Now and then I get an email from some kind soul who has taken pity on a poor solitary writer and wants to give feedback. Some of the messages are pretty eloquent, and it occurred to me I might post them on this website. In an atomized, lonely, gilded age, it can help to remember that all we proles and plebs are not, in fact, alone, that the numbers and the humanity are on our side. (In a couple of cases below I've included part of my response, since the email raised good points.)
I've just finished reading your article, and it's really late & I'm kinda sleepy so forgive but right now all I can say is it's always easy to end your ruminations by invoking "Hope", that eternally vague & very often impotent "encouragement", after the interminable enunciations of the bleakest Reality of Contemporary Existence. With all due respect, after the reptilian invocation of "Hope" by the NeoFascist Obama & his minions, can we please give "HOPE" a rest?!? The multitude is by now in the tight grip of indoctrination and infantilization, ignorance and imbecility, identity politics and tweeting and likes and safe spaces and hatred and blindness and deafness about the sufferings of the world's poor and oppressed, and the only small rays of sunshine that one can dream of must come from the Artists of the World, the Writers, Poets, Novelists, Painters, Playwrights, Composers and Musicians and Philosophers. As the great English Poet William Blake wrote: Science is the Tree of Death. Art is the Tree of Life.
Liked your article, but you don't quite make the leap i think you need to; namely, that the govt orchestrates terror to increase its power, and to prevent a challenge from left parties that might win electoral victories. I suggest you read scholar Daniel Ganser's work, NATO's Secret Armies. He documents carefully the use of state terror to prevent communists victories in elections. Also its well known and documented in the NY Times that the FBI supplied the explosives in the 93 WTC bombings.
Great Chomsky piece! Your take on Nature prompted this intrusion. Couldn't link it so I copied it. Forgive? The Lady Has a Look-See Nature was willing from the get-go to sacrifice one of her greatest little gems, the gorgeous blue planet Earth. She risked the probability it would eventually be ruined in order to allow the evolution of a conscious species. The sacrifice of time, countless other living orders and other less aware competitors was wantonly permitted. The chosen aware species was even permitted to wreak havoc; to plunder and pillage the treasures abounding on her precious sphere. She wasted no effort in toilet training the lot of us. The early-on decision to use sexual reproduction as an accelerant to genetic dispersal was at the cost of leaving behind early prototypes that worked splendidly but slowly. Much too slowly. Nature wanted results. In her blind, thrusting, insistent way, she has kept at it for aeons. Species flourished, lingered, then, except as part of the ongoing matrix, vanished; excepting always their useful DNA and RNA bits. Nature, always progressive, always seeking the novel, seeming extraordinarily spendthrift, is really always deeply conservative at her core. Ontology recapitulates phylogeny. The one repeats the phases of the many. Nothing useful is ever wasted or misplaced; excepting by mischance. In the final analysis, it's as if all the really big questions: "Why life?"... "Why just here on this little orb?"... "Why now?" have been answered. It is all about one Lady's abiding curiosity. "Just to have a look, you see." Perhaps being all of Nature and being the Infinite Cosmos is not enough. Indeed, more importantly, how does one look? She needed a conscious organism to function as her senses. After a really long struggle; enter homo sapiens. "You'll have to do.", said She. No offense fellow humans, but this was never about us, our species. We were always, simply, a factor, a vector, useful voyeurs, who enable the Lady to finally get a good look at her universe; at herself. Our biggest concern should be the point at which She will decide when a good enough look has been had. Views through our clever Hubble, our farms of giant scopes, or space roaming devices and two-photon microscopes may not prove sufficient. Another generation endlessly cruising the web on her behalf may just do the trick. Then might She say, "I've seen enough. I've had my fill, thank you... go extinct". If we turn off all the viewers will that buy us more time? Will she see through the ruse? Is it close to being over? Stay tuned.
Great piece on Noam Chomsky in counterpunch--thanks. Way back in 1989 or 1988 I gave a paper at a conference in Boston . . . I thought, idly, sitting in my hotel room, who do I know who lives in Boston? and his name came to mind. Out of curiosity I looked him up and found he was listed in the phone book! Later I sent him a note to say how much I had benefited from his work and mentioned I had been in Boston and seen his number. He replied! with a note saying that I should have phoned him! I thought that says a lot about this kind, gracious, committed, and incredibly scholarly man, to be a friend to a stranger. His "non-political" scholarship is also fantastic. God bless him -- great guy.
Briefly, my answer to Chomsky's peer is John Ralston Saul. I enjoyed your article until this departure, "People in positions of authority act as their institutions pressure them to; and if, by some miracle, they act with excessive independence, either they’ll be taught a lesson and cut down to size or they’ll be discarded by some means or other. So it is really the institutions that are the actors; the people with power are merely tools." Those people in power need no better rationalization for their behavior. Such rationalization reveals most people for what they are, supremely selfish, the opposite of Chomsky's generosity to his common man.
Well, I tried to qualify that point by saying that people at the higher levels of authoritarian institutions do have some freedom, which they use only to increase their own power, and thus the power of their institutional role. But I also think it's true that they're pressured to act as they do, sometimes to act in ways they don't really want to. This doesn't really excuse them, though, because it shows them to be cowards. And besides, no one is forcing them to be in these positions of power anyway. It's their selfishness, greed, and power-hunger that has driven them. So on that level, too, one can condemn them, and dismiss their rationalizations.
Read the article with interest.
A particular section stood out, for me. "The delegates had to navigate between two contradictory imperatives: on one hand, they wanted to make it forever impossible for states to adopt the kinds of debtor-relief and taxpayer-relief legislation that the 1780s had seen; on the other hand, they could not make the Constitution so antidemocratic that the states and the people would not ratify it.”
This pretty much sums up the process of government - steal as much as possible from the productive people in society but keep it just below the threshold that would make the majority say no.
Government is the problem. No good looking to it for solutions.
Countries are an arbitrary division of humanity used as a divide-conquer-control technique by psychopathic parasites.
Add into the mix that a bunch of greedy individuals have been given the right to produce ‘money’ from thin air while everybody else has to labour for it and pay half of it back as tax that mostly ends up back with those who have the, so called, right to print as much as they want in the first place.
It only gets worse from there.
If you read about the fall of Rome, but replace every instance of ‘Rome’ with USA the fit is incredible.
It seems history does, sometimes, get close to repeating.
I enjoyed reading your piece in Counterpunch and exploring your website. Very interesting.
Are you familiar with Dan Everett's book, "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes"? Or John Zerzan's books and ideas? Paul Shepard? I am fairly new to their ideas. I am an artist/painter who, after devoting my life (I'm 61) to the study of painting have come painfully to question the whole idea of "civilization". Because it is in civilization we are destroying ourselves and the biosphere. Perhaps humans went wrong in leaving the hunter/gatherer life? The virtues you speak of that come from communism are fairly common among so-called "primitive" people. Partly, no doubt, these virtues are necessary for their survival. When humans left the hunter/gather life for agriculture and cities 10 - 12 thousand years ago their "nature" didn't fit the new circumstances as well. Surplus labor arose and some folks wanted a comfortable life of luxury and they found a way by subjugating others for it. And then the arms race began: whoever had the best weapons and army got the best stuff i.e. comforts and luxury. The trajectory of human history since the advent of agriculture and cities has brought us ineluctably to where we are today: nuclear weapons threatening the world. Pandora's Box was opened and there's no going back to the Garden of Eden, presumably.
Yes, like you, I love Bach, too. Especially his Cantatas. (My dad, an artist, also, once said the greatest "proof" for existence of God was the music of Bach!) It's not easy to repudiate humans' highest achievements! Yes, we are utterly amazing. (Well, some of us!) It's just that you don't get the highest achievements without also the lowest. And these days it seems like it's mainly lowest. Which will likely be our doom and countless other wonderful creatures.
Sorry to pester you with my, no doubt, mad musings!
All the best!
Enjoyed your essay on retooling Marxism for today's world, with its recognition that the ascendancy of the solidarity economy is likely to be gradual, as was the ascendancy of capitalism over feudalism. A brief thought: In many ways anarchy, solidarity economies, etc. have co-existed with dominance hierarchies, much as mammals had coexisted with dinosaurs for millions of years before their rise. In fact, it was their occupation of humble ecological niches (e.g., burrows and bushes) that made them more resilient to the dual catasrophes of the Deccan Traps and the asteroid collision. (The dinosaurs were going to go extinct one way or the other because of changing conditions on Earth apart from the collision, changes which favored smaller, smarter animals.) As you know, the state's actual control is a different thing from its assertion of control, and much lies within that difference. The Louisiana Purchase merely meant (aside from pretensions of legitimacy) that France would not interfere with America's attempt to subdue various Native American tribes. The presence of a municipal police force does not preclude enforcement-free neighborhoods. As your article reminds us, the mammals are already here, and (with a bow Taleb and with apologies to Shelley,) "We are antifragile and they are fragile, no matter how many of them there are at present."
I just read your Counterpunch piece, Imprisoned for a Day.
"For, as much abstract knowledge as we may have about the evils of the system bearing the Orwellian name “criminal justice,” the matter appears in a different and darker light from within the dungeon cages underground."
Thank you for sharing this. Many of the huge problems that exist in the US spring from the total cluelessness of those that have at least some power to effect change. Privileged people such as myself (white, college-educated) are blind to their privilege, believing their good fortune is due to their moral uprightness and wisdom and lots of other delusional explanations. It makes me sick and plays out in many, many policy areas. Not having been arrested, however, it's hard for me to speak with any credibility. I shall share your article at every opportunity as it communicates what our system looks like from the 'inside'.
Hi Chris, I just finished your book about cooperatives, and found it very informative and interesting. I really liked your writing style and found all of it to be very accessible. Since it wasn't addressed in your book, I am curious to know what you make of all the hullabaloo around predictions about the rise of automation and artificial intelligence. You're probably aware of arguments from people like Nick Bostrom who think it's plausible that we'll see the rise of "superintelligent" computers in the next century or two. Seems like that's an issue that socialists/revolutionary-minded people should be grappling with. If historical materialism is basically correct, then those who create and control artificial intelligence/superintelligence will be able to wield an enormous amount of power. There's also the frequently discussed issue of automation, which seems to threaten the proliferation of worker cooperatives. Anyway, just curious to know if you have a take on these sorts of questions.
I'm not impressed by the arguments of people like Bostrom. I'm inclined to agree with Chomsky that the fear of artificial intelligence is overblown, that such intelligence doesn't represent anything like a major threat to humanity. The main 'system-external' threats that leftists (and everyone) should be concerned about are nuclear war and global warming. These are the real dangers, I think, not robots. In fact, I think they also represent dangers to capitalism, and will in all likelihood accelerate the implosion of our economic system in the next fifty and more years. (I'm talking mainly about global warming. Hoping nuclear war doesn't happen.)
Automation certainly presents a threat to jobs, and thus to the livelihood of millions. But I don't know what predictions can be made. I expect we'll begin to see popular movements somewhat like those of the Great Depression, which over decades will compel the state at all levels to address the concerns of people who have been thrown out of work by automation and economic crisis. The only thing I can say with reasonable confidence is that a popular backlash against neoliberalism (including rampant automation) will, or might, in the long run change the rules of the game: for instance, maybe the idea of a universal basic income will become more mainstream and even be implemented in various countries.
Automation could threaten cooperatives. Or cooperatives could harness automation in productive ways--especially if the state is pressured to get involved in the funding and promoting of cooperatives (as a way to manage discontent).
But I don't have much to say in terms of specifics. Either society will become largely ungovernable or a new, post-capitalist system will slowly emerge in response to neoliberalism-on-steroids. Either barbarism or socialism.
Thanks for your latest bit at Counterpunch. It's the same kind of struggle I find myself in too often, as well -- join the crowd, right? In a word, alienation, I suppose. Camus's the Absurd. On the other hand, it surely is affirming to find some sustainance in other minds and voices that you know share your thoughts, concerns and struggles. I have a geology background which had me working in environmental consulting, but the experience was a sour one for typical corporate corruption reasons....bad leadership, corrupt practices, comical self-aggrandisement amongst several characters in the company, etc. Later worked in pharmacy for some time, was accepted into pharmacy school at the U of Mich, but dropped out in some disillusionment. Drive truck now and in many respects much happier than I could ever have been as a corporate tool. And so it goes... So anyway, I'm grateful to add your voice my regular reading travels -- very much enjoyed your recent critique of Marx and his relevance today at CP.
I've read both your CP article and Nick Pemberton's and, strange as it sounds coming from a Bernie or Bust co-organizer, I'm more on your side than his. In fact, my agreement with Adolph Reed's brilliant piece, "Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger, It's Important," split the Bernie or Bust movement and caused me to resign from it. Much as I detest Clinton, Trump just seemed a bridge too far. In any case, today's Republicans likewise seem a bridge too far. But Democrats engage in a rather loathsome form of electoral extortion, holding the "insane Republican" gun to voters' heads while crushing all reform elements within their own party. As a climate justice activist, I deeply resent voting for a party committed to militarism and fracking. I'm thinking of a new organizing scheme based on progressives "choking back our vomit and voting Democrat" while planning to torture the Dems we elect. Since our votes are being extorted, we have a right to resentment. If Democrats weren't electoral extortionists, they'd push for ranked choice voting, which would eliminate the spoiler threat in voting Green. Part of our movement torture should consist in relentlessly demanding ranked choice voting--and open debates. In any case I'm curious what a reasonable leftist like yourself thinks of my organizing scheme.
I´ve been reading the Lesser Evil Voting discussion on CP and thought that the perspective of someone living with a similar but different electoral system might be of interest, as is the case with Brazil, now going through an especially troubling election.
In Brazil we're less of a "corporate duopoly" and more like a "corporate constellation", with many different parties, most with big money behind them. Only two parties have elected presidents in the past 6 elections, PSDB and PT, but to effectively govern both relied on another, larger party called PMDB, which has a tendency to end up on the presidency without actually being elected, such as with José Sarney and Michel Temer.
In 2018 we are set to have six parties with over 100 members in congress each and another five parties with between 50-100 members, among a total of over 30 political parties with elected representatives in the state and federal levels.
The vote is mandatory (18-70 year olds) and direct (no electoral college). Elections for mayor, governor and president have two rounds, where the two leading candidates in the first round face each other in the second. In a sense this frees people to vote first on who they most agree with, then on the second round to choose between the lesser evil of the two inevitably corporate-friendly finalists (or a null vote).
Our name for the lesser evil vote is "voto útil", which translates to "useful vote". This implies that the votes for unpopular candidates in the first round are useless, which seems in the spirit of lesser evil voting mentality in the US duopoly, although we do get an extra vote which doesn´t immediately determine the outcome of the election and perhaps helps to create alternatives for the future.
Of course, when it´s a close race with 3 or 4 "viable" candidates (that have a chance of going to round 2), many people will argue for voting on the lesser evil from round1, which sometimes happens in the district or state level but rarely in the presidential race. To make a crude comparison with the US, it would be like you could vote directly on Ralph Nader in a first round, then get to choose the lesser evil between a democrat and republican in the second round.
The first round of current Brazilian elections put "useful/lesser evil" voting in the spotlight. Facing the menace of the openly fascistic Bolsonaro, set to win tomorrow, for many the avoidance of his victory became top objective. One of the strongest arguments for PDT candidate Ciro Gomes were the polls which showed that in the second round he would do better against Bolsonaro than Haddad-PT, despite Haddad faring better than Ciro in the first. PT is the large center-left party PT which won the previous 4 elections with Lula and Dilma.
The idea was that Ciro Gomes had a better chance of defeating Bolsonaro because of the high rejection of PT, heavily demoralized after the impeachment (or soft coup) of Dilma and the politically motivated imprisonment and silencing of Lula. Maybe a parallel can be made with Bernie Sanders, whose campaign also argued he should win the primaries for being a stronger opponent against Trump, due to Hillary´s high rejection ratings. In the Brazilian case, however, it wasn´t rejection towards the relatively unknown Haddad, but rather to his party PT, especially due to the gigantic car wash corruption scandal.
In the first round Haddad was continually asked to step down, sacrificing himself and PT, to enable a stronger resistance against the Greater Threat of Jair Bolsonaro. In this sense, "lesser evil voting" was invoked not just as a personal voting strategy, but actually used as a direct appeal towards PT and Haddad, expecting them to gallantly step down in the name of progressive politics and democracy. Of course that didn´t happen.
But maybe the best parallel with Sanders isn´t Ciro, but Lula himself, whose popularity endured despite disillusionment with PT and the fact he's in jail and prohibited from speaking to the press. In the end, just as in the US the most popular left-wing candidate, Bernie Sanders, was cheated from running against Trump, in Brazil the most popular candidate was, contrary to a UN Human Rights Committee ruling, barred by our justice courts from running against Bolsonaro. In your case the problem was the Democratic Party itself, while in Brazil we get to blame our Judiciary.
Brazil would have witnessed a rather absurd election between two grounded candidates - one in prison and the other in hospital (Bolsonaro was stabbed, a fact that likely boosted his candidacy). Unfortunately, conservative sectors and institutions twisted the rules of the game to rob PT first of their presidency, in the gross impeachment proceedings of Dilma Rousseff, then of their main leader and candidate for this election, Lula da Silva. Haddad grew quickly with his blessings, but not nearly enough to defeat Bolsonaro.
Maybe the worse part is that you can think of your vote in any terms you like, as useful or less immediately useful, pragmatic or symbolic, for the lesser evil or the greater good, but what about when people don´t get to vote in who they most want to when it matters the most, be it Bernie to face Trump in the US or Lula to face Bolsonaro in Brazil ? Thus the main problem doesn´t seem to be the electoral system itself, neither the voting strategy of people in general, but something external to voting process itself.
Electoral politics is surely a road to fascism when leftist icons aren´t allowed to ride on it, while right-wing populists who should really be barred from being there, for the grossest hate-mongering and shadiest tactics (such as abuse of social media against electoral law, as in the recent case involving Whatsapp in Brazil) are tolerated. Here, instead, the electoral justice has cracked down on dozens of universities holding anti-fascist events, on dubious accusations of illegal electoral propaganda. One side gets to cheat, the other is cheated against. With Lula behind bars and the police in our colleges, is it any wonder Bolsonaro has achieved such success?
Mainstream media must also share the blame, for giving an overwhelming voice to the worse of right wing populism (even when most indignant of it), while silencing the most popular voices on the left, which maybe is another parallel between Bernie and Lula, although the former was mostly ignored by media while the later was actually forbidden to speak with the press.
Of course these are all rather crude comparisons. Neither Lula, Ciro or Haddad are Sanders and Bolsonaro isn´t Trump. Our countries are very different in many ways.
But maybe the electoral system itself doesn´t deserve so much blame. Despite the dramatic rise of Bolsonaro and his new PSL party, which in the first round elected 72 new representatives from the military, the battered PT still have the largest party in congress and will be able to put up a fight in the institutional level, and maybe that´s in part thanks to our electoral system, which could work a little better if other institutions and power structures weren´t as meddlesome.
I agree with your and Chomsky's thinking about least worst voting. I've made the same arguments myself. I do rankle and take exception to your and many other's blaming of Nader for Gore's loss to Bush in 2000. Nader is a great man and a hero and deserves better. So, in addition, to Greg Palast's analysis of the numbers whereby Gore was cheated of 70,000 votes by "spoiled" ballots, there were several other lefty candidates besides Nader for president in Florida in 2000 who received more than 537 votes. Then, of course, there was the Supreme Court and Gore's own culpability in the result. Singling out Nader as the bad guy and responsible for Bush's crimes is unfair.
Loved your tribute to Chomsky on his 90th birthday! Your last few paragraphs, in particular, are brilliant. They encapsulate a philosophy of life that can help us cope with the greed, insanity, corruption, and ignorance that are, tragically, rampant in our world. But as you point out, we have to expect this and yet find hope and motivation in the positive values of love, compassion, activism, and generosity that are also all around us. I have copied that passage and will post it on my desk to keep it in mind. I also passed it along to my four sons, who are all teachers, having followed my wife and me into the profession. (We both recently retured from full-time teaching but are still involved in our local school system.) I'm proud of their choice, even though teaching is a beleagured profession in many ways, but still capable of providing a good life, meaningful and always interesting.
It's particularly bad in Indiana (or as I call it, "The Mississippi of the North"). Teacher salaries in Indiana over the past several years, adjusted for inflation, have fallen by 16%. And they wonder why there's a teacher shortage. Part of the reason for the declining wages is Indiana's voucher program, the most aggressive in the nation. It siphons millions of dollars from public schools, and the schools receiving the vouchers have very little accountability. The program was initiated several years ago by then-governor Mitch Daniels.
It was challenged in the courts, of course, but to no avail. Astoundingly, the Indiana Supreme Court managed to dodge the line in the state constitution that says, "No funds shall be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of a religious or theological institution." So all these parochial schools, many of which teach creationism instead of evolution in science classes--in direct opposition to the state science standards--receive public funds. This clearly contradicts that line in the Indiana Constitution, but the justices, most appointed, of course, by Republican governors, manuevered around it because, they say, the money is going directly to the parents, not the school. (I'm pretty sure, though, that this isn't true even in a purely technical way; I don't think the state sends a check to the parents, who then pass it along to the school. Not that such a trick would validate the ruling; everyone knows it's state money flowing to a religious institution, no matter how you slice it or disguise it.)
Pretty ironic that the Republicans, supposedly the party of originalist or strict constructionist thinking about constitutions, managed to implement a program that so obviously contradicts the intent of the authors of our state constitution. I mean, how on earth could the authors have worded that line more clearly than they did?
On another note, teaching in Indiana, as in most states, is heavily influenced by the mania for high standardized test scores. Schools receive a very public grade of A through F, based on several factors, like graduation rates, number of students taking AP and dual-credit classes, etc. Test scores are a big factor, despite the close correlation of the those scores with socioeconomic factors and not the quality of teaching. I was fortunate the last several years of my teaching career to mostly teach dual-credit English classes through a local community college. I used their curriculum, which allowed me a lot of flexibility to choose teaching materials and methods. And my principal, a wonderful educator, trusted my experience and expertise, so she pretty much left me alone to instruct my students without a lot of pressure about test scores. In at least two nearby school systems that I know about, teachers are constrained by a detailed, scripted curriculum and have very little room for creativity or professional judgment. Essentially, the curriculum says, "If it's Oct. 12, you should be on p.87 of your textbook, where you will spend X minutes doing such and such." Fortunately, my school has not resorted to that sort of shenanigans, and I hope it never will.
Thanks for your article on Chomsky's 90th birthday, it was a delight to read, I appreciated the irony of it and the poignant critique of the decadent pretentiousness of our society and the absurd side of postmodernist intellectualism. I share your fascination with Noam and his dedication to truth and principle, I was particularly touched by your thoughts on aesthetics and transcendence, the quest for universal truth, the belief in the goodness of humanity and the commitment to do what we can to better the world around us. I share those views and aspirations, but I have another role model and conceptual framework to suggest: Bahá'u'lláh, his writings and the works of his followers. It's a truly revolutionary movement that decries decadents and calls for the human goods mentioned above, although it's rooted in spirituality rather than materialism. Like Marxism though, it confronts the injustices and delusions of our time and proposes a plan for a better, fairer and united world: if I were you, I'd check a couple of resources on this on the web (Rain Wilson gives an interesting introduction into it), on the more intellectual side you can read the works of environmentalist Arthur Lloyd Dahl and John Hudfleston's Search for a juste society. Wishing you all the best.
I discovered your thoughtful piece to mark Chomsky’s 90th birthday and enjoyed it very much. Thank you.
I was introduced to Noam’s work in high school and have since then considered him a trusted, moral, and ‘clean’ teacher.
I remember the feelings and sensations I had as a teenager when I first began to read his work. There was a profound sense of sadness and horror as I first learned about the bloody history of Latin America, the contempt for working people held by government and business elites, the hijacking of democratic institutions, etc. Difficult but important lessons.
There was, of course, also something satisfying, exciting, and empowering about learning how the world really worked.
I did share your sentiment about yearning to know Chomsky as a person and not just as an author — because I did feel that he was a hero of sorts.
I don’t think I can imagine living to be 90 years old, let alone keeping the schedule — and sharpness of mind — that Chomsky does.
I read some of your articles and really admired them. In these troubled times it is not often that one finds some some sane voice in this shit pile of modern age mediocre intellectualism. [...]
Chris your article "to be or not to be" is one of the best article that I have come across. Jonathan franzen also points toward a world which has zombified itself by narcissism. As you put it in your other articles against capitalism, that our region identities have been wiped out and globalisation has created the same zombie herd mentality humans everywhere. In some respects even franzen shies away from showing us the true reality. Maybe accomplishment brings with itself a mute acceptance.
Your writing has a touch of neitzschean psychology and the beauty of schophenaur emotions. You also mention the greatest threat to our civilization is that it has lost the will of resistance towards the demonic corporate force. It feels like this modern century lives in an alternate reality where the basic moral norms have completely changed. I thank the counterpunch magazine bcz without it I would hav never known you. I am filled with a lot of emotion right now . Your article "to be or not to be" made me cry. I recollect the words of Primo levi an italian jew who suffered holocaust. He said "in those horrid camps it were those good people who lost their will to live and died early and all the rotten souls the scum survived till last.
Sometimes I feel that there is no higher divine power governing us and this very though fills my inner self with hollowness and loathing for life. I hope you will excuse my poor writing. I am not a native english speaker. I am from india ,born in a middle class family and hav acquired english with great effort.
I was writing to my brother in the States about our relatively privileged growing up in the Fifties in a small, then mostly agricultural, town in southeast Michigan and how unconnected/unsophisticated we were politically, literally living The American Dream, as if we were sleep-walking through life like so many others. And how our lifestyles have slipped down the socio-economic ladder since those times, for any number of reasons. I decided to leave that aside and take a look at DV and came across your fine article.
I chose to avoid the corporate world and wandered around working ranches out West, teaching around the Med, in the States, sailing for fun and even a bit of profit from time to time, and find myself now retired and living very frugally in France, writing to you from a three hundred year old farmhouse in a hamlet of fifty people only an hour by TGV from Paris.
There are so many contradictions to my life these days (always have been, in retrospect), that I often think of what French author, Pierre Magnan once wrote in a memoire, Ma Provence d'Heureuse rencontre: Venez respirer Forcalquier quand la nuit tombe. Vous y gagnerez à ses terrasses la vacuité de l’âme qui convient au repos et je crois qu’à partir d’ici vous serez à même de comprendre pourquoi ce pays me convient et pourquoi, y étant admis, je peux en toute quiétude être atteint d’incuriosité totale pour le reste du monde. * (Come breathe Forcalquier at nightfall. Its terraces offer a sense of existential peace and quiet and I believe that from here you’ll be able to understand why this place appeals to me and why, once accepted, I can easily become infected by a total lack of curiosity for the rest of the world.)
[Later.] Thanks for getting back. I’m just an old guy who pranced around a part of the world on ill-founded plans and lots of dreams, and happens to find himself where he is. As a teacher, I tried to instill curiosity and listen to my students. As a sailor, I took Mother Nature seriously, and in my other endeavours, I tried to absorb what was going on around me. Yeah, I was once in jail during the Vietnam protests in Colorado, later released to speak to the president of the university, strangely enough. Boulder was becoming gentrified, so I moved north, working ranches in Wyoming and Montana before they became gated communities, but long enough to absorb the absolute freedom of the prairies and the mountains. It was a sad day when I packed up my old ’49 Chevy pickup and headed back east to continue my studies, having no idea of what I would find, so I took my boots off and drove barefoot, and one early morning, jumped into the Missouri, in one last baptismal of freedom.
Really liked your piece in CP. I saw Tom Friedman interviewed on CNN--the ultimate "moderate". Sadly people will probably be foolish enough to repeat history again, vote against their best interests and wonder why they loose, again. While he may still be learning to write and I suspect, reason, there is no doubt of his allegiance to maintaining the status quo. He has a powerful media platform that is his to abuse. I long for a fraction of his access to the global audience, but who cares what a socialist farmer thinks?
Hi Chris, I just read your recent article in CP. I am an avid CP reader and for my sins I am an economist with a particular interest in the depravity of neoliberal capitalism (there's nothing new or liberal about it). I am an Australian and at 58 years old I can remember the dying days of the slightly more civilised, pre-neoliberal era, the legacy days of FDR's New Deal and Keynesian managed (partially civilised) capital - the mid-to-late 1970s. During my entire adult life I have watched the ripping apart of the social fabric with great sorrow. I've witnessed so many of the post war gains up to the late 1970s being stolen by and even willingly offered up without a fight by my gutless generation (yes, it includes me too) to capital. The dreams of the sociopathic architects in the Mont Pellerin Society all coming to fruition.
Anyway, I don't want to make this a long essay (you can probably already tell I have the capacity to get on a bit of a roll). I wanted to say that I am widely read on this subject area and I found your article to be one of the best, beautifully written short pieces I have read. I will familiarise myself with more of your work.
I have written several blog pieces on various aspects of our modern existential malaise, but I am not prolific - more a reader than a writer. Although I am working on a longer piece at the moment (it's in its embryonic stage at present) on the subject matter of your article, punctuated with a particular Australian perspective and local anecdotes.
Finally, I think your point about all hope resting in socialism is probably right. Certainly capitalism is a miserable failure, so why not give genuine socialism a go. Most people, particularly outspoken critics don't have a clue what it is or they know exactly what it is and are petrified by notions such as social and economic justice and equity. Those who criticise socialism by equating it with the horrors of Stalinism are either ignoramuses or simply subservient to their masters interests, and there have been many many spineless bastards from my profession only too eager to sell themselves, their honesty and integrity out to the highest bidder. In my view I think socialism at a genuine national level has not often been tried and in the circumstances it has been it has been viciously attacked - witness much of Latin America! At the regional and sub-national level quite successful endeavours such as Mondragon corporation in Spain is encouraging but they never seem to get much coverage in the press or by mainstream politicians. I wonder why. In general though I think socialism would be, to paraphrase Ghandi 'a good idea'. Of course Ghandi said that in response to a question about American democracy. And as Chomsky has pointed out 'capitalist democracy' is an oxymoron.
Anyway, I couldn't help myself - apologies for the long rant.