Harari’s recent Homo deus plays with predictions of the collapse of the barrier between animals and machines, What is one to think? Another form of cartesianism? Will biochemical processes take second seat to big data that have been submitted to new barrages of algorithms? Will liberal humanism and its granting of a special privilege to human capacities, desires, and needs, become parochial or even go extinct? It is easy to see the dark side of a three-century old enlightenment and show how its belief in the power of reason—a large river or rather eddies—may have excused if not helped bring about the rise of communism and marxism. Harari is not really making serious, weighted arguments. He is writing for a general reader who is wont to toss large ideas on complicated topics that are not amenable to univocal answers. The takes on parenthetical topics like obesity or sugar—a grave danger—mean that I can safely leave the book aside. And more important, the para-scientificity seems to be a simplistic cover for the acceptance of traditional social frameworks and the absence of real political thinking.
Trump got a hearty welcome two days ago in Phoenix from an audience that had been selected among his most fervent supporters. It was a strange campaign event, with the president fanning hate of the elites, news media (whom he seeks for broadcasting), duly elected Republicans, and above all immigrants. Build a wall, a transparent one, a see-through wall! Two political representatives were on hand. Trump wanted to have them on stage. One got up, shook hands, while the other remained seated for a while then got up, awkwardly. Worried about shaking hands with someone who can turn against them, worried about the 2018 elections? Whom do they represent? Many middle-class people retire in Phoenix. The city has a big share of expansive suburbs, apartment complexes, retirement homes, entertainment venues. How many retirees in this audience? They are not threatened by emigrants, at least economically. If anything, they are served by them. Yet, they choose to be led by feelings of hate rather than thought and, gasp, reason. Trump has been using the fascist playbook all during his campaign and resorts to it everytime he needs consolidation of his “base.” He tried it with the boy-scouts and got some results. The appeal to the gut works. Are we on our way to a new form of fascism? I would like to safely believe that the passion of a football-like event will die soon enough and cannot compete with the draw of sofas and Fox watching. And yet, I also know full bellies and guts can rage the more they silence hearts and heads.
It was shocking to read the unambiguous quotations in today’s Charles Blow’s NYT article on the fundamental racism of the modern Republican party. Most striking to me was a quotation of John Ehrlichman’s 1994 interview with Dan Baum regarding the southern strategy in Nixon days and ever since:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
The drug “war” was waged for entirely politic reasons. It was meant to disenfranchise black people and by extension poor people, streamline and scare the middle class into stupefied silence, fear or concern, and ensure that the profitable, unjust and unwise decisions in favor of capital and manufacturing be made by the “right,” entrenched political party. The moral or even health concerns that were sometimes expressed were cover in effect for a much nastier goal of maintaining power and ensuring the continued, expansive, extraction of riches from labor and environment in all kinds of way, including health insurance schemes and continuous need for expensive, cruel, wrong-headed, and wasteful wars. Many in the democratic party participate(d). It continues today with Sessions’ and Pruit’s policies as well as the sophisticated redistricting and gerrymandering that “big data” now allows. The present quiet and speedy removal of southern confederacy monuments triggered by the scandals of alt-right demonstrations at Charlottesville and Trump’s bigoted comments is part of a much larger struggle to allow all to reclaim the right of disposal of labor and body in dignity and not have them stolen and vilified by capitalist institutions whose visage (or at least one of its faces) is Trump’s.
Here is how to file an opinion with the FCC re their plans to destroy net
neutrality. The deadline to file is this month. Let the FCC know that you want them to back off and continue to enforce net neutrality.
Go to gofccyourself.com. It will take you directly to the fcc website, bypassing a lot of unnecessary fluff.
When you get there, click on “+ express” in the right field, Fill in the resulting form, with your name, address, etc, along with your comment. For instance, “I support strong net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISP’s.” Mine was more verbose: “Net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISP’s is a fundamental right. The main tools for net creation and expansion were created by universities, physics research institutes, and the army, all with public funds. I strongly support the continuation of net neutrality.”
They’ll send you a confirmation. Circulate.
Macron and his friends are going to face great difficulties in building a workable coalition in the house of representatives in June (= Chambre des députés). He has to co-opt ex-socialists from the center and left and beg them to run for and with him. And at the same time he has to find center and center-right incumbents or people he can work with. In other words, he has to woo many people still defined by their party’s machines and echo chambers. I’m not familiar enough with the inner workings of the parties and regional politics to venture a prediction but I think the window of opportunity Macron has right now (the large numbers that voted for him) will close quickly. He is quite aware of it and said so on Friday night before the final run.
The larger issues are economic and cultural. Trust within institutions like schools and health system, corporations, and political groups, was maintained according to a mix of religious and political makeup of France until the eighties. Even more important, probably, was the heritage of the “trente glorieuses” (post-WWII thirty years) that had brought significant economic development to French people, right into the seventies. Superficial perhaps but mappable and vouchers of stability. This trust and hope are under considerable pressure, including among immigrant communities. Systems of rationality inherited from the Enlightenment, reinforced by a top down education system (Sciences-Po or ENA, after Polytechnique et al) that shapes Macron and other elites, cannot generate trust or fidelity and hope, or at least I don’t see how they can. Religions and political systems (various -isms, a phenomenon often analyzed especially since the so-called fall of communist political entities) have become very marginal. However, rather than creating enthusiasm, the faith placed in social calculus fosters suspicion. The description of the sober reality of migratory flows, for instance—as in Hervé Le Bars’ L’âge des migrations (Paris: Autrement, 2017)—doesn’t make a dent into the emotions poured out over the topic. Once more, emotions are in danger of replacing political analysis and commitment.
I think about those matters with my very recent experience of the French health system and end-of-life apparatus in mind. My older brother passed away in April. He was in a medicalized unit for which he paid about 2,000€/month on top of the payments by the national health system, in a very complicated situation in which one is left to wonder not so much who owns but who profits and how much. For example, special bedding is sub-contracted to private companies or mixed (national/private) companies. It seemed very murky to me, in spite of the regulations for which France is famous in the US. As for death: the mechanics of funerals and the contracting with private companies that sell an ersatz of dignity for very high sums of money have become ubiquitous. There was also a Catholic funeral mass in this case. It was celebrated by two priests in their eighties, helped by two able older women. The cost was small, 180€. I should mention that all through this process, from hospital to the cemetery, the people we met (nurses, doctors, insurance agents, Catholic priests and lay workers) were helpful, supportive, and trustworthy. Nevertheless, I have a sense of drift in which human lives, characterized in the case of my brother by fidelity, steadfastness, judgment, and strenuous work or social involvement, have become near-pure matter for the maw of financial and production systems that escape rational judgment even while justifying themselves as rational. It is especially grating to consider that my brother’s values, not simply his work and productivity, could be relied upon by such partial systems and turned into financial advantage and power over others (he was a site supervisor, working on big concrete sites).
My sense of where all of this is going to go is rather somber, in spite of the high score by Macron (66.1% vs 33.9% for Le Pen). I did see some genuine signs of hope, that is, people working indefatigably to repair the fractures that are so prominent in French society. Macron is well aware of those fractures and repeatedly mentions their healing as the first order of business. I hope people of good will manage to come together to create a more just, peaceful, and integrative political program, while keeping at bay the powerful forces of neo-liberalism.
Good news tonight. A large poll—Ipsos—with possible margin error of 1.3% (polls have been quite close in France for the first run) done on about 8200 people, with 5331 sure to vote, shows that more voters for Melenchon (communist) and Fillon (right) have decided to vote for Macron since Wednesday’s debate. It looks tonight as if Macron strengthened his advantage and might get 63% of the votes, against Le Pen’s 37%. The voting intentions have solidified (at about 92%). This is in spite of the larger than usual abstentions: it is estimated that 76% of possible voters will vote (vs the usual 82-83%).
You can still call Paul Ryan’s office at 202-225-3500 and express your support for the Affordable Healthcare Act or even better a SINGLE PAYER system. The line works 24/7, including weekends.
There’s a menu of several choices, after a few seconds of silence.
Press 4 to weigh in on the ACA issue. You’ll hear a relatively short verbal blurb about repealing the bill. Leave your message after Ryan’s screed.
Are there limits to desire(s)? Many think it is boundless. By allowing and selling a 24/7 fantasm of presence, our transportation and imaging instrumentation keeps building and increasing our distance from others and ourselves, in a fuite en avant of constantly distantiated objects that makes more poignantly frantic the still-hoped-for possibility of presence. Present-day adults spend about one third of their waking time on digital “distance reducers/maximizers” (my name for all machinery that moves and mobilizes us). Desire then becomes regret and even regression. We are creating a greater distance from objects that we set as projections of selves and that we believe we control via our putative mastery of discourse, instrumentation, ethic norms, and social constructions. Transcendence is “ingraved”—I want to say “enshrined,” “hacked” even—into these projections, yet tends to escape and become something all its own, part of the construction of distance that no one is in charge of. So, our distance from the world increases. If desire has as its main function the union with, or proximity of, a present world—including present as in “giving presents”—, this absence keeps tripping and reshaping desires as unquenchable. Capitalist institutions rely upon this fleeing and deepening distance and absence, including that from oneself, to offer their paying (re)mediations. Kings of ancient times did something similar in increasing a divine distance and power that in turn they re-presented and mediated in temples and altars they kept under the watchful eyes of their palaces.
Paul Ryan’s office is conducting a phone poll about the ACA, apparently hoping to hear overwhelming opposition to it. Here’s how to participate (you don’t have to speak to anyone, it’s all automated):
Call 202-225-3500. The line works 24/7, including weekends.
There’s a menu of several choices, after a few seconds of silence.
Press 2 to weigh in on the ACA issue. You’ll hear a relatively short verbal blurb about repealing the bill.
Press 1 when prompted to SUPPORT continuing the Affordable Healthcare Act.