Teju Cole on American Racism

American racism has many moving parts and has had enough centuries in which to evolve an impressive camouflage. It can hoard its malice in great stillness for a long time, all the while pretending to look the other way. Like misogyny, it is atmospheric. You don’t see it at first. But understanding comes.

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” The news of the day (old news, but raw as a fresh wound) is that black American life is disposable from the point of view of policing, sentencing, economic policy, and countless terrifying forms of disregard. There is a vivid performance of innocence, but there’s no actual innocence left.

 

Cole, Teju. Known and Strange Things: Essays, Random House, New York, 2016: 15-16.

Mark Greif on Seeing Through Police

A surprise of being around police is how much they touch you. The purpose of touching by police is to make persons touchable. Touch readies more touch. It is preparatory.

The sudden violent arrest at a protest is almost never sudden if you have been watching the officer and the longer sequence.

In recent decades, African Americans have made proverbial the facetious offenses that police seem to be pursuing: “driving while black,” “shopping while black,” and walking while black.” The history of racial terrorism by whites is old. Police have gradually taken up its responsibilities in a process that goes back more than a century. Police departments’ role in racial terror has survived even where racism has waned and their forces have integrated nonwhite officers. Racial terrorism is simply part of the job for local and metropolitan police forces in America – any policing at the level of the city, broadly construed.

Racial terror creates enormous complications for any ordinary theory of what American police do, just as it carves a fundamental division between the experience and the expectations that non-African American citizens have of police and those held by African Americans.

The more time you spend looking at police, the more you see that the law is not a true resource for them…Police lack law…This explains the police perception of, and anathema toward, any symbol of disorder or mess. In their daily practice, police pledge at every level to avoid mess or clean it up.

Part of the reason police seem at present un-reformable is that they have no intelligible place in the philosophy of democracy. It’s possible they never have. When our theories of democracy took shape, police as we know them were a minor tertiary agency and an afterthought. If police don’t take stock of the Constitution, might it be because our Constitution can’t conceive of them?

Liberal and social contract theories of democracy – from Hobbes and Locke to the American Republic constituted in 1789 – do have a central place for punishment, but not for police. Crime and punishment belong to judicial proceedings and courts, where the cause can be unfolded after the fact.

Secrecy by police in a public place always identifies them as a suspect. Yet police departments hold tightly to their capacities for secrecy and claim them to be necessary for their heroic function of detection and investigation. Insofar as as detection of crime is what police wish their job was about, police are likely always to strain for greater secrecy in a democracy.

Where sight disappears, abuse becomes possible.

Police are negotiators, but without access to contract, law or eloquence. Their medium is not law. Police negotiate without any single, unitary reference or goal. Even a traffic stop becomes a negotiation.

When police eye African Americans, harass African Americans, obstruct the movements of African Americans and wind up drawing their guns and murdering African Americans – which even in the twenty-first century they do with regularity and impunity, no matter the police department or region of the United States – it’s first because America still sees racially. Kidnapping an African labor force to build the country is still the country’s unrepented sin.

Violence is given to police as a technique they alone can use, in the service of the overall nonviolence or pacification of society such that citizens need never use violence legitimately upon one another – they route it through police, so to speak. But this formal device winds up defining police by their application of violence. They wind up originating violence as a means of resolving any social deadlock. Police add violence to situations. This becomes a way of injecting testing violence or domination into the heart of society in a public way.

Our neighbors may support [police] wickedness. We may have no idea how to fix it. Still, police violence differs from other forms of violence and domination that have no visible presence, or public check. The police measure out in public what the society will tolerate, even to our shame.

 

 

Greif, Mark. Seeing Through Police, from Against Everything: On Dishonest Times. Verso Books, London, 2016: 270-285.

coronavirus blues

Daydreaming in aisle five

toothpaste and shampoo

silent sparkling commerce

air conditioned

red arrows on scuffed white tile

a guide in the labyrinth

whole aisles are wastelands

handwritten signs: OUT OF STOCK

no one looks at me

not masked employees

shuffling

ignoring everyone

afraid

not shoppers

some unmasked

aggressive

center-of-the-universe

others kind, warm

smiling behind masks

at the absurdity

a blackbird loops above the bakery

scouting crumbs

I’ve been here too long

they don’t have what I need

 

back in the car I

sanitize

mask down

never dreamed I’d need

masks for my family

 

through deserted streets

atomic sunlight

paranoid and guilty

for what I might now carry

 

Galeano on Marx

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14 March : CAPITAL — In 1883 a crowd gathered for Karl Marx’s funeral in a London cemetery — a crowd of eleven, counting the undertaker.

The most famous of his sayings became his epitaph: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’

The prophet of global change spent his life fleeing the police and his creditors.

Regarding his masterwork, he said: ‘No one ever wrote so much about money while having so little.’ Capital will not even pay for the cigars I smoked while writing it.’

 

From Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, trans. by Fried, Mark. Penguin Group, New York, 2013: 85.  

Tim Parks on consciousness

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If the mind is marooned in the head, pulling levers and pushing buttons (alone or in a team) to tell the body what to do — then our knowledge of the outside world will always be suspect. How can I know a world if I’m not part of it, if I’m stuck in Plato’s cave unable to experience the reality without, if I’m seeing colors where there are no colors, smelling smells when, as Galileo would have it, there are no smells?[1]

  1. The popular and orthodox view [of consciousness]: It is produced by your brain and exists exclusively in your head. This is supported by almost all neuroscientists and many philosophers. Most textbooks give this view as proved.
  2. The minority enactivist view: Consciousness arises from our active engagement with the world and requires both subject and object to happen so that conscious experience is extended through the body and into the environment. This view is supported by some philosophers and a few neuroscientists.
  3. The minority Spread Mind view: Experience is made possible by the meeting of the perceptive system and the world, but actually located at the object perceived, identical with it even; in short, experience is the same thing as the object.[2]

The present orthodoxy is that there are black holes, but no smells. We are in the Platonic cave and need instruments of every kind to look at the higher reality outside, even though what we actually experience are only readings on instruments. We are trapped on one side of a Cartesian duality wondering what’s on the other, constructing a hypothetical ‘reality’ in figures, predictions and ideas.[3]

While the brain may be ‘responsible’ for the pain we feel in other parts of the body, it is apparently immune to pain itself. You don’t feel a scalpel cutting into it.[4]

Consciousness is all change, accumulation, dispersion, things that unexpectedly remain active, or repeat themselves, over years and years, a few words a teacher said at school, still very much in hearing range — things you thought had gone but suddenly come back — the smell of a certain red sauce they poured on ice cream in your infancy wafts by you fifty years later at a street corner [in a far different place] — and things you imaged would remain, must remain, they hurt so much or give so much pleasure, and yet are quite gone, or so it seems; in fact there must be many such things you don’t even know you’ve lost; you performed them once, then never again.[5]

[1] Parks, Tim. Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness, New York Review of Books, New York, 2018: 32.

[2] Ibid, 129.

[3] Ibid, 156.

[4] Ibid, 207.

[5] Ibid, 267.

notes from Fraser (2019)

fright

Determined to unshackle market forces from the heavy hand of the state and the millstone of ‘tax and spend,’ the classes that led the [pre-Trump progressive-neoliberal] bloc aimed to liberalize and globalize the capitalist economy. What that meant, in reality, was financialization: dismantling barriers to, and protections from, the free movement of capital; deregulating banking and ballooning predatory debt; deindustrializing; weakening unions; and spreading precarious, badly paid work. Popularly associated with Ronald Reagan but substantially implemented and consolidated by Bill Clinton, these policies hollowed out working-class and middle-class living standards while transferring wealth and value upward—chiefly to the one percent, of course, but also to the upper reaches of the professional-managerial classes.[1]

This is the genesis of Occupy Wall Street that didn’t homogenize and died publicly humiliated on the streets of Everywhere, America. It was unorganized and nowhere near as thoughtful and ordered as those it tried to engage in conflict.

To achieve hegemony, the emerging progressive-neoliberal bloc had to defeat two different rivals. First, it had to vanquish the…remnants of the New Deal coalition…in place of a historic bloc that had successfully united organized labor, immigrants, African Americans, the urban middle classes, and some factions of big industrial capital for several decades, they forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, bankers, suburbanites, ‘symbolic workers,’ new social movements, Latinos, and youth…Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1991-92, Bill Clinton won the day by talking the talk of diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights even while preparing to walk the walk of Goldman Sachs.[2]

I was uneducated and witnessed my grandmother grandstand for the challenger, her photo printed on the front page of the local paper as an adoring fan holding a sign with teeth gleaming in the first few rows. Latina and Ute, she felt she finally had her pale-faced champion.

Progressive neoliberalism also had to defeat a second competitor, with which it shared more than it let on. The antagonist in this case was reactionary neoliberalism…While claiming to foster small business and manufacturing, reactionary neoliberalism’s true economic project centered on bolstering finance, military production, and extractive energy, all to the principal benefit of the global one percent. What was supposed to render that palatable for the base it sought to assemble was an exclusionary vision of a just status order: ethnonational, anti-immigrant, and pro-Christian, if not overtly racist, patriarchal, and homophobic.[3]

The mutation of the republican party from tea party and freedom caucus-influenced to co-option by Trumpism. Either get fired in humiliating fashion, adopt the disgusting and disrobing policies, or, if you’re lucky, get out by the skin of your back.

The rust belt region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit thanks to the triad of Bill Clinton’s policies: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the accession of China to the World Trade Organization, (justified, in part, as promoting democracy), and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which loosened regulations on banking. Together, those policies and their successors ravaged communities that had relied on manufacturing.[4]

I like to think the thoughtful folks of my generation, if voter-aged, would have been so outraged by Glass-Steagall that the idea of its passage would have been constitutional and democratic sacrilege. But we had no idea. Sacrilege, as we found out, was wasted forethought. Democracy and constitution were words.

An African American who spoke of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ ascended to the presidency [in 2008], vowing to transform not just policy but also the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics. Barack Obama might have seized the opportunity to mobilize mass support for a major shift away from neoliberalism, even in the face of congressional opposition. Instead, he entrusted the economy to the very Wall Street forces that had nearly wrecked it…Obama lavished enormous cash bailouts on banks that were ‘too big to fail’ but [he] failed to do anything remotely comparable for their victims: the 10 million Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure during the crisis…All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive-neoliberal status quo, despite its declining popularity.[5]

I worked two jobs seven days a week during this time, one of them for two years at a foreclosure law firm. I saw an average of 100 foreclosures cross my desk each day for one state alone for at least one of those years.

President Trump’s policies have diverged altogether from candidate Trump’s campaign promises. Not only has his economic populism vanished, his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got.[6]

I disagree. Each day another hundred supporters are won. Trumpism is a reaction just as the news cycle is a reaction. Each creates a dialogue of re-reaction in a culture of continuous faux-action. The real action is the reaction, and thus the philosophy is based on re-reaction.

[1] Fraser, Nancy. The Old is Dying and the New Cannot be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond, Verso Books, London, 2019: 12.

[2]Ibid, 15.

[3]Ibid, 16.

[4]Ibid, 17.

[5]Ibid, 19-20.

[6]Ibid, 26.

Bolaño’s literary kitchen

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“In my ideal literary kitchen there lives a warrior, whom some voices (disembodied voices, voices that cast no shadow) call a writer. This warrior is always fighting. He knows that in the end, no matter what he does, he’ll be defeated. But he still roams the literary kitchen, which is built of cement, and faces his opponent without begging for mercy or granting it.”

— Roberto Bolaño