Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rise of the internet and the emergence of China, India and Brazil

The Haitian disaster has boosted Naomi Klein’s theory of ‘disaster capitalism‘. In an article entitled Disaster capitalism headed for Haiti, Stephen Lendman provides a summary of Klein’s argument and a trenchant account of recent events in Haiti as a powerful reinforcement of her central thesis, featuring American imperialism at its worst. […]

In retrospect, the peoples of the world made remarkable gains in freedom and equality after 1945, when they rejected the society that had given them two world wars and the Great Depression. This involved not only the formation of industrial states committed to democratic provision of employment, education, health and transport, but the dismantling of European empire by an anti-colonial revolution, first in Asia, then in Africa. The Cold War, in its own way, was a counter-revolution against all that, and in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Southern Africa it took the form of dirty wars (precursors of the ‘war on terror’) long after Friedman’s experiments in free market dictatorship had been launched. A second revolution came with the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid in the early 90s, a much reduced nuclear threat, the rise of the internet and the emergence of China, India and Brazil as economic powers. This wave of liberation soon provoked the reassertion of state power after September 11th and a new frenzy of illicit accumulation, not least in Iraq. [...]

The twentieth century saw two world revolutions in this sense: the Russian revolution and the anti-colonial revolution that overthrew European empire after the Second World War. Did you know that over twenty countries sent armies to subvert Russia’s revolution or how the ensuing war shaped that country’s development under Stalin? We know vaguely that the anti-colonial revolution was subverted in much of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and the Pacific (Latin America’s history operates on a different timescale), while much of Asia used it eventually to instal successful variants of capitalism. Haiti combines elements of both these twentieth-century revolutions with results that are as tragic as in the East Congo, but for much longer.

My point is that social or cultural anthropology is just as impotent as right-wing American journalism when searching for answers to the questions posed by this history, without even the excuse of trying to justify the status quo. This is because fieldwork-based ethnography threw out world history a century ago. Until we combine the two systematically, we will be powerless in the face of the Haitian disaster and could be said to be partly responsible for maintaining public ignorance of its causes.

In the meantime, anthropologists can sign up for Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine of disaster capitalism. She does not require them to know world history or even Haiti’s history. Her attitude feels right to people who probably entered the discipline because they were already alienated from capitalism as a system. Above all, her analysis does not articulate an intellectual or political program that would compel them to change their established ways. Like the ‘radical’ literati who endorse her books, anthropologists can continue to practice their (more poorly paid, even precarious) profession within a coocoon of vague political disaffection that holds out no promise of more effective understanding, even less of appropriate collective action.

Growing Up Is Hard to Do by Brad Johnson

As recently discussed in a brilliant essay by Naomi Klein in the Guardian, that so many people bought into the Obama “brand” is not as significant as the content of this brand’s marketing strategy. It both fed and fed off of a desire for a different political reality. That so many articulations of what this “difference” might look like were vague and/or contradictory is, I should think, rather the point. As a culture, our powers of evaluation are sorely diminished. As we discussed w/r/t to Theology of Money, the privilege, by and large, has been sold to those whose sole criteria is profit. But a glimmer of this evaluative capacity remains, in fits & starts, and the result is a gasping and a groping, in such a way that appears at turns naive and childish, but also desperate and beaten.

In short, then, it is not the responsibility of the disappointed merely to grow up. More precisely, I should think it is a matter of what they are growing into. If growing up means merely reasoned political pragmatism, then I fear for what the future brings. If it means, however, the disenfranchised become capable of making their demands and expectations effective — that is, of being able to discern the various shades and scales of a leadership’s failure, and responding in such a way that is neither wholly complicitous with its failure or at odds with its professed aspirations — then by all means, let’s grow up, but never shut up.

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