The Trouble with Liberals

I’ve always considered liberals to be nothing more than Marxists without analysis.

The difference between your average liberal and your average communist is a reading of Capital or maybe even just The Communist Manifesto. But liberals have always surprised me in their tenacity to stand firm in their philosophy without feeling the need to question some important presuppositions.

I should start off that I don’t think all liberals are stupid or evil or something like that.

For the most part, liberals seem to be well-meaning, tolerant people who think they stand for the right things. But this is exactly what makes liberalism so toxic. It’s a skeleton wrapped in a shiny cloak.

Bill Clinton had a warm smile as he signed NAFTA and gutted the economy of Mexico (and the economy of the United States). Barack Obama played nice with Gaddafi before bombing Libya into oblivion.

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“I’m not going to kill you. lol jk.”

Typically, liberals in the United States are associated with the Democratic Party. It would be unfair of me to go through all the crimes of the members of the Democratic Party to show that it can’t possibly live up to its promises.

Instead, we need to talk about the presuppositions of modern liberalism.

Presupposition #1: Capitalism is cool, or at least necessary.

This has actually become a proud staple of liberal thought ever since Tony Blair and Bill Clinton pushed through their Third Way nonsense. We have to work with multinational corporations and join in the right-wing praises of the bourgeoisie.

Bourgeoisie, however, isn’t the word they’d use, because they don’t talk about social classes!

Except of course, the idealized “Middle Class“. Oh, the Middle Class, the backbone of America. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a single mother raising 4 kids making less than $30,000 a year or the perfect nuclear family making $200,000. You’re somehow part of the Middle Class. You know it all too well. Every politician talks about you.

In all this talk about the Middle Class, we manage to lose out on discussing huge groups of other people. What happens to the rural poor? What about the urban poor? Who’s talking about poverty in America? What about our prison system, which has basically created a class of slaves? There’s no room for these people.

Capitalism requires social classes, and we don’t want to talk about how it functions. We only want to talk about the rich and the richer. Liberals are the ones letting this discourse flourish.

Even your new favorite Pope is criticizing capitalism!

child-povertyPresupposition #2: Liberal Democracy as we have it is working.

The economic/political structures in the United States are oppressive. That’s a hard fact to face when you’re living in a fantasy land where America is the “Land of Opportunity” or whatever.

It’s a hard fact that public schools today are more segregated than they were 40 years ago.

It’s a hard fact that people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are basically living in Third World conditions with 80% unemployment and an average life expectancy of 50. That’s in South Dakota!

It’s a hard fact that the government of the United States destroyed the Mexican economy and now punishes Mexican immigrants for seeking better lives. Obama’s deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president before him!

This is why I’ve always felt that liberals were Marxists without analysis. When I used to waste my time trying to reason with liberals, they would often say things like, “But communism doesn’t work!

Are you serious? Does capitalism work? Does liberal democracy work? For whom is the current liberal democratic capitalist system working?

Of course, it’s working in the interests of the rich. So if you’re rich, congratulations, the system is working for you!

“I’m not rich, but I vote! Surely our liberal democracy is best, because I have the freedom to choose!”

What are your choices? You don’t get to vote on most issues, because the candidates mostly agree on the issues. In describing the two party split in Britain, George Galloway often refers to them as “two cheeks of the same backside“. A fitting analogy if there ever was one.

In reality, Noam Chomsky says it best: “They’re two factions of the same party. We have a one-party state.”

Presupposition #3: Structural Institutions are independent, not derivative.

What do I mean here?

Sexism and Racism are not separate from capitalism, they’re branches on the same tree.

Liberals today seem to think that the way to fight racism or sexism is to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Liberals today seem to be of the opinion that being “tolerant” is how to you solve racism and sexism.

The poison is drawn up from the roots, but the liberal thinks that plucking a few leaves will solve the problem.

The tree itself must be removed!

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Martin Luther King Jr. knew that capitalism and racism are intimately linked. White liberals act like having a “black friend” or voting for Barack Obama protects them from the charge of racism. Not quite, you privileged fool.

Do we really need to have a discussion about the history of the United States? It certainly wasn’t economic equality that led to slavery.

Today, one only needs to take a look at the map in order to see how districts and suburbs are segregated by color. You can even compare this with rich block and poor blocks in order to see how wealth is distributed by racial divisions.

But of course, capitalism and sexism are also intertwined. Patriarchy is not something that can be challenged within the structures of economic exploitation. Liberals want to focus on “equal work for equal pay”, which is fine, it’s important. But it’s an issue that is derivative of Patriarchy, which needs to be fought tooth and nail.

The trouble with liberals is that they don’t see America as an empire.

The trouble with liberals is that they want to put a bandaid on a bullet wound.

The trouble with liberals is that they see symptoms, but they don’t see the cause.

I won’t be watching the Superbowl (and you shouldn’t either!)

On February 2nd, over a hundred million Americans (one third of the country) will sit on their couches, bean bag chairs, and bar stools to stare at their televisions for a few hours, while two groups of men throw a ball around and roughly hug each other. We can be sure that those flamboyant uniforms were made in sweatshops, and we can be equally sure that the millions of jerseys and hats that their fans will inevitably buy will also be made in sweatshops.

Americans themselves will consume limitless hotdogs, nachos, and beer. Aside from Christmas and Thanksgiving, Superbowl Sunday is probably the most sacred holiday in the United States. And as new fuses with the old, we can rest assured that the whole event will be tweeted from all the nooks and crannies of the country.

This year (like every other year), I won’t be participating in the festivities. You shouldn’t participate in them either.

But thou dost protest too much, methinks! Surely the Superbowl is harmless! I’m just going to go to this Superbowl party and get trashed! It’s just a bit of fun! I just want to be entertained for a while! Nothing’s wrong with that, right? Right?

Wrong.

We should probably start with the ideology of the Superbowl.

Why do you care about the Superbowl? I’d imagine it’s because the people around you care. Either that or you maybe have some delusion that you’re actually on one of the teams or something. Or maybe you just like the idea of getting drunk and yelling at inanimate objects as a hobby.

Besides, this year it’s the Denver Jellyfish versus the Seattle Cuddley-Tickley Boo Boo Bears. You probably don’t even live in Denver or Seattle.

You’ve tricked yourself into caring about something totally meaningless, simply because everyone else has. Or, if you’re like most of the people I know, you don’t actually care, but you’re just pretending. Or you’re just doing something to get out of the house.

Ultimately, it’s all totally meaningless.

Except, of course, for the real winners of the Superbowl.

Who’s that?

The clothing manufacturers.

The sports teams and their affiliates.

The multinational corporations.

The advertisers.

In the end, it won’t really be a battle between the Seattle Sillyheads and the Denver Poop Machines. It’s going to be a battle between giant corporations and your free will. And these corporations are spending $4 million for 30 seconds to influence you. It’s a battle to get you to buy their things. It’s a battle that they intend to win.

After all, that’s when everyone engages: during the commercials.

The commercials are so funny! They’re so silly! Look at those crazy people and animals! Pass me the Doritos! Pass me a Pepsi!

Of course, most people are just looking for a distraction. Who wants to deal with the fact that West Virginia’s water is poison or that Texas will just have executed a Mexican national? And certainly no one wants to talk about the Central African Republic or Myanmar.

And I can understand that. But when you turn on the television, you’re legitimizing the ignorance of these issues. You’re also legitimizing other things: the culture, the consumption, the waste.

When you turn on that television, you’re legitimizing the incomes of the Denver Daffodils and the Seattle Scoobie Doos. These men are literally bankrolling hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, more than 600,000 Americans are homeless and about 700 homeless people die each year from hypothermia.

Are you cold right now? Think about the people on the streets in Denver and Seattle.

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The Superbowl simply offers an escape and it isn’t a helpful one. It provides an escape for individuals, it provides an escape for the media, and it provides an escape for those in power.

It isn’t something you do alone, it’s the participation in a culture. And this culture is one that is simultaneously symptomatic and perpetuates capitalism.

Turn off your television!

Instead of watching the Superbowl, you should gather your friends for a party where you can eat organic/vegan/kosher/halal/locally grown food and talk about how you can build a better community.

Or stay in and read a book.

Watch a documentary.

Write a story.

Paint a picture.

Play some music with your friends.

Get into a passionate conversation on religion or politics.

Learn about something new (like Kyrghyzstan, Australian Aboriginal groups, or the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Or you could do the unthinkable and volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the time you would spend watching the Superbowl.

Of course, if none of that sounds appealing, you could actually go out and play football. At least that way you get exercise and do something new with your friends.

You’re likely to find that now that you don’t care about the Superbowl, you’ll have freed up your time to care about things that are actually important.

What are the Arabs Dreaming About?

Today, January 16th, marks the referendum in Egypt on the new constitution and, unsurprisingly, that new constitution received roughly 97% approval vote of the 38% of Egyptians who voted. Let’s pretend for a moment that these results aren’t totally fraudulent (which they totally are). What does this mean? It means that Egypt will now go forward with presedential and parliamentary elections for a new government in the coming weeks and months, with the army back at the helm.

One step forward, two steps back, right? Or is it two steps forward, one step back?

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve probably also noticed some interesting things happening in Libya. Particularly, what I was calling “intentional destabilization” on the part of those who really benefited from the Arab Spring. Who exactly? Why don’t you ask this 32 year old who is currently “sitting on billions of dollars of oil” and who has “declared independence” for his area? And Syria? Was this the plan all along? But those protests in Iraq, didn’t they lead to something better?

I guess if you consider Fallujah under siege from al-Qaeda to be something better!

In fact, the only place that seems to be any better is the place where it all started: Tunisia. And even there, the successes of the Arab Spring are notably minimal and tenuous.

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I know that this is an unpopular position.

Plenty have suggested to me that I’m too cynical. Some of my dearest friends have pleaded with me to be patient. “The French Revolution and Russian Revolution took years! Give the Arabs some time!” I don’t find this a compelling argument at all, but especially because I don’t think the Arab Spring could aptly be described as a “revolution.” Indeed, I think Asef Bayat was right to characterize them as “refolutions“. They’re rather non-ideological, deformed mimicries of revolutions.

The Arab Spring is what happens when passive political ignorance becomes active political ignorance.

When the initial teemings of demonstrations were forming in Tunisia and Egypt, I too was excited and enthralled by the images, hoping for a new chapter in the Arab world. I imagined Arabs claiming what was rightfully theirs in huge masses. Popular justice and self-determination would replace the rampant imperialism of the American Empire. The Egyptians would throw out Hosni Mubarak and ally themselves with the Palestinians rather than continuing the support of Israeli Apartheid.

But it became increasingly evident that the U.S., England, and France wasn’t going to let this pass by so easily. As quickly as it came, it was recuperated by the Western powers and immediately started to serve their interests.

The Arab Spring wasn’t going to help the Arabs, it was just going to restructure the mechanisms of oppression.

This was something I could see happening in front of my eyes and yet I had no power to change it. It is impossible to take delight in predicting these disasters. The countless deaths and tragedies that resulted have been nothing less of catastrophic. Was the pre-Arab Spring world desirable? Not at all. However, the scale is tipped between the two awful choices of bad and worse.

ImageAlmost exactly one year ago, Army General David Rodriguez claimed that the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) needed to step up its engagements in Africa in order to fight al-Qaeda. I wrote a response that I think is still applicable:

“Ultimately, the United States did a wonderful job of destabilizing Libya and is now using this instability as grounds for “greater engagements” throughout Africa. Predictable? Of course. The conflict in Mali is a direct result of the collapse of the Libyan state and provides the West with wonderful positions to reassert control over North Africa, which will inevitably lead to a reified hegemony over the Middle East. Why is this important?

This is important for putting the Arab Spring into context. Some people hailed the Arab Spring unconditionally without pausing to to see how U.S. involvement was going to shape the upheavals throughout the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, rather than challenging Western imperialism, the new governments have embraced free trade agreements and bought into neo-colonialist “development”. Libya has become a vacuum for Western oil and military interests to finally be fully realized after years of wrestling with Gaddafi.

This also has affects events slightly East of North Africa. Bahrain receives little-to-no media attention, most of all because the government there is directly under U.S. control and the population is considered to be sympathetic with Iranian politics. Meanwhile, rising Sunni protests against the dominant government go unreported in Iraq – and God forbid we in the West actually pretend to care about Iraq now that we’ve secured our oil interests. Israel responded to any Palestinian uprising with swift and merciless bombing campaigns. Syria has spiraled into perpetual civil war with almost 80,000 reported deaths – let’s not forget that the U.S. previously insisted that Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer” before shifting the party line to require his death in order for any peace deals to be achieved.

This is why it’s important: because no one cares. Why does no one care? I have no clue. Apparently, as long as things aren’t widely reported, no one bothers to look into them on their own time. Maybe you could tell me. The United States government continues to act in its own interest, regardless of the rest of the world and American citizens seem to think that it’s just dandy. “Arab Spring” and “Revolution” both became little buzz-words in the media and everyone hailed shifts in politics without question.

There’s one hard fact here, though: people are dying…needlessly. That means that while you’re sitting here reading this, innocent people are dying in the Middle East for nothing other than failed states and botched revolutions. There’s one more hard fact: Americans don’t seem to care. If Americans do care, they obviously don’t care enough to force our government to do anything productive. And don’t think for a second that pressuring our government is enough – because they’re still going to act in the interests of “the American people”, which loosely translated means: “rich, white assholes who control this economy.”

At the end of this, I have support for no one. I don’t support these governments (Gaddafi, Assad, Maliki) and I don’t support these rebels (FSA, LNC, Muslim Brotherhood). I don’t support the United States and I don’t support NATO. None of these groups represent the interest of real people, they instead represent the interests of people in power. As long as this is the situation, those who care will be forced to continue to shout at the deaf and wave at the blind.”

A friend asked me if I had any hope for the region and I responded with fierce cynicism. I still hold that cynicism.

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Unfortunately, the game has only just begun.

The Arab world has no chance of recovering as long as it remains in this paradigm of post-colonial nation-states that serve the Imperial Powers of the United States, England, France, and Germany. The Arab Spring has only proven itself to be nothing short of a catastrophe.

In 1978, Michel Foucault wrote a piece for Le Nouvel Observateur called “What are the Iranians Dreaming About?” It began with the paragraph:

“They will never let go of us of their own will. No more than they did in Vietnam.” I wanted to respond that they are even less ready to let go of you than Vietnam because of oil, because of the Middle East. Today they seem ready, after Camp David, to concede Lebanon to Syrian domination and therefore to Soviet influence, but would the United States be ready to deprive itself of a position that, according to circumstance, would allow them to intervene from the East or to monitor the peace?”

This is still the world in which we are living. The Soviet influence is gone, but the oil remains. As long as the oil remains, so shall the United States. That is, at least, until the Arabs stand up against imperialism, not just dictatorships.

The Syrian people, the Iraqi people, the Palestinian people, the Lebanese People, the Bahraini people, the Saudi people, the Egyptian people, the Libyan people, the Tunisian people, the Algerian people, and the Moroccan people will never get anywhere as long as they remain divided and subservient to their historical conquerors. This is not my call for ardent nationalism, but strident internationalism against external domination.

Until that day, the Arabs will continue to drown in their own blood while the Americans continue to swim in their oil.

Overcoming the Nightmare (or, another post about Iraq)

A few weeks ago, I found a staggering statistic that said that 70% of Iraqi children suffer from psychological traumatic disorders from the war. I was overwhelmed with grief and found myself crying while reading further about the situation there. It’s difficult not to cry at such immense destruction, death, and degradation.

When I posted something on Facebook, it became immediately evident that I wasn’t going to get any constructive dialogue, so I just ignored the thread. But ever since, I’ve tried to really focus my mind on the fact that the government of the United States waged a terror campaign on a small oil-rich country and bombed it back into the stone age. It’s difficult to visualize one million people, yet even harder to visualize one million dead people. And even harder still to visualize one million dead people who were killed simply due to existing in the country in which they were born.

I’ve heard of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this is ridiculous.

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Here is Iraq on a map by the way, since we both know that you probably couldn’t find it.

Today I went to get some food at a dönerladen here. When I ordered my food, the man behind the counter detected my ridiculous accent and asked me where I was from. When I replied with America he asked me whether I liked Germany or America better. I responded that they both had their drawbacks and benefits.

“And where are you from?”

“Iraq.”

For a moment we just stood silently, my smile faded. Finally, I cobbled together a sentence in my terrible Arabic.

“Forgive me, please.”

What else could I say? Of course, the war on Iraq wasn’t my fault per se. After all, I was only twelve when we invaded. I was only eleven when 9/11 occurred. I couldn’t have had less to do with the war effort. Regardless, I am on some level responsible for the things that my government does. I pay taxes (sort of), I put money into the economy, and I continue to travel on my American passport. I’m not a perfectly innocent human being by any stretch of the imagination.

He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that we were friends and brothers and that I had no reason to ask for forgiveness, but we both knew the truth.

The truth is that my life has been the easiest life you can possibly imagine – American white heterosexual male. I came into this world armed to the teeth with the weapons of privilege, as Utah Phillips once said. And the other truth is that simply by virtue of birth, this man with whom I was speaking witnessed his family, friends, and entire community spin into a vortex of death, misery, and chaos.

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This is what democracy looks like, apparently.

He relayed stories to me about American soldiers raping and shooting women in his city (which, notably is in Kurdistan). He told me about the countless children who are born with deformities in Iraq due to the chemical weapons used by the Americans and the British. He told me things that made me cry right there in the döner laden.

“When the Americans first came, the poor people handed them red flowers, because they were excited for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Within a few weeks the Americans were killing these same poor people. ‘Freedom’ and ‘democracy’ were just lies.”

We discussed Bush and Obama, Saudi Arabia and Israel, America and Afghanistan. Through all of it, he repeated that Iraq will never recover from the invasion. “The nightmare will last forever, because of the war.” Indeed, we will never overcome the nightmare. The nightmare that the Iraqi people live with on a daily basis and the nightmare that the American people have already forgotten.

I’ve never heard a good defense for this war. This past year saw the most people killed since 2007. Where’s the justice for all of these people? We saw Saddam on trial on television for his crimes. When will we see George and Tony in front of the ICC on public trial for their crimes?

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Now THIS is hope we can believe in.

More people have been killed since the American invasion than Saddam could’ve even dreamt of. Is that what is implied in the name Operation Iraqi Freedom?

If so, that’s a “freedom” I want no part of.