Disappearing World Forum Q&A Session with Arundhati Roy, held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, 2013
One could write a never-ending book about all that is contained in and around this event so it will be difficult to write anything short here. I could say something romantic about ugliness and beauty, about the drama of our existence, of exploiter and the exploited, of greed and resistance to that greed. Or about the possibility that we humans are flawed in our very DNA and evolution and may never be capable of collective peace and goodwill to all. I could say history is never in the past. I could say ideology is profound, especially when it has almost unlimited power driving it into plastic labile minds. I could say capitalism is a fundamental threat to the survival of almost all living things – especially humans. I could say corporate neoliberal rule is designed to exacerbate the logic of capitalism which is ceaseless accumulation and the commodification of all things. Or I could focus on the institution and histories and ideologies and power relations that brought those specific questioners there at that particular time. Or I could focus on Arundhati and all she is representing and all the superlatives that would flow from there. All of the strength, intelligence, elegance, beauty, all of the eloquence, patience, and fortitude. Or I could point out her seeming prescience about our current state of affairs, which was actually a clear-eyed left analysis that has been on the right (correct) side of history for generations, along with common sense ideas like fairness, justice, right and wrong…and feelings, like passion and empathy. Well, the never-ending book won’t start now, so here ends this bit of thought and feeling, digitized, and published for those few who will come across it.
At this point the choice for liberals is clear, but it’s clear the liberals asking the questions still don’t get it – or they do get it, but are so steeped in the venality of capitalism and neoliberalism they are confused. Yanis is frequently called a radical and liberals have consistently dismissed him as unrealistic, though it’s clear they are willing to listen more now than they have been in the past. If liberals still think Yanis is a radical they are sadly mistaken. He is offering the moderate way forward. I don’t know how big his organization is at the moment and it’s yet to be seen if it will gain enough traction to become viable in Europe, but if self-proclaimed liberals can’t get behind someone like him…well, I’ll leave it to you to complete the thought.
The minuscule level of left gains since 2008 have not moved the needle much – and “The Resistance” is a sad joke. The next manufactured crisis the financial “industry” will bring down on us will make people more extreme in every direction. The currently comfortable might then wonder why they didn’t try to do more when they had a chance – or more likely, they will do what they have been doing: the ol’ see no evil routine and/or keep head in sand/up ass and/or continue to support the right wing (and yes, that means most Dems, or whatever party you want to substitute in your country). Simply pressing a button or filling out a form every two or so years has never been and will never be enough.
When confronted with any of this, the first thing I always hear from liberals is, “well what can I do?” You know what I never hear them say? “Instead of binge-watching tv and letting corporate news wash over me every night, I took a day to research who was already organizing and doing something and then I went out and met people and actually tried to do something.” Never hear that. I’m not saying that will change our current trajectory, because a lot of those people thought they were doing something by knitting pussy hats, but I am saying being a liberal was never a good thing and in the last forty years those liberals who thought voting was the be all and end all of politics, voted for right-wing neoliberals over and over. They voted for the lesser of two evils and eventually got the current u.s. president, or macron, or may or erdogan, or take your pick…
It’s too late to say time to wake up. That time has passed. Organize locally, find left organizations that are national and international, and if they aren’t, make them international. And don’t stop until it’s world-wide. A perfect test case would be teachers. You may have noticed teachers organized to strike in some of the poorest states in the u.s. They realized they could do something and then they realized they could talk to other teachers in other states. They called for a reduction in their health insurance costs, they called for raises for all state employees and for the major corporations sucking the wealth from their states to actually pay taxes. The next step, though literally no one is saying this, is to talk to teachers in other countries. Form organizations and then join up with other organizations to form something massive and worldwide. Think about how many teachers there are in the world, think about how many nurses there are… If unions were democratic and had the ideals of the I.W.W., they’d be doing the same, or better yet, they’d be welcoming groups with open arms of solidarity and sharing resources. (To be fair, some are more democratic than others and some are doing better work than others, but no big union is working for real internationalism). If you’re in a union, democratize it, and then make it international.
Well, I could go on, but I don’t have the time or energy. About three to ten people will read this. It’s more venting than anything else, though it is not satisfying in any way, shape, or form. I’m writing this as a poor person in the richest country that ever existed in the history of the world. You know, the country where about half the people are poor and a paycheck away from the street – if they even have a paycheck. The one where millions have no health care, and the ones who do find out it’s inadequate when they actually need it because there is a massive corporation between them and well, living. The one where mass shootings happen every week. The one with a record number of people in prison. The country who went from a deporter-in-chief sending people to die in countries the u.s. helped turn into corrupt regimes with gangs and putting women and children into for-profit detention camps, to an avowed racist deporting people and putting them into for-profit detention camps – or let’s just be honest and call them what they are: prisons. Of course this is the land of for-profit prisons. What do you need for more profits? You guessed it, more prisoners… The land of poisoned earth, air, and water. The land of mass surveillance, mass homelessness, mass killings. The one bombing the world into oblivion, selling the most weapons of any country. Selling them to the dictators it props up and attempting to overthrow democratically elected politicians it calls dictators. The one at endless war in multiple countries. The one with the homeless drug addicted veterans with PTSD it denies services to. The one where people who literally want to kill regulatory agencies are in charge of them. The one with the militarized police who harass and kill with impunity and think they are an occupying force in their own country. The one whose federal courts are packed with hanging judges and where the supreme court rules corporations are people and reverses voting rights for people of color. The one with hungry kids, the one with all the wannabe fascists (sometimes on the street and often in churches and government). The one whose corporations don’t pay taxes while grinding austerity and privatization is loosed on everyday people by the politicians the corporations purchase. The one with the most effective propaganda since the third reich. The one with current and former students carrying almost 1.5 trillion dollars in student loans – that the government is making money on. The country where people who should be building a future are forced to spend 50-80% of their income on rent – if they have a place to rent, Again, if they even have income… Ok, time to stop, because this list could fill many volumes.
The u.s. didn’t invent death and destruction and making war on it’s own people, but it has exported its capitalist, neoliberal version of these things all over the world. That alone gives the people of the world a shared struggle, if they choose to come together and fight this insanity. Yanis is proposing and trying to work for a way forward. Is it “the” way? Impossible to say, but I can say that it is moderate. Increasingly, our collective options for change are being narrowed and will, more and more, be determined by extreme situations created by extreme people with extreme ideas. The only way forward is collective action on a worldwide scale. Liberals are afraid of radical change, so they turn away from the left, but guess what we’ve been living through instead? What liberals have, let’s be generous and say unwittingly, helped to bring about? Right wing extremism. Ironically, for liberals to get the peace and equality they say they want and believe in, they will have to become radicals. Radical change, just means change at the root. Fundamental, systemic change, not tweaking a totally corrupt system around the edges while more and more people suffer every day. Yanis is proposing to start with moderate change that will stabilize global capitalism so we can then calmly implement some kind of collective ownership. Again, I won’t go into the arguments for and against, I am simply saying this seems like radicalism to liberals, but the political spectrum has been dragged to the right by right-wing extremists for forty years, which means liberals are on the right, fascists are to their right, and Yanis is simply proposing moderate old school social democratic changes. If you aren’t choosing to support that and you’re not doing anything that could be called organizing the left, you are choosing the right-wing extremism that is the status quo.
When Blyth says, “it’s a matter of political will” that is not something to be elided. When you hear that phrase it usually indicates corruption. In this case, the entire system they are discussing is corrupt. Something to think about when you choose to find your hope in electoral politics. I’m not saying don’t be involved in electoral politics, but when capital can buy politicians and elections, a more radical approach is the only thing that can break that kind of power. What is it? Well, it starts with people coming together locally, then nationally, then internationally in a way that builds power. That power and organization will eventually have to be equal to or greater than the power of capital. If people just come together for protests and to vote, there is no hope to be had.
I have my own criticisms and reservations, but I support what I see at this point, simply because they have a unifying pan Europe(an) vision, which is a bigger vision than any other movement or group with any momentum has at this point. And, it’s something, as opposed to nothing, which is saying a lot at this moment in history, but whatever happens in whatever country – or collection of countries – we need a worldwide movement to fight the forces of capital.
This is part of my criticism. The elite will never act in good faith and the powerful will never give up power because someone has a winning argument. This may be too little too late, but the hope is that things change along the way – and we have to start somewhere. There is no reason this movement or something like it can’t spread around the world.
A worldwide movement is the only thing that can win the struggle against capitalists. I don’t believe an alternative model can be implemented which will organically replace capitalism. Capitalists have fought a vicious battle against most of us our entire lives. And they won. But it’s not enough. They’re still fighting, still amassing more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands, at our expense and on the backs of poor people throughout the globe. They are terrorizing the world and creating more suffering every day. They are bent on total ecological destruction and total war. It’s organized worldwide corruption on a scale that has never existed in history. It’s driven by the logic of capitalism, which is ceaseless accumulation and the commodification of all things. That can’t be confronted with reform – which takes us back to the beginning of my criticisms and reservations, but, at this point, I’m willing to back DiEM25 as a starting point – but it is only for the lack of more effective radical options. So, I suggest Europeans join DiEM25 and that they do so – and it sounds even more utopian than a Europe-wide movement – with an eye toward a worldwide movement, as I believe that is ultimately our only hope for long-term survival as a species.
Fairly typical bright but fundamentally clueless BBC interviewer talks to Chomsky like an equal, is confronted with the truth, and most of it bounces off of him as if he were made of teflon. He seems clueless because he has almost totally absorbed the reigning neoliberal ideology of the establishment. He wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t. Chomsky’s and Edward S. Herman’s Manufacturing Consent breaks down how the interviewer got where he is. It also explains why the BBC has fallen even further into its role as partisan mouthpiece for the right (i.e, the aforementioned neoliberal establishment). Spoiler alert: the BBC is state media and corporations and the super rich run the state.
The way the BBC titled the video is the definition of burying the lede.
This is a must listen interview from a must listen podcast:
“Historian James Livingston examines the deep problem with employment in the 21st century – the broken relationship between work and income, and explains why we must look beyond capitalism’s intellectual decrepitude, and to the rising rate of transfer payments, if we are to reclaim our labor, our happiness and our time from the demands of capitalism.
“The end of work is in sight. The connection between work performed and character created, or work preformed and income received is absolutely unintelligible – so let’s get on with a society in which there doesn’t have to be a relationship between work and income. Let’s get on with what we used to call ‘Socialism.'”
James is the author of the new book, No More Work: Why Full Employment Is a Bad Idea from UNC Press and the Aeon essay Fuck Work.”
To be clear, I would have posted this under any administration. The u.s. has always been closer to despotism than democracy. These last many decades have put the ruling class firmly on the despotic end of the scale.
This is from 2013. As far as I know, Sweden has continued to impose neoliberal “reforms” on its people. If anyone has an update (from any sector), feel free to leave a comment.
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I think the question of whether the establishment media is racist is directly tied to whether “the country” is racist. If it was explored deeply enough, it would illuminate quite a few fundamental truths of this big confused country. There are so many aspects to these topics, that many books could be (and have been) written about them, so it will be difficult to limit this discussion to a few tweets. Maybe I’ll write on it for a bit, extract some tweets, and then give you a link to it.
Racism has been a significant element in american media from the beginning. From omission to gross caricatures, from mischaracterization to enforcing and re-enforcing stereotypes, to outright lies. When you include the entertainment industry, the racism goes off the charts. Donald Bogle is a great source for this. In news media, the list is just as long and damaging. There are endless historical examples of papers actively promoting slavery, and when they couldn’t promote slavery, they promoted racism. Yes, even in the north. When they couldn’t actively promote racism, they became more subtle, but the effects were often the same. For an indication of how far the media had come by 1967, I would cite the Kerner Report. By ’68 I would just cite reality. For a more contemporary view, just look at what the establishment media tried to do to Ferguson. It was so bad, so quickly, that the protesters stopped talking to CNN. Of course, they didn’t really ever want to talk to Fox, for obvious reasons, and the other major sources didn’t come out looking much better. And that was just the protest. The way the media reported on Mike Brown (and every other victim of police violence) was sickening and reprehensible, and yes, racist. Could I open up a paper or roll you a clip of that very kind of reporting this year? Of course.
You say most reporters aren’t racist, but somehow, when they’re reporting for the establishment media it often comes out racist. In Ferguson, Don Lemon would be a perfect example of how this happens. Another aspect of racism is that, more often than not, no reporting gets done when there is not a crisis or some event that could be presented as something a white audience could perceive as negative. When is black and brown life acknowledged at all when it’s not sports, entertainment, or a so-called riot? Omission of black and brown life in general may actually be the starkest comment on the racism of this country and its media. And why am I using these terms? Because black, brown, white, red, etc., are how this country has divided people, and it is how a racist system encourages and forces us to identify. Racism is the air we breathe.
Does all of this have to be “fed inorganically by media elites”? Of course not. I think Herman and Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” explains perfectly how this happens as a function of propaganda. You could say racism is part of the propaganda and/or that racism in the media functions in the same way propaganda does. That would be another discussion, but certainly germane to this one.
“Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, proposes that the mass communication media of the U.S. “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion”, by means of the propaganda model of communication. The title of the book, Manufacturing Consent, derives from the phrase “the manufacture of consent,” employed in the book Public Opinion (1922), by Walter Lippmann…”
As I generally agree with this analysis (the analysis is the book), I wholeheartedly disagree with your statement that, “Overall, in fact, I think media elites are a force for pluralism, which is why they are so resented and blamed by the right.”
I think the right (a designation I will comment on shortly) came up with “the liberal media” as a propaganda tool and many people who identify as right-wing believed it much more than than the cynical creators of the phrase. I think it worked better than they ever could have imagined. It is a smoke-screen – or maybe more accurately, smoke and mirrors. That is, it is the perfect tool of misdirection while performing your magic trick of moving everything to the right. You create an enemy while you actually benefit from that enemy. In other words, it keeps the discourse within certain bounds and forces people to the right – and forces people who identify as liberal into a defensive posture.
So, getting to that rightward turn brings us to your obama point. The election of obama was extraordinary by every measure. I believe obama was elected in a time of crisis, and that crisis occurred after america had been collectively traumatized by bush the second and his goons. While a record number of voters turned out the first time for obama, only about half of the people eligible to vote do so at any given time – and actually fewer most of the time. Not only are many people of color disenfranchised, but the majority of all people who could vote in this country choose not to. This leads to another discussion, so I will try not to digress too much. That being said, I don’t discount that obama is perceived as black and was elected twice. He is white. Well, he is just as much white as he is black – but we call him black because, as I said above, racism is the air we breathe. It goes back to the “blood quantum” and “one drop” rule, methods of determining the “race” of an individual, which of course had legal and social consequences.
To digress a bit more, I have personal experience of obama’s hometown and school. His school is a training ground not only for the professional class, but for the elite. What it means to be black in Hawaii is quite different than the mainland. He learned what he could in Chicago, but, well, I won’t continue. Suffice it to say, he is not now, nor has he ever been, connected to the black working class. He went from elite K-12 to elite universities, and then to elite office. Everything I just stated shows personally and in his policies – or lack thereof…
Aside from the positive symbolism (which I don’t discount), he has, on balance, been an extremely right-wing president. He has extended and doubled-down on many bush era policies, He is drilling everywhere and building new nuclear weapons to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, he oversees a drone program and has expanded (with the help of hillary) war to many countries. Obamacare is actually romneycare (a “health” program developed by right-wing think tanks) and it’s true effectiveness has yet to be proven (no cap on rates, tens of millions still uninsured, often unaffordable even with subsidies, many cases of insufficient coverage). Race to the top was an unmitigated disaster and he supports onerous testing, common core, and charter schools, which is de facto privatization. He has deported and imprisoned more undocumented refugees than any other president, and he has prosecuted more journalists and whistle-blowers than any other president. Ever. As you know, it has had a chilling effect on journalism overall. I won’t even get into how black people have fared under his watch, but I will say, they haven’t recovered the wealth that was stolen from them in the manufactured crisis – but the banks that stole it are fatter than ever. Coincidentally, they lost a lot of voting rights too, but I can’t blame him personally for that because it was a supreme court ruling. Really though, the cherry on top, the thing that trumps, if you will, everything, and reveals his true allegiances (the ones that will make him a very rich man), is that he is a passionate supporter and promoter of the TPP. The TPP has been described as NAFTA on steroids. I don’t think that goes far enough, because that corporate crafted series of international laws will actually chip away at nation state’s ability to stay sovereign entities. In very clear ways, it empowers corporations to rule the world and to use the coffers of states and taxpayer money to enrich themselves.
How is any of that “incremental change in a centrist republic?” This is a neoliberal corporate oligarchy – the development of which is the “change that is provoking this reactionary anger.” Any anti-racist activism is also a response to this (and to historical racism, that is part and parcel of the present racism). Totally aside from their overt racism, the GOP began alienating their base long ago by going fully corporate to the full exclusion of all working people. As soon as it was clear they had completely turned their back on the majority of the american population, they began looking for even more extreme constituencies than, say, the evangelicals and other fundamentalists they first went to when their political future was in question. Ironically, they abandoned their old base by forwarding a bi-partisan turn toward neoliberal policies like NCLB, cutting benefits, escalation of the drug war, the creation of the prison industrial complex, and NAFTA – which did more to undermine their base (and the big D Democrats base for that matter) than anything before or since. I’m not even including the trillions spent on war and weapons that is also rubber-stamped by both parties. Of course, reagan and his thugs set much of this into motion before most of those horrors were perpetrated. The irony is that the base they alienated was ripe for tea party recruitment. The koch brothers and fox sponsored a lot of that organization, but the raw fear and rage was already there because of the GOP’s original betrayal. Of course, it’s hard to call it a betrayal because the GOP never cared much for the worker. The point is, the rise of DT is a direct consequence of that original and continuing betrayal. As I stated, this is largely the result of a bi-partisan embrace of the neoliberal project, which is an expression of the logic of capitalism: ceaseless accumulation and the commodification of all things. That project is right wing and by it’s very nature racist because it exacerbates capitalism and all of the tactics used by capitalists to plunder and accumulate more capital. Divide and conquer through creating and exploiting difference, prey on the poor and the weak (and now what’s left of the middle class). That is the logic that is motivating every branch of government (and many governments all over the world), to say nothing of the corporations who pay for them.
As I tried to emphasize, I think we have been dragged to the right through a bi-partisan neoliberal consensus that continues unabated today. Has there been some resistance? Not much, but I hope that resistance grows and makes connections world-wide, because neoliberalism is a world-wide project. India and UK are two of many examples. The neoliberal assault on the UK is profound and totally unreported by most media. There is also a strong argument to be made that the imposition of neoliberalism in the so-called middle east and all over Africa contributed to the unrest that sparked the arab spring.
To wrap this up, I don’t believe every american is racist. I don’t believe every person in the media is racist. I don’t believe every member of the elite is racist, but, we are surrounded by racism and it pervades all of our institutions. It is systemic. Do I think there has been progress from slavery to now? Of course. Do I think the relatively small gains made through civil rights movements have been undermined and contained from the beginning and significantly rolled back in the decades since – despite the election of obama? Hell yes. I tried to present some supporting arguments here, though, there are many, many, more.
In thoughtful discussion,
21st Century Poet
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In the fall of 2006, Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, Margaret Kimberley and Leutisha Stills of CBC Monitor left Black Commentator, which Ford had co-founded and edited since 2002, and launched Black Agenda Report.
Check it out. Well worth your while…
Starts around the two minute mark:
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