The Paradox of Capitalist Realism

“…The politics of Western powers, and of the American government in particular, are utterly destitute of ingenuity…”

So says Alain Badiou, in an interview I stumbled upon since my last post. As an interesting complement to that discussion, I read through Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? and he coincidentally discussed some of the very same issues. He led me to Badiou with this extended quote that explains the chief paradox in question here:

We live in a contradiction: a brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian– where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone – is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we’re lucky that we don’t live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it’s better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it’s not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don’t make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don’t cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.

The result, Fisher says, is “on the one hand, an official culture in which capitalist enterprises are presented as socially responsible and caring, and, on the other, a widespread awareness that companies are actually corrupt, ruthless, etc.” As I argued previously, this paradox evidences an abject lack of imagination — Fisher discusses how free market capitalism has penetrated our very unconscious — and a profoundly conservative spirit, a total fear of change. So Americans end up having these really absurd public discussions (spectacles, really) in which, for example, it is widely acknowledged that the US healthcare system is deeply broken (inefficient and expensive) and yet absolutely no desire to do anything about it. Even if universal single-payer healthcare had demonstrably failed in every other nation, you would think the so-called patriots on the Right would have enough confidence in “American ingenuity” to believe that we could get it right.

Fisher more eloquently re-states that old “dare to dream” cliche:

…Emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable [i.e. neo-conservative free-market capitalism] to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed impossible seem attainable. It is worth recalling that what is currently called realistic was itself once ‘impossible’…

In the same interview quoted initially, Alain Badiou has a beautiful little paragraph that sums up some of my feelings on this:

My philosophy desires affirmation. I want to fight for; I want to know what I have for the Good and to put it to work. I refuse to be content with the “least evil.” It is very fashionable right now to be modest, not to think big. Grandeur is considered a metaphysical evil. Me, I am for grandeur, I am for heroism. I am for the affirmation of the thought and the deed.

Italics mine in both quotes; Badiou quote taken from this excellent Cabinet interview.

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It Felt Like a Trap

I’ve spent the last couple of days of soaking up more films by Adam Curtis, one of the best living documentary filmmakers. Last year I watched The Power of Nightmares; earlier this year I saw The Century of the Self; lately I’ve been working through his two most recent: The Trap (2007) and It Felt Like a Kiss (2009).

It Felt Like a Kiss is an experimental film that is a haunting evocation of the essence of life during the Cold War. Its cast features “Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald, Doris Day, Enos the chimp, and everyone above Level 7 in the CIA.” The excellent soundtrack was composed by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with loads of additional pop tracks from the period. There’s no real semblance of a plot or, unlike Curtis’ other films, any sort of thesis. It Felt Like a Kiss is quintessential Curtis in terms of look: heavy use of montages (including some dizzying works of editing genius) and heavy use of archival footage, proving that Curtis probably spends 8 hours a day poring through old film reels. Yet this is also a new Curtis — less documentarian, more artist. The result is a trippy hour-long exploration of the ironies, oddities, and ambiguities of 3 or 4 of the most pivotal decades in American history. Were the U.S. a psychotic individual, this film would be its deranged subconscious bubbling up, exposing some of the roots of our modern American madness.

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God’s Word Has a Liberal Bias

The Conservative Bible Project is a tragi-comic effort by some politically conservative Christians to produce a translation paraphrase of the Bible that removes/edits anything that can even remotely be considered “liberal.” It’s not worth writing much about this because the problems with this approach should be so LOLobvious that I won’t waste my time. I will say, however, that I continue to wonder if my alma mater is ever going to repudiate this type of stupidity and permanently sever ties with the batshit-crazy wing — ie WorldNetDaily, Worldview Weekend, et al — of conservative Christianity.

I’m also amused because I, too, started a conservative paraphrase of the Bible. A little over 12 months ago I wrote a draft entitled “A Practical Guide to Waging a Just War: by Jesus of Nazareth” but never put it online until now. Inspired by the CBP, here’s my conservative rendering of Matthew 5:1-13:

Now when I saw your military bases, I immediately went to the mess tent and sat down. Many of your troops came to me, and I began to teach, saying:

Blessed are the poor, for they are easily persuaded to join the armed forces.

Blessed are they that mourn when a buddy is killed, for they shall then have the motivation to kick more ass.

Blessed are the badasses, for they shall conquer the earth.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteous wars, for they will certainly invent them.

Blessed are the merciful, for they lull the enemy into complacency while we find more grenades.

Blessed are the pure in eyesight, for they shall see their enemy clearly and snipe him unscoped.

Blessed are the warmakers, for they are peacemakers in disguise.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for freedom, because our enemies hate our freedom.

Blessed are you when pacifists confront you, and march in your streets, and say all manner of untruth about you. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Washington.

You are the asskickers of the earth. But if the asskickers stop kicking ass, how will the world get democracy? Former asskickers who conscientiously object are no longer good for anything, excepted to be relentlessly hazed and dishonorably discharged.