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Is it even possible to oppose capitalism anymore?
"Global capitalism and local traditions are no longer opposites, they are on the same side," says Slavoj Zizek. The traditions of anti-capitalist protest are upended by this fact.
In today’s historical constellation, is the cupola limited to the Western affluent countries (and its copies all around the world), so that the proletarian struggle to break into the cupola is to be identified with the struggle against the scarecrow of ‘eurocentrism’?
Along these lines, in his ‘On the Twilight of the West’, Pankaj Mishra advocates ‘a return to the Ottoman-style confederal institutions that devolve power and guarantee minority rights’:
"In the 21st century, that old spell of universal progress – whether through Western-style socialism, or capitalism and democracy – has been decisively broken. The optimistic assumptions dating from the 19th century that these universalist ideologies and techniques will deliver endless growth and political stability cannot be sustained [. . .] The global crisis, which is as much moral and intellectual as it is political and environmental, puts into question above all our long submission to Western ideas of politics and economy. Whether it is catastrophic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or disastrous interventions in Libya, the financial crisis of 2008, soaring unemployment in Europe, which seems like a problem with no solution, and is likely to empower far-right parties across the continent, the unresolved crisis of the euro, hideous income disparities in both Europe and the United States, the widespread suspicion that big money has corrupted democratic processes, the absurdly dysfunctional American political system, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency, or the dramatic loss of a sense of possibility for young people everywhere – all of this separately and together has not only severely depleted the West’s moral authority but also weakened its intellectual hegemony [. . .]
The west is the best. Get here...and we'll do the rest. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
This is why its message to the rest of the world’s population can no longer be the smooth reassurance that the Western way of life is the best, which others should try to replicate diligently in their own part of the world through nation-building and industrial capitalism [. . .] Reflecting on the world’s ‘pervasive raggedness’, the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz once spoke of how ‘the shattering of larger coherences’ into ‘smaller ones, uncertainly connected one with another, has made relating local realities . . . with the world overall, extremely difficult. If the general is to be grasped at all,’ Geertz continued, ‘and new unities uncovered, it must, it seems, be grasped not directly, all at once, but via instances, differences, variations, particulars – piecemeal, case by case. In a splintered world, we must address the splinters’ [. . .] The Western path to modernity can no longer be regarded as ‘normal’; it cannot be the standard against which historical change in other parts of the world is measured. Europeans had created their own kind of modernity in the very particular historical circumstances of the 19th and 20th centuries, and other people have been trying since then, with varying degrees of success, to imitate it. But there are, and always were, other ways of conceiving of the state, society, economy, and the good life. They all have their own specific difficulties and challenges. Nevertheless, it will be possible to understand them only through an open and sustained engagement with non-Western societies, and their political and intellectual traditions. Such an effort, formidable in itself, would also go against every instinct of the self-regarding universalism the West has upheld for two centuries. But it will be needed if we wish to seriously confront the great problem confronting the vast majority of seven billion human beings: how to secure a dignified and sustainable life amid deepening inequality and animosity in an interdependent world.
These long passages are worth quoting since they render in a concise way the post-colonial common sense: we should recognize the failure of Western civilization as a global model, and the failure of those decolonized nations that tried to emulate it. There is nonetheless a problem with this diagnosis: yes, the lesson of post-9/11 is the end of the Fukuyama dream of global liberal democracy; but at the level of economy, capitalism has triumphed worldwide – the Third World nations that are now growing at spectacular rates are those which endorsed it. The mask of cultural diversity is sustained by the actual universalism of global capital. And this new global capitalism functions even better if its political supplement relies on so-called ‘Asian values’. Global capitalism has no problem in accommodating itself to a plurality of local religions, cultures, traditions. So the cruel irony of anti-eurocentrism is that, on behalf of anti-colonialism, one criticizes the West at the very historical moment when global capitalism no longer needs Western cultural values (egalitarianism, fundamental rights, the welfare state) in order to function smoothly, and is doing quite well with authoritarian ‘alternative modernity’. In short, one tends to denounce Western cultural values at the very moment that, critically reinterpreted, many of them can serve as a weapon against capitalist globalization. And vice versa, as Saroj Giri pointedly noted,
"it is possible that the immigrants who secure rights thanks to the anti-racist anti-colonial struggle might be securing the right to free capitalist enterprise, refusing to see, refusing to ‘open your eyes’, as the angry black yelled at the post-colonial immigrant. This right to free enterprise is another way to capital accumulation powered by the post-colonial entrepreneur: it produces ‘unfree labor’ and racialized class relations in the name of challenging the colonial rule of difference [. . .] There is a closet Ayn Randian class position underpinning the anti-racism of hyperbolic anti-colonialists – it is then not difficult to see that the non-modern, radical alterity upon which the anti-colonial is premised now stands for the capitalist universal."
A sub-broker makes flower offerings before the statue of a bull outside the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) ahead of trading in Mumbai. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
Giri’s last sentence should be taken in all its Hegelian stringency: the ‘concrete universal’ of today’s global capitalism, the particular form which overdetermines and colors its totality, is that of the ‘anti-colonial’ non-European capitalist.
Giri’s point is not simply to assert the primacy of economic ‘class struggle’ over other struggles (against racism, for sexual liberation, etc.) – if we simply decode racial tension as a rejection of class differences, such a direct displacement of race onto class is effectively a reductionist way of obfuscating the very dynamic of class relations. Giri refers here to Jared Sexton’s writings in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, where he
"critiques scholars like Sumi Cho who argue that ‘the ability (of Korean Americans) to open stores (in black neighborhoods) largely depends upon a class variable.’ Hence, ‘many of the tensions (between these groups) may be class-, rather than racially based, actually rejecting differences between the store-owning Korean immigrants and the African-American customers.’ As Sexton shows, this class analysis does not have anything to do with class struggle as class is abstracted from any real unequal social relations. Secondly, ‘the mention of class-based relation is done in order to mitigate the resentment and hostility supposedly born of “cultural differences and racial animosities”.’ Thus for Cho, ‘the ability to open stores (Korean businesses) largely depends upon a class variable, as opposed to a racial one.’ A watered-down politically sterile notion of class is invoked even as the question of anti-black racism is diluted. Sexton calls this approach ‘subordinating the significance of race while pacifying the notion of class’ [. . .] This is where we encounter the familiar story of the post-colonial immigrants making great entrepreneurs and keeping the American Dream alive even as other ‘illegal’ and undocumented migrants are pushed to the bottom and even as a vast majority of blacks are reduced to not just marginalization and deprivation but ‘social death’ [. . .] this backhanded emphasis on class is a way to reduce the overdetermined status of the black poor to what looks like the natural outcome of (free) market relations."
Do we not encounter here an exemplary case of the very reference to class being a means of obfuscating the concrete functioning of class struggle? Class difference itself can be the fetish which obfuscates class struggle.
The Western legacy is effectively not just that of (post-)colonial imperialist domination, but also that of the self-critical examination of the violence and exploitation that the West brought to the Third World. The French colonized Haiti, but the French Revolution also provided the ideological foundation for the rebellion that liberated the slaves and established independent Haiti; the process of de-colonization was set in motion when the colonized nations demanded for themselves the same rights that the West took for itself. In short, one should never forget that the West provides the very standards by means of which it (as well as its critics) measures its criminal past. We are dealing here with the dialectic of form and content: when colonial countries demand independence and enact the ‘return to roots’, the very form of this return (that of an independent nation-state) is Western. In its very defeat (losing the colonies), the West thus wins, imposing its social form on to the other.
The three types of subjectivity that, according to Alain Badiou, are operative in global capitalism, do not cover the entire field. There is the hegemonic Western middle-class subjectivity that perceives itself as the beacon of civilization; there are those possessed by the desire for the West; and there are those who, out of the frustration of their desire for the West, turn towards (self-)destructive nihilism. But there is also the global-capitalist traditionalism: the stance of those who, while fully participating in global capitalist dynamics, try to contain its destabilizing excesses by relying on some traditional ethics or way of life (Confucianism, Hinduism, etc.).
The European emancipatory legacy cannot be reduced to ‘European values’ in the predominant ideological sense, i.e., to what our media refer to when they talk about how our values are threatened by Islam; on the contrary, the greatest threat to what is worth saving from the European legacy are today’s (anti-immigrant populist) defenders of Europe themselves. Plato’s thought is a European event; radical egalitarianism is European; the notion of modern subjectivity is European; communism is a European event if there ever was one. When Marxists celebrate the power of capitalism to disintegrate old communal ties, when they detect in this disintegration the opening of a space for radical emancipation, they speak on behalf of the emancipatory European legacy. That’s why Walter Mignolo and another post-colonial anti-eurocentrists attack Badiou and other proponents of communism as all too European: they dismiss the (quite correct) idea of communism being European and, instead of communism, propose as the source of resistance to global capitalism some ancient Asian, Latin American or African traditions. There is a crucial choice to be made here: do we resist global capitalism on behalf of the local traditions it undermines, or do we endorse this power of disintegration and oppose global capitalism on behalf of a universal emancipatory project? The reason anti-eurocentrism is so popular today is precisely because global capitalism functions much better when its excesses are regulated by some ancient tradition: global capitalism and local traditions are no longer opposites, they are on the same side.
Let us take an example, one that challenges the stance that local customs are sites of resistance. In the autumn of 2016, a 55-year-old former pastor in Santiago Quetzalapa, a remote indigenous community 450 kilometers south of Mexico City, raped an 8-year-old girl, and the local court condemned him to buy the victim’s father two crates of beer. Santiago Quetzalapa is in Oaxaca state, where many indigenous communities are ruled by an idiosyncratic system popularly known as usos y costumbres (‘traditions and customs’), supposed to enshrine the traditions of diverse indigenous populations. Officials in usos y costumbres communities have previously used the framework as a pretext to exclude women from local government; for example, Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, an indigenous woman, won the mayoral election, but was denied office by local leaders because of her gender. Cases like these clearly demonstrate that local popular customs are in no way to be revered as a form of resistance to global imperialism. The task is rather to undermine them by supporting the mobilization against these customs of local indigenous people themselves, as in Mexico where indigenous women are organized in effective networks.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.