China and the US: The Past’s Dead Hand

 

 

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by CONN HALLINAN

 

A major cause of current tensions in the East and South China seas are two documents that most Americans have either forgotten about or don’t know exist. But both are fueling a potential confrontation among the world’s three most powerful economies that is far more unstable and dangerous than most people assume.

Consider what has happened over the past six months:

1)  In February, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured Japan that the Americans would defend Japan in case of a military confrontation between Tokyo and Beijing.  That same month, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the Philippines could count on American support if there were a clash with China in the South China Sea.

2)  In early May, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces practiced “retaking” islands of the Amami Group near Okinawa in a not-so-subtle challenge to China over the ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. That same week, U.S. and Philippine forces held joint war games, while President Barack Obama promised “ironclad” support against “aggressive” neighbors seeking to alter “changing the status quo” in Asia.

3)  In mid-May, China challenged Japanese ownership of Okinawa, stating it did “not belong to Japan,” challenging Tokyo, and indirectly calling in to question the presence of huge U.S. bases on the island.

4)  At the end of May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Tokyo would support the Philippines, Vietnam, and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in their disputes with Beijing over islands and shoals in the South China Seas.

5)  On July 1, the Abe government “re-interpreted” Article 9 of its peace constitution to allow Japan to use military force in support of its allies. U.S. allies in the region supported the move. The Philippines agreed to allow the U.S. military use of the former American base at Subic Bay.

American naval vessels have accused the Chinese Navy of playing chicken off China’s coast. Chinese ships are blockading Philippine ships near a number of disputed shoals and reefs. Vietnam claims China rammed some of its ships. Japan scrambled a record number of fighter planes to intercept supposed incursions by Chinese and Russian aircraft. U.S. Senator John McCain called China “a rising threat,” and the Pentagon’s Frank Kandell told the House Armed Forces Committee that U.S. military superiority in the Pacific was “not assured.”

In short, “tense” doesn’t quite describe the situation in Asia these days, more like “scary.”

A major source of that friction are two documents, the 1951 “San Francisco Treaty” that ended World War II in Asia, and a little known doctrine called the AirSea Battle plan.

According to research by Kimie Hara, the Director of East Asian Studies at Renison University College and the author of numerous books on the Cold War in Asia, today’s tensions were purposely built into the 1951 Treaty. “Close examination of the Allies’ documents, particularly those of the United States (which was primarily responsible for drafting the peace treaty), reveals that some, if not all, of these problems were intentionally created or left unresolved to protect U.S. strategic interests.”

Hara say the U.S. wanted to create “strategic ambiguity” and “manageable instability” that would allow the U.S. to continue a major military presence in the region. She specifically points to disagreements over the Kurile/Northern Territories Islands, the Dokdo/Takeshima islands, the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the Spratley/Nansha and Paracel/Xisha islands, the divided Korea, and the Taiwan Straits. All of these—plus a few others—have led to tensions or confrontations among Japan, China, Russia, the Philippines, Vietnam, South and North Korea, Malaysia and Brunei.

Neither China nor Korea was invited to the Treaty talks, and while the USSR was present, it was not a signatory.

Sometimes the U.S. directly sabotaged efforts to resolve issues among Asian nations. In 1954, Japan and the Soviet Union restored diplomatic relations and were on the verge of cutting a deal over the Kurlies/Northern Territory islands, essentially splitting the difference: Japan would take two islands, the USSR another two.

However, Washington was worried that a peace treaty between Tokyo and Moscow would eventually lead to diplomatic ties between Japan and communist China, and that would have exerted, says Hara, “considerable pressure on the United States to vacate Okinawa, whose importance had significantly increased as a result of the Americas’ Cold War strategy in Asia.” Okinawa was a major base for the U.S. during the Korean War.

So Washington torpedoed the deal, telling Tokyo that if it did not demand all four islands, the U.S. would not return Okinawa to Japan. The U.S. knew the Soviets would reject the Japanese demand, which would scuttle efforts to reduce tensions between the two nations. There is still no peace treaty between Russia and Japan.

AirSea Battle (ASB) has been official U.S. military doctrine in Asia since 2010, and what it calls for is chilling: the military defeat—WW II style—of China. Not even during the height of the Cold War did the U.S. and it allies envision defeating the Soviet Union, seeking to rather “contain” it.

In the 1990s, China began building a military that could defend its coastal waters. Called “denial of access,” it includes a variety of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, stealth submarines, cyber warfare and space surveillance. China’s turn from its traditional reliance on land forces to “denial of access” was given a major push in 1996 when the Clinton administration deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Straits during a period of tension between China and Taiwan. Beijing could do nothing about it, and the Chinese military was deeply embarrassed.

ASB is designed to neutralize “denial of access” by “blinding” Chinese radar and surveillance capabilities, destroying missile sites and command centers, and, according to Amitai Etzioni of Washington University—author of books on U.S. foreign policy and a former Senior Advisor to the White House under Jimmy Carter—allowing U.S. military forces to “enter contested zones and conclude the conflict by bringing to bear the full force of their material military advantage.”

A land invasion of China?

The potential dangers involved in such an undertaking are sobering. Since ASB includes strikes deep into Chinese territory, Beijing might assume such attacks were directed at China’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The general rule with nukes is “use them or lose them.” According to Etzioni, the Center for Strategic and International Studies concludes that, “China is likely to respond to what is effectively a major attack on its mainland with all the military means at its disposal—including its stockpile of nuclear arms.”

While Pentagon officials claim that ASB is not aimed at any particular country, China is the only power in Asia capable of “access denial” to the U.S. military. Etzioni quotes one “senior Naval official” as saying “AirSea Battle is all about convincing the Chinese that we will win this competition.”

The Chinese are fully aware of ASB, which does much to explain their recent assertiveness in the East China Sea. The Diaoyu/Senkakus are part of the “first island chain” through which Chinese submarines and surface craft must pass in order to exit Chinese coastal waters. If Japan controls those islands it can detect—and with anti-ship missiles destroy—anyone going from China to the Pacific.

The South China Sea disputes also find their roots in the San Francisco Treaty. China has a good case that Japan’s claim to the Diaoyu/Senkakus violates the 1945 Potsdam Agreement. Potsdam was supposed to dismantle Japan’s empire, including territories that it had seized during its years of expansion. The Diaoyu/Senkakus were absorbed by Japan following the1894-5 Sino-Japanese War, so China has a solid ownership argument.

However, it can make no such case for the Spratleys, Parcels or reefs and shoals of the South China Sea. It may be that defense considerations are driving some of those disputes—most of China’s energy supplies transit the region—but oil, gas and fishing rights would seem to loom larger. In any case, China appears to be in violation of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that guarantees countries a 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone.” China, using a 19th century “nine dash line” map claims “indisputable sovereignty” over 3.5 million sq. kilometers of the South China Sea, a sea that borders six nations and through which one third of the world’s shipping passes.

While China’s forceful behavior in the East China Sea is somewhat understandable, throwing its weight around in the South China Sea has given the U.S. an opportunity to exploit the situation. Because of tensions between China the Philippines, the U.S. military was invited back into the islands. And China’s unilateral actions in the Paracels has some Vietnamese talking about a military relationship with Washington.

All sides need to take a step back.

China should adhere to a 2002 ASEAN code of conduct to consult and negotiate its disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines, and to bring the issue of the Diaoyu/Senkaku before the International Court.

The U.S. should back off its blank check support for the rightwing Abe government. Tokyo started this fight in 2010 by first arresting a Chinese fisherman—thus violating an agreement not to apply domestic trespassing laws to fishing violations—and then unilaterally declaring sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkakus in 2012, a violation of a 1972 agreement with China to leave that issue up to negotiations.

Washington sould also reverse its expensive expansion of military forces in Asia—the so-called “Asia pivot”—and reconsider the folly of the AirSea Battle doctrine. According to Raoul Heinrich of Australian University, ASB “will greatly increase the range of circumstances for maritime brinkmanship and dangerous naval incidents.” Establishing military “hot lines” between the major powers in the region would also  be helpful.

The current tensions are exactly what the San Francisco Treaty was designed to do: divide and conquer. But with the potential dangers of escalation embedded in the doctrine of AirSea Battle, local tensions are threatening international order.

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com

 

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/31/the-pasts-dead-hand/

Israel: David Ben-Gurion

ben-gurion-photo-2

 

 

“If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. ” –  David Ben-Gurion (Polish born Israeli Statesman and Prime Minister (1948-53, 1955-63).
“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” – David Ben-Gurion, a.k.a. David Grün (1886-1973), Israeli Prime Minister (1948-53, 1955-63) revered by Israelis as “Father of the Nation”

 

The Media Ignores the CIA in Ukraine

 

Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain

 

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by BILL BLUNDEN

 

A few days back the Economist published an essay which dismissed the idea of fascists in Kiev as an illusory product of Russian propaganda[1]. This is a narrative which the editors at the Economist have put forth on a number of occasions[2]. Of course they’re not alone. A less flagrant article published by the New York Times editorial board used a weird double negative to assert that “Russian leaders prefer not to accept that the C.I.A. did not engineer the preference of many Ukrainians for what they see in the West[3].”

All the world’s a stage wrote Shakespeare. Are readers supposed to categorically assume that U.S. intelligence has played absolutely no role in the coup d’état? So far the bulk of the American media’s coverage of the Ukraine deftly sidesteps the CIA’s role.

Yet all of the signs are there. Former CIA Officer John Stockwell explained that “stirring up deadly ethnic and racial strife has been a standard technique used by the CIA.[4]” Students of history (e.g. Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile, and Nicaragua) will also recognize many of the hallmarks of a covert destabilization operation.

Witness senator John McCain sharing a stage with Oleh Tyahnybok in the early days of the coup[5], CIA director Brennan’s discreet visit to the Ukraine (buried near the end of a Reuters brief)[6], the taped phone call where Victoria Nuland essentially selects who would replace the deposed president[7], or the disproportionate number of high-level officials in the new government linked to neo-fascist groups.

This last point is particularly telling and worth highlighting because the CIA has a well-documented history of supporting authoritarian regimes. If the far-right represents only a small contingent of the Ukrainian electorate, as we’ve been told by allegedly credible sources like Timothy Snyder[8], how exactly did they end up with so many powerful government slots?

A report by FAIR provides unsettling details[9]:

“The new deputy prime minister, Oleksandr Sych, is from Svoboda; National Security Secretary Andriy Parubiy is a co-founder of the neo-Nazi Social-National Party, Svoboda’s earlier incarnation; the deputy secretary for National Security is Dmytro Yarosh, the head of Right Sector. Chief prosecutor Oleh Makhnitsky is another Svoboda member, as are the ministers for Agriculture and Ecology”

As far as current CIA operational details are concerned the corporate media has enforced line discipline across the board. This shouldn’t come as any surprise as the media’s penetration by the intelligence community has been public knowledge since the days of the Church Committee Report. In fact, in May of this year the White House (in a screw-up of epic proportions) accidentally leaked the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan to roughly 6,000 reporters[10].

The White House asked reporters to dutifully “zip it” and that’s exactly what they did. The one reporter who dared to cross the line and mention the station chief’s name and in print, Ted Rall, was summarily fired before he got the chance[11].  Never mind that this sort of information is all over[12] the Internet[13].

There’s very little doubt that Russia is lending support to rebel forces in the West. At the same time the tendency of news outlets like the Economist, owned in part by wealthy financial interests[14], to faithfully shun introspection with regard to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict reflects the elite mindset of exceptionalism.

To understand the forces at work, consider a passage from Chapter 7 (page 324) of Tragedy and Hope, an unusual book written by Georgetown professor named Carroll Quigley back in the 1960s:

“The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences”

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, western elites largely did away with a countervailing ideological alternative and were one step closer to realizing their goal of corporate state capture. The pieces on Brzezinski’s grand chessboard were rearranged. The interests behind the imperial brain trust, the team that conducted the CFR’s War and Peace Studies, saw their opening. Karl Rove aptly crystallized the prevailing mindset[15]:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do”

The empire has its sights on expansion. Despite promises made to Gorbachev decades ago by then Secretary of State James Baker that NATO wouldn’t expand into former Soviet countries, that’s exactly what’s been underway[16]. Putin can see this happening and if he’s meddling in the Ukraine it’s only because he’s following the CIA’s lead.

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.

End Notes


[1] “A Web of lies: Russia, MH17 and the West,” Economist, July 26, 2014, http://www.economist.com/node/21608645/print

[2] “The End of the Beginning?” Economist, March 8, 2014,

http://www.economist.com/node/21598744/print

[3] “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War: Downing of Malaysia Jet Is a Call to End Ukraine Conflict,” New York Times, July 17, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/opinion/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine-putin-russia.html

[4] John Stockwell, The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order, South End Press, 1999, ISBN-13: 978-0896083950

[5] Michel Chossudovsky, “There are No Neo-Nazis in Ukraine. And the Obama Administration does not support Fascists,” Global Research, March 1, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/there-are-no-neo-nazis-in-the-ukraine-and-the-obama-administration-does-not-support-fascists/5370269

[6] Jeff Mason and Arshad Mohammed, “Obama blasts Russia in tense call with Putin over Ukraine,” Reuters, April 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/14/us-ukraine-crisis-obama-idUSBREA3D1DH2140414

[7] “A New Cold War? Ukraine Violence Escalates, Leaked Tape Suggests U.S. Was Plotting Coup,” Democracy Now! February 20, 2014, http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/20/a_new_cold_war_ukraine_violence#

[8] Timothy Snyder, “Ukraine: The Edge of Democracy,” The New York Review of Books, May 22, 2014, http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/may/22/ukraine-edge-democracy/

[9] Jim Naureckas, “Denying the Far-Right Role in the Ukrainian Revolution,” FAIR, March 7, 2014, http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/03/07/denying-the-far-right-role-in-the-ukrainian-revolution/

[10] Michael D. Shear, “White House Orders Review After Spy’s Name Is Revealed,” New York Times, May 27, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/world/white-house-orders-review-after-spys-name-is-revealed.html

[11] “Ted Rall: I Know a Secret [exclusive],” aNewDomain, June 27, 2014, http://anewdomain.net/2014/06/27/ted-rall-i-know-a-secret-a-cia-secret/

[15] Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” New York Times, October 17, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html

[16] Peter Beinart, “No, American Weakness Didn’t Encourage Putin to Invade Ukraine,” Atlantic, March 3, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/03/no-american-weakness-didnt-encourage-putin-to-invade-ukraine/284168/

 

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/30/the-media-ignores-the-cia-in-ukraine/

Their dams provide innumerable ecological benefits. So why haven’t they been restored to their natural habitats?

, TomDispatch.com

How beavers can save the American West
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

The great novelist Wallace Stegner sorted the conflicting impulses in his beloved American West into two camps. There were the “boomers” who saw the frontier as an opportunity to get rich quick and move on: the conquistadors, the gold miners, the buffalo hunters, the land scalpers, and the dam-building good ol’ boys. They are still with us, trying to drill and frack their way to Easy Street across our public lands. Then there were those Stegner called the “nesters” or “stickers” who came to stay and struggled to understand the land and its needs. Their quest was to become native.

That division between boomers and nesters is, of course, too simple.  All of us have the urge to consume and move on, as well as the urge to nest, so our choices are rarely clear or final. Today, that old struggle in the American West is intensifying as heat-parched, beetle-gnawed forests ignite in annual epic firestorms, reservoirs dry up, and Rocky Mountain snow is ever more stained with blowing desert dust.

The modern version of nesters are the conservationists who try to partner with the ecosystems where they live. Wounded landscapes, for example, can often be restored by unleashing nature’s own self-healing powers. The new nesters understand that you cannot steer and control an ecosystem but you might be able to dance with one.  Sage Sorensen dances with beavers.

Dances with Beavers

The dance floor is my Utah backyard, which, like most backyards out here, is a watershed.  At its top is the Aquarius Plateau, the horizon I see from my deck, a gracefully rolling forest of pines and aspens that stretches for 50 miles to the south, 20 miles wide at its midpoint, and reaches 11,300 feet at its highest ridge.

The forest on top of the plateau is unique, as trees rarely grow almost two miles above sea level.  That high forest is heated by the deserts that fall away around the plateau’s shoulders, culminating in the amber, bone, and honey-toned canyons of Capitol Reef National Park on its eastern flank and on the west by Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.



During a long career with the Bureau of Land Management, Sage Sorenson saw firsthand how beavers created rich green habitat out of overgrazed and burned-over land.  Now retired, he calls himself a “beaver believer” and devotes his days to monitoring and protecting scattered “remnant” beaver colonies in our region. Quietly but persistently, he advocates for their reintroduction onto stressed landscapes that need their services.

Beavers are the original geo-engineers.  It’s no exaggeration to credit them for their major role in building the North American landscape.  In pre-colonial times, there were as many as 400 million of them.  They used their big buckteeth and tough paddle-tails to build dams across every stream imaginable, spreading water to a Noah’s Ark-worth of creatures that thrive in the wet habitats they create.  Now, of course, they are mostly long gone from the land, and conservationists want them back.

Sorenson recently trained and got certified to trap and transport beavers in anticipation of restocking the streams that tumble down the Aquarius Plateau.  He is convinced that it is only a matter of time before they are reintroduced.  After all, several of those streams have already been scientifically assessed and identified as prime candidates for such a reintroduction program.   But when I talked to him at a café in the small hamlet of Boulder, Utah, he was feeling discouraged.

A remnant colony of beavers along North Creek, he told me, is just about gone.  Over the last two years, at least 34 of them have been illegally shot or legally trapped by a local irrigation company.  Although beaver reintroduction is getting rave reviews in places like Scotland where the last one had been trapped out hundreds of years ago and Oregon where they are healing land hammered by logging, in Utah the road back will be rough.

Flat-Tail Climate Hero

Beavers were once abundant across the Aquarius Plateau, but they have now retreated to its high headwaters where they do not compete with cattle or cowboys with guns. Visiting them requires strong lungs for steep hikes and sturdy boots to navigate flooded meadows.  Up close, beavers look like especially large rodents that swim.  Call them cute if you care to, but a wet mammal that smells like its mud hut is neither cuddly nor charismatic.  They are not, in other words, like the penguins or polar bears that adorn fundraising appeals from wildlife advocates.

Nevertheless, as Sage patiently explains, they are key to the restoration of damaged watersheds. First, their dams create ponds and wetlands for diverse plants, amphibians, fish, and fowl. Eventually, those ponds fill with silt and become meadows, creating yet more habitat for another round of plants and animals.

Letting beavers do their work is one powerful way to make the land and its creatures resilient in a time of climatological stress.  For example, across the planet a wide range of amphibians, including frogs and salamanders, are declining fast, becoming rare or extinct.  Their sudden decline may be due to habitat loss, pollution, viruses enabled by a warming climate, or all of the above, but their disappearance is one more measure of the ecological catastrophe now underway.  Beavers make wet habitat where amphibians can recover and thrive.

The aquatic insects that bloom in wetlands feed populations of stressed songbirds. Their ponds shelter fingerling fish — beavers are vegetarians — and baby ducks.  Beavers are ecological servants par excellence who give life to the land.  They are not only beneficial agents of biodiversity, however: humans benefit, too.

In Western forests, the beaver’s stick-in-the-mud architecture spreads, slows, and deepens the flow of water from spring runoff so that it recharges underground aquifers, springs, and seeps. Slowing that runoff means that the streams feeding reservoirs last longer, possibly all summer.  That’s important for local agriculture, which depends on irrigation.  Beaver dams improve water quality by trapping sediment that filters pollution. A lush-green landscape also inhibits landslides, floods, and fire.  So beavers are not only good for the usual crew of endangered species, but also for millions of humans whose drinking water originates in heat-stressed watersheds that could be restored by the beaver’s hydrological habits.

Considering all the benefits beavers bring with them, why haven’t we rushed to return them to their keystone role in the Western landscape?  The simple answer to a complicated question is one word: cows.

When beavers re-occupy their historic homelands, they compete with the human economy that once drove them deep into the wilds.  Farmers and ranchers who irrigate their fields via ditches and culverts hate them.  There are simple techniques to guard against beavers clogging irrigation systems but they are either unlearned or resisted as yet another example of unwanted government intrusion on Western life.  Across the rural West, ranchers have power and influence way beyond their numbers or their contribution to the economy.

The Elephant in the Room Is a Cow  

One man’s keystone species is another’s varmint.  For conservationists like Sorenson who are devoted to bringing beavers back, seeing one with a bullet hole in it is not just sad, but taken as a very personal warning.  Despite the popularity and success of beaver reintroduction elsewhere, in much of the American West it runs into an outsized obstacle — the iconic western cow.  Not ol’ Bossy chewing a cud in Wisconsin, but the wild steer chased by a cowboy with a lasso yelling “yeeha!”  That cow is sacred.

In reality, cattle ranching is a tough, marginal business in this part of America and grazing on public lands makes it possible.  In other words, it’s heavily subsidized by distant taxpayers. Those grazing fees Cliven Bundy objects tocost less than a buck and a half per cow per month for all it can eat on federal land — food stamps for cows, indeed.   Cattle ranchers, whose families have been on the land for generations, think of grazing allotments on federal land as an entitlement, even if that attitude contradicts the image of the independent cowboy they cherish.  About 250 million acres — or more than half of the federal lands administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — are open to cattle grazing, and that’s a large arena where cowboys and conservationists compete.

Moving cows out of sensitive riparian areas (streams and springs) or putting competitors like wolves and beavers onto the land with them is seen by ranchers as the start of a slippery slope that might lead to removing cows altogether.  That is, however, unlikely.  In the West, cows rule.  The soundtrack of Manifest Destiny may once have been the sharp crack of gunfire aimed at Indians and wolves, but it was followed by a mellow moo.  Cows graze over the bones of bison and the other creatures we eliminated to make room for them.

Our Dams, Not Theirs

Like the beavers they replaced, cows have reshaped the land — not, in their case, by creating habitat but by destroying it.  The pioneers who first came upon southern Utah described the vast grasslands they found there.  That grass is long gone.  The soil blew away, too, and rusting fences now swing above gullies or are buried under dunes.  When millions of cows and sheep were let loose on that fragile soil, massive erosion and the disappearance of that vast native grassland followed.  It never came back. When Congress finally stepped in and passed grazing regulations in 1934, improvements followed.

Conservationists claim that cows are today contributing to the die-off of the West’s beloved aspen groves by eating tree seedlings and short-circuiting forest succession. They also spread highly flammable cheat grass in their voluminous poop.  But whatever damage cows do directly to public lands pales in comparison to the way the infrastructure necessary for the cattle business hascaptured western water sources and de-watered western lands.

Stegner’s boomers dammed thousands of rivers and streams, while building pipelines through our national forests down to valley floors.  Aqueducts, canals, and tunnels followed.  The growth of many western towns is rooted in the building of a water infrastructure that has allowed us to suck the forests dry in order to irrigate the fields of alfalfa that feed those cows.  And yet — hold onto your hats for this — only a miniscule 3% of the nation’s beef is raised in the West.

Yet at least 80% of the water out here goes to alfalfa and other cow-food crops.  When you get those dire warnings about the Colorado River going dryand Phoenix and Vegas blowing away, remember this: because the cattlemen own the rights, cows get a lion’s share of whatever water is left after the western watersheds are baked and burned.  We grow so much cow-food that we now essentially export our precious water to China in the form of alfalfa.

Beavers as Underdogs 

Now maybe you’re beginning to see just why the odds are so stacked against the lowly beaver. Americans have forgotten the formative nature of our relationship with that creature.  Not only did European explorers encounter a landscape that had been thoroughly carved out and watered by them, but a robust trade in beaver pelts drove settlement.  Pelts that were made into warm hats for wealthy people were a kind of rodent gold and trappers couldn’t get enough of them.

Under the grinding wheel of a voracious commerce in furs, beavers were so trapped-out that they seemed to be headed for the fate of the once plentiful but now extinct passenger pigeon. This precipitous decline was reversed by one of North America’s earliest conservation campaigns.

In the 1920s, through the new medium of film the public imagination was captured by a Canadian Indian named Grey Owl.  He lived on a lake with his wife, Anahareo, and raised orphaned beaver kits, explaining their ecological importance and the consequences of their loss to a public unfamiliar with the beaver’s role in keeping forests healthy.  As the original beaver-believers cuddled their kits, audiences ooohed and aaahed.

Eventually Grey Owl was exposed as Archie Belaney, an Englishman posing as an Indian, but by then the message he had delivered had been translated into governance.  Beaver trapping was strictly regulated across most of the West and eventually many colonies recovered.  Today, there are far more beavers in North America, perhaps 10 million, than at their near-extinction moment, but their distribution on the land remains thin and uneven.  Once upon a time, hundreds of millions of them helped create the American landscape.  It would be fitting if, in the era of global warming, the beaver’s influence came full circle, this time as a means of making heat-stressed landscapes more resilient.

Are Beavers a Plot Against Humanity?

Most of the land in the American West is federally owned and managed, despite recent schemes by local tea-hadis to take it over and sell it to the highest bidder (or closest crony).  Because federal lands are a national treasure that we own together, there are rules for the sustainable use of it and sanctions for abuse.  Those rules and policies are negotiated by stakeholders and change over time.  That is happening now as our forests and grasslands are baked by prolonged drought.

In 2009, a Utah Beaver Advisory Committee composed of wildlife biologists, forest rangers, ranchers, trappers, farmers, and conservationists hammered out a plan to restore healthy beaver populations to their historic range across Utah “where appropriate.”  The beaver’s ecological service was finally acknowledged, but with the proviso that it be balanced against “human needs.”  Getting such an endorsement for restoration and protection, however qualified, was an important first step and a catalyst for a grassroots campaign to “leave it to beavers.”

An agreement had been reached among stakeholders traditionally at odds.  It was a rare feat of consensus building in a political environment where acrimony generally reigns supreme and it could have been a model for resolving other conflicts over land use and regulation.  Instead, local politicians, in a panic that beavers might “steal” water, have effectively resisted it.

Joe Wheaton, who teaches watershed hydrology and restoration at Utah State University, says the science on this is clear: there is no net water loss downstream from beaver dams.  If anything, they only increase a watershed’s capacity by capturing water that would otherwise be lost to floods.  But the cattlemen aren’t buying it. Science, you see, is just another liberal ideology.  As a Kane County commissioner put it succinctly, “Beavers are an environmentalist plot.” Think of those dead beavers along North Creek that Sage Sorenson described to me as collateral damage in the ideological civil war now raging across the region.

You Can’t Drink an F-35

The Grand Canyon Trust and a local citizens group, Boulder Community Alliance, have tried to fill the gap between the advisory group’s clear intention and the state’s hesitance to overrule obstructionist county commissioners and actually implement the plan.  The Trust recruited local volunteers and trained them to assess canyon drainages using the best scientific criteria and methods available.  Several streams were identified as candidates for beaver reintroduction.

Volunteers monitor and report on the few existing beaver settlements like the one being decimated in North Creek. Through education and advocacy they are building a constituency for putting beavers back on the land to do their job.  They have faith that the benefits of beaver reintroduction will become obvious as re-habitation happens. When the time comes to move beavers into new streams, they will be ready.

The kind of homegrown resilience practiced by Sage Sorenson and thousands of other backyard conservationists gets a paltry piece of the taxpayer pie compared, say, to homeland security.  I used to say that in the long run we’d be wiser to invest in restoring watersheds than putting a camera on every corner.  As it happens, given the tenacious drought now spreading across the West and Southwest, the long run seems to be here, sooner than expected.  Even the Pentagon now acknowledges that ecological catastrophe sows human turmoil and suffering that eventually blows back our way.  For the cost of just one of the 2,400 F-35 fighter jets we are committed to buying at historic prices, we could restore the stressed Aquarius watershed.

But the beavers don’t care what we do.  They just do their own thing.  They are like their human partners: persistent and oh so local.

Saving The World, Stick by Stick 

Each ecosystem has its own particular dynamic.  There are endless variables to understand. That’s why conservation work is ultimately local.  It focuses on improvements in this river and that forest, specific habitats and watersheds with specific conditions and a set of specific inhabitants and users.

The world we aim to save is a planet of mundane dirt, air, and water that, when woven together, somehow becomes a transcendent whole.  It’s a diverse universe of living plants and critters not well-suited for one big solution.  Rather, it calls forth a million small solutions that add up, like the natural world itself, to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Or perhaps there are no parts at all, just participants.

Will introducing beavers onto wounded watersheds save the world?  The answer is: yes.  That and all the other acts of restoration, protection, and restraint, small and large, individual and collective, taken together over time.  Sure, it’s not the same as the U.S. taxing carbon or China abandoning coal.  Restoring a watershed doesn’t curb the corporations that reduce communities to commodities. But in addition to the global goals we support, our responses to ecological crisis must be grounded in the places where we live, especially in the watersheds that nourish our bodies.

Rewilding tattered land is holistic because it sees and honors connectivity.  It trades hubris for humility by acknowledging complexity and limitations.  Its ultimate goal is landscape health and resilience, not the well-being of a small handful of stakeholders.

If we want to construct a healthy and resilient world for ourselves and our fellow creatures, we could do worse than look to the lowly beavers for hints on how it can be done. They build a vibrant world for themselves and so many others by weaving one small limb into another, stick by stick by stick.

 

A former grassroots organizer and librarian, Chip Ward writes from Torrey, Utah. He is the author of two books, “Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West” and “Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land.” His essays can be found by here.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/30/how_beavers_can_save_the_american_west_partner/?source=newsletter

Recuperating Marcuse against a culture of cruelty

by James Anderson on July 29, 2014

Post image for Recuperating Marcuse against a culture of crueltyCan an affective politics based on Marcuse’s pleasure principle help us overcome our culture of violence and prefigure relations of love and pleasure?

Image: Students look through a window marked with bullet holes in Isla Vista, California, on May 24, 2014, after 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers shot, stabbed and killed multiple victims at the University of California Santa Barbara campus.

Herbert Marcuse, the Berlin-born theorist who started teaching at the University of California San Diego in 1965, and who died exactly 35 years ago today, provided a critique of modern domination that inspired student-worker uprisings in May 1968 and influenced the New Left, including students at the University of California.

His work also inspired counter-revolution.

As governor of California, intent on privatizing the state’s university system, Ronald Reagan referenced in disgust the “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you,” referring to the free love counter-culture ethos elaborated early on in Eros and Civilization, Marcuse’s first major anti-capitalist critique, published in 1955, synthesizing Freudian and Marxian theory. Reagan reaffirmed the “naturalness and rightness of a vertical structuring of society,” and “the right of man to achieve above the capacity of his fellows” — a reactionary defense of existing order and hierarchy.

In a 1971 memo authored two months before his nomination for the Supreme Court, Lewis F. Powell echoed Reagan’s reactionary sentiments and told the US Chamber of Commerce that there must “be no hesitation to attack … the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the enterprise system” — a system Marcuse understood as one of un-freedom.

In light of the counter-revolutionary successes after Reagan and Powell, Marcuse’s “philosophy of psychoanalysis” in Eros and Civilization must be repurposed to go beyond the new system of violence so as to prefigure relations of love and pleasure, not domination.

Neoliberalism and our “Culture of Cruelty”

Violence, a pain-causing process present whenever there is a difference between the actual and potential for a person or people, pervades the social fabric in insidious ways now made apparent when relations of repression result in outbursts, with root causes rarely understood.

The killings in Isla Vista, near the University of California Santa Barbara campus, where 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers stabbed to death three people and shot two women on May 23 in a “day of retribution” after being — or feeling — sexually rejected by the opposite sex, are repudiated as emblematic of gun violence or denounced as exemplars of misogynist culture.

However, analysis seldom digs deeper to unearth the violence embedded in the way we organize ourselves, our production and reproduction as a species. Commentary fails to engage with the repression induced by those oppressive social relations.

Marcuse termed this “surplus-repression,” referring to the organized domination in modern society over and above the basic level repression of instincts psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed necessary for civilization. That “surplus-repression” exists now in a more extreme form.

Neoliberalism, the contemporary form of capitalism, structures this “surplus-repression” and engenders what Henry Giroux suggested is a widespread “culture of cruelty,” which normalizes violence to such a degree that mass shootings recur regularly. Analyses of individual psychopathy and of real cultural problems abound, but the inquiries cut those acts “off from any larger systemic forces at work in society.”

Shootings like the one in Isla Vista are products of our “culture of cruelty,” but the insidious causes demand critique of “larger systemic forces at work,” as Giroux argued. This has to go beyond commentary calling for tighter gun laws and beyond feminist responses throwing light on the endemic misogyny that systematically dehumanize women. Those analyses are apt but also insufficient, as is criticism without consideration for conditions of possibility.

To go beyond the “culture of cruelty” characteristic of neoliberalism requires organizing social movements in ways that reflect — or prefigure — the more just society we would like to see. A prefigurative political project, where the ends are in many ways immanent in the means, must cultivate política afectiva, an affective politics based on forging bonds of love and trust. This is the only way to break through the hegemony of neoliberal relations that forcefully binds us together while simultaneously wrenching us apart.

Systemic Neoliberal Domination and Alienation

Neoliberalism is a class project, advanced since the early 1970s, to consolidate wealth and social power. Money, Marxist analyst David Harvey argued, is a representation of the value of exploited social labor given greater priority under neoliberalism. It can be accumulated potentially ad infinitum, as opposed to other commodities like yachts — although a select few certainly try to acquire a lot of those too! Money, or capital generally, is essentially our own alienated labor power in symbolic form, which comes to exert a tremendous material power over that which it is supposed to represent. And it functions as a weapon enabling some to exert power over others.

As Marcuse averred, “domination is exercised by a particular group or individual in order to sustain and enhance itself in a privileged position.” But domination does not just happen. Its roots are in the social relations central to the current reproduction of our everyday lives.

Marx wrote more than a century ago that once a certain stage of capitalist production is reached, a capitalist must function “as capital personified,” as a slave to a system of violence, in control of the labor of others but also controlled by the prerogatives of capital, “value which can perform its own valorization process, an animated monster which begins to ‘work … as if its body were by love possessed.’”

The capitalist is beholden to the “performance principle,” “the prevailing historical form of the reality principle,” per Marcuse. Freud had earlier coined the concept of the “reality principle,” to refer the repressive organization of sexuality that subjects or sublimates our innate sexual instincts to “the primacy of genitality,” at the expense of powerful Eros that could allow for a radically different society. The “performance principle” presupposes particular forms of rationality for domination, and it stratifies society, Marcuse wrote, “according to the competitive economic performances of its members.”

Neoliberalism, a market rationality and “mode of public pedagogy,” represses Eros by reducing human relations to exchange. Neoliberal pedagogy posits us as self-interested individual actors out for our own self-aggrandizement through the ubiquity of market relations. Covert privatization, like increasing tuition and fees for higher education, reifies the neoliberal ethic in ways that make it appear natural. Use values must be converted into exchange values, and everything has a price, in this arrest of human potentials. The enforcement of what can be called the neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems, either focusing on market-based solutions to systemic ills, or emphasizing individual responsibility while erasing the violence inscribed in the relations that result in transgressions like the Isla Vista murders.

Marcuse described repression in an age where “all domination assumes the form of administration,” and “sadistic principles, the capitalist exploiters, have been transformed into salaried members of a bureaucracy,” producing “pain, frustration [and] impotence of the individual” in the face of an immense apparatus.

To be sure, “structural violence,” or the “pervasive social inequality” defining the neoliberal age, “ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm,” create bureaucratic modes of managing social situations that, as David Graeber has pointed out, tend to negate the need to empathize with other people. Bureaucratic norms legitimate the “culture of cruelty” through the enforcement of administrative control and the negation of alternatives. “There is no alternative” to the new historical form of the reality principle, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously proclaimed.

Bureaucratic administration also reflects the restraints placed on Eros, the life instincts. Likewise, it exacerbates the effects of abstract labor, where people’s “labor is work for an apparatus which they do not control, which operates as an independent power to which the individual must submit if they want to live,” Marcuse proffered. This is “painful time, for alienated labor is absence of gratification, negation of the pleasure principle.”

As David Harvey recently argued in his presentation at the Crisis-Scapes conference in Athens, alienation is intrinsic in capitalist relations because workers “are alienated from the surplus value they produce,” while capitalists construct alienating, competitive relations among fellow workers. The workers remain estranged from the products of their labor, from nature and from the rest of social life. The processes are violent insofar as feelings “of deprivation and dispossession” are “internalized as a sense of loss and frustration of creative alternatives foregone,” Harvey theorized.

Of the multiple varieties of alienation, its active form “means to be overtly angry and hostile, to act out at being deprived or dispossessed of value and of the capacity to pursue valued ends,” Harvey explained. “Alienated beings vent their anger and hostility towards those identified as the enemy, sometimes without any clear definitive or rational reason,” or they sometimes may “seek to build a world in which alienation has either been abolished or rendered redeemable or reciprocal.”

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have theorized the alienating effects of “affective labor,” the “labor that produces or manipulates affects such as a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement or passion,” practiced in increasingly common service work, from fast food to retail sales. When the most intimate human doing must be performed for a (low) wage under coerced conditions, extreme alienation ensues. The hegemonic position of this form of labor becomes violent and volatile as a result.

Finance capital assumes added importance under neoliberalism, Hardt and Negri add. It is defined by “its high level of abstraction,” allowing it “to represent vast realms of labor” as it represses present and future Eros by commanding “the new forms of labor and their productivity” with contradictory effects.

Effects of Repressive Neoliberal Violence

Elliot Rodgers, a young adult male from an affluent family, murdered six people in an attempt to exact revenge on women for not being attracted to him — what he said in a video was “an injustice, a crime,” which is why he would “take great pleasure in slaughtering” women, so that they would “finally see’ that he was “the superior one, the true alpha male.”

In his 140-page manifesto, entitled “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodgers,” he recounts a time in Seventh Grade when a girl he thought was pretty teased him. “I hated her so much,” and “I started to hate all girls because of this.” Toward the end of the diatribe Rodgers declares there to be “no creature more evil and depraved than the human female,” he equates women with “a plague,” and he calls women “vicious, evil, barbaric animals” that “need to be treated as such” and “eradicated.”

Despite early humanizing accounts — like when he was still a child, first crying and then later trying to console after discovering his friend’s mother died of breast cancer — Rodgers ends the manifesto by describing a recipe for a “pure world” to advance human civilization: women are to be killed in concentration camps — save for a few necessary to artificially inseminate for reproduction — while, “Sexuality will cease to exist. Love will cease to exist.”

Laurie Penny, arguing in the New Statesman that “Mental illness does not excuse misogyny,” assayed Rodgers’ manifesto. She emphasized agency and argued popular discussion about mental health “has resisted any analysis of social issues,” which might be “convenient for those in power keen to overlook the structural causes of mental health problems such as alienation, prejudice, poverty and isolation.” However, Penny failed to explain the processes undergirding the “structural oppression” that produced a person — Rodgers — who came to loathe women, express racist sentiments and desire the abolition of Eros.

It is not that “we should pity him” because he suffered from insanity, as Penny suggested the errant popular reaction has it. Rather, we should recognize that while we all have agency, we are also all mutilated by the extant reality. This new historical mode of the reality principle — the neoliberal performance principle — so violently represses the life instincts that it intensifies to an unprecedented degree the destructive forces initially conjured up to prevent full eroticization and gratification, which Freud believed would be at the expense of human survival.

Myriad popular examples of “surplus-repression” in the neoliberal era exist. It is evident in the conception of intercourse as just “a piece of body touching another piece of body — just as existentially meaningless as kissing,” as one young adult, part of the so-called “Millenials” generation, put it. The complete absorption of the sexual revolution by the powers of neoliberalism turned into a commodity what Marcuse considered an emergent movement for greater “self-sublimation of sexuality,” to constitute “highly civilized human relations” without the “repressive organization” of hitherto civilization.

The connections between commodification and the violence at Isla Vista have not been made explicit enough by most writers, even those aware of how neoliberal “surplus-repression” permits and promotes a “culture of cruelty,” replete with misogyny, predicated on domination.

Rebecca Solnit identified a “toxic brew in our culture right now that includes modeling masculinity and maleness … as violence, as domination, as entitlement, as control, and women as worthless, as disposable, as things men have the right to control, etc.”

Dexter Thomas, a scholar of hip-hop at Cornell University, assayed debates about gun control and mental health services that swirled around media outlets after the Isla Vista attacks, and argued that while those topics are worth discussing, letting “our anger culminate” in those arguments alone amounts to a “cop-out.” Thomas entreats us to confront the fear within ourselves and others and “talk about why we are so afraid to talk about race and gender.”

Attention to intersectionality, or rather, viewing “race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression,” within an overarching “matrix of domination” as Patricia Hill Collins put it, marked a major advance in critical theory. But neoliberalism, as a rationality reflecting the violence embedded in the contradictory relationships of domination — humans dominating each other and resources — cannot be undone with discussion of gender, race or class alone.

The historically specific, repressive modification of instinctual drives through alienated labor, bureaucratic procedures and the “culture of cruelty” educating us all to amass “wealth, forgetting all but self,” in accord with prevailing principles, augments domination. It is more often than not directed against women, experienced disproportionately by people of color, felt differentially along frequently ignored (and nuanced) class lines, exacted on satellite nations subjected to the “underdevelopment of development” as their surplus is sucked up by wealthier states, and now lived by new peripheral populations in the world system as it morphs under neoliberalism.

Warfare championed by nations no longer able to dominate any way but militarily evinces the inevitable reliance on force to sustain endemic violence. That violence also animates the resurgence of xenophobic right-wing nationalists who demonize oppressed populations. From anti-immigrant protesters in California scaring buses of children fleeing areas in Central America decimated by decades of US policies, to Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party murdering leftists, to Israeli demonstrators defending the shelling of concentrated civilian areas in Gaza and pelting peace activists with rocks, the brutalization of others in turn dehumanizes them, just as capitalists and financiers who derive profits from others’ labor do violence to themselves when they exploit those they expropriate.

What Marcuse, following Freud, saw as “the progressive weakening of Eros” — even and especially now with a culture so obsessed with such an impoverished mode of sexuality — leads to “the growth of aggressiveness,” evidenced everywhere. Individualization of problems pits all but the most powerful against each other. The sublimation of sexuality, extolled only in superficial forms amenable to capital, further militates against fuller eroticization that would betoken a world without repressive hierarchies.

In his manifesto, Rodgers observed the ways hierarchies shaped — and distorted — his worldview. “As my fourth grade year approached its end, my little nine-year old self had another revelation about how the world works,” he wrote. “I realized that there were hierarchies, that some people were better than others.”

Reflecting on the “common social structure” at his school, those hierarchical divisions, Rodgers’ admitted his self-esteem decreased because of his “mixed race” — his mother was Asian — and, he concluded: “Life is a competition and a struggle,” empowering some at the expense of others.

Those hierarchies are not necessary, nor are they necessarily everlasting. Hierarchical divisions of labor — indeed, all alienated labor as we know it — perpetuates a power-over others, sacrificing human potentials. That violence gives way to insecurity-fuelled internalized oppression and the extroverted frustration, witnessed when Rodgers carried out his hate-fuelled homicide in Southern California.

Prefigurative Politics and Erotic Recuperation

Important for our purposes, Marcuse noted emerging preconditions for “a qualitatively different, non-repressive reality principle” — intimating a project for societal self-realization of the “pleasure principle,” the instinctual drive for gratification bound up with erotogenic activity and libidinal desire.

Sublimation, Marcuse asserted, occurs only after repression of the pleasure principle by the reality principle. Following initial repressive modification, sublimation restrains sexuality while desexualizing most of the body, save for specific areas we commonly associate with sex. The neoliberal performance principle now enacts even tighter restriction of sexuality while amplifying “the primacy of genitality.”

The process has been intensified today to ensure the reproduction of labor power and a surplus population to repress wages — Marx’s “industrial reserve army” of the unemployed, conscripted today by “free trade” agreements facilitating the movement of capital across borders while restraining populations around the world put into greater competition with each other. With surplus destruction and hardship the world is made into an alienated object for domination, which in turn leads to domination over us all.

Prospects exist, however, for a “non-repressive sublimation,” according to Marcuse, through the “self-sublimation of sexuality,” presupposing “historical progress beyond the institutions of the performance principle, which in turn would release instinctual regression.” The process entails, for Marcuse, a re-sexualization of the entire organism, “the conceptual transformation of sexuality into Eros,” extending into relations with others throughout the entire social body.

Despite the seeming omnipresence of the libido in society, its modification by the neoliberal performance principle — the existing condition wherein our increasingly alienated labor (capital) comes to exert greater power over people — connotes a possible project for liberation through eroticization.

Asking us to “Think Hope, Think Crisis,” John Holloway recently explained how capitalism is imbued with its own instinctual drive for endless growth. Its immanent instability lies in the “inadequacy of its own domination,” because to continually reproduce itself, capital has to intensify its domination and exploitation of humanity, which inevitably results in resistance to constant aggression and “easily overflows into rebellion.”

Under the neoliberal performance principle, capital’s drive — our own alienated life instincts, our abstracted Eros turned against us — for domination increases, causing crisis. Holloway reminds us, however, that “we are the crisis of capital.” Our crisis-causing power-to points to possibilities for a liberating erotic project.

Recuperation of our instincts by cultivating the kinds of non-hierarchical and non-exploitative relations we would like to see throughout a society without “surplus-repression,” requires prefigurative and affective politics — a movement of movements of people looking to each other. This can be accomplished through mutual aid, by collective decision-making where people have a say in decisions being made in proportion to the degree they are impacted, and with conscious effort directed toward everyone’s gratification.

The “affective labor” Hardt and Negri averred as hegemonic sets the conditions for a new pleasure principle, but it also shows how capital “seeks increasingly to intervene directly into social reproduction and the way we communicate and commune,” as Max Haiven has explained. Although the importance of “affective labor” to today’s economy illustrates the inverted erotic urge — or simply the death drive — of neoliberalism intent on marketizing human relations for ceaseless capital accumulation, the increased emphasis on affective work intimates greater possibilities for a project aimed at recuperating libidinous, loving desires.

This project does not dispense entirely with Marcuse’s notion of the pleasure principle. It is rather an attempt to re-articulate it in such a way that promotes deeper social eroticization, taking that to encompass feelings of care, concern and a way of seeing oneself in the other — the way Marcuse understood narcissistic Eros and sexuality.

The reactivation of “narcissistic sexuality,” Marcuse maintained, “ceases to be a threat to culture and can itself lead to culture-building if the organism exists not as an instrument of alienated labor but as a subject of self-realization,” through “lasting and expanding libidinal relations because this expansion increases and intensifies the instinct’s gratification.”

After the shooting in a Colorado movie theater by a young man during the summer of 2012, Giroux noted that the “issue of violence in America goes far beyond the issue of gun control, and in actuality, when removed from a broader narrative about violence in the United States,” it deflects from raising key questions and elides reasons why “violence weaves through the culture like a highly charged electric current burning everything in its path.” Elsewhere, Giroux analyzed how “spectacles of consumerism, celebrity culture, hyped-up violence and a market-driven obsession with the self” have led to “the absence” — or evisceration — “of a formative culture necessary to construct questioning agents who are capable of dissent and collective action in an increasingly imperiled democracy.”

The “narcissistic sexuality” Marcuse theorized differs appreciably from the market-induced narcissistic subjectivities Giroux assailed. Those subjectivities are manufactured and controlled via “biopolitical production,” which Hardt and Negri explain encompasses added emphasis on “affective labor” as well as the new ways capital produces subjects. Our alienated subjectivities are thus dialectical insofar as we embody capital’s violence yet utilize our affective and communicative powers, if primarily in alienated and expropriated ways under subjugation by the neoliberal performance principle.

The dialectic demonstrates desires for recuperation — within, against and beyond the “culture of cruelty” that dominates today. Marcuse celebrated the “culture-building power of Eros” as “non-repressive sublimation: sexuality is neither deflected from nor blocked in its objective; rather, in attaining its objective, it transcends it to others, searching for fuller gratification.”

Creating New Subjectivities

To construct a formative democratic culture in and against neoliberalism means also “creating new subjectivities,” as Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzellini write in They Can’t Represent Us! — that is, transforming relationships based on “trust and a growing feeling of care and mutual responsibility, with the goal of building a movement and society based in a relationship of mutual trust and concern for the other and the collective.” Sitrin and Azzellini explain that “responsibility for the other and solidarity are basic conditions of a future society not grounded in capitalist principles” — and, of course, not subordinated to the affect-incarcerating neoliberal performance principle.

In an interview with Bryan Magee on “Modern Philosophy” years ago, Marcuse mentioned the primacy of patriarchal domination throughout history, and said that deployment of “socially conditioned” so-called “feminine qualities,” like care, receptivity and tenderness, “could be the beginning of a qualitatively different society, the very antithesis to male domination with its violent and brutal character.”

To be sure, Sitrin and Azzellini rightly stress that “relegating affective politics to the feminine realm” — as is often the case — “simply reinforces gendered roles in patriarchal societies.” In fact, “affective politics is not an expression of ‘maternal responsibility’ but a social responsibility to build a new society based on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition.”

Contrary to the critique of Marcuse for his downplaying revolutionary potentials of the working class, a re-articulation of his theory is also relevant for workers’ control initiatives, in which affective politics are challenging capitalist domination by altering existing relations.

These ongoing processes of people taking over their workplaces to run them in common, Sitrin and Azzelini explain, include recuperated workplaces like Hotel Bauen, a former four-star hotel in Buenos Aires that employees took collective control over after owners laid off workers and tried to shut the place down following the 2001 economic crisis. Similarly, workers at Republic Windows and Doors recuperated their factory when similar events unfolded in Chicago, reopening the place under democratic control in 2013, around the time the recuperated factory in Thessaloniki — Vio.Me — began production in Greece. Vio.Me now produces environmentally-friendly cleaning products made with local, natural ingredients distributed through the solidarity economy — but it also produces new subjectivities with renewed agency and revitalized affects.

Recuperation compliments autogestión, the process of “collective democratic self-management, especially within local communities, workplaces, cultural projects, and many other entities,” Sitrin and Azzelini averred. Examples of autogestión abound, from Zapatista Councils of Good Government in Chiapas to Communes for community-based organization and local control of production in Venezuela.

The formation of an alternative justice system “based on re-socialization, and not on retribution and vengeance,” in the San Luis Acatlán municipality in “Guerrero, one of the poorest, most violent, and most repressive states in Mexico,” constitutes another recuperative effort, as Sitrin and Azzellini describe it. These recuperative movements are inextricably bound with building affective bonds. They tend to promote relations otherwise suppressed or repressively modified by a performance principle designed to enlarge profits, not Eros.

In part interstitial, the movements illustrate prefigurative politics — “the end as process,” Sitrin and Azzelini termed it — consonant with Marcuse’s description of the pleasure principle dialectic, enriching the social organism over time by focusing on gratification now. Marcuse underscored “sustaining the entire body as subject-object of pleasure,” yet the robust construction of Eros through horizontalidad and política afectiva “calls for the refinement of the organism, the intensification of its receptivity, the growth of its sensuousness,” in more meaningful, humanizing ways. This refined “aim generates its own projects of realization,” including freedom from toil and violence, as Marcuse suggested, and this non-repressive “sublimation proceeds in a system of expanding and enduring libidinal relations, which are in themselves work relations.”

Often intended “to foster horizontal processes and subvert the boundaries of capitalist value-exchange,” Sitrin and Azzellini suggest that such recuperation, which frequently refers to reclaiming of common space and recovering historical memory, does not refer to “a nostalgic turn to an idealized past,” but “the recuperation of memory and history is,” rather, “a collective process meant to enrich the present and build a common future.”

Recuperation of the erotic and an expanded conception of the pleasure principle attuned to the richness of the life instincts, including our under-tapped affective capacities, must undergird any prefigurative politics aimed at dethroning neoliberalism as the reigning reality principle. This would address violence, and allow healthy sexuality to flourish.

Far from eliminating sexuality as we know it, such a project would allow for greater, meaningful love-making, in myriad ways. The underlying violence that drove Elliot Rodgers to seek vengeance would cease to rule, as would the general condition that, in Rodgers’ case, and as in the case of countless others, precludes loving relationships and maims us all.

This project cannot be divorced from recuperation of doing through direct democratic control over production of the pleasurable things we collectively want or need. It should foster enjoyable exercise of our creative faculties through non-alienating work-as-play, part of broader “transformation of sexuality into Eros, and its extension to lasting libidinal work relations,” as Marcuse advanced.

Cruelty and domination in the present imply the opposite, love and liberation, which must be achieved — not by enduring the violence of the day while holding out for a better future, but through a prefigurative revolution that must be pleasurable now in every, expanded sense.

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis. He writes for Truthout, among other publications.

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