Defining feature of postmodern capitalism

The defining feature of ‘postmodern’ capitalism is the direct commodification of our experience itself: what we are buying on the market are less and less products (material objects) that we want to own, and more and more ‘life-experiences’ — experiences of sex, eating, communicating, cultural consumption, participating in a lifestyle — or, as Mark Slouka put it succinctly, ‘we become the consumers of our own lives’. We no longer buy objects; we ultimately buy (the time of) our own life. Michel Foucault’s notion of turning one’s self itself into a work of art thus gets an unexpected confirmation: I buy my bodily fitness by visiting fitness clubs; I buy my spiritual enlightenment by enrolling in courses on transcendental meditation; I buy the satisfactory self-experience of myself as ecologically aware by purchasing only organic fruit, etc. Although these activities may have beneficial effects, their main importance is clearly ideological.

—Slavoj Žižek, The Courage of Hopelessness, (London: Penguin, 2018), 21.

I appreciate this insight. I’ve long been bemused by acquaintances who, while seemingly obsessed with “self-improvement” of one sort or another or with various popular culture distractions, especially fantasy and science fiction related, actually seem less engaged with the cultural artifact or spiritual teaching and more involved with the act of consuming the thing focused upon. For people who conceive of themselves as above all consumers, rather than citizens or intellectuals or artisans or connoisseurs, what is of interest is in fact not the thing consumed but the transaction.

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Tragedy

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Žižek on American late night comedians

In fifteenth-century Russia, when it was occupied by Mongols, a farmer and his wife walk along a dusty country road. A Mongol warrior on horseback stops at their side and tells the farmer that he will now rape his wife. He then adds: ‘But, since there is a lot of dust on the ground, you should hold my testicles while I’m raping your wife, so that they will not get dirty!’ After the Mongol finishes his job and rides away, the farmer starts to laugh and jump with joy. The surprised wife asks him: ‘How can you be jumping with joy when I was just brutally raped in your presence?’ The farmer answers: ‘But I got him! His balls are full of dust!’ This sad joke tells of the predicament of dissidents: they think they are dealing serious blows to the party nomenklatura, but all they are doing is getting a little bit of dust on the nomenklatura’s testicles, while the nomenklatura continue raping the people. And can we not say exactly the same about Jon Stewart and co. making fun of Trump — do they not just dust his balls, or perhaps in the best of cases scratch them?

—Slavoj Žižek, The Courage of Hopelessness, (London: Penguin, 2018), 265.

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Trump Names Richard Grenell as Acting Head of Intelligence

New York Times:

President Trump on Wednesday named Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany who quickly antagonized the establishment after arriving in Berlin in 2018, to be the acting director of national intelligence overseeing the nation’s 17 spy agencies.

By choosing Mr. Grenell, who has little experience in intelligence or in running a large bureaucracy, the president signaled that he wants a trusted, aggressive leader atop an intelligence community that he has long viewed with suspicion and at times gone to war against.

As ambassador, Mr. Grenell made public statements that some German officials took as expressing opposition to the government there, an extraordinary intervention into domestic affairs that diplomats typically avoid.

The wording here greatly amuses me.

Die Zeit:

Der Trump-Unterstützer nutzte sein Botschafteramt in Berlin für oftmals offensive Ansagen an die Bundesregierung und brach damit mit der üblichen diplomatischen Zurückhaltung. So forderte Grenell bereits kurz nach seinem Amtsantritt deutsche Firmen auf, sich aus dem Iran-Geschäft zurückzuziehen, nachdem Trump aus dem Deal ausgestiegen war.

Viel Kritik gab es in Europa für den Botschafter auch, als Grenell in einem Interview mit dem ultrarechten Internetportal Breitbart gesagt hatte, er halte es für seine Aufgabe, konservative Bewegungen in ganz Europa zu stärken. Er wurde von dem Portal mit den Worten zitiert: “Ich möchte andere Konservative in Europa, andere Anführer, unbedingt stärken.”

Im August hatte Grenell im Streit um die deutschen Verteidigungsausgaben mit einem Teilabzug von US-Soldaten und -Soldatinnen aus Deutschland gedroht, sollte die Bundesregierung den Wehretat nicht erhöhen. Zuvor hatte er der Bundesregierung in der Debatte um eine Beteiligung des chinesischen Huawei-Konzerns am Aufbau des 5G-Mobilfunknetzes mit Konsequenzen für die Geheimdienstzusammenarbeit gedroht. Für seine Einmischung und kritischen Äußerungen zog Grenell immer wieder den Unmut deutscher Politikerinnen und Politiker auf sich.

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Disgrace

BBC:

Children facing uncertain future, experts warn

No country offers a child both the chance of a healthy upbringing and an environment fit for their future, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

A child flourishing and futures profile: a new way to understand country progress



Prof Costello warned the UK’s high ranking for the overall health and wellbeing of children did not mean it could “rest on its laurels,” citing a predicted rise in child poverty as a warning sign.

“For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st Century Britain is not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one,” he said.

“a new way to understand country progress”. Always teleology.

In articles on inequality of wealth I continually see words like “disgrace”, “calamity”, “tragedy”. Social media seems saturated with attempts to shame, with displays of contempt. They must not understand how unfair this is. This just doesn’t make sense. Boy, they’re dumb, don’t they understand how their actions contradict their words? If I stand by the side of the road and make my scorn known the oligarch will change his ways.

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The true danger

In the last few years, troubles in our global-capitalist paradise have exploded at four levels, with four figures of the enemy: the renewed fundamentalist-terrorist threat (the declaration of war against ISIS, Boko Haram …); geo-political tensions with and between non-European new powers (China and especially Russia); the rise of new radical emancipatory movements in Europe (Greece and Spain, for the time being); the flow of refugees crossing the Wall that separates ‘Us’ from ‘Them’, thereby ‘posing a threat to our way of life’. It is crucial to see these threats in their interconnection — not in the sense that they are the four faces of the same enemy, but in the sense that they express aspects of the same immanent ‘contradiction’ of global capitalism. Although fundamentalism and the flow of refugees appear as the most threatening of the four (is ISIS not a brutal denial of our civilized values?), the tensions with Russia pose a much more serious danger to peace in Europe, while movements like Syriza prior to its capitulation undermine from within global capitalism in its neo-liberal version. But there should be no misunderstanding here: Western powers can easily co-exist with fundamentalist regimes; while in the case of Putin, the problem is how to contain Russia in geo-political terms (recall that his rise is the result of the catastrophic Yeltsin years marked by corruption, the years when Western economic advisors helped to humiliate Russia and to bring it to ruin). So although the US formally declared war on ISIS, and although there is constant talk about the threat of a war with Russia, the true danger are the moderate and ‘gentle’ new emancipatory movements from Syriza in Greece to the followers of Bernie Sanders in the US, and their putative radicalization.

—Slavoj Žižek, The Courage of Hopelessness, (London: Penguin, 2018), xii.

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Perspectives, Gramsci

Noam Chomsky, 03.02.2020:

The core of Sanders’s “politico-ideological gestalt” is his long-standing commitment to the interests of the large majority of the population, not the top 0.1 percent (not 1 percent, 0.1 percent) who hold more than 20 percent of the country’s wealth, not the very rich who were the prime beneficiaries of the slow recovery from the 2008 disaster caused by financial capital. The U.S. achievement in this regard far surpasses that of other developed countries, so we learn from recently released studies, which show that in the U.S., 65 percent of the growth of the past decade went to the very rich; next in line was Germany, at 51 percent, then declining sharply. The same studies show that if current trends persist, in the next decade all growth in the U.S. will go to the rich.

Chris Hedges, 17.02.2020:

Sanders’ democratic socialism is essentially that of a New Deal Democrat. His political views would be part of the mainstream in France or Germany, where democratic socialism is an accepted part of the political landscape and is routinely challenged as too accommodationist by communists and radical socialists.

Ω Ω Ω

Sanders, unlike many more radical socialists, does not propose nationalizing the banks and the fossil fuel and arms industries. He does not call for the criminal prosecution of the financial elites who trashed the global economy or the politicians and generals who lied to launch preemptive wars, defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, which have devastated much of the Middle East, resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees and displaced people, and cost the nation between $5 trillion and $7 trillion. He does not call for worker ownership of factories and businesses. He does not promise to halt the government’s wholesale surveillance of the public. He does not intend to punish corporations that have moved manufacturing overseas. Most importantly, he believes, as I do not, that the political system, including the Democratic Party, can be reformed from within. He does not support sustained mass civil disobedience to bring the system down, the only hope we have of halting the climate emergency that threatens to doom the human race. On the political spectrum, he is, at best, an enlightened moderate.

“On the political spectrum”? On whose political spectrum? A political spectrum informed by what? Watching Fox News? Watching MSNBC/CNN and reading the New York Times, Atlantic?

“sustained mass civil disobedience”? “sustained” in the US? “mass civil disobedience” in the US?

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

—Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks“Wave of Materialism” and “Crisis of Authority” (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 275‑276.

I not infrequently see theorists refer to this quote from Gramsci. I find myself wondering, however, how much turning to this may be the result of a desperate dependence on millenarianism. What in fact is “the old” which is dying? Surely not the fact of power being wielded by capital.

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A call for Direct action™

“block all promoted advertising on @Twitter until they restore @wikileaks”? Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

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Opioid vending machine opens in Vancouver

Guardian:

After verifying his identity with a biometric fingerprint scan, the machine dispensed Durban with three pills for each of his four daily visits, in line with his prescription.

“It means I don’t have to go and buy iffy dope,” he said. “I have a clean supply. I don’t have to deal with other people so much. You’re treated like an adult, not some kind of demonic dope fiend. We’re just people with mental health issues.”

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Der Westen

SZ:

“Der Westen gewinnt”, hat US-Außenminister Mike Pompeo wieder und wieder versichert. Für eine gute Nachricht konnte das nur halten, wer das Neusprech der Ära Trump nicht versteht. Der Sieg jenes Westens, den Pompeo feiert, ist das glatte Gegenteil jenes Westens, in dem sich die meisten Europäer einmal zuhause gefühlt haben.

Ω Ω Ω

Steinmeier hatte gesagt, die USA hätten unter der jetzigen Regierung selbst “der Idee einer internationalen Gemeinschaft eine Absage” erteilt. Pompeo gab dieses Zitat verkürzt und somit falsch wieder, indem er das wichtige Wort “Idee” ausließ.

Steinmeier unterstellte nicht, dass Trumps Amerika nichts mehr mit der Welt zu tun haben wolle. Er beklagte nur, wie es dieser Welt gegenübertritt. Mit seiner Rede hat Pompeo eindrucksvoll demonstriert, wie berechtigt diese Klage ist.

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