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General News    H3'ed 8/23/11

Wil. E. Coyote, the American People, and Where Things Are At Now

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[Note: The following is a slightly expanded version of a talk that I gave recently at the first book release party for my new book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Larkmead Press, 2011. It provides a highly abbreviated introduction to a few of the key arguments and evidence contained in my book. This talk might be helpful as Rob Kall carried out an interview with me about my new book last week for his radio show, available at OpEd News here.] 

This book was many years in the making. I put it aside several years ago to finish my Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney (NY: Seven Stories Press, 2006) book (with co-editor/author Peter Phillips) because there was an immediate need for that book. We didn't succeed, unfortunately, in building a powerful people's movement to drive Bush and Cheney from office. Had we succeeded the whole political situation would be dramatically different today. Obviously not enough people read my book! [Laughter] As a result, the trajectory that the Bush regime was spearheading has continued under this new president. It was and is a trajectory that I wrote about in a concentrated way in my last book and that I focus specifically on and in detail in this new book. So you see, this is why you have to read this book so that it doesn't get worse this time!

You might say that everyone who's alert to what's going around us in this country and around the world and who has a conscience and/or any concern for others and for the environment is in agony over what's going on. I wrote this book to speak directly to those people. That is why this book is an attempt to reach both a scholarly and university audience and to be accessible to the broad public. It is meant to be not only an expose and a call to action but also foundational and theoretically rigorous. The changes that need to be made are huge and for these changes to have a chance to happen it will require that people are mobilized from all arenas of life, guided by a deep understanding of what we actually face, and to engage directly and personally, not just voting on a certain day in November every few years. This book is very ambitious in its aims and I cover a lot of territory in it. I am going to try to give you a little appetizer and highlight a very small number of things in it.

Debra Sweet, who is the Director of World Can't Wait and who read a slightly earlier copy of the book, described it as being many books in one and said that I ended up telling a very personal story in it, which after she pointed that out I realized that she was right. That wasn't my conscious intent, to write a personal story, but I did want to tell a story, and I think getting personal naturally followed from that intent.

I've used earlier iterations of the book in my senior seminar classes with really gratifying results and one of my students from last quarter, a psych major, said something in her final paper I want to paraphrase. She found it remarkable that everyone in the class ended up in the same place and with the same conclusions: that the current system IS a system instead of just the product of human nature and/or the particular people leading the system now, that any changes to it require transformation on a systemic level, and finally, that such a revolutionary transformation is both necessary and possible. When she said that everyone reached that conclusion I have to say for the record that not everyone is exactly where she was, but she wasn't that far off.

On the back of my book you can see three quotes from the book itself. Those three quotes concentrate three aspects from my book that I'm going to address today.

"The problems of capitalism now being expressed are not simply the product of a few (or even a lot of) greedy, corrupt, and shortsighted business figures [or] poor monitoring by the government. They are not fixable through a set of adjustments or through electing one party over the other. They are not mainly the fault of a savings-allergic public. These are systemic problems... Systems do not change just because you put a new face in the White House and new faces in Congress. " (p. 74)

"[I]ntelligence failures do not discredit the existing policies of ubiquitous surveillance war, occupations, indefinite detentions, torture, assassinations, and drone attacks. Failures of intelligence promote and justify the existing policies... The longer the US goes without another successful or abortive terrorist incident, the harder it becomes to justify the security state's measures. Thus, the security state has a stake in having at least some anti-state terrorist incidents occur. This is the security state's dirty little secret ." (p. 152)

"Democratic theory fails to give proper weight to the initiating and decisive power of the state and media relative to the populace. Under normal circumstances, media and the state . . . dominate the process--by which the public agenda gets set. They set the table. The public must decide what to eat from the offerings placed there by the media and state, and in that sense the public "democratically" chooses what it likes, but the public does not decide what will be on the table in the first place ." (p. 229)

I should first explain that globalization has a political expression: the politics, policies, and philosophy that serve the interests and expansion of globalization. That political and philosophical expression is sometimes called free market fundamentalism and other times called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the neo- or new expression of 18th century political economist Adam Smith's meaning of the term liberal -- that is, to liberalize the market and let businesses and individuals do their thing without government involvement.

In the beginning of my book I compare the current worldwide dominance of the "privatize everything, the market should decide all things" mantra to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds' story of extraterrestrial aliens' invasion of the U.S. Wells, as some of you may know, wrote his book as an allegory. He was trying to convey to Americans what it's like for Third World people who are being conquered and oppressed by a foreign imperialist power.

Like all invading and conquering armies, the neoliberals want us to think that there is no alternative to their rule and that there is no alternative to their policies, philosophy, and value system. Our campus president at Cal Poly Pomona, for example, told a student two years ago when he asked him what can be done about the budget cuts: "Privatization. It's the only way." Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say TINA -- There Is No Alternative -- in ramming through neoliberal policies in England. In an infamous magazine interview, in fact, Thatcher declared,   "There is no such thing as society, there are just individuals and families." So in my book title when I refer to the "Demolition of Society," this is something that the neoliberals actually mean literally. I also use the phrase "demolition of society," which I take from a quote from Karl Polanyi in which he is describing what would happen if we allow market forces to rule, because it connotes explosions, disasters, and destruction, a very prominent aspect of neoliberal policies and politics. This is something that I will elaborate on a little today in a little bit.

The neoliberals want everyone to think that if you raise any questions about their views that you better keep quiet because no one sane thinks that way and that the consequences to you will be at least very unpleasant or, at the worst, fatal. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, for example, has been called insane by some leading figures for raising serious alarms about our economic policies. The invaders, whose pundits hector us hourly in the media, want everyone to give up in the face of their dominance and resign ourselves to this path. If you don't like the obviously negative consequences of their politics and policies, the very best that you can maybe hope to do is modify it very slightly by slowing it down or perhaps find some separate peace or, as some people hope, some way of finessing it or getting the system of capitalism to change without needing to completely overthrow it.

My book is an extended explanation for why modifying these neoliberal invaders' conquest isn't enough, that trying to reform or modify what they're doing isn't even going to work, and that not only IS there an alternative, but that the neoliberals' world is a deepening and almost unimaginable disaster on multiple levels, for individuals, for the people as a whole, and for the planet and its living beings.

Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine is famous for arguing that neoliberals are purposefully triggering crises in order to justify their imposition of draconian market-driven policies as the supposed solution. She is right that they sometimes engage in consciously creating calamities. But one of the key points that I make in my book is that there is a deeper problem than their deliberate disaster designs. The very logic of their policies makes catastrophes inevitable, even when they're not trying to spark a crisis and even if they never were to try to create a crisis.

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Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)
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