January 14, 2010 -- Living in the End Times with Slavoj Zizek
January 9, 2010 -- The Coming Emergency State
January 2, 2010 -- A Leftist Critique of Liberal Tolerance (pt. 2 of 2)
November 21, 2009 -- The Traumatic Illusion of Free Speech
January 21, 2010 -- Did Somebody Say Police State?
November 25, 2009 -- Is Capitalism at a Breaking Point?
November 8, 2009 -- The War on Terror Does Not Exist
November 2, 2009 -- Reporting Castroâ..s Sister: Another Case of Historical Omission
January 6, 2010 -- Cheney Family Values
December 12, 2009 -- A Leftist Critique of Liberal Tolerance (pt. 1 of 2)
The Coming Emergency State
By Stephen Dufrechou
Jan 9, 2010 at 10:27 am
Capitalism was (and is) the first form of social organization in history that needed to perpetually reinvent (or "revolutionize") its own means of economic production, in order to survive. For example, from roughly the 1920.s to the 1950.s, capitalism saw its own internal revolution from a system, based largely on industrial production, to one based--"more and more--"on "technological development", in various forms. Politics, in the interest of furthering economic growth through the new paradigm, adapted to this shift in every way (e.g. rhetorically, legislatively, judicially, etc.)
This innate volatility--"this traumatic restructuring of itself--"is what gives capitalism its "dynamic" character. And on this matter, both critics and champions of capitalism agree. But regardless of our opinion, one thing is certain about capitalism: a new "reinventing" of itself is currently underway.-- All signs seem to suggest that this "reinvention" will result in a vast series of "Emergency States".
The "Emergency State" entails a political shift in governance. It is a shift of the ways, in which, state power addresses the population it oversees and, thus, controls. Under this model, governments often portray themselves as "post-ideological". They claim to -- be neither "liberal" nor "conservative", neither "Leftist" nor "Rightist". Instead, the message is borderline utopic: we are in a "post-racial", "post-partisan", even "post-political" world. Given this shift, Barak Obama--"with his "post-ideological" message of "HOPE" and "CHANGE"--"is a perfect politician to try to usher in these news forms of control in the US, especially given his "multi-cultural" background.
Given this "post-political" rhetoric, the new (think: ideological) emphasis is on "threat". Therefore, future polices in Western capitalist states will be validated as "counter-measures" to various, potential dangerers--"which can effect everyone, liberals and conservatives alike, so the claims will go. For instance: threats from illegal immigrants, threats from terrorist cells, threats from theocratic Muslim states, threats from godless sexual depravity, threats from the "backwards" values of invading foreign cultures, etc. And of course, since only this "reinvented" capitalism, alone, can to maintain public saftey--"threats from other political ideas must be included.
Sometimes these threats will be genuine, of course. Sometimes not. -- But the beauty of "Emergency State" logic (also called "bio-politics") is that the very certainty-- of these "threats" will be kept at the level of ambiguity, creating enough fear and paranoia to ensure the further erosion of civil liberties, under the patriotic-- banner of "public safety". -- And the-- emergency legislation, which ensures this erosion, will be cleverly-worded to speak in the interests of "the general welfare".
The Orwellian "Department of Homeland Security", and Obama.s maintenance of other Bush Administration polices, are but the earliest symptoms of this emerging "Emergency State". Other examples are systemic of both Europe and the US, for instance: the installation of digital cameras in major metropolitan intersections; the ongoing debates, regarding the "border crises" and the "immigration question", have lead both the US and Spain to consider erecting "border walls"--"as per Israel and (the now defunct) East Germany--"to block the flow of foreign nationals; the use of unmanned "spy drones", previously used in the "war on terror", to conduct domestic espionage against US citizens, as recently reported by an NJP article, is another example of this form of fear-validated population control.
The potential to see this erosion of civil liberties creep into the realm of "free speech" is now not unfounded. On December, 11, 2009, Army Specialist and Iraq war veteran Marc Hall was incarcerated by the US Army, at Liberty County Jail, Georgia, for recording a song that expresses his frustration over the Army.s stop-loss policy. The report, by Truthout. s Dahr Jamail, reads:
"Hall planned to leave the military at the end of his contract on February 27, before his commander, Captain Cross at Fort Stewart, moved to have him incarcerated for the song. The military currently intends to keep Hall in pre-trial confinement until he is court-martialed, which is expected to be several months from now."
The message this indictment sends is clear: the emerging "Emergency State" will treat soldiers like human cattle. But if soldiers express frustration about this treatment, they will find themselves headed to the cell block.-- This, indeed, is not logic foreign to totalitarian systems.
Yet, this does not mean that Emergency States are totalitarian ones. Far from it. In fact, one of the theories on Emergency States is that when they implement a harsh measure of population control--"one, say, reminiscent of twentieth century totalitarianism--"the state, after some public outcry, then repeals the contested measure, using the apparent "democratic" character of such a repeal to bolster favor for its "weak" measures (e.g. spy drones or airport body-scanners).
Thus, according to this logic, Army specialist Marc Hall.s case may be dismissed, having served its societal purpose. In general though, one could argue that the unexpected nature of such "harsh measures", as temporary tactics, equally feed the very paranoia which fuels the "bio-politics" of Emergency States.
This rather quick shift (as compared to slower "reinventions"),-- from "late-technological" to "Emergency State" capitalism, has not been lost on contemporary-- philosophers and cultural critics. Historian David Harvey has noted that the duration between "revolutions" of the means-- of production in capitalism have been becoming shorter, and more abrupt, in recent history. He equally has noted that, given the demands of the climate crisis, capitalism will have to die in order to save the planet. As he has said, 3% industrial growth--"indefinitly--"is not possible on a finite planet.
Other thinkers have wondered if the fear-based policies of Emergency States are but the final phase of capitalism, itself, wherein only paranoia and intimidation can be used to justify such an (obviously) irrational system of social organization. This potentially "final phase" is already being called out as "fact" by political philosopher Slavoj Zizek, a perspective which he argues for in his upcoming book, Living in the End Times (Verso Press, May 2010). Whether Zizek is correct or not remains to be seen. But for now, "end times" or not, the "Emergency State" seems to be the reality in which we will be living under for the next decade or two.
Stephen Dufrechou is a college professor in Memphis,
Did Somebody Say Police State?
By Stephen Dufrechou
Jan 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Franz Kafka.s novel, The Trial, opens with a troubling scene. The protagonist, a low-level civil service clerk named Joseph K, is awakened in his apartment one morning by two government agents. The agents first declare K under arrest. But while the two men fail to specify the conditions of K.s arrest, they nevertheless barrage K with a series of absurd, circular questions--"questions that imply K.s guilt of this vaguely-defined crime.
The agents, then, mysteriously leave K in his apartment; K is free to go about his life, as an obedient worker. But the remainder of the novel follows (the now highly paranoid) K, as he tries to figure out the meaning of his strange encounter.
What makes this novel so effective is Kafka.s ability to evoke, in the reader, K.s very paranoia. K.s sense of constantly being monitored, by an omnipresent state--"even though he finds no direct-- evidence of this surveilance--"stays with the reader long after the novel.s end.. And I imagine this is much how Paul Chambers, a 26-year old Twitter user-- feels today, after his own encounter.
Chambers, a British citizen, had found his vacation plans ruined when Robin Hood Airport had grounded flights, due to heavy snow. As a result, Chambers. trip to Ireland was definitively postponed, if not canceled. Venting his frustration over this matter, he posted the following message to his Twitter friends:
"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You.ve got a week and a bit to get your sh** together, otherwise I.m blowing the airport sky-high!!"
A week later, British police arrived at Chamber.s place of employment and arrested him for the post. The police claimed an "anonymous tip off" had informed them of the post.
"They said I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act and produced a piece of paper", Chambers later said. "It was a print-out of my-- Twitter page. That was when it dawned on me."
Chambers also stated that: "I had to explain Twitter to them in its entirety because they.d never heard of it. [...] Then they asked all about my home life, and how work was going, and other personal things [...] The lead investigator kept asking, .Do you understand why this is happening?. and saying, .It is the world we live in.."
Chambers now faces prosecution for "conspiracy" and is permanently banned from Robin Hood Airport. Although he has been released on bail, detectives have confiscated Chambers.s iPhone, laptop, and home computer for investigative purposes.
Civil liberties advocate Tessa Mayes said of this case: "Making jokes about terrorism is considered a thought crime, mistakenly seen as a real act of harm or intention to commit harm."
Mayes equally noted that:
"The police.s actions seem laughable and suggest desperation in their efforts to combat terrorism, yet they have serious repercussions for all of us. In a democracy, our right to say what we please to each other should be non-negotiable, even on Twitter."
In response to the Chambers case, journalist Jason Walsh has also observed that:
"It is the unfortunate reality that such jokes are not viewed with levity in potential terrorist targets such as airports and train stations [...]-- Questions of public safety in crowded places are one thing, but is it really the case that making an off-hand remark on the internet is cause for an official investigation? [...] I have yet to hear of any terrorist quite stupid enough to announce his or her plans days in advance in an open forum such as Twitter."
Indeed, Mayes and Walsh.s comments, here, should be deeply reflected upon.
The World We Live In
The agent who interrogated Chambers kept saying, "Do you understand why this is happening? [...] It is the world we live in."
We might respond to this by asking yet another question--"a question first posed by philosopher Michel Foucault:-- "What.s going on just now? What.s happening to us? What is this world, this period, this precise moment in which we are living?"
The answer, here, can be made by reference to a previous NJP article, "The Coming Emergency State".
As we noted in that article, a shift of political governance is occurring before our very eyes. It is a shift of the ways, in which, state power addresses the population it oversees and, thus, controls.-- We had explained this new paradigm as an "Emergency State", which operates-- as such:
"future polices in Western capitalist states will be validated as --counter-measures-- to various, potential dangers [...]-- For instance: threats from illegal immigrants, threats from terrorist cells, threats from theocratic Muslim states, threats from godless sexual depravity, threats from the --backwards-- values of invading foreign cultures, etc".
According to this logic, we then suggested that, -- "Sometimes these threats will be genuine, of course. Sometimes not. But the [...] very certainty-- of these --threats-- will be kept at the level of ambiguity, creating enough fear and paranoia to ensure the further erosion of civil liberties, under the patriotic-- banner of --public safety-- ."
Given these dynamics, does not "Emergency State" logic match the state.s very logic in the Chambers case? Several facts compel us to answer "yes":
(1) The arrest was a "counter-measure" to a "potential" danger; (2) the "threat" was not confirmed as "genuine", yet the arrest was still made; and (3) the publicity of the Chambers case serves to instill paranoia in the citizenry, resulting in a population that will largely police itself, out of fear of an ever-watchful-- government--"a government-- which, itself, exhibits symptoms of paranoid behavior.
So, to clearly reply to Foucault.s question--"What is this world, this period, this precise moment in which we are living?--"we can answer by saying that we are living in the era of the "Emergency State".
Life in the "Panopticon"
On the other hand, Foucault would have already known this answer, if he was alive today. One of his many masterworks, Discipline and Punish, foresaw the development of a technocratic surveillance state. In this book, Foucault labels such a society a "disciplinary society". Indeed, the book even forwards a theory on how disciplinary societies function. Foucault called this theory of control "panopticism".
David Valliere.s five-minute student film, "Panopticon", offers a ready explanation of panopticism:
Foucault, himself, writes that: "the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates [i.e. citizens] should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers".
Later in Discipline and Punish, Foucault even discusses the component of social "threat", in the functioning of the panoptical society. He says that the panopticon:
"although it arranges power, although it is intended to make it more economic and more effective, it does so not for power itself, not for the immediate salvation of a threatened society: its aim is to strengthen the social forces--"to increase production, to develop the economy".
In other words: the panopticon, the disciplinary society, the "Emergency State", functions to maintain the power of the political status quo, through the illusion of a society which is under perpetual threat. Panopticism is a constructed mass-perception, used to maintain a specific social order; and this very paradigm is already entrenched and working in both Europe and the United States.
But we should be wary, when looking for where to place the blame for such a crisis of democracy. We should not blame "liberals"; we should not blame "conservatives"; we should not blame one political party, or another. We are all complicit in allowing this current a state of affairs to come to pass. We can only fault ourselves; we can only fault our vast political blindness and irresponsibility. To do otherwise, to place the blame elsewhere, is pure ignorance.
Yet, ignorant we are. Because we would not find ourselves in this situation if we were otherwise. For, as Thomas Jefferson once said: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of-- civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." And "free" is certainly not descriptive of our current society.
Thus, the question for us becomes this:
Now that we are aware of our ignorance, what are we going to do, in order to remedy it? How will we proceed?
[Author's Note: I would warmly like to thank David Valliere for his permission to use the film, "Panopticon", in this article.]
Stephen Dufrechou-- is a college professor in Memphis, TN.
The Philosophy of Martin Luther King
By Stephen Dufrechou
Jan 17, 2010 at 8:31 pm
Every semester without fail, something-- extraordinary-- happens in my classes. Having read Martin Luther King, Jr..s "Letter From a Birmingham" for homework, many of my undergraduates return to class transformed.
Students, who were previously disinterested in discussing literature, explode with vigor into the conversation about this reading. King.s "Letter", they tell me in so many words, spoke to them on a level that no other text had before. Indeed, the only way I can sum up this mass-awakening I witness each semester is through an ancient Greek word: "peripeteia"--"the term used for the moment, in Greek drama, when the protagonist realizes that everything he previously believed is false. And it is though this MLK-inspired "peripetia" that my students begin to see themselves, and the world, through new eyes..
In many ways, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" is a kind of Rosetta Stone for understanding King.s ethical philosophy. As such, the essay illustrates that--"despite much miseducation on King.s thought today--"Martin Luther King was more than just a preacher, who spoke out against segregation, led civil rights protests, and delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech. It may be argued, even, that King is the most "radical" American political philosopher of the twentieth century.
Remembering these truths is more important than ever today: Despite the public comparisons between Barak Obama and Martin Luther King, these analogies are not only categorically absurd, but also quite insulting to the legacy of King.s life and work. Added to this, is the fact that the spirit of nonviolent resistance in the US--"which King had championed so-- fiercely--"is now all but dead.
In an attempt to combat these tragic facts, let.s revisit some of King.s arguments from "Letter From a Birmingham Jail", alongside interview footage featuring Dr. King, himself.
King.s Ethical Philosophy
The cornerstone of King.s ethical thought is the "Moral Law". King states that,-- "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. [...] Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust." This is how King claims we should judge all laws, not just segregation laws.
He also argues that if we conclude a given law, or a code of behavior, to be "unjust", then we have an obligation to break it--"via civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. He says, "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all.""
When we do break an unjust law, King says we "must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscious tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscious of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." -- Here is King on this perspective:
The "sense of disturbance" King refers to, here, is crucial. The very purpose of nonviolent resistance is to create this "disturbance" in a community. He argues that, "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and to foster such tension that a community which has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored."
Indeed, resistance is the very response to the continued presence of "injustice". For, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." King notes that "not a single gain in civil rights [has been made] without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily."
Because of this historical fact, the expectation for freedom and justice to occur, through a mere passage of "time", is a delusion; moral action is always required to combat injustice.
On this perspective, King asserts that "Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills." He says that, "Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. [...] We must use time time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. "
King, here, reflects on these facts to a detractor:
In further-- explaining-- why segregation is "unjust", King brilliantly writes that:
"Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship" and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is also morally wrong and sinful. [Theologian] Paul Tillich has said that sin is-- separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man.s tragic-- separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?"
It is not hard to take this quote and substitute the word "war" in place of "segregation"; we can then apply the same valid-- argument-- towards war, itself. In fact, King was as much against the Vietnam war as he was against segregation laws. We can also argue that war equally violates the "Moral Law", as well--"whether that war is in Vietnam or Afghanistan, in the 21st century. King, here, criticizes the the war in Vietnam:
We should observe that King sees an injustice in the minuscule amount of money spent on alleviating ongoing poverty, when this amount is compared to the vast sums spent on war. And we should ask ourselves what King would say of-- President Obama.s policies today, if King were still alive.
But, of course, King is no longer with us. It is thus our responsibility to pick up King.s message, to carry on the essence his nonviolent resistance against unjust forms of power, to once again openly resist all that is still unjust in our world.
And King.s final 1968 speech--"the last he gave, just before his death--"certainly holds the potential to compel us to act, in this spirit of nonviolent resistance, once again; for it is clear that most Americans, of every political nature, are in dire need of an MLK-inspired "peripetia" of their own:
Stephen Dufrechou is a college professor in Memphis, TN.
Living in the End Times with Slavoj Zizek
By Stephen Dufrechou
Jan 14, 2010 at 10:36 am
Political theorist and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek has been called "The Elvis cultural theory" and "The most dangerous philosopher in the West". By using a blend of psychoanalytic theory, political philosophy, jokes, and Hitchcock film references, Zizek has published over 30 books of philosophy. His criticisms have focused on everything from global capitalism to Islamic fundamentalism. Accordingly, his main target is dominant forms of political ideology--"which he has criticized through discussions of chocolate laxatives, Ridley Scott.s film "Alien", and the structure European toilets. Though, despite his frequent "off the wall" references, the philosopher is dead-serious about his stances.
Recently, Zizek hosted an engaging television documentary in the Netherlands, in which he discuses--"through his critical perspective--"current geo-political conflicts, global warming, and the financial crisis, among other relevant topics.
In the spirit of bringing challenging perspectives to current events, NJP has provided the full television show, here, in video clips. [Note: only the intro is in Dutch, the remaining program is in English].
Zizek begins with a critique of the current economic crisis, citing it as the crisis of "liberal democracy", itself.
He argues that capitalism has become an "everyday religion", and, as such, cannot solve the climate crisis.
Given our political situation, Zizek suggests that China.s "authoritarian capitalism" may be the future of all capitalist states.
The "War in Afghanistan", he asserts, underscores American political impotence. He compares this observation to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
After denouncing totalitarianism as an answer to our political crisis, Zizek argues that the Left is responsible for creating a sane alternative to capitalism.
Given all these conditions, he suggests that the absurd, technocratic "emergency state" of Berlusconi.s Italy could become a global phenomena. Thus, the Left needs to "reinvent" communism, as a response.
Slavoj Zizek is the author of "The Sublime Object of Ideology", "Welcome to the Desert of the Real", "First as Tragedy then as Farce", and the forthcoming "Living in the End Times". He also presented and wrote the acclaimed British documentary, "The Pervert.s Guide to Cinema" (2006).
Stephen Dufrechou is a college professor in Memphis, TN.
Obama Lists Cuba as a Terrorist State
By Stephen Dufrechou
Jan 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm
Cuba and the US share nasty historical relations, to say the least. Since Cuba.s 1959 Revolution, both sides have perennially crossed the line of sane, ethical behavior more times than we can count here--"with each state always blaming the other for its "necessary" violence against the other.
Such relations have resulted an endless cycle of aggression and death. On this matter, we should be staunchly critical of both governments, but not surprised by such behavior, either. All states--"capitalist or communist--"are inherently violent institutions. The only difference between them is who is chosen as the target of violence, and which ideology is used to justify the unjustifiable policy of state-sanctioned mass-murder, more commonly called --war-- .
Given this reality, we should not be shocked by the US failure to live up to last year.s promise of normalized relations--"and a "new beginning"--"with Cuba. Instead of this saner approach, the Obama Administration has recently included Cuba in its updated list of terrorist states. (Note: the countries specified as sponsors of terrorism are Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria while countries considered prone to terrorism are Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan.)
The Cuban reaction to this inclusion was one of outrage in Havana. The Cuban Foreign Ministry responded by stating: "We categorically reject this new hostile action by the US government--.. The Ministry continued, claiming that the "list was politically motivated and its only goal is to justify the US policy of economic embargo against Cuba."
Havana.s response-- also highlighted its own efforts in fighting international terrorism; and-- it equally urged the US to act without double-standards against those who--"from the US.s own territory--"have planned and carried out terrorist acts against Cuba, itself.
Indeed, the US.s labeling of Cuba as a terrorist state recalls official statements in 2009, made by Barak Obama and Secy. of State Hillary Clinton. It was Obama, himself, who had called for a --new beginning-- with Cuba. And Secy. Clinton had echoed this gesture, claiming, --We are continuing to look for productive ways forward because we view the present policy as having failed.--
But as NJP noted last year, when we first reported these utterances: "These statements may be read as having a double meaning. The --new beginning-- may simply be to devise different --productive ways-- of bringing Cuba back under the orbit of [US influence]--"only time will tell."
Time as has obviously told. And this emphasizes that Obama.s message of "hope" and "change" means the opposite of what many individuals on the planet had (wrongly) believed. Obama.s "hope", rather, is proving to be the "hope" of furthering US imperialism through a "change" in US strategy.
Stephen Dufrechou is a college professor in Memphis, TN.