Sunday, February 26, 2006

Capitalism is a sickness

Why did Ayn Rand hate folk music?

Why does Bill O'Reilly rant about the ACLU in nearly the exact same sentences Hitler used to describe communists, labor organizers, Russians, and Jews?

In neither case are the alleged explanations the honest truth. Ayn Rand hated folk music because it was inherently harder to privatize. She talked about it's naiivete, religiousity, endorsement of rural communalism and pastoralism, etc. etc., none of which are traits of all folk music. What makes folk music folk music is the fact that it's built out of other folk music. And economic royalism has decreed that music needs to be commoditized, privatized, and locked up. In other words, sheer economic determinism made Ayn Rand speak for or against anything.

Why Bill O'Reilly attacks the ACLU more than any other group is made immediately clear looking at Fox News' history of attempting censorship by lawsuit. They sued T-shirt makers who made fun of them. O'Reilly and Fox News sued Al Franken for mocking their fair-and-balanced slogan. They even started to sue Fox itself because the "news crawl" on cartoon TV sets in The Simpsons mocked the Fox News chiron. In all but the last case, whenever Fox has tried to harrass critics into silence the ACLU has stepped in on behalf of the victims and shut Fox down. Therefore, O'Reilly's money source and his book sales determine what he hates.

Capitalism has not been with us that long. Only since the post-war era, in fact. Before that you had some of the components, but they weren't welded into an ideology. Slavery existed all over the world for a long time as a necessary evil, but no one turned it into a virtue until it became bound into the nationalism of the American South before and during the Civil War. That slavery-as-ideology is similar to what capitalism really is.

In the 1940s the US noticed that command economies - essentially still on a wartime footing - were rapidly reindustrializing in the Soviet Union and most of eastern Europe. It was clear that both the communists and the Kuomintang in China were also going to follow a command economy of some sort, with Chiang Kai-Shiek leaning towards Mussolini's corporatism and Mao imitating Lenin and Stalin. US The State Department has documents showing that Marxism was seen as a real ideological threat already as the war ended. It provided a simple analysis of politics, war, economics and government. Economic conditions trumped everything else, and commerce had to be subdued by government in every sphere of activity. The United States government consciously decided to support a counter-ideology, which we now know as capitalism. As a mirror-image of Marxism-Leninism, it would agree that economics was the only "real" dimension of human activity, the one that controlled and created all the others. But it would fanatically invert the central Marxist doctrine that commerce was always subordinate to government. Government must always be subordinate to commerce, and everything else would fall into place magically. Of course, most places in the world found Marxism more inherently acceptable, so the ideology was modified to say that, just as communism was something that would be arrived at for real only after generations of building socialism in the Marxist ideology, real capitalism would only be arrived at after first establishing increasing economic freedom, quite often through mercantilism, foreign aid and command economies.

This simple inversion of Marxism-Leninism had a parallel in the domestic US political culture. The "neoconservatives," among other features, were people who had believed, crudely, that Marxism had all the answers and Russia was always right - either Russia as it was (Stalin) or Russia as it ought to have been (Trotsky). Disillusioned - or just feeling disenfranchised - they hadimmediately flipped to a posture of "capitalism has all the answers and America is always right" (later changing to "Israel is always right" after the 1960s started).

The earlier "anti-Bolshevism" of the US government had been in the form of Red Scares, with Bolshevism seen as anarchy and mass murder of the deserving elites by a Jacobin mob. That had blended, in the 1930s, with a strong attraction of fascism for the rich and powerful of America. That culminated in an attempted coup against Roosevelt in the mid-30s, as Smedley Butler reported. What I believe the business elites were most impressed with was that Mussolini and Hitler were able to lead the masses to act against their interests and in the interests of rich elites without and overdependence on religion. Clearly, Hitler and Mussolini cited the Church and the Nation nonstop, but they also adapted the language of the left dissidents and modified it to twist their masses into ideological knots. One of the most important things they accomplished was creating enough confusion that people couldn't tell the ideologues paid to do the rich man's bidding from the spontaneous ones. Astroturf, as we call it now, was what brought fascism to power.

Thus, by the 1940s and 50s there was US government support for a "capitalist" and specifically "anti-Marxist" ideology. There was tremendous elite support for it - Herbert Hoover repurposed his Stanford Institute on War, Peace and Revolution as an explicit source of "capitalist" propaganda, making it the very first "think tank" that was only for propaganda purposes (FDR's were for problem-solving).

It was against that background that the coming to prominence of the Young Americans for Freedom, Barry Goldwater, Ayn Rand and her Objectivism, and what became the Libertarian Party is easy to understand. In essence, they were all beneficiaries of astroturf. While they pretended to attack the State Department, out of sheer demagoguery, in fact they were in a tight alliance of the State Department, the Defense Department, the OSS/CIA/NSA, and so on, all shoulder to shoulder in complete agreement on goals but only quibbling over tactics (with the astroturf rabble rousers deliberately always advocating impossible and insane tactics to look like true rebels).

By the 1970s, elites and government agents were so successful at fooling the American people and the masses of much of the world that they had become complacent. That's the true meaning behind the (Lewis) Powell memo. Justice Powell claimed capitalism had no ideological defenders, unlike Marxism, and that it needed such a defender, since Marxism was being advocated all over society and government. Of course, that was completely false. In H.L. Mencken's time, as he noted, anything outside of the most pro-business, pro-rich, pro-corporate economic teaching was completely banned from American universities, and only against that background did the presence of some left, liberal, and even Marxist professors (and only a few, most not connected with economics courses) on American campuses later on become a profusion. More importantaly, as I have indicated, Marxism had a few paltry impoverished defenders here and there, and capitalism had a huge machine built in behind it.

So Powell, not an idiot, could not have meant what he wrote. What he was saying was that he felt the capitalism machine was getting slack and complacent and that its propaganda would suffer, and people would start turning against the super-rich and the multinational corporations and the large financial institutions, and start clamoring for relief. Therefore, to head that off, the Cold War would have to be revamped, more money poured directly not just into capitalist propaganda, but into a group of parasites whose only career would be propagandizing the masses on behalf of capitalism, and luring working class people into supporting pro-capitalist policies through cultural conflict. One of the totally intentional ironies of complete business control of America's media, educational system and historical training is that no average Americans were ever exposed to Antonio Gramsci (who far predates people like Guy DeBord or Marshall McCluhan), but clearly the elites and their defenders were close students of his theories.

We all know the fallout from that - Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? deals with how well the culture wars played out. The Cold War was indeed ramped up for no reason other than elite interests. Then, just before Reagan and Bush yanked that out from under the masses, a false existential threat from terrorism* was created in the 1980s. The elites and their representatives embraced deficit spending on the military-industrial complex not just for its own sake, but as a strategy to privatize the social network, reduce the educational level of the masses to nonthreatening levels, and create enough unemployment and underemployment to assure the death of unions and the supremacy of the elites, as well as slowly dissolving the middle class.

When I say that capitalism is a sickness, I don't mean business, commerce or profits are a sickness. But privatization of everything human beings do is a sickness. It's the mental illness fallout from trying to shoehorn all human activity into a tight-fitting capitalist mold. The tendency to capitalize everything is perhaps a necessary evil, something we have to allow around because eliminating it would be even worse. But making it not only a virtue, but the only virtue, is a recipe for a sick society. Given where the worst communist societies started from, in fact, I think it's a recipe for a sicker society even than theirs were.

*When I say the existential threat of terrorism was false, I mean it. Had the elites and their surrogates truly regarded international terrorism as a threat they would not have done the following:

1. Ignored all right wing terrorism, from the most lethal terrorist bombing in decades - a fascist bomb in Bologna Italy - to the right-wing terrorists who actually shot the Pope. The Reaganites played politics with that by pretending the KGB and Russia and Bulgaria were behind it, but they knew, we can now show, all along that that was a lie.

2. Played politics with other terrorist incidents. For instance, they milked a discotheque bomging in Berlin to justify a Mussolini-like attack on Libya, then turned around and, within weeks, declared that it was an Iranian sponsored bombing.

3. Most importantly, funded Islamists all over the world, including Al Qaeda, the mujaheddin in general, and the Taliban. Similarly, if Israel really regarded "Islamic terrorism" as a true existential threat, then their government would never have funded Hamas, a splinter of the Moslem Brotherhood, nor given it status as a recognized charity. They would have struck back at terrorist groups, as they did, but not played politics by pretending the largely military group the PLO was a terrorist organization, nor by lying and saying groups who targetted both the PLO and Israel were in fact PLO-controlled. This is leaving alone the American funding and training and harboring and general sponsorship of international terrorism in Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Namibia, Angola, and so on. Or direct US terrorism in Southeast Asia from the 1950s through the late 1980s.

The truth is, terrorism in the 1980s was a useful tool for the elites, and nothing more.

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