I’ve been absent from this blog for a while, feeling frankly too hopeless about the political situation to pick up on my usual themes and too busy reading for pay as a professional reviewer to have much time to explore other ideas. But I have been thinking about something that I’d like to begin exploring on this blog, just setting aside the question of whether it can ever become a more generally salient idea for discussion elsewhere, let alone a movement for radical change. In a word: I’d like to propose a radical rethinking of justice, crime and punishment.
This video interview with David Graeber of Occupy Wall Street by Italian activist, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo covers a range of subjects this blog has also covered, focusing on debt, political power and direct democracy. The questions appear in written Italian, but most should be fairly clear to anyone with high school-level familiarity with the romance languages, and those that aren’t Graeber answers very straightforwardly and clearly. (One thing he discusses that I’m not familiar with is the Italian 5 Star movement, of which Grillo is a leader.)
Graeber’s view of the American system is essentially captured by the quote which is the title of this post. I think it’s an accurate view. What do you think? I also greatly appreciate his proposed antidote to the poison in the US system, which is for the people to act as though they are free and have power. That is what Occupy Wall Street is all about.
Michael McAuliffe at Huffington Post reports on some sizable donations in Ron Paul’s campaign war chest from the sorts of racist fringe dwellers the notorious Ron Paul newsletters of the early 1990s were designed to appeal to:
Paul’s 2012 campaign has received more than $6,000 from people who have identified themselves as white separatists or supremacists, or who are listed on anti-hate group sites such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Two prominent donors are leaders in what may be the most ambitious white nationalist political movement in the U.S., American Third Position. One is William Johnson, the group’s chairman. Another is Virginia Abernethy, a former Vanderbilt professor who is listed as a director of the party.
Abernethy has given Paul at least $2,451 for this election. Johnson has donated at least $3.349.
Most presidential campaigns reject what they regard as money from tainted sources. Paul has not done that, even though Abernethy and Johnson are well known for their views and Paul has encountered Johnson before.
It doesn’t look as though Paul will be gaining any more traction as a Republican. He’s got his solid fan base in the party, which doesn’t seem able to grow or shrink or bear any sign of sensitivity to the currents of the primary race. So, unless the anti-Romney contingent decides to throw over Santorum and Gingrich finally, this news is likely to have zero impact either way. And the way things are in the GOP, it would likely be more of a reason to move toward Paul than away from him, if only because Republican rank-and-filers love to side with anyone under attack from the “liberal media” for being too outrageously right-wing.
We have a hint as to how Paul intends to handle this, according to McAuliffe. Read the rest of this entry »
In an interview with David Johnson of Boston Review, anarchist/activist/anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years David Graeber makes a key point about the “morality” behind austerity movements that is destined to be missed by all influential economists, bankers, presidential candidates and media pundits, but which no one interested in ethics , politics, or economics should miss (my emphasis):
David Johnson: What inspired you to write the book?
David Graeber: It came out of the strange moral power that debt has over people. So many times you’re talking to people about the depredations of the International Monetary Fund in the third world, telling these horrible stories about the thousands of babies dying of preventable diseases because people aren’t allowed to maintain malaria-eradication campaigns or basic health services due to austerity measures and debt servicing, and people respond, “Well, yeah, but you can’t say they don’t owe the money. People have got to pay their debts, come on!” That common-sensical notion not only that it’s moral to pay one’s debt, but also that morality essentially is a matter of paying one’s debts can bring people to justify things that they would never think to justify in any other circumstance. For the most part, decent people tend not to think killing lots of babies is justifiable under any circumstances. But debt somehow changes all that. Why is that?
Let’s try to really pay attention to that question, because as citizens of the modern democratic-capitalist world, we are very well-educated to gloss over it. Read the rest of this entry »
Since I began this series, Democraticunderground.com has undergone a major change, dropping its 2.0 version–which was launched in July 2003, two and a half years after the initial launch of the site and just three months after I became active in the community–and unveiling its 3.0 version. It’s difficult for an outsider to get a bead on why this change was deemed necessary. One plausible-enough scenario I saw some long-time DUers posit is that the software the old site was built on (DCForum+ Version 1.1) is no longer supported by the the original developers who stopped making it in 2002, so all of its fixes for bugs (and there were many) had to be jury-rigged by the site’s administrators. But many DUers, both banned and active, think the software issues are an excuse for the real reason for the change, which is to stifle dissent from DU’s inherently center-right, pro-Obama, pro-Democratic Leadership Council bias.
More than a few believe greed may be a factor, as well.
I’m reading a book that is so good, so well-written, so relevant to the zeitgeist, that I can confidently recommend it to anyone who reads, though I’m just a bit more than halfway through it myself: Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber.
Before I tell you why you should go now and buy, borrow or reserve this book and get reading, I’ll call your attention to an interview Graeber gave the British magazine The White Room which gives an interesting peek into his background and main political ideas. Graeber, a well-respected anthropologist, is becoming better known as one of the influencing thinkers behind #occupyWallStreet. A couple of sentences from the introduction of the White Room interview beautifully make a point about OWS that I less successfully try to make when people criticize its “fuzziness” and lack of demands:
…Graeber has put the spotlight on the anarchist principles of the Occupy movement, explaining that the lack of concrete demands is part of a pre-figurative politics. The protestors act as though they are ‘already living in a free society’, and thus refuse to accept the legitimacy of existing political institutions and legal order – both of which, he says, are immediately recognised in the placing of demands. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a fascinating and encouraging development from yesterday’s second-month celebration of the occupation of Zuccotti Park, something to indicate that the movement is far from being a flash in the pan and far from being defanged. A group of students and other protesters have taken over a space at 90 Fifth Avenue in preparation for creating a free “people’s university.” It may also provide an alternative space for at least some of #OWS’s displaced denizens during the winter months, provided the city and the owners of the building (which happens to be one of the nation’s largest banks, according to the protesters) don’t try to Bloomberg/Brookfield them out.