The xenophobic process

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paranoia.jpgThe reader will forgive this overly-long quotation:

Once, as I was strolling through the Inner City, I suddenly encountered an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks. Is this a Jew? was my first thought.

For, to be sure, they had not looked like that in Linz. I observed the man furtively and cautiously, but the longer I stared at this foreign face, scrutinizing feature for feature, the more my first question assumed a new form:

Is this a German?

…I could no longer very well doubt that the objects of my study were not Germans of a special religion, but a people in themselves; for since I had begun to concern myself with this question and to take cognizance of the Jews, Vienna appeared to me in a different light than before. Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans.

And whatever doubts I may still have nourished were finally dispelled by the attitude of a portion of the Jews themselves.

Among them there was a great movement, quite extensive in Vienna, which came out sharply in confirmation of the national character of the Jews: this was the Zionists.

It looked to be sure, as though only a part of the Jews approved this viewpoint, while the great majority condemned and inwardly rejected such a formulation. But when examined more closely, this appearance dissolved itself into an unsavory vapor of pretexts advanced for mere reasons of expedience, not to say lies. For the so-called liberal Jews did not reject the Zionists as non-Jews, but only as Jews with an impractical, perhaps even dangerous, way of publicly avowing their Jewishness.

Intrinsically they remained unalterably of one piece.

The Jew as Other. The marker of clothing. The felt certainty that, although not all Jews were outwardly of a certain politics, shorn of dissembling and subterfuge they were “of one piece.”

All the elements of xenophobia are here, triple-distilled. And they’re familiar. Just substitute “Muslim” for “Jew,” “niqab” for “caftan,” add the effusions of cretins who claim that “moderate Islam” is a contradiction in terms at best, or a mass conspiracy at worst—and Steve’s your uncle. Assorted SUN news threads provide copious examples of the latter, as well as “journalists” like Mark Steyn and cess-blogs like Arnie Lemaire’s “Blazing Cat Fur.” A regular commenter here, as well, would no doubt be pleased once again to share these delusions with you.

I’m obviously not suggesting that Canada will go the way of Germany in the 1930s. A nexus of historical and material circumstances permitted those thoughts to root and bloom into something unspeakably monstrous and engulfing, which our country is in no position to emulate. Rather, I am noting the quasi-psychological and propagandistic process by which a group of people is separated out, viewed through a lens of suspicion and hatred, and homogenized. That’s had its historical consequences, large and small, in many more countries than Germany.

Homogenization is dangerous, and we do it without thinking. I addressed what I called “communitized minorities” some time ago: we see ourselves—straight white folks, that is—of being differentiable individuals, but the Other, whether gay or Muslim or Black, operates in “communities.” When a young radical Muslim makes the news, for example, indignant voices are heard demanding that his “community” speak out, and that its “leaders” hold errant members of that imaginary polity accountable.

But matters run deeper than that. Once we imprison the Other in a rhetorical “community,” we begin to see every member of that ghetto as entirely representative of it. That’s the “homogenization” part. Entire groups of people are perceived to be in lockstep, a sort of hive mind. That becomes very clear when we look at the reporting of terrorist incidents: white mass murderers who gun down kindergarten children or teenaged campers are always described as crazed loners. Muslim mass murderers, on the other hand, are seen as representative, and often as emissaries.

The politics follow. Once identified, a target group can to easily be turned into a political fetish. We’ve been watching this unfold for a while now, here in Canada. Syrian refugees? Sure, so long as they aren’t Muslim. A purge of the public service is under review, Harper says, flatly contradicting his own Treasury Board minister, Tony Clement. A snitch line will be established to report on Muslims in your neighbourhood. Close links with anti-Muslim fascists are cultivated. A secret police bill (C-51) is passed to deal with the “terrorists” in our midst. Citizenship becomes a privilege and not a right, removable by the government without the right of appeal—even native-born Canadians can be exiled. Tacitly encouraged by all this, hoodlums have begun attacking Muslims on the street.

Read this heartbreaking article. In the blink of an eye, a sense of belonging, a sense of safety and peace and genuine community, can be wiped out. It’s an old movie, one we’ve seen many times before. History does indeed repeat itself—but not always as farce.

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Protest song

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Yeah, I know, this is a family blog. But I can’t help preferring this to Harperman. Let’s stop trying to make the case. If we haven’t made it by now, we won’t in the next two weeks. Let’s just get down to, uh, basics.

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Barbaric cultural practices

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Barbaric cultural practices.jpg

Good to know our caring government under feminist Stephen Harper is keeping tabs on barbaric cultural practices, by turning us (by which I guess I mean “old stock Canadians,” so, alas, I am not in their number after all, although being born in the UK may carry honorary status) into a nation of informers.

Let me put in parentheses my previous comments on this bone-headed, nugatory notion. Let us focus instead upon the drift of this election campaign, and Stephen Harper’s increasingly racist overtures to the unwashed.

There’s the bizarre niqab issue, that appears to involve all of two women in a four year span. There’s the stripping of citizenship, with no judicial appeal, of a person born in Canada. And now we’re promised a snitch line, which will no doubt be clogged with calls about the offensive smell of curries, tajines and kibbeh, and that stupid kerchief worn by Muslim women (you’d be hard-put to find an actual niqabi in your neighbourhood: hijab will have to do).

Don’t give me Orwell, by the way. He, like those yokels who are already queueing up to avail themselves of a direct line to the RCMP, was also a “policeman’s friend.” But there’s a lot here of a certain racist Australian.

What kind of society do we want for ourselves? A democracy? Or a totalitarian one, where the Other is under continual scrutiny, not only by the police but by neighbours? A nation where we are encouraged to inform on each other? One in which conformity is the only value that counts? Where a slow pogrom, tacitly encouraged by the state, is already taking shape?

The champions of small government are in trouble now. What lies before us is dictatorship, in fact if not formally. And for the Harper conservatives to get another majority, as they may well, by using the time-dishonoured technique of scapegoating a minority, is sick-making, to say the least.

This is not my Canada. Perhaps it never has been.

[Photocredit: Corey Hogan. Tx to co-blogger Balbulican for some ideas.]

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Election scapegoating.jpg

I know there’s a whole group of people…who talk about civil liberties and about the freedom of having the right to pretty much choose to do what you like. Folks, that’s not the country we live in. ~Ron Liepert, Conservative candidate for Calgary-Signal Hill

Feminist Stephen Harper is going to liberate those tent-wearing females no matter how much they claim that their attire is their choice. Good to know that women can count on men to ensure their freedom by forcing them to disrobe.

Harper’s Australian advisor, Lynton Crosby, has earned his money and is probably due a sizeable bonus as well. Finding a useful scapegoat to divert the people is nothing new, of course: it’s a well-worn strategy employed to the maximum by a fellow with a funny moustache just last century. But Crosby is more scientific about it, using polls and focus groups to find the surest, quickest and widest channel to the electorate’s dark side. He’s almost certainly in the thick of this electoral crusade: you can tell the lizard by his paw-prints.

The Crosby strategy is wedge politics at its most refined. And it’s working a treat. The Conservatives are rising in the polls, at the expense of the NDP, which, despite its powerful base in Quebec, has refused to dance around the issue, even though one NDP candidate openly called for the Constitution to be reopened to ban the niqab. (Unlike critics of Israel, however, he has been permitted to keep his candidacy.)

Don’t forget the wider immigration issue, more particularly the Syrian crisis. The latter seems to have flared and died in a matter of days. In Australia, Crosby masterminded an anti-immigration strategy for John Howard during the 2001 federal election that featured lying about sea-faring migrants throwing their children overboard to gain admission to Australia, and use of the slogan “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

Sound familiar?

But best of all, a perfect scapegoat has been isolated and targeted.

Scapegoats need to possess two qualities: they must stand out from the rest of the population as an Other, and they must be a relatively easy target. Choosing the tiny handful of niqabis in Canada was a master-stroke. Even though one brave niqabi has fought this and won at the federal court, the matter will not be finally decided until the federal election is over, so that fear, hatred and other dank emotions can be deployed by the Conservatives to their advantage. If they get back in, it has been suggested, they will use the notwithstanding clause to sidestep the Charter of Rights and force their will upon the women involved.

Only at citizenship ceremonies? France and Belgium have both banned the niqab and the burqa in public places. Now those women are effectively under house arrest. And the European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban.

Can’t happen here? Won’t happen here if the Conservatives get back in? Dream on.

How do you keep your xenophobic base festering and inflamed? By adding new restrictions, new humiliations, new public shaming—sado-political amusement for both the government and the governed. The Conservatives are in permanent campaign mode: having derailed the current election campaign, shielding themselves from their ghastly record of mis-governance behind a veil of their own, they can be counted upon to employ a winning strategy in the years ahead. They already have, it seems, a solid foundation to build on.

Never mind the sober conservative media, suddenly awake to the abyss before us. Harper has, almost certainly with Crosby’s expert assistance, reached his target. 82% of Canadians support the ban: 15% are opposed. Quebec, aflame with xenophobia, leads the howling pack, with 93% in favour.

This sort of thing has been happening at the ground level. Niqab? Hijab? Our Minister of Citizenship and Immigration doesn’t even know the difference. But why should he care? The niqab, after all, is just synedoche for the Muslim presence in Canada. In the service of hatred and fear, articles of ethnic clothing are completely interchangeable.

The electorate has become a mob. And how easy it was.

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Nationalize and deliver

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Neoliberal capitalism is suffering from a sort of erectile dysfunction that not even the Viagra of quantitative easing (QE) is able to cure consistently. Central bank interest rates are stuck at effectively zero, with the slightest hint of an increase causing a curious contradiction: a Pavlovian salivation response by the arbiters of value (link uses NYT token) under the present order and a terrible fear of destroying the growth that already exists.

This is a condition that has developed after the events of 2008, which have not so far been overcome. We are still living the 2008 crisis, and there is no sign that by 2018 we would have overcome it under the present politics. What happened in 2008 is that the theory underlying the revolution that was given its original greatest impetus by Thatcher and Reagan and so on had a fatal fall behind the restaurant, but none of the other dinner guests are willing to note what has befallen, except the ones stuck in the front of the restaurant waiting endlessly for their name to be called.

The salient feature of this theory for present purposes was to stop treating labour as a category needing protection. Instead, the optimal economy was to be found by the price-signal negotiation between the owners of the means of production and the consumers of its products. There is something very seductive about this idea to the technocratically-minded, even after accounting for self-interest: the lessons of the Soviet Union show that competition among human wants cannot be arbitrated from on high, but instead via the dynamic response of producers to the demands of consumers — who will necessarily have unequal influence on what is produced. Instead, guided by a different sort of technological wisdom, the owners of capital would be unleashed to respond to human wants and needs.

In the utopia implied by this basic idea, the problems with this would instead by resolved by mechanisms to align the interests of consumers with those of producers, not by seizing the means of production, but by encouraging the ordinary worker to become part of the ownership class. Hence all the attempts at privatising pensions, financial education schemes, and so on. In order to smooth this transition, finance would be unleashed to create increasingly elaborate hierarchies of investment schemes, which would, in theory, distribute risk so finely that everyone could easily find a combination of investments that were safe, be they people using mortgages to invest in property or the wealthy people giving the mortgages for less wealthy people to find affordable housing. The externalities caused by this and the social consequences of human failure wouldn’t be resolved by market-distorting guarantees regarding employment but at best by a thinly provisioned social safety net.

People of a left-wing bent of mind should not be too hasty to deny the logic of the programme. A crucial neoliberal insight is the importance of the variegated nature of the wants of the consumer. A tendency towards contempt against consumerism has partly, in my opinion, crippled the ability of the left to understand its predicament. A created want (by e.g. advertising) is still a want, and there is a kind of demand, a sort of meta-want, for wants to be created. A reallocation of labour and capital to the production of fashions and baubles may at first glance remove resources from more elevated and enlightened uses of resources, but it has worked to create the demand to make China, yes, more polluted, but also better-developed (the two obviously going hand in hand).

The events of 2008 proved that this programme has limits. The unleashing of finance did not result in a convergence between the interests of consumers and producers, but instead an unstable accumulation of financial instruments at the top. At the same time, the downward pressure on wages created by reduced labour protection, reduced regulation, and less government favorite-playing eventually resulted in less capacity for consumers to buy. This was only fed by the attempt to substitute cheap credit for wages, which in turn promoted the accumulation of increasingly risky financial instruments, until the events of 2008 created the straw that broke the camel’s back. In order to prevent a complete breakdown of the system — which would likely have been genuinely catastrophic — the powers that be followed their class interests and chose a patch that protected large portions of existing investments. The price of that patch has been an effectively deflationary or growth-impaired situation in much of the world.

That in turn has created political risks because a deflationary situation with the pain allocated in a very one-sided way cannot be politically stable forever. The growth of “populist” parties in Europe, which in the developed world has been the most evident victim of stagnation due to design flaws in the single currency, is one of the most visible signs of this instability.

But even European populism has not dared to pull the keystone out of the decaying structure. In the most dramatic sequence of events so far, European leaders were able to call the bluff of the Greek challenger Syriza. Unlike many progressives, who view Syriza’s apparent lack of courage as as betrayal, I understand the choice of Alexis Tsipras not to be scapegoat of a systemic breakdown that European leaders would immediately move to confine to Greece alone. But the price of this is that Greece was forced to continue to participate in the failing patchwork and to continue the expansion of the neoliberal practices I describe above. (Possibly because Greek voters understand the nature of this dilemma, they returned Syriza to power without its most uncompromisingly left flank.)

In the meantime, the UK Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader over and above the protests of its existing establishment. The principal accusation levelled at him is his support for allegedly antiquated economic solutions that have been superceded by the Thatcherite revolution. According to the mainstream press, better progressives must accept what neoliberalism has accomplished and either find something that supercedes it (whatever creative, new utopia that may be) or adopt a position of minor reform to neoliberalism — slightly stronger social insurance, for example.

The former family of solutions requires a certain degree of science-fictional vision, but implementing alternate societies is probably beyond the bounds of present-day politics. (I also do not believe that this is proposed honestly; neoliberals usually implicitly believe that their ideology is the end of history and no society will supercede it that has principles more effective than its practices.) The latter reinforces the existing system but does not solve or really ameliorate any of its underlying systemic problems, potentially making the failure more catastrophic in the future.

Instead, I’m afraid to say that the most obvious feasible next steps are the oldies that Corbyn allegedly wishes to resurrect. We must overcome the neoliberal taboos against state favorite-playing and interventionism. At the very least, the state needs to be restored in its role as the spender of last resort. The failure of loose monetary policy to cause banks to lend to domestic enterprises suggests that the demand—-both for goods and for capital—-needs to be created “artificially”. This has its own risks, but they are not avoidable: even if one is against state interventionism and dirigisme, I believe it will become quickly apparent that it is the least worst solution. Unfortunately, one of the risks is exactly the backlash by capital—-but I suspect that this risk will become less and less apparent the more financial capital becomes divorced from the productive economy.

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Blood orange.jpg

Three years ago, former NDP candidate Stefan Jonasson, writing about religious misogyny, said: “much like the Taliban and other extremists, the Haredim [an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect] offer a toxic caricature of faith at odds with the spirit of the religious tradition they profess to represent.”

Here, for the record, is how the Haredim carry on at the moment. They spit on girls. They stone women, throw bricks at them, pour bleach over them. They gang-beat women for not moving to the back of the bus. They demand men-only streets, and tear-gas women who fail to comply.

Sounds like a “toxic caricature of faith” to me. Certainly comparable to the attitudes of ultra-Islamists towards the “place” of women in society.

But today’s NDP considers such an observation “inappropriate.” That’s quite enough out of you, spake the NDP High Command, and Jonasson was kicked to the curb, joining an ever-growing heap of other “inappropriate” candidates and would-be candidates.

I do, however, have happier news to report. Alex Johnstone, another NDP hopeful—the one who, incredibly, had never heard of the Auschwitz death camp—seems to have been successfully rehabilitated after agreeing to be re-educated by B’nai Brith. Her abject public prostration has saved her candidacy.

Read the cringeworthy joint statement, with its Red Guard-era Maoist overtones.

It’s come to this.

Now we anxiously await the fate of Andrew Cash. Not, I’m afraid, with much optimism.

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Cthulu canadiana.jpg

Or, as the late Zen master Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

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Vampirism, 2015

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Capitalism anecdote.jpg

Capitalism, in one anecdote. A raised middle finger in the face of humanity.

Evil. Greedy. Preying on the sick.

Right back at you, Martin Shkreli. May your life be short and your death be long.

ADDED: Schrecklich should, by rights, have some company in the tumbril.

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This England

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Jeremy Corbyn, take a well-deserved breather. There appears to have been some pig-on-pig goings-on in another part of the forest.

As one wag noted, Corbyn’s tie was askew a few days ago, so this should even the score.

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He stole, no, plundered, sandwiches from veterans! Oh, OK, he didn’t. But still!

He didn’t sing God Save the Queen! His shirt wasn’t buttoned to the top! His jacket and trousers didn’t match!

Forty years ago he had an affair! With a Black woman! Damaging!

He rides a bike, just like Mao Tse-Tung!

Majority of women in his shadow cabinet? Never mind! He’s a misogynist dinosaur!

He needs to prove he’s not an anti-Semite! Go on, prove it! Explain! Confess!

He’s “left-wing!” All the time! Never forget!

I can hardly wait for next week.

ADDED: Well, Week 2 is starting off with a bang. UK military honchos are threatening a coup if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister.

Life, it seems, imitates art:

Harry Perkins, an unassuming, working class, very left-wing Leader of the Labour Party and Member of Parliament for Sheffield Central, becomes Prime Minister in March 1991. The priorities of the Perkins Government include dissolving all newspaper monopolies, withdrawal from the North Atlantic Alliance, removing all American military bases on UK soil, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and true open government. Newspaper magnate Sir George Fison, with allies within British political and civil service circles, moves immediately to discredit him, with the United States the key, but covert, conspirator. The most effective of the Prime Minister’s domestic enemies is the aristocratic Sir Percy Browne, Head of MI5, whose ancestors “unto the Middle Ages” have exercised subtle power behind the scenes. However Harry finds support in Joan Cook, a loyal Member of Parliament (MP) and Home Secretary; and Thompson, Perkins’ Press Secretary; Inspector Page, his Head of Security and Sir Montague Kowalski, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. It provides an intimate view of the machinations of a particularly British political conspiracy.

Oh, and this.

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