needless to say, i am extremely opposed to universal pre-school. really i think they can get a standardized testing regime that extends from cradle to the grave: we can fully form every citizen's consciousness all day every day; that way we can compete with the chinese. you know, another way to represent universal pre-school would be this. tell me this is false: we are compelling you to surrender your toddlers to these government institutions for a certain portion of the day. it is precisely the sort of policy, for example, that religious schools practiced on indian reservations right through the 1950s; we have come to seize/retrain your children, or make them part of our culture. it was entirely a charitable project. however, unlike the indians, i believe, we will smile about it for the most part. for one thing, then parents can work longer hours. you will not even know that you are being compelled (though i think the toddler will be aware of it). and yet, read the law.
indian tribes eventually won the right to opt out of certain things; i guess they'll have to decide how 'universal pre-school' applies on reservations/nations. but few other sub-cultures (well, the amish, perhaps) could conceivably opt out. that is why each neighborhood ought to incorporate immediately as an independent nation in at least the indian/amish sense. then you could opt in if you like, and do your part to out-compete the finns.
remember what you thought about the characters in beasts of the southern wild? ok think about how they'd react to the fact that for their own good, we've come for your toddlers. one thing it is the death of: local knowledge, local centers of wisdom: it wants to make everyone the same, or we all have to have the same culture. that could be inspiring, i guess, but it is actually devoted to destroying all local cultures. and it rests on what i have to say is an arbitrary, artificial, historical contrivance: the basic cultural unit just has to be the nation state, because we are all americans. it is also almost the only culture that has to be, or that can be, actually enforced.
really obama is a pretty quintessential product of the 'meritocracy,' and one thing i'll say for such products: by and large they come out with the same opinions, expressed in the very same sentences. i don't think that this is because people with merit converge on the truth; i think they converge or coalesce into representatives of the institutions that produced them. there is less than no suspicion of power per se; something like that cannot even really be thematized by the time you've negotiated your way through harvard, with the jd/mba or whatever. one form of this is the cult of expertise that harvard just is: you keep deferring to the experts who have been created in these institutions, such as your profs, until you become one. that sounds good except it leaves you completely incapable of probing the assumptions of the discourse and institutions you're embedded in. you cannot rise unless you share these, and we inculcate them in you with every sentence for many years.
they cease to be aware of the power they are themselves exercising; they exercise it on behalf of the sheer facts uncovered by their expertise. it's the most basic things they are deploying that they can't defend because they can't be aware of them and be what or where they are. that is how they could just so effortlessly extend their sort of power - which is really them, disempowering you in quite concrete ways - right across the most intimate lives of people of every age: constantly building new, or building up existing structures of surveillance and information-control and consciousness-formation: it all flows perfectly through the rhetoric with no suspicion or even awareness of the fundamental character of their activities. it's all helping people or achieving prosperity. sometimes it might have these effects. but it is building and building the beast that will consume us, or might, at any rate, or is, bit by bit. it digests us slowly, until you don't even know you're ceasing to exist. the underside, where the power is applied, each person's or each family's or each hamlet's autonomy compromised more fully every day is just completely occluded. if foucault was around these days, he'd check out again.
see what i'm going to like about rand paul is that he will dip into this. he's not pushing everyone's interest in the sense that he's out here to preserve your benefits. he's pushing everyone's interest in the sense that he is still actually concerned with each person's liberty. that is what is worth holding onto in our tradition, but it is not even in the same universe as obama's rhetoric. (he might feel he has to wave around a disclaimer when he gets to guns, i guess.)
i have to say i kind of hate every bit of the state of the union. the pomp, the jockeying for handshakes, the laundry list: it's way too long to be some sort of meaningful single message, and it's way to short to do anything but wave vaguely at policies: 'i have a plan that will achieve as much medicare savings by the beginning of the next decade as the simpson-bowles plan.' you know, he delivered that with great passion. now it's back to 'we should do this right now, etc. i have to figure that reporters hate it; you have to cover it for days even though it is a completely staged non-event that never - never - makes actual news. and yet you have to say it's 'historic' etc. it has a certain power as a ritual or a tradition, however. i think they should read the constitution loud instead.
now on the other hand, here i am watching again. really it's a kinda twisted political life i lead: actively hostile and yet hypnotized or even obsessed. sad, really.
while we're on china, let me hit you with a bit of my amazing new take on political/economic taxonomy. i think we might say that the current chinese state combines the best features of maoism and corporate capitalism: it's all devoted to generating maximum cash and putting it on a barge. destination: the very top of the hierarchy. and yet it also attempts to bestride the earth, stomping that ass with the iron boot of collectivist totalitarianism. now, your basic taxonomy of political and economic systems or ideologies would regard this as an incoherent merger. your conventional political scientist is just going associate capitalism with john locke and adam smith and democracy: 'liberalism,' i suppose. (the political scientists on the far left do right at least to be seeing through this as partly a falsification.) on the other hand, if we socialists or whatever reject free enterprise and engage in grand redistribitivist schemes, then of course we're going to need a big, extremely powerful state. (then once you're done with the redistribution, the state either withers away, or deposits your entire country in theiir leaders' swiss accounts and absconds; i forget which.) so for a long time people (it even trickled down to bush etc) thought of the chinese system as combining opposed or contradictory elements. at a minimum, i'd say no one is so sure anymore.
we should think instead of the chinese state as a provisional culmination of both state socialism and corporate capitalism. in ideology, they are opposites. but we don't live in the textbook for your course on political ideologies. we live in a world where, from the outset, corporate capitalism completely depended on state power, and the basic practical thrust of left statism was annexation of the economy. the soviet union was a variety of monopoly capitalism. and the modern american state is a variety of state socialism. (but leftists are still trying to pit the state against the corporation, while rightists are still trying to pit the corporation against the state. this is all occurring only in their imaginations: pitting chase against the treasury department is a very odd concept and no you're not going to be pulling them apart later on, because resources always flow toward political power, and political power always flows toward resources (little crispy's big law).)
we're all headed in this direction together. it is the culmination/nadir of history! which isn't over, btw. but still i am its hegel, marx, and fukuyama. what gives me pause is how terribly mistaken they all were. and how laboriously they all wrote.
anyway, what went wrong in our thinking is that we believed the account these ideologies gave of themselves. but the scrim of philosophy, theory, ideology, the rhetorical flourishes that they laid on the reality were always thin on the ground. they were designed to rationalize or moralize what is really a single indefensible system, or to enhance the self-esteem of ideologues while pursuing the hard work of gathering up all the resources. the cold war disguised the fact that the systems were, in playing out their real essences, converging toward a situation in which state and economy are fully integrated and held in very few hands: a truly permanent, systemic, chronic, sclerotic hierarchy with the world's worst rhetoric. and then one of the meanings of 'globalization' and the various 'international mechanisms' that go with it, may be that it is a premonition of a world system of this variety, which is already emerging. (one name is 'technocracy.' i like to call it 'jurgen habermas'.) but there would be many barriers to overcome, from nationalism and tribalism to religious chauvinism and individualism/tribalism of the 'i/we dissent/withdraw/slack off/sabotage/hack' variety. (honestly i think history is, from our point of view, wildly contingent, and no one can know how such a thing comes out.)
this is also one of the reasons that the left/right spectrum is just not helping anyone toward understanding the phenomena, much less in deciding what positions to take. we should dissolve the left/right spectrum the way carnap dissolved metaphysics: it never meant anything; it was a kind of nonsense verse.
i don't know that squishy totalitarianism is really catching on as the name for the great synthesis at the end of history, or, as i like to think of it, the prelude to our richly-deserved extinction. but whatever you call it, i call it fun!
squishy totalitarianism: the political/economic/aesthetic/psychological system or syndrome shared in common, for instance, by contemporary china, the european union, and the united states. it is characterized by a complex so-called 'technocratic' merger of state and capital; large-scale mechanisms of subject-formation such as compulsory state education and regulation/monopoly ownership of the media; a relative tolerance for some forms of diffuse dissent and scope for individual choice, particularly in consumption, combined with pervasive state and corporate surveillance; overwhelming police and military force and sprawling systems of incarceration; entrenched extreme hierarchies of wealth and expertise (plausibly declared by such authorities as spode to be the purpose of squishy totalitarianism); regulation of the economy by monetary policy in cooperation with banking concerns; an international regime of national sovereignty combined with international state/corporate mechanisms for the circulation of wealth.
hopeful note: st is no more difficult to resist than any other 'system'; every expansion opens up new interstices.
seems like someone out there started to figure out squishy totalitarianism, starting from a marxist angle.
The all-encompassing embrace of world capitalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century was generally attributed to the superiority of competitive markets. Globalization had appeared to be the natural outcome of this unstoppable process. But today, with global markets roiling and increasingly reliant on state intervention to stay afloat, it has become clear that markets and states aren’t straightforwardly opposing forces.
In this groundbreaking work, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin demonstrate the intimate relationship between modern capitalism and the American state, including its role as an “informal empire” promoting free trade and capital movements.
ok then, let's talk about steven spielberg. i want to say, it really is amazing all the things you're not supposed to say, and all the people who are more or less above criticism. but anyway, here's my idea: steven spielberg may be this and that, but he is not an artist. i'd say the very budget of these films precludes them being particularly expressive or embodying anything like a personal vision: the films are elephantine, inert, manipulative rather than meaningful, and really quite banal, though of course impressive as spectacles. they lurch between sentimentality and didacticism: spielberg is always teaching you another lesson, and all the acting and emotion and stuff is like a crocheted cozy on a bludgeon. the lessons are very much at the level of sesame street: they're just cliches: precisely because of the gigantic commercial emphasis and investment, the messages must be uncontroversial, and boy are they. nothing strange or subversive or original or idiosyncratic has ever appeared in any steven spielberg movie. and have you ever tried to watch indiana jones and the crystal skull? he's just the chap to do a hagiography of lincoln: there could be no more redundant or predictable gesture by an american filmmaker.
spielberg will be remembered as the second-rate riefenstahl of squishy totalitarianism, the vanilla pseudo-auteur of the era of copyright protection. the stuff emits the scent of bureaucracy, or centralized planning of the arts. when it becomes impossible to spend that much money on a movie, movies will be better. with the deranged level of promotion, in which all media outlets conspire, it's almost like you're required to watch it and like it: it's socially compulsory, baby. i wouldn't necessarily trust the sincerity of any particular person's ecstatic response in a situation like that, especially critics. and i'll tell you this, the pentagon-style media organization - in publishing and recording and visual arts as well as film - has been an aesthetic wasteland, divided between big sortof highbrow art things and shimmering meaningless corporate pop. it's been the era of the blockbuster: way too much unanimous concentration on and promotion of way too few big bloated items: way too few novels; way too few songs; way too few paintings. you have to manufacture a critical consensus and give the bookers and stuff just to fend off facing your own conventionality and mediocrity. we must have the dullest and safest arbiters of taste since the romans. there's a difference between taste and authority, david remnick, and you are failing in your duty to be interesting. every sign that the culture is multiplying or disintegrating - and of course there are many - is good for the arts. insofar as we have universal cultural touchstones they will be way too huge and puerile. gigantic art should be resisted.
i live in two political worlds. the place where i work, my family: all very much supporting obama. where i live, or at the gym or barbershop or diner out here: close to 100% romney. the way each of these groups thinks about the other is very disconcerting. each group is entirely incomprehensible to the other. in the gym this morning people were just rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at each other at the very idea that any rational or decent person could possiby vote for obama. it's obvious that obama is basically a welfare-state socialist whose whole schtick betrays basic american values. how can people be so deluded by these institutional elites and the leftist media? and the liberal group just regards romney as an extremist who loves greed and wants to destroy the social contract by which we help each other lead better lives. (well of course each is completely right about the other, even if massively deceived about themselves.)
so insulated is each group from the other that the members of the opposite group sink to something like an inhuman or monstrous status. and within each group, the sources of information and opinion are shared, while almost no one, i believe, really goes and looks for something from the other side, which is strange to me. but i guess if it's already obvious that they're monsters or dolts, why would you? the funny thing is that if you subtract the politics and just work out in east berlin, pa or have lunch with a colleague, most all these people seem like ok people, so each one's idea that the other is evil or merely manipulated doesn't seem plausible.
there are a few things that i find unbelievably frustrating about this situation. first of all, on both sides, people just buy their politics off the rack as a complete outfit. i don't see how you possibly just nod along with every single thing paul krugman or sean hannity says, and then go to the barbershop or the coffee shop and repeat it verbatim. ain't you got no pride? no one appears to me to be thinking for themselves, and in a way, that makes it almost silly to argue with them: argue with one, you've argued with them all. it sort of doesn't seem like them talking at all, and folks are incredibly uncritical in this condition of any argument that appears to support their position, perfectly indiscriminate, so that let's say the quality of the arguments sags ever more alarmingly. people don't really want a reason; they want a stick.
second, from where i am, the huge rhetorical distinctions of liberty against mutual aid, or small against big government etc can't but appear to be absurdly out of proportion to the actual distinction between the policies, which appear to me to be slight adjustments to the basic squishy totalitarian model of merger of state and capital, surveillance and dependency (wait i like this formulation). seriously, folks are arguing about 5% in the marginal tax rate as though it were hobbes against locke or smith against marx or rawls against nozick; no, those are principled positions!
anyway: you can do better than that. i have faith. if you are a dem i assign you to watch fox news's election coverage, if a rep, msnbc. that'd be a start anyway. think of yourself as an anthropologist; you want to try to figure out how these people think. or start with this question: how did these folks, who are indeed folks, i.e. things more or less like myself, come to this orientation?
Highjacking Crispin's site again with JJ Cale and Chuck Prophet, Thomas More and Thomas Hobbes, the Navajo, the Army, Paul Ryan and Tora Bora...it just doesn't get better than this. I think at times there's a better class of reader here than at the other places I babble...certainly the comments I get over at Veteran's Today give me a lot of pause. Anyway, this has been a complex piece to get my teeth into...for a variety of reasons. So, here we go...
The number of broken promises and bad judgments made over the last 30 years is incredible. Each bad judgment ends up causing more broken promises. However, the majority of the problems I see – crumbling infrastructure, lousy schools, increased long-term unemployment, mounting debt, lagging modernization, lack of a coherent energy plan and so on and on and on as well as what has happened to Native Americans, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman, Civil Servants, Labor Unions, and on and on comes from the idea that we don’t have the wherewithal to pay for what we need to do. That is bullshit.
To be educated, a person doesn't have to know much or be informed, but he or she does have to have been exposed vulnerably to the transformative events of an engaged human life.
Can you say AN/PDR-27R? ALPHA-NOVEMBER-PAPA-DELTA-ROMEO-TWO-SEVEN-ROMEO?
american politics, and even world politics, really is caught in a scylla-or-charybdis dilemma: state or capital? every word out of the republicans is antigov, pro-biz. and the dems are fighting a rearguard action on behalf of the state: 'i will not accept a solution without revenue increases.' both of these modes of organization are profoundly hierarchical and oppressive. the problem with the discourse is that it never quite cognizes their identity or at any rate symbiosis: beefing up either beefs up both, more or less. really, you're pissed at wall street. who you gonna call? tim geithner and larry summers? that's who citicorp called when they were in trouble. i think one of the strategies of squishy totalitarianism is to keep pretending that there are two forces, each of which could be used against the other. that way, no one turns against the whole thing, or against hierarchical modes of power distribution. that's why occupy shouldn't develop a program of regulatory change or something; they should - as they are, i think - trying to develop non-hierarchical forms of power and self-organization.
all that bail-out action simply consolidated the banking industry in even fewer hands, and one should look clearly at how 'regulation' is used to construct and consolidate monopolies (in media, for example). the unification of capital and state is breathtakingly evident all over u.s. history. and yet there's nothing to liberalism but more state, nothing to conservatism but more capital. it could not be more obvious that the conflict is basically only apparent, and that oscillating from one to the other just makes the oppressive forces we confront ever-more inexorable.
as you may know, i am not tom friedman's biggest fan. one thing that's...interesting about him - captured in today's column or in the new book - is that he's an 'american exceptionalist,' a screeching nationalist (depite his apparent internationalism), in a particular sense: the only real question is how we can re-assert our dominace of the world economy: everything (education, foreign policy etc) is devoted to that end. that's what 'restoring american greatness' means. i'm not sure what that's worth, to be honest. for example, let's say that friedman's big fear is realized and china overtakes us economically. offhand, that's liable to bring a lot more people out of poverty. i hate seeing poverty, but i'm not sure that, other things being equal, a situation in which chinese people stay poor and we do better is any better than the reverse.
when i think of american exceptionalism, i don't think of dominance in global capital. i think of a republic established on individual rights and liberties, a tradition of limited government, emersonian self-reliance: cussed independence, anti-authoritarianism, and basic good sense. i think of the whiskey rebellion or john brown or william lloyd garrison. i think 'a country boy can survive' or malcolm x. i don't think of heaping up riches through an alliance of capitalists and politicians, etc., or the beauty of extreme bureaucracy. being broke is as good for those values as is being wealthy. when the housing market tanked, they stopped tearing apart the countryside down here for subdivisions and strip malls. that is ok.
alright let me have a crack at the welfare state. before i start, let me say that if you accuse me of being a libertarian, i feel i will survive, as long as you don't conflate my position with that of ayn rand. i want to put this in the context of an overall reading of squishy totalitarianism: the basic left position is that you have two forces: government and capital or corporate power, and that the former must be employed to counter-balance the latter. i don't think this has by and large worked out, though that's not to deny that there have been some moments and that the terrain is complex. i think the powers are always merging, in marxist dictatorships where they are explicitly one, and in capitalist democracies where corporate interests constantly drive foreign and economic policy. basically, i think that state-style solutions - up to and including a world-state - to global capitalism are extremely naive, that you'll end up confronting a single hegemonic power.
my view is that every action of the state rests on coercion. i take that to be entirely obvious. on the other hand, on the ground the state - or let's take the u.s. gov and state and local govs here - does accomplish many good things. so it might take a rapist off the streets. or it might help feed a family that would otherwise starve, or provide healthcare to a sick person who couldn't otherwise obtain it.
in the long run it is doing this in the context of extreme structural inequalities that it itself has a role in creating. there has never been a mode of social organization that achieves inequalities of power comparable to that which the state constitutes by definition: some people have a monopoly of force. in my opinion, this overall in the long run leads to structural inequalities of resources which the state then sometimes to some minimal extent ameliorates: partly in its own self-interest, to prevent its own destruction. (though it is also infested with actual idealists who basically are trying to help people.)
now along with asking whether we are prepared to watch people starve or die of untreated illnesses, we also have to ask ourselves who, in the long run, we are becoming and who, in the long run, we want to be. welfare programs are also ways that the state creates abject, permanently dependent populations, and their pervasion through the whole society puts us all at the mercy of the state. this can be really nightmarish: here you might think of the gigantic housing projects that arose in every major american city in the 1960s. they were intended to ameliorate homelessness and sub-standard housing; i do not doubt that the people who designed them and funded them meant well. they destroyed hundreds of real, vital communities, converted millions into complete dependence and put them under constant surveillance, and became nightmare pseudo-communities that the people embedded in them wanted to and actually did destroy.
a real welfare state requires total state surveillance: you've got to know who has what in order to know who gets what. you've got to know who's not in school, whose income is too high to qualify, and also who has to pay how much. malcolm x, for example, thought that the surveillance and abjection of his mother by the welfare authorities is what literally drove her mad, and destroyed his family. such an account is not atypical: one might look at sistah souljah's autobiography no disrespect, for example: they'd come to her housing project apartment and try to show that there was a man around, or ask her mom where she got that tv set.
i think if we actually wanted to move toward a better life, we would try to create a world of maximum self-reliance and maximum actual reliance on one another: not by coercion practiced on a scale of hundreds of millions, but on a local scale in which people know one another. moving the help we give to one another toward gigantism, and funding it coercively, means that we are not expressing any virtue by giving this help, because we do not give it freely, and that we are, in receiving it, wholly dependent on gigantic coercive bureaucracies for our very lives: we ought to and i think really do feel ashamed both ways round. and there has got to be a moment where we not only ask: what will happen to people if we take away their food stamps? but, what are we becoming?
and every step toward state dependence - its ever-growing pervasiveness - in the long run makes us all vulnerable to this power. it creates a power that is beyond accountability and beyond redress and beyond control. right now, even right here, it can kill millions if it wants, and many states have mutated into killing machines directed at their own populations; ours can too. we are its beneficiaries, its dependents, and always also its potential victims. but on a more everyday level here, being dependent on the government is being dependent on the whim of actual people who wield irresistible force. they can take away anyone's livelihood, anyone's healthcare, anyone's education at any time. our situation is desperate because our need is total and only satisfied from one source. our dependence is a total asymmetry of power, even if we want to eat and get healthcare.
so i think we should ask ourselves at every juncture where this power increases - even obamacare or whatever - not only who will do better because of this, but who we are becoming. there has to be a moment where on this slope the big question is asked, too.
if you're ron paul, you frame the question in terms of going broke: the welfare state is unsustainable because you end up with too few resources flowing in to give everybody everything you're promising: guaranteed pensions, healthcare, education, income: and you really do see economies collapsing under the weight (greece, e.g.) and then people completely shocked and outraged that the gov can't give them everything they need or demand: months off from work and retirement at 52, or whatever. honestly, i don't know if the situation is sustainable or not; at least i do think that it's not indefinitely expandable. but that's not how i would primarily frame the issue, and you can see that the right is taking the opportunity to achieve all sorts of purposes, including increasing inequalities of wealth. in the context of squishy totalitarianism, a constant emphasis on free markets and capitalist solutions is nothing like a liberating ideology, and we're constantly on the horns of a dilemma between state and corporate power, democrats and republicans. but this disguises their symbiosis.
what i ask instead is whether we want to be entirely dependent on a gigantic bureaucratic power that we cannot control, and what this is doing to our sense of ourselves and each other, and how it interrupts or destroys the possibilities of real community or collective action.
yeah i especially hear from anarchists the criticism that i always attack the state and not capitalism or the corporation, and i think a lot of people now use 'anarchism' basically to mean anti-capitalism. now i do see the problems with capitalism of course, though i think that buying and selling and private property are important aspects of freedom too. i just want to note that even if i really thought nike was repugnant or whatever, nike does not have an airforce, atomic bombs, a prison system, etc. henry ford was a screeching anti-semite, but he just did not have the kind of operation that could put all the jews on trains to the gas chambers. for that, you needed a state.
i think that if you really could isolate these forces from each other, then the corporation would be considerably less problematic than the state; that seems obvious to me, in spite of all the terrible effects of corporate capitalism. but the problem is that exxon/mobil actually does have a military wing, i.e. the united states government. now we could try to re-isolate (or, isolate for the first time) these forces and pit one against the other. that seems unlikely to me and even if so they'd both be problematic, especially the state. but if you conflate them then you just get total tyranny: stalinism. so if you're constsntly arguing for more state control of the economy, it seems to me that that's the direction you're heading. communism as it actually was practiced just put capital and political power in the same hands: an utter nightmare. really that is also the system of a mubarak and a gaddafi. that was completely predictable outcome of state communism right from the initial theorizations! that's why anarchists couldn't hop on board with marx.
paul krugman/naomi klein statist leftism vs. right-wing corporatism presents us with a horrendous dilemma: state or corporation? it articulates a stark choice between forms of subordination: state control of the economy (along with and backed by military or police coercion), welfare-state regimes of total surveillance and public housing vs. horrendous economic inequalities, third-world exploitation, and every surface plastered in advertising. choose a spike for your impalement. but i suggest that this opposition is anachronistic, still based on marxist vs laissez-faire models as they squared off in the 19th century. seriously, on which horn of this dilemma do you place china? both at once, and the u.s. and the eu are constantly approaching the condition of squishy totalitarianism: the merger of corporation and state into a single overwhelming power (well, they were never as distinct as the ideologies made them seem). the point has to be resistance to power. if the choice is state or corporation, we had better colonize a new planet and start again.
say your strategy to reduce the power of goldman sachs was to give more power to the treasury department...you'd merely be naive and confused.
tom friedman continues. he hopes that the army can persist in power. and he notices that the egypt revolt has nothing to do with freedom. it's about insufficient standardized testing, which accounts for the fact that egypt has fallen behind china as an engine of growth and capitulation. why don't people understand how hateful and totalitarian this worldview is? and it is precisely the worldview of the obama administration.
the loathsome thomas friedman argues that the problem with egypt isn't its totalitarianism, but the fact that its totalitarianism is outdated. they need an chinese/singapore hyper-capitalist squishy totalitarianism if they are to remain competitive in the global economy of the 21st century. something tells me that obama reads friedman's column every sunday, groaning in a standardized ecstasy, and redoubles his commitment to winning the future.
some links delineating my argument that citigroup, e.g., is not distinct from the federal government:
peter orszag is a good emblem of extreme squishy totalitarianism. one day he's setting up to funnel billions of dollars to citibank. the next he's joining their board of directors. on the third, he's telling you what to think about it all in the new york times. he has transcended corruption into a new realm of blessedness. i'm going to give america's democrats the benefit of the doubt and assume that they didn't quite understand who they were electing.
you'd have to say that this approach to education reflects the basic strictures or canons of squishy totalitarianism; it's squishy in that it doesn't torture or exile you: it works to transform consciousness from the ground up so that actual physical coercion is redundant. not only that, but the approach is completely central to the sort of internationalist merger of state and capital, a world regulatory regime of productive service workers and bureaucrats. i would say that people like tom friedman and al gore are the marxes or jeffersons of this movement. (well maybe it's habermas.) but what they always emphasize is that american education has to compete with chinese or danish education...as measured by performance on standardized tests. this is so far distant from the life of any actual child that it's just a vicious abstraction; who could raise their children according to this idea of global competitivenes etc? at any rate, the position is: a single global economy, international institutions, free trade and regulated markets, "development," and always: a single world model of education.
one thing that i think is obvious: it's going to be a lot harder to shape the human soul than one might think: we are recalcitrant. the local and strange is going to be in constant...juxtaposition.in a situation in which knowledge, expertise etc are the product of institutions, even mere ignorance or irrationality is a worthwhile form of resistance.
the bland beast of technocracy tom friedman roundly asserts today that taxes have been going down for the last 70 years. i must say that this news surprises and pleases me.
And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.
but as our tax rates approach zero i do want to say that "leadership" in the friedman sense is not about giving things away or making grants. it is about coercion on a massive scale to reach whatever ends tom friedman wants us to reach.
fcc regulation of radio, television, and cell phone frequencies has been wielded to allow an extremely narrow range of media corporations to corner public discourse. well, that kind of thing is what regulation is for. indeed the fcc "owns" the...atmosphere: they auction off spectrum and so on, which is only comprehensible within a claim of ownership. at any rate the last thing we should want is the fcc owning the internet and selling chunks of it to...you know, newscorp or whatever.
regulation of communications was certainly not a function of the state as the founders of the american republic conceived it - explicitly the reverse - and the fcc is a completely aconstitutional accretion in the first place. (of course, there is no power that federal govenment might claim that can't be justified under the history of interpretations of the interstate commerce clause.) that's not an academic quibble: the actual effect has been to shape and deaden public discourse
the regime in iran is a very good example of squishy totalitarianism. here's a good model of essentially the way china or the u.s. or the eu etc are running their economies: by the merger of state and business:
The Revolutionary Guard has already worked its way into virtually all aspects of Iran's economy, from banks to manufacturing to the oil sector, and it is believed to have a hand in the country's black market. Isolation under sanctions could push even more of the economy into the corps' hands.
"A lot of companies that have invested in the economy are linked to the Revolutionary Guard," said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert with the RAND Corp. "You can make the argument that if you scare away foreign investors, you are strengthening the Guard."
yes that's interesting what you say about capitalism, andrew. and this is also a problematical strand that runs through the american libertarian-type tradition, why it's infested with randians, e.g. sometimes. what that kind of libertarian needs to understand is the ways that corporate capitalism is in itself a form of oppressive power. we need to scout alternatives, e.g. josiah warren. but capitalism too runs all the way to the founding and is not only circumstantially connected to the basic theory and history of democracy.
that is, the connecton between capitalism and the american conception of liberty is intrinsic, while the connection between that conception and racism is completely contingent. so: an important dimension of freedom is to dispose of your resources as you see fit, to purchase what you want and can afford, and so on. this is why in a republican rhetoric, transforming china into a capitalist economy would entail transforming its polity into a democracy, which appears false.
at any rate, i really think the task for the libertarian right has to be to come up with something more inspiring - even in pure economic theory - than nonstop acquisition or accumulation. it has to take seriously that severe inequality of resources and severe poverty are severe limitations on freedom, that the leverage of employers etc is a real form of power, even in a case of voluntary-seeming contracts.
one angle on this might be provided by the basic idea of squishy totalitarianism. so the libertarian types stop celebrating the american economy as gloriously capitalistic, and start criticizing it on the ground that state and economy have merged here, as in china. this at least gets you out of defending the status quo, and is compatible with a celebration of small business and entrepreneurialism etc.
as you know, i take thomas friedman to be a pre-eminent advocate of what i have called squishy totalitarianism, which marries economy and state into an unstoppable military/money juggernaut, and which the u.s. and china are approaching in different directions. in case you think that's too rough, check this column, showing you what's wrong with democracy in friedman-world, where you've got to control populations through education, and every aspect of economic activity to deal with global warming, etc. but he seems to be losing all focus and just kind of wanders away as column goes on.
probably i've said this before. i think it's excellent that many americans, particularly in the south and in the west short of the pacific coast, are profoundly suspicious of government power and opposed to its expansion. indeed, it's important and refreshing that someone is actually capable even of detecting its increase. i like the fact that people are basically opposed to government health care, whatever may be the complex considerations that should be in play.
but as the birthers etc are showing, this extremely important, and extremely american, suspicion of government power and impulse toward freedom and independence is polluted by racism. this is traditional; one historical example would be "states' rights," a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the constitution and an attempt to decentralize in the face of the world-historical march toward total governmental power. but obviously, the basic idea was to preserve jim crow.
the american traditions of suspicion of government power and racism are only contingently related; indeed they are in tension. if your basic commitment is to freedom and independence, you ought to want the liberaton of everyone. you ought to be for gay marriage, etc. i was just reading in thoreau's correspondence: he was helping the survivors of the john brown group to escape to canada, etc. but of course he has all these same views about the pervasion of state authority.
another way to put this is that the american right is incoherent. if you're in favor of "small government" you can't also be for a series of measures to enforce traditional values or religious values or family values as you understand them. you've got to let people go.
at any rate, this all makes it difficult to criticize the constant onslaught of governmental powr, for which there is no moral justification. it discredits, indeed, the whole notion of freedom and those who advocate anything resembling it. that's a sad historical contingency, one that will end up helping bush/obamism (=squishy totalitarianism) to keep the government growing until there is nothing outside the scope of its power.