Monday, August 14, 2006

The megamachine

Via Le Colonel Chabert, by Azmi Bishara in Al-Ahram Weekly:


Israeli spokespersons are steadfastly driving home the idea of two distinct and incompatible cultures, two civilisations, two worlds. If the world is divided into cultures and these cultures are divided into friend or foe, which is to say that the world is embroiled in an enormous culture clash, then the notion of "double standards" loses all moral opprobrium, becoming the natural order of things.

The Israeli/US line - the World is divided into two civilisations. One on the side of reason, the other, religious hate.

There is, tragically, a real division between these two sides; but they don't each have the characteristics ascribed to them by the former's leaders, publicists and apologists.
Rather this was an unchosen conflict for the latter "side".

It is a divide between aggressors and victims. And the aggressors do so because of the forces of capitalism; because of the growing power and wealth capital accumulation and defence grants them; this structure, its incentives and interests, vehicle logic and travel inform their actions, their perceptions and stances.

So it's humanity + structure vs. humanity. In the former case, humanity filtered into, overdetermined by and influenced by structure; against humanity tout court, and brought to aggress the latter by the continual expansionist drives inherent in its mode of working.
Because of this mode of working the aggressors have brought the violence of subjugation, of steel and concrete and the image, to innocent people who live in lands where there are resources, energy, labour, land, markets, or strategic advantages, useful for the capitalist countries, creating death and bloodshed.

So it's easy to see that the world is not divided along the lines of reason and religious hate. Rather there is a mode of operation which is rational within the context of the system, and for the vehicle which is operating (Western capitalist civilisation) and for those who travel within it (or at least it has the appearance of rationality within, just as there may be internal stability within a car riding roughshod over nature and travelling towards a wall); but fundamentally irrational in relation to its contexts, whether these be ecology, people who are outside the vehicle, or any objective reference scale of values, whether one looks at human rights, morality, karma, etc. Characterised by an inherent inability to achieve the restraint or other qualities required to integrate successfully into rich, complex, holistic and circular systems.

So where this mode, this vehicle, intersects with its contexts, there are hateful effects; there is expropriation, there is dispossession, there is ethnic cleansing, shelling of civilians, invasion by tanks and F-16s, uprooting, chaos, political repression, exclusion; there is theft and exhaustion of resources, starvation of water; there is sweatshop slavery and farmers' suicides.

All these are not just naturally occurring phenomena in weak states, or racistly ascribable to predilections, ideological or otherwise. They are simply products of a particular way of organising our affairs; they exist coterminously with the other facets of this system, the ones which permit and encourage it to continue, by virtue of being extremely amenable to the tiny minority who benefit unimaginably from them and who have political power in line with their wealth; they coexist with the superprofits of the megacorporations, who are perhaps the only parties in modern society which are indisputably rosy and healthy, just as they were fifty and one hundred years ago, while we stand on the brink of global chaos, and unprecedented ecological catastrophe; they coxist with our lives, as Northern consumers, as commodity-vectors in a relatively peaceful dream, a spectacle, a state of enforced docility, of meaningless freedom, lives which unavoidably participate in advanced fascism.

What the Israeli/US/UK apologists fail to do, is simply to put themselves empathetically in the position of the other party, and they must rely on a racist manoeuvre in order to be able to do this. To describe them as Islamic fundamentalists, or Islamic fascists, or terrorists, is to dehumanise them, to ascribe to them irrational motives, on the basis of confession, identity and religious nationality. But we don't need to look far to find the motives of people who resist, even violently, all the effects of the capitalist machine as it crushes their lives, as it shows no respect, no consideration whatsoever for the sanctity of their way of life and of their bodies. They, their families, their parents and grandparents, have been vulnerable, abused, killed, tortured, uprooted and made into refugees, for generations.

It's a fundamental misunderstanding to see humanity as characterised by two masses of people, whose values are opposed to each other. Even this premise, however we may define the lines people are divided on, is helpful to the elite and their apologists. We shouldn't see it as two tides of humanity; these two tides don't exist. Do we see them confronting each other, massed in a physical arena, continually re-presenting to each other their differences and their inability to coexist? No, it's a sure thing that if people on two sides in a conflict, were somehow able to encounter each other free of the constraints of structure, manifesting their natures and not material circumstances or interests, they would quickly make peace. There's only one humanity, and humanity before or without or as much as it can be in the face of and teeth of structure is social.

No the way to see it is that we, all of us, inhabit a structure; a physical structure in terms of a networked landscape of the state and of the military-industrial-commercial complex - all its buildings from headquarters of government to military planning centres and bases, to commercial formations - and according more or less to that physical structure, a structure of power and command; of interest and incentive. It was created incrementally and according to the linear advance, expansion, saturation and domination of interests and modes of being. And we inhabit it as rabbits in a warren. We are not, emphatically not, the free avatars consumer advertising would have us believe. We are free to consume, and to make personal lifestyle choices. We are not free not to participate in producing the effects of the system for example; which are built-in; which will always occur; and are currently, through the entrenching of power of the capitalists, deepening and worsening and widening in scope. Try and change one thing about the world today, and you'll see this (that's not to say doing that is impossible, but it's about systemic aspects and constraints, which it takes mass communal mobilisation and considerable effort and strategic planning to shift let alone change). Make a move which places you outside your usual coordinates in society and see how people respond to you differently. The grid in which we live, the physical space, the network of logic and meaning and intention, which is now connected all over the world, also takes in concentration camps.
Capitalism is Oxford Street; and it's also tanks in Gaza.

The key is to see this and to know then, that what we do can make a difference. But know in what ways. Know what's illusory. Know our true state and possibilities. Rail against the fact that what we feel is naturally our by right, and which cannot be expressed, is constrained or starved or competed or distracted out of existence by this paradigm; what is offended and occluded by it. What is naturally and rightfully ours, the song which emanates from our hearts and moves through our hands and wishes to include and to share, to know and to touch, to heal, will always remanifest itself from within. Don't fall back on consumerism, on expressing your infinity and beauty and uniqueness through the consumption, accumulation and display of dead commodities.

It's easy to be hamstrung on the axis of subjective-objective antinomy; bearing the weight of the contradiction ourselves in our subjectivity; where our subjective situation is confronted with the severe chaos and other situations produced by capitalism and we are indirectly and implicitly asked, threatened, "can you take responsibility for this?"; or "would you like to live in the conditions of people over there, in another part of the system, because that's the fate that awaits you outside our care, if you take away this structure." "No? Well then slink away into your individuated life"; this is a mis-reading, a misunderstanding; we have both less power and less responsibility as individuals qua individuals rather than part of society (a false construct) than we might imagine.

The system as context, as "Big Other", as something which generates our survival and creates, guarantees our meaning, psychologically, and which we need and are charged with reproducing ourselves (the tube posters say "it's up to all of us" [to combat terrorism]), something we must be loyal to - is too much to bear; the disjuncture between it and contexts both within and without our being (and the latter have an answering call within us too), the contradictions natural to it, the evil it wreaks, cannot be lived with; and this explains why it's easier to choose not to, and to ignore it. The way to bear this is to remove loyalty; take responsibility in the measure you remove loyalty, and therefore can meaningfully take responsibility. Accept the constraints, accept reality.

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