Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit, Stage Left?

from Newsweek
Late in his life, Freud asked the famous question “Was will das Weib?”, “What does a woman want?”, admitting his confusion when faced with the enigma of the feminine sexuality. A similar perplexity arouses today, apropos the Brexit referendum—what does Europe want?

The true stakes of this referendum become clear if we locate it into its larger historical context. In Western and Eastern Europe, there are signs of a long-term re-arrangement of the politica. Until recently, the political space was dominated by two main parties which addressed the entire electoral body, a Right-of-centre party (Christian-Democrat, liberal-conservative, populist) and a Left-of-centre party (socialist, social-democratic), with smaller parties addressing a narrow electorate (ecologists, neo-Fascists). Now, a singular party is emerging which stands for global capitalism as such, usually with relative tolerance towards issues such as abortion, gay rights, religious and ethnic minorities; opposing this party is a stronger anti-immigrant populist party which, on its fringes, is accompanied by directly racist neo-Fascist groups.

Poland is a prime example—after the disappearance of the former Communists, the main parties are the “anti-ideological” centrist liberal party of the former prime-minister Donald Tusk (now President of the European Council) and the conservative Christian party of Kaczynski brothers (identical twins one of whom served as Poland’s president from 2005-2010 and the other as its prime minister 2006-2007). The stakes of Radical Center today are: which of the two main parties, conservatives or liberals, will succeed in presenting itself as embodying the post-ideological non-politics against the other party dismissed as "still caught in old ideological specters"? In the early 90s, conservatives were better at it; later, it was liberal Leftists who seemed to be gaining the upper hand, and now, it’s again the conservatives.

The anti-immigrant populism brings passion back into politics, it speaks in the terms of antagonisms, of Us against Them, and one of the signs of the confusion of what remains of the Left is the idea that it should take this passionate approach from the Right: “If the leader of France's National Front Marine le Pen can do it, why we should also not do it?” So should the Left then return to advocating for strong nation-states and mobilize national passions—a ridiculous struggle, lost in advance.

Europe is caught into a vicious cycle, oscillating between the Brussels technocracy unable to drag it out of inertia, and the popular rage against this inertia, a rage appropriated by new more radical Leftist movements but primarily by Rightist populism. The Brexit referendum moved along the lines of this new opposition, which is why there was something terribly wrong with it. Look at the strange bedfellows that found themselves together in the Brexit camp: right-wing “patriots,” populist nationalists fuelled by the fear of immigrants, mixed with desperate working class rage—is such a mixture of patriotic racism with the rage of “ordinary people” not the ideal ground for a new form of Fascism?

The intensity of the emotional investment into the referendum should not deceive us, the choice offered obfuscated the true questions: how to fight trade “agreements” like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ( TTIP) which present a real threat to popular sovereignty and how to confront ecological catastrophes and economic imbalances which breed new poverty and migrations. The choice of Brexit means a serious setback for these true struggles—it's enough to bear in mind what an important argument for Brexit the “refugee threat” was. The Brexit referendum is the ultimate proof that ideology (in the good old Marxist sense of “false consciousness”) is alive and well in our societies.

When Stalin was asked in the late 1920s which political variation is worse, the Right one or the Leftist one, he snapped back: “They are both worse!” Was it not the same with the choice British voters were confronting? Remain was “worse” since it meant persisting in the inertia that keeps Europe mired down. Exit was “worse” since it made changing nothing look desirable.

In the days before the referendum, there was a pseudo-profound thought circulating in our media: “whatever the result, EU will never be the same, it will be irreparably damaged.” But the opposite is true: nothing really changed, except that the inertia of Europe became impossible to ignore. Europe will again waste time in long negotiations among EU members that will continue to make any large-scale political project unfeasible. This is what those who oppose Brexit didn’t see—shocked, they now complain about the “irrationality” of the Brexit voters, ignoring the desperate need for change that the vote made palpable.

The confusion that underlies the Brexit referendum is not limited to Europe—it is part of a much larger process of the crisis of “manufacturing democratic consent” in our societies, of the growing gap between political institutions and popular rage, the rage which gave birth to Trump as well as to Sanders in the US. Signs of chaos are everywhere—the recent debate on gun control in the US Congress descended into a sit-in protest by the Democrats—is it time to despair?

Recall Mao Ze Dong's old motto: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.” A crisis is to be taken seriously, without illusions, but also as a chance to be fully exploited. Although crises are painful and dangerous, they are the terrain on which battles have to be waged and won. Is there not a struggle also in heaven, is the heaven also not divided—and does the ongoing confusion not offer a unique chance to react to the need for a radical change in a more appropriate way, with a project that will break the vicious cycle of EU technocracy and nationalist populism? The true division of our heaven is not between anemic technocracy and nationalist passions, but between their vicious cycle and a new pan-European project which will addresses the true challenges that humanity confronts today.

Now that, in the echo of the Brexit victory, calls for other exits from EU are multiplying all around Europe, the situation calls for such a project—who will grab the chance? Unfortunately, not the existing Left which is well-known for its breathtaking ability to never miss a chance to miss a chance.
- Slavoj Zizek: "Could Brexit Breathe New Life Into Left-Wing Politics?"
...or would that be stage RIGHT?

51 comments:

Gert said...

Funny that. I was thinking of looking for Žižek's take on all this and here I stumble on it, haha!

-FJ said...

Stumble? Here I thought it was more a "thrust in your face"! ;)

Actually, I think where Zizek misses the boat is that the right-wing approach is considered "populist" (for the people), the left wing is more "proletarian" (for the worker). Big difference, yet the left minimize "their" distinction because lets face it, who wants to be a mere worker cog in some singular larger bureaucratic machine that you didn't help design?

Trevor Armbuster said...

Aren't the workers people?

Gert said...

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Except it’s not funny...

That’s why it’s populist: we’ve seen resurgences of the European Far Right in times of crises so many times and we know the results. Blaming the Other doesn’t lead to farce but it does lead to tragedy.

Racist attacks, mainly on Brits who don’t look sufficiently ‘indigenous’, are plenty now. I expect verbal abuse [at me] any time.

Corbyn’s just received a massive vote of no confidence, so it’s probably back to the Blairites or maybe some ‘Lexiteers’.

The leading Brexiteers have been back pedalling like mad. Basically now they want to be out while being in: free trade w/o free movement. There’s even talk of importing non-EU citizens (Commonwealth).

And then there are the Regreteers!... More in the making: when those damn furreners haven’t magically disappeared or keep coming for two more years at least.

UKIP won’t now dissolve: it has announced to go after Labour heartland Brexiteers. Appeasement won’t work: they’ll want more.

End of austerity? My arse!

FreeThinke said...

________ Indifference _________

Beautiful bland indifference
enveloped me one day
Hurrah! thought I. My tears are dry.
How comforting the gray!

I knew no biting agony ––
no gnawing sense of loss.
I soon did find I did not mind
the ignorant and gross.

Then, Love one day was offered me.
I felt I should rejoice.
I rose to shout acceptance,
but found I had no voice.



~ FreeThinke (1982)

FreeThinke said...

Trevor asked an interesting question. I've often wondered, myself, why leftists always refer to "the workers" as though they were a breed apart? They are not wood, they are not stones, but men ... and being men they are subject to all that flesh is heir to –– to coin a couple of phrases. };^)>


I've also noticed, as is my wont, that the press –– i.e. the ENEMEDIA –– which is 85-95% owned, operated and staged by leftists –– invariably refers to its minions as "reporters," "columnists, " "critics," and "pundits," but whenever they deign to mention the existence of any writer with an opposing point of view, the invariably refer to him, her or it, as a "FAR-RIGHT COLUMNIST," or whatever.

Did you ever notice that?

Don't you ever find yourselves wishing that dear old Sloyoj Zizek could learn –– and abide by –– the meaning of words like "brief," "succinct," "pithy," and "elegant?"

If, as the Bard claimed through that thundering old bore Polonius that "Brevity is the soul of wit," doesn't that make you wonder if Will might not look askance at Slavoj were he here to wade through the dense, thorny thickets of Zizek's turgid prose?

Zizek live has considerable charm, despite his irritating lateral lisp but he just doesn't READ particularly well, does he?

Or perhaps I'm only showing my hopeless ignorance?

Always a possibility.

-FJ said...

Aren't the workers people?

The LAST thing that any ancient Greek or Roman ever wanted to be was a "worker". Working with your hands was considered "demeaning".... slavish even... an "unexamined" life.

-FJ said...

Gert, Gert, Gert... blaming the other?

Isn't that what you're doing now in blaming the Right for blaming others? The Left blames "others" (racists, homophobes, sexists) PLENTY.

The point is, the middle class isn't making it anymore. Belmont is growing smaller, and Fishtown larger. And you don't solve the problem by adding more multi-coloured fish to Fishtown. Not even the pure-white fish can graduate to Belmont.

One-World government/economies and their "Market States" aren't lifting all boats. They're draining the geographically higher lakes to fill the oceans. It's a noble quest, but find a way of doing "good" w/o draining all the high-Alpine lakes.

We could all take a lesson from Kim Jong Un. Juche is the way, but w/o the authoritarian a-holes.

-FJ said...

@FT - As for Slavoj, the finer a distinction that one attempts to make, the more words it usually takes? The man makes VERY FINE distinctions.

-FJ said...

I tend to be a Babble-on-ian myself. ;)

-FJ said...

btw - Did you notice that people were pretty content with the EU so long as the "free-rides" were limited to the PIIGs. Passing out free tickets to any unassimilating foreigner with calves the size of cantelopes was perhaps too great a stretch, even for a Leftist.

convergentsum said...

It's one thing to blame a group (racists, homophobes, sexists) for the very attribute that defines that group (racism, homophobia, sexism); quite another to blame a group for an attribute which is not shared by every member of that group, nor unique to them.

Gert said...

Farmer:

Isn't that what you're doing now in blaming the Right for blaming others? The Left blames "others" (racists, homophobes, sexists) PLENTY.

For all the learning you've done (trust me, I've leaned a lot too, just here!) we remain children of our time and culture.

You still don't understand racism and still resort to puerile attempts at trying to 'turn the tables'. Deep down you remain convinced it's basically all 'PC bullshit' and 'Cultural Marxism'. 'Black lives matter is racist because all lives matter!' type of silliness.

Sadly, that racism which you almost deny the existence of, I see (and occasionally experience myself) and hear everyday. Open and not-so-open expressions of it are galore. I've seen and experienced it also directly in two other European countries I've lived in.

We could all take a lesson from Kim Jong Un. Juche is the way, but w/o the authoritarian a-holes.

Well, good luck with that! The 'self reliant' types here are precisely those who believe the referendum is a mandate for shipping the 'furreners' back to their 'mud holes', NOW!

Yesterday an American teacher was told "Get deported. You're a muppet. Get off the tram now!" by some Brexit youths on a Manchester tram. I can only guess the colour of the man's skin...

nicrap said...

Can the Left be trusted to not do the same with respect to whom it call "others" what the Right has been doing so far with respect to whom it? I think this is where the difference ends and the similarity begins. Both have a dream of an ideal city, and both will not shy away from turning every transgression against their respective moral code into a transgression against the law. What else is Obamacare if not this? Funny thing is while the Right has no sense of freedom for others, the left has none even for the self.

beamish said...

Did you notice that people were pretty content with the EU so long as the "free-rides" were limited to the PIIGs. Passing out free tickets to any unassimilating foreigner with calves the size of cantelopes was perhaps too great a stretch, even for a Leftist.

If only it would happen here. Europe, as the most barbaric and uncivilized continent on the planet (No 20 year gap between wars on European soil ever, going back to Philip of Macedon, 46 wars on Euro soil SINCE World War 2) the people their only know strife, discontent, and bloodshed. They are bred to and for it. I don't romanticize Europe as some paragon of virtue. Europe is a shithole. Always has been. The best of them departed for distant shores away from the madness centuries ago. What's a few more million savages going to do to Europe that they have not already done to themselves?

At best, they are too little too late to fight for their own souls - the same fight in America - "abolish the welfare state" vs. "Defend the welfare state again the Mexican freeloaders." That fight is already lost here. Maybe in Europe it will come to war since they worship war - all of their monuments are tributes to someone's ass getting kicked...

Call it what it is. There are no cultures to destroy in Europe. Just fists and mouths.

beamish said...

Perhaps the most damning thing about America today is that the only time perpetual liar Hillary Clinton badmouths Donald Trump, the cunt is telling the truth.

-FJ said...

It's one thing to blame a group (racists, homophobes, sexists) for the very attribute that defines that group (racism, homophobia, sexism); quite another to blame a group for an attribute which is not shared by every member of that group, nor unique to them.

As Plato's Socrates once said (Meno), "I define figure to be that in which the solid ends; or, more concisely, the limit of solid."

As a "right" winger know that the "limit of my solid" is my country's border. I am a "nationalist". I don't care what "race" you are. I don't care what "sex" you are. I don't care which "gender" you prefer. I work with people of all races, sexes, and gender preferences. I work with Americans and foreign nationals. The only "legitimate" name you can call me is "xenophobic". But as a citizen of the most powerful country on the face of the earth (at the moment), to say I "fear" foreigners is a bit ridiculous, as well.

And I don't hate foreigners. I just don't feel obligated to practice their customs. I have my own. The fact that theirs are different isn't particularly concerning to me. I have no desire to impose my beliefs upon them, unless they are attempting to do me harm. And when they do so, don't call me an Islamaphobe. Mine is not an "irrational" fear (phobia), its' a rational one (they really ARE trying to kill me).

-FJ said...

Sadly, that racism which you almost deny the existence of, I see (and occasionally experience myself) and hear everyday. Open and not-so-open expressions of it are galore. I've seen and experienced it also directly in two other European countries I've lived in.

I've lived in Spain and Venezuela and been teased and taunted for being a gringo. I lived in California and was teased and taunted for being a gringo. The point is, there are assholes EVERYWHERE, but if someone in my OWN country is taunting me for being a gringo, calling ME a racist is just a bit hypocritical. It's a dog that doesn't hunt.

-FJ said...

@nicrap. I agree, there's very little sympathy for the 'other' from either Left or Right, and so we seek to criminalize (as opposed to 'tolerate') deviants. We feel the need to "acculturate" immigrants, and address political issues through the social lens of "majority culture" (attributing modt deviances as immutable cultural, genetic or inbred factors resistant to change). Instead, perhaps we should see these deviances NOT as immutable, but something that may be DIRECTLY addressed in terms of ethics and morals, vices and virtues, right and wrong, healthy and harmful in the "present", and not some mystified "past", not as some atavistic immutable cultural or racial difference.

-FJ said...

@ beamish. Yes, we are too late, even here. Far too many yearn for a return to the welfare state. Trump sure isn't going to "limit" the corporate form in any meaningful way as surely as Bernie has no intention of ever downsizing government.

But hey, we all have to start somewhere...

-FJ said...

@Gert

I don't "deny" racism. I simply "get over it". It's not debilitating unless you allow it to become so. And no one is "allowing it" to become so. Not even "Trump".

beamish said...

Our electoral choices are "more of the same" vs. "more of the same, rebranded."

If it were up to me, Humpty Dumpty and the wall would be knocked down and all the king's horses and men hunted into extinction.

nicrap said...

How do you mean, "something that may be DIRECTLY addressed in terms of ethics and morals, vices and virtues, right and wrong, healthy and harmful". Suppose the Right is right and a person's sexuality is really a moral matter, how would it address it? The same question may be asked of the left; suppose it is right and a person's attitude towards race is really a moral matter, how would it address it? I think the answer has been the same in both cases: pass laws, create institutions, establish authority so the two are respected, and if nothing else works, banish - either into the confinement of prisons or into exile into another country or into the other world altogether. The trend began with the Right, and the Left has been doing a great job carrying it forward; and now it's the Right's turn again. Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

p.s. But i would be grateful if you could give me a different answer ... supposing a person's 'deviancy' is really a moral matter, how would you address it?

-FJ said...

supposing a person's 'deviancy' is really a moral matter, how would you address it?

In terms of Kant's categorical imperative, as a deontological ethic. Get people to understand and address their "rules".

As for sexuality, the "health" aspects argue strongly against homosexuality. The life spans of gay men are 15 years shorter than heterosexual men.

-FJ said...

Homosexuals are free to ignore the "health" consequences of their actions, but so long as they consistently apply their ethic (and are willing to have others apply a like ethic to them), that's a criteria they can weigh and argue.

-FJ said...

...and arguing the point doesn't mean they can label me, a priori, a "homophobe", as they do today.

-FJ said...

@ beamish, it may come to that.

Trevor Armbuster said...

@FJ re FreeThinke's criticism of Zizek for being too "wordy"

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

"It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid."

- Albert EInstein

nicrap said...

In terms of Kant's categorical imperative, as a deontological ethic. Get people to understand and address their "rules".

No, my question was more about - what means will you use? You say "get people to understand" - how? Will you use the coercive power of the state for the purpose? Or what you often describe as "university discourse"? Or will you talk to them personally? What?

-FJ said...

@ Trevor

"It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid."

- Albert EInstein


Albert didn't spend much time in bars. You notice how he phrased it as a "hypothetical" and NOT a statement of fact?

-FJ said...

No, my question was more about - what means will you use?

The same means that any classical liberal would use. Explain it to them rationally. They're perfectly free to ignore arguments, but until they harm or threaten to harm me, I don't use force (the criminal justice system). And yes, I can use the coercive power of the State (ala University Discourse) via the "ballot box" to spread my "educational" arguments, but unless they actually listen to and understand them, I may end up employing the criminal justice system at some point, as they have failed to grasp the universality of my argument. The point is to treat others (non-minors) as "ends unto themselves" and not "means to an end". In demanding a moral "reciprocity", I show my "love of neighbor" by respecting his differences, but at the same time require him to respect mine. In other words, you can pursue a happiness different from mine own, but you can't keep me from pursuing mine.

-FJ said...

The point is to have (and force, if necessary) a political discourse... w/analyst v. university & legal system as ultimate arbiter.

-FJ said...

Violence is usually the result of an inability to conduct said discourse to some "meaningful" end.

-FJ said...

ps - And "shouting down the opposition" or "censoring" his views is a violation of the political process I advocate.

beamish said...

Violence is effective. That's why it's everyone's go-to, ultimately. It gets shit done.

beamish said...

Defining homosexuality I terms of nature vs. nurture still encamps it in birth defect vs. mental disorder. There aren't any behaviors that can't be controlled or avoided so we're left with mental disorder.

Which leaves us with debating the sanity and normality of people who lick feces off each other's genitalia.

Oh wait, they listen to disco too.

-FJ said...

I, personally believe that it's high time they put homosexuality back in the DSM as an "official" mental disorder. Taking it OFF the list was a mistake that has opened the door to ten year olds selecting to undergo sex change operations...

Trevor Armbuster said...

Doesn't anybody have anything good to say about something?

The world is the mess it is because of a great lack of positive thinking. Dishing out contempt all the time can't be doing any good as fa as i can see.

Eric Fromm wrote a book a long time ago called Must Men Hate? It might be a good idea to dig it up and read it again.

-FJ said...

I like popcorn.

FreeThinke said...

Trevor, I doubt if you'll get very far with an appeal to bland sweet reasonableness with this crowd, But don't be intimidated. It's good to see a new face, and I appreciate your determination not to be abrasive.

Beware of Who's Your Daddy, however.Lisa, who runs the place, is a very nice gal, but she believes in complete freedom of expression.Therefore, the place resembles an active War Zone cum Public Toilet too much of the time.

I treat it as an opportunity to lapse into farce, then put on a Burlesque Show in the raunchy old British Music Hall tradition.

My lavish lapses into lunacy have sour, bitter, captious leftist bastards completely flummoxed.

You need a strong stomach for it, but making a mockery of purse-lipped Leftist Nonsense while mentally thumbing your nose at the conceited, humorless sons of bitches ca be great sport.

Join us, if you like, but PLEASE, I beg you, never make the mistake of taking a word they say seriously. You seem like a nice guy.I wouldn't want you to suffer needlessly.

See you around.

nicrap said...

We seem to have moved on. Well, no problem. :)

convergentsum said...

@FJ: might there be some question over what constitutes harm?

Thersites said...

I'm sure that there is. Harm to self, harm to 'others'. Physical harm, mental anguish.

Gert said...

I've lived in Spain and Venezuela and been teased and taunted for being a gringo. I lived in California and was teased and taunted for being a gringo. The point is, there are assholes EVERYWHERE, but if someone in my OWN country is taunting me for being a gringo, calling ME a racist is just a bit hypocritical. It's a dog that doesn't hunt.

I don't "deny" racism. I simply "get over it". It's not debilitating unless you allow it to become so. And no one is "allowing it" to become so. Not even "Trump".


They can call me ‘muscles from Brussels’ every day and twice on Sunday: the consequences are a mere nuisance.

But for people like these, ‘getting over it’ is likely going to take a bit more.

You’re like those who believed Apartheid was really just Petty Apartheid.

Trump has the support from the Alt-Right, you know? The ‘White Nights who say “Cuck” a lot’? About the only ones who proudly advertise their racism?

Thersites said...

I'd wager 5:1 the shop owner's business was doing poorly and that he wanted to collect the insurance so he had the place torched. Failing businesses are MUCH more common than hate crimes.

Yes, there are die hard racists out there, but their "powers" VASTLY exceed their reputations, and their numbers are vastly smaller than estimated by left-wing fund-raising flyers.

Thersites said...

ps - The arsonist in the video seems to be wearing some kind of hijab-jacket. He almost looks like an ISIS terrorist.

Stanley Kowalski said...

:P

Gert said...

I'd wager 5:1 the shop owner's business was doing poorly and that he wanted to collect the insurance so he had the place torched.

Presumably the American teacher who got told to get off the bus has some ulterior motive too?

I'll give some in the American Right credit for the creativeness of their conspiracy thinking!

Maybe Grover Norquist had something to do with all this? ;-)

-FJ said...

Are there tax breaks involved?

Gert said...

That was the plan but it's been shelved now: someone has to pay for the Brexit!

Joe Conservative said...

Sounds like some tariffs and corporate tax raisings might be in order.