More on Manwaring’s Book

One thing I forgot to mention about Manwaring’s book is this crucial point he makes:

The only way to fight these gangs and cartels successfully is to stop thinking about them as criminal gangs and to understand that these are transnational business organizations that are destroying state sovereignty. It’s been 30 years, parts of Mexico and Central America are turning into feudal enclaves where state authorities have no access, masses of people are being displaced, and the traditional crime-fighting techniques are not working.

There is currently a lot of politically motivated minimization of the maras’ impact but Manwaring wrote his book in 2007, and even back then it was already clear that the Northern Triangle and Mexico are headed in the direction of becoming failed states. We need to abandon the childish “if Trump says maras are dangerous, they must be innocent like daisies in the field” and look at reality. The gangs aren’t about fashion statements or “controlling the halls of a single high school.” These are terrifying organizations and calling them animals is a lot less racist and harmful than minimizing what they do with ridiculous chatter about fashion and school hallways.

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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.

The Profit Cycle

The idea that every second you spend outside of the profit-generating cycle is a total waste is possessing people to such a degree that they don’t even question it. There’s nothing wrong with profits or with work and I’m a great fan of both. But this whole “if I don’t generate profit at every moment, I don’t exist” is frankly creepy. It doesn’t bring happiness. It makes people exhausted, burned out, anxious, and lonely.

A Good Imbalance

Gratitude is a brand of benevolent sexism, a force that repels change. To offer thanks for whatever contributions men happen to make reinforces the implicit idea that parenting is women’s work, that 65/35 is a very fine place to stop. For too long, women have paid for this imbalance with their well-being—financially, emotionally, existentially. Only once gratitude is relinquished for righteous anger will gender rules in this realm be rewritten. Then we can land somewhere different: not grateful, only glad.

I’ve got to wonder if this person has children and if so, how she feels about them. I’m one of those extremely fortunate people who love, love, love their job. But taking Klara to the library or the swimming pool, sitting in the grass and having a conversation with her – while N is at work – is enriching me existentially and emotionally in an unparalleled way. It’s not a burden, it’s a privilege to take time away from working to do these things with her.

I absolutely spend more time than N with our child. His commute alone is cutting into his family time. But he also has longer work hours. To feel angry about this – I honestly don’t get it. I believe that I definitely got the better part of the deal here by virtue of being a woman. Klara is still only three and she wants me more. Later she’ll need the dad more, and N is literally counting days until that happens. Because as much as he loves his job, it’s not as existentially fulfilling as being around Klara. He took her to the splash pad on Sunday and says he felt almost completely at peace (which never happens to him) seeing how much fun she was having.

Again, I’m so into my job that it’s almost weird. But I don’t see how I’d get existentially and especially emotionally more fulfilled by spending less time with my kid. The imbalance that the author is talking about is a really great thing for me. I can understand men grumbling about it. But as a woman, I definitely have nothing to complain about. I also find it creepy when people say jobs give them emotional fulfillment. Folks who come to work to get emotionally fulfilled are usually crappy co-workers.

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.

Not the Same Pot

Even WashPo is now recognizing that today’s pot, with its 68% THC levels, is very damaging to young people.

NYT shows that a consistent use of marijuana starting in teenage years leads to a drop in IQ and is a good predictor of an opioid addiction later in life.

(The articles are paywalled, but you can find them if you subscribe).

I hate the fashionable ragging on the Boomers but in this instance it’s justified. They don’t seem to understand that the pot they used 40 years ago is nothing like today’s pot. They weren’t harmed and they now are aggressively legalizing a substance that shares little but the name with the pot of their youth.

I’m glad that even WashPo and NYTimes are starting to pay attention to this issue. It’s tiresome to hear nothing but the antiquated platitudes about pot being less dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol. This might have been true in 1962 but it no longer is.

And I’m not even talking about the societal factors that make it easier to develop addictions today as opposed to several decades ago. For now, I’m concentrating strictly on the THC levels.