Powerful quote from Adorno in this (itself excellent) Guardian piece about applying the Frankfurt School to the contemporary situation:
"The prospective fascist may long for the destruction of himself no less than for that of the adversaries, destruction being a substitute for his deepest and most inhibited desires … He realises that his solution is no solution, that in the long run it is doomed. Any keen observer could notice this feeling in Nazi Germany before the war broke out. Hopelessness seeks a desperate way out. Annihilation is the psychological substitute for the millennium – a day when the difference between the ego and the others, between poor and rich, between powerful and impotent, will be submerged in one great inarticulate unity. If no hope of true solidarity is held out to the masses, they may desperately stick to this negative substitute.”
I’ve always thought that the nihilism of punk (which at times drifted into Nazi imagery, if generally not unironically) was an expression of this same idea.
Greg Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever (‘Tubby’s Ghost’)
Another brilliant passage which calls back to this one. My heart sank a little reading it at first, because ‘white American journalist using Jamaican political violence to make philosophical point’ is not usually a good look, but he kinda pulls it off here? This is where I can see the political speechwriter history coming through - maybe if he’d worked for Michael Manley things would have been happier (that’s if you believe in the power of rhetoric to subvert structural politics, which in the post-Obamania age is a tough bet). That’s what I like so much about the book - jumping through history to tell breezy anecdotes can be such a hokey element of these kind of ‘popular’ science/culture books, but he seems to nearly always do it well. Here it’s the story of how Tubby “began the Pro Tooling of the world by turning his tiny studio into a musical instrument”.
The image, however, directly contradicts an even more powerful one from the end of Camus’ 1951 The Rebel, his essay on existentialism, and a humanity torn between warring totalitarianisms:
“Each tells the other he is not God; this is the end of romanticism. At this moment, when each of us must fit an arrow to his bow and enter the lists anew, to reconquer, within history and in spite of it, that which he owns already, the thin yield of his fields, the brief love of this earth, at this moment when at last a man is born, it is time to forsake our age and its adolescent rages. The bow bends; the wood complains. At the moment of supreme tension, there will leap into flight an unswerving arrow, a shaft that is inflexible and free.”
'Complete control' is as the 20th century demonstrated a political impossibility, and dangerous to attempt (the 21st century suggests increasing control by, or of, the individual, depending on one's view of technology; and an accelerating lack of control at the environmental level). But Perfecting Sound Forever is patently not about the ‘end of the romanticism’: it is the continuation of it, such as with the mystique of analogue sound in which Milner indulges fairly heavily, and it is admittedly a rather petit-bourgeois romanticism. We will listen to our sonic experiments encoded onto petroleum and/or transmitted through electricity and plastic, while the world burns and others starve, but we shall be free? Or can we transmute our adolescent rages into art with revolutionary potential, become the arrow of self-determination and not the targeted consumer?
"Undoubtedly, Ronald Reagan would never have contemplated including in either of his inaugural addresses a reference to five days of rioting as a result of police harassment at a New York gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Obama’s reference to those events of the summer of 1969 endorses his liberal credentials for sure. But his progressive agenda of supporting gay rights, maintaining state-funding social welfare and healthcare spending, showing tolerance to illegal immigrants and halting climate change have been adopted by centre-right governments elsewhere.
In fact, Obama would fit neatly into many European conservative parties or centre-right governments. His critics have spotted this and described the 44th president as “Obama the European”, with some detractors going even further and labelling him as a European social democrat.
There is certainly plenty in common between Obama and UK prime minister David Cameron, for example, though the Conservative leader is far closer to the centre than any of his predecessors. Obama and Cameron are kindred spirits, slick moderates with a liberal take on social issues.
Cameron is pushing ahead with legislation to legalise civil marriage and some church-approved ceremonies for gay people. He has also in the past taken a strong position on climate change with his “vote blue, go green” pre-election agenda, though recently he has been criticised for letting his green qualifications fade.”
"This brand of marriage is not just civil but political. An earlier teaser for the same campaign was explicit: select images from the ad were accompanied by David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative party conference in 2011, when he set out the case for marriage reform as an asset to the Conservative narrative of the hardworking family. "I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative," the prime minister insisted. "I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative." This campaign portrays the LGBT communities as homogenous and in full concord with the government’s projects at home and abroad. Political collusion, it implies, is the cost of full citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. What began as a project for profound social change now seems content to seek parity under a system too often still hostile to sexual and gender minorities.
How many of the current generation of young LGBT people will truly benefit from this model of citizenship? LGBT people are, according to a wealth of social research, subject to the worst woes of austerity: we are, variously, more likely to become homeless and to experience mental health difficulty, and subject to domestic abuse in huge numbers. Welfare changes, budget cuts, third sector depletion and the NHS shakeup will leave many in our communities at increasing risk. Any genuinely progressive LGBT activism would challenge the divisive narrative of workers and shirkers, strivers and scroungers, and address the growing social and economic inequalities that leave vulnerable LGBT people prey to poverty, violence and discrimination. An LGBT politics with marriage reform as the pinnacle of its hopes is painfully inadequate to the task at hand.”
also worth reading is this. I might have more to say about the particular Irish situation (where same-sex civil partnerships have been recently been instituted, but there is still significant hostility to the idea of gay marriage) later.
Don’t you love those stilted NYT headlines? And the ‘light sentence’ was nine months in prison, with six suspended - substantial indeed from the current Irish perspective. Yet I’m suspicious about the value of pursuing white-collar crime like this outside of its benefit to ‘cleaning up’ the banking industry - which should really mean addressing the massive deregulation of capital and financial services in past decades - and natural justice as it relates to the criminal system. I’m far more sceptical about the usefulness of exemplary justice in its own right - the US, with its famed ‘perp walk’, was after all the site of the financial excess and dodgy dealings which precipitated the whole global crisis.
As for Iceland’s broader response, the article has this to say:
"After the crash, the new government pushed to restructure the failed banks, purging their former management and owners and prodding them to write off a big chunk of their loans to homeowners burdened with big mortgages. The government declined to bail out foreign bondholders, who lost about $85 billion. Iceland now has a growing economy.
But it is not entirely clear that Iceland deserves its reputation as a warrior against Wall Street orthodoxy. In time, Iceland won praise from the International Monetary Fund for sharp cuts in spending and tax increases that slashed the government’s deficit and helped put the country back on an even keel.”
Ireland’s problem is clearly that we have taken the second set of measures (problematic in themselves) without also taking the first. The post-austerity boat remains firmly underwater with all the public debt the banks have caused us to take on, and even the national orthodoxy struggles to deny it. It’s become an article of faith that we can’t ‘decline to bail out foreign bondholders’, although there’s little discussion of what the consequences would be - the identities of the bondholders remain largely secret - and the ultimate obstacle is probably the unwillingness of our European partners to pursue that route any further than they already have with Greece. I don’t think it would be a panacea either, and I have suspicions about what the real Icelandic economic experience was like (I heard a lot of people had to take to the earlier industry of fishing, which seems uncomfortable if true), or if it’s even been long enough to tell.
Yet jailing a few bankers (in an overcrowded prison system) won’t solve many problems either, and I think it disguises some of the real ones:
"Mr. Sigfusson, the minister of industry, said he was regularly invited to speak on how Iceland dealt with its banking crisis. Iceland, he said, has “no magic solution” but has managed to push through unpopular cuts in spending in part because it managed to curb public anger by pushing for the prosecution of its bankers."
Again, Ireland has made such cuts without taking the same measures to ‘curb public anger’ (limited anyway because, possibly, of a kind of national passivity). But how many of the cuts are really necessary, and how many are a cover for the reduction in state services and the privatisation of its resources and activities? “It is important to reiterate that the fiscal deficits in the European countries, including Britain, are largely due to the fall in tax revenues following the finance-induced recession, rather than to the rise in welfare spending” (And particularly in the Irish case, welfare spending has risen in the recession because of increased unemployment, driven in part by public sector reductions)
The ‘public anger’ that is there is often expressed as being about the unfairness that the ordinary citizen has to suffer for the misdemeanours of the banking classes, but it doesn’t follow that the only or correct solution is to make a few convicted wrongdoers ‘suffer’ judicially, when it relies on the premise that the economic suffering in general is necessary or that it is fairly distributed amongst the public and the wealth of ordinary citizens. By all means lock up the bankers (or liquidate the kulaks, or whatever) but they’re only part of the problem. The larger issue is, of course, capitalism, and how to fashion a humanist response to it.
They really should have kept the ‘spectre’ in the title, even if the point of the article is that it’s a far more constructed image. In itself there’s not a whole lot of meat to the article - plenty to think about in a general way, nevertheless - but looking through the list of previous pieces by the author, Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, I’m surprised I’m not as familiar with the name. They all feature the kind of critical, sensible points that were seemingly driven out of the discussion on the economic crisis, right from the start (like a UK-based Paul Krugman, except without the slavish devotion to two-party politics and the sin of repetition). The question has to be - why is that so?
Plenty of people - our own President included - are fond of pointing to the dominance of monetarism, then neo-liberalism, from the 1980s onward as a great shift in politics and economics. But to me that has always lacked the (convincing, and sufficiently profound) historical explanation of a proximate cause. What went wrong, for example, in the 1970s? Was it the decade that Keynesianism ‘broke’, when industrial disputes threatened to tear the social fabric apart - or were they simply symptoms of the chronic unsustainability of capitalism*? That latter answer could have the consequence of pushing one firmer into a harder Marxist camp, discredited by the failures of Communism and the ‘successes’ of capitalism, but that may well have to be the case. (Incidentally, if anyone has any recommendations of history books that would help answer that specific question, I’d be glad of ‘em)
Add in the external factor of oil crises - which we face as an even greater threat in the form of climate change and scarcity - and it seems imperative that our political age challenge those underlying falsities in our social and economic model. Not to just (although it is important and useful) to expose the hypocrisies and - as they appear - ulterior motives of neoliberal politics, but to expose the alternative for what it is or may be.
*I just finished reading the economic section of Diarmuid Ferriter’s Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s - albeit not an author I would look to for a particularly left-wing perspective, as opposed to one merely critical of social and religious authority - and it was the most depressing part of the book yet. Many of the debates over taxation and spending had resonance for today; the questions of industrial relations and incomes brought out the unspoken notion that inequality will always create tensions, and why shouldn’t it? One curious statistic, not particularly well sourced, was that the level of ‘man-days’ lost to industrial action was considerably lower in Ireland in one particular year in the 1970s than it was in the US, and lower again in France. Was that the incipient trend of neoliberalism asserting itself, and finding its reaction?