Category Archives: Fall 2005 (9/30/05)

“Dr. Phil” TV Show VS. Reality

Phil McGraw is a whore, a bully, and a deeply crooked, unfathomably vile, individual. This doesn’t make McGraw unique among paid entertainers, and if there were nothing else to him he might not be worth mentioning. McGraw markets himself as “Dr. Phil.” The title “Dr.” is essential for what he does, because it is the basis for his perceived authority. He has gone through the accredited institutions (paid them a lot of money), fulfilled their requirements, and has earned an advanced degree in psychology, designating him an expert on the human mind. Since then, he has cultivated his role in the long line of history’s charlatans. Charlatanism of his sort has served a vital social function for thousands of years. This could be traced to the advent of food surpluses, which created the first non-productive classes. Invariably, these classes’ rulers utilize the charlatans – or merely encourage their existence, even if just by the default of persecuting those who question their authority – to psychologically manipulate and control the ruled oppressed majority.

Post-Enlightenment charlatanism of the McGraw type uses the language of science and reason, as opposed to traditional superstition. The meaning of their activity, however, is achieved not by their definition of reason, but by their application of it, with its attendant social functions and implications. In this sense there’s nothing unique about McGraw. Yet the particular character of his brand of charlatanism demonstrates some attributes of modern society. (Of course traditional superstition still abates. Adorno’s The Stars Down to Earth examines a year’s worth of LA Times astrology columns circa 1950. The mystical character of astrology wasn’t disputed as such, but largely stood in entertaining contrast when supernatural spirituality commanded being an obedient wage slave. Self-destructive and arbitrary social relationships are invisibly accepted and presented as natural givens of life).

Everything about the “Dr. Phil” television program bespeaks the construction of authority. In addition to his “expert” status, the man is “manly”, large, authoritative, and tough. He is a former linebacker, which supports his guise as all-American straight shooter. Thus the US mass audience is assured that he is a true anti-intellectual. His education suggests that he has learned what there is to know about scientific brain studies, and has assuredly internalized many of its truths. But, informed by a more universal and sound “common sense,” he is the one who goes beyond it, a village seer who has traveled far only to learn that the essential wisdom was home all the while. This is the meaning of his southern accent. While that accent typically connotes stupidity in the one-inch thin symbolic vocabulary of US understanding, combined with articulate authoritarianism it, negating suspicion of the intellectual, signifies truth.

“Dr Phil,” as a market-constructed individual cannot be separated from the meaning he acquires as a television symbol. Most people first encounter McGraw through watching television. That is, a deeply unilateral disseminator of propaganda, owned and operated by the ruling class, animates the relationship between viewer and McGraw. The inherent passivity of television watching perfectly complements the self-certain proclamations of McGraw. It makes no difference that he can’t listen to the viewer, because he doesn’t need to listen to anyone anyway, or at least only insofar as to point out in what way that they are wrong. While the program is popular for its own reasons it would not be on television in the first place if it – beyond being the product of mass commercial culture – did not fulfill the ideological demands of network owner and advertiser. For this reason, “Dr. Phil” exists partially by default. For there are innumerable shows that could not air in its place, and, as something needs to be on television, “Dr. Phil,” not challenging the prerogatives of its masters, is allowed to exist.

The program, like any other, fuses spectacle with ideological indoctrination. The viewer naturally allies with the show’s host, who they see five days a week. The guests are invariably people who are somehow “failing” in life, whether through drug addiction, mangled relationships, or simply being overweight. McGraw uses a blend of “home-spun” pseudo-wisdom, rank manipulation, and bullying to force his guests to succumb to the dictates of “common sense.” Lynne Murray challenges popular notions of weight, advocating for the aesthetic and political acceptance of heavy people, and writes of her experience watching the program on fat acceptance in Spin Dr: Phil McGraw vs. Fat Acceptance: Making Fat People Cry for Fun and Profit. This episode, according to McGraw’s formula, featured him paternalistically berating his guests for not accepting his and society’s standards regarding fat people.

He referred to health statistics as proof of the objective dangers of obesity, rejecting out of hand the contention that self-esteem need not be predicated on fulfilling arbitrary and unattainable social standards (dieting doesn’t work, though McGraw has written a dieting book and has a line of “Dr. Phil” weight-loss bars and such). For the only rule for McGraw, the personification of authoritative society, is what society commands. Murray writes that when one guest, Sally Smith, responded to McGraw’s chastisement by noting that ninety-five percent of dieters regain their lost weight, McGraw asserted that this is because the motivations of the dieters are flawed – engaging in speculation and thereby completely jettisoning the so-called scientific basis of his shtick, as Murray notes. That dietary habits correlate to work, time, city design, and profit-based mass production is invisible. likewise there can be no connection made between control of women’s bodies, the conceptualization of women as objects, and patriarchy. If any of this is mentioned in response to forcing women to change their bodies, the dragon of personal responsibility roars, destroying anyone who would dare place one’s experiences in a social-environmental-historical context, i.e. attempt to understand reality. That more people proportionately are overweight in the US compared to Europe can only indicate that “Americans” have less personal responsibility, at this point in time anyway.

But we never get this far, lest we make excuses. Nor can the truth be acknowledged that in the past heaviness was an aesthetic attribute, as it, then and now, is inseparable from class. Previously the wealthy and “attractive” were symbolized by access to food, whereas today’s first-world rich are designated by the leisure-time and money that allows the avoidance of fast food and ability to go to the gym. In both cases, wealth and class are interconnected with attractiveness. Indeed, it is not typically wealthy people appearing on “Dr. Phil,” nor are any Samoans, whose representation would less suggest the laziness and sloth that McGraw extrapolates from heavy, non-affluent, white women.

The ruling ideas are indeed the popular ideas, and McGraw gets people to cheer him through his astute sense and application of today’s ideological hegemony. I recently watched an episode where two parents tricked their son into coming on the show so that McGraw could “help” him with his alleged drug “problem.” The captive guest was proud, angry, and intelligent, and made a mockery of McGraw by noting that he had been deceived into coming on the show, and asking if the complexities of drug addiction are suitable for treatment on a forty-five minute talk-show. McGraw is a skilled rhetorician, and shamefully used the fallacy of the tu quo que to tell the man that since he had allegedly lied more than anyone present, it doesn’t matter that he has been lied to as well. In answer to the young man’s justified anger at the manner in which he had been treated, McGraw berated him for “being self-righteous.” The guest didn’t appear to have the experience or desire to overcome the rotten tactics McGraw uses, and was eventually coerced into submitting to a “drug-treatment program.” McGraw started out as an adviser to attorneys on how to manipulate juries, and everything about his debating “technique” embodies manipulation, dishonesty, and bullying of the most wretched sort. It is bad enough that ends justify his means, it is even worse when the ends amount to social control.

Perhaps the most obvious exhibition of McGraw acting as the cop of social control – his thick mustache, the type found on cops, firefighters, and rightwing baseball players evokes hyper-masculine authority – was when he had two “anti-war activists” in his feared “hot seat.” The guests, one of whom was former gubernatorial candidate Medea Benjamin, need to be deeply faulted for coming on the show in the first place. Under whose authority did they become the spokespeople for the “anti-war movement”? Moreover, agreeing to appear on McGraw’s ridiculously staged trials precludes any meaningful possibility of conveying one’s message. McGraw likely had them on to nominally consider their argument only in order to undermine it, inoculating his viewers to the growing idea that something was amiss with the US’s latest imperial butchery.

And this is what he did, savaging the mostly hapless Benjamin. When she did manage to break out a few points, lecturing the audience that there indeed was no connection between Al Qaeda and Hussein, McGraw excoriated her for “getting on your soapbox.” Even if Benjamin, who is more informed, articulate, and experienced than almost any other person McGraw could have gotten to come on his show, had been able to make her argument, he would have simply dismantled it in the editing room.

With cameras panning the pro-military audience’s solemn faces, nationalist music cueing the commercial breaks, and various other devices, McGraw guaranteed that the message that an anti-war attitude is treasonous would be delivered. While it is true that Benjamin didn’t have much of a chance that still doesn’t exculpate her dishonest attempts to use “Dr. Phil” speech to appeal to the audience’s perceived jingoistic sensibilities.

She is the real American because she cares more than anyone about our troops, and she’s tried to lobby her representatives and newspaper editors but they haven’t responded to the implorations of their constituent. Perhaps they know better than you, McGraw explained their dismissal, dismissing the nominal pretense of representative democracy. McGraw eventually hammered Benjamin for failing “to accept responsibility” for her “free” speech, which in this case placed “our troops” in harm’s way by boosting the morale of the “enemy.” Instead of noting the preposterousness of this ludicrous and blatant form of censorship, applying the lesson to German citizens under the Nazis, by noting that it is the government who puts the troops in “harms way,” or by noting that all the “moral support” in the world would not enable Iraq to defend itself against the US’s aerial onslaught, Benjamin pathetically tried to crawl out of the charge.

McGraw and audience shook their collective head at this possibly well-meaning but dangerous fool. But the point is not that Benjamin failed but that it was impossible in the forum, buttressed by all the dead wisdom of might makes right red white and blue we are good brainwashed stupidity, to “succeed.”

McGraw’s message, predicated on the belief “that which appears is good, that which is good appears” is reinforced by the mainstream media and culture industry. How could he be wrong when Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Anthony Robbins are saying the same thing? When it is, after all, common sense. The only ones who voice “subversive” views, like Mike Farrell and Michael Moore, are necessarily confused egomaniacs.

They are only listened to when the system can make use of their argument, explaining the popularity of Michael Moore, as his myopic attacks on Bush are supported by upper echelons of the military, intelligence departments, the State Department, old-style Republicans, the Democrats, and international financiers horrified that Bush the Maniac’s fanaticism is slaying the golden goose of international slavery. Much of the Left, notably the Counterpunch creeps (where, ironically, a furious open letter to McGraw responding to the Benjamin show could be found: “The Politics of Therapy” by Richard Lichtman, April 8, 2003), are so disgustingly desperate for any anti-Bush criticism that they kneel before sordid nationalism.

Like Moore, having no respect for the masses, they attempt to exploit – but create – the basest impulses, sacrificing lucid analysis for fascistic drivel seeking to go back to a “better time” in US politics, before foreign usurpers (namely the Israelis, and sometimes Saudis, or the British for their LaRouche cousins) “occupied” our beloved institutions. These themes are prominent on neo-Nazi websites. Faced with such horrendous bullshit from the self-proclaimed “opposition,” it is no wonder that the monster McGraw carries on. The popularity of McGraw is inseparable from the egregious shortcomings of the Left to articulate and maintain an honest and persuasive diagnosis of today’s historical, political-economic crisis.

Because they have no integrity they do not agree that it is better to be quiet and think than to foster false propaganda as a means to “fixing things.” And they do not see or care that it is no small part their false propaganda that has contributed to this desperate world condition in the first place.

Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective Building Alternatives to the Mental Health System

*Radical: From the Roots to the Extremes

The Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective is a group of people who have all struggled with mental health problems either in their own lives or as allies to friends and family. We are trying to open discussion about alternatives, provide resources, and get dialogue going about mental health in the radical community.

We are group of people who’ve decided to work together on specific projects. While we don’t offer each other support through the kinds of processing and group sharing that tend to happen in traditional “support groups,” we do find working side by side with people who share the same struggles and hopes for the world builds a sense of solidarity and connection that supports all of us in our daily efforts to build healthy lives and survive the madness of the world.

We’re probably best described as an activist or affinity group, which is usually understood as a small group of people who work together autonomously on direct actions or other projects. The concept of affinity groups and collectives goes back hundreds of years and was particularly successful in the Spanish Civil War, when groups of people in local communities organized to discuss ideas and plan actions.

You can form an affinity group with your friends, people from your community, workplace, or organization. Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organizing, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups by nature are decentralized and non-hierarchical, two important principles of anarchist organizing and action.

Activist/affinity groups can form in all kinds of ways: some, like Food Not Bombs, are open to anyone who drops by that week and starts chopping vegetables; other groups form around specific political events or actions; others begin as discussion groups or support groups for the people involved.

The Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective began through dialogue in the community and partially through the gentle prodding of a mutual friend of many of the collective members. A handful or so of us received a mysterious email invitation:

“I’m e-mailing you because I’ve met you and know the active work that you do around radical mental health stuff, I trust the integrity of your work, and I would like to propose to you the idea of working together to create a new collective and/or mutual support network of East Bay anarchists/radicals actively involved in mental health/psychology areas. I envision that we could help each other in producing a number of different things – everything ranging from publication of new and old material, counseling, work-shops, support groups, developing radical mental health theory, and even the possibility of creating a new East Bay mental health free clinic. These are just a few possibilities among many. Actual activity, and organizational structure (or lack thereof), is all up to us to determine.”

One member of the collective felt partially motivated to join the collective because of the Bush Administration’s steady pressure to dispense psychiatric drugs to more and more children, diagnosing the very nature of childhood as mental illness. “I don’t want my child to grow up in a society where teachers are required to drug their students.”

After e-mailing back and forth for several days, a small crew of people agreed to meet around someone’s kitchen table on a Thursday night. We discussed our hopes and frustrations with the current systems of mental health support, shared parts of our personal stories, and started plotting projects we could undertake to start creating some of the changes we wanted to see. It became clear pretty quickly that all of us were burned out on collaborative efforts that involved taking on too much work and getting overwhelmed, so we agreed in the interest of our own mental health that we would begin by meeting weekly and committing to small projects we felt like we could actually complete.

After spending a few weeks getting to know each other and discussing possibilities ranging in scale from a mental health lending library at the local infoshop to a free clinic in the East Bay, we decided to start by facilitating a class on Radical Mental Health with the newly formed East Bay Free School.

Our class description ended up something like this:

The aims of the radical mental health class are many. We hope to inspire discussion about the mental health industry and valid institutional critiques of this system. We would like to analyze perceptions of “mental illness” within our culture and media. We aim to help create forums where those involved in the mental health system can locate and create alternatives that meet our needs in non-hierarchical, non-exploitative, and non-dominating ways. We see great benefit in encouraging self-care and awareness of one’s options for healing. We aspire to a world where there are strong communities that care for one another with compassion and justice. We recognize the complexities of the mental health system and continue on.

The class has turned out to be the most popular, consistent class at the Free School. We have a focused topic each week, and usually incorporate some mix of information compiled by collective members and open discussion into our class time. Topics for the classes have included: language and madness, race/class/gender and mental health, medication vs. herbs, and shamanism and mental “illness”. Some weeks we have a specific person facilitate the class, which helps us stay on topic and prevents any one person from taking up too much conversation space. Other weeks we have more of an open discussion led and shaped by everyone who’s come to the class that week.

Overall, it’s been a really effective structure that allows people to participate as much or as little as they want, and creates a space for dialogue where a whole diverse range of people return loyally to discuss their shared questions and concerns about the way mental health is understood in our society. This has worked really well for us and thus far none of our collective members feel like the commitment level required is going to make us go crazy.

In fact the momentum that we feel from this past summer’s free school classes has propelled us forward into inviting new collective members, continuing classes into the fall, and discussing new projects. We hope to have a Radical Mental Health Resource List out for the New Year and have plans in the works to start a radical mental health support group. Other projects that we aspire to in the future are creating a mental health lending library, group therapy, a hotline, free peer counseling, and ultimately the acquisition of our very own space where all of these things can happen.

We’re taking things as they come and flexibly working and making sure to meet ourselves where we’re at before moving forward in order to maintain our health and the sustainability of the project itself. We believe that this is a model that would benefit many other radical projects that time and time again fizzle out due to the common ailment known as “activist burnout” in our communities.

The need for mental health support and resources in our communities is glaring and this fact has been demonstrated to us through the participation, active involvement and enormous response we have had in the past several months.

If you are interested in mental health issues and would like to start a similar collective in your area, feel free to get in touch with us and ask questions. The need for such resources and support is so great that we have found here in the Bay that things really fell into place and happened organically. We suggest you start small, form a collective, have a weekly class, and help build an alternative to the current mental health system!

To join our listserv and receive information on the free school class schedule as well as other upcoming events and projects email radicalmentalhealthcollective@lists.riseup.net or call 1-800-MY-YAHOO, press the # key and enter the ten digit code (radicalnut) to hear upcoming events and classes. Feel free to leave a message if you have questions.

Local Projects: Berkeley Liberation Radio

Berkeley’s premiere Pirate radio station, broadcasting on its 104.1 FM band since the early 90′s, is staggering back to it’s feet. Berkeley Liberation Radio, the present incarnation, has been squatting the air waves since 1999. When BLR started, Free Radio Berkeley — which had broadcast on 104.1 earlier in the 90s — was embroiled in an ugly legal battle and hence defunct. Activists retook the band when the court case was at a deadlock.

Shortly before the 6 year anniversary of Berkeley Liberation Radio, the studio’s landlord, a scummy music promoter, gave a 30 day notice which was followed by a notice from the FCC. The FCC said the 100 watt station interfered with airport control radio from over 8 miles away. Some suspect the FCC had pressured the landlord for eviction and convinced the judge signing the order that it was an emergency since that is a tactic the FCC often uses when otherwise ignored.

For two months, broadcasting continued at sporadic locations on Sundays until a temporary home was found at the Hellarity House in North Oakland. A considerable amount of shows were lost with the move as well as the station’s music library.

The Bay Area is home to a dozen micro stations, many of whom focus on web broadcasting. Stations in Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Santa Rosa are all on-line after confrontations with the FCC. Three years ago Berkeley Liberation Radio was raided with a strong police presence. Guns were put in the DJ’s face, the equipment stolen and a sad silence for at least a week was all there was to tune into. The station was built back up moving from marginal equipment to quality shit. Despite concerns of a subsequent raid The station didn’t move onto the web nor did it move out of its studio. The issue of making monthly rent was just being resolved with a schedule of due paying dj’s when the 2005 eviction came down.

Local Projects: Ashby Community Garden

Ashby community garden was started in February 2004 by a crew of friends who wanted to begin growing community from an empty lot on a busy street in a lower income neighborhood in Berkeley, Calif. The vision began as an urban sustainability project where people could grow food, share land and knowledge. Starting as a handful of people, the Sustainable Ecology Collective grew beyond the fenced lot through hosting a number of workshops including bee keeping and cob oven construction.

Through the next year as the garden took root in the neighborhood, the intention for the space was to collectivize everything by eliminating any plot systems, common in most community gardens, and in that same vein, care for chickens, bees, and bathtub-ponds together.

We currently occupy one of two adjacent lots (both abandoned approximately 35 years) and are finally realizing our dream of cultivating the fallow lot next door. In the process of expanding we hope to create even more of a community space through murals, fruit trees, a gathering area and community effort.

We realize that creating a garden is a fragile venture working on an abandoned urban space. With this in mind, our vision is to create a space that could move on if development sets in. Ideas are a moveable mural and potted fruit trees that can easily be relocated. Despite the bullshit land ownership system and lack of land access in the city, we want to grow beyond the limits of all that to inspire more gardens and community projects on unused property. Community building need not acquiesce to the hands of development.

Local Projects: Cog Bike Library

The COG Bicycle Lending Library is a volunteer run, community based, not-for-profit organization in Oakland, Calif. that lends out salvaged and recycled bicycles to make bikes equally accessible to all members of the community. The project is grassroots and wholly supported by donations and the energy of volunteers.

Bicycles are donated or salvaged, volunteers fix them up and members check them out for 1 month with the choice of a $10 deposit or a work-exchange of fixing 2 bikes. After a month, members may receive their deposit back or re-check out the bike for an addition 6 months for no additional deposit or work. Members may exchange their bike for another or come and learn how to work on their library bike at anytime. And, of course, membership is free.

Logistics aside, our intention is to create a program that takes bikes off the market and out of the money economy, and a space where people feel comfortable and empowered to ride a bike, learn how to fix it, help out the program, or just be a part of a project in their community. Bicycles are very expensive and a great commodity here in America, yet we find them trashed on the sidewalk on big trash days, and in massive heaps at large transfer stations.

Maybe if enough people knew that, the market and street value of bikes would fall, and lower income people would have easier access to bikes, learn the simple mechanics, and have a reliable, cheap form of transport that they don’t have to guard with their souls. Bicycles are easy to work on and we hope to incorporate more workshops and classes, and possibly an open shop for working on personal bikes into the program in the future with hopes of empowering people to learn skills and do things for themselves.

The Cog was started in late March of this year and we’re currently open Saturdays from 11am to 4pm at 3833 Martin Luther King Jr. way in Oakland.

Volunteers are always welcome and needed at the Cog!

Putting Down Community Roots (Local Projects Overview)

All over the country, folks are shifting their time, money and passion away from the corporate rat race and into local cooperative projects that serve human needs. Why spend your life working a boring job you hate making some fat cat rich when you can build something meaningful yourself to meet your own needs and those of your community? On these pages, we’re featuring articles about some local projects in the East Bay, plus a round-up of projects across the US we’ve heard about in the last few months. These projects provide a model for how society could be organized differently. We also hope that hearing about different projects — and how they get going or keep going — can inspire folks to start projects in their local communities.

Info Shops & Collectives

Boing! Anarchist Collective – Salt Lake City, UT

They’ve been around for 3 years but we just found out about ‘em — they do Food Not Bombs on their front porch, have a huge infoshop and library, free public computers, group meetings, sponsor protests, have a bike garage, and a Free Vegan cafe called Cafe Anarchista. Check ‘em out 12pm – 9pm at 608 S. 500 E. Salt Lake City, Utah 84102; 801-364-2426.

Black Rose Collective Bookstore And Freecycling Space – Portland, OR

A community space based on cooperation not competition serving the rich cultural and economic diversity of their neighborhood. They have books, zines, cds, and a free porch. Open 12-8pm Tuesday-Saturday. 4038 N. Mississippi Ave. Portland, Oregon 97227

Soapbox – Bellingham, WA

They’re an independent shop and exhibition space that “encourages and celebrates independent participation in media, politics and culture through re-claiming, re-using and re-working the spaces we inhabit.” They continue, “Refusing to be colonized by cynicism, despair or apathy, Soapbox aims to empower all those who hope, dream or struggle for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.” Check them out at 215 W. Holly St. H-23 Bellingham, WA 98225; 360.676.1724

Vox Pop – Brooklyn, New York

They’re a radical bookstore/fairtrade coffeeshop that also publishes books (both for int’l distro and also print-on-demand locally). 1022 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY 11218; 718.940.2084.

Rock Paper Scissors Art Collective – Oakland, Calif.

RPS is a new art space in downtown Oakland. Come share or add to the local craftiness. Free and low-cost classes, sewing and art-making equipment, zines / library and gallery. Open 11 a – 7 p. closed Tuesday. 2278 Telegraph Ave. Oakland, CA 94612; 510 238 9171

908 Collective – Fort Collins, Colorado

Check out the infoshop/ community space. They also have ties to a new radical paper The Rocky Mountain Resister based out of Laramie, Wyoming: rockymountainresister.org. 908 Laporte Ave. Fort Collins, CO 80521

Green Heart – Collingswood, NJ

An environmental shop with vegan and fair trade stuff that is converting to a non-profit collective. 661 Haddon Ave. Collingswood, NJ 08108; 856-833-1144.

Autonomous Peoples’ Project – Louisville, KY

They have a lending library to promote people’s organizing — we don’t know the physical location. PO Box 2903 Louisville, KY 40201; (502) 291-8992.

Sedition Collective – Houston, TX

An Infoshop that hosts events and has a meeting space but not yet regular opening hours. 4420 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007

Thought Crime victim of gentrification in Phoenix but Anarchist Library lives

“I’m writing with a heavy heart. I just received some sad, sad news… Thought Crime just received a 30 day notice, after 10 years – one of Phoenix’s longest running artspaces. The building is being purchased by someone who wants us out. Well, I’m sure this story is all too familiar to you, in the Bay Area.” Although Thought Crime closed, the Anarchist Library that shared the space moved and is now open again Monday from 6-midnight inside the back room of The Counter Culture Cafe 2330 E McDowell Rd Phoenix AZ 85006.

Victims of Hurricane Katrina?

It breaks our hearts that our contacts in New Orleans may be completely wiped out — as of press date, we have no information. If anyone learns the fate of the Aboveground Zine Library, the Iron Rail Bookstore or the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, please let us know. We got a very sad email from the folks at Hot Iron Press who were getting ready to put on the New Orleans bookfair in late October: “As for the future of Hot Iron Press and Jenny and I, – more than likely we will cease to function for quite some time, if not for good. It is almost certain that our house/studio and all of our equipment – presses, type, paper, tools, all of our artwork, and everything else we own – are underwater, if the building is even still standing at all. Unfortunately, all of the distro stuff – artists’ books, zines, etc – were also all left behind and are most likely destroyed as well.”

Mistakes in the 2006 Organizer!

The Organizer is just back from the printer and we already know about tons of errors! Fuck! Anyway, correct these errors in your copy with a nice pen and tell a friend:

• MayDay Infoshop in New York City lost its lease and is no longer on 1st St.

• Flor y Canto in Los Angeles has ceased operations.

Other Places that are gone or . . . ??

• Crossroads Infoshop in Kansas.

• We got a package returned from reAct in Omaha, NE – does anyone know if they moved or ceased to exist? Let us know . . .

Book Review : The Decline of American Power

Immanuel Wallerstein’s “The Decline of American Power” (New Press, 2003) is an insightful analysis of today’s global crises, their origins and their long-term trajectories. Wallerstein situates the 2003 US war on Iraq, global terrorism and the US “War on Terrorism” in a “capitalist world-economy that is in crisis as a historical system” (121). Though this crisis endangers the global economy as a whole, Wallerstein submits, it particularly imperils the US’s leading position within that system.

While suggestions of US decline have been made and defied for decades, Wallerstein argues a compelling case by employing a long-term view that examines several growing structural pressures that have halted global capitalist growth. For example, nearly total global urbanization of traditional rural populations, signifying the historic exhaustion of cheaper first-generation city workforces, is slowing the downward pressure on wages that has hitherto subsidized declining profits. Similarly, growing environmental ruination has led to increasingly higher taxes, raising costs of investment in an already strained economy.

Contrary to popular assumptions that wages and taxes are in overall decline, Wallerstein argues that the recent relative drop in those costs attempts to but fails at redressing their broader, long-term, increase. This long-term increase in the cost of investment had mattered less during unprecedented post-war economic growth. But with the eventual slowdown of profits in 1973-4, these contradictions have increasingly affected economic, political and social policies.

Thereafter, Wallerstein writes, rightist free-marketers, who had been abandoned to the fringes for their inability to predict and respond to the Great Depression, reentered mainstream discourse. Proven partially right by Keynesian capitalism’s unmanageable long-term costs, they were newly accepted for their insistence that the elimination of social spending would lower taxes and free up capital while simultaneously establishing new areas for investment through privatization. Artificially creating investment opportunities, however, did not resolve the underlying crisis in investment resulting from excess productive capacities, but merely extended capitalism’s shelf life at the expense of most people’s living standards.

Wallerstein writes that the failure of the so-called Old Left (the Communist Party, union-oriented Leftist organizations prominent from the 1930s-1960s) to create an alternative to the dominant world system is cause and effect of capitalism’s surprising resilience and is responsible for much of today’s Left defeatism.

For Wallerstein, however, the Old Left’s optimistic view, “this sense of deep hope in the future, this sense of certainty that there would be more equality and democracy… was paradoxically the most depoliticizing worldview possible” (111). Counseling patience based on inevitable improvement, the Old Left “served paradoxically as the most important guarantor of political stability of the world-system in the long run, despite their frequent calls for political turbulence” (111). The growing chasm separating actual Left achievements from its rhetoric led to the social outbursts of 1968 that rejected both the dominant ruling system and its self-professed opposition. We are living, Wallerstein argues, in that aftermath.

While viewing the defeat of the Old Left as a positive and essential prerequisite for reformulating critiques of the world system, Wallerstein also holds that the Left’s decline is responsible for the emergence of Islamic extremism. Noting that the retrogressive Islamist movement is but one expression of what has been occurring all over the “peripheral zones of the world system” (116), Wallerstein explains its rise as, in particular, the outcome of the collapse of Arab Nationalism.

Writing that Arab Nationalism’s inability to achieve promised social transformation led many Arabs to turn to alternative strategies, however, constitutes a rare example of Wallerstein using a simplified and monocausal analysis to explain a complex sociopolitical phenomenon. While Arab Nationalism indeed did not achieve its main objectives, its decline is still inseparable from concerted Western attempts at undermining it, culminating in Israel’s destruction of the Arab Nationalists’ militaries and prestige in 1967. Simultaneously, the United States and Israel played a pivotal role in funding Islamist movements as a counterweight to the secular, relatively progressive, Nationalists.

A particularly valuable aspect of the work is its rejection of the postwar notion that armed conflict between the major capitalist powers is a thing of the past. The underlying political-economic causes of imperialist warfare have not been eradicated with World War II, but rather have only laid dormant due to the US’s uncontested supremacy at the war’s end – resulting from the capital it had extracted from allies and its assumption of world political leadership, made possible with the destruction of its major competitors. Though Europe’s gradual return to power was partially obscured by its acceptance of US political leadership during the Cold War, the demise of the USSR has brought the latent imperialist rivalry out into the open.

This view informs Wallerstein’s interpretation of the US war on Iraq. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, Wallerstein writes, the US was unable to win Security Council support for a measure it badly wanted. Wallerstein goes beyond merely stating that the US’s failure in the UN indicates a political break between the US and Europe, but that the war itself constituted a US war on Germany and France – to the surprise of Iraqis, to be sure. Indeed, in Resurrecting Empire, Rashid Khalidi notes a Bush Administration official speaking of “containing” France and Germany after the fall of Baghdad. That foreign rivals were ignoring the US-led embargo by trading with Iraq while the latter was encouraging the switch of oil purchases from Dollar to Euro, further threatening the US’s economic position, further supports this line.

The historian Paul Kennedy anticipated this scenario in his 1987 work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy saw that US dominance in the post-war era was unsustainable since the intrinsic character of the world system insured the relative rise of new (or old) powers at the expense of the relative decline of the top power. For Kennedy, the question was how the US would respond to this change, whether it would graciously acquiesce, sharing power with other nations, or forcefully resist. Ironically, as Kennedy observed, US resistance to its inevitable movement toward equilibrium could lead to military overextension and economic exhaustion, hastening what was being fended off.

While George W. Bush’s aggressive unilateralism in Iraq suggests that the US has taken the latter route, Wallerstein understands that the political-economic equilibrium that Kennedy suggests the US embrace is itself unsustainable. Indeed, it was the unyielding desire to maintain the equilibrium characterizing Europe from 1815-1914 that led France and England to war to suppress German ascension. Here Wallerstein stresses that we no longer have the luxury of repeating past mistakes, arguing that there can be no returning to the policies that have led to today’s crises in the first place. Underlining the limitations of rightwing analyses, while noting the failures of historic leftwing alternatives, Wallerstein asserts that the cycle can only be broken with the establishment of a new world system. Restating that the capitalist world system has reached its breaking point, Wallerstein emphasizes that it is impossible to predict the character of its inevitable replacement.

Based on this fast-approaching future where anything is possible, Wallerstein optimistically suggests that deteriorating material conditions can further, paradoxically, eliminate conceptual limitations imbedded in obsolete Leftist presuppositions, unbridling vigorous popular movements creating change. However, because of the adaptability of ruling powers, as well as the dangers inherent in retrogressive movements from Fascists to Islamists, Wallerstein insists that those committed to change pursue lucidity over mobilization as its own end. The Decline of American Power is a good contribution to that end.

Book Review: Jeff Ott Writes Again

Immanuel Wallerstein’s “The Decline of American Power” (New Press, 2003) is an insightful analysis of today’s global crises, their origins and their long-term trajectories. Wallerstein situates the 2003 US war on Iraq, global terrorism and the US “War on Terrorism” in a “capitalist world-economy that is in crisis as a historical system” (121). Though this crisis endangers the global economy as a whole, Wallerstein submits, it particularly imperils the US’s leading position within that system.

While suggestions of US decline have been made and defied for decades, Wallerstein argues a compelling case by employing a long-term view that examines several growing structural pressures that have halted global capitalist growth. For example, nearly total global urbanization of traditional rural populations, signifying the historic exhaustion of cheaper first-generation city workforces, is slowing the downward pressure on wages that has hitherto subsidized declining profits. Similarly, growing environmental ruination has led to increasingly higher taxes, raising costs of investment in an already strained economy.

Contrary to popular assumptions that wages and taxes are in overall decline, Wallerstein argues that the recent relative drop in those costs attempts to but fails at redressing their broader, long-term, increase. This long-term increase in the cost of investment had mattered less during unprecedented post-war economic growth. But with the eventual slowdown of profits in 1973-4, these contradictions have increasingly affected economic, political and social policies.

Thereafter, Wallerstein writes, rightist free-marketers, who had been abandoned to the fringes for their inability to predict and respond to the Great Depression, reentered mainstream discourse. Proven partially right by Keynesian capitalism’s unmanageable long-term costs, they were newly accepted for their insistence that the elimination of social spending would lower taxes and free up capital while simultaneously establishing new areas for investment through privatization. Artificially creating investment opportunities, however, did not resolve the underlying crisis in investment resulting from excess productive capacities, but merely extended capitalism’s shelf life at the expense of most people’s living standards.

Wallerstein writes that the failure of the so-called Old Left (the Communist Party, union-oriented Leftist organizations prominent from the 1930s-1960s) to create an alternative to the dominant world system is cause and effect of capitalism’s surprising resilience and is responsible for much of today’s Left defeatism.

For Wallerstein, however, the Old Left’s optimistic view, “this sense of deep hope in the future, this sense of certainty that there would be more equality and democracy… was paradoxically the most depoliticizing worldview possible” (111). Counseling patience based on inevitable improvement, the Old Left “served paradoxically as the most important guarantor of political stability of the world-system in the long run, despite their frequent calls for political turbulence” (111). The growing chasm separating actual Left achievements from its rhetoric led to the social outbursts of 1968 that rejected both the dominant ruling system and its self-professed opposition. We are living, Wallerstein argues, in that aftermath.

While viewing the defeat of the Old Left as a positive and essential prerequisite for reformulating critiques of the world system, Wallerstein also holds that the Left’s decline is responsible for the emergence of Islamic extremism. Noting that the retrogressive Islamist movement is but one expression of what has been occurring all over the “peripheral zones of the world system” (116), Wallerstein explains its rise as, in particular, the outcome of the collapse of Arab Nationalism.

Writing that Arab Nationalism’s inability to achieve promised social transformation led many Arabs to turn to alternative strategies, however, constitutes a rare example of Wallerstein using a simplified and monocausal analysis to explain a complex sociopolitical phenomenon. While Arab Nationalism indeed did not achieve its main objectives, its decline is still inseparable from concerted Western attempts at undermining it, culminating in Israel’s destruction of the Arab Nationalists’ militaries and prestige in 1967. Simultaneously, the United States and Israel played a pivotal role in funding Islamist movements as a counterweight to the secular, relatively progressive, Nationalists.

A particularly valuable aspect of the work is its rejection of the postwar notion that armed conflict between the major capitalist powers is a thing of the past. The underlying political-economic causes of imperialist warfare have not been eradicated with World War II, but rather have only laid dormant due to the US’s uncontested supremacy at the war’s end – resulting from the capital it had extracted from allies and its assumption of world political leadership, made possible with the destruction of its major competitors. Though Europe’s gradual return to power was partially obscured by its acceptance of US political leadership during the Cold War, the demise of the USSR has brought the latent imperialist rivalry out into the open.

This view informs Wallerstein’s interpretation of the US war on Iraq. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, Wallerstein writes, the US was unable to win Security Council support for a measure it badly wanted. Wallerstein goes beyond merely stating that the US’s failure in the UN indicates a political break between the US and Europe, but that the war itself constituted a US war on Germany and France – to the surprise of Iraqis, to be sure. Indeed, in Resurrecting Empire, Rashid Khalidi notes a Bush Administration official speaking of “containing” France and Germany after the fall of Baghdad. That foreign rivals were ignoring the US-led embargo by trading with Iraq while the latter was encouraging the switch of oil purchases from Dollar to Euro, further threatening the US’s economic position, further supports this line.

The historian Paul Kennedy anticipated this scenario in his 1987 work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy saw that US dominance in the post-war era was unsustainable since the intrinsic character of the world system insured the relative rise of new (or old) powers at the expense of the relative decline of the top power. For Kennedy, the question was how the US would respond to this change, whether it would graciously acquiesce, sharing power with other nations, or forcefully resist. Ironically, as Kennedy observed, US resistance to its inevitable movement toward equilibrium could lead to military overextension and economic exhaustion, hastening what was being fended off.

While George W. Bush’s aggressive unilateralism in Iraq suggests that the US has taken the latter route, Wallerstein understands that the political-economic equilibrium that Kennedy suggests the US embrace is itself unsustainable. Indeed, it was the unyielding desire to maintain the equilibrium characterizing Europe from 1815-1914 that led France and England to war to suppress German ascension. Here Wallerstein stresses that we no longer have the luxury of repeating past mistakes, arguing that there can be no returning to the policies that have led to today’s crises in the first place. Underlining the limitations of rightwing analyses, while noting the failures of historic leftwing alternatives, Wallerstein asserts that the cycle can only be broken with the establishment of a new world system. Restating that the capitalist world system has reached its breaking point, Wallerstein emphasizes that it is impossible to predict the character of its inevitable replacement.

Based on this fast-approaching future where anything is possible, Wallerstein optimistically suggests that deteriorating material conditions can further, paradoxically, eliminate conceptual limitations imbedded in obsolete Leftist presuppositions, unbridling vigorous popular movements creating change. However, because of the adaptability of ruling powers, as well as the dangers inherent in retrogressive movements from Fascists to Islamists, Wallerstein insists that those committed to change pursue lucidity over mobilization as its own end. The Decline of American Power is a good contribution to that end.