Date Night

During our date, N and I didn’t manage to order any food for almost an hour because we were so deep in conversation we were forgetting to read the menu.

At the very end of the 4-hour date, I discovered that N has no idea what a MAGA hat is. He never heard the expression and had no idea such things existed. I had to explain the difference between a MAGA hat and a Cardinals cap that also happens to be red.

Book Notes: The Neoliberal Paradox

The negatives of Ray Kiely’s The Neoliberal Paradox (2018) are:

– endless signposting. There is a ton of buildup where the author promises to announce something earth-shattering at some future point (but not before he reiterates everything he already said five times). But the big revelation always turns out to be something quite trivial.

– too much quoting. It’s great that Kiely collected absolutely anything anybody ever said about neoliberalism. But there is almost none of author’s own text in the book. It’s just quotes connected by signposting.

– a ridiculous amount of repetition.

– Kiely knows he needs to talk about the Third World if he wants to discuss neoliberalism. He knows it and he says so. But he finds anything but the UK and the US deathly boring, so he always ends up saying “to understand how this works in underdeveloped countries, it’s important first to discuss the UK.” After 120 pages of the minutest detail on the UK, though, everything else is forgotten.

– the author tries to make an argument that British Brexiteers are more neoliberal than the Remainers. And that Bernie Sanders is less neoliberal than any other politician because “he’s unlikely” to use market principles in governance. Which is a childish argument.

And now for the big reveal. What is the neoliberal paradox that Kiely promises to unveil to the world at the end of 300+ very repetitive pages?

Ready for it?

Really ready for it?

OK, here goes.

The paradox is that neoliberals decry government yet they also need it to advance their preferred policies.

Yeah. Not exactly earth-shatteringly new information but yes, whatever. This point has only been made a million times before, so why not make it again.

Neoliberal Progressivism

A few hours after Sen. Kamala Harris of California challenged former Vice President Joe Biden on his civil rights record, her presidential campaign seized the moment to sell “That Girl Was Me” T-shirts.

God, how pathetic. Not only is her “I’m a victim of racism” spiel a total lie but she’d trying to profit off it. This was all planned in advance to make money.

I dread the moment when some extremely white person (because who else?) at work will show up in this shirt and I’ll have to keep a straight face.

More Book Notes: Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty

The second book I read today is Max Manwaring’s Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty. It’s much shorter than Capitalism in the Web of Life but almost took me longer to read because I was annotating a lot and looking up the sources he quotes.

It’s a very good book. Manwaring looks at gangs in Central America, Mexico, Jamaica and Brazil and analyses the ways in which they destroy state sovereignty in their search for profit. Gangs, Manwaring says, function almost like Fortune 500 companies. They are very protean in their structure and operations and they are as hostile to nation-states as these companies.

There is a lot of useful material in the book and I can’t quote it all but here is one interesting thing I do have time to share. As we know, MS-13 was formed in California by children of Salvadoran immigrants. In the 1990s, the US decided to deport the incarcerated gangsters. So the MS-13 members got sent back to El Salvador.

The really shitty thing, though, is that the US never informed the Salvadoran authorities whom it was sending back. There’s a difference between, “hey, here are some illegals we picked up and are deporting” and “these are members of a highly effective and extremely deadly organization and this is what we know about how it operates.” The Salvadoran police, which was already very bad at controlling actual criminals as opposed to torturing dissidents, had no idea what it was dealing with.

It took over a decade for the US authorities to start informing El Salvador (and other countries) of the criminal history of the deportees.

And it’s a vicious circle, folks. The maras became strong in El Salvador, making more peaceful people want to leave and come here. The gangs have now become fully transnational, benefiting from the constant moving around of people. So they ramp up the pressure to make more people leave. Etc.

I have not yet found a confirmation on why the US concealed this information about the deported gangsters. I’m waiting for some sources from the ILL. I mean, I have an idea but I want to see the sources first.

Now I’m done working for the day and I’m off to get existentially stunted (according to some folks) by taking my kid out to play.

Book Notes: Capitalism in the Web of Life

Jason Moore is an environmental historian who published Capitalism in the Web of Life in 2015.

He argues that capitalism is undergoing a massive, epochal and irreversible crisis because it can no longer exploit nature like it used to because natural resources have been too depleted to provide for a sufficiently rapid and cheap exploitation.

It’s a cute book but it suffers from the very problem the author spends hundreds of pages denouncing, namely, a narrow definition of nature. Moore starts by pointing out – very usefully and astutely – that human beings and the social relations we produce are nature. But he fails to make the leap towards understanding that human nature and the social relations among humans are the natural resource that today’s capitalism is appropriating to extract enormous surplus value.

Moore talks convincingly about capitalism’s reliance on free labor but somehow fails to notice that the digital revolution creates unparalleled resources of free labor to be exploited. He’d gain a lot from reading Surveillance Capitalism because Shoshana Zuboff is a lot more consistent in her development of Moore’s idea that human nature is nature than Moore is.

As I said, the book was published in 2015 and it’s already quite outdated. It’s a shame because it’s a good book, very well-written but it really misses the mark because the epochal crisis Moore anticipates has already been obviated. Yes, there are no more unexploited landmasses or indigenous populations. But as Zuboff brilliantly demonstrates, the colonial-era dispossession is booming again. The only difference – and the reason it’s so hard to notice – is that, like many of the features of today’s capitalism, it’s being internalized, i.e. moved inside human beings.

I do not believe that one can successfully write about the environment and it’s relationship with capitalism without talking about this process of internalization.

Mindfulness and Its Critics

The only thing dumber than “mindfulness” is this article about it:

But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live.

I can just imagine the author, a professor of management at SF State, running around, engaging in radical revolutionary action to change our unjust society. He must be one of those Twitter warriors who believe they are changing the world by retweeting inanities.

Just one more quote so you can appreciate the pomposity:

Of course, reductions in stress and increases in personal happiness and wellbeing are much easier to sell than serious questions about injustice, inequity and environmental devastation. The latter involve a challenge to the social order, while the former play directly to mindfulness’s priorities – sharpening people’s focus, improving their performance at work and in exams, and even promising better sex lives.

I swear, the poor guy is convinced he’s “challenging the social order” with his “serious questions about inequity.” Whatever any of this means.

Mindfulness is totally a silly fad, that’s true. Just like the attempts to make oneself feel more important by using words “activism” and “radical” every three seconds. The fans of mindfulness are a lot less grandiose and self-righteous, though, so between this fellow and a mindfulness practitioner, I’d choose the latter to hang around.

The Daughter of Revolutionaries, Part III

Laurence is a passable writer and she is completely devoid of the pomposity and pretentiousness that characterize her parents. In the book, she tries to justify them as much as possible but the descriptions of how the rich revolutionary snowflakes tried to raise their daughter are genuinely funny.

For instance, when Laurence was 10, her father solemnly announced that she had to choose her political identification. To help her make a choice, he sent her to a Cuban young pioneer camp for a month and then to a US summer camp for another month. The goal was to let her see the contrast between the Cuban idealism and the US materialism and become a sincere communist. When the girl came back and evinced zero admiration for Cuban socialism, the poor Dad was stumped. What he considered a surefire method to make Laurence despise the US backfired and actually produced the opposite result.

Laurence just happened to be as materialistic as humanly possible, and once she grew up, she chose a career in banking (on Wall Street, of all places) that permitted her to buy everything she wanted. She’s a ton smarter than both her parents, though. For instance, her analysis of the situation in today’s Venezuela is very profound.

There will always be people who are so sated with their life of privilege that they will act out like Régis Debray and Elizabeth Burgos – or the Oberlin snowflakes who almost ruined a bakery – did. But they always get their due in the end because their children tend to despise them. The narcissism that leads these bratty revolutionaries to persecute bakers or indigenous peasants ends up mutilating their own children. And the children won’t buy into their self-serving lies about the commons good as easily as everybody else.

The Daughter of Revolutionaries, Part II

Debray spent a lifetime trying to bring happiness to Latin America. Of course, he also despised everything Hispanic, especially the language. He was hysterically opposed to his daughter learning to speak Spanish, which was her mother’s language. It’s very common among revolutionaries to despise the very people they try to help. And hate the people who help them.

De Gaulle’s pleadings had no effect on Bolivians but when the US told them to let Debray go, they had to listen. In return, Debray spent the rest of his life hating the US to the point where he didn’t allow his daughter to have anything US-made in the house.

You can already imagine, I’m sure, what kind of father he made to poor Laurence. But hey, as bad as this fellow sounds, Laurence’s mother, Elizabeth Burgos, was worse. She’s that crazy lady who created the whole Rigoberta Menchú hoax*. After reading her daughter’s book, I finally understood why. She’s a Latin American woman whose French husband refused to live with her, paid no child support, and wrote endless books detailing exactly how much and how joyfully he cheated on her. To a Latin American woman, this is an absolute personal end of the world. (Not the cheating specifically, but the whole setup).

* Or embellished and exaggerated, whatever. She treated Guatemalan indigenous peasants exactly like her husband had treated their Bolivian counterparts twenty years earlier: like empty vessels that she needed to fill with her superior knowledge.

The Daughter of Revolutionaries, Part I

I just finished the book titled The Daughter of Revolutionaries by Laurence Debray. She’s the daughter of Régis Debray, a French guy who was arrested in Bolivia in the 1960s for hanging out with Che Guevara during his final attempt to organize a revolution among the indigenous peasants. The indigenous peasants gladly handed Che over to the military to be killed, and after reading this book it’s crystal clear why. This Debray fellow is annoying as fuck, and the indigenous peasants must have been horrified to see such individuals try to teach them what’s right.

Régis Debray is one of those revolutionaries who come from extremely rich and well-connected families. Which is actually the only kind of sincere revolutionaries that exist. When he was arrested in Bolivia, his mommy started writing letters to the Pope and General de Gaulle, demanding they force Bolivians to release her baby. Of course, de Gaulle couldn’t refuse. In the meantime, the mommy traveled all the way to Bolivia and made the entire French diplomatic service run circles around her and her incarcerated son to make sure she could send him foie gras in jail. Bolivian jail. Foie gras. Yeah, they are those kind of people.