factors in causing mental illness.”

 

Peadar O’Grady (ibid)

Alienation today includes an alienation from meaning. It is said that when Confucius was asked what he would do if he were a governor, he responded “I would rectify the meaning of names”. This has been translated different ways but the point remains. In a society of severe insecurity, of mass surveillance and increasing privitazation of everything, the loss of meaning is the final piece of the puzzle for ruling class ownership of the planet. The transference of wealth is nearly complete now anyway. The 1% own most everything and now have near complete control of information and image circulation. One has to ponder if mental health is to be defined by adjustment to this system of what now resembles a new feudalism. The counterrevolution in culture began in earnest in the 1980s, and is now at a point where diminishing returns have set in for the owners of the apparatus. The inability to read even simple narrative has created an acute state of anxiety. But it also has not reached everyone. And one feels it is possible that resistance to the apparatus is increasing. That resistance is being disciplined, punished, and made invisible (when possible). But that resistance is beginning to be collective. The climate crisis is being commodified and co-opted and nature is being bought (as Cory Morningstar keeps pointing out). It is the final bastion of ruling class control and it has taken advantage of the latent desires for escape from the apparatus. Hence the cultic thinking and reflexive responses of a new class of true believer. And the selling of urgency, or emergency even, is being dispensed by the climate clergy. These are the new Vichy green *experts*. My final thought at the end of this decade is that anyone denying skepticism is to be distrusted and called out. To not distrust corporate media is suspect and a sign of one form or another of this cult like thought. The climb back to autonomy is not going to be easy or quick, but it is not impossible.

 

[John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He’s had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation.]

 

Connecting the Dots

Dissident Voice

December 20, 2019

 

“Connecting the Dots”

 

Capitalists are no more capable of self-sacrifice than a man is capable of lifting himself up by his own bootstraps.
— Vladimir Lenin1

Many on the left seem to have forgotten that capitalism is actually bad. That the reason the planet sinks under the weight of pollution and militarism is because of capitalism. Nothing that works within the capitalist system is going to save anyone and will only reinforce the existing problems and further the suffering of the poor and disenfranchised.

Now allow to me first start with a few observations on writers published by leftist sites, in this case Counterpunch, actually. Louis Proyect titles his piece as a question, “If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?” The answer is if TIME celebrates something, if corporate media celebrate someone or thing, the response should logically be INVESTIGATE and be suspicious. Which is what Cory Morningstar has done. But Proyect spends the entirety of his pointless article attacking Morningstar — go figure. He also lies. Morningstar does not attack Greta, she investigates the forces behind Greta. For a guy who wears his Marxism-like placard around his neck, you would think Proyect might grasp the distinction. Cory Morningstar is almost certainly the most important living journalist in the world (next to Assange perhaps).

And just by way of cursory correction, when Proyect writes, “Just two months ago, (Jamie) Margolin joined other young people in suing Democratic Governor Jay Inslee and the State of Washington over greenhouse-gas emissions. Inslee depicts himself as a liberal, environmentalist governor. If Margolin is a Trojan Horse like Thunberg, her choice of a target hardly sounds like she is trying to make it in corporate, Democratic Party, environmentalist circles,” what he fails to recognize is that Margolin is already in the Democratic Party inner circles and served as an intern for Hillary Clinton.

But the bigger problem is that Proyect seems on board with all the activities of Thunberg and her cohorts. Proyect quotes Morningstar:

Today’s climate emergency mobilization must be recognized for what it is: a strategically orchestrated campaign financed and managed by the world’s most powerful institutions – for the preservation of capitalism and global economic growth. This is the launch of a new growth industry in the Global South coupled with the creation of new and untapped markets.

And then writes:

Yeah, who cares about icebergs melting and the Great Coral Reef disappearing? The real problem is capitalism—as if the two phenomena were not related.

The entire point of Morningstar’s work is to bring attention to the fact that Capitalism IS related, not just related but the primary cause of planetary destruction. How does massive PR and billions of marketing stop the death of coral reefs? But again, class analysis is the issue (and perhaps an inability to read carefully). Thunberg has enlisted corporate billionaire backers (well, they enlisted her). That was the goal. If Proyect thinks the capitalists behind Thunberg are about to bring radical change and challenge the status quo, he is for a rude awakening. But then Proyect calls Off Guardian a conspiracy-minded site. Such provincial disdain is all too representative. But more on conspiracy theory below.

Allow me to link to Morningstar’s investigation of We Mean Business, a project that gets the Proyect stamp of approval (We Mean Business, not Morningstar).

I ask the reader to consider the facts. (hint: class analysis, the rich are not there to help anyone but themselves).

Then we have Kirkpatrick Sale and an article (“Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold”) that might well have been written by the state department. In this hideously distorted piece Mr Sale also lies. The biggest of his falsehoods is that Venezuela is a failed state. Uh… maybe he has a different definition. But what Sale is really doing is excusing and providing cover for the Imperialist west. Yemen is listed as failed but the reasons for its failures are not really made clear. Global Warming? The correct answer is a vicious, several year long attack by the Saudi monarchy and the US and UK militaries. A genocidal assault that has resulted in mass death and pestilence (180,000 NEW cases of cholera were just reported by WHO). But Mr Sale never mentions that. Not a peep about western militarism. Not a single word. Nor about the orchestrated illegal covert CIA assault against Venezuela, and more recently and successfully, against Bolivia. Imperialism is not touched upon, even once.

Mr Sale writes:

At the moment, there are no less than 65 countries are now fighting wars—there are only 193 countries recognized by the United Nations, so that’s a third of the world. These are wars with modern weapons, organized troops, and serious casualties—five of them, like Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, with 10,000 or more deaths a year, another 15 with more than 1,000 a year—all of them causing disruptions and disintegrations of all normal political and economic systems, leaving no attacked nation in a condition to protect and provide for its citizens.

But he never explains the role of the US in any of this. Who made the weapons used in these wars? Well, the answer is largely the US, but also Russia, China, Israel and Brazil. But the vast majority are from the US. Also Syria was targeted by the US for a coup (referred to in polite company as regime change, a term created by the marketing arm of the Pentagon). Assad has openly been a target of the US. Who created and funded ISIS, in fact? Answer is the US and Saudi Arabia. Not a word about that fact either.

Here is another quote from Sale:

These include seven completely failed states—Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Venezuela—and another seven that are on the edge—Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Chad, and the Sudan—plus 19 that are in an “alert” category, meaning that some but not all government functions have failed, 15 in Africa and 4 in Asia.

What do these nations have in common? They were targets of the Imperialist West (directly in the cases of Syria, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan, and Iraq — not to mention the non failed Venezuela, or indirectly in the neo-colonial plunder of Congo, AFR, Guinea, and Haiti). And, as I pointed out, Venezuela is not failed, nor even close to failed. It’s a perfectly functioning country under sanctions by the US. Another fact Sale omits.

Why is Libya not on that list? You know, Libya, where the US destroyed the African nation with the highest standard of living on the continent and reduced it to a slave market run by traffickers.

All in all Sale is either about room temperature IQ or just a liar or politically aligned with the State Department and Pentagon. I have no idea which but I do wonder why his tripe is appearing in a leftist site like Counterpunch. Proyect I understand, because he wears that placard announcing he is a leftist, and because he sort of is an editor at CP. Sale doesn’t and isn’t, so I really do wonder at why this reactionary non article is published by anyone this side of the CATO Institute?

But that brings me to the next point, which is the narcotic like effect that the entire Greta story has had on mostly middle aged white men. If you cannot but see the obvious stage-managed aspect of the Greta story, the marketing and image control involved, then you are blind or possibly caught up in the cult like thinking of much new green activism yourself. For one example, just look at the photo TIME used for its cover. Greta in an oversized sweater, sans make-up —how old does she look? 13, or 14 I’d say. Well, she is, in fact, 17. Her sister is 15 and looks much older and certainly clearly into puberty or even past it. Greta is being presented as the virgin symbol of purity. Now this will be called an attack on Greta — by Proyect anyway. But I am sure there are many others. It’s not. She is simply the actor in all this (though actors are responsible for their choices, too). For her troubles she gets yacht rides and great dining with world leaders. Why wouldn’t she sign on. But the rest of the phenomenon is, in fact, global capital usurping the green movements and activists globally. And the coup in Bolivia is against the indigenous peoples of that nation, many of whom are environmental activists as was President Morales. Which is why the smear campaign (by the same people who help manage Greta) was designed to undermine his environmental work. The biggest thing environmentally that Morales did was to throw out the US military.

But the white men of the West are channeling their disappointments (because capitalism disappoints, at the very least, nearly everyone but the top 3%) into something that resembles a fairy tale narrative of a guardian flock protector (the white guy narrator) defending the honour of blond pre-pubescent teenager (in volkisch pigtails and large sweater). Greta is the virgin queen of the environment. What happens when she gets a boyfriend? I’ll be curious to see. Will the white middle-aged flock protectors feel betrayed? Seems possible. As my friend Hiroyuki Hamada noted, the white male defense of Greta is a reflection of patriarchy and that disappointments today are felt more acutely because they are more flagrant and there are fewer mitigating salves than in the past.

The point here is that why would any socialist or communist sign on to anything supported by the Royal Families of Europe, by global billionaires, and why can’t they see that photo ops with Obama and the Pope are not just accidental. Nobody ever granted Berta Caraces a photo shoot in Vogue. A genuine activist today is at risk of death by the rising tide (rising fast) of fascism. Look at the heroic defense of Bolivia by the indigenous peoples of that nation. So many of whom have fought off western mining interests. And the same in Brazil where today there is a wholesale war on the indigenous. Or the vast western mining interests in Africa, and the forced displacement of entire villages to accommodate those interests — enforced by western security forces.

Much of the climate consensus seems aligned with the ruling class in a fear of a black and Asian planet, and one that is fuelled by the spectre of eugenics (making the world safe for white people). And lest you think that at all hyperbole, just spend some time investigating the activities of the Gates Foundation. It’s curious to me why so many liberals froth in admiration of Gates.

Jimmy Wu writes:

Yet capitalism’s reach extends much further than its economic effects; it also shapes our ideology and how we perceive our place in the world. Modern-day capitalism, with its unshakable faith in deregulated markets, privatization of the public sphere, and austerity budgets, has of course contributed to our financial misery, leading to mass hopelessness and anxiety. But far from being confined to economic policy, contemporary capitalism (often called “neoliberalism”) also embodies a philosophical belief that self-interest and competition, not cooperation, should pervade every aspect of our lives. In short, our world is shaped in the image of the market. For those in distress, Margaret Thatcher’s oft-cited mantra, “There is no such thing as society,” sends the most disturbing possible message: You’re on your own.2

This is the psychology of advanced capitalism. And Hollywood and mass media drive home in obsessively repetitious fashion that message of individualism. Of a ruthless individualism. In the recent V Wars (vampire wars) on Netflix, a doctor struggles valiantly throughout the first season looking for a cure. He fails. His only son abducted. In the last scene we see him, presumably months later, doing chin ups, his rock hard abs and bulging biceps glistening with sweat. He turns to face the camera and slings an AK 47 over his shoulder. He stares at camera; he is ready for season two. And the message is, don’t be a panty waist doctor, they get nothing done. Be a violent sociopathic vigilante.

Richard Slotkin in Gunfighter Nation wrote: “1890, the moment when the landed frontier of the United States was officially declared ‘closed’, the moment when ‘frontier’ became primarily a term of ideological rather than geographical location.”

That remains the principle shaper of consciousness in the US today.

Joe Jones

Now one might ask why so many on the left view the Climate discourse without any class analysis. Do you not think that if Prince Charles is supporting a cause that one might be suspicious? I mean would he betray HIS class? Not fucking likely. Would Pierre Omidyar? Would Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, or Bill Gates?? The answer is no, of course not, and yet I see people lining up to sign on board projects that are endorsed by millionaires and royals. Why? Well, because, partly, of what Jimmy Wu wrote. And I will add another quote from Wu’s piece:

The psychological toll of this market-extremist thinking is ubiquitous and measurable. A long line of social science research has shown that unemployed people are much more likely to become depressed; after all, under the reigning ideology, our self-worth is measured by our economic output. Moreover, since the market is (we are told) a level playing field, with no single actor appearing as the obvious coordinator, those who happen to be losers in this global scramble ostensibly have no one to blame but themselves.2

The same logic applies to those throwing Maduro or Morales under the bus. Or for that matter Assad. Look, if you are a leader targeted by the US there must be a reason. And that reason is independence from the global neoliberal system — and independence is not allowed. Ask the people of Iran or the DPRK or Cuba. Ask Gaddafi. The US does not do things for moral reasons. They are not motivated by ethics or morality.

The rise of fascism is also a reflection of the same conditions that spawned the ‘Greta Defender’ symptomatology.

Fascism is attractive to those who fear being identified as losers. Fascism provides a sense of belonging, of unity and purpose. American democracy does not. The ideological frontier that Slotkin noted is what defines the consciousness of most Americans, certainly white Americans. That rugged individualism that Hollywood continues to spew forth in cop shows and spy shows and lawyer shows and even doctor shows is one that is not real. There is no space, materially or psychologically, for Daniel Boone today. Most of the empty spaces of western America are owned by the federal government.

Most land overall is owned by billionaires. Sixty-one percent of the surface land of America is privately owned. And most of that is empty. The government owns around thirty percent. The working class owns nothing, essentially.

Blacks (13% of the population) own under 1% as of 2016.

But over the past decade, the nation’s wealthiest private landowners have been laying claim to ever-larger tracts of the countryside, according to data compiled by the Land Report, a magazine about land ownership in America. In 2007, according to the Land Report, the nation’s 100 largest private landowners owned a combined 27 million acres of land — equivalent to the area of Maine and New Hampshire combined.
A decade later, the 100 largest landowners have holdings of 40.2 million acres, an increase of nearly 50 percent. Their holdings are equivalent in area to the entirety of New England, minus Vermont.3

80% of the people live on 3% of the land.

Ted Turner owns over 2 million acres. John Malone over 2 million. Stan Kroenke owns over a million-and-a-half acres. The Hadley family, the Galt family, the Lee family…these are the owners of America’s land. Or Anne Marion who owns the 260,000 acre Four Sixes ranch in Texas. Or the Collier family, or the Barta family in Nebraska. All own close to a million acres of land. There are essentially 75 families, maybe a few more, that own the vast majority of land in the U.S. Jeff Bezos owns half a million acres in Texas. The Irving family owns a huge percentage of Maine, or the Reeds, who own vast swaths of northern California and Oregon.

You and I own shit. We are the new serfs in the feudalism of advanced capital. So why defend those who represent the ruling class?

The racial disparity in rural land ownership has deep historical roots based not just in chattel slavery, but in the post-slavery period as well. After emancipation, black farmers tended to be tenants of wealthy white landowners working for sub-poverty wages and doing mostly subsistence farming. Average land ownership for black farmers peaked in 1910, according to the Agriculture Census, with about 16 to 19 acres. In contrast, black farmers owned just 1.5 million acres of arable land in 1997.

In many cases, the land African Americans lost over the 20th century was expropriated in one form or another and not sold freely. In the 2007 documentary, Banished, filmmaker Marco Williams describes numerous examples of white mobs forcing out African-American farmers and taking their land. This outright stealing, intimidation, and violence had a devastating impact on black wealth ownership.4

Just as white America feared black ownership of, well, anything, the white ruling class capitalists today fear the potential for a black planet. America has military bases in all the countries of Africa save one. France and Germany and the US continue to recolonize Africa. And now, the US is directing renewed attention to Latin America where they fear indigenous power and socialist movements.

The international financial institutions, all of them situated in Europe or the US, are the contemporary expression of colonialism, essentially. They discipline and punish the dark skinned peoples of Africa, South and Central America, and many Pacific Islands. And in many cases, too, those countries which were formally part of the Soviet Union.

If you want to grasp the work of Cory Morningstar, this is not a bad place to start for now.

One cannot separate climate change from imperialism. You cannot separate climate change from militarism. If change is going to try to correct global warming, or limit its impact (which honestly nobody knows) then one must learn to read how marketing works. One must question anything applauded by the Royal families of Europe, or by billionaires in general. Those billionaires will not betray their class, rest assured. The billionaires and corporate interests behind Greta Thunberg are not looking to help the poor and working class; they are looking for massive land grabs and further raids on pensions, social security, and what’s left of working class and socialist movements. Maybe Proyect can connect the dots between the coup in Bolivia, the opposition in Venezuela (that failed state per Sale) and the big money orchestrating the Thunberg phenomenon. The ruling class stick together.

Conspiracy theory used to be reserved for invisible helicopters and such, now it’s simply any class analysis. Anytime someone points out who is funding a project there are cries of conspiracy theory.

Why would any rational person look at the Greta phenomenon and not grasp that it is manufactured? There is a lot of money behind this girl. But the non-profit industrial complex, the UN, the World Bank and IMF — they don’t do things altruistically. Capitalism is investment, not virtue. Capitalism created the crisis, it won’t solve it. Greta also retweeted the now sort of infamous Minh Ngo tweet that was part of the smear campaign against Morales. She is linked and backed, additionally, by Purpose and Avaaz — both of whom are connected to US foreign policy in South America. But Morningstar has the details here.

She also endorses and tweets support for Hong Kong colour revolution leader Joshua Wong (yet another US asset). She is, as Club de Cordeliers put it (on twitter), ‘the ruling class poster girl’. And this is not even to get into her comments about holding disobedient leaders up against the wall. The infantilism of the western public is well prepared for child leaders. This is a canny gambit by the marketing apparatus and by all indications (and articles like Proyect’s) it is working to perfection.

Greta is not anti-capitalist. She may say a few things that suggest, vaguely, an anti-capitalist sensibility, but the reality (which is what Morningstar provides) is that she works for big money, corporations and FOR capitalism.

You know when Greta gave her last speech in the US — at the UN, in fact — (where she flubbed her lines, saying creative PR and clever accounting. It was meant to be creative accounting and clever PR, but learning lines is tough) she sailed back to Europe. The captain had been flown in to sail the yacht on its return voyage. The whole thing is so ludicrous and idiotic that one really does wonder if the West is not in some trance state. The inability to read marketing as marketing is at this point inexcusable in someone self identifying as a leftist. The system sails along, like a billionaire’s yacht, increasing profit at the expense of the everyone not of the top 2 or 3%. Greta is a manufactured distraction, and all those protests that her campaign managed to generate are not to help stop war and exploitation. They are pretty much as meaningless as choosing to drive a Prius.

I will end with a quote from Cory Morningstar (from social media):

You are about to get slammed by 2 globally orchestrated campaigns 1. #GlobalGreenNewDeal 2. #NewDealForNature & People
And when I say slammed – I mean slammed. Like a hammer over your head. Another campaign to assist both is #SuperYear2020.
Goal: obtaining the social license required to re-boot / save the failing global capitalist economy. To usher in a new unprecedented era of growth. The monetization of nature, global in scale (new/ emerging markets)(see past posts). That is, the corporate capture of nature. Those with money – will literally buy nature.

The pitch: The ruling class, corporations, capital finance – all those that have happily destroyed the planet in pursuit of relentless profit have learned their lesson.They have magically changed. Those that destroyed the biosphere will now save it. And save you. All they need is your consent. Forget that capitalism devours everything in its path. They can work around this inconvenient truth. But it’s going to take everyone. There are no class divisions, we are all in this “together”. Yesterday’s capitalists are today’s activists. Accept. Join hands.

  1. “Letters from Afar,”  March/April 1917.
  2. Jimmy Wu, “Capitalism is Dangerous for your Mental Health”, Medium, 2019.
  3. Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post, 2017.
  4. Antonio Moore,  Inequality org.
[John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He’s had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation.]
Listen: Highways of Hegemony: Reading Act VI of Cory Morningstar’s Series on Green Capitalism

Listen: Highways of Hegemony: Reading Act VI of Cory Morningstar’s Series on Green Capitalism

Ghion Journal

November 4, 2019

By Stephen Boni

 

 

Over the course of six lengthy pieces of investigative journalism, Canadian activist and writer Cory Morningstar forces us into a recognition of how deep social engineering efforts can go, how patient they are—and how effective they can be.

After recording a reading of this final piece of Morningstar’s Volume One, her penetrating gaze into the nonprofit industrial complex (and the huge amounts of capital that sit behind it), I went back and listened to it several times, in part just to see what jumped out.

While listening for the second time, a small snippet grabbed me. At one juncture in the piece, which takes a look at how a variety of interlocking pieces of a manufactured climate movement were assembled over 10 years ago, she mentions briefly how the upper level managers of major NGOs essentially share the same values and priorities of the wealthy government bureaucrats and financiers they work with to advance their organizations.

Essentially, they are all fellow travelers on a “highway of hegemony”, a choice phrase Morningstar drops in the piece.

After taking this aspect of her article in and ruminating on it for a minute, my mind drifted to two things:

  1. Matt Taibbi’s recently published book “Hate, Inc.”, in which he explores the change in the class background of many journalists from a blue-collar orientation to a haute-bourgeoisie orientation—which, as a matter of course, impacts the way the corporate news media covers (or omits) the concerns of everyday citizens and aligns with the concerns of the well-to-do.

And

  1. The frequently embedded video of Noam Chomsky deconstructing the authority subservience of a BBC reporter to his face.

It makes absolute sense to me that this is where my mind went, because woven throughout Morningstar’s series is that, while so much of the patient drive to rescue the current faltering economic system through the financialization of nature is determined by the ideology of finance capital, this imperative is deeply connected to an expression of class.

Whether it’s Al Gore or Ingmar Rentzhog (head of advocacy NGO ‘We Don’t Have Time’) or Jennifer Morgan (head of environmental NGO Greenpeace) or Jean-Claude Junker (head of the European Commission), their respective nationalities, areas of expertise, and even genuine concern for the future of people and planet are not so divergent as to overcome their shared class interest—an interest that leads them to apply a set of market and money-based solutions to a problem that eclipses by many magnitudes, the pursuit of wealth.

Before I go on too long, here’s the reading:

The other place my mind went while re-listening to Morningstar’s piece, is how deeply implicated a colonial mentality is in all of this. Because, all these market-base solutions, whether they be green energy or land use or “natural capital investment vehicles”, will hinge on the expropriation of resources—particularly those that sit in developing nations where the majority of citizens are poor and not white—by elites in powerful, semi post-industrial nations.

All we have to do to understand this fusion of class and ethnicity (race is a construct, but ethnicity at least is real) is to look at what’s been happening in Bolivia over the past few weeks. Coup leaders are generally ethnically different from the indigenous citizenry empowered by socialist leader Evo Morales. They are largely light-skinned descendants of previous western colonialists, just as opposition leaders in Venezuela happen to be. And they’re not only “ethnically” angry about indigenous emancipation, but about how the natural resources of Bolivia under Morales have been used for social uplift rather than profit (their profit of course).

If the coup holds, we will in all likelihood see the expropriation of Bolivia’s massive expanses of lithium for the West’s various “Green New Deals” and the seizing of Bolivia’s natural gas to feed the West’s unending hunger for energy to fuel markets to fuel energy to fuel markets to fuel mansions to fuel private jets to fuel power.

Class, markets, profit, material wealth, ethnic supremacy, colonialism. It really is all one thing and that is why, as Morningstar underlines, the omission of imperialism, militarism and capitalism from the concerns of these environmental NGOs and their partners, is so telling.

In the words of rapper Ice-T: “Ain’t a damn thing changed”.

That is, unless we start supporting a completely different kind of environmentalism.

As always, thanks for reading and listening.

No Class

No Class

Dissident Voice

October 4, 2019

By John Steppling

 

 

 

 

In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.

 

— Mao, On Practice, 1937

 

That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence.

 

— Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, March 6, 2007

 

I think that most of the confusion in this respect has been the product of a failure to develop a class analysis of these changes. From a class perspective, it is clear that what we are seeing is the growth of various movements in the fascist genre (whether prefascism, protofascism, classical fascism, postfascism, neofascism, neoliberal fascism, ur-fascism, peripheral fascism, white supremacism, or national populism—you can take your pick). Fascist-type movements share certain definite class-based characteristics or tendencies. Although it is common in liberal discourse to approach such movements at the level of appearance, in terms of their ideological characteristics, such an idealist methodology only throws a veil over the underlying reality.

 

— John Bellamy Foster, Interview, Monthly Review, September 2019

 

The purveyors of free-market global capitalism believe that they have a right to plunder the remaining natural resources of this planet as they choose. Anyone who challenges their agenda is to be subjected to whatever misrepresentation and calumny that serves the free market corporate agenda.

 

— Michael Parenti, Interview with Jason Miller, 2016

 

When environmentalism unfolds within a system of heightened inequality and inadequate democratization, it does so unequally and autocratically. The result is not a “saved” climate, but rather enhanced revenue streams for corporations.

 

— Maximillian Forte, Climate Propaganda for Corporate Profit: Bell Canada

 

John Bellamy Foster noted that it was a lack of class analysis that has stifled left discourse over the last twenty years. And I have noted that when one does engage in class analysis the first response, very often, is to be called a conspiracy theorist. Now, this is largely because any class dissection will tend to unearth connections that have been hidden, consciously, by Capital — that those hidden forces and histories are experienced by the liberal left and faux left as somehow impossible. Class analysis means that the non-marxist liberal left is going to be faced with the malevolence of the ruling class, and in the U.S. certainly, the ruling class tends to be adored, secretly or otherwise, by the bourgeoisie.

When the U.S.S.R. dissolved the West intensified its propaganda onslaught immediately. And a good part of this propaganda was focused on the denial of class. On the right, the FOX News right, “class warfare” became a term of derision and also humour. And among liberal and educated bourgeoisie the avoidance of class was the result of a focus on, and validations of, rights for marginalized groups — even if that meant inventing new groups on occasion. Class was conspicuously missing in most identity rights discourse.

And the climate discourse, which was suddenly visible in mainstream media early 2000s, there was almost never a mention of class. Hence the new appropriation of that discourse by open racist eugenicists like “Sir” David Attenborough, and billionaire investors and publishers. Even by royalty. By 2015 or so there was what Denis Rancourt called the institutionalisation of a climate ethos. I have even seen of late self-identified leftists suggesting the “Greta” phenomenon was the working class finding its voice. (No, I’m not making that up). I have also seen many leftists — many of whom I have known for years — simply hysterical around the subject of this teenager. Her greatest appeal is to middle aged white men. I have no real explanation for that. But then these same men quote, often, everyone from Guy McPherson (who I think needs a padded cell, frankly) to Bill McKibben — an apologist for militarism and wealth… here ….

Gosh kids, let’s rely on big Wall Street money.  That’s a gall darn good idea. What an unctuous fuck he is.

The Attenborough and Greta (and Jane Goodall) video was absent content, really. Terms like *tipping points* were used several times but not identified. And they were not identified because they don’t have to be. This is the near religious end of the climate spectrum. I hear people angrily denounce someone as a “denier”. This is the tone reserved for all apostates. For heretics.

Now before continuing I find it very interesting that those predicting the most dire effects of climate change, those who say we’re dead in twenty years or thirty — they are still publishing books, still marketing those books. It’s still a business. I guess I might expect climate Sadhus to appear — naked mendicants, covered in dirt and dried mud, hair matted, living off alms. Or like preachers standing on the street corner, a sort of eco Asa Hawks, Bible in hand (or climate bible in hand) offering spiritual solace to the multitude. But instead we get TED talks and more rather expensive books.

I want to make clear, the planet is getting warmer. It’s already happening. To say otherwise is irrational. That does not mean there are not many questions left answered, and increasingly undiscussed. Nor that alarmism isn’t in full swing (fear and sex pretty much form the basis of all advertising). There is very little serious adult debate about what must be accounted the most serious subject, or one of two most serious subjects, in contemporary life. The other would be the global rise of fascism. And neither of these topics is given a serious public discussion. The entertainment apparatus is, at this point, ill-equipped to handle anything serious.

I do not consider the side show carnival of Greta and the Prince of Monaco, Arnold and Barack, and eugenicist scum like David Attenborough (as an Brit friend of mine referred to him, “that old racist tosspot”) as serious. The Green New Deal is western Capital laying claim to a new market. And Attenborough and Goodall both are members of the anti immigration (Malthusian) group Population Matters. This has been exhaustively catalogued by Cory Morningstar, but then she is now being smeared as a “conspiracy theorist”. And this is, again, because class figures rather prominently in her writings.

This reminds me of my Wall Street days, I mean all the new markets, the high yield markets, different convertible markets — this is how they all start.

 

— Mark Tercek, CEO, The Nature Conservancy, 2015.

Now, the bourgeoisie is perfectly happy to let the ruling class lead and be the decision makers. It is startling, really, how indigenous activists from the global south are so conspicuously missing in all this. So invisible in media. And to complain of this means one is met with just a myriad of apologetics about Greta and this carnival. And the paternalism that demands nobody ‘beat up’ on the teenager. There was never such outrage at criticism of Rachel Corrie. And amid all the young girl propaganda props (Nayirah al-?aba?, Bana Alabed, Park Yeon-mi, et al) the only constant is that PR firms are doing a lot of business. But the new investment in Green technology (sic) will really only result in — as it always does — a further growth in unemployed labor and an uptick in low end minimum wage service work. This is straight out of Capital, the general law of capitalist accumulation.

But if a surplus labouring popUlation is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus-population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.

 

— Karl Marx, Capital. Volume I: The Process of Production of Capital, September 14, 1867

And it is not even that, really. The ruling class set in motion an environmental program sometime around the year 2000. But the Rockefeller group, remember, founded the Club of Rome in 1968. The aim was to plan for resource depletion and limits to growth. It had a decided eugenicist bent. They issued a report in 1991, and formed a think tank in 2001. Among the members are Al Gore, Maurice Strong, The Dalai Lama, and Robert Muller of all people. And dozens more including Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, George Soros, and Bill Clinton. You get the idea.

The point is that the current explosion of climate awareness is brought to you, at least partly, by the captains of western capital. And it is very white and very worried about birth rates in dark skinned countries. So the question becomes, in the midst of a real crises of pollution, and a warming planet, what and who is one to believe and where is one to turn? My first response is NOT to the people who helped create the problem in the first place.

In fact, class itself is something of a verboten word. In the mainstream media, in political life, and in academia, the use of the term “class” has long been frowned upon. You make your listeners uneasy (“Is the speaker a Marxist?”). If you talk about class exploitation and class inequity, you will likely not get far in your journalism career or in political life or in academia (especially in fields like political science and economics).

So instead of working class, we hear of “working families” or “blue collar” and “white collar employees”. Instead of lower class we hear of “inner city poor” and “low-income elderly.” Instead of the capitalist owning class, we hear of the “more affluent” or the “upper quintile’.

 

— Michael Parenti, “Class Warfare Indeed”, Common Dreams, 2011

There is a new religious tenor to climate discussions. And it reflects (among other things) a reductive world view. Global issues and forces and global relations on both a macro and micro level are being simplified. The template resembles a cartoon more than anything else. ‘Our demise is immanent’ is something I have read or heard at least a dozen times. People are enjoying the coming apocalypse. If they really believed that the end is nigh, they would be behaving very differently. But for many on the left the decades of marginalization has left them emotionally raw and psychologically battered. It’s so seductive to just give in to the coming apocalypse. And additionally there is a clear pleasure to be found in taking on the role of excommunicating climate Angel — come to smite the deniers with the sword of eco-piety.

Still, there are genuine and committed ecologists and activists working on preserving nature and protecting the wild. Many are from indigenous peoples in South America, Central America, Asia and Africa. They are all but invisible in mainstream media. And increasingly they are being murdered. (See Berta Caceres). One hundred and sixty four activists were murdered last year, with thirty in the Philippines alone. Twenty-six in Colombia. None of this is front page news. Why? Why is a blond teenager now nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (usually reserved for war criminals) meeting with Obama and the Pope while the defenders of Nature in poor countries remain nameless and anonymous? The answer is because white people care about white people. And because Western capital sees those poor countries as places to exploit, burden with debt, and de-populate. The ruling elite, including those backing the Extinction Rebellion and Green New Deal, are on the side of those who murdered Caceres. Look at big mining in the global south, enormously polluting, destructive of land and community and people. A just very cursory glance at who runs this mega mining concerns is illuminating. Who sits on the board of Newmont Goldcorp, for example. While based in Colorado, its primary mining operations are in Ghana, Suriname, and Peru. Well, one is Gregory H. Boyce, who also sits on the board of directors for Monsanto and Marathon Oil. Or Rene Meldori, former executive director for DeBeers. Or take the infamous Barrick Gold, on whose advisory board sits Newt Gingrich, former secretary of defense William Cohen, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg former German defense minister, and Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada. But it’s better than that…here is a bit of background from Jeff St. Clair… and here is more.

Or what about Rio Tinto, where Jean-Sébastien Jacques holds an advisory position, after leaving Tata Steel (TISCO) in India. Just surf the web and read the bios. There is a deep connection with big oil, with coal, and with nearly every other massively polluting industrial enterprise around the world. Teck is another huge mining company. It is based in Canada. I suggest reading the first article on this page….

The concern over water scarcity does not breed environmental strategies for reduction, only new ways to extract and plunder during the coming scarcity. For that is the logic of all capitalism.  There is an enormous land grab going on in Africa, for example.

When the fog that fascism creates in all countries clears away, behind it one sees an all-too-familiar figure. This character is, of course, neither marvellous nor mysterious, he brings no new religion and certainly no golden age. He comes neither from the ranks of the youth nor from the mass of the petty bourgeoisie, even if he is an expert at deceiving both these groups. He is the counter-revolutionary capitalist, the born enemy of all class-conscious workers. Fascism is nothing but a modern form of the bourgeois capitalist counter-revolution wearing a popular mask.

 

— Arthur Rosenberg, Fascism as Mass Movement, 1934

And here

Those billionaire donors are not subsidizing Amazonian tribes fighting for their own survival and the survival of the rain forest. They are not subsidizing activists in the Philippines or in Africa. And they are never once mentioning the U.S. military and its role in despoiling the planet. (just look at AFRICOM, which saw an exponential growth in bases and troops under Obama). But here — two links for general perusal — and here.

(Hat tip to Jacob Levich for some of this).

The land grab is going to be enforced is the message here. These donors are investing. And alongside their investment runs the spectre of global fascism. Read these links and then consider if a state of emergency is not in the works. Of course, the bourgeoisie, the white bourgeoisie, are begging for such an emergency. The climate fear and its cultish response amid the liberal and leftish is resulting in a willingness, even a desire for, their own servitude. This is where someone is going to say, oh, conspiracy theory. But is it? Read those links. Consider the unthinking reflexive adoration of Greta and the kids. And then consider the history of capitalism, of neo-liberalism. Consider just the history over the last thirty years. Greta is not anti-capitalist. She has carefully never said capitalism is a system destroying the planet.

There is a critical pollution of land and water globally. Not just plastics, but Depleted Uranium and all the waste of military and digital technology. And from pesticides and various other industrial and agricultural chemicals. How many participants in any of the climate meetings were without brand new smart phones? I don’t believe in our extinction. I do believe life is going to change, and to mitigate the suffering that comes from that change one must reject the advice of billionaires and celebrities. Change must stop being spearheaded by WHITE privilege and the western white ruling class.

Pollution is the most urgent crises I believe. Pollution from mining of ores, and rare earth minerals (leaving pollutants such as chromium, asbestos, arsenic, and cadmium) is on a scale hard to even imagine. Or the recycling of lead-based batteries, an under the radar but massive industry that pollutes with lead oxide and sulphuric acid. Tanneries have always been an infernal and accursed industry, and pollute with chromium and soda ash, as well as large amounts of solid waste, all of which is usually contaminated with chromium. Lead smelting, which is centered in the poorest countries and which releases iron, limestone, pyrite and zinc. This is not even to touch on pesticides, or the dye industry. And then we come to the military. In particular the U.S. military. The levels of pollution are nearly Biblical in dimension and scale.

Producing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined, the U.S. Department of Defense has left its toxic legacy throughout the world in the form of depleted uranium, oil, jet fuel, pesticides, defoliants like Agent Orange and lead, among others. In 2014, the former head of the Pentagon’s environmental program told Newsweek that her office has to contend with 39,000 contaminated areas spread across 19 million acres just in the U.S. alone. U.S. military bases, both domestic and foreign, consistently rank among some of the most polluted places in the world, as perchlorate and other components of jet and rocket fuel contaminate sources of drinking water, aquifers and soil. Hundreds of military bases can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of Superfund sites, which qualify for clean-up grants from the government. Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or sites that otherwise support military needs, not counting the military bases themselves.

 

— Whitney Webb, Eco Watch, May 2017

Contemporary capitalism is coercive at every level. The privilege of white westerners is stunningly absent from all critiques I see relating to climate change. David Attenborough has a far larger carbon footprint (to the power of ten) than a Somali sheep herder. And yet that herder is being subtly cast as a threat to global survival. The new focus on global warming (and the de-emphasizing of pollution) is the real threat to survival. For the new green capitalists the intention is to further plunder. The new corporate Green raiders want to privatize nature.

Across the world, ‘green grabbing’ – the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends – is an emerging process of deep and growing significance. The vigorous debate on ‘land grabbing’ already highlights instances where ‘green’ credentials are called upon to justify appropriations of land for food or fuel – as where large tracts of land are acquired not just for ‘more efficient farming’ or ‘food security’, but also to ‘alleviate pressure on forests’. In other cases, however, environmental green agendas are the core drivers and goals of grabs – whether linked to biodiversity conservation, biocarbon sequestration, biofuels, ecosystem services, ecotourism or ‘offsets’ related to any and all of these. In some cases these involve the wholesale alienation of land, and in others the restructuring of rules and authority in the access, use and management of resources that may have profoundly alienating effects. Green grabbing builds on well-known histories of colonial and neo-colonial resource alienation in the name of the environment – whether for parks, forest reserves or to halt assumed destructive local practices.

 

— James Fairhead, Melissa Leach & Ian Scoones, “Green Grabbing: a new appropriation of nature?”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2012

 

When is a contract ‘voluntary’? The answer is, probably never.

 

— Jairus Banaji, Theory as History, March 22, 2010

There will never be environmentally friendly Capitalism. That is like creating de-hydrated water. The ruling class exists, it’s not a conspiracy theory. They operate as a class, too. They share the same values, the same sensibility and in Europe and North America they are white. They act in accordance with their interests, which are very largely identical. The failure to understand this is the single greatest problem and defect in left discourse today.

In terms of relevance to the indigenous nations often referred to as the Fourth World, the rollouts from the COP21 gathering of UN member states, Wall Street-funded NGOs, and the global financial elite resemble colonial initiatives undertaken as a result of similar 19th Century gatherings to carve up the world for capitalism. Then, as now, indigenous territories and resources were targeted for expropriation through coercion, with Africa being a prime target.

 

— Jay Taber, Heart of Darkness, SI2, 2017

 

The Global Witness report said much of the persecution of land and environmental defenders is being driven by demand for the land and raw materials needed for products that consumers utilise every day, from food to mobile phones and jewelry. Also recording a high number of environment and land-related fatalities were Colombia with 24 deaths, India with 23, and Brazil at 20. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, a boom in private and foreign investment has seen large swaths of land handed out to plantation, mining and hydropower companies, ushering in a wave of forced and violent evictions, particularly in indigenous areas, the report said. This has stirred fears of a return to the large-scale violence the country suffered 30 years ago. The report said Guatemala saw the sharpest increase in the percentage of murders with a five-fold rise. At least 16 people defending their land and the environment were killed there in 2018.

 

— Al Jazeera, 2019

In the Philippines nine farmers were murdered, likely ordered by the landowners of the sugar cane plantations. Not much has changed since colonialism. Global Witness notes that mining is the industry which has caused or ordered the most killings of indigenous activists. In Africa, in particular, mining corporations hire expensive private security firms (American, Israeli, or British) to keep the local population outside of not just the mine, but the area *around* the outside of the mine. Acacia Mining (a subsidiary of Barrick Gold) is notorious for beatings and rape, and for contamination from the massive mine at North Mara, Tanzania.

Here is a report from The Guardian‘s Jonathan Watts from this year…

The nearest general hospital in Tarime was treating five to eight cases of gunshot wounds from the mine every week from around 2010 to 2014, according to Dr Mark Nega, a former district medical officer. “I saw so many people shot and killed. Some had gunshot wounds in the back. I think they were trying to run away but they were shot from behind.” Such killings were initially played down or denied. Journalists who tried to investigate found themselves harassed by police, or believed their stories had been spiked following pressure from state authorities.

 

After pressure from activists and lawyers, Acacia acknowledged 32 “trespasser-related” fatalities between 2014 and 2017. Of these, six died in confrontations with police at the mine.

 

International watchdog groups say at least 22 were killings by guards and police during the same period. Tanzanian opposition politicians have claimed 300 people have been killed since 1999.

 

For such a high number of violations to have occurred outside a conflict zone in a business context is shocking and exceptional,” said Anneke van Woudenberg, the executive director of Raid, a UK corporate watchdog.

Class analysis is not conspiracy theory. Full stop. Class exists and is part of the hierarchical system of global capitalism. The so labeled *Climate Change* crisis — as it exists on the level of Green New Deal or Extinction Rebellion — has very little to do with protecting Nature. Global warming is a fact that humanity will have to adjust to and learn to live with. So much of the rhetoric and identifications that exist in the Greta narrative are driven by a subterranean belief in technology to fix any problem. Global warming can’t be fixed. And there are enormous difficulties for the entire global population, really. Nature and planetary life move slowly, normally. It is western narcissism that demands things happen NOW. The planet is warming and the consequences will require big change. Critical change that must take place, especially regards pesticides and contaminated land. And changes in packaging, which means in many respect changes in how we eat. The incursion of technology into nearly every waking moment of the daily life of the Westerner has conditioned a populace, one that doesn’t read, to see the acceleration of everything as natural. But it’s not. Nature doesn’t care about us. But humanity will have to care about Nature. And capitalism is not compatible with the direction those changes and care must take. Risking the direction for needed change by allowing capital investments to chart the course is a very dangerous idea.

War is always partly a war on Nature. But as I have said before, equality is the real green. The United States has erased the voice of the working class and the poor. But it is exactly those voices that have to be heard. The techno/scientific clergy are of a class, too. The bourgeois academic and researcher are stamped by their class just as much as everyone else. I think that should be remembered.

Class analysis!

 

 

[John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He’s had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John.]

A New Volkisch Mythos

A New Volkisch Mythos

Counterpunch

May 23, 2019

By John Steppling

A New Volkisch Mythos

 

 

Greta is able to see what other people cannot see.  She can see carbon dioxide with the naked eye. She sees how it flows out of chimneys and and changes the atmosphere in a landfill.

— Malena Ernman, Scenes from the heart. Our life for the climate (mother of Greta Thunberg),May 3, 2019 

 

If you want to be more ecologically minded, good for you. But don’t be under the bizarre American illusion that your individual action is a substitute for collective action, for systemic change.

— Umair Haque, Medium, May 2019

 

“Capitalism is in danger of falling apart.”

– Al Gore

 

A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this?

— Phillip K. Dick, Man in the High Castle, January 24, 2012

 

There is a clear problem with most environmental discussions or debates. The problem is, in short form, a lack of class analysis.

This is most evident in the manufacturing of the overpopulation argument. But it is prevalent in nearly all discussions about global warming or rising sea levels or most anything relating to planetary ecology, really.

What is bothersome here is that the voices I am hearing warning of mankind’s immanent demise are mostly ruling class voices.

Richard Leakey says:

I am increasingly convinced that in the tropics, and particularly in the poorer nations, protecting nature everywhere is an effort with diminishing returns. I believe that protected areas (that is areas of land set aside by governments and governed by national statutes) such as national parks and national forests are the best targets if nature is to be protected.

So give up on the poor, can’t save them.

And Leakey goes on:

Whilst state-owned wildlife land, designated as national parks, is vital, in some countries private land may also be secured by state laws that allow for private ownership of title. Thus an individual can use such land for wildlife and nature protection for the duration of the term of the title and this can be equally as secure as a national park.

Okay, so create spaces for the rich to be safe from the restive natives.

And finally Leakey writes:

Not all countries have constitutional provision for private ownership of land, and instead occupancy and land use are regulated by lease hold. In respect to conservation, this is certainly a better option than group-owned or community-owned land where in time wildlife could be untenable given governance arrangements on community-owned assets.

As a general trend what I am hearing is the validation of what amounts to royalist wisdom and the dangers of community control of anything. The message is ‘we can’t risk it, the danger is so extreme that the practical solution is to allow the elite class to control the planet in order to save it.’ The elites and/or corporate control. All the so-called New Green Deal solutions are there, it seems, to save capitalism before saving the planet.

Now, one of the curious contradictions in the climate discourse is the selective trust in certain institutions. The western based (and funded) NGOs have a pretty long track record now of craven support for U.S. government foreign policy decisions. Take Amnesty International’s (AI) recent comments on Venezuela.

Chuck Kauffman from Alliance for Global Justice observed vis a vis AI’s near fascistic litany of lies: “They don’t seem to even care about their credibility anymore.” The open naked Imperialist aggression against Venezuela, and the attendant propaganda slandering Maduro, is now a staple of all the candidates for the Democratic Party. And, Amnesty is also co founder of Global Campaign for Climate Action…a group that also receives monies from the Pew trust, the creepy AVAAZ, the World Wildlife Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists. Now, just a quick word on the UCS. On the board sits William K. Reilly, former appointee by George Bush to head the environmental protection agency. There are also members that sit on the Council for Foreign Relations, a nuclear scientist who writes on security issues, a lawyer for the US Dept. of Energy.

And yet, many people rightly concerned about global pollution and over industrialization seem to have no problem accepting the word of these same western backed NGOs when it comes to issues of ecology. They know Amnesty lies, but if the topic is climate change, they leap onboard. Clive Splash (He currently holds the Chair of Public Policy and Governance at Vienna University of Economics and Business, appointed in 2010. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal Environmental Values) writes:

The existing institutions of modern economies are those supporting economic growth. The growth priority has been made clear by the over 3500 economists supporting a climate tax and opposing structural change. Similarly, Lord Stern is the academic figure head of the New Climate Economy, a concept created by members of the Davos elite, with its ‘Better Growth, Better Climate’ reports. Their explicitly stated concern is that: “In the long term, if climate change is not tackled, growth itself will be at risk.” Change is coming and the corporations and billionaires are fully aware of this. They have been actively lobbying on climate and environment since Johannesburg (Earth Summit 2002) and were a dominant force at Paris. They have also long been seeking to control the environmental movement for their own ends.

Again, we hear that echo of the ruling class (Lord ….LORD Stern?!) and the anti communist agenda at work here. Leave it to the elite class, the captains of Capital, to decide policy. And the first order of business is to save capitalism and that means to save growth. The poor are there to be slaves, not to decide policy. What one sees in Extinction Rebellion and in the Greta Thunberg brand is described pithily by Clive Splash…”When hegemonic power is threatened it captures the movement leaders and neutralises them by bringing them into the power circles and takes the initiative away from radical revolutionary change.”

One of the refrains I have heard (and have had directed at me) is, well, we can’t wait for socialism. This is a natural response from a very frightened populace. And it is exactly this response that the ruling class counts on. The infiltration of radical movements has a long sordid history. Ask the Black Panthers. Today the very real threats and dangers of global warming and over-industrialization are being funneled into places that shift the blame from the ruling two or three percent and onto its victims. This is, of course, exactly what the overpopulation alarm does. I see headlines such as *Humans Plunder the Planet* but not *Ruling Class Plundering Humanity AND the Planet*. I see books such as Climategeddon — amusingly penned by a former author of diet self help books and…wait for it….a high ranking Scientologist. But I have had people quote Wollersheim to me. Next stop the Sea Org.

More trenchant was this week’s bit of Imperialist green concern from war friendly candidate Elizabeth Warren, who expressed worry that global warming might effect the readiness of America’s military. (death of irony moment?) On twitter Club de Cordeliers noted…

Under Warren’s proposal, each murdered child will be stamped with the slogan: This Killing Achieved with Net Zero Carbon Emissions.

That the U.S. military is the greatest consumer of petroleum products worldwide seems beside the point. Or, let’s return briefly to Greta Thunberg — who can probably just be referred to as *Greta* these days without risk of confusion. She held up a cute homemade sign for a selfie …tweeting it to jillions of followers. The sign read ‘Let Russia Strike for Climate’. Apparently the *Greta* is getting good advice from Hillary Clinton or Bolton or Elliot Abrams, someone — who knows. She is certainly to be considered *NATO friendly* at this point. The visibility that Elizabeth Warren commands, and that which Greta commands now, too, is an indication that one should be highly credulous. The giant electronic telecom giants and the mainstream electronic media, social media, TV, all of it is in the hands of a relatively few people. These narratives, all of them, are vetted for ideological compliance with corporatism, Imperialism, and a de-facto racism or better put, white supremacy. Visibility is earned, and it’s not arbitrary. And if a *Greta* suddenly appears, rest assured she has handlers. I mean, it’s simply a given, and there are no exceptions.

So there are several problems looming that tangentially connect to overpopulation alarms. One of them is a recolonizing of Africa (and the recolonizing of former communist countries continues apace, as well). But here Africa, in particular, is viewed as a huge resource for raw materials sought after in the West. The re-colonizing takes several forms but here is a typical example.

As Cory Morningstar observed vis a vis this …“Can you imagine @WWF promoting the sterilization of women living around national parks in Europe or the US? The fact they consider it acceptable in India and Africa is racism, pure and simple.”

The white west (and Bill and Melinda Gates leading the charge) are rather unapologetically determined to stop the global south from reproducing. Sterilization and vasectomy suggestions (voluntary, of course) are to be found in countless U.N. sponsored (and USAID sponsored) pamphlets and directives for missions in Africa.

The new alarmist propaganda tends toward sensationalizing what are a few basic truths, sometimes half truths, and building a sort of screenplay to a disaster movie out of these. The influence of Hollywood apocalyptic film and TV cannot be over-emphasized, actually. For those films are both unconscious projections of the ruling class, and the audience embrace of this stuff speaks to unconscious fears as well. The elite producers of this crap fear the marauding masses (zombies) and the bourgeois audience fear black sites and Bloody Gina’s reprisals if they stray too far off message (like voting for a third party). A good deal of the new environmental panic is not based on the actual (and I hasten to emphasize real) problems and crises, but are more the conditioned response from audiences trained for thirty years, at least, to kitsch media entertainments. People see life unfold like an action movie. Sea levels can’t just rise and destroy infrastructure and crops, wash away beach front property, no, they have to completely submerge Baltimore, Oslo, and London. The sum effect of this is actually to have the real and severe problems in retreat.

Watch Madonna’s Eurovision performance (in Israel where she was never not going to perform), with lyrics like “not everyone is coming to the future, not everyone is gonna last.”

There is now coming out of Hollywood a near endless stream of dystopian ‘end of times’ films, which (as I have noted before) are reconstruction fables as well. But now the end of times includes the rehabilitation of Big Brother. The state emerges as a sort of necessary mechanism for culling the herd. Madonna was also sporting blond plaited hair and an eye patch. So maybe it’s just me but this new volkish imagery is growing and being used in ways that familiarize the public with fascist motifs.

Thus, when we are talking about “völkisch” or “Überfremdung,” we are automatically producing images that are inevitably linked to a fascist past. “Überfremdung” describes the fear of being flooded with foreigners, a foreign infiltration. The Duden dictionary explained the term in 1934 as “the intrusion of alien races.” ( ) What is concerning about these “poor words” in the first place is the imagery inherent to them, one that conveys fascism without speaking it. Such words are racist in establishing a hierarchy of ethnicity and, in that way, they have the potential to createm or exacerbate, false divisions between and within societies. The word “völkisch” creates a sense of belonging, an imaginal feature to help distinguish between the in-group and the out-group. The word “Überfremdung” works similarly by implying that there is an abundance of strangers invading the ‘German race.’ What seems to have changed, however, is the definition of the out-group or the enemy. Promoted by PEGIDA and the AfD, the new threat are Muslim immigrants and the idea of the “Islamization” of the Western culture. Thus, this becomes a powerful example for the political myth of the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

— Alexa Lenz, Public Seminar, July 14, 2017

 

The ideological road to National Socialism was paved not by Nietzschean self-awareness and self-overcoming, but by völkisch self-congratulation.

Roderick Stackelberg, Idealism Debased: From Volkisch Ideology to National Socialism, March 1, 1981

The first volley in the reclamation of volkish language was Bush’s use of the word “Homeland” when he created a new security service. Quite a few people noticed the connection to the German word Heimat. The far right parties in Europe now appropriate a good deal of Nazi symbology, while the even more virulent racism of a Macron (or Sarkozy) is ignored. PEGIDA and the AfD, in Germany, are really pretty much openly using Nazi rhetoric and symbol (both of which are technically against the law).

Cassirer (1973) analyzed three potential techniques that enabled the myth of Nazism: the magical use of words, the use of rituals and, finally, the recourse to prophecy. Nazi politicians managed to charge words with feelings and violent passions, therefore transforming their semantic meaning to convey magical imagery.

—Alexa Lenz, (Ibid.)

I will only add here, as a sort of thought experiment, that one compare the TIME magazine cover of Greta, with the photos in, what Remco Ensel, in an excellent monograph on the Dutch “Heimat” portrait photography called *Dutch Face-ism”, an expression of Völkisch Nationalism circa WW2 and tell me there is no equivalence. (or the VICE lead photo, or even Greta’s facebook portrait).

Now I know there are many people who will perceive this as an attack on Greta. It’s not. I am certain this young woman has almost zero awareness of any of the implications of her exploitation. And remember, too, that one of the most common rhetorical tactics of fascist apologetics (pretending to be liberal) is to re-state your argument incorrectly and then to respond to their manufactured distortion. It’s a version of straw man arguing. Couple this with the convenient appellation *denier*. If you say, wait, there were no rape camps in Serbia. You are immediately labeled a denier. It matters not at all that you would be correct in saying this. The corporate ruling class take-over of many green movements has a sum effect of reducing rights. For that is the logic of fascism. Remove rights but create space for the self expression of resentments. Property rights will remain untouched.

The opportunistic proprietor class capitalist sees enormous profit in Green endeavours now. Just as Mike Pompeo sees melting arctic ice as an “opportunity”. Never underestimate the capacity for brutish insensitivity in the lower functioning humanoids that serve as representatives of the ruling elite. It is bottomless, in fact. Bolton, Pompeo, Abrams, Kushner, Biden…this is the Troglodyte political class.

Brian Davey wrote about Thunberg, vis a vis her appearance in Katowice at a climate gathering:

What’s more it is richest 5% of the planet that consume 50% of planetary carbon – so the very people who are promoting this campaign must cut back the most. Instead they want to expand the economy. But how is this to be made compatible with reducing carbon emissions?

 

It isn’t – but a careful looks at the language of nature financialisation refers to carbon neutrality, not zero carbon. This is “convenient language when one of the main pillars of the business model is the sale of carbon offsets – rationalizing a continuance of the same carbon based lifestyle by constructing a faux fantasy one, that anyone with monetary wealth, can buy into.

— Brian Davey, Credo; Economic Beliefs in a World in Crises, January 2015

This is a bit like buying indulgences in the Medieval Catholic Church. So perhaps what is needed is a Martin Luther of environmentalism.

The ruling class and its marketing apparatus recognized early on that Green language would serve as cover while they re-tooled their industries. Green took on those magical connotations. Cut to Greta’s mother explaining that her daughter was *different*; i.e. magical. She could *see* carbon dioxide. Trust me there will be green Angels, soon, helping further carbon neutrality.

But there is another issue cutting across much of this, and that is a strange new war on children (and on motherhood in the global south, and black mothers in the U.S.). Although *new* is the wrong word. Whether by design of just as a natural tendency in the residual Puritans of America, the media message has been of late to normalize cruelty to children. From tearing babies from the arms of immigrant mothers and dropping them into cages, or the arrest of suspension of due process in Israeli arrests of children and youth, to the spike in jail time for minors across the U.S. In the 1990s, incarceration of minors rose 311 %.

Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults { } Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities and face increased risk of suicide.

—Equal Justice Initative, Children in Prison 2018

The rates for youth have declined slightly over the last few years but mostly due to teenagers aging out of the statistics. That ANY child was ever tried as an adult is all by itself a horror. In the U.S. infants born to black mothers die at twice the rate of those born to white mothers. Poverty is the obvious first reason, but structural racism…the stress of increased contact with the criminal justice system also undermines the health of the newborn.

67 percent of black women who are incarcerated are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. So the majority of black women and girls are not incarcerated for violent offenses…( ) There’s a large percentage of women who are single mothers. I’m fortunate to have a significant other that supports me and supported me when I was behind the walls. But most women don’t have that. So they’re forced to take care of their children alone. And so when you’re forced to take care of your children alone, you don’t have the type of credentials that you need in order to access a job that’s a livable wage. And that’s the type of wages that you can take your family on vacations, and enroll your kids in extracurricular activities, you tend to find some non-traditional ways to make money.”“67 percent of black women who are incarcerated are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. So the majority of black women and girls are not incarcerated for violent offenses…( ) There’s a large percentage of women who are single mothers. I’m fortunate to have a significant other that supports me and supported me when I was behind the walls. But most women don’t have that. So they’re forced to take care of their children alone. And so when you’re forced to take care of your children alone, you don’t have the type of credentials that you need in order to access a job that’s a livable wage. And that’s the type of wages that you can take your family on vacations, and enroll your kids in extracurricular activities, you tend to find some non-traditional ways to make money.

— Nicole Hanson, Rattling the Bars, Real News Network

 

Neglect is often considered to be a failure, on the part of a caretaker, to provide adequate supervision, emotional nurturance, appropriate medical care, food, clothing, and shelter for a child. This definition also aligns with a definition of poverty, where poverty is considered to be inadequate food, shelter, and clothing.

— Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014

Child neglect is then, almost by definition, synonymous with poverty. Those damn poor people just can’t take care of their kids. And yet they breed so much, ya know? Maybe it wouldn’t be such a darn bad thing if we clipped the men…know what I’m saying, Earl?

In fact, one of the side bar implications in Melinda Gates programs is to strongly associate pregnancy with disease (not for rich white people, of course). And the overpopulation argument feeds in this directly.

There is not enough space to even scratch the surface here to list the inequalities operative in racial hierarchies in the U.S. What is important here to start to recognize the codes at work. Walter Benjamin famously said that “The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.” But more importantly, at the end of that same essay (Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) he added…

Its (mankind) self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.

Capitalism has abandoned humanity. A shamefully neglected infrastructure has exacerbated the effects of global warming. The loss of jobs, mostly to robots, engenders confusion and anxiety, but also deep resentment. And we are well past the time when anyone thinks robots provide superior service. The need to keep escalating conflict, both at home with a militarized and racist police apparatus, and abroad via a gargantuan military whose size defies all rational comprehension. The suffering inflicted on the world by the U.S. and its proxies (Saudi Arabia, Israel primarily) is so enormous that it is hard to grasp it in its totality. And this confusion breeds reaction. The confusion seems not, however, to breed questioning.

When capitalism reaches its point of diminishing return, it deliberately creates a crisis or an appearance of a crisis in order to stage a ritual of a rebirth. The crisis is designed to corner everyone to rely on the capitalist framework for survival. This functions to divide people into two groups: a group which sees through the mechanism and a group that insists on solving the “crisis” no matter how (meaning solving it according to the acceptable ways). The establishment destroys the anti-capitalist momentum while co-opting dissident voices, giving them credentials, awards, positions in the hierarchy. The process eliminates enemies while augmenting the capitalist hierarchy.

— Hiroyuki Hamada (in conversation with me)

The real problems of ocean acidification, plastic pollution of those same seas, and the endless over production of certain crops that destroy land and poison pollinating insects, these problems are simply the result of needless and pointless industrial growth, a growth that has no rational need driving it. Hunger exists in a world of surplus food. The engine is maximizing profit. And why do so many people seem to just reflexively trust *science*? Trust without even a cursory check on who funds the study, or the institution. And the manufacture of fear is a staple of the ruling class. Fear of germs (from Asia or Africa, of course), or asteroids, or the ignoring of obvious testing failures which goes back to thalidomide. That and the very imperfect world of statistical analysis (see Harvard and Yale sociologists circa 1986 and the spinster’s beware warning) etc. The point is only that while it is clear global warming and pollution present enormous challenges, ones that may change the way nearly everyone on the planet lives, there is also clarity that a crises in Capitalism is forcing an increasing propaganda machine to validate the class hierarchies, and which is rehabilitating the most obscene thinking of the colonial and Victorian era. People are being indoctrinated to experience domination as salutary. Junk science abounds everywhere (facial recognition anyone? blood splatter?) but when it comes to climate and Green issues the bourgeois populace simply does not want to hear it. Which leads me to the idea of a cultic group think going on. And maybe this is tied into the acute narcissism of the boomers. Because just anecdotally my experience is that they WANT disaster. It provides self importance. They demand action and responsibility, but the most dire warnings are received with a barely suppressed pleasure.

The liberal white American today cannot tolerate the world going on around them with people they have been trained to see as inferior. Fear of the dark skinned global south (I mean Melinda Gates actually has a brochure in one of her projects to teach African women how to hold their baby, because I guess, you know, that’s something they clearly don’t know about), they fear the numbers, they fear fecundity (something that has dropped precipitously in the advanced West), they fear being in close proximity to the poor, the ‘other’ (migration), and they fear exposing their children to this ‘threat’, most of all. Consider that there is a huge movement on the right to ban abortion. And yet, largely, these same people are thrilled with Bill and Melinda Gates work to stop African reproduction. So it’s clearly not too many people, it’s just too many black people.

The new Volkish body politic is conflating global warming and the poor.

…the “longing for myth” reflected the pervasive experience of “dislocation and disorientation” precipitated by industrialization, revolution, and the dissolution of community values in the abstract conception of secular society, compounded by the fragmentation of German society “along confessional, social, and territorial lines”; the splintering of traditional social and cultural bonds gave rise to the desire for an “aesthetic-religious imagery” that would “unite modern society just as Greek mythology had supposedly once united the polis.

— Nicholas Huzsvai (honors thesis, unpublished)

Over two million people languish in nightmarish prisons in the U.S. Most for non violent crimes. And today the target is increasingly children and women of colour. But people respond with arguments of distraction, just as they are narcotized by screen distractions. The children not targeted for jail are given anti depressants.

And Gabor Mate has written (following Robert Bly) that fathers and mothers both today work twice as long and with less security and for less money than they did three generations ago.

Quite the opposite is true now. Far from being helped, working women are actively penalized if they wish to extend the time they are at home caring for their children. For men, it is not even considered reasonable to think of “interrupting” their careers in order to share in that process. Society does little to establish expert and compassionate day care for those children during whose early years the parent(s), for one reason or another, cannot avoid the necessity of working outside the home. Poor women, especially in the U.S., are economically terrorized by the welfare system into entrusting their infants to appallingly inadequate care situations, and then must spend hours daily traveling to low-paying jobs that barely allow their families a subsistence income.

— Gabor Maté, Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder,

Leading to what Bly called “the rage of the unparented”. This is America, then, today. Children are targeted by law enforcement — think of the use of gang injunctions, prop 21 in California — which, again, allowed for minors to be sentenced as adults. California has, in fact, been the leading laboratory for terrorizing youth.

The collateral consequences of an adult conviction are severe. An adult criminal conviction stays on a youth’s permanent record, which can prevent him or her from voting, securing housing, getting financial aid or public benefits, and finding a job. Further, the juvenile justice system is intended to be rehabilitative, whereas the adult criminal system is not. Youth tried in adult court lose the opportunity to access many of treatment and rehabilitative options available in the juvenile system.

— National Center for Youth Law

Poor women, and particularly black and latino women, have been zeroed in on by the justice system and now are the fastest growing segment of the carceral state. Their children are warehoused, usually chemically warehoused if they prove in the least disruptive. But this only mirrors in much harsher way the white children of the affluent. For even the petit bourgeois youth is afflicted by a culture of screen addicted distractions and coercive infantile propaganda and entertainments. And they are likely the children of parents who were also distracted and anxious. And the parents of those parents. Three or four generations now who have not been provided with any sense of community.

A quick glance at the statistics: Children 0 to 5 years, over 600,000 are on one of the following: ADHD medication, anti depressants, anti psychotics, and anti anxiety drugs. But if you look at kids 6 to 17, there are SEVEN MILLION being medicated. I was told by a friend that in the run up to the millennium, in a gallup poll, that a majority of people welcomed an apocalypse of some kind — and the reason given was a belief that nothing was going to get better. They were expecting only worse to come. And, of course, they were largely correct.

Hollywood has been normalizing a mix of the sadistic and the sexual for going on fifty years, only now the spectre of Big Brother looms over everything, and this is presented as a virtue. There is in this new mythos forming around end-times thinking, an erotic representation of duty to power, and it elicits a kind of frisson. Fascism is now being updated, and it serves up a menu of catastrophe and individualism. Daily life is a combination of drudgery, tedium, meaningless work, and insecurity. And parents are weary of their neurotic complaining children. In sum I think people in the West no longer dream Utopian.

 

[John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He’s had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John, or visit John’s website.]