Monday, July 21, 2008

Open war

OK, righteous right-wingers and your hangers-on, listen up: your day is already waning. Your death throes are amusing, if dangerous when we get a little too close to the thrashing of reptilian limbs and tails. Flail and fail, chumps. Your bromides and one-liners doused in never-ending spitefulness aren't likely even to get you through your own lives very well, let alone put an end to history.

Since Jay Currie and Mark Collins insist, I'll begin with Jonathan Chait, who's supposedly one of us, although he's just launched a bitter and oddly tardy assault on Naomi Klein. (Chait writes for Peretz's centrist New Republic, and on occasion the Wall Street Journal.) Don't worry, though, I'll get to the other folks by and by, including the Know Nothing from Delisle and the rabid post-Cathaholic from who-cares-where.

The first thing that shines through in Chait's lengthy piece is his thinly disguised envy, a bit like Kathy Shaidle's perennial sniping at Antonia Zerbisias (because the latter has a column in the Toronto Star and the former doesn't, but did.)

She remains the darling of the left in the United States, where she writes for The Nation and The Huffington Post, and abroad, where she is even more popular. A poll of readers of Prospect and Foreign Policy in 2005 ranked her eleventh on a list of the hundred most influential public intellectuals in the world. And we can see the culmination of her intellectual synthesis in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The reception accorded this book has been staggering. It was a New York Times bestseller, a finalist for distinguished prizes, a favorite of "best book" lists in the newspapers. It has even been made into a short film. It has been reviewed favorably in The New York Times, and hyperbolically elsewhere. In These Times called it "The New Road to Serfdom"--that is, the left-wing equivalent of the classic right-wing Hayekian tract. The San Francisco Chronicle said it "may have revealed the master narrative of our time." Not bad for a marginal dissenter.

Note the last sentence. You can almost see the barely-known Chait stamping his foot and crying, "It's just not fair. I'm not a marginal dissenter!"

In his critique of Klein (yes, he finally gets to her work rather than her person), he sneers at his own digest: "The 'shock doctrine' is the conservative plan to implement pro-corporate policies through the imposition and exploitation of mass trauma." Now, there's nothing very, ah, shocking about that: it's hardly tinfoil-hat stuff. Roger Douglas, the New Zealand Finance Minister who ushered in deregulation in the 'nineties, explained how to head off opposition: "hit them hard and hit them fast." Milton Friedman, who saw serious catastrophes as opportunities to advance the right-wing agenda, is quoted by Chait in the article. Those of us in Ontario remember Education Minister John Snobelen under the Harris regime and his infamous remark about creating a "useful crisis."

But Chait doesn't really argue about the usefulness of crises. In fact he says the Left has advanced through crises too. His quarrel, it seems, is with the moral condemnation that accompanies Klein's "banal" observations about crisis-creation and crisis-opportunism. He accuses Klein of a simplistic "economicism," reproducing her arguments like a triumphant schoolchild saying "There!" without any genuine intellectual engagement. Perhaps Klein might be wrong about developments in the Middle East being directly related to corporate interests, for example. But it's an interesting hypothesis, and one doesn't refute it simply by shouting "economicist!" or name-calling ("doctrinaire").

Indeed, with respect to Klein's on-the-ground analysis of the Third World fall-out of global corporatism, he is in general agreement. He claims to oppose Klein's economic reductionism by arguing as follows:

All these things [that Klein outlines --DD] are true. And all these things are enormous outrages and significant problems. It's just that they are not the same outrage or the same problem. And Naomi Klein's relentless lumping together of all her ideological adversaries in the service of a monocausal theory of the world ultimately renders her analysis perfect nonsense.

Well, no, it doesn't. What is interesting, at least to me, is the confluence of neoconservative and neoliberal strains in US foreign and domestic policy. I think this bears a good deal of further analysis. In any case I agree with Chait that we should certainly not confuse the two. But that doesn't mean that both approaches have no convergence of interests. Chait claims that corporations are risk-averse, for example, and don't like wars very much, which is no doubt true up to a point; but corporations that are not directly profiting from wars do like the aftermath of wars, when they can grab lucrative contracts for reconstruction with little oversight, not to mention private soldiering.

Finally, though, Chait really offers very little cause for the right-wing jubilation that appears to have broken out over his review. If Klein's book, intended for a popular audience, skips over some of the nuances he might have preferred, it turns out that he is nevertheless every bit as trenchant a critic of global corporatism as Klein ever was:

Klein, no armchair radical, jets off to wretched places in the Third World and paints a picture of the reality of free trade in chilling detail. That picture ought to give pause to the most committed free-trader, even if she is hardly the only one to have noted these consequences.


The last two decades certainly have seen the global spread of absolutist free-market ideology. Many of the newest adherents of this creed are dictators who have learned that they can harness the riches of capitalism without permitting the freedoms once thought to flow automatically from it. In the United States, the power of labor unions has withered, and prosperity has increasingly come to be defined as gross domestic product or the rise of the stock market, with the actual living standards of the great mass of the population an afterthought. Corporations, which can relocate nearly anywhere around the world, have used their flexibility as a cudgel against workers, who do not enjoy the privileges of mobility. Domestic policy has aggressively sharpened income inequalities, and corporations have enjoyed unfettered influence to a degree not seen in a hundred years. And the president did start a war without paying the slightest bit of attention to the country that he would be left occupying or how its people would react.

Moving, then, from the relatively sublime world of ideas to the truly banal world of screechy far-right ideologues:

I don't really have much difficulty with deliberate misinterpretation of my words by the barely literate pests who inhabit right-wing blogsites, and swarm out from time to time to infest ours. Let them bombinate impotently forever, for all I care. But it is instructive to see what passes for commentary in those venues.

A quick word, to start with, about the aforementioned Kathy Shaidle. The post that I linked to really needs no comment from me. She is simply beside herself with fury, which, to be honest, I rather enjoyed. But the mention of traffic at the end of it bears a closer look.

Traffic? You bet the hockey-helmet painter from Delisle has traffic. It's a non-stop information superhighway-jamming parade of yahoos in Corvettes with too-loud radios competing for road space with pickups full of armed yokels looking for Injuns and darkies and multicultural-left-lib/commie/gay/Islamist CBC radio listeners. You can smell the hemp they're twisting in their hands.

Kate simply provides a black hole that pulls in a truly impressive number of far-right hammerheads. Somehow this is supposed to be something to envy. I'm reminded of flies. No, vinegar won't do the trick, but we all know something that works a lot better than honey.

Here is a judicious and I think fair selection of comments about me from the buzzing little critters at her place. Head over there if you must, but please do not look for anything that rises too far above this level:

Why does anybody take that hideous little man seriously for any reason other than mockery? He's a Usenet reject, the very definition of an internet troll.

I lived in Phoenix for three years, Sheriff Joe ROCKS! ...Dawg is an uninformed bigot-of-the-Left.

Dr. Dawg is and will always be a morally reprehensible piece of shit. [bolding and italics in the original]

We need to stop using their words and go back to calling them by the proper term of what they are:pinko-commies!

Sooner or later these commie-pinkos are going to hissy-fit themselves out of existence.

Leftards are the most illogical, delusional and hateful people the world has ever seen. Spanish conquistadores have nothing on this lot.

For a second there I thought Dawg's rant was an Obama speech. Needless to say as far as lefoids[sic] go; It's Dawg's way or the highway. I love it when progressives turn on each other. It just shows how shallow and self-centered they really are.Oh yeah, Go Sheriff Joe.

The leftards use the word progressive and then they refuse to debate "Certain" issues and subjects because they deem them unprogressive. My perseption [sic] is they are moral and ethical cowards, and their ability to debate is quite pathetic really....Dawg there is nothing "Progressive" about you, commuist [sic] yes "Progressive" not a drop of it resides in your soul.

I don't get much traffic like this.*

Just to clear up ex-professor "ET"'s misconception, by the way, I'm still a member of the Progressive Bloggers blogroll, and have absolutely no intention whatsoever of leaving. But being a moderator implies at least a general acceptance of the contents of the 'roll. The word "progressive" is pretty loose, as I've said before, but it doesn't include everyone, any more than Blogging Tories does. Besides, if I'm going to take on some of the dizzier folks who hang out at ProgBlogs, it's probably best that I'm not a moderator anyway.

It's true that I wanted a blogger dropped from a "progressive" blogroll for defending a far-right sadistic hero-figure, capital punishment and the former Aussie PM John Howard's use of the army to occupy Aboriginal territory. But that's a far cry from allegedly being intolerant of all opinions other than my own. Visitors can see rather quickly that my combox is hardly an echo-chamber, to put it mildly. Sometimes I feel like a minority of one, even on my own blog.

I might conceivably have been tempted, in fact, to reply directly at Kate's place to the bone-heads who think I'm unwilling to debate those with contrary political views. Alas, however, I don't have that option. I'm banned from her site.

*Except on my "Open letter to 'progressives'" thread: thanks for the link, Kate. You really needn't have bothered.

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