The world economic order is collapsing

Refugees arriving on Lesbos, Greece, last month.
Refugees arriving on Lesbos, Greece, last month: the billions of dollars fleeing emerging economies are not accompanied by harrowing images. Photograph: Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP/Getty Images

Europe has seen nothing like this for 70 years – the visible expression of a world where order is collapsing. The millions of refugees fleeing from ceaseless Middle Eastern war and barbarism are voting with their feet, despairing of their futures. The catalyst for their despair – the shredding of state structures and grip of Islamic fundamentalism on young Muslim minds – shows no sign of disappearing.

Yet there is a parallel collapse in the economic order that is less conspicuous: the hundreds of billions of dollars fleeing emerging economies, from Brazil to China, don’t come with images of women and children on capsizing boats. Nor do banks that have lent trillions that will never be repaid post gruesome videos. However, this collapse threatens our liberal universe as much as certain responses to the refugees. Capital flight and bank fragility are profound dysfunctions in the way the global economy is now organised that will surface as real-world economic dislocation.

The IMF is profoundly concerned, warning at last week’s annual meeting in Peru of $3tn (£1.95tn) of excess credit globally and weakening global economic growth. But while it knows there needs to be an international co-ordinated response, no progress is likely. The grip of libertarian, anti-state philosophies on the dominant Anglo-Saxon political right in the US and UK makes such intervention as probable as a Middle East settlement. Order is crumbling all around and the forces that might save it are politically weak and intellectually ineffective.

The heart of the economic disorder is a world financial system that has gone rogue. Global banks now make profits to a extraordinary degree from doing business with each other. As a result, banking’s power to create money out of nothing has been taken to a whole new level. That banks create credit is nothing new; the system depends on the truth that not all depositors will want their money back simultaneously. So there is a tendency for some of the cash banks lend in one month to be redeposited by borrowers the following month: a part of this cash can be re-lent, again, in a third month – on top of existing lending capacity. Each lending cycle creates more credit, which is why lending has always been carefully regulated by national central banks to ensure loans will, in general, be repaid and sufficient capital reserves are held. .

The emergence of a global banking system means central banks are much less able to monitor and control what is going on. And because few countries now limit capital flows, in part because they want access to potential credit, cash generated out of nothing can be lent in countries where the economic prospects look superficially good. This provokes floods of credit, rather like the movements of refugees.

The false boom that follows seems to justify the lending. Property prices rise. Companies and households grow overconfident about their prospects and borrow freely. Economies surge well above their trend growth rates and all seems well until something – a collapse in property or commodity prices – unravels the whole process. The money floods out as quickly as it flooded in, leaving bust banks and governments desperately picking up the pieces.

Andy Haldane, Bank of England chief economist, describes the unfolding pattern of events as a three-part crisis. Act one was in 2007-08 in Britain and the US. Buoyed for the previous decade by absurdly high inflows of globally generated credit that created false booms, they suddenly found their overconfident banks had wildly lent too much. Collateral behind newfangled derivatives was worthless. Money flooded out, leaving Britain’s banking system bust, to be bailed out by more than £1tn of liquidity and special injections of public capital.

Act two was in Europe in 2011-12, when it became obvious that the lending had been made on the incorrect assumption that all eurozone countries were equal. Again, money flooded out and Europe only just held the line with extraordinary printing of money by the European Central Bank and tough belt-tightening measures in overborrowed countries such as Portugal, Greece and Ireland. It might have been unfair, but it worked.

Now act three is beginning, but in countries much less able to devise measures to stop financial contagion and whose banks are more precarious. For global finance next flooded the so-called emerging market economies (EMEs), countries such as Turkey, Brazil, Malaysia, China, all riding high on sky-high commodity prices as the China boom, itself fuelled by wild lending, seemed never-ending. China manufactured more cement from 2010-13 than the US had produced over the entire 20th century. It could not last and so it is proving.

China’s banks are, in effect, bust: few of the vast loans they have made can ever be repaid, so they cannot now lend at the rate needed to sustain China’s once super-high but illusory growth rates. China’s real growth is now below that of the Mao years: the economic crisis will spawn a crisis of legitimacy for the deeply corrupt communist party. Commodity prices have crashed.

Money is flooding out of the EMEs, leaving overborrowed companies, indebted households and stricken banks, but EMEs do not have institutions such as the Federal Reserve or European Central Bank to knock up rescue packages. Yet these nations now account for more than half of global GDP. Small wonder the IMF is worried.

The world needs inventive responses. It needs a bigger, reinvigorated IMF whose constitution should reflect the global balance of economic power and that can rescue the EMEs. It needs proper surveillance of global finance. It needs western governments to launch massive economic stimuli, centred on infrastructure spending. It needs new smart monetary policies that allow negative interest rates.

None of that is in prospect, vetoed by an ideological right and not properly championed by the left. If there is no will to deal, collectively, with the refugee crisis, there is even less to reorder the global economy. We may muddle through, but don’t bet on it.


Clinton and Sanders back US aggression in the Middle East


12 October 2015

On the eve of Tuesday’s first televised debate among the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, the two poll leaders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have gone out of their way to express support for the Obama administration’s military interventions in the Middle East.

They are solidarizing themselves with US imperialist aggression in the region under conditions where American policy in Iraq and Syria has produced an unmitigated debacle, with the growing threat of a wider war involving major powers, including Russia, whose nuclear arsenal is second only to Washington’s.

Moreover, the main pretext for the Obama administration’s escalation in Iraq and Syria, the so-called war on terror, has been completely exploded by the open alliance of Washington with the al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, which the US government itself declares a terrorist organization, against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Clinton has called for a more aggressive military posture in Syria, including the imposition of a no-fly zone, potentially bringing US military forces into direct conflict with Russian warplanes now flying missions in support of the Assad regime.

This is consistent with the policies that Clinton advocated as secretary of state, when she pushed for direct US intervention to overthrow the Assad government in 2011-2012, only to be overruled by Obama, who opted for a more cautious and indirect policy using the CIA and US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Clinton is a long-time representative and defender of US imperialism, going back to the administration of her husband, which bombed Serbia and Iraq, waged war in Somalia and sent the Marines into Haiti. As a US senator, Clinton voted for the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and for the war in Iraq in 2002.

Sanders, for his part, embraced the White House Mideast policy wholeheartedly in an interview taped Friday for broadcast on NBC’s Sunday program “Meet the Press.” He told interviewer Chuck Todd, “I think what the president has tried to do is thread a very, very difficult needle. And that is, keep American troops from engaging in combat and getting killed there. And I think that is the right thing to do. So I think we continue to try to do everything that we can, focusing primarily, by the way, as bad as Assad is, focusing on trying to defeat ISIS.”

While opposing the use of American ground forces, at least for the present, Sanders was enthusiastically in favor of soldiers from other countries “engaging in combat and getting killed” in the wars in Syria and Iraq. “I believe very strongly that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, you know what?” he said. “They’re going to have to get their hands dirty as well. They don’t like ISIS? Let them start putting troops on the ground.”

This exchange followed:

Todd: Gulf War one, we got them to pay for—do you think we should be doing that?

Sanders: I think it’s more than pay.

Todd: You want to see them put blood and treasure?

Sanders: Yeah. That’s exactly right.

After expressing the desire that Arab soldiers fight and die in Syria (doing the “dirty work” for US imperialism), Sanders went on to declare his support for another Obama policy: assassination by drone-fired missiles.

Asked whether he favored using drones and Special Forces for counterterrorism, Sanders responded, “Well, all of that and more.”

He continued, “Look, we all know, you know, that there are people as of this moment plotting against the United States. We have got to be vigorous in protecting our country, no question about it.”

In another portion of the interview, Sanders reiterated his false claim to the label “socialist.” It is impossible to combine socialism and support for imperialism and its wars, let alone pledge, as Sanders has repeatedly, to defend “America’s vital strategic interests.” Those are the interests of corporate America, the interests of the millionaires and billionaires whom Sanders demagogically claims to oppose, but whose global dominance he vows to safeguard as commander-in-chief.

The unanimity of the Democratic presidential field when it comes to the central issue of war—under conditions of mounting global conflicts between the US and Russia over Ukraine and now Syria, and between the US and China over the South China Sea—only underscores the fraud of the corporate-controlled two-party system in the United States.

Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party pledge to defend the global interests of Wall Street and maintain the dominant world role of the US military-intelligence apparatus. No candidate in either party speaks for the vast majority of working people in America, who are opposed to war and militarism.

Here a critical role is played by the pseudo-left groups such as the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative and the various Stalinist and ex-Stalinist organizations, all of which orbit around the Democrats. They are seeking to use the Sanders campaign to pump up illusions in this discredited right-wing party of imperialism. In pursuit of this goal, they cover up for Sanders’ support for Obama’s wars in Iraq and Syria.

When it was a Republican in the White House acting as the frontman for the military-intelligence apparatus, these groups were happy to spout anti-war rhetoric and posture as opponents of US imperialism. Now that it is a Democrat signing the orders for drone missile assassinations, bombings and the dispatch of military forces, the pseudo-left groups have fallen into line: in Libya, in Iraq and now in Syria. The only complaint of the pseudo-left groups is that, like Hillary Clinton, they feel Obama has been insufficiently aggressive in intervening in Syria against the Assad regime.

These organizations, representing more privileged layers of the middle class, long ago abandoned any opposition to imperialism. They are now pro-imperialist and pro-war, and bear primary political responsibility for the absence of an organized anti-war movement despite mass popular anti-war sentiment.

Patrick Martin

The Backstory on Bernie Sanders and Israel-Palestine

Why Is He So Quiet About the Mideast Tragedy?

Tensions between progressives and Sanders on the issue of Palestine aren’t going away any time soon.

One of the most appealing qualities about Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the presidency is how consistent he is. While Hillary Clinton continually faces questions about her changing positions, Sanders is seen as the good kind of broken record – someone who says what progressives want to hear over and over again, for decades.

But there is one area where Sanders used to be much more outspoken, and has in recent years been very quiet about: Palestine. Considering the elevated role of the Israel-Palestine issue in progressive circles, and Sanders’ continued success leading up to the primaries, it’s worth revisiting Sanders’ history on the topic and his early approach to foreign policy.

Burlington’s Foreign Policy

Sanders’ first big political office was as mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the early 1980s. Under the Sanders administration, Burlington was rejuvenated, becoming a much more equitable and progressive city. But not all of his policies were focused at the city itself.

“[H]ow many cities of 40,000 have a foreign policy? Well we did,” writes Sanders in his memoir Outsider In The House. “I saw no magic line separating local, state, national and international issues.”

It was this sort of thinking that convinced Sanders to bring linguist and foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky to speak in Burlington in 1985, mostly about U.S. policy in Latin America.

Latin America was a hot topic in the city, and Sanders frequently wrote to federal leaders to condemn U.S. involvement there. The same year he invited Chomsky, he traveled to Nicaragua himself, witnessing the casualties of the U.S.-sponsored civil wars firsthand. “I will never forget…dozens and dozens of amputees in wheelchairs – young soldiers, many of them in their teens, who had lost their legs in a war foisted on them and financed by the U.S. government,” he wrote in his memoir.

Speaking Up For Palestinians, Once

Jesse Jackson’s progressive-charged 1988 campaign for the Democratic nomination, which Sanders endorsed, prompted Sanders’ first politically articulated views on Israel-Palestine. Political reporters pressed Sanders to explain his support for Jackson and to react to attacks on Jackson’s belief that the Palestinians have a right to an independent state. Jackson had been under heavy fire for this stance from the Democratic establishment, led by then-Senator Al Gore.

Sanders offered support for Jackson’s position, and went further when asked about Israeli treatment of Palestinians during the first intifada (their uprising against occupation at the time). “The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms sand legs of Arabs is reprehensible. The idea of Israel closing down towns and sealing them off is unacceptable,” he said.

“The United States of America is pouring billions of dollars into arms and into other types of aid in the Middle East. Has the United States of America used its clout, the tremendous clout that it has by providing all kinds of aid to the Middle East, to demand that these countries sit down and talk about a reasonable settlement which will guarantee Israel’s sovereignty, which must be guaranteed, but will begin to deal with the rights of Palestinian refugees,” said Sanders.

A follow-up question asked Sanders if he was asking the United States to impose sanctions. He said he wasn’t, but did say that “you have the ability when you are the United States of America, which is supporting the armies of the Middle East, to demand that these people sit down and support a reasonable settlement.”

“Or else what?” asked another reporter.

“Or else you cut off arms,” suggested Sanders. “If the United States goes into the Middle East and demands a reasonable, a responsible, and a peaceful solution to the conflict that has gone there because of its clout because of the tremendous amounts of money that it is pouring into that region I think we can do it.”

Watch the full exchange:

In that moment, Sanders aligned himself with where the basic position of today’s global human rights community – that the way to resolve Israel-Palestine is for the United States to use its leverage as the major underwriter of Israel’s development and security to push a political solution on the country.

The Missing Palestine Plank

Throughout the 90’s and into the 21st century, Sanders has put out a fairly mainstream line on the question of the Palestinians. And since being elected to the US Senate, Sanders has been in a much stronger position draw a lot more attention to Israel’s behavior.  But he’s been totally quiet on the matter.

Sander’s basic thinking on Israel-Palestine was on display a recent event in Chicago; a young Muslim student told him that “progressives have great ideas when it comes to race class and many other issues but often not as progressive of ideas when it comes to the Israel-Palestine question, very simply could dyou state your position on Israel-Palestine.”

“In terms of Israel and Palestine you are looking at one of the more depressing tragedies that has gone on in the world for the last sixty years. And I would not be telling you the truth if I said I have a magical solution. But this is what I do believe. I believe in two simple principles. Number one, Israel has a right to exist in peace and security. The Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own with full political and economic power,” he told her. “That’s the broad view that I hold and I will do everything that I can to make that happen.”

What Sanders said there and has said many times on the campaign trail in response to this question is basically a restatement of the U.S. Diplomatic line on the conflict: that it will only be resolved with a so-called two-state solution that guarantees Palestinian rights and Israeli security.

The problem with such rhetoric, whether it comes from Sanders, or Congress, or President Obama, is that it is talking about a goal without offering a path to get us there. It’s like saying you support world peace or stopping global warming, without offering any sort of tangible solution. And it’s the solutions that are the most politically controversial – such as floating the idea of cutting off arms transfers to Israel, as Sanders did in 1988.

That isn’t to say that Sanders has become quite your typical ordinary politician when it comes to the issue – he isn’t that, either. Witness the fact that earlier in campaign season, during an interview with Diane Rehm, Sanders told the host that he “I’m not a great fan” of Netanyahu – a remarkable comment from a man who is now a viable contender for the presidency; there is no real record of any electable candidate from either major party openly criticizing the leader of Israel for the last 27 years. Later, in an interview with Vox, he told interviewerEzra Klein that he would like to move away from providing military aid to Egypt and Israel and instead “provide more economic aid to help improve the standard of living of the people in that area.”

And there is no record of Sanders attending events with the primary Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which every presidential contender makes sure to appear at. Sanders also does not speak at pro-Israel rallies, and he hasn’t traveled to the region in decades. Although he is Jewish, he does not seem to align with the harsh anti-Palestinian politics of many of the mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States such as the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League – something that seems to run in the family, his brother Larry in the United Kingdom is a supporter of the Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions campaign.

Put together, these are genuinely iconoclastic statements in the moribund mainstream Israel-Palestine debate in the United States. But there is little evidence that Sanders wants to pursue them to their logical conclusion. In a statement given to a local website a few weeks after the Vox interview, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs said “Bernie does not and has not ever supported cutting off arms to Israel and that has never been his position.” If you go strictly by how the Senator votes, that is very true – Sanders does not vote against military aid to Israel, even if he has floated it on a number of occasions. But the tension between Sanders’ words, his actions, and the statement put out by his press secretary point to a wider issue: his inability to stand up on the issue when it counts.

The most glaring example of this is a raucous town hall he held in the summer of 2014. While he condemned Israeli attacks against United Nations schools, he also defended the wider Israeli war, and even tried to deflect attention from the conflict altogether by talking about ISIS. As his constituents grew more and more angry, he threatened to call the police on them. Watch it:

Sanders’s defense to the crowd was that he did not cosponsor the legislation before Congress that praised Israel’s war on Gaza. But his failure to do anything to block it – it passed by unanimous consent – reinforces the idea that while Sanders does hold somewhat dissident views on Palestine, he fails to put his votes where his mouth is.

Since that town hall, questions about Palestine have dogged him. During a panel he held after a massive climate change march in New York City, Sanders was confronted by Palestine activists who unfurled a banner criticizing him for failing to oppose the war against Gaza:

There is some evidence that these criticisms of Sanders have started to make an impact on his approach. In the last month, his campaign finally started to roll out foreign policy platforms on his website. The platform repeats much of the same U.S. foreign policy mantras about the need for a two-state solution and Israel’s right to defend itself, but it also condemns “disproportionate” violence by Israel and killings of civilians by the Israeli army. Most notably, the platform calls for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, a topic all but forgotten about in U.S. discourse.

Engaging With A Growing Movement

In the beginning of October, Sanders held a mega-rally in Boston that drew over 25,000 people, the largest Democratic primary rally in the history of the city. A group of young people with Boston Students for Justice in Palestine wanted to attend the rally with a banner reading, “Will Bernie #feelthebern 4 Palestine?”

A campaign staffer saw their banner and refused to allow them into the event. To many, this was confirmation that the campaign just doesn’t have time for the Palestinian issue.

But after the event became public and many activists chimed in with their disapproval, the campaign responded. Sanders’s manager, Jeff Weaver, personally called the student activists and apologized to them. “They shouldn’t have been excluded,” he said in a public statement. “It was an overreaction  by an over-eager staffer who didn’t show good judgment.” He then vowed that the staffer who refused to let them in would no longer be working at campaign events.

Engagement with the Palestinian issue also presents an opportunity to make an additional contrast with his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. Clinton wrote a letterto major Israeli-American donor Haim Saban vowing to help fight the Palestinian movement, and recently parroted an Israeli government talking point when she said recently there cannot be a resolution to the conflict until the nearby civil war and rise of ISIS in Syria are concluded.

Conventional wisdom says that this is a political minefield for any Democratic candidate, something that is likely to push pro-Israel donors away from a campaign. But Sanders is not relying on big pro-Israel billionaire donors like Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson. The average donation to his campaign is less than $30. And he’s grappling with a Democratic Party whose rising youth and minority base is averse to the politics of the Israeli government; by two-to-one, Americans under the age of twenty-nine said Israel’s 2014 war against Gaza was “unjustified”; views were most intense among nonwhite voters, particularly Hispanics and African-Americans.

If Sanders wants to reunite the Obama coalition, and truly stake out territory no presidential candidate has entered since Jesse Jackson’s race more than 25 ago, he can show that he does, indeed, “feel the Bern” for the Palestinians and the human rights the U.S. government helps deny them.

Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.

Ben Carson, the Neurosurgeon Who Can’t Think

Along with Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson is way ahead of the pack for the Republican presidential nomination.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – MARCH 8, 2014: Neurosurgeon and author Ben Carson speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Photo Credit: Christopher Halloran /

What does it say about higher education, that you can graduate from Yale and still believe that the devil made Darwin do it?  What does it say about medicine, that you can both be a gifted neurosurgeon and also declare, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away”?

Along with Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson is way ahead of the pack for the Republican presidential nomination.  When Trump, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that climate change is a hoax, I can believe it’s a cynical lie pandering to the Republican base, rather than an index of his ignorance.  But when Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, denies that climate change is man-made, or calls the Big Bang a fairy tale, or blames gun control for the extent of the Holocaust, I think he truly believes it.

It’s conceivable that the exceptional hand-eye coordination and 3D vision that enabled Carson to separate conjoined twins is a compartmentalized gift, wholly independent of his intellectual acuity. But he could not have risen to the top of his profession without learning the Second Law of Thermodynamics (pre-meds have to take physics), without knowing that life on earth began more than 6,000 years ago (pre-meds have to take biology), without understanding the scientific method (an author of more than 120 articles in peer-reviewed journals can’t make up his own rules of evidence).  Yet what does it mean to learn such things, if they don’t stop you from spouting scientific nonsense?

This hasn’t hindered his campaign.  Participants in focus groups of Republican caucus and primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, conducted in recent days by Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, used these words to describe Carson: “deep,” “thoughtful,” “intelligent,” “smart,” “brilliant,” a “top mind.” I get this.  According to a recent Public Policy Polling report, 46 percent of Carson supporters (and 61 percent of Trump supporters) think President Obama was not born in the U.S., and 61 percent of Carson supporters (and 66 percent of Trump supporters) think the president is a Muslim.  Carson’s being called brilliant by that base ain’t baffling.

What I don’t get is how his rigorous scientific education and professional training gave Carson’s blind spots a pass.  Was it, in George W. Bush’s memorable phrase, “the soft tyranny of low expectations”?  Or was it the tyranny of fundamentalism over facts?

In the humanities, the equivalent conundrum is the failure of a deep appreciation for masterworks of art, literature and music to instill virtue.  I first came across this disturbing indictment when I was an undergraduate at the chief rival of Carson’s alma mater.  My field of concentration (Harvard’s pretentious term for “major”) was molecular biology, and I would have quickly flamed out if I’d maintained that science was consistent with creationism, or any of the other canards that survived Carson’s education.  But I was also in love with literature, and ended up with a doctorate in it.  On the way there, what troubled me about my studies was an essay called “To Civilize Our Gentlemen” by George Steiner. Its thesis ran so counter to the bedrock of an elite education – the belief that the humanities humanize – that I went to England for two years to study at Cambridge with Steiner, as passionate an embodiment of academic high culture as could be, in order to reconcile my love for humanistic learning with its apparent inability to prevent barbarism.

My copy of the essay, and the book it appeared in, “Language and Silence,” is full of a 20-year-old’s underlining and marginalia (“right on!”).  These are some of the passages that jangled me:

“We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to the day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning. To say that he has read them without understanding or that is ear is gross, is cant…. The simple yet appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize…. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text… diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response…. The capacity for [moral response]… is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room…. [S]urely there is something terrible in our doubt whether the study and delight a man finds in Shakespeare makes him any less capable of organizing a concentration camp.”

When Wolf Blitzer asked Carson if he wanted to amend or take back his comparison of Obama’s America to Nazi Germany, he replied, “Absolutely not.” Am I comparing Carson to Nazis? Absolutely not. I’m comparing the compatibility of a scientific education and intellectual ignorance with the compatibility of a humanistic education and moral ignorance.

The simple yet appalling fact is that we have at least some solid evidence that a top scientific education and a distinguished career in medicine does not make a man any less capable of believing untruths to be true and truths to be false.

I don’t know how I’d react if a shooter opened fire in my classroom.  Maybe I’d risk my safety to protect others. Maybe I’d be too petrified do anything. But I do know the feeling that would devastate me if someone I loved became “a body with bullet holes”; it would not be the feeling that the Second Amendment is in jeopardy. It is at least conceivable that the clinical detachment required by a doctor to deal with the deaths in this room makes the deaths in the next room less urgent, less real.

I know plenty of physicians of whom that is not true. But when Ben Carson blames a mass murderer’s victims for failing to foil him, I know of at least one man of science whose capacity for moral response has been absorbed by fictions.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

Global Crises


9 October 2015

In a Perspective column published at the beginning of 2015, the WSWS commented on the frequency of crises convulsing the global capitalist system. “The ‘peaceful’ intervals between the eruption of major crises—geopolitical, economic and social—have become so short that they can hardly be described as intervals,” we wrote. “Crises, on the other hand, appear not as isolated ‘episodes,’ but as more or less permanent features of contemporary reality.”

As the world enters the final months of 2015, it can be said that not only the frequency, but also the intensity of crises is reaching a new inflection point. The necessity of resolving the crisis of revolutionary leadership is posed with ever-greater urgency.

The global economy remains mired in the contradictions that erupted to the surface seven years ago. The policy of the ruling class in response to the Wall Street crash has reached an impasse. The flooding of financial markets with money has inflated asset bubbles while failing to produce any significant economic growth. Yet any move to curb the easy money policy of the Federal Reserve and other central banks risks sparking a financial panic even more severe than that which erupted in 2008.

This week, the International Monetary Fund cut its global growth forecast to just 3.1 percent for 2015, the slowest growth rate since 2009. “Six years after the world economy emerged from its broadest and deepest postwar recession,” IMF Economic Counselor Maurice Obstfeld reported, “a return to robust and synchronized global expansion remains elusive.”

This is a considerable understatement. In the more advanced capitalist countries, economic growth is stagnant, with persistent widespread unemployment and flat or declining wages. The situation is even worse in the so-called “emerging markets.”

Lawrence Summers, US treasury secretary under President Clinton, pointed to the crisis facing the ruling class in a comment published in the Washington Post on Thursday. Under the headline, “A global economy in peril,” Summers wrote that the dangers “are more severe than at any time since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008.” He continued: “The problem of secular stagnation—the inability of the industrial world to grow at satisfactory rates even with very loose monetary policies—is growing worse in the wake of problems in most big emerging markets, starting with China.”

The world economy is faced with the “specter of a global vicious cycle in which slow growth in industrial countries hurts emerging markets, thereby slowing Western growth further,” Summers declared, adding, “Industrialized economies that are barely running above stall speed can ill afford a negative global shock.”

The economic crisis at once intensifies and is compounded by mounting geopolitical crises and international conflicts, driven above all by the relentless pursuit of global hegemony by American imperialism. For a quarter century, the American ruling class has been engaged in endless wars of ever-expanding geographical scope. For the past fifteen years, the military interventions have been waged under the banner of the “war on terror,” the ideological framework used by the American financial aristocracy to reorganize the Middle East and Central Asia through bloodletting and violence.

One country after another has been targeted for regime change or subversion by the US and its allies: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. The carnage produced by these wars has led to a virtual collapse of state structures throughout the Middle East, producing a flood of desperate refugees to which the ruling classes of Europe have responded with violence and repression.

Here too, the crisis is reaching a tipping point. The local wars in the Middle East are leading increasingly to direct conflict between the major powers. This week, French President Francois Hollande declared that the conflict in Syria risked devolving into “a total war, a war that will also affect our territories,” i.e., Europe.

Over the past week, the Russian ruling class has sought to defend its interests in Syria by more openly backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is targeted for overthrow by US-backed Islamist militias. The US and NATO powers have responded with extreme belligerence.

Speaking at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared that Russia’s moves “will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks. In coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer casualties,” he warned ominously.

Even as it intensifies its threats against Russia, the US is ratcheting up its military maneuvers in Asia. According to media reports, the US is planning within the next two weeks to sail warships inside territorial waters claimed by China. These provocative actions follow the finalization of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade and investment deal between the US, Japan and other Asian economies concluded with the specific aim of isolating China and countering its influence in the region.

The United States is not the only imperialist power asserting its interests on the global stage. Japan is remilitarizing and expanding its arms industry, currently with the encouragement of the Obama administration. Germany is once again asserting its claim to hegemony over the European continent, and has global ambitions. German imperialism, which came into conflict with the United States in the two world wars of the Twentieth Century, has its own interests in Syria, Iran, Russia and China.

To the economic and geopolitical crisis must be added the extreme crisis of bourgeois rule. The old political institutions, used by the ruling class for decades, are breaking apart or in disarray. In the United States, in the midst of an election campaign dominated by the spokesmen of various billionaires, the political system is increasingly dysfunctional.

One of the principal parties of the ruling class, the Republican Party, has been thrown into chaos following the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy, the current House majority leader, from the contest to become the new House speaker. According to media reports, representatives who had gathered to select the speaker of the house—the second person in the line of presidential succession—were in “total shock,” with some audibly weeping as the gathering broke up.

All of these crises are surface manifestations of something more profound: the crisis of the world capitalist system itself. This crisis brings with it the danger of world war and a descent into barbarism. At the same time, it creates the objective basis for the overthrow of the capitalist system—the radicalization of the working class internationally.

Decades of war, intensifying economic crisis and growing social inequality have produced immense changes in the consciousness of billions of workers and young people internationally. These subterranean processes are beginning to break to the surface. There is everywhere a growing restlessness and desire to fight.

In a period of crisis, the class character of political tendencies emerges more clearly. In Greece, opposition to austerity swept the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) to power at the beginning of the year. The organization was proclaimed by all manner of pseudo-socialist and pseudo-left organizations to be the hope for the future, an alternative to the bank-dictated impoverishment of the Greek working class and youth.

Ten months later, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras is leading the campaign to impose a new round of EU-backed austerity. “We have to tighten our belts,” he declared this week as he unveiled the government’s new budget, “to dare to implement the reforms this country needs.” Meanwhile, former Syriza Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, the self-described “erratic Marxist,” has announced his admiration for Margaret Thatcher.

Not only have the pseudo-left representatives of more privileged sections of the middle class been exposed in Greece as the accomplices of austerity, they have also served as champions of imperialist operations in the Middle East. In Syria, groups and publications such as the International Socialist Organization and International Viewpoint have provided the “human rights” justifications for the CIA drive to bring down the Assad regime by stoking a catastrophic sectarian civil war. Parroting the most rabidly militaristic factions of the US ruling class, they criticize the Obama administration for not moving quickly or aggressively enough to oust Assad.

A political realignment is beginning to take place, bringing with it a growing intersection between the perspective and program fought for by the International Committee of the Fourth International and the upsurge of working-class struggle. In the United States, the WSWS has played a central role in a growing movement of autoworkers, who are striving to cast off the dead weight of the trade unions and take an independent path. This is a significant indication of a radicalization and political reorientation of the working class in the United States.

The expanding crisis is a symptom of capitalism in an advanced state of disintegration.

Joseph Kishore

Guantanamo’s Child, Thank You for Bombing, The Hard Stop: Filmmakers take on the global “war on terror” and police violence at home

By Joanne Laurier

8 October 2015

This is the fourth in a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-20). The first part was posted September 26, the second part October 1 and the third part October 3.

The case of Omar Khadr

The “war on terror” is a lying, noxious phrase, endlessly invoked to justify the American ruling elite’s drive for global dominance. This week marks the 14th anniversary of the US military’s invasion of Afghanistan, an exercise in sociocide, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands and the further laying waste of the already impoverished nation.

The tragic encounter of American imperialism with the Afghan people goes back to the late 1970s, when the Carter administration incited and fomented Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden, as part of the strategy of undermining the Soviet Union. The criminality of US policy in Central Asia knows almost no bounds.

Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed’s documentary, Guantanamos Child: Omar Khadr, concerns itself with the Canadian-born youth who was captured in Afghanistan by US forces in 2002 during an airstrike and assault that killed all the anti-American insurgents except the grievously wounded, 15-year-old Omar. He was sent to the Bagram Air Base, site of a notorious US prison in Afghanistan, and tortured, before he was transferred to the even more notorious Guantanamo Bay internment camp in Cuba.

Omar Khadr and Dennis Edney

Treated like a “terrorist”—for having fought as a soldier against an invading army—by the criminals in the American government and their junior partners in Canada, Omar, in 2005, became the only juvenile to be tried for war crimes.

In 2010, he pleaded not guilty to “murdering” US Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the 2002 firefight. Three months later, he changed his plea, his only means of obtaining release from the Guantanamo hellhole. Over the strenuous objections of the Harper government in Ottawa, Omar was repatriated to Canada in 2012. Since his release in May 2015, Khadr has resided with his lawyer Dennis Edney in Edmonton, Alberta.

As the Shephard-Reed film reveals, Omar Khadr is a remarkable young man, as is his feisty, Scottish-born attorney. Through extensive interviews,Guantanamos Child constructs a nightmarish picture of Omar’s ordeal at the hands of the American military.

Guantanamo’s Child

Although the bright and soft-spoken Omar is forthright in declaring that he was fighting “for a cause: fighting invaders,” the filmmakers are far more defensive about his role. In fact, the initial portions of the documentary tend to take the “war on terror” and the accompanying propaganda campaign at face value, as though “everything changed” as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The implication is that the “Americans” may have overreacted, but they had every right to “defend” themselves.

Any objective examination of the post-9/11 measures by the Bush administration would conclude that the actions corresponded to a long-standing agenda, involving massive US intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia in pursuit of energy supplies and, more generally, American imperialist geopolitical objectives, and that the terrorist attacks merely provided a pretext.

Missing in Guantanamos Child is any reference to the history of the region. There is no indication that the bin Laden forces were financed and encouraged by the CIA. It should be noted that Shepard, who wrote a book in 2008 entitled Guantanamos Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, is the national security reporter for the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers.

All in all, it seems fair to argue that documentary reflects the views of that section of the Canadian elite that is not happy with the country’s current relationship with Washington, with what it perceives as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s subservience, and is taking the opportunity to “stick it” to the US over the Khadr case.

In any case, whatever the serious weaknesses of Guantanamos Child, the majority of the film is devoted to allowing Omar to speak openly about his past and present condition—unusual in the pro-war media propaganda world. He has an insightful, mature and cautious voice.

Omar Khadr was born in Toronto in 1986, but spent much of his childhood in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The film briefly discusses his family and his early life.

As Guantanamos Child reveals, after his 2002 capture, the teenager suffered extensive psychological and physical abuse. In one striking scene, a repentant Damien Corsetti, a former US interrogator at Bagram, who was nicknamed “The Monster” for using techniques such as the “Human Mop” (forcing prisoners to wipe up their urine on the floor with their own bodies), movingly talks about how Omar’s youth and bravery humanized him. This contrasts to the self-justifying remarks made by a former CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) official, who features prominently in the film.

Also interviewed are the well-spoken Moazzam Begg and Ruhal Ahmed, both British citizens who bear witness to the horrors perpetrated in American prisons—Moazzam having been incarcerated with Omar at Bagram and Ruhal with him at Guantanamo. In addition, Omar’s mother and sister make critical, but unsurprisingly disoriented, remarks about the invaders.

The film also shows Omar’s amazing fortitude. Despite his age, and imprisonment for more than a decade, he never cowers before his tormentors and their false accusations. He also defied the incredible odds against being released from Guantanamo.

During the 2002 firefight, the Americans inflicted serious wounds on Omar, including two holes in his chest, that would eventually destroy one eye and greatly impair the other. Were it not for the intrepid efforts of Edney—his lawyer who was initially not allowed access to Omar for four years—he would still be locked away as an “enemy combatant” in the internment camp.

These two remarkable individuals and their bond drive the movie, but as well highlight the documentary’s major internal contradiction: Omar himself is prima faci e evidence of the inhuman, illegal nature of the war. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never follow the political logic of the story of their protagonist and the forces who calumniated and tried to destroy him.

Thank You for Bombing

From Austria comes Thank You For Bombing, directed by Barbara Eder (Inside America, 2010), which provides an unflattering portrait of contemporary journalists on assignment in war zones.

Thank You for Bombing

The fiction film comprises a triptych of stories related to the war in Afghanistan. The first concerns an Austrian reporter, Ewald (Erwin Steinhauser), forced by his boss to go to Afghanistan. Clearly suffering from a post-traumatic nervous disorder that has rendered him incontinent, Ewald sees a man at the airport who may or may not have been involved in the murder of his cameraman during the war in Bosnia. Neither his unsympathetic editor nor his sympathetic wife are inclined to believe a man plagued by horrible wartime memories.

The next two segments are indictments of the unrelenting careerism and opportunism of war correspondents. In the first, American reporter Lana (Manon Kahle) will stop at nothing to obtain an interview with two US soldiers in Afghanistan who allegedly have burned copies of the Koran. The episode is based on the incident that memorably set off massive protests in 2012. Lana bribes and cajoles anyone and everyone to obtain what will be a major “scoop.”

The two soldiers, more like caged wild animals, are being held in an isolated bunker by the American military. Lana buys her way into their presence. But after the interview, they turn the tables on her. She allows herself to submit to gross humiliations and a near-rape to get the story. Although a revealing sequence, the encounter between Lana and the two offending soldiers takes on a gratuitous character at a certain point. It does, however, depict a demoralized, dehumanized American army.

In the movie’s final chapter, Cal (Raphael von Bargen), once a respected journalist, is tired of waiting for the bombs to begin falling. He even tries to stage young Afghan boys throwing rocks at American soldiers. A heavy drinker, he gets fired. On a drive in the middle of nowhere, a tragic accident takes the life of his driver, which has little impact on the callous reporter.

Eder’s Thank You for Bombing is rightfully contemptuous of the media, but says little or nothing about the war itself. It is critical of ambitious journalists who use and abuse the native population, going so far as to be grateful for the dropping of American bombs that will devastate the country, thus giving them new headlines. Although an angry protest (one assumes against the war), the movie suffers from a lack of serious context.

During the question-and-answer period after the film’s public screening in Toronto, director Eder explained that the work was based on real incidents that she fictionalized to safeguard the identities of the journalists.

Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol

The talented Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol was shot on location in Gaza, the first film made in the Israeli-devastated enclave in many decades. Other locations included Jenin, Amman, Beirut and Cairo.

The Idol

Abu-Assad’s film is based on a true story. It recounts how, in 2013, 22-year-old wedding singer Mohamad Assaf, from a refugee camp in Gaza, won the second season of Arab Idol, the Middle East version of the American talent show. Assaf became an overnight sensation and was named a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

The movie is very energetic, but a more sanitized and official work than Abu-Assad’s previous films, which include Paradise Now (2005) and Omar (2013). Its best moments portray the monumental difficulties faced by the Palestinian population in Gaza. In one quasi-humorous scene, there is a power outage—obviously a frequent occurrence—when the singer is auditioning via Skype and the generator catches on fire, ending his immediate chances. In other sequences, Abu-Assad’s camera takes in Gaza’s mountains of rubble and destruction.

Getting into Egypt to audition in Cairo obliges Mohamad to scale barbed-wire capped walls, bribe certain border guards and sing verses from the Koran to others, only to find the auditions closed to those who do not already have a ticket. He overcomes that obstacle too. All the while, he recalls the words of his beloved, teenage sister who died because the family lacked the cash for a kidney transplant: “We are going to be big and change the world.”

The film is clearly an attempt to find something uplifting in what is a catastrophic situation. “It’s not just about the winning, but the route to the winning,” says Abu-Assad. “The story of Gaza is very interesting to me. It’s about people who have been collectively punished, and yet they have this will to survive, the will to succeed. It’s a universal theme.”

At the movie’s screening in Toronto, the crowd cheered wildly, identifying with the Palestinian singer’s struggles and triumph. Abu-Assad must be well aware, however, that this is a fascinating but unique incident, which will not in any way change the abominable conditions of the Gazans.

A police murder in North London

The Hard Stop

The Hard Stop is a documentary that explores the murder of Mark Duggan, an unarmed young black man, gunned down by London’s Metropolitan Police in 2011. Directed by British-Ghanaian George Amponsah, the film features two of Mark’s closest friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, as well as various family members.

The 29-year-old’s killing sparked riots that began in Tottenham, a working class area in North London, and spread across the country.

Amponsah places his film in the context of the coroner’s inquest into the killing, which in January 2014 found Duggan’s death a “lawful killing” although the jurors unanimously agreed that the father of six was unarmed when he was shot.

While showing the conditions and difficulties facing youth in poor neighborhoods like Tottenham, the film does not entirely disassociate itself from the false idea that race is the predominant factor in police violence, even though Duggan’s family is biracial. The uprisings ignited by Duggan’s murder were fueled by the abysmal social conditions and poverty of the entire population, black, white and immigrant.

Laudably, during the film’s question-and-answer session after the screening, Kurtis Henville said that “every life, not just black lives, matter.”

The latest from Michael Moore

Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next is not a much-needed comment on the American government’s never-ending invasions and wars. Far from it. Moore simply tells the generals to “stand down.” The filmmaker then becomes a one-man army that “invades” various countries to appropriate not geopolitical advantage—but beneficial social or political ideas or practices.

From Italy, for example, he takes their lengthy vacations; from Finland, their education system; from Slovenia, free college; from Iceland, the dominance of women in politics and banking (we are told that women’s DNA makes them less aggressive); from Norway, a more humane penal system; from France, gourmet school lunches; from Germany, the ability to confront the legacy of the Holocaust (as opposed to the situation in the US, where supposedly through the prison system the “white man” is once again resurrecting slavery); and from Portugal, the legalization of drugs (Moore happily poses with three cops who look like remnants of the Salazar/Caetano fascist dictatorship).

With the film’s potted racialist history of the US and its view that women should rule the world, Moore has, of course, added identity politics into the mix in his “happy film,” as he calls it.

It is hardly accidental that Moore has been so inactive since Barack Obama took office in early 2009. (Capitalism: A Love Story came out that year.) His new movie is a ludicrous attempt to cover for the Democratic Party, hoping against hope that he can convince it to adopt policies that, he takes pains to point out, all originated in the US. His is the most pathetic and hopeless of perspectives.

Moore has become a sometime critic of the Obama administration, after endorsing the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 and supporting the auto bailout in 2009, which halved autoworkers’ pay. He is hopelessly tied to the Democratic Party and capitalist politics by a thousand strings. While excoriating Obamacare, for example, as “a pro-insurance-industry plan,” he termed the plan a “godsend” because it provides a start “to get what we deserve: universal quality health care.”

The filmmaker is a compromised and increasingly discredited figure.


Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich


One day in March of 2014, a Google engineer named Justine Tunney created a strange and ultimately doomed petition at the White House website. The petition proposed a three-point national referendum, as follows:

1. Retire all government employees with full pensions.
2. Transfer administrative authority to the tech industry.
3. Appoint [Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt CEO of America.

This could easily be written off as stunt, a flamboyant act of corporate kiss-assery, which, on one level, it probably was. But Tunney happened to be serious. “It’s time for the U.S. Regime to politely take its exit from history and do what’s best for America,” she wrote. “The tech industry can offer us good governance and prevent further American decline.”

Welcome to the latest political fashion among the California Confederacy: total corporate despotism. It is a potent and bitter ideological mash that could have only been concocted at tech culture’s funky smoothie bar—a little Steve Jobs here, a little Ayn Rand there, and some Ray Kurzweil for color.

Tunney was at one time a prominent and divisive fixture of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Lately, though, her views have . . . evolved. How does an anticapitalist “tranarchist” (transgender anarchist) become a hard-right seditionist?

“Read Mencius Moldbug,” Tunney told her Twitter followers last month, referring to an aggressively dogmatic blogger with a reverent following in certain tech circles.

Keanu Reeves cartoon

Keanu cartoon by Pete Simon

Tunney’s advice is easier said than done, for Moldbug is as prolific as he is incomprehensible. His devotees, many of whom are also bloggers, describe themselves as the “neoreactionary” vanguard of a “Dark Enlightenment.” They oppose popular suffrage, egalitarianism and pluralism. Some are atheists, while others affect obscure orthodox beliefs, but most are youngish white males embittered by “political correctness.” As best I can tell, their ideal society best resembles Blade Runner, but without all those Asian people cluttering up the streets. Neoreactionaries like to see themselves as the heroes of another sci-fi movie, in fact, sometimes boasting that they have been “redpilled,” like Keanu Reeves’s character in The Matrix—a movie Moldbug regards as “genius.”

“Moldbug.” The name sounds like it belongs to a troll who belches from the depths of an Internet rabbit hole. And so it does. Mencius Moldbug is the blogonym of Curtis Guy Yarvin, a San Francisco software developer and frustrated poet. (Here he is reading a poem at a 1997 open mic.)

According to Yarvin, the child of federal civil servants, he dropped out of a graduate computer science program at U. C. Berkeley in the early 1990s (he has self-consciously noted that he is the only man in his immediate family without a PhD) yet managed to make a small pile of money in the original dot-com bubble. Yarvin betrayed an endearingly strange sense of humor in his student days, posting odd stories and absurdist jokes on bulletin board services, contributing to Wired and writing cranky letters to alternative weekly newspapers.

Yet even as a student at Brown in 1991, Yarvin’s preoccupations with domineering strongmen were evident: “I wonder if the Soviet power ladder of vicious bureaucratic backbiting brings stronger men to the top than the American system of feel-good soundbites,” he wrote in one board discussion.

Yarvin’s public writing tapered off as his software career solidified. In 2007, he reemerged under an angry pseudonym, Moldbug, on a humble Blogspot blog called “Unqualified Reservations.” As might be expected of a “DIY ideology . . . designed by geeks for other geeks,” his political treatises are heavily informed by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas. What set Yarvin apart from the typical keyboard kook was his archaic, grandiose tone, which echoed the snippets Yarvin cherry-picked from obscure old reactionary tracts. Yarvin told one friendly interviewer that he spent $500 a month on books.

Elsewhere he confessed to having taken a grand total of five undergraduate humanities courses (history and creative writing). The lack of higher ed creds hasn’t hurt his confidence. On his blog, Yarvin holds forth oneverything from the intricacies of Korean history to contemporary Pakistani politics, from the proper conduct of a counterinsurgency operation to macroeconomic theory and fiscal policy, and he never gives an inch. “The neat thing about primary sources is that often, it takes only one to prove your point,” he writes.

In short, Moldbug reads like an overconfident autodidact’s imitation of a Lewis Lapham essay—if Lewis Lapham were a fascist teenage Dungeon Master.

Yarvin’s most toxic arguments come snugly wrapped in purple prose and coded language. (For instance,“The Cathedral” is Moldbuggian for the oppressive nexus of liberal newspapers, universities and the State Department, where his father worked after getting a PhD in philosophy from Brown.) By so doing, Moldbug has been able to an attract an audience that welcomes the usual teeth-gnashing white supremacists who haunt the web while also leaving room for a more socially acceptable assortment of “men’s rights” advocates, gun nuts, transhumanist libertarians, disillusioned Occupiers and well-credentialed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

When Justine Tunney posted her petition online, the press treated it like comic relief that came from nowhere. In fact, it is straight Moldbug. Item one, “retire all government employees,” comes verbatim from a 2012 talk that Yarvin gave to an approving crowd of California techies (see video below). In his typical smarmy, meandering style, Yarvin concluded by calling for “a national CEO [or] what’s called a dictator.”

“If Americans want to change their government, they’re going to have to get over their dictator phobia,” Yarvin said in his talk. He conceded that, given the current political divisions, it might be better to have two dictators, one for Red Staters and one for Blue Staters. The trick would be to “make sure they work together.” (Sure. Easy!)

“There’s really no other solution,” Yarvin concluded. The crowd applauded.

This plea for autocracy is the essence of Yarvin’s work. He has concluded that America’s problems come not from a deficit of democracy but from an excess of it—or, as Yarvin puts it, “chronic kinglessness.” Incredible as it sounds, absolute dictatorship may be the least objectionable tenet espoused by the Dark Enlightenment neoreactionaries.

Moldbug is the widely acknowledged lodestar of the movement, but he’s not the only leading figure. Another is Nick Land, a British former academic now living in Shanghai, where he writes admiringly of Chinese eugenics and the impending global reign of “autistic nerds, who alone are capable of participating effectively in the advanced technological processes that characterize the emerging economy.”

These imaginary übermensch have inspired a sprawling network of blogs, sub-Reddits and meetups aimed at spreading their views. Apart from their reverence for old-timey tyrants, they espouse a belief in “human biodiversity,” which is basically racism in a lab coat. This scientific-sounding euphemism invariably refers to supposed differences in intelligence across races. It is so spurious that the Wikipedia article on human biodiversity was deleted because, in the words of one editor, it is “purely an Internet theory.” Censored once again by The Cathedral, alas.

“I am not a white nationalist, but I do read white-nationalist blogs, and I’m not afraid to link to them . . . I am not exactly allergic to the stuff,” Yarvin writes. He also praises a blogger who advocated the deportation of Muslims and the closure of mosques as “probably the most imaginative and interesting right-wing writer on the planet.” Hectoring a Swarthmore history professor, Yarvin rhapsodizes on colonial rule in Southern Africa, and suggests that black people had it better under apartheid. “If you ask me to condemn [mass murderer] Anders Breivik, but adore Nelson Mandela, perhaps you have a mother you’d like to fuck,” Yarvinwrites.

His jargon may be novel, but whenever Mencius Moldbug descends to the realm of the concrete, he offersfamiliar tropes of white victimhood. Yarvin’s favorite author, the nineteenth-century writer Scot Thomas Carlyle, is perhaps best known for his infamous slavery apologia, “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” “If there is one writer in English whose name can be uttered with Shakespeare’s, it is Carlyle,” Yarvin writes. Later in the same essay Yarvin calls slavery “a natural human relationship” akin to “that of patron and client.”

As I soldiered through the Moldbug canon, my reactions numbed. Here he is expressing sympathy for poor, persecuted Senator Joe McCarthy. Big surprise. Here he claims “America is a communist country.” Sure, whatever. Here he doubts that Barack Obama ever attended Columbia University. You don’t say? After a while, Yarvin’s blog feels like the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of a Gwar concert, one sick stunt after another, calculated to shock. To express revulsion and disapproval is to grant the attention he so transparently craves.

Yet the question inevitably arrives: Do we need to take this stuff seriously? The few mainstream assessments of the neoreactionaries have been divided on the question.

Sympathetic citations are spreading: In the Daily Caller, The American Conservative and National Review. Yet the conservative press remains generally dismissive. The American Spectator’s Matthew Walther calls neoreactionism “silly not scary” and declares that “all of these people need to relax: spend some time with P.G. Wodehouse, watch a football game, get drunk, whatever.”

TechCrunch, which first introduced me to Moldbug, treats the “Geeks for Monarchy” movement as an Internet curio. But The Telegraph says, yes, this is “sophisticated neo-fascism” and must be confronted.Vocativ, which calls it “creepy,” agrees that it should be taken seriously.

The science fiction author David Brin goes further in his comment on a Moldbug blog post, accusing the blogger of auditioning for the part of Machiavelli to some future-fascist dictator:

The world oligarchy is looking for boffins to help them re-establish their old – pyramidal – social order. And your screeds are clearly interview essays. “Pick me! Pick me! Look! I hate democracy too! And I will propagandize for people to accept your rule again, really I will! See the fancy rationalizations I can concoct????”

But your audition materials are just . .  too . . . jibbering . . . loopy. You will not get the job.

As strange as it sounds, Brin may be closest to the truth. Neoreactionaries are explicitly courting wealthy elites in the tech sector as the most receptive and influential audience. Why bother with mass appeal, when you’re rebuilding the ancien régime?

Moldbuggism, for now, remains mostly an Internet phenomenon. Which is not to say it is “merely” an Internet phenomenon. This is, after all, a technological age. Last November, Yarvin claimed that his blog had received 500,000 views. It is not quantity of his audience that matters so much as the nature of it, however. And the neoreactionaries do seem to be influencing the drift of Silicon Valley libertarianism, which is no small force today. This is why I have concluded, sadly, that Yarvin needs answering.

If the Koch brothers have proved anything, it’s that no matter how crazy your ideas are, if you put serious money behind those ideas, you can seize key positions of authority and power and eventually bring large numbers of people around to your way of thinking. Moreover, the radicalism may intensify with each generation. Yesterday’s Republicans and Independents are today’s Libertarians. Today’s Libertarians may be tomorrow’s neoreactionaries, whose views flatter the prejudices of the new Silicon Valley elite.

In a widely covered secessionist speech at a Silicon Valley “startup school” last year, there was more than a hint of Moldbug (see video below). The speech, by former Stanford professor and Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasan, never mentioned Moldbug or the Dark Enlightenment, but it was suffused with neoreactionary rhetoric and ideas. Srinivasan used the phrase “the paper belt” to describe his enemies, namely the government, the publishing industries, and universities. The formulation mirrored Moldbug’s “Cathedral.” Srinivasan’s central theme was the notion of “exit”—as in, exit from democratic society, and entry into any number of corporate mini-states whose arrival will leave the world looking like a patchwork map of feudal Europe.

Forget universal rights; this is the true “opt-in society.”

An excerpt:

We want to show what a society run by Silicon Valley would look like. That’s where “exit” comes in . . . . It basically means: build an opt-in society, ultimately outside the US, run by technology. And this is actually where the Valley is going. This is where we’re going over the next ten years . . . [Google co-founder] Larry Page, for example, wants to set aside a part of the world for unregulated experimentation. That’s carefully phrased. He’s not saying, “take away the laws in the U.S.” If you like your country, you can keep it. Same with Marc Andreessen: “The world is going to see an explosion of countries in the years ahead—doubled, tripled, quadrupled countries.”

Srinivasan ticked through the signposts of the neoreactionary fantasyland: Bitcoin as the future of finance, corporate city-states as the future of government, Detroit as a loaded symbol of government failure and 3D-printed firearms as an example of emerging technology that defies regulation.

The speech succeeded in promoting the anti-democratic authoritarianism at the core of neoreactionary thought, while glossing over the attendant bigotry. This has long been a goal of some in the movement. One such moderate—if the word can be used in this context—is Patri Friedman, grandson of the late libertarian demigod Milton Friedman. The younger Friedman expressed the need for “a more politically correct dark enlightenment” after a public falling out with Yarvin in 2009.

Friedman has lately been devoting his time (and leveraging his family name) to raise money for the SeaSteading Institute, which, as the name suggests, is a blue-sea libertarian dream to build floating fiefdoms free of outside regulation and law. Sound familiar?

The principal backer of the SeaSteading project, Peter Thiel, is also an investor in companies run by Balaji Srinivasan and Curtis Yarvin. Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal, an original investor in Facebook and hedge fund manager, as well as being the inspiration for a villainous investor on the satirical HBO series Silicon Valley. Thiel’s extreme libertarian advocacy is long and storied, beginning with his days founding the Collegiate Network-backed Stanford Review. Lately he’s been noticed writing big checks for Ted Cruz.

He’s invested in Yarvin’s current startup, Tlon. Thiel invested personally in Tlon co-founder John Burnham. In 2011, at age 18, Burnham accepted $100,000 from Thiel to skip college and go directly into business. Instead of mining asteroids as he originally intended, Burnham wound up working on obscure networking software with Yarvin, whose title at Tlon is, appropriately enough, “benevolent dictator for life.”

California libertarian software developers inhabit a small and shallow world. It should be no surprise then, that, although Thiel has never publicly endorsed Yarvin’s side project specifically, or the neoreactionary program in general, there is definitely a whiff of something Moldbuggy in Thiel’s own writing. For instance, Thiel echoed Moldbug in an infamous 2009 essay for the Cato Institute in which he explained that he had moved beyond libertarianism. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel wrote.

Thiel’s eponymous foundation funds, among other things, an institute to advance the ideas of a conservative Stanford academic, René Girard, under whom Thiel studied as an undergraduate. In 2012 Thiel delivered a lecture at Stanford that explained his views regarding the divine rights of Silicon Valley CEOs. The lecture did address some of Girard’s ideas about historical “mimetics,” but it also contained a heavy dose of Moldbuggian thought. Thiel says:

A startup is basically structured as a monarchy. We don’t call it that, of course. That would seem weirdly outdated, and anything that’s not democracy makes people uncomfortable. We are biased toward the democratic-republican side of the spectrum. That’s what we’re used to from civics classes. But the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups.

Might a dictatorial approach, in Thiel’s opinion, also work better for society at large? He doesn’t say so in his Stanford lecture (although he does cast tech CEOs as the heirs to mythical “god-kings” such as Romulus). But Thiel knows where to draw the line in mixed company. Ordinary people get so “uncomfortable” when powerful billionaires start talking about the obsolescence of participatory government and “the unthinking demos,” as he put it in his Cato essay. Stupid proles! They don’t deserve our brilliance! “The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom,” Thiel wrote.

It is clear that Thiel sees corporations as the governments of the future and capitalists such as himself as the kings, and it is also clear that this is a shockingly common view in Thiel’s cohort. In a 2011 New Yorkerprofile, George Packer wrote:

Thiel and his circle in Silicon Valley may be able to imagine a future that would never occur to other people precisely because they’ve refused to leave that stage of youthful wonder which life forces most human beings to outgrow . . . . He wants to live forever, have the option to escape to outer space or an oceanic city-state, and play chess against a robot that can discuss Tolkien, because these were the fantasies that filled his childhood imagination.

Packer is perhaps too generous to his subject. But he captures the fundamental problem with these mouthbreathers’ dreams of monarchy. They’ve never role-played the part of the peasant.

Corey Pein is a writer and reporter in Brighton, England. He offers free samples at