Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

The Terrestrialists – Bruno Latour’s new-materialists

Regular readers will know that I have taken a little time out away from my regular work to read a few books to try to get an understanding of where we are, how we got here and how we might get out of here. Alive. Some discomforting answers are supplied in the reading of Eatwell and Goodwin’s book on nationalist populism; the latter, I think, can be extracted from Bruno Latour and his new book (left). I am sure there are many others, however (for example, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and Diane Coyle’s (2014) unpackaging of GDP as a measure of  national wellbeing).

Both Eatwell and Goodwin and Latour are pretty clear that liberal democracy is a cause. Moreover, we must keep reminding ourselves, for example, that liberal democracy is relatively new in human history. Baby boomers and their offspring (myself included here), however, have no experience of other forms of democracy, illiberal or otherwise (illiberal democracies are now to be found in Hungary, Poland and increasingly in Italy). It has been the underpinning of economic growth and – what seemed until recently to be – inexorable globalisation. I am grateful to a single essay by John Gray to help me with this also.

I have not really had much reason to consider Latour’s work; I have probably been more scared of it than I should have been. I was nudged towards it after reading an article in the NYT magazine about him, his methodological perspective (actor network theory) and its applications. Often seen as post-modern French philosophy – now conveniently rebranded by others as a philosophy of post-truth – it can be inaccessible.

Bruno Latour, 2017

There are four major events that Latour uses in constructing what he deems to be a hypothesis. Hypothesis because he does not try to prove anything. He recognises that he comes from a landed bourgeois family and is, himself, a boomer. But dismiss him – or his reasoning – at our peril, I sense. So, the events are: the Brexit vote in the UK; the election of Trump in the USA; the resumption of mass migrations caused by wars, failed attempts at economic development and climate change. The fourth event, however, is the most significant for Latour and it, itself, comes in two parts. First, the signing in Paris on 12 December 2015 of the Climate Change Accord; second, Trump’s policy to withdraw from the Accord.

On the former Latour says: “…on that December day, all the signatory countries, even as they were applauding the success of the improbable agreement, realized with alarm that, if they all went ahead according to the terms of their respective modernization plans, there would be no planet compatible with their hopes for development. They would need several planets; they have only one.” (p. 5). On the second, “By pulling out of the Paris Accord, Trump explicitly triggered, if not a world war, at least a war over what constitutes the theater of operations. “We Americans don’t belong to the same earth as you. Yours may be threatened; ours won’t be!”” (p. 3).

Latour’s method is systematic, if a little post-modern and hence, non-linear. Liberal democracy is capable of delivering the Climate Accord, but not implementation. Even if all signatories tried to implement the Accord, liberal democracy with its growth, modernisation, globalisation and universal wealth (measured in material terms) philosophy is incompatible with delivery. At some point, leaders – obscurantists, in Latour’s parlance – have to tell electorates that under the current economic and political models, “climatic catastrophe” is unavoidable. Latour, however, interprets Trump in an interesting way. I have often thought that climate change deniers actually believe that climate change is not caused by human activity out of ignorance and failure to look at the evidence. For them, it is merely a natural phenomenon that governments need to prepare for. Depriving people of the benefits of capitalist modes of production, trade and consumption would, therefore, not help the environment. However, my naïvety, as is often the case, is clear. The actuality is that the climate change deniers are of two kinds – literally for Latour – the “Out-of-this-World” types who care little for evidence (p. 34, and maybe Trump is the cheerleader here?) and those who know only too well that human activity is the cause not only of climate change, but also of the increased rate of change and the cause of the 6th Great Extinction.

Let us add more to this; socialism is no better at dealing with climate change than is economic liberalism. The left, just like the right, is bi-directional. There are those deep internationalists who believe that modernisation, which usually incorporates economic and political globalisation, is equally important for the socialist realisation of equality (just like the economic liberals). There are also those who think about the local – tradition, the familiar, predictable, local production, etc. Increasingly this perspective captures the so-called “left behind” or “abandoned” on the left who seek controls on immigration, protection for strategic industries and sovereignty (whatever that is). As Latour puts it, “those who value ethnic homogeneity, a focus on patrimony, historicism, nostalgia, inauthentic authenticism”  (p. 53). The UK Labour Party is trying to reconcile these two perspectives against the backdrop of Brexit and goes some way towards explaining the Labour leadership’s support for withdrawal. Many modern social democratic parties in Europe are trying to do the same but losing out to overtly populist parties and Greens alike. For Latour, they are un-reconcilable in one party.

So far there have been three “Attractors” – global and local (both with plus and minus elements, winners and losers) and “Out-of-this-world” those for whom reality triangulated by science and presented by educated elites, scientists, publishers and seemingly opaque institutes has no meaning. There is one more Attractor; namely the Terrestrial (p. 40). This is neither left nor right. In Actor Network terms, Latour’s thing, the Terrestrial is an actor itself. The other attractors are all about human history, human geography, human advancement, the modernisation of the human condition. The Terrestrial, argues Latour, puts human beings back into nature. That nature includes living things as well as the biosphere. It is the critical zone on the planet that makes life – human, animal and plant – possible. The Terrestrial, therefore, is an actor because, in Latour’s terms, it has agency and fights back (p. 41) – or at least responds to stimuli, largely human induced. Civilisation (human of course) is the product of the last 10 millennia of human (often brutal) interaction.

Terrestrialism is, essentially, a third-way. We’ve seen third-ways before. New Labour in the UK was packaged as such back in the late 1990s informed by the work of Anthony Giddens. But that was perhaps a third way in name only. It was an old consensus, a neo-liberal one at that. Latour’s Terrestrialism is a third way not between left and right, but between global and local, plus and minus and climatic catastrophe. Nice theory, but as Latour honestly notes, this is an essay written from the comfort of a Paris residence with no empirical underpinning. There are a few suggestions for how “we” might become Terrestrialists. That is the subject of another – later – blog entry.

References:

Diane Coyle. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014

Anthony Giddens. Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity Press, 1998

Bruno Latour. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity Press, 2018

Picture: Latour KOKUYO

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It’s racism, not the economy

 

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post flagging up the considered view of Professor John Gray on the potential motivation of voters in the USA and the election of Donald Trump. The underlying point of his “letter” is that economic factors rather than social factors account for the result.

This opinion is not shared by all, and for good reason. The ever-vigilent Mehdi Hasan – has looked at the available data on the demographic that voted for Trump. It may not be as clear cut as we had thought. In actual fact, he argues, those who have been left behind economically – despite the logic – were not those who voted Trump. Rather it was those who have done better than average under neo-liberalism who put him in the White House. And the disturbing conclusion is not that the election was decided on economic issues. It was pure racism.

The Confederate flag

Confederate_Rebel_FlagBen Hallman in the Huffington Post notes that “[t]he Confederacy was the most vile and harmful political invention in United States history. It was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of black people, and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters. More Americans died in the bloodletting that followed than in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.”

I was bemused to learn that the flag still flies legally on State Government land in Columbia, South Carolina. Even more that the president of the USA cannot intervene and get it down (and outlawed). It like the Berlin Government flying the Swastika over its government buildings.

Ben Hallman’s article can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/pr6yxjg

Flag: William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) – Wikipedia

Justifying the unjustifiable

Theresa_MayThe UK Conservatives now argue that too many people – cast out on to the Mediterranean Sea in unsuitable boats by unscrupulous traffickers – have been saved by benevolent Europeans. So much so that it generates an incentive for more people to try it, safe in the knowledge that they will be rescued when the vessel capsizes.

Even if this were true – and no hard evidence to my knowledge has been presented to back it up – it is immoral. Knowingly ignoring victims of traffickers, fleeing from wars, economic crises and penuary caused largely by us is criminal.

And again, leading the way is the Home Secretary, Theresa May (above left). I used to think that these illiberal and racist policies were a response to UKIP. Now, however, I sense that UKIP is merely an excuse. The Conservatives really do believe in these policies.

Rochester by-election – UKIP and neo fascists, Britain First, stand together

britain-first-ukip1The Rochester and Strood by-election was caused by the resignation of the incumbent Conservative, Mark Reckless, as a result of his defection to UKIP. The by-election is an opportunity for any number of disgruntled people to stand for election. By-elections – particularly towards the end of a parliamentary period – often throw up surprises. Probably not enough to elect Britain First’s candidate, Jayda Fransen. Never mind, she seems quite friendly with UKIPers if this happy photo is anything to go by. Might they have much in common?

Picture: Britain First website

UKIP and health tourists

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party said, in the aftermath of his party’s victory in the Clacton bi-election (remind me not to go there), that we should prevent people with HIV (as a proxy for all people with an illness) from coming to the country. Clearly they will make a huge call on the NHS and we should exclude them.

I find these opinions reprehensible. However, I found it ironic that on the very same day (10 October 2014), the Nobel Peace Prize was Malala_Yousafzai_at_Girl_Summit_2014awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for standing up for her right to an education. After her condition stabilised she came to the UK for specialist treatment in Birmingham (and where eventually she continued her education). Now I do not know if she had private health insurance…

Picture: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development/Wikipedia

European election results

Dail Mail headlineThere is an uncanny resemblance between this graphic and opinions that I have been listening to on the radio this morning after the release of the European Election results in the UK.

Unemployment – get out of Europe. Housing – get out of Europe. Stop immigration. Recession – get out of Europe. Stop immigration. Etc.

Europe as an entity and a ‘project’ is a mess, for sure. It is expensive. There is a lot of free riding. It is dangerously expansionist, as the crisis in the Ukraine demonstrates. And it does fuel some of the economic excesses of globalisation. However, the opinions that I have been listening to are bigoted, ill-informed and dangerous.

Some basic knowledge about economics might help. And a look at the expenditures made by the Swiss and Norwegians in complying with European legislation in order to trade in the EU, indicate that leaving the EU is not an answer. Most of our trade is with Europe. I trust that in the event of a vote to leave the EU, the hundreds of thousands of ex-pats living and working in Europe will be asked to return to the Isle?

Moreover, as ex-commodities trader, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, ought to know the recession is not the fault of the people, it is his class that caused it. And the mainstream ‘professional’ politicians that allowed them to do it. So, I can understand the need for change and some honest talking over a beer. But surely the future should come from the left, not the fascist right?

Picture: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/nick/archive/1/2014

 

 

Speechless over Zimmerman

Zimmerman_SZ_15_7_13This picture is scanned from the Südeutsche Zeitung (Monday, 15 July 2013). It is copyrighted RTR, but it one of the most chilling pictures I’ve seen in recent times. On the right is George Zimmerman, acquitted of murder in a Florida court on Saturday. The smiles demonstrate the ‘success’ of the defence in evading justice. Knowingly. Even if it is a job well done – which it is not – the smiles seem to demonstrate some perverted sense of ‘citizenship’. Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed 17 year old black man, Trayvon Martin, in what can only been seen as vigilante justice defending a gated ‘community’ against the threat of robbery. ‘Stand your ground’ laws permit lethal force in Florida and other states. Using such force against an unarmed teenager brandishing sweets from a local shop has been demonstrated in a court to be legitimate. It is also seen to be a cause for celebration. Shameful.

There are many who are more eloquent and informed than I am on this case and the implications. The Südeutsche Zeitung (below right), for example, pulls no punches. There is no attempt to ‘explain’ the Jury’s decision, only to describe what happened (black man shot) as a mixed race white man ‘feared’ for his life after having stalked the young man and been told by the police to stop following him. Zimmerman’s 911 call can be heard here

Gary Younge’s first paragraph in the Guardian newspaper on 15 July says enough: “Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn’t like the look of him.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/14/open-season-black-boys-verdict

The President – increasingly becoming illiberal and reactionary – could only say: “The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher.”

“But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”

“And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem theS_Z_15_7_13 tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this.”

The short answer surely is, convict racist killers. Guns, compassion, understanding and the other apparent platitudes are red herrings.