Friday, May 29, 2020

When the Rule of Law Hits the Streets - and The Streets Hit Back

SOME cannot step back from their own relentless focus on how "others" currently protesting against the routine murders of unarmed dark-skinned people are threatening "the rule of law" while "discrediting 'their' cause" --- as if the cause of racial justice in America were only a secondary matter of concern here and now.

OF COURSE, the most fundamental issue here is how the “rule of law” comports with JUSTICE.

The two are never the same. “Rule of law” is basically another term for “The State” which is excruciating to define, in part, because its definition and functioning are always matters of contention, if not outright struggle. “Justice”, being more intangible, is even more difficult to define, much less apply to any particular circumstance.

“Justice” IS more intangible, but at the same time, much more visceral, reaching DEEP into the roots of our humanity. Fascinatingly, there are studies of non-human animal behavior that purport to show emotionally primed responses to incidents we would tend to view in terms of “fairness”, “equity” or “reciprocity”. In that sense (and perhaps others) the concern for justice stems from something even more profound than humanity. But humanity, at least in cultural terms, has evolved with the capacity to refine and develop MECHANISMS of justice in ways far removed from primal urgings regarding retribution, deterrence, sharing, nurturance, and myriad other forms of mutuality and compassion.

Humanity, also of course, has developed exquisitely compelling and bewildering ways to pervert both our understanding of “justice” and any of its practices via the “rule of law”. There are many examples from history where what was called “the rule of law” has become emblematic of the most horrifying versions of what we humans call “EVIL”. Where is the US in all of this NOW?

Our concern for justice cannot be separated from our humanity without profoundly altering (some would say “disfiguring"), almost if not all, conceptions that we have regarding what it means (to most of us) to be human. Is our concern for justice deeper than tribalism, chauvinism, patriotism, or “nationalism”?  Whichever is deeper, we wonder which is more powerful. And we tremble. 

Clearly, there are populations in the world and, most agonizingly of all, in the US, where the rule of law is clearly unjust. To the extent people feel this, the rule of law becomes a shambles of mocking taunts and insults. This is something deeply understood by almost all of us no matter how well, coarsely, helpfully, self destructively, or maliciously we try to articulate it. This is something profoundly understood among the throngs of protesters in our cities. At the same time, it is being ruminated about between corporately funded fascist think tanks and the mottled patchwork of boogaloo trimpulist gun clubs and conspiracy factories, two deadly vectors currently endangering the cultural and legal underpinnings of the rule of law and democracy everywhere. It is also being urgently considered by people who have seeped themselves in history and who have a feel for the precariousness and fragility of it all.

White supremacy racism is one of the cultural mechanisms developed (consciously and reflexively) to meet the ideological and “legal” needs of slavers and colonialists in the early modern stages of global civilization as it became dominated by Europeans and their descendants who first invented and then weaponized and self-glorified the concept of “whiteness”. This weaponized concept is thrashing and roiling now because very soon, those considered “white” by almost any definition will become a minority in the US. (Remember, it was not long ago that some definitions of “whiteness” were “legal” definitions).

No doubt people who identify as “white” are more likely to focus on the excesses and outrages arising from the protests while others are just as likely to focus on the UNENDING series of videoed lynchings that are, of course, merely the latest manifestations of systematic terror, torture, and murderous atrocities visited by empowered “whites” against others either before or after such crimes became cloaked under sinister versions of “law”.

Does that mean that “white” people who can’t stop themselves from fixating on the lawlessness of some protesters “racist”? The question is as stupid as it is false as it is unhelpful. Racism permeates all our thinking and our emotions if we have been raised in the US. Americans who protest that they are immune from white supremacy racism are deluding themselves although SOME of us may do so with the purest of intentions and even with many(?) beneficial results. “White Supremacy Racism” is a clumsy term, but it is one of the best for understanding how what it points to is different from mere prejudice, stereotypical thinking, ethnocentrism, or even racial hatred. No doubt there are people of color who struggle against or succumb to hatred against “whites”. But that form of “racism” (if the term must be used here) is not the same as the self-hatred which people of color are conditioned to direct against their own “non-white” characteristics by all sorts of social, economic, political, and intimate insults “white” people are largely oblivious to. If we were raised in the US, white supremacy underlies and is woven into much of our thinking, our feeling, our ways of seeing, and therefore our words. In that way, the word “racist” as applied to any individual is meaningless unless it labels those who overtly support the idea that whites are superior and others inferior. Or perhaps the word “racist” only applies to those of us who do not struggle against conceptions that lack of “whiteness” justifies degradation, humiliation, deprivation, assault, and murder.

The rule of law IS fragile. We do need police and courts. More importantly, we need to be sure we are ALL doing EVERYTHING we can to ensure that what the police and courts do is not part of some vast and cruel mockery that will debase what it means to be an American citizen, "white", or even human.

The rule of law MUST be applied to the police first and foremost. Until that happens, this cycle of reinforcing injustice will continue to sap hope, fray understanding, generate extremism, and undermine whatever values the US pretends to honor. Please support those doing the difficult and often thankless tasks of trying to craft workable solutions! They are being bitterly opposed at all levels. One of those groups is PROJECT ZERO!

Police lynchings are protected by public apathy, police unions, but especially by ingrained practices and attitudes that infuse and envelop district attorneys and grand juries.

But there are policies that can be implemented at the local level by responsible mayors and worthwhile police chiefs when decent people in the community are paying close attention.

Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass.  He is currently working on his second novel I Wanna Be Evil.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Ghost Of Corona Future

The bitter herbs of Passover Seders and the gall of the The Crucifixion Passion still grasp our collective imaginings, but nothing is more galling than the arrogance of ignorance in power and the willingness of so many of us to dance before false and gravestone images willfully misrepresenting the choices before us.

Are we truly compelled to choose between tyranny and chaos? Is one choice a dictatorship of inscrutable “experts” manipulating us into a bleak conformity for their own grim purposes? Could there be no alternative to that other than the untrammeled thrashings of millions of selfish wills celebrating crackpot interpretations of their various benighted ideas of “freedom”?

In the brightest of all pandemic scenarios, right wing operatives will soon be gleefully mocking all those dire projections from “expert institutions” like Columbia University and “McKinsey Capitalist Consulting” to claim this viral crisis was overblown for anti-American, liberal, socialist, globalist, elitist, managerial purposes. They will do so despite the trimp administration’s own projections currently forecasting at least 60 thousand deaths with trimp himself claiming anything less than 100k mortalities will represent a grand demonstration of his bold, skillful, and foresightful leadership. Nothing is more galling than the misuse of truth to deceive us and to also triumph malignantly over hope, caution, competence, and any awkward dreams of solidarity. And trimp dangles before his followers a glittering mirage of freedom expressed as the impunity to outrage delicacy, flout convention, despise complexity, and create an alternative universe of "facts" where smallness becomes greatness, cowardice becomes command, and ignorance becomes wisdom.

At the end of the Dickens classic, a grasping and desiccated Ebeneezer Scrooge is confronted with a devastating vision of his immediate future. Tremulously, he implores the implacable Spirit whether good works might alter the mortifying prophesy. Neoliberalism and other malignant forms of “conservatism” unceasingly tell us in all sorts of insidious way that there is nothing we can do to bend the curve toward justice. There is much in the current contagion that will bolster the power of their gloomy selfish claims. “No”, they will tell us, pretending to offer the best of all possible worlds, assuring us the “good people” have already grasped their “liberating truth”.

For ideologues in thrall to the plutocracy with all their privilege and greed, there is one Spirit that horrifies them most of all. The very same Spirit is a deadly menace to the dim ideas of those who, long ago (after untold agonies of rejections, betrayals, failures, and humiliations), rejected any prospect of quickening hope. This frightful Specter is the ghost of Karl Marx still proclaiming the most pernicious notion that we, even despite ourselves, make our own history. And, to an immeasurable but decisive extent, we do. We DO collectively make our own future; supported, propelled AND constricted as we are (in part) by our actions in the past and by the decisions, prejudices, folly, and heroism of our predecessors. Some of those follies, of course, were those of Marx himself and, even more so, of those who claimed his ideas, legitimately or not, as their inspiration.

As we are pressed into a future we are (in part) creating, we struggle to understand how our own projections, whether based on our best science or our most deceptive propaganda, will help to preserve what is best in us, as opposed to those which might condemn us to descend into deadly dystopias of ignorance, fear, and systemic cruelty. And our projections are affected by the spirits which animate us, inhibit us, petrify, or inspire us. 

Economics, dismal science that it is, has long recognized the importance of all sorts of projections. One of the most powerful types of economic projections are OUR informal expectations as we act as consumer or as investors. These expectations, exerting their inestimable influence on our activities at the micro level, have enormous implications for outcomes on the macro level. Economic expectations are the the emanations of the human spirit that often confound the projections of professional economists.

Politics, legislation, and policies, with their often decisive impact on economies, have too long been shaped by those who fear and loathe the idea that popular movements can be a productive force. Even now, there are too many who are determined to undermine solidarity by shifting the responsibility for the current pandemic and its economic implications onto foreigners, immigrants, and the usual scapegoats of panicked racist and anti-Semitic prejudices. Idiots that they are, they forget their vast wealth is based on all manner of good faith even as they undermine the institutions and habits of mind that make operational our collective faith and credit.

In the shadow of human induced climate change and the inevitability of new pandemics, a massive macro economic experiment is now being conducted. No doubt, in the past sobering recessions were inflicted upon us by the Federal Reserve, designed as they were, to combat inflation and discipline the work force. (That is “us”) But THIS shutdown is so very different in so many dimensions and on so many scales of magnitude. As we pause to successfully control the spread of infection, we are (with differing ends in mind) also planning for a new economy with, inevitably, a new set of winners and losers. This, in itself, is horrifying to some “conservatives.” In the meantime we will learn new lessons about what an economy is and how it works, just as we are relearning who actually make things work for everyone - and who are determined to make things work only for themselves.

Only in wartime has our government put itself so deeply into debt. And clearly our current deadly conflict is bound to compel our government to dig even deeper into unfathomable sources of monetizable faith in our collective self.

Except for the conflagration of World War II with its associated holocausts, wars have historically been followed by steep economic downturns. Depressions. In 1945, the United States escaped massive damage to its material infrastructure. This helped us avoid the projected slump by indulging in continued massive military expenditures, making weapons that were, to a merciful extent, never used to their full destructive capacity. (“Military Keynesianism” is a term often used to describe our current damning paradigm.) Those weapons, of course, are too often used to devastate peasant economies and  to support repressive regimes all over the globe, but they are arguably not the most potent instrument employed by our debased rulers to shape the global order. What's more potent is our economic might (and I do mean "OUR) and perhaps, even more, our culture onslaught which includes our highest ideals as well as our endless betrayals of the same.

Now we MAY have the opportunity to help shape a new global economy in a new spirit, one that MIGHT be based on actual productivity beyond the narrow scope of human effort that can be directed toward the profit claimed by a tiny and idiotic minority. We will also learn new lessons about sovereign debt, credit, and our capacity to have faith in our future selves.

Unfortunately the same pandemic, now fueling arguments and sentiments for solidarity and equality, is also a fierce engine for their counter forces. It is too much to hope that the 45% of solid support for the clownish imbecile in the White House will be eroded to any significant degree by what is happening now and what might happen in the immediate future. The harsh experiences of failure, foreclosure, and dislocation caused by the economic collapse of 2008 helped generate the Tea Party and its most poisonous outgrowth so far, trimpulism. And now, shuddering levels of grief are being laden onto extended periods of fear and uncertainty. The prolonged social and physical isolation, the unaccustomed downtime breeding new opportunities for reflection and brooding, and the strange emergence of new affinities supported by internet technology are working together to form new cultural realities. No doubt all this is brewing new coalitions, new imaginings, new resentments, new loyalties, and new resolves that might even lead to an increase in trimpulist style intransigence. The future does not inevitably take that course. But it might.

Forty-five percent!

It’s sobering to remember that Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party never won more than 40% in any quasi-legitimate election. But wasn’t that MORE than enough?

In the coming months and years we will be confronted by so many new choices. The election in November will surely be a crucial turning point. Hopefully, maturity and forward thinking will triumph over resentment, frustration, and any festering sentiments of fatalism. Hopefully, people will take their vote very seriously as one step in a very long process of liberating ourselves from our own inclinations to exploit and dominate each other. Hopefully we will take care to nurture what type of spirit we project and what manner of spirits we encourage and celebrate.

Hopefully or not, we have to choose. The arc of history is a curve which potentates and demagogues will always try to twist to their absurd purposes. Sometimes they, more than we, are irately aware that it is one which we together can bend toward justice, equality, and decency. It is also one we can allow to thrash or surge in strange and painful directions, just as conflicting spirits contend, in dubious battle. within ourselves.

This cup will not pass. Our epitaph is etched into nightmarish gravestones rolling out before us in endless dark rows of bleak Dickensian fantasy. We CAN try to rewrite it. Because if we don't TRY, who will ever bless us, and what would it ever mean?

Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass.  He is currently working on his second novel I Wanna Be Evil.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Quo Vadis Democrats, Americans, . . . Democracy?

The Democratic primary is over. Since it's inception as the party of slavery, the battle for the party's soul has never ceased, just as the meaning of the United States of America has always been a matter of contention, frustration, despair, and boundless hope. Whether it's a matter for hope, cynicism, or disgust, it is difficult to refute Tim Murphy of Mother Jones when he claims, 

Bernie Sanders’ movement could shape Democratic politics for years to come.

Only one thing is certain. Politics and government ARE going to change. This is always true. But perhaps NOW, in the shadow of a murderous plague, we are in an especially fraught “moment of pivot”. Bernie can be counted upon to be solid, serious, honest, and relentless in his quest to make the meaning of America valid and stirring for those who are forced to confront the reality that too much of our culture is an arena where the strong can exploit the weak by keeping us divided, passive, cynical, and afraid.

But how things change is always (at least) PARTLY up to us. The belief that we are all (somehow) “change agents” is what makes us “progressives” and which is what recruits my support for Bernie.

Change agents and change advocates ALWAYS have had mixed feelings about the electoral process - the prime “official” avenue for democratic change — just as the electoral process is the principle vehicle for democratic conservatism.

When considering US electoral politics, the simplistic choice is between two binary options: to create a new political party or to “take over” one of the two major political parties. The two dominant US parties have NOMINALLY been “the same” since before the Civil War, but in reality they BOTH have gone through several major transformations.

Over the last forty years an uneasy coalition of right wing operatives has transformed the Republican Party. By the last Bush administration it was pretty clear that they had taken command of that party. The trimp election and its ongoing chaos have made it painfully obvious that the “Grand Old Party” is now something “new”* and dangerous with old guard leaders and traditional elite types scrambling to follow, taking advantage of its strange dynamics when they can. But the billionaires, the reactionary fundamentalist Christians, the crackpot vandals, and the politicians who struggle to broker among them and with other other political leaders are steadfast in putting their “principles”* above party.

Since their emergence in the late 19th century, progressives have historically played a balancing game between the liberal wings* of the major parties and “traditional”* workers parties. Putting workers first must still be one of the primary principles of any progressive movement. But time and experience has helped us to better incorporate the reality that workers are also consumers (of goods, services, and ideas) as well as citizens with families. And now, more than ever, we are becoming acutely aware of the fragility of the earth’s biosphere when it comes to supporting organized human cultures where people work, share, dream, and create.

Bernie is still working to coalesce progressives. In part he is doing this on the edge of the Democratic Party in the spirit of older workers’ parties in an attempt to activate young people, minorities, and women who have “traditionally” been actively marginalized by the US political process. Correctly AND sincerely he has reminded us that progressivism as a MOVEMENT is more important than any leader, any elected office, any branch of government, or ANY governing establishment as a manifold “entirety”.

Progressives ARE progressives because we believe that somehow we, playing our individual parts in a collective, CAN influence how our society (or civilization) will evolve and change. Bernie has relinquished his bid for the presidency, but not his claim to influence party platforms, legislation, policy, and the hearts and minds of the 99% of us whose status and means of survival are based on working for a system that is still too predatory and too destructive.

Bernie, people like Joe Biden, and all of us will have to weigh heavily how we will choose to proceed and present ourselves. We must do that knowing that we are facing an apocalypse of intentional incitement of our hopelessness, our fears, our desperations, and our selfishness - an intentional incitement malignantly designed to divide and demoralize us for NO DECENT PURPOSE.

Any serious analytical approach to projecting the effects of the challenges facing humanity is bound to be overwhelming - and can easily elicit despair. Just look at the projections the state government of New York used to plan its orchestrated response to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. But as the New York governor magisterially points out, no such model can take full account of the human spirit, it’s appetite for creation, it’s urge towards sustainment, or its tendency toward self destruction. The future is ours to create. 

“The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” - Martin Luther King (assassinated by racism)

“The trajectory is the trajectory we create by OUR actions.” - Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY)

Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass.  He is currently working on his second novel I Wanna Be Evil.

*something new - at least to the extent that Caesarism, Bonepartism, and Fascism were always “new” emanations of popular authoritarianism, a corrupt expression of the democratic and leveling impulse. Contempt for liberal (constitutional) democracy (the concept of a "republic) is an idiocy that those who claim to speak for the the majority are not immune to.

*”liberal wingS” - up until the 1990s there were still some proud remnants of the liberal wing of the Republican Party, the party that had been the original productive foil and vehicle of the original Progressive Movement of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

*"traditional workers parties" - There is indeed a long tradition of worker's parties in the industrialized world.  Just not in the United States.  And yes, along with the British Labour Party, there are those that proudly wave the red flag of the Paris Communards, sometimes emblazoned with the hammer and sickle.  But there is really no single "tradition" for Socialist Parties and their advocacy of economic democracy.  A meaningful distinction, though, can be made between those who honor and support the principles of liberal (constitutional) democracy and those who treat it with cynically affected respect or open contempt.

* “principles” — the legitimate “principles” of the conservative impulse have always veered between 1) protecting the position of the privileged because those in privileged positions are somehow essential to preserving and advancing civilization and 2) being especially cautious about extending and expanding ideas of injustice lest unforeseen consequences of any well-intentioned measure lead to new forms of injustice that conceivably could lead to an overall increase of injustice. But recent developments, including (but not limited to) neoliberalism demonstrate that their actual “principles” are totally (and cynically) fungible and wholly subservient to power politics that are fundamental hostile to liberal democracy and justice.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Attacking on Seriousness Itself

"Our world” is neither sane or insane, good or evil. It just is.

Whether we like it or not, sanity and goodness are human concepts subject to constant redefinition and reorientation based on OUR related proximity, interdependence, and mutual obligations. Those mutual obligations transcend individual conscious apprehension, but not in a mystical way. Those mutual obligations stem from collective and institutional choices.

Some people, whether they admit it or not, are almost all about “the self”.

Others are more grounded in their immediate or extended family.

Then there are more abstract identifications or “sources of commonality” such as tribe, race, religion, nation, species, or common sentience (the ability to feel pain or exchange affection for examples). But given our proclivities for carelessness, self-destruction, and mutual predation, those commonalities can only be protected by the creation, shaping, and reshaping of laws and institutions.  Institutions are the imperfect human creations that can allow us to transcend pettiness, parochialism, opportunism, and savage forms of atavism.

That is what the trimpers are attacking whether they realize it or not. They are attacking the institutions of self-government and constitutional democracy. 

One of the fundamental ideas to arise out of The Enlightenment is that human freedom and decency is always imperiled by concentrated power unchecked by countervailing interests.  Starting in the 1600s, wealthy Europeans who were not of royal or noble descent worked hard to limit the power of government (kings and parliaments). These efforts grew out of efforts to constrain lawless robber barons and to end internecine slaughters fueled in part by misguided religious fervor. Yes, they did this to protect human freedom and decency. But also to protect their own private wealth. No human or human institution is entirely pure in their motivations or make-up.

The language used then and now about freedom and protection from tyranny are all focused on the power of the state, but tend to ignore the power of concentrated wealth outside of direct government control.

Corporate (ultimately “private” in today’s legal system) wealth now exerts undue influence over laws, institutions, and governments — and the results are the current ongoing circus cesspools of which trimp is just one vile symptom.

There definitely should be power centers outside of state control (no matter how “democratic” the government), but those power centers still need to be held accountable to other interests (workers, consumers, families, communities, the environment etc. etc). It may sound vague and unworkable but such structures of control and accountability are slowly evolving although their development may not be sufficient given the potential for major political, economic, and environmental crises that we can neither satisfactorily ignore nor contend with right now.  

All this is under attack from the trimpers.

The trimpers now have at their disposal one the the major established political parties in the US, still the most powerful polity and empire ever to have existed

The trimpers and the GOP have access to certain religious and mass entertainment sentiments that have been rudely cultivated over recent centuries coincident with the development of state capitalism. Other sentiments they have access to are racism, jingoism, and economic insecurity.  And, of course, they are able to exploit a source of resentment and frustration that all of share which all stem from the stubborn fact that no individual or institution is purely good or sane. Additionally, trimpers and the GOP have access to many institutionalized (habitual and class-based) techniques for exploiting these sentiments for the benefit of a tiny elite which has grown increasingly powerful and immune from political checks and balances.

It is this unchecked and unaccountable power of a tiny and irresponsible elite that animates trimpism and the current configuration of the GOP

It is this unchecked and unaccountable power of a tiny and irresponsible elite that animates the current attack on seriousness, the rule of law, and the institutions of self-government as a liberal constitutional democracy.

Seriousness and sanity are not guaranteed to us.  

They are for us to cultivate and to protect.

We may or may not be up to the challenge.

A recent popular film is entitled "The Joker." It purports to give a human dimension to a comic book super-villain famous for sowing chaos and destruction for the sole purpose of inflicting dismay on anyone who might imagine themselves to be "pure" or heart or, worse, "innocent".  I haven't seen that movie.

A movie which I have seen is Beatriz at Dinner. In this film, a jocular billionaire played involved in shady politics and callous depredations against the environment turns to the title character and earnestly says something to the effect of :

"We're all going to die. Everything is going to be destroyed.  Why take it too seriously?  Why not enjoy yourself to the extent that you can?"

Why take government seriously?  Why take evidence seriously?  Why take laws seriously?  Why take seriousness seriously?

We are inherently neither sane nor insane, good nor evil.  We are not inherently serious nor are we by nature totally scattered and unaccountable.  What we feel to be sanity, goodness, and seriousness all require difficult, frustrating, and collective effort. There are understandable reasons why this effort can seem too overwhelming, too demanding, and too ill-fated. There are also those who idiotically profit (very short term and self destructively) from our loss of faith in laws, institutions, sanity, and seriousness. trimp is only one of those types of people.

We have choices to make, and we will get the institutions we collectively deserve. 

Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass.  He is currently working on his second novel I Wanna Be Evil.