Balade le long de la belle rivière Clinton au nord de Troy (MI). De la route qui y mène, je vois d’énormes banlieues aux maisons identiques, entourées de verdure et d’arbres. Deux niveaux de salaire, ce me semble, à la grandeur des maisons et au nombre de portes de garage, ainsi qu’à la surface du lotissement. Ici et là, j’ai un aperçu du régime au-dessus, par exemple de vastes demeures au bord de lacs, ou du régime au-dessous, généralement des parcs de maisons tractées (= mobilhomes) ou des maisons très modestes qui ont précédé ces nouvelles banlieues construites depuis les années soixante-dix aux années quatre-vingt-dix. Difficile de m’imaginer y vivre: où aller à pied à la rencontre d’autres, comment se faire des amis sinon dans les malls ou peut-être les lieux à thèmes religieux ponctuant cet espace énorme depuis le dixième mille au moins jusqu’au quinzième ou seizième. Aller au travail, à l’école, aux magasins, tout est devenu transport au dehors de soi. Plus de “home” où on a le sens de demeurer, de transformer ce qu’on a en ce qu’on peut être, de s’approprier paysage et construction comme étant de soi, au moins partiellement. On est de plus en plus intensément projeté en-deça et au-delà d’un soi introuvable par les outils de communication qui aux services de recherche (Google) ou de “rapprochement” (Facebook) ajoutent raffinement sur raffinement de désirs de présence qu’ils vendent aux plus offrants. La valeur en bourse de ces trafiquants, transporteurs et fomenteurs d’images et de désirs, d’après ce que j’ai lu récemment, est d’environ deux mille milliards de dollars, soit un peu plus de la moitié du budget annuel du gouvernement des États-Unis, ou environ 10% de l’économie du pays (il s’agit de trois grandes compagnies de messagerie et deux d’électronique: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet-Google, Facebook).
On my way to the Annual Conference of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston, I stopped in Baltimore. Today’s Washington Post carries stories about tomorrow’s opening of the new Museum of the Bible located not far from the Washington Mall. Its location alone near the heart of political and military power is enough to justify a dismissal of its claim to biblical inerrancy. What museum would Jesus have advised the Green family to build with their Hobby Lobby money? Would he have said something like: “Invite politicians and wealthy people at 2,500$ a pop and have a party tonight, do this in my memory?” The inerrancy the museum claims for the Bible is code for the exercise of power over minds and bodies, a nostalgic, rearguard action that actually reinforces the view that the modern American world has of Christianity as one of its cultures. By making a claim on US minds at the center of its political world, its effort to repeat and entrench a master narrative becomes a sorry demonstration of scientific and modern impotence. The reasoning behind the museum is entirely based on the notion of origin and priority of a certain kind of “antiquity” instead of on principle in its logical, critical, scientific sense. By dint of location and timing, it is trapped into a modern version of the Exodus story. In this story, it is not Moses who leads the people into a risky acceptance of a covenant without kings. On the contrary, it is the self-promoting Trump who acts like a pharaoh and calls for a return to the mythic golden age of divinized kingship. Do the supporters of this new museum realize what they are doing? Don’t they see that they are parting the Red Sea on their way back to the country of flesh pots and its gilded pharaohs?
Postscriptum by George Bensoussan to his Les territoires perdus de la République where he repeats his cry for help—help for everyone—by everyone, I mean the children, the vast segments of the population that feel abandoned, and even the so-called elites. It took six months for the initial book to be heard, or reviled. In it, he and his collaborators detailed the main reasons they saw for the catastrophic events in France since 2000 or so.
The most important reason, from his point of view, is the long, secular antisemitism found in Maghreb Islam, which became more virulent already at the end of the nineteenth century when Jews chose to be integrated via the schooling system, administration, political identity, and even army. and thereby escaped their fate as “protected minority” within Islam. The root for this is religious: the claim that Islam, after Christianity and Judaism, makes to be the only faith with access to final truths. This antisemitism was worsened by the resentment caused by having lost control of their own affairs and being demeaned and abused by colonial powers. It reached new levels in the French situation especially since the nineties. The author argues in this postscriptum that even without the existence of Israel, this antisemitism would still exist. I don’t disagree completely, but I think it would not have the murderous force it has taken in the past twenty years. The policies of Israel regarding Palestine cannot be factored out. Still, it remains that the author is right to insist that one cannot explain the surge of violence only by the memory of colonialism and the terribly unequal socio-economic situation found in many banlieues.
He sees a number of social factors at work, mixed with cultural aspects. The Maghrebi family and community model has seen paternal and male power diminished and humbled. I would tie these new forms of abasement to the historical humiliation of colonialism and modernist heyday associated with enlightenment and separation of powers. Education in public schools threatens the structure further. Girls may emancipate themselves in all sorts of ways. Integration and rationalism undercut or sap tradition. The return to a more virile, anti-rationalist, original, salafist version of religion and culture is tempting. Add the civic and economic troubles, the absence of jobs, the difficulty in landing one when they exist. Legal, educational, and political institutions lose completely their meaning and are replaced by criminality and violences, including among Muslims themselves (inter-gang and inter-family territorial fights).
Lastly, there has been the silence and avoidance cultivated especially by intellectuals and elites, though perhaps not at the highest level? Out of mauvaise conscience regarding WW II and especially the terrible crimes of colonialism, as well as regarding social inequities? and a cheaply acquired bonne conscience translated by minutes of silence, Shoah reminders and plaques, etc., that become occasions of revolt and insults on the part of angry, radicalized youth. Contempt, or rather mauvaise conscience also regarding the large majority of the rest of the population that has to live with a feeling of losing it. The Front national has become the first “working class” movement in France, no matter Macron’s victory… Elites and middle class avoid having their children in at-risk areas, schools, or jobs.
Dans le brouillard, sous les branches ballantes des séquoias sombres,
j’ai retrouvé la bibliothèque où deux livres m’attendaient:
le rêve mosaïque d’un vieux savant allemand
et le cri d’un juif français sur la faillite de la république.
Les pruniers sont en fleurs dans la cour du Pharaon,
On attend les cerisiers.
I’ve been reading Victor Klemperer’s journal (Tagebücher 1933–1941 and Tagebücher 1942–45). It has numerous philological discussions on the evolution of German (LTI: lingua tertii imperii, a book he published in 1947 on the basis of his notes). I don’t have Jean-Pierre Faye’s Les langages totalitaires at hand (1972; 2d ed. 2004) to see what use if any he made of Klemperer’s work. As Camus said in Poésie 44 (1944): “mal nommer un objet, c’est ajouter au malheur de ce monde.” American language is evolving under the kind of political pressures that existed under the nazis. Even without the kind of economic pressures that existed in Germany in the twenties and thirties, our president speaks of “great victories to come” very much like Hitler. Hitler talked about “meine Soldaten” while Trump mentions “his generals.” Two small items among dozens or hundreds of rhetorical and semantic changes. There is nothing surprising in the existence of cracks and shifts in our language. It becomes worrisome when they reveal it to be a dried, thin shell that we cannot trust to carry us and will let us fall at any given moment into the lava flow.
Large demonstration in Catalonia yesterday, perhaps 350,000 people, double or treble that number according to some participants. The images are extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of people reached for the Spanish flag as symbol of unity, while being well aware of its fraught history. Another demonstration in Madrid called for dialogue and cooperation. Its flag was white. On which side would Casals be today? The present prime minister of Spain is a right winger who has long showed but contempt for autonomy and independence. Hate and scorn are now increasing on all sides. What will happen if, as is still possible, the parliament of Catalonia declares independence tomorrow (Tue) and starts moving toward the formation of a new state? Does Catalonia’s government immediately follow with an application for membership in the EU? Not surprisingly, The German chancellor supports the prime minister of Spain. She calls for the dialogue that has been missing all along but declares she is against the independence of Catalonia, which means that the first item of a real dialogue on independence is off the table. Her call also implies that Catalonia’s application to EU membership is doomed from the start. Offices of several banks and large companies might move out of Catalonia. No discussion in the papers I read this morning of the economic pressures that global interests put on national states and their constituencies. Could Catalans in an independent Catalonia stay the global logic of labor exploitation, automation, and inequities better than Madrid and Brussels—which is not saying much—, or would their independence accelerate the logic at work? What is going to happen?
Our present government is not populist but slouching toward fascism. In appearance, it is proto-fascist, as presidential “executive orders” are not dictatorial orders. These orders cannot quite mask and do away yet with the rule of law. The situation is evolving day by day. We are in a struggle that is a world-wide expansion of the conflict between elites and workers. It has been going on for over a century and a half now. Demagogic, racist, antisemitic appeals to middle and lower-middle class have long been used to counter socialist mass movements. For a while, particularly in the aftermath of world wars in which armies were made of global levies of whole nations, economically stressed workers could appeal to social democratic elites and demand that the most negative effects of the capitalist system be blunted. Rule of law, basic financial protections, regulated pensions, free or cheap public education systems, universal health-care systems were devised in such a way that the privatization of profits and socialization of risks could proceed, though somewhat held in check. These protections and more generally a sense of shared social obligations and security are being systematically erased since the late seventies. Cooperative and socializing movements have been systematically marginalized. To unionize has been disparaged, attacked, radically weakened. The result is that many wage earners today see little alternative to exploitation and insecurity, except brutal, racist, nationalistic fascism. Trump et al oblige.
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.