Category Archives: Politics & Society

Oh my god, I think he means it

Now is that a nudge for his base to rise up and demand he does better than FDR’s number of terms or is it a nudge that they should do just that?

But see the previous post for reasons that is unlikely to happen (even, or especially, if he does win a second term) — despite his firing his pollsters who produce bad results.

Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency – and Beyond (4)

The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. — Gramsci

We now come to Nancy Fraser’s analysis (Gramchi) of Trump as President, hence the title adjustment. Previous posts in the series:

Gramsci’s theory of hegemony

Nancy Fraser’s perspective builds on the concept of hegemony as developed by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who died in a Mussolini prison. Put simply, hopefully not too simply, the idea of hegemony is that a ruling class needs to make its worldview and values the worldview and values of the groups it dominates. Simply owning the wealth and all the businesses and factories etc is not enough to maintain control. The subordinate classes must accept the belief systems of their rulers for the system to work smoothly. The ruled must accept that their world and their place in it is only natural and commonsensical.

Fraser identifies two types of common sense values that the upper classes expect those they dominate to accept:

  1. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding wages, wealth and ability to get ahead, job status and opportunities, or in other words, a common belief in what is fair and right concerning the distribution of the wealth accumulated within the society;
  2. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding respect and status, personal recognition and esteem, and who has a right to be a part of recognized elites.

That Election

The progressive populist movement led by Bernie Sanders was desperately knocked out of the race by the establishment elites in the Democratic Party. Rules changes, finding ways to ensure the populist leader’s superior popular support did not win the day, enabled the party machine to position a comparatively unpopular leader who represented the prevailing neoliberal establishment to take on Trump.

As we saw in the previous post significant segments of Sander’s supporters felt the other populist leader was preferable to Hillary Clinton. The reactionary populist victory surprised many though not all observers.

Bait and Switch

Just as Obama had disappointed his voters by failing to capitalize on his Occupy Wall Street popularity and begin to turn the nation’s back on neoliberalism as we covered in the previous post, Trump also did what so many politicians do: he turned his back on his promises to take on the big business powers who were hurting the ordinary person and to undertake programs to restore employment and job security. In Gramsci’s terms, he abandoned the populist distributive policies (wealth distribution) he had promised. He added insult to injury open displays of “crony capitalism and self-dealing”.

Granted, he canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But he has temporized on NAFTA and failed to lift a finger to rein in Wall Street.

Nor has Trump taken a single serious step to implement large-scale, job-creating public infrastructure projects; his efforts to encourage manufacturing were confined instead to symbolic displays of jawboning and regulatory relief for coal, whose gains have proved largely fictitious.

And far from proposing a tax code reform whose principal beneficiaries would be working-class and middle-class families, he signed on to the boilerplate Republican version, designed to funnel more wealth to the one percent (including the Trump family).

As this last point attests, the president’s actions on the distributive front have included a heavy dose of crony capitalism and self-dealing. But if Trump himself has fallen short of Hayekian ideals of economic reason, the appointment of yet another Goldman Sachs alumnus to the Treasury ensures that neoliberalism will continue where it counts.

(my formatting and bolding in all quotations of Nancy Fraser)

But why didn’t his backers rise up in protest over such a blatant betrayal? It is as if they didn’t even notice what he’d done. But as we shall see some are beginning to notice and realize that their conditions are not improving. Since Fraser’s arti

That’s where the second half of Gramsci’s analysis, the rhetoric of recognition values, enters.

Having abandoned the populist politics of distribution, Trump proceeded to double down on the reactionary politics of recognition, hugely intensified and ever more vicious.
On sincerity, we know Trump is aware of the reality of climate change because he is building a wall around his golf course in Ireland to protect it from rising sea levels.

I’m reminded of the tired old countless “classic” cases throughout history and the world today of political leaders raging and foaming bile against outsiders or minorities within to deflect attention from their own failings or ineptitude. No doubt they are sincere. They have to believe their own rhetoric, at least at the time they are saying it, to impress their audience with their “sincerity”.

Having abandoned the populist politics of distribution, Trump proceeded to double down on the reactionary politics of recognition, hugely intensified and ever more vicious. The list of his provocations and actions in support of invidious hierarchies of status is long and chilling:

  • the travel ban in its various versions, all targeting Muslim-majority countries, ill disguised by the cynical late addition of Venezuela;
  • the gutting of civil rights at Justice (which has abandoned the use of consent decrees) and at Labor (which has stopped policing discrimination by federal contractors);
  • the refusal to defend court cases on LGBTQ rights;
  • the rollback of mandated insurance coverage of contraception;
  • the retrenchment of Title IX protections for women and girls through cuts in enforcement staff;
  • public pronouncements in support of rougher police handling of suspects, of “Sheriff Joe’s” contempt for the rule of law, and of the “very fine people” among the white-supremacists who ran amok at Charlottesville.

The result is no mere garden-variety Republican conservatism, but a hyper-reactionary politics of recognition.

Examples, as we know, have multiplied since Fraser’s article was sent to the publisher.

Altogether, the policies of President Trump have diverged from the campaign promises of candidate Trump. Not only has his economic populism vanished, but his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got. The upshot is not reactionary populism, but hyper-reactionary neoliberalism.

New evidence that Trump is losing support even among his base: Trump Fires His Pollster After Polls Show Him Losing In Every Critical State

Since Nancy Fraser’s article was published we have seen further tensions between Trump and his supporters, both business and some of the working class, over his tariff war with China. Tariffs, of course, hurt both businesses and consumers, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump is now “ruling” (an appropriate word, I think, given his defiance of Congress — and Congress’s failing to seriously challenge him — in recent weeks) without a coherent or stable hegemonic bloc. His hyper-reactionary neoliberalism does not allow for that. His personal manner does not allow him to work with a trusting and professionally minded team. He relies upon the Republican Party but the Republican Party is far from outspokenly unanimous in their support for him. It appears that many Republicans would like to take back control but are a loss to know how. What we have seen from the White House are chaos, contradictory comings and goings, statements and counter-statements.

Nancy Fraser admits that we have no way of knowing where all of this is going to lead and wonders if there will be a split in the Republican Party. The U.S. is now in a position of another hegemonic vacuum, or at least bereft of a secure one. Recall that it was the hegemonic vacuum — no-one in power to address the problems of declining incomes, joblessness, rise of debts — that led to Trump to begin with.

But there is also a deeper problem. By shutting down the economic-populist face of his campaign, Trump’s hyper-reactionary neoliberalism effectively seeks to reinstate the hegemonic gap he helped to explode in 2016. Except that it cannot now suture that gap. Now that the populist cat is out of the bag, it is doubtful that the working-class portion of Trump’s base will be satisfied to dine for long on (mis)recognition alone.

Back to the gap, the condition that led to Trump in the first place. Infrastructure spending and job creation, serious tax reform and healthcare . . .  the policies that were meant to seriously address the breakdown in living standards for his base and all the working and middle class are nowhere in sight. (Though he did say he would work on healthcare more in his next term, right?) Meanwhile, the rhetoric distracts from the wealth distribution failure.

Since the appearance of Fraser’s article the US economy has not significantly improved at all. His supporters have not benefited materially despite his boasts of “the greatest economy ever.” See Why Trump Gets a ‘C’ on the Economy: Forget His Boasts; Growth Is Just Average and Well Behind Reagan, Clinton, Even Carter on David Cay Johnston’s DCReport.

Preparing for More Dangerous Trumps

The potential opposition to Trump is divided. “Diehard Clintonites” remain as opposed to the progressive populist bloc marshalled in support of Sanders. And,

complicating the landscape is a raft of upstart groups whose militant postures have attracted big donors despite (or because of) the vagueness of their programmatic conceptions.

(Americans and others will be more aware of the groups Fraser refers to here than I am.)

Another serious rupture Fraser identifies is division among the Democrats over whether to dedicate themselves to policies framed around

  • class — that is, to concentrate on winning back the white working class vote that deserted to Trump after Sanders was set aside by Clinton

or

  • race — to fiercely oppose white supremacy and win the votes of blacks and Latinos.

The division is serious and agonizing insofar as the two problems really need to be addressed together, not either/or, as Fraser comments.

Fraser’s concern is that if the Democrats do focus on winning back the erstwhile working class Sanders’ supporters the real victor will be the traditional status quo, the same old distributive values of the neoliberals who have established the “regressive economy” in favour of the 1%. It will be a return in some form to the same old progressive liberalism: maintain the economic system and embrace the rhetoric of militant anti-racism.

In other words, the surely inevitable result of such a development would be to turn potential Democrat supporters to Trump instead.

Another dire consequence would be that the Democrats led by Clintonite neoliberals would

effectively join forces with [Trump] in suppressing alternatives to neoliberalism—and thus in reinstating the hegemonic gap.

As noted above, we then come circle back to the very conditions that created Trump. The “hegemonic gap”, with no-one in the political system addressing the “regressive economy”, with both sides entrenching the very problems that have led to both the progressive and regressive populist movements.

To reinstate progressive neoliberalism, on any basis, is to recreate—indeed, to exacerbate—the very conditions that created Trump. And that means preparing the ground for future Trumps—ever more vicious and dangerous. 

The Solution

working-class supporters of Trump and of Sanders would have to come to understand themselves as allies—differently situated victims of a single “rigged economy,” which they could jointly seek to transform

The solution is to organize a wide-based popular bloc that will oppose the neoliberal powers (global finance, responsible for the problems of financialization, deindustrialization and corporate globalization) that both the Clintonites and Trump serve. Currently, neither bloc of progressive or regressive populists

is currently in a position to shape a new common sense. Neither is able to offer an authoritative picture of social reality, a narrative in which a broad spectrum of social actors can find themselves. Equally important, neither variant of neoliberalism can successfully resolve the objective system blockages that underlie our hegemonic crisis.

So the crises of debts, climate change, stresses on community life continue.

A broad bloc cannot come from Trump’s reactionary populism. Its values of recognition exclude large sectors of the population. That movement is not going to attract those working and middle class families who rely upon service work, agriculture, domestic labour and the public sector. Those sectors employing large numbers of women, immigrants and people of colour are the ones Trump is targeting.

The recognition values of the progressive Sanders bloc are at least seek to be inclusive. Is it possible for them to win over Trump supporters in an anti-neoliberal alliance that targets the institutions responsible for their crises.

But They Hate Each Other

We know the obstacle to such an alliance:

the deepening divisions, even hatreds, long simmering but recently raised to a fever pitch by Trump, who, as David Brooks perceptively put it, has a “nose for every wound in the body politic” and no qualms about “stick[ing] a red-hot poker in [them] and rip[ping them] open.”

The result is a toxic environment that appears to validate the view, held by some progressives, that all Trump voters are “deplorables”—irredeemable racists, misogynists, and homophobes. Also reinforced is the converse view, held by many reactionary populists, that all progressives are incorrigible moralizers and smug elitists who look down on them while sipping lattes and raking in the bucks.

Continuing . . . .


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/


Understanding the Rise of Trump (3)

Continuing the series based on the article by Nancy Fraser. Previous posts:

–o–

There was no force in politics to oppose the eroding of working and middle class standards of living. Anti-liberal voices were excluded from respectable public debate. Hence what Fraser terms “the hegemonic gap and the struggle to fill it”.


Only a matter of time

Given that neither of the two major blocs spoke for them, there was a gap in the American political universe: an empty, unoccupied zone, where anti-neoliberal, pro-working-family politics might have taken root. Given the accelerating pace of deindustrialization, the proliferation of precarious, low-wage McJobs, the rise of predatory debt, and the consequent decline in living standards for the bottom two-thirds of Americans, it was only a matter of time before someone would proceed to occupy that empty space and fill the gap.

Hope for change 1: Obama

2007: U.S. facing one of its worst ever foreign policy disasters (Iraq War); and worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, “and a near meltdown of the economy” — An African American speaking of hope and change, vowing to “transform not just policy but the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics became president.

But rather than mobilize his mass support to turn away from neoliberalism he entrusted economic recovery to the same Wall Street forces that had almost wrecked it. He gave cash bailouts to the banks but nothing comparable for the tens of millions of the banks’ victims who lost their homes.

The single genuine benefit he gave the working class was an expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. But that was the exception.

All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive neoliberal status quo despite its growing unpopularity.

Hope for change 2: Occupy Wall Street

2011: I got a frisson of excitement when these protests broke out. “Please let them spread!” Having given up hope that the political system was going to respond to the economic crisis without some prodding small groups throughout the U.S. seized control of public spaces “in the name of the 99%”. They were protesting against a system that “pillaged the vast majority in order to enrich the top one percent”. Some polls estimated that up to 60% of the American public came to sympathize with these protesters.

So what happened? Obama picked up on the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, promising great change for his second term. But after winning the election of 2011 . . . .

Having won himself four more years, however, the president’s newfound class consciousness swiftly evaporated. Confining the pursuit of “change” to the issuing of executive orders, he neither prosecuted the malefactors of wealth nor used the bully pulpit to rally the American people against Wall Street. Assuming the storm had passed, the U.S. political classes barely missed a beat. Continuing to uphold the neoliberal consensus, they failed to see in Occupy the first rumblings of an earthquake to come.

read more »

Understanding the Rise of Trump (2)

This post continues with a discussion (begun here) of Nancy Fraser’s analysis,

I like to think in images so have prepared a few for this post. If you find them confusing then stick with the words. If they’re confusing then read the original article linked above.

Here is the essence of the previous post. The hegemon of the “progressive neoliberal bloc” is the “most dynamic, high-end “symbolic” and financial sectors of the U.S. economy”. It maintains its power by persuading the lower and middle classes that its values are the “common sense” view of the world. Gender and racial equality, for example, are promised to become the conditions for economic fairness and prosperity for all. That this message is a myth hiding a darker reality for most people was explained in the previous post.

This segment of economic rulers promoted the values of feminism, antiracism, etc, promising a more prosperous society for all but in fact delivering what was the inevitable result of their economic goals. They promised that progressive values were in sync with the new economy of deregulation and that everyone would prosper from deregulation all round. See the previous post for details. The reality was different, though, as per the diagram that shows the “values of recognition” on the left and the results of the other set of values, those of “distribution of wealth” on the right.

“The Progressive Liberals”

These were the winners under first Reagan, then especially under Clinton and Obama.

But there is always a but. Another sector of economic rulers, those who found the Republican Party to be more supportive of their interests, were not so coherent in their presentations at the time. They had pretty much the same values of distribution of wealth as the “progressive liberals” but a different set of values of recognition, or esteem, of who was worthy and deserving of recognition. Nancy Fraser calls these the “regressive neoliberals”.

Sectoral emphases aside, on the big questions of political economy, reactionary neoliberalism did not substantially differ from its progressive-neoliberal rival. Granted, the two parties argued some about “taxes on the rich,” with the Democrats usually caving. But both blocs supported “free trade,” low corporate taxes, curtailed labor rights, the primacy of shareholder interest, winner-takes- all compensation, and financial deregulation. Both blocs elected leaders who sought “grand bargains” aimed at cutting entitlements.

But the “regressive neoliberals” appealed to a different voting bloc. Their primary make-up consisted of the financial sector, the military manufacturing and extractive energy industries. But they usually spoke not directly as the weapons and oil and coal industries, but as supporters of “small business and manufacturing”. That front was far more appealing to a wider constituency. And as for their “recognition values”, these appealed to

  • Christian evangelicals,
  • southern whites,
  • rural and small-town Americans,
  • and disaffected white working-class

Nancy Fraser does not see the above constituency as necessarily natural allies with “libertarians, Tea Partiers, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Koch brothers, plus a smattering of bankers, real-estate tycoons, energy moguls, venture capitalists, and hedge-fund speculators”, but seems to think that the fact that they are all “bundled together” is, by and large, an “uneasy” alliance for now. In other words, Fraser sees hope for shifting the affections of the above four groups (evangelicals, southern whites, disaffected working class and small town Americans) into a more positive populist movement. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves at this point in the discussion.

“The Regressive Neoliberals”

(The racism is, of course, flatly denied by most. See Strategies of Denial of Racism.)

Consequences of neoliberal politics (from Reagan to …)

I was about to conclude that heading with “Obama”, but then remembered that Trump himself has done a complete about face since his election and fully implemented (or simply allowed it to continue with even fewer restrictions) the neoliberal program himself.

Here is Fraser’s summary of the consequences:

Decaying manufacturing centers, especially the so-called Rust Belt, were sacrificed. That region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit thanks to a triad of Bill Clinton’s policies: NAFTA, the accession of China to the WTO (justified, in part, as promoting democracy), and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Together, those policies and their successors ravaged communities that had relied on manufacturing. In the course of two decades of progressive neoliberal hegemony, neither of the two major blocs made any serious effort to support those communities. To the neoliberals, their economies were uncompetitive and should be subject to “market correction.” To the progressives, their cultures were stuck in the past, tied to obsolete, parochial values that would soon disappear in a new cosmopolitan dispensation. On neither ground—distribution or recognition—could progressive neoliberals find any reason to defend Rust Belt and southern manufacturing communities. (my emphasis)

Thus far we have set out the scenario that is to usher in Trump.

Continuing . . . .


Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” American Affairs Journal 1 (4): 46–64. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/11/progressive-neoliberalism-trump-beyond/


Understanding the Rise of Trump (1)

Nancy Fraser

I have belatedly caught up with some of Nancy Fraser‘s analysis of the current worldwide political condition that has seen Trump in the US and a rise in ethnocentric and authoritarian movements worldwide and I’d like to try to set out her ideas over a few posts here as I find opportunity. Above all, I’d like to try to simplify Nancy Fraser’s articles that come across to me at an overly high conceptual level. (If anything in this series of posts is not clear or accurate then I expect to be called to account.) Gramsci was criticized (while also being highly honoured) by Noam Chomsky for his obscure intellectual jargon. Given that Fraser acknowledges a debt to Gramsci it may not be surprising that she also writes above the level of everyday language that is always clear to all. I think Fraser’s analysis is correct, or at least among the most explanatory that I have heard for making sense of the situation of the world today and how someone like Trump is where he is now. These posts will be extracted from the points made by Nancy Fraser in . . .

The crisis is global

  • In the USA we see Trump
  • In the UK we have the Brexit debacle
  • In the European Union we have the disintegration of the social-democratic and centre-right parties that had been its mainstay
  • Throughout northern and east-central Europe we have been witnessing the rise of racist, anti-immigrant parties
  • In Latin America, Asia, the Pacific we have seen the rise of authoritarian (proto-fascist) forces.

The above changes all share one thing in common:

All involve a dramatic weakening, if not a simple breakdown, of the authority of the established political classes and political parties. It is as if masses of people throughout the world had stopped believing in the reigning common sense that underpinned political domination for the last several decades. It is as if they had lost confidence in the bona fides of the elites and were searching for new ideologies, organizations, and leadership. Given the scale of the breakdown, it’s unlikely that this is a coincidence. Let us assume, accordingly, that we face a global political crisis.

So it is fair to look for something that is happening on a global scale to explain the above retrograde shifts.

And it’s not just political. It involves serious ecological, social and economic stresses. Some of the major challenges within the US have been

  • the changing nature of the finance industry;
  • the proliferation of precarious service-sector McJobs;
  • ballooning consumer debt to enable the purchase of cheap stuff produced elsewhere;
  • conjoint increases in carbon emissions, extreme weather, and climate denialism;
  • racialized mass incarceration and systemic police violence;
  • and mounting stresses on family and community life thanks in part to lengthened working hours and diminished social supports.

It’s about time the above stresses had a serious impact on the politics of countries where they are found together. And we have seen the first political “blowback” of these stresses in the U.S. with the rise of Trump.

But how was it, exactly, out of all of the above, that the Trump presidency came about?

How the ruling class rules

Antonio Gramsci

Nancy Fraser’s perspective builds on the concept of hegemony as developed by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who died in a Mussolini prison. Put simply, hopefully not too simply, the idea of hegemony is that a ruling class needs to make its worldview and values the worldview and values of the groups it dominates. Simply controlling the wealth and all the businesses and factories etc is not enough to maintain control. The subordinate classes must accept the belief systems of their rulers for the system to work smoothly. The ruled must accept that their world and their place in it is only natural and commonsensical. The term hegemony implies ruling by attaining the willing consent of the lesser powers. If there is consent then what is the problem? Read on to see.

Fraser identifies two types of common sense values that the upper classes expect those they dominate to accept:

  1. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding wages, wealth and ability to get ahead, job status and opportunities, or in other words, a common belief in what is fair and right concerning the distribution of the wealth accumulated within the society;
  2. they must share a common belief in what is right and fair regarding respect and status, personal recognition and esteem, and who has a right to be a part of recognized elites.

In other words, the owners of the wealth, or the owners of all the businesses that produce that wealth (mining companies, service industries, etc) must form an “ideological” or “belief system” bond with those they wish to rule. Their position of power would not be very secure otherwise.

Values pertaining to Recognition

Leaders of a certain sector of the U.S. economy positioned themselves as promoters of human rights. The “most dynamic, high-end “symbolic” and financial sectors of the U.S. economy” — Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood — embraced the values of feminism, antiracism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights that had been emerging out of progressive liberal activist movements from the 1960s and 70s. These values served the interests of both classes: “Sure, we believe in equal opportunity rights for women, blacks, gays — we want the very best talent from any quarter to get to the top and make the most of their (not to mention our corporate) potential” (my paraphrase).

Anyone who was capable of doing a job should be given the opportunity to do that job regardless of their race, gender, etc. It was a subtle form of meritocracy to see who was worthy of class advancement.

And that ideal was inherently class specific: geared to ensuring that “deserving” individuals from “underrepresented groups” could attain positions and pay on a par with the straight white men of their own class.

The progressive-neoliberal bloc combined an expropriative, plutocratic economic program with a liberal-meritocratic politics of recognition.

Values pertaining to Distribution

Here is where the Left divided. Large sectors of the Left were seduced into supporting the other set of values (concerning distribution of wealth) of those economic leaders. read more »

I know I am back in East Asia (specifically Thailand) when . . . .

I know I am back in Thailand when . . .

— at my place of stay having one of the regular uniformed security guards snap to attention and salute me every time I walk by

— our residence, like every residence here, has something like the following shrine in its enclosure:

— and supermarkets have an additional row for “ceremonial products”:

— there is a young person employed to stand at a door between a carpark and main shopping mall and hold it open for anyone entering or leaving. They are usually tasked with politely greeting everyone who passes through. (I sometimes get the urge to ask them how much they are paid and if the job is given them as a punishment for some misdemeanour.)

— a busker at a railway station performing a traditional Asian dance in mask and costume

— no-one points directions with their finger (very rude), but with the full hand (or thumb)

— money is handed to me with both hands, never one, and I feel like an uncouth westerner if I take it with merely one hand. Ditto for the exchange of business cards. Always take time to read in full a business card you have just been handed. Never merely pocket it for later reference, how rude!

— a young woman dressed astonishingly sexily/glamorously, very high heels, short pink pants, swaying pink ear-rings, at a shop front speaking into a microphone to invite other very responsive women to enter, look around and purchase cosmetics.

— bookshops and games and recreation areas in shopping malls that promote goods and activities and things to give your young child “a genius IQ”.

— a gaudy shopping mall complex hosting all-day singing entertainment by young (some very young) children with the sound system at full rock-concert totally deafening volume!

— extremely polite service staff at a railway platform, rushing over to lead an elderly person away from escalators in order to take a nearby lift instead.

— alcohol sold at most food and grocery shops but only during certain hours of the day; you’ll be politely pointed (with full hand, no finger) to a sign saying you can’t buy alcohol if you are there at one of the forbidden times — though a more downbeat family store may not be too worried about abiding by that law. (Is this unique to Thailand? I can’t recall.)

— strange billboard ads like this one (it’s for some sort of timber protection):

— which reminds me of one of the first things everyone sees when leaving the airport in Bangkok — a large billboard with a message replicating this one:

 

Strategies of Denial of Racism

Dijk, Teun A. van (Wikipedia)

Speaking of denialism, . . . . or rather, painfully thinking back on the unpleasant experience of sitting in a plane for three hours next to a racist jerk who clearly assumed a fellow Aussie would love to be “entertained” with racist jokes and anecdotes against aboriginal Australians and Muslims (of any country). . . .

The painful part of the experience was that it was evident that my “guest” could not see that he was a racist or all-round ignorant bigot. In his mind he was simply acknowledging what he considered to be the “unfortunate realities” of the world. It’s the old line, “I have nothing against blacks, but . . . ”

(Were such persons willing to make the effort to check the full story, the facts behind the assertions, the other perspectives, then they would, I think, learn that their perception of “reality” has been very blinkered and that there are other “realities” — especially from the perspective of the minorities — that are worthy of appreciation and acceptance.)

It turns out that there is a vast scholarly literature on this very thing — denial of racism by those who speak and act racism. I’ll discuss just a small portion of one 33 page article that I have found cited in several other works:

  • Dijk, Teun A. van. 1992. “Discourse and the Denial of Racism.” Discourse & Society 3 (1): 87–118.

It is not appropriate or even moral in this day and age to be thought of as racist. We have laws against racist acts and even some forms of racist speech. Besides, it’s just not socially acceptable to be accused of racism. A decent person, it is assumed, abhors racism.

Would that the human race can just turn off bad attitudes like a tap. After how many centuries of slavery, genocides, race-riots, ethnic cleansings, can we really have suddenly moved into a utopian wonderland where we are all anti-racists? I don’t think that’s a likely reality.

Therefore, even the most blatantly racist discourse in our data routinely features denials or at least mitigations of racism. Interestingly, we have found that precisely the more racist discourse tends to have disclaimers and other denials. This suggests that language users who say negative things about minorities are well aware of the fact that they may be understood as breaking the social norm of tolerance or acceptance. (Dijk, 89)

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Understanding that we, the readers, are part of the story

I have a weakness for watching murder mysteries on Sunday night TV. I have long learned to identify the most innocent looking character whom we cannot imagine possibly being involved in the crime being eventually discovered to be the villain of the show, but that’s not being clever. It’s just a matter of knowing how often the stories turn out that way. What I find myself doing, sometimes, is replaying the early part of an episode online to see what it was I missed, or how the creators manipulated me into misinterpreting little details early on. In hindsight I can see how they can be interpreted so differently.

What I am learning by this is that the real story is not happening on the screen, but it is happening between the creator, me, and the screen. The writers or directors are playing with my mind and emotions. The creators are using the screen to perform illusionist tricks like a magician. They are deflecting my attention in ways they control in order to make me marvel at the end how clever they were to pull the rabbit out of the hat or whatever.

I can rarely discover the trick in a TV murder mystery plot any more than I can discover the magician’s trick merely by watching the performance.

And this game between creator and audience is a fact of all writing. (Including what I am doing right now.) Not only writing, but all verbal communication.

Speakers, authors, normally count on their audience to follow the content of their message without, as a rule, being distracted by who is saying it, the techniques they are using, and how it is that they are guiding the audience to respond in a certain way to the content. Usually the speaker or writer will begin by winning the confidence of the audience by appearing to take them into their confidence or declaring their institutional authority of some kind. Once that is done (and understand that that process is also part of the game or play with the audience) the audience becomes immersed in the world of the story or news report.

When we share what we have seen or heard with others we will generally repeat the story we have heard. We are less likely to remind them or even ourselves of how the presenter led us into the story world in the first place.

I was reminded of all of the above the other day when I came across a couple of lines by Martin Dibelius (Studies in the Acts of the Apostles) reminding his readers that New Testament scholars too often have delved straight into examination of the stories in Acts and the gospels as if they are historical, or at least to ask if they could be historical, without first and foremost stepping back and examining the way the author has told the stories. What was the author doing vis a vis the reader by presenting the story itself and by presenting it with the details he selected and in the way he did?

There are more important and significant messages bombarding us than biblical studies, of course, and there those questions are obviously more important.

It took me some years to learn to try to avoid saying, “I heard that such and such happened….” and to say, rather, something like, “I heard from so and so at this or that place  that such and such happened …. ” The latter takes a little more effort, but it is safer ground, as many of us have come to learn.

 

I Wish I Could Understand Australia Better

I am an Australian but I think that makes it harder for me to understand Australia in some ways, especially the weekend’s depressing election results. Perhaps that’s because what I would like to see obscures my view of the reality.

Scott Morrison, a Pentecostal churchgoer who attributed his election victory to a miracle, is once again Australia’s Prime Minister — after winning an election that broke the standard rules of the game. His Liberal-National coalition was meant to be thrashed at the polls after all sorts of not very secret political power plays that saw ugly challenges and changes of party leadership prior to the election.

The good news:

Tony Abbott, ex-Prime Minister, eater of raw onions with skin, Catholic, anti-abortion, a climate change denier who becomes a climate change believer when he sees his support base waning, and back-stabber and leaker-of-dirt-on-colleagues-to-the-press-in-chief, lost his seat and is finally out of Parliament for good.

The bad news:

Peter Dutton, an alt-right type racist and all-round bigot who was the one Abbott and others in the Liberal National coalition hoped would be the new Prime Minister could not be unseated despite massive campaigns from all sorts of movements and notable persons to target him in his electorate.

Following on from the entrenched support for Dutton we have further alt-right type persons, racists, fear-mongerers, — Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer — giving their preferences votes to Scott Morrison’s party and handing him a secure and unexpected sweeping victory in north Queensland. That is despite Pauline Hansons’s party being caught out in a sting operation by Al Jazeera journalists approaching the U.S.’s National Rifle Association for donations and Clive Palmer being such an obviously dishonest jerk going all out to imitate Donald Trump’s worst attributes. (Palmer cheated workers of wages when one of his mining businesses collapsed and promised to “repay” them just on the eve of the election — surely such an obvious con no-one could possibly take him seriously.

But surely racism and fear of job losses as a result of environmental priorities is not the whole story. Those states of mind are always going to be with us.

On the other side, I find myself despairing of public “debates” and interviews. Political leaders now have the art of evading direct answers to questions down to a fine art. Scott Morrison doesn’t use the term “fake news” but he does regularly speak of the “Canberra bubble” to dismiss any serious questions. Same thing, just an Australian branding.

Yet the “serious” interviewers don’t do seriously informative interviews. They play the game of asking questions from the opposing party’s point of view. They don’t stand back and challenge the respective parties from the perspective of the broader public. Interviewing a Liberal politician they challenge them with Labor Party points; and vice versa and so on. It’s all removed from the real world.

Except for the shock-jocks — who play the anti-immigrant and fear cards.

And the shock-jocks and the mainstream interviewers are earning fortunes to do their work of trying to score political points and win audience ratings. And meanwhile both major parties are dancing and dining comfortably with big business and careful not to upset the media giants.

It’s all out of touch with reality — at least the reality of the root drivers of the forces shaping the worlds of most of us.

Democracy and political debates is primarily about media management and media images. And that gives the victory to the cleverest or luckiest and/or richest manipulator.

There’s something ugly happening here and we’re waiting for something positive to return to the play. That’s how it seems to me. I wish I could understand it more clearly.

 

 

Iran and “the problem of peace”

Here’s something of interest that I read a while ago and marked for future reference. Serious challenges facing the Revolutionary Guard in Iran include “the problem of peace”.

First, the good news:

The threat posed by the United States has been the backdrop for much of the IRGCs career. The organization has relied on the United States to serve as an omnipresent boogeyman bent on destroying the revolution. If the Islamic Republic were to reach a rapprochement with the United States, America would no longer be a viable scapegoat for the repression of Iranians. Within that context, Iranians will expect more out of life and more freedoms from the regime. An argument could be made that a rapprochement with the United States would have an ameliorating effect on Iran’s behavior both internally and externally. Some sectors of the regime, such as the reformists, would probably favor such change.

But on the other . . . .

The IRGC and the hardline camp likely would not. This is because the IRGC’s status in the country is contingent on the existence of existential threats to the Islamic system. If the United States is no longer a problem, the IRGC will need to find a suitable replacement. Threats will need to be found outside Iran and within. The IRGC already sees the social and cultural arenas as a battleground between it and anti-Islamic forces. The need for a threat could see the IRGC place more emphasis on these issues — and other scapegoats such as religious minorities — than it already does. This means further repression of the Iranian people at a time when they will be expecting more liberty, not less.

Ostovar, Afshon. 2016. Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 240
That was before Trump and Bolton. I think “omnipresent boogeyman” is perhaps too fanciful a term in the current situation.

 

Ideological Preparation for the Expulsion of the Palestinians, Continued

Previous posts in this series covering Nur Masalha’s book, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948: . . .

  1. Zionist Founding Fathers’ Plans for Transfer of the Palestinian Arabs
  2. Redemption or Conquest: Zionist Yishuv plans for transfer of Palestinian Arabs in the British Mandate period
  3. The Weizmann Plan to “Transfer” the Palestinians
  4. Zionist Plans for Mass Transfer of Arabs: Alive But Discreet
  5. Pushing for Mass Transfer of Arabs & Warning of “Rivers of Blood”
  6. Compulsory Arab Transfer Necessary for a Jewish State
  7. The Necessity for Mass Arab Transfer
  8. Expulsion of the Palestinians – Pre-War Internal Discussions
  9. Expulsion of the Palestinians: Caution and Discretion during the War Years
  10. Expulsion of the Palestinians: Insights into Yishuv’s Transfer Ideas in World War 2
  11. Expulsion of the Palestinians, Part 11

. . .

Zionist leaders were always alert for opportunities to work with Arab countries that neighboured Palestine in hopes they could assist with plans to transfer the Arab population out of Palestine. Earlier we saw one such attempt to negotiate a plan with Jordanian leaders (1937), and in 1939 another hopeful meeting to work with the Saudi Arabian king was organized.

The plan was to promise King Ibn Saud a major role in a future Arab federation and more immediately to provide him with substantial financial aid to resolve economic hardship his kingdom was at that time enduring.

To approach the Saudi king the Zionist leaders happily found willing support from Harry St John Philby, British orientalist and advisor to the king [see the Wikipedia linked article for his “colourful” career and that of his son]. Philby’s contact in London was the famous British historian Lewis Namier who was closely associated with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and was the political advisor to the Zionist Jewish Agency led by Moshe Shertok.

The 6 October, 1939 meeting

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Interesting Poll

Through a Haaretz article by Amir Tibon I learned of a new Pew Research Center Poll: U.S. Public Has Favorable View of Israel’s People, but Is Less Positive Toward Its Government

One might hope that the title alone of the results of that survey will go some way towards demolishing the slur that criticism of Israel’s governments’ respective policies is a subtle form of anti-semitism.

Disappointingly predictable was the finding that Christians (notably the evangalical side of Christianity) are more likely than Jews and the “religiously unaffiliated” to approve of Trump’s hardline stance in support of Israel’s policies (presumably towards Palestinians).

Overall, it showed that 48 percent of Christians – including 61 percent of Evangelicals – have a favorable view of the Israeli government. However, a plurality of Catholics – 49 percent – have a negative view of the Israeli government, and so does a big majority – 61 percent – of Christians who belong to the historically black church. (Tibon)

Evangelical Protestants are more likely than non-evangelicals to express a favorable opinion of Israel’s government (73% of evangelical Republicans vs. 55% of non-evangelicals) (The Report)

As I’ve experienced in other areas, more Catholics than fundamentalists are on the side of liberalism, social justice and support for oppressed populations, and the support for Trump’s position towards Israel is less among Catholics than among fundamentalists and evangelicals. Bring on Armageddon, I can hear the latter half-silently hoping. “God will bless those who bless the descendants of Abraham!”

  • Among Evangelical Christians, 72 percent think Trump’s policy strikes the “right balance,” and only 15 percent think he is too favorable to Israel.
  • Among Catholics, 34 percent think he is too favorable to Israel, and 51 percent think he has the “right balance.”
  • In addition, 33 percent of the respondents who belong to the “historically black” church said that Trump’s policies are too favorable to Israel, and 40 percent of them said it has the right balance.

Interesting that American blacks even today appear to continue to identify in some sense with the Palestinians. (That notion of identification on the part of American blacks has been a controversial question in the past.)

Jews are not quite as totally gung-ho:

Among Jewish respondents, 42 percent said that Trump’s policies were too favorable to Israel. Only 6 percent said that his policies were too favorable to the Palestinians, while a plurality of 47 percent said the policy struck the right balance. Among Christian respondents, meanwhile, only 26 percent said Trump’s policies were too favorable to Israel, while 59 percent said the 45th president has the ‘right balance.’

The sample size was about 10,500 and error margin estimated at 1.5%.

 

 

Word Crime: War Breaks Out Among Israel Studies Scholars

A recent Haaretz article discusses controversy over a special issue of the Israel Studies journal that criticizes terms such as occupation and genocide used to refer to Israel vis à vis the Palestinians, as well as references to the Israel Lobby and claims that criticism of Zionism is not to be equated with anti-Semitism:

The lead article by Donna Divine, “Word Crimes: Reclaiming The Language of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, introduces the issue and is free on Jstor. (Unfortunately most of the specialist articles themselves have a price tag and I have not yet seen how or even if the issue itself is available for purchase at a reasonable cost.)

Arie M. Dubnov

Matz’s Haaretz article quotes Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies at George Washington University, Arie M. Dubnov,  claiming:

“the [journal’s] ‘alternative dictionary’ appears designed to provide talking points for anti-BDS and pro-‘hasbara’ efforts, and does not serve an academic purpose.”

The journal Israel Studies is “affiliated with” the Association for Israel Studies (Wikipedia article: Association for Israel Studies) but not that association’s official journal, according to information in the Haaretz article. Critics nonetheless hold the Association leadership responsible for the publication of the issue’s contents, and Dubnov in a letter demanded that the Association publish a retraction or cut their ties with the journal. (The association’s official journal is Israel Studies Review.)

Dubnov was further quoted as saying that the journal issue lent support for critics of Israel studies as a special field in academia as

an invented field that is nothing more than a cover for the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Maltz adds,

He charged that the articles published in the journal “make a mockery of academic rules” and would never have passed muster in a serious academic publication.

Gershon Shafir

Another academic, Gershon Shafir,

“This attempt to suppress critical voices and dissenting views within the [association] is a microcosm of the larger assault on liberal voices and institutions in Israel. . . .

“Ironically . . . the [association] itself was created with the aim of procuring a forum where Israel may be analyzed with the tools common to the social sciences and humanities, to free the study of Israel from the bonds of political loyalty and subservience in which it was enmeshed. That accomplishment, academic
autonomy, is threatened now by the repoliticization of the study of Israel through the criminalization of scholarship and assault on academic freedom.”

Ian Lustick

Another, Ian S. Lustick, oberves that

almost all the contributors to the ‘Word Crimes’ issue are members of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East — a straightout advocacy organization.

Miriam Elman

But a co-editor of the special issue, Miriam F. Elman, responded that such criticisms were “an ugly smear campaign” and certain demands of critics amounted to “academic thuggery”:

there will be no caving in to this bullying. I believe we are talking about a very small minority, as very few scholars would run roughshod over academic freedom in this way.”

So what’s in this special issue? As explained at the beginning I only have access to the lead article so I quote a few sections of that. You can make up your own minds, though I will not be able to resist a couple of mumbles of my own.

Excerpts from Donna Divine’s Word Crimes: Reclaiming The Language of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

(Not quite sure why I’m doing this. As I said at the outset anyone can read the whole article for free via Jstor. But for any lazy buggers who can’t be bothered here is my selection of hightlights.)

the Jewish state, today, stands accused of practicing apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and of sustaining itself as a remnant of an outdated and thoroughly delegitimized colonial order.

The language under criticism

identifies Israel not simply as a force hostile to Palestinian interests but also as a major source of evil for the world.

The term genocide

(Donna Divine’s essay also concludes with a discussion of the use of this term in the discussion.)

The United Nations definition of genocide:In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

genocide is now defined as a Zionist impulse. A word that once engendered sympathy for Jews has been contaminated by becoming a rubric describing Israeli policies and a reason to fear Jewish power. . . . .

Think of “Deir Yassin”, the name for Palestinian suffering before the naqba. Millions of people across the globe know something of this village as the site of a massacre and the bonfire it made of Israel’s moral authority in waging its war for independence. . . . .

Tauber’s book [compare blog post] does not remove the stain of war crimes from the Irgun forces fighting in the village, but it does contest the scope of the brutality in that fateful attack in April 1948. Even to raise questions about whether a massacre occurred at Deir Yassin, however, is considered a transgression as Tauber learned from the several American university presses refusing to publish his book, one deeming it “unfit for English readers”. . . . it has had a profound impact on closing down the possibility of following the best available evidence.

From here the article segues into a discussion of Edward Said’s book Orientalism and merges with a discussion of …

The Israel lobby

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“The Most Warlike Nation in the History of the World”, Hidden Empire, Propaganda, and Hope

Jimmy Carter (Wikipedia)

The U.S., Carter said, has been at war for all but 16 years of its 242-year history. (China and Vietnam actually fought a brief border war in early 1979, weeks after normalization of U.S.-China relations.)

He called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” because of a tendency to try to force others to “adopt our American principles.”

The only US president to complete his term without war, military attack or occupation has called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” . . .

Carter then said the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation. Counting wars, military attacks and military occupations, there have actually only been five years of peace in US history—1976, the last year of the Gerald Ford administration and 1977-80, the entirety of Carter’s presidency. Carter then referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result, he said, of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.”

On China and U.S.’s worry that China is “getting ahead of us”, see at point 39:40 Chomsky’s comment on just this point, the trade agreements with China, being “an effort to prevent China’s economic development”:

Which reminds me of a book I heard about via Mano Singham’s blog:

Hidden Empire

During the Second World War, the United States honed an extraordinary suite of technologies that gave it many of the benefits of empire without having to actually hold colonies. Plastics and other synthetics allowed it to replace tropical products with man-made substitutes. Airplanes, radio, and DDT enabled it to move its goods, ideas, and people into foreign countries easily without annexing them. Similarly, the United States managed to standardize many of its objects and practices—from screw threads to road signs to the English language—across political borders, again gaining influence in places it didn’t control. Collectively, these technologies weaned the United States off the familiar model of formal empire. They replaced colonization with globalization.

Globalization is a fashionable word, and it’s easy to speak of it in vague terms—to talk of increasingly better technologies drawing a disparate world together. But those new technologies didn’t just crop up. Many were developed by the U.S. military in a short burst of time in the 1940s, with the goal of giving the United States a new relationship to territory. Dramatically, and in just a few years, the military built a world-spanning logistical network that was startling in how little it depended on colonies. It was also startling in how much it centered the world’s trade, transport, and communication on one country, the United States.

. . . . . .
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