Nevermind Gay Marriage, It's the Economy Stupid

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"Man walks along the railroad tracks, he's goin someplace, there's no turnin back". - Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad

 Barack Obama's recent announcement in support of gay marriage was a good thing to be sure, but the Obamaunabashed orgy of celebration that came from the progressive side of the street made me a little nervous. It was as though we believed that the downward spiral of our modern democratic societies was going to be halted by such an act; as though this pledge of support by our fatherly POTUS would turn the ship of state around and we'd all begin to sail out of Gomorrah towards the promised land again. Fat chance.

This outpouring made me think that we're generally still deeply blind to what in my view is the single greatest threat to our world and our societies, a radical economic theory and the elite class that's plundering the planet and state coffers with it. Here's King's College professor of theology and politics Luke Bretherton writing after the Occupy movement broke out, speaking to the nature of this economic worldview:

If the Occupy movement bears the mantle of one form of anti-statist, anti-capitalist school of anarchism that stretches back to the anarcho-syndicalism of Proudhon and Sorel, many of the bankers seem driven by an alternative stream of anarchism, what Murray Rothbard, a student of Ludwig von Mises - the grandfather of neo-liberalism - called "anarcho-capitalism."

This stream is equally anti-statist but pro-capitalist. It is no less a millennial vision of the end of history than that embodied in the TAZ or witnessed in the worship at the Cathedral. It sees the best of all possible worlds as an apolitical socio-economic realm that spontaneously organizes itself and provides material prosperity for all through the free decisions of individuals in the marketplace.

In this vision it is government and regulation that must be resisted and defeated if the new time and space when there will be prosperity for all is to be ushered in.

This economic theory is often called neoliberalism, or free-market fundamentalism, and whatever we want to say about it in theory (and it might even be a good one), in practice it's been a tool reagonomicsof plunder like the world has never seen. Somewhere in their graves the barbarian hordes strewn under the soil across the Asian steppes are wistful with admiration. Horses, arrows and good old fashioned savagery never took home booty like this.

And these corporate radicals found a great weapon to continually divert our attention away from the economy and what they are doing with it- they prey off the culture wars. While premodern, modern and postmodern sensibilities duke it out and rake at each others eyeballs in the ongoing dogfight over cultural values, the neoliberals (or the elite corporate-political class) use these social battles as wedge issues to get people to ultimately vote against there own economic interests. The author Thomas Frank has done really important work exposing this in the American context, and I wrote a post about that you can read here (the current post is really a continuation of that one). Here's Frank in a recent interview, where he talks about being in awe as the Republicans in the US continued this extreme cultural charade, despite all the wreckage from the Bush years:

     

And if we want to get a little closer to what this actually looks like on the ground, check out this video Bill Maher aired on his show Real Time a couple of months back.

 

 

Commenting on the situation in the United States in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey writes- "Not for the first, nor, it is to be feared, for the last time in history has a social group been deregulationpersuaded to vote against its material, economic and class interests for cultural, nationalist and religious reasons". It's probably as old as the hills, this shit. If I knew more about the ancient world, I bet the elite classes in Rome fucked over the plebs with all sorts of cultural diversions too. But the stakes are high now, real high, and if we don't come to grips with the barbarians in suits and the economic weapons that they wield, continued societal deterioration and some form of collapse will be our destiny.

And it's not to say that these cultural issues don't matter, they do, but all the social change in the world isn't going to mean much as poverty and madness increase, as toxins and poisons seep further and further into everything, as the land, soil and oceans are exploited to exhaustion, as organized crime flourishes and local crime rises and jails become full of the "dangerous classes" the neoliberal system will only continue to create. In defense of our lands, our families, our nations and our Earth, I think it's crucial that we make the economy and this economic worldview the front line of our actions and protests in this world. The people of Greece, Spain, Iceland and Quebec, they know what this is all about, this "austerity" being forced upon them by the ruling class. It's a criminal act of a criminal elite. It must be resisted, and we must understand their tools and ideologies or we'll be slowly stripped of everything that was fought for and gained in the modern era (1).

dismantling_of_americaI'm reminded of something I heard Naomi Klein say once. She talked about how when she was in university (late 80s early 90s) the progressive political causes of the day were cultural ones, having to do with race, gender and sexual identity and equality. The "political correctness wars" as she put it. But then at some point people looked around and saw the huge amount of power corporations had begun to wield in that same period. They saw how the international economic institutions had been infiltrated by an extreme economic policy, how governments were increasingly under capture by monied interests. Shit.

Let's not make this mistake again, let's not expend untold amounts of energy bickering over cultural issues (as important as they are), while the thieves fill their black satchels in the shadows all around us. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is still one of the best introductions to neoliberal economic theory andstephen-harpers-conservative-cons-mp1 how it's implementation has played out across the globe in the past decades. It remains important reading.

And all of what I've written here has now suddenly come to the shores of my own country of Canada too. Stephen Harper and his conservatives- who aren't really conservatives at all but business radicals- are Calgary School neoliberals and they're using all the standard moves in the neoliberal playbook. Authoritarian decisions. Fear mongering. Labeling dissidents as radicals. Dismantling of environmental policy. An attack on science and its authority. And lo and behold, even the issue of abortion and a women's right to choose has reared its head, to the ghastly astonishment of many Canadians who were sure they'd never see that corpse rise and stagger again. Don't take the bait. Don't take the bait. Sure we'll have to battle this band of criminals on that front too, just to keep the writhing fangs out of our necks, but it's paramount that the free market ideology that this group of true radicals is using against us be understood and rejected.

The new world our heart's tell us is possible is gonna have to pick a fight. And the vaneer will come down quick, I'm sure of it. It already is. We'll be shocked by how better the world will be, and in a hurry. It'll recuperate like a marine reserve. Life will flourish. And then we'll be up and running, with a leg to stand on as we create what's next. However, first things first- let's occupy the economy and throw off the shackles of market-fundamentalism once and for all.

~~~~~

Footnote

(1) "Over the course of [the 1980s and 1990s] there would be a complete reformulation of the ways of governing capitalist economies. The elections of Reagan and Thatcher, following the morass of economic policy in the 1970s and aggravated by a further oil price increase in 1979, ushered in an era of unprecendented ideological assault on the central tenets of post-1945 economic management and social policy at both the domestic and international levels. The "post-1945 settlement" which characterized the "golden age" involved a greater role for the state in the economy and an acceptance of its responsibility for full employment and social equity. This was the case in the Anglo-American version of capitalism and even more obviously the case in the northern European corporatist countries. The market fundamentalism or neoliberal revolution of the 1980s, spearheaded in the Anglo-American world, sought to tear up the settlement". Bowles, Paul. Capitalism. Britian: Pearson, 2007. p.145

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16 comments

  • Comment Link James Barrow Friday, 25 May 2012 11:39 posted by James Barrow

    Trevor - you have absolutely nailed it with this piece.

    Since I agree with everything you say, the next question is, what in your opinion and experience, are the most effective ways to "battle these corporate criminals". Asssuming we are increasingly able to not be distracted by the culture wars you describe so well here, what might our most effective immediate next steps look like?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 25 May 2012 18:29 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hey All,

    Just wanted to jump in here and say I think we should be very careful with the use of the word 'distraction' in this context. I think it's true that people can support cultural issues without having to touch into the (arguably thornier) aspect of socio-economics and political power. For sure.

    But I would say that's simply doing part of the work and not all the work. The Civil Rights movement, the women's right's movement, and the gay rights movement--which have been by and large in the US politically expressed through the Democratic Party--is not a distraction. It's half of the work of evolving both our culture and our economics and politics.

    In integral terminology, we might say culture is the Lower Left quadrant and working for things like recognition of the civil rights of gays and lesbians is evolving, developing the Lower Left. And then working on the evolution of our economic realities is working the Lower Right.

    Ideally we want to do both. I wouldn't want cultural advocates to say that those working on the economic side as "too political", just as I don't want those more from the political side to say that cultural advocates are distracted or distracting us.

    Having grown up in the US in a totally homophobic society, this is a big deal.

    There is absolutely work to do around creating an ecologically sustainable and prosperous, well distributed, just human economy. But that's hard. Really hard. Really really hard.

    It's very difficult to do progressive work in the US context. So while I think it's easy to criticize progressives, I feel some more empathy would be in order here. Not denying the value of saying we have to focus on this economic question but understanding why there was an "unabashed orgy of celebration." Maybe we should let folks celebrate a win.

    While it's absolutely true that Obama's position has no direct legislative influence, a study out shows that his position may be making an influence in the black American community.

    http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/05/barack-obama-gay-marriage-black-voters.php

    If Obama (and more importantly activists) can help bring more progressive social views into minority communities, then perhaps that will help heal some of the divisions that are preventing a more unified progressive response overall in the US--currently split around labor, environmental, social issues.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 26 May 2012 21:01 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    James, thanks, great question, let me come back to it soon, it deserves a thorough answer.

    Chris, thanks for jumping in there. For the record, I didn’t use the word ‘distract’ (actually it was divert- as in “to take attention away”), but David Sirota did in an article published on Salon.com yesterday. The tag line was- “Are Democratic politicians, like Andrew Cuomo, using social issues to distract from the economic status quo?”Here’s a few choice paragraphs that resonate with what I’ve written above:

    “Put Cuomo’s declaration next to those numbers, and the revelation emerges: in a political arena dominated by corporate money, the governor is acknowledging that politicians will champion initiatives that don’t challenge corporate power, but will avoid promoting those that do. Not only that, Cuomo is admitting this is the case regardless of public opinion.

    Events in New York illustrate the larger dynamic at work. As the New York Times reported, despite lukewarm public support, Cuomo was able to get the state legislature to legalize gay marriage after Wall Street financiers dumped cash into the campaign for equal rights. Knowing that marriage doesn’t threaten their profits, these moneyed interests opted to help their ally Cuomo notch a strategic win — one that allows the governor to preen as a great liberal champion to the state’s left-leaning voters, all while he simultaneously presses an anti-union, economically conservative agenda that moneyed interests support…

    Noting all this isn’t to disparage the push for same sex marriage (I’m a strong supporter!) — it is merely to spotlight a bait and switch whereby social issues are increasingly used to perpetuate the economic status quo.”

    http://www.salon.com/2012/05/25/democrats_gay_marriage_excuse/

    So perhaps you want to also write him a note telling him to “be very careful” in what he writes, or maybe reconsider that there’s something to the specific story being told here. I agree with the basic integral distinction between the cultural and systemic dimensions, but the problem with those two-dimensional boxes side by side (ie. the quadrants), is that in reality they’re fully enmeshed, and understanding that relation is to me the hard work that needs to be done. In this case I (and obviously others) are arguing that the powers in the political-economic domain are using concerns in the cultural domain to divert attention away from what’s happening in the economy, an economy that’s creating untold suffering on enormous levels.

    That some people, as you say, should be doing work on cultural issues and some on systemic ones, and “ideally we’d do both”, sure that’s all fine in the abstract. But I’m not talking about the abstract. I’m talking a specific real world situation and arguing that at this particular time in history, under the prevailing life conditions we find ourselves in, the economy and what’s happening there should be the primary focus of all groups, no matter what their immediate or localized interests are. First things first. The reach of neoliberalism and its vastly negative consequences at all levels of society means that no group can escape the cultural conditions it’s creating. (I should say is now creating in Western democratic societies. Its heinous social effects have long been felt in many developing countries long before it hit our shores.)(I should also say the elites escape it, by living in securitized gated communities, using private jets, etc. As Mike Davis writes in the introduction to ‘Evil Paradises- Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism’- “As our case studies repeatedly underline, the spatial logic of neoliberalism revives the most extreme colonial patterns of residential segregation and zoned consumption. http://amzn.to/MJuVJf)

    You say “more empathy is in order” on my end, but is not challenging people and confronting the possibility that we might be being bamboozled, that we might be suffering under a delusion, one that could bring untold suffering for all in the long term, is that not a form of empathy too? And how about empathy for the millions of people who are suffering under this economic and structural violence? Or the millions more living in destitute conditions across the developing world suffering because of this same economic worldview?

    But let me finish with another angle on this whole issue. One of the core reasons that I’m suggesting all groups, particularly minority groups, need to make what’s happening in the economy (and a *specific* form of economic domination) primary, is that neoliberalism creates tremendous volatility, uncertainty, poverty, and general societal deterioration, and this is not a good atmosphere for minority groups to be living in. We know that in times of general crisis and material threat people often devolve, and we often find scapegoats to take out our fear on, and minority groups are prime targets (and the demagogues will offer them up, as they already are in the US with illegal immigrants).

    Here are a few salient passages from the book ‘The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth’ by Harvard political economy professor Benjamin M. Friedman:

    “Economic growth- meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens- more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy…

    Economic progress needs to be broadly based if it is to foster social and political progress. That progress requires the positive experience of a sufficiently broad cross section of a country’s population to shape the national mood and direction. But except for a brief period in the late 1990s, most of the fruits of the last three decades of economic growth in the US have accrued to only a small slice of the American population…The consequence of the stagnation [for the average citizen] that lasted from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s was, in numerous dimensions, a fraying of America’s social fabric. It was no coincidence that during this period popular antipathy to immigrants resurfaced to an extent no known in the United States since before World War II, and in some respects not since the 1880s... (p.7)

    Countries where living standards improve over sustained periods of time are more likely to seek and preserve an open, tolerant society, and to broaden and strengthen their democratic institutions. But where most citizens sense that they are not getting ahead, society instead becomes rigid and democracy weakens” (p.399)

    So I’m saying that no one is going to want to live in the world that neoliberalism is going to increasingly create, whether a minority or majority an animal or an ocean. All the social victories in the world will mean little in that context. We must understand the devil on our doorstep. And this isn’t hyperbole either, we only have to ask those who’ve already lived through a lot longer period of neoliberal rule in the developing world to find out the harsh social and material realities.

    And to your point that creating a just economy is “really, really hard”, so what, it always has been. Confronting dominant power structures has always been difficult and dangerous, and takes courage and commitment and social solidarity, and I think that with so many people losing out on this current economic formation, we have an unprecedented chance for solidarity across multiple lines (ethnic, national, sexual orientation, etc.). The future is unwritten and unpredictable, and we are its authors. Very few revolutions were foreseen before they happened. What we’re capable of together is anybody’s guess, and the world events of the past 12 months- from the Arab Spring, to Spain, to Iceland, to Occupy and so on- shows me that we’re already on the move for just such a shift. Also, there have already been many successful cases of resistance to neoliberalism, in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and elsewhere, so I ultimately do no share your view in terms of the difficulty of such transformation.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 27 May 2012 00:04 posted by David MacLeod

    Well done, Trevor, you've made a lot of important points here. I took the "radical economic theory" link to David Harvey's YouTube summary of his Brief History of Neoliberalism, which was very helpful.

    Chris, my takeaway from what you're saying here is that we need to be careful not to trivialize important work being done on the social justice front.

    On the other hand, I think Trevor's point is very important: That politicians tend to use social/cultural issues as wedge issues with which to appeal to whatever political base will help them win the next election, and to divert attention from the fact that both mainstream Liberals and (especially) mainstream Conservatives are ultimately acting against the interests of the public by supporting neoliberal economic policies. And so these wedge issues become, in most cases, mere diversions, where little is actually accomplished.

    For myself, I would take this one step further, and say "It's the Ecology, Stupid." Using the integral quadrants frame, this is saying the Lower Right systems quadrant is the fundamental foundation upon which good outcomes for the other quadrants depend. And as important as Economic Systems is, we need to push that back one step further and understand that economic systems are totally dependent on the support of a healthy ecological system. As a quote I read this week illustrates: "Economics start with photosynthesis" (Abe Collins).

    Instead of approaching it by working different issues in different quadrants as you indicated, I think about starting with ecology and energy in the lower right quadrant, and then pushing that over to the lower left - how do we make that meaningful to people in a way they can resonate with and relate to cultural issues? Perhaps if people with different cultural backgrounds and persuasions can find common cause in confronting these bigger issues that affect everyone, in the process they might discover that their differences are not so great, positions might loosen up, and in the end the culture wars might subside.

    In 1971 process theologian John Cobb wrote one of the early books by a philosopher/theologian on the environment: "Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology."

    Chapter 1 is entitled "Is Ecology THE Issue?" He writes: "Other issues are urgent, but this one is imperative. The danger in focusing attention on a single issue and raising it as one of supreme importance is that it might seem to detract from the importance of other issues. Those who are struggling for the rights of blacks, or browns, or reds, or students, or women; or for freedom in Brazil, or Greece, or the Soviet Union; or for the survival of Israel or justice for Arab refugees; or for peace in Southeast Asia, feel abandoned and cheated when their erstwhile allies move on to another cause while these battles are far from won."

    Cobb then proceeds to share an analogy of a sinking ship to make his point. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago at http://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com a couple of weeks ago ("The Titanic on Earth Day"), and reprinted his analogy in full. It's the best, most fleshed out "sinking ship analogy I've seen, and is well worth reading. In brief, the point is that when the ship is sinking, we need all hands on deck to address the issue, and we can't afford to let other issues (as important as they might seem to be) distract us from the imperative task of trying to prevent all on board from imminent death. And if this most positive scenario were to play out, Cobb writes:

    "All able-bod­ied men join together in a massive effort to pump out the water and repair the leaks. In the process, the mu­tual antagonisms subside. New leadership patterns are established. All the passengers and the crew, as well, become a single community living frugally but harmo­niously together.

    "Granted, only a miracle could realize this third possibility. Politicians would have to refrain from playing upon the mutual antagonisms of our polarized society and challenge us to extremely unpopular sacri­fices. Masses of people would have to vote for and follow these politicians. Business and industry would have to adopt new criteria by which to measure achievements, and all of us who are dependent on the present system for our luxuries would have to accept a simpler style of life."

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 27 May 2012 19:36 posted by David MacLeod

    James,

    Great question - what are our most effective, immediate next steps.

    I'll take a quick stab.

    Step One is to get educated, which Trevor's article contributes to here. I've also posted a small compendium of linked articles at http://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com ("Are You Ready for a New Economic Paradigm?"). Another resource might be The Crisis of Civilization - book and movie by Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. It is an investigation into how global crises like ecological disaster, financial meltdown, dwindling oil reserves, terrorism and food shortages are converging symptoms of a single, failed global system. you can watch the movie online.
    http://crisisofcivilization.com/watch/

    Step 2. Participate in discussions about alternatives, and spread the word. There are numerous conferences and workshops springing up. Recent examples: An Economics of Happiness conference (http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/conference), the Bhutan Conference on Happiness (http://globalcenters.columbia.edu/southasia/bhutan-conference-happiness-and-economic-development), and the International Conference of De-Growth in the Americas Conference (interesting interviews coming out here: http://www.energybulletin.net/media/2012-05-26/rethinking-economic-growth and here: http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-05-25/degrowth-american-dream). Coming up is a Money and Life workshop, based on a new movie featuring Orland Bishop, David Korten, Vicki Robin, Charles Eisenstein, etc. (http://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1078462).

    Step 3. Begin to into your life ways to live your values and try alternatives outside of our mainstream economy. For me, that starts with becoming less of a dependent consumer, and becoming more of a responsible producer for my own needs (this is where permaculture comes in, relating to all aspects of life).

    Tom Atlee has just posted a nice summary of ideas on Emerging Economics, put into 3 categories: Life Beyond Money, Life Beyond Consumerism, and Economics that Puts Money in it's Place:
    http://tom-atlee.posterous.com/emerging-economics-2-the-emerging-new-economy

    "While there is ample room and need for protest and resistance, there is also tremendous opportunity for simply taking responsibility for co-creating the economy we want right now, together, right where we live."
    - Tom Atlee

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Sunday, 27 May 2012 20:28 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Trev,

    Thanks for the response.

    James used the word distraction in his comment. That is what I was responding to there.

    You did post a picture (Obama on the unicorn) that had a caption that reads "Let's pretend that a hollow gesture to gays..." It's the hollow there also that I disagree with. It wasn't a hollow gesture. I do agree that his position on gay marriage doesn't erase his actions on other areas that I disagree with (e.g. abrogation of civil rights under the War on Terrorism banner). But it wasn't a hollow gesture.

    I'm not sure where the point about me talking in the abstract is coming from. There are already lot of people working on issues of gay rights as well as others (e.g. Occupy movement) working on the political-economci side. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don't.

    My point is rather one of tactics--I"m not sure how you work to bridge those gaps by telling other people that the sincere work they are doing is a diversion.

    It seems to me this is a perennial struggle of the Left. Values like loyalty and honor are seen as being the domain of the right. The way in which the conservative right understands loyalty and honor does tend towards blind obedience. The left, rightly, values the place of critical thought, skepticism, autonomous belief formation, etc. But without, I would argue, a more evolved sense of duty, trust, and honor, the left often ends up cannibalizing its own. It has a difficult time building solidarity.

    I think it's totally fair to point out and criticize Andrew Cuomo (or whoever) for trying to clothe himself in as a great liberal reformer by supporting gay marriage but not being reform minded when it comes to the economy. But the reason the gay marriage question has come up is because of activists, on the grassroots level pushing the issue forward--including yes getting the buy-in from the corporate/business world by advocating for the economic benefits of such a political decision ('speaking in their language').

    What I was responding to was the sense that the work of those activists was being disrespected. To reiterate, I absolutely agree that we can't (as it were) "only" work on cultural issues to the detriment of economic, political, and ecological ones (I like where David M. is going by starting with ecological resolution.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Sunday, 27 May 2012 20:58 posted by Chris Dierkes

    T,

    I liked Friedman's point about moral growth following economic one--a very good point. Following upon that, here is one way to read the history, going back further than the 1970s, as a guide to current action.

    In this reading we would see the current era as a 2nd Gilded Age. The 1st Gilded Age (19th century) happened through robber baron capitalism, deregulation, colonialism, globalization, financial speculation, leading to an economic crash and Great Depression. Same with what just happened in our day. Out of the 1st Gilded Age came the rise of the progressive movement, eventually leading to New Deal social democratic movements.

    There were muckrakers, progressives, socialists, communists. They didn't always get a long, to put it mildly. But eventually a more or less coherent, if undoubtedly imperfect, movement took shape that responded and created an era of political and social governance. The New Deal Era. It prevented the financial speculation, it raised higher level of taxes and brought more social distribution. it brought in Keynesian economics.

    Interesting a Neo-Keynesian approach could also be of value in this case.

    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/05/cbo-economy-recession-fiscal-cliff.php

    And yet it in other ways The New Deal was a devil's deal because it came about by aligning with white southerners and leaving segregation alone.

    It brought about a higher level of economic prosperity which did increase issues for social and cultural equality (as per Friedman's thesis). But in so doing, it exposed the fundamental hypocrisy (or at least incoherence) in The New Deal.

    The Left, i.e. The Democrats, had then a choice to make. They could only do one or the other. Keep up with the economic alliance of Keynesianism and segregation or make the choice for The Civil Rights movement. The choice they made obviously split the Left and has lead to the opening for neoliberalism to run unopposed. It has left the Left focusing on cultural, social, and political rights where they can.

    If the pattern is to hold--and perhaps it is not going to--but if it is, then it will require a greater degree of cultural openness to gay marriage, black presidents, and so on in order to rebuild a coalition that will responded to our 2nd Gilded Age. Because right now what prevents such a process for emerging is the lower class whites disapproving heavily of Obama and the Democrats. Precisely around things like gay marriage, immigration policy, environmental policy.

    This is why I'm talking about building alliances. Why I get frustrated with the left to always be eating its own.

    So while Thomas Frank is correct that various elites have used cultural war pieces to their own ends, I don't agree that they did so whole cloth. I think the cultural wars actually reflect cultural values widely held, transmitted, and passed on. They were then undoubtedly manipulated but I think Frank's thesis undershoots the degree to which they were and are sincerely held.

    Racism, homophobia, and sexism run quite deep in US society--that's speaking from the experience of having grown up and lived in many parts of the US in my life. Pretty much any place in the world I've been to or lived in actually, but we're talking about the US here, so I'll focus on that country.

    To speak way too broadly, the danger tendency of the left is to reduce cultural issues to economic and social ones--a LR absolutism in integral terms. Seeing the Lower Left as simply a by-product of the Lower Right. A superstructure determined by the base. Yes the quadrants aren't so hermetically sealed off from one another, they are intertwined. But each also holds its own distinction. None is reducible to any other.

    I think this tendency to underemphasize the cultural (if not wholly write it out) is evident in the Left's inability to offer a different narrative, to engender a different vision of society. Obama did during his campaign and then governed, like Democrats always do, as a technocrat. The Left has, too often, a managerial mindset and praxis. And I think that even flows to the New Left's criticisms since the 1960s--with elites controlling events. It's a shadow inverse of the 1950s New Deal version of managerial politics I think.

    Without such a narrative, the left is going to continue to be a series of interest groups--sometimes aligning, sometimes fighting each other. It will, I think, therefore be divided and conquered.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 29 May 2012 17:37 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    James, alright, returning to your question, apologies for the delay.

    I think David has laid out a pretty good path here (thanks David), so I’ll more or less surf in his wake.

    Step One- I think the first thing is, as David says, to get educated, particularly around neoliberalism and what it is. One of the points David Harvey makes in his video series is that this economic worldview has become (in the thirty years it’s now been dominant) like the air we breathe, or the water we swim in. It’s become so normalized that we have a hard time seeing it at all. If you think about it, both Chris and I have lived our entire lives under this set of economic conditions and its attendant ideology (which has powerful reach via the media and think tanks and paid intellectuals). That’s not easy to extricate yourself from, but we need to make this economic subject, object, to use the Robert Kegan phrase.

    On that note, here’s a list of the key features of neoliberal economic policy to be on the lookout for, something I didn’t outline in the piece:

    -deregulation (anti government interventionism)

    -privatization (esp. of public or state owned assets/enterprises)

    -liberalization of trade and industry (ie. free trade)

    -free flow of capital (ie. removing controls on the movements of capital, esp. cross border restrictions)

    -massive tax cuts, especially for high income earners and “risk-taking” investors.

    -increasing power and mobility of global corporations.

    -labor as a commodity; increasingly ‘flexible’ labor force.

    -strict controls on organized labor.

    -the down-sizing of government; general reduction in social spending by the state and on public expenditures in general.

    -increase in financial capital; increase in speculative money movement and international circulation of capital.

    So those are some things to look out for when it comes to the neoliberal economic worldview and its policy prescriptions. It should be said that none of these things are *necessarily* bad in of themselves, but when you put it all together, and then hold nations and populations hostage to this constellation of policies, the historical record has shown that this results in a massive redistribution of wealth to a small percentile of the population. That is, barbaric plunder on an impressive scale. It also creates social, ecological and working conditions that are miles from desirable.

    We have, in our day, become hostage to “economism” and the reliance on pundits and the ‘expert class’ to tell the masses what choices have to be made, and it’s almost always ones beholden to the economy and the interests of this neoliberal form of fluid, boundaryless capital. We need to educate ourselves about economics in general and this particular strain of economic theory in particular, and be ready to defend (with bodies if necessary) values other than the ones listed above.

    Step Two- I’ll combine David’s Step’s two and three here, and agree that we need to both discuss alternative economic-cultural models, and put them into action. There’s plenty of both going on right now. Here’s a great resource of an article that just came out a couple of days ago called ‘The Rise of the New Economy Movement’ http://bit.ly/KXutJs. It’s an inspiring collection of actions that people are instigating on a variety of fronts.

    There’s also the rise of the return to gift economies and bartering that’s being championed by folks like Charles Eisenstein and Douglas Rushkoff. A couple of us at the site are beginning experiments with this, and I know Bergen has a future article in mind where he discusses his experience is this realm. I think these have a lot of potential for people to save money, for one, but more importantly it allows for human solidarity and connection outside of the strict commodity (money) relationship so central to capitalism, and I think this is really important for building a collective We that can begin to resist the status quo.

    Juma wrote an article for Beams that outlined the work of John Robb and resilient communities (http://bit.ly/zeWWwd), and then there’s the Transition Towns and permaculture movements and just so many others currents (Michel Bauwens and the P2P movement is also chock full of ideas, links and alternative approaches. http://bit.ly/ulO54x).

    I wrote a short piece about a ‘participatory transition’ (http://bit.ly/HdgnMu) which drew off the work of Hardt and Negri, and I think all of the above represents the (re)birth of direct participatory human networks (ie. neo-tribalism), local community and resilience, and hopefully this can slowly build the types of institutions and relationships that will eventually render the old system obsolete. It’ll one day retreat into the mist of the history books. All of this is a great start anyway.

    [for more on this idea of neo-tribalism, see Troy Wiley’s new video series ‘Neo-tribal Zeitgeist’. I’m hoping to publish them here at the site real soon, but until then, they can be found here and are very much worth the watch- http://vimeo.com/41619069 ]

    Appendix A- Occupy Faith and Food

    Here’s a couple of additional subjects that I’m interested in that I think can really contribute to this transition we’re talking about.

    Faith- I think there’s an important role for progressive religion to step in and play. The Christian right in the US has already transgressed the classic separation of church and state in the modern period- the one that allowed for a neutral, value-free space for capitalism- so all bets are off. I think there’s a need for the moral depth of a more a progressive/radical Christianity to also make its voice heard (one actually in line with the Biblical account and the ministry of Jesus. Not ‘the Tea Party Jesus’- http://bit.ly/zlLZ2n ).

    The brutal logic and actions of the neoliberal system needs to be called into question by a re-politicized and publicly progressive religion. From listening to the Homebrewed Christianity podcast it sounds like this movement is already underway in the US (http://bit.ly/1lSjQ9), and there seems to be the seeds of a similar resurrection in Europe as well (http://bit.ly/fnaF2P). Myself and many of my classmates at seminary this year seemed to be in the same mood, so perhaps there’s something brewing here too.

    I should also point out that the Unholy Alliance (http://bit.ly/wfGmBh) between the Republicans and the Christian right is the US is becoming unglued because the Christian right is beginning to realize that they’ve been played (ie. the thesis of this post). Here’s theologian Clayton Crockett in an interview on Homebrewed Christianity:
    "Now, with hindsight, a lot of evangelicals, a lot of Christians, have come to realize- and I think this was the case all along- that they were being used by the Republican party, and by a lot of these sort of Machiavellian, neocons- the former Vice President Richard Cheney [for instance]- they were using this energy, this passion, this religiosity, for their project for a new American century". (http://bit.ly/vTwUWJ)

    So this is a good sign overall in terms of the US situation, as this will undercut a lot of the power of the US neoliberals. But I think a robust public return of compassionate and morally strong forms of progressive religion in general is important at this time. (I’ve just spoken about Christianity, which is my immediate context, but I’d love to see this across the religious spectrum. Coalitions could be powerful too).

    Food- I personally think that there’s no other issue like food that has so much potential for far reaching transformation. It’s hard to have a (r)evolution when so many people are literally sick in body and mind from the food they eat. A return to a whole foods diet is key to healing ourselves and making us capable of clarity and action, and for healing the damage to the Earth brought on by the industrial food supply. The food issue has so many other dimensions. Growing food, or buying local, puts us back in touch with soil, air and Earth (which contributes to a spiritual healing), and it connects us to place and builds community. I think all of this is crucial. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu famously described neoliberalism as “a program of the methodical destruction of collectives” (http://bit.ly/vTwUWJ). A new relationship to food and the local food supply can go a long way to rebuilding community and human connection (and this is more than just a progressive movement, but is being embraced by conservatives as well. http://bo.st/KpXHiY).

    I’ve written about food and it’s importance/potential at Beams in a few places:

    http://beamsandstruts.com/bits-a-pieces/item/458-the-food-revolution-continues-some-resources

    http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/345-its-time-to-go-home-a-sermon-in-a-time-of-exile

    For what its worth, I’ve also created a workshop called “Get to Know Your Food” that I intend to offer for free at churches around the lower mainland here in Vancouver (of any denomination that’ll have me); I’ve weaved together a bunch of resources around food and how we can change our relationship to it, and I’ve set it all within a Christian context drawing off of Biblical themes. This is one of the ways I’m trying to yoke both parts of this Appendix A together.

    Other members of the Beams crew have also being taking action in terms of our relation to food and becoming more food resilient. The whole lot of us grew a garden in Chela’s backyard last year (which we’ve just replanted), and shared the produce among our families, and Andrew has now moved out to Ontario to start a farm from scratch, which he’s writing about here and in a new daily blog (http://bit.ly/K8eWr9). So that’s some of the things we’re doing around here in that direction. I mention these things because Beams is only one dimension of a greater project, I see it as the Step One getting educated part that David mentioned (in a knowledge sharing community), and ideally this can operate in a sort of ongoing figure-eight feedback loop with life and daily action in the world.

    At any rate, I think food has far reaching potential for vast scale change.

    Appendix B- Planetary Folklore for a Planetary Culture

    And lastly- and this list is by no means exhaustive, just what comes up for me- I think there’s a powerful role for our artists to play in creating artifacts that give form to a new sense of global identity. The sheer global reach of neoliberalism and the amount of countries/populations that are living under its rule and conditions means that we have an unprecedented opportunity for a new global fellowship, one that could be very powerful in confronting the status quo and instigating a turning off the wheel. You saw this arising in Egypt where people were holding up signs of support for the people protesting in Wisconsin, and this kind of global solidarity has only continued into a number of other settings over the past year.

    We need to create what the French philosopher Edgar Morin calls a “planetary folklore”. Here’s Morin from ‘Homeland Earth’:

    “A planetary folklore has been constituted and enriched through integrations and encounters. It took jazz from New Orleans and, branching out in a variety of styles, spread it out all over the world. The same with the tango, born in the harbor district of Buenos Aires, and the Cuban mambo, the Viennese waltz, and especially American rock, which has produced a whole spectrum of styles the world over. This folklore has integrated the Indian sitar of Ravi Shankar, Andalousian Flamenco, the Arab chanting of Oum Kalsoum, and the Andean huayno. It has given rise to the syncretisms of salsa, rai and flamenco rock. The development of cultural globalization is obviously inseparable from the global development of media networks, along with the global dissemination of reproduction technology”.

    Morin goes on to say something later in book that I think is really important, when he also sets all this within a new understanding of the Earth and our place on it:

    “Even up to 1950-1960, we were living on a misapprehended Earth, on an abstract Earth. We were living on the Earth as object. By the end of this century we discovered Earth as system, as Gaia, as biosphere, as cosmic speck- Homeland Earth. Each of us has a pedigree, a terrestrial identity card. We are from, in, and on the Earth. We belong to the Earth which belongs to us”.

    I think all this is really important for the coming transition. I’d also add belonging to the cosmos too, which is of course a central part of evolutionary spirituality and the Big History movement and so on.

    Alright, I’ll stop there. David, thanks again for your additions. James, that’s what I’m thinking on my end, would love to hear some thoughts from yours. Chris, enjoying our exchange, will pick that thread up again real soon.

  • Comment Link James Barrow Tuesday, 29 May 2012 21:26 posted by James Barrow

    Thanks Trevor, and David and Chris.

    Some great stuff in here - very useful links to alternative economic modes. Will check them out more thoroughly.

    Yes the checklist for neoliberal economic manifestations... It's actually easier for me to spot this as I'm old enough to remember the UK in it's pre-Thatcher/Reagan days. (Thinking about it now though, that era also really had it's own different flaws too!)

    I'm heartened Trevor to hear about the "ungluing" of the unholy alliance of Christian fundamentalists and the US Republican party. I hope that turns out to be the case.

    Finally, I really resonate with your point about the role of artists in creating a planetary culture. I've been writing songs about this for years and they are just ready to be put out, so hopefully I'll be able to contribute a little in that area.

    Thanks again

    James

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 30 May 2012 02:50 posted by David MacLeod

    Trevor,
    Excellent, thorough response! I just followed the link to your sermon on "It's Time to Go Home - a Sermon on Exile and Return." Spot on! http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/345-its-time-to-go-home-a-sermon-in-a-time-of-exile

    If you have any interest in crossing the border (Bellingham, WA) to do your "Get to Know Your Food" workshop, send me an email, and I could probably help make that happen.

    Oh, and I love your re-appropriation of Kegan's phrase: "we need to make this economic subject, object." I've tried to make the same point by saying our current system is a "myth of the given," but I think the Kegan phrase works better.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Sunday, 03 June 2012 00:31 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Chris, alright, finally returning to this one. It’s been a busy week as you know, but I’m glad I had a bit of time to continue to reflect on this over the past few days, clarify my thoughts a little.

    So let me make a few preliminary remarks. First off, I was in no way trying to minimize the reality of homophobia or the importance of the work of those fighting for gay rights. Not at all. Homophobia is real (often brutally so), and that battle needs to be fought. I was, however, utilizing a somewhat more polemical tone in this piece, trying to stir the pot a little in order to bring attention to a generally hidden context (ie. the neoliberal worldview), and so I can see how this piece could be easily read that way. The polemics was a bit of an experiment, and it’s been interesting to reflect on the pros and cons of that style.

    I was also not trying to make any eternal or meta-argument privileging the economy and politics (LR) as being more important overall for social change etc. than culture (LL). I was, as I reiterated in the piece and in the comments a few times, trying to make a very specific argument about best tactics at this particular time in history, under a specific set of prevailing conditions. Within that context, I’m still arguing that what’s happening in the economy (with the neoliberal worldview and its political purveyors) is the most important thing for all of us to be putting our attention on, especially those is the LGBT community.

    (Also, I am also not speaking for or as ‘the left’ (which for the record, I consider those who want to move beyond capitalism altogether, so the ‘radical’ left of communists, anarchists, syndicalists and so on, not the US Democrats); I’m speaking as an integralist who has integrated the writings of the left into my analysis, and I think there’s a big difference).

    So let me stop for a moment and pull apart and outline a few different strands of the analysis here and then argue from there with those distinctions in mind. Here are some of the component parts of my analysis:

    a) the neoliberal worldview

    b) the US Republican party

    c) the US Democratic party

    d) homophobia, gay rights and the LGBT community


    So here’s my argument in more analytic form:

    Premise 1- So what I’m saying is that homophobia is real, and in the US in particular, it’s brutally real. This recent article about homophobia in Christian fundamentalist circles is as startling as it is increasingly commonplace. (‘Death for Gays? Not Really a Fringe Evangelical Thought’- http://bit.ly/N77TyE)

    Premise 2- In premise two I’m arguing that members of the Republican party are using cultural issues such as gay marriage (among others) in a politically Machiavellian way. They are responsible for constantly pouring gas on these fires in order to fire up a certain voting base so that they can gain power. You say that, “Frank's thesis undershoots the degree to which [these values] were and are sincerely held”. To which I would ask, sincerely held by whom? If you mean sincerely held by large parts of the population, then I would clearly agree. But if you think these politicians also sincerely hold them, I very much disagree, and that’s one of the fault lines in our exchange. Here’s a couple of additional arguments as to why I’d say this is pretty much realpolitik and little more:

    addendum i) as Thomas Frank points out in his book ‘The Wrecking Crew’ (and in this video discussion of it- http://bit.ly/hRMORF), when he spent the 2000’s in Washington DC around a lot of these people, he came to realize that once in that space of rule, they don’t care about these cultural issues (that they got voted in on) at all. They just simply vanish from the conversation. They don’t care. And as Frank points out, they rarely do anything policy wise or legislatively that would actually change the situation toward the values of their base. And this is largely why, as I point in my comment above, that the Christian fundamentalists are starting to slowly realize they’ve been duped. I should add quickly, but importantly, that this kind of cold political shrewdness has a history as long as human civilization itself, and I see little reason why we’d think we’re somehow now free from this possibility in our own political system(s).

    addendum ii) another additional argument that these values are held very loosely (if at all) by these politicians, is the number of hypocritical scandals they’re always involved in. They say homosexuality is an abomination, and then get caught sucking a guy off in a bathroom stall or something like that. Or they talk about the sanctity of traditional marriage, and yet they get multiple divorces and/or cheat on their wives or get caught with prostitutes and so on. This constant ongoing embarrassment in American politics is a good sign that these guys are hucksters through and through, and the traditional values they expose are lip service.

    Premise 3- the first part of premise 3 is that the Republicans are deeply beholden to the tenets of market fundamentalism. The second part of premise 3 is that neoliberal economic policy in practice creates increasing societal deterioration. There’s plenty of literature on this, but here are a repeat of some of the links in the piece. In the US- http://bit.ly/xxGyP2; in Argentina- http://imdb.to/c4rLUd; in Britain- http://bit.ly/L4Pmyf (original Harpers article costs money, but is good). Again, that’s just a small sample. Here’s also a recent (and at times devastating) must watch documentary on the results of neoliberal privitization, entitled Catastroika- http://bit.ly/Ki9f6L

    Premise 4- these deteriorating social conditions create an increasingly hostile environment toward minorities and gays, especially as people need scapegoats and outlets for their anger and fear at a world that is genuinely crumbling around them. Now, I must say, last week was a pretty crazy one in the noosphere. I published the above piece on a Thursday. The Salon piece linked to in my comment above came out the next day. And on the Sunday, Chris Hedges published a piece called ‘The War on Gays’, which also goes through this whole same territory from another angle. So obviously something is up around this issue.

    So for premise 4 I’m going to draw off the Hedges article. In it he draws heavily off a gay pastor named Mel White, who along with his partner created an organization called Soul Force, which is:

    “Committed to using nonviolent resistance to end religion-based oppression. White and hundreds of Soulforce volunteers protest outside megachurches that preach hatred and bigotry in the name of religion. White travels to communities where young gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people have committed suicide. He holds memorial services for them in front of the church doors”.

    So I’d say White is a pretty worthy source when it comes to this whole discussion. Here’s some key passage from the article:

    “White applauds President Obama for taking a personal stand for marriage equality. But he also notes that the president’s statement was accompanied by a reiteration that states have the right to determine their own policies toward marriage…

    “Class difference is at the heart of understanding sexism and homophobia,” White said…

    White and [his partner] left Virginia for California a few weeks ago because the culture, he says, had become increasingly inhospitable to gay couples. In distressed communities across the country there is a correlating rise in intolerance, hate talk and homophobia…

    White- “The reversal came with the collapse of our financial system. Suddenly everything blue was seen as costing too much money, including helping the poor. There was a revolt led by Fox News and its allies. It’s difficult to find a restaurant or bar in Lynchburg that isn’t playing Fox News. People quote Fox as though Fox is the arbiter of truth. In fact, Fox is the enemy.”

    Hedges- “The long-term unemployment, the collapse of housing prices, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the draconian cuts in social spending have created a climate in which the vulnerable, the different, the marginal—from Muslims to undocumented workers to homosexuals—are blamed for the nation’s decline, White argues. This climate is fueling a culture of hate. Right-wing candidates, channeling the rage and frustration of a beleaguered working and middle class, use marginal and oppressed groups as scapegoats…

    The culture of hate feeds off the frustrations and feelings of betrayal among the impoverished, the unemployed, the underemployed and the hopeless. And the longer the expanding underclass is ignored, the longer we refuse to define what is happening to us in our corporate state as a vicious class struggle, the more the culture of hate spreads. The dwindling culture of tolerance, confined now mostly to white, urban, college-educated members of the middle class, because that group refuses to engage in the struggle of class warfare, unwittingly abets the economic dislocation that is empowering the increasingly potent culture of hate”.

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_war_on_gays_20120528/

    I think this line by Hedges pretty much sums up premise 4 and my intention for writing the piece overall. It bears repeating:

    “And the longer the expanding underclass is ignored, the longer we refuse to define what is happening to us in our corporate state as a vicious class struggle, the more the culture of hate spreads”.

    Premise 5- the first part of premise 5 is that the Democratic party is also beholden to the neoliberal worldview. Bill Clinton pushed more reform in this direction than just about anyone (NAFTA, repealing Glass-Steagall), and Barack Obama has taken as much money from Wall St. as any US politician of the past twenty years. http://bit.ly/o3NiS3. I think the documentary ‘Casino Jack- The United States of Money’ (http://bit.ly/5cxHeX) does an excellent job showing how big money has now captured both political parties. And big money loves neoliberal policy.

    The second half of premise 5 is that the Democrats are also duping the electorate from a different direction, by (as the Salon.com article argues) using these cultural issues to draw up support as a champion of progressive values, all the while continuing an economic agenda beholden to market fundamentalism and corporate interests.

    ~~~~

    So that pretty much sums it up, and I’ll leave it there, as that’s a whopping comment already, and I’m pooped!! as I said, enjoying the exchange, and would be happy to continue it with yourself or others.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Sunday, 03 June 2012 00:34 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    And David, thanks for the words and for the offer regarding my workshop. When (and if!) I get it well oiled by presenting it in this area, I'll be sure to take you up on your offer. cheers!

  • Comment Link Davy Marzella Monday, 16 July 2012 19:44 posted by Davy Marzella

    A poem concerning marriage and other matters............

    Please
    Allow us to participate in the historically oppressive institution of MATRIMONY -
    the confinement and subservience of woman as mother -
    after she has "been given away" by one man , her father
    to another man , her husband -
    So we can pass as equally “normal”
    ( can't we ... ? )

    Please
    accept us in the military forces of the state
    to be able to kill and die in the interests
    of imperialism and big business
    It would be an honour
    ( wouldn't it...? )

    Please
    Let us be compulsive consumers
    in a commercial ghetto with drink , drugs and disposable sex ,
    always looking for the next fix
    Image is everything
    ( isn't it... ? )

    Please
    let us conform to exclusive bottom/top roles
    so we can imitate stereotypes,
    we were born that way too
    ( weren't we..... ? )

    Please
    Accept us , we can’t help ourselves
    we were born this way
    who YOU find attractive is fixed at birth
    ( isn't it.....? )

  • Comment Link Davy Marzella Tuesday, 17 July 2012 05:34 posted by Davy Marzella

    Resisting orientation ... Towards a world without borders by Jamie Heckert

    http://sexualorientation.info/thesis/Resisting%20Orientation%20-%20C9.pdf

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 17 July 2012 16:54 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    thanks for the poem Davy, lot's of good stuff there. I look forward to checking out the paper, looks interesting, not a field/area I've dived into too much yet, so that's a good prompt. But I think investigating the relations between dominant power and what forms of sexual orientation are sanctioned to reproduce that power, is important. Deleuze and Guattari really opened my eyes to this kind of thing, and I see that the author of the paper draws off their work.

    If you'd like to say anything else around this that'd cool, but maybe the poem and the paper already make the major points you'd like to add in. This might be a good topic for a future full article here sometime too.

    While this thread is re-opened, I've since come across another article that reiterates the main points being made in the piece.

    'Party of No: How Republicans and the Right Have Tried to Thwart All Social Progress':

    http://www.alternet.org/news/146965

  • Comment Link Davy Marzella Thursday, 19 July 2012 10:12 posted by Davy Marzella

    Trevor wrote: "But I think investigating the relations between dominant power and what forms of sexual orientation are sanctioned to reproduce that power, is important."

    VERY true Trevor , I couldn't agree more.

    I'll re-post the article here I posted on B&S FB page - as well as repeating the quote -

    "Many questions about gay self-labels and their relation to development, social behavior, genes and neurological substrates remain to be answered —indeed, they remain to be asked"

    I think it is all a fasinating and intriguing topic , with very little coverage of it. If you know of anywhere else that it could be re-posted.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gay-male-sex-roles

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