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The Left Gets Rolled Again

Photo by sasha diamanti | CC BY 2.0

Twenty years ago the optimism surrounding the development of the internet— by the American military (ARPA / DARPA) through communications channels controlled by American telecom companies, was of a new public commons where ideas could be freely communicated and democracy would flourish. Subsequent years have seen a shifting of orientation from the demos to the corporate-state agglomeration from whence it came in what is increasingly a deeply instantiated system of social control.

The commercial concept of ‘consumer choice’ now driving internet development emerges from the economistic improbability that capitalism is a response to consumer demand. Temporal logic has it that people don’t want what they don’t yet know about. The Western system ‘informing’ its targets relies on psychological coercion— called propaganda before the term was moved to politics. In addition to mass slaughters, the twentieth century was ‘about’ the creation of consumer societies.

When ardent feminist and professional cynic William Jefferson Weinstein (Clinton) used commercial polling to plumb the depths of the American id unleashed by Ronald Reagan, he created a circle of anti-virtue in his pursuit of power. By getting people to regurgitate the cynical blather they had been fed months and years earlier to develop his ‘program’ he played the commercial game of ‘demand’ creation. Lest this remain unclear, democracy and psychological coercion emerge from separate and distinct social-logic premises.

Anyone surprised by the reorientation of the internet hasn’t been paying attention. Spreading ‘democracy’ has been code for capitalist plunder since the U.S. military came into existence. U.S. General Smedley Butler admitted as much a century ago. U.S. telecom companies have been participants in the American surveillance state for decades. And it was in the 1960s that advertisers created ‘counterculture capitalism’ to replace street politics with ‘consumer choice’ — bell bottoms, Peter Max posters and ‘hip’ consumerism.

The common response to such developments is that outcomes could have been different. And they most certainly could have been. Western capitalism could have developed without nuclear weapons, environmental catastrophe and the use of psychological coercion. But it didn’t. The internet could have been a place for the free exchange of ideas, the id-monsters of pornography and anonymous trolling notwithstanding, but its fate was sealed by the logic that created it. In fact, corporations now mediate (and therefore control) most person-to-person communication in the West.

The type of ‘intelligence’ used in computing and increasingly in other realms, ‘artificial intelligence,’ comes from the profoundly alienated dualism that Rene Descartes used to place ‘timeless’ souls in the temporal world. In history, J. Robert Oppenheimer figured out how to build a nuclear weapon and only later, outside of the ‘how’ of operational reasoning, began to ask why? The insanity of this intelligence is captured in the fact that the creators of first nuclear weapon didn’t know if, once started, the process of nuclear fission could be stopped.

In the realm of the more explicitly political, after George W. Bush launched his part of the Clinton-Bush war against Iraq public debate became largely technical— could looting have been prevented, how do ‘we’ handle the counter-insurgency, how are the war dead to be counted, etc. In any human sense the war was a catastrophe from the first person killed. And it quickly got worse. To this day there is no satisfactory ‘why’ of the war. But through each stage, to the extent history can be so reduced, a ‘process’ drove the methods of annihilation.

Baby Bush used a more straightforward method than the Clintons to sell his part of the war. The residual of  9/11 (conservatively, 100 X more people die every year from medical mistakes than did from the attacks) made planting the seeds of fear in the New York Times and Washington Post and then harvesting the crop of faux-consent for his war an ‘investment’ in original psychological coercion. That the Clintons so willingly chimed in to sell baby Bush’s war illustrates the role of operational logic as subtext.

With Democrats again in political ascendance and progressive candidates winning elections, reforms along the social trajectory that elevated Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama will undoubtedly be moved forward. For all of the hand-waving and heated rhetoric, the ‘age of Trump’ follows this political trajectory discouragingly well. Bill Clinton was the progressive face that saved ‘us’ from the excesses of Reagan / Bush by ‘freeing’ Wall Street, ‘ending welfare as we know it’ and inaugurating the new Jim Crow.

If this reads like an alternatively worded exposition of Donald Trump’s program, what form of ‘resistance’ wouldn’t? Progressivism emerged from a hyper social-logic that was anything but. And neoliberalism is the renamed logic of the capitalist state that exists to further the interests of prominent capitalists. The Republican ‘mistake’ has always been to be too explicit in pursuit of this end at inconvenient moments in history, witness the Great Depression that ‘demanded’ an FDR to right the ship of economic exploitation.

When former DNC head Donna Brazile reported that the Clintons’ money had sustained her organization (the DNC) during the Democrat primaries and general election, a merging of realms was made visible. Barack Obama engineered the salvation of the political economy he inherited as if doing so weren’t political. In fact, ‘the system’ he saved is ideology, the embodiment of particular interests as social organization.  This largely explains the inconvenient, if predictable, continuity of Mr. Trump’s service to his class despite his rhetorical threat of breach.

The Democrats’ ‘the Russians stole the election’ fantasy is a doubling down on product differentiation (think Coke versus Pepsi where nutrition never enters as a qualifier). As a reminder, the charge wasn’t that Donald Trump and his entourage are corrupt global business parasites— this describes the Democrats’ donor class all too well. The charge was that Mr. Trump’s presidency is illegitimate because ‘the process’ was corrupted. In the context of American politics, charges of corruption suggest at worst poor execution.

Now, with Ms. Brazile’s charges, it appears that the Clintonites compromised the ‘integrity’ of the Democrats’ ‘process’ as well. The question in need of asking is: if money, or more precisely, the people and entities (people) who contribute money, already controlled the ‘process,’ does the locus of this control really matter? Put differently, with the political establishment going ‘Democrat,’ meaning acting in defense of the status quo, how successful would Bernie Sanders’ ‘classic’ Democrat program have been? And with recent history as a guide, would it be the Democrats or Republicans who sank it? Otherwise, good luck with that ‘unity’ thing.

The Gramscian conundrum that emerges is of political logic. Oppositional reasoning, Democrats versus Republicans, is a strategy to control the political realm and not to define ‘natural’ boundaries. The violence of current political rhetoric is in inverse proportion to the programmatic differences between Ds and Rs. But it is in near proportion to the systemic violence of American political economy. It was Barack Obama that began the ‘modernization’ of nuclear weapons that Donald Trump now uses to threaten nuclear annihilation. And Hillary Clinton’s use of money as political ‘speech’ to amplify her ‘voice’ so as to control electoral outcomes in the Democrat party is fully the logic of corporate-state integration— s/he who has the golds, rules.

Through the effective sale of the American ‘lifestyle’ around the world, small steps in one direction or the other politically will continue to exist on a broader trajectory toward social catastrophe. Ending militarism means ending the political economy that produces it. Ending environmental crisis means ending the political economy that produces it. And electing progressive candidates without fundamentally reorienting political economy away from the violent, antagonistic logic of capitalism will produce only more of the same.

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Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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