Category: Theory (Page 1 of 9)

One Year Later: Reflections on #MeToo

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Social movements, like revolutions, tend to follow a similar cycle in the process of rewiring certain beliefs and norms of behavior. This was perhaps best diagramed by Crane Brinton in his book The Anatomy of Revolution (1938), a study of the English, American, French and Russian revolutions, respectively––and how all of these revolutions (with the American being the perennial outlier) echoed one another in their stages of development. The same pattern can be mapped onto intellectual life during any period of cultural change; for moments of cultural upheaval are themselves soft revolutions, in a way, smaller in the order of magnitude than revolutions that demand a renovation of state power. This cycle goes as follows: right-to-centre, centre-to-left, left-to-far left, back to centre, back to right. Or, put differently: exposure of tyranny, modest demands, modest demands not good enough, rise of the radical left, reign of terror, reaction to the terror. What happens after that can vary.

We’ll come back to that in a bit though. At the moment, the #MeToo movement has reached its first anniversary: the Harvey Weinstein exposé turned one-year-old this past weekend, Bill Cosby has been through a court of law and will see the inside of a jail cell in this life, and the Preminger-esque drama that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has come to a close (we’ll return to that soon as well). Even as we are living in this, the second year of his highness, Donald J. Trump the first, the #MeToo phenomenon has been arguably the most journalistically exhausted subject in the Anglosphere, with scarcely a side of its episodic saga gone unexamined. (I say this because at the moment I am living in central Europe, and talk of it here has been, so far as I can tell, peripheral.) Thus, one’s proverbial two cents feel even less asked for than usual, but a few things are still discoverable, and need to be pointed out.

In relation to the cycle sketched above, the #MeToo movement continues to tarry (one hopes for not much longer) in the Terror phase. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, or unduly harsh, try to come up with another word that describes a) the vigilance with which accusers are rooted out and brought forward, b) the limpid motivation to destroy careers and eliminate transgressors from public life, and c) the fear (however unfounded) that men may have about their pasts and their behavior in the future. This is not to say there can’t be legitimate and just censure of sexual assault and misconduct during the Terror phase. The Kavanaugh case is certainly one of them. One more disclaimer (just in case): I support the #MeToo movement and believe it is long overdue. The reason I add this disclaimer is precisely that a feature of the Terror is the way in which even a modicum of criticism is perceived as opposition or treachery––the discourse at this point having all the nuance of a cudgel.

If #MeToo has followed the revolutionary cycle, then the first two phases (exposure of tyranny and modest demands) were short-lived. Signs of unthinking started to appear as early as December 2017, when Matt Damon reasonably suggested there is, “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” and that both, while reproachable, should not be conflated. The response to this was what you would expect: You don’t respect women’s pain. What gives you, a man, the right to say that? You simply can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. Really? Seriously? Seriously?
Yes, seriously.

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Much Is Lost

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I think our society no longer remembers some important truths. Here are some examples.

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Wholesale Crimes

by Victor Wallis

In their 1979 book The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Noam Chomsky and the late Edward S. Herman drew a distinction between retail and wholesale acts of terrorism. Retail acts were those carried out by individuals or small groups; wholesale, those committed by vast national military forces.

Tom Engelhardt, in a recent column explaining the deeply criminal thrust of the Trump legacy, recalls to our attention a term coined in 2013 by journalist Nick Turse: terracide, meaning the total destruction of the earth-system — next to which the common crimes committed by isolated individuals pale in magnitude.

The distinction here is one of scale and not of principle, as in the classic juxtaposition of robbing a bank (“retail”) versus owning one and fleecing the entire public (“wholesale”). This point is easy enough for anyone to see, but, sadly, it has not become a matter of common awareness.

Why is it so difficult for people in the United States to perceive the criminality of the dominant priorities? This is where the political culture – aka the politics of mass deception – comes into play.

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Responding to Morally Flawed Historical Philosophers and Philosophies

Victor Fabian Abundez-Guerra and Nathan Nobis from 1000-Word Philosophy examine the difficult issue of how to deal with the objectionable moral views of past philosophers.

Many historically-influential philosophers had profoundly wrong moral views or behaved very badly. Aristotle thought women were “deformed men” and that some people were slaves “by nature.” Descartes had disturbing views about non-human animals. Hume and Kant were racists. Hegel disparaged Africans. Nietzsche despised sick people. Mill condoned colonialism. Fanon was homophobic. Frege was anti-Semitic; Heidegger was a Nazi. Schopenhauer was sexist. Rousseau abandoned his children. Wittgenstein beat his young students. Unfortunately, these examples are just a start.[1]

These philosophers are famous for their intellectual accomplishments, yet they display serious moral or intellectual flaws in their beliefs or actions. At least, some of their views were false, ultimately unjustified and, perhaps, harmful.

How should we respond to brilliant-but-flawed philosophers from the past?[2] Here we explore the issues, asking questions and offering few answers. Any insights gained here might be applicable to contemporary imperfect philosophers, scholars in other fields,[3] and people in general.

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Catabolic Capitalism & Green Resistance

By: Craig Collins

In the first installment of this two-part article we examined the notion that any future without globalization must be an improvement.  But globalization and growth only constitute capitalism’s expansionist phase, powered by abundant fossil fuels.  As energy becomes scarce, boom turns to bust.  But profit-hungry capitalism doesn’t die; it morphs into its zombie-like, undead phase.

Growth-less capitalism turns catabolic.  The word catabolism is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself.  Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by consuming the society that sustains it.[1]  As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.  Unless we bring it down, catabolic capitalism will leave its survivors rummaging through the toxic rubble left behind.

Capitalism is adept at exploiting human weaknesses, especially greed and fear.  During the period of rapid expansion, greed provides the most powerful incentive for investors, while fear comes in a distant second.  Investors are encouraged to take big risks and go into debt in the hope of scoring windfall profits.  Speculative bubbles grow rapidly as people try to make it rich on the next big deal.  But when boom turns to bust, fear takes the drivers seat.  In these troubled times, the most profitable ventures capitalize on insecurity, desperation and scarcity.

In the era of fossil fuel abundance, catabolic capitalists worked the dim back alleys of the growth economy.  But, as the productive sector atrophies and the financial sector seizes up, this parasitic sector emerges from the shadows and proliferates rapidly.  It thrives off anxiety and hoarding; corruption and crime; conflict and collapse.  Catabolic capitalism profits by confiscating and selling off the stranded assets of the bankrupt productive and public sectors; dodging or dismantling legalities and regulations while pocketing taxpayer subsidies; hoarding scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; and preying upon the utter desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

This looming catabolic future will transform the Green New Deals proposed by eco-optimists like Al Gore, Lester Brown and Jeremy Rifkin into ecotopian pipe dreams…unless we exorcise capitalism’s profit possession from the economy.[2]  Instead of investing society’s remaining resources into a sustainable recovery and renewal, catabolic capitalism will eat away at society like a cancerous tumor.  A malignant alliance of parasitic profiteers, resource cartels and weapons merchants will infect the body politic and poison any effort to prevent them from ransacking the economy and the Earth.  If society succumbs to their all-consuming thirst for profit, life will become a dismal affair for everyone but them.

However, at the risk of sounding over-optimistic, the approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible.  The end of growth seriously erodes the legitimacy of capitalism by undermining its capacity to meet the needs of everyday life. 

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Catabolic Capitalism: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

By: Craig Collins

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

On the Left, a loose alliance of ecology and labor activists, small farmers, indigenous peoples and human rights advocates has disrupted international economic summits for many years. They say malignant capitalism demolishes habitats and poisons ecosystems, wreaks havoc with the climate, destroys indigenous cultures, pushes farmers off their land and into slums and erodes wages by pitting desperate workers around the globe against one another. At annual World Social Forums, these social movements voice their opposition to globalization and growth and unite around the belief that “Another World Is Possible!” They work toward the day when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.

Since globalization is so damaging, most activists assume that any future without it is bound to be an improvement. But now, it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, for all of its depredations, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the halcyon days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

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Licensing Parents

Ryan Jenkins from 1000-Word Philosophy examines the potential worth in licensing parents.

Most people think it’s obvious that we have a right to procreate and raise children. In fact, many people think reproductive rights are among the most important rights we have. After all, reproductive rights protect some of the most intimate acts between adults and many people think that rearing children is the greatest source of meaning and fulfillment in life. It’s hard to fathom a government with the arrogance to deny its citizens these rights.

At the same time, most of us think there are some situations where the government is justified in taking away someone’s children. Cases of extreme neglect or abuse come to mind – cases where people have demonstrated that they are not fit parents. If it’s okay to take someone’s children away after the fact, could it ever be okay to deny them the right to raise children beforehand? One way of denying parents the opportunity to raise children would be to require them to procure a license to parent in the same way we require licenses to drive a car or own a handgun. Many would find this surprising, but perhaps there is a good argument for licensing parents.

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Populism: The Long Con

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Some time ago, likely in a moment of procrastination over some more important task, I found myself browsing through a cache of old interviews from The Daily Show (the Jon Stewart era). One such interview was with Mike Huckabee (2015), which I’d remembered watching live years earlier. Huckabee was promoting his apologia, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy–– another puritanical installation in the great conflict between the provincial interior and the cosmopolitan coasts. After likening Beyoncé to a stripper and mocking the Harvard faculty, Huckabee posed a question: “If your car breaks down in the middle of the night on a country road, who do you want coming by? An MBA in a Beemer, or do you want a couple of good ol’ boys in a pickup truck, with a toolbox in the back?”

These “would you rather” scenarios are a common trope in the culture war. The most famous is probably William F. Buckley’s claim that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the phonebook than by the Harvard University faculty. Huckabee, who grew up in Arkansas and was educated at a Baptist University, might be able to claim membership in the heartland, but Buckley (a Yale man) certainly couldn’t have, no more than most Republicans in the House of Representatives can today.

With decades of this stuff piled high in the American consciousness, the mental conditions required to give rise to a populist like Trump should have been obvious. These kinds of sentiments, aside from being very stupid, are also very insidious, and highly corrosive to the idea of an informed society. For populism’s great peril is in its mawkish insistence on normalcy as a kind of authenticity––on there being a “real America.” And more still, that this authenticity is somehow measured by, say, how much gravy one has coursing through one’s veins. It also produces rip currents of anti-intellectualism and vulgarity (and by vulgarity I don’t mean profane, but simply that which is “of the common people”). The apotheosis of this has been reached (one hopes) with the 45th president of the United States, who is less a portrait of someone with an anti-intellectual posture than someone living an anti-intellectual existence.

Populism is an old trick. It’s been around since the earliest democracies. Plato, Aristotle and all the classical thinkers wrote about it and rightly condemned it, understanding that it would naturally end with a demagogue. And it should come as no surprise that they regarded the most threatening aspect of this kind of politics to be its disdain for the educated. One of the best dramatizations of this in the ancient world is Aristophanes’ The Clouds. Written during a lull in the Peloponnesian War, it’s considered one of the playwright’s lighter, apolitical comedies.

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Capsule Introduction to Capitalism and Socialism

by Victor Wallis

A short introduction to key terms in political theory by the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism

A capitalist society is one in which the major decisions about what is produced (and how, and how much, and for whom) are made by the capital-owning class and/or its representatives. Capital differs from earlier forms of wealth in that it is liquid, i.e., it can be bought and sold on the market. Capitalist wealth includes machinery (what Marx called “means of production,” or capital in the narrow sense), but it also includes land and financial instruments (money, stocks & bonds, etc.).

Most of this wealth is concentrated in large corporations or financial institutions, whose goal is to maximize their own profits. To do this, they must sell as much as possible and pay out as little as possible. Sales are maximized by responding not simply to needs but rather to market-demand (i.e., needs or wants backed by purchasing power). Market-demand is in turn shaped partly by public policy (e.g., if there’s no mass transit, more people will have to buy cars) and partly by a whole culture of advertising and public relations. At the same time, costs are minimized by paying workers as little as possible (including moving production to low-wage areas) and by skimping on such matters as waste-disposal and workplace safety & health.

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Just War Theory

Ryan Jenkins from 1000-Word Philosophy gives an account of just war theory.

War is a profoundly destructive institution, yet most of us still believe there are good wars. Authors as far back as Cicero, and in various cultural traditions,[1] have sought to answer this question: When is a war just? The just war tradition (or just war theory) is one subset of military ethics.[2] Recently, interest in just war theory was ignited by Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (2006), published in the wake of the Vietnam War. More recently, profound challenges to “traditional” just war theory—under the banner of “revisionism”—have shaken the foundations of the ethics of war (McMahan, 2009; Rodin, 2005). This article will explore the criteria of traditional just war theory before briefly discussing the revisionist school’s recent critiques.

Jus ad Bellum: Justice in the Resort to War

Traditional just war theory concerns itself with two questions: (1) when it is just to go to war and (2) how may a war be justly fought?[3] (These two areas usually go by their Latin names: jus ad bellum and jus in bello, respectively.) This way, we can say that a war was just to declare but fought unjustly, or perhaps vice versa.[4]

When is it just to resort to war? (Notice this moral question is separate from when war is prudent or popular.) Traditionalists hold that a state must satisfy several criteria: just cause, right intention, last resort, proportionality, probability of success, and proper authority.

Theorists usually think the only just cause for declaring war is self-defense: that is, as a response to an actual aggression. Pre-emptive war—declaring war on a state because it is believed they will be a threat—is clearly a Pandora’s box. Instead, we must meet a high evidential burden in order to justify war, and a merely suspected attack is not enough.

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