Politics

Game of Groans

Game of Groans

Green Hitlers, narrative prostheses, and the final episode of the world-pummeling HBO blockbuster

As the fanboys and reply guys will leap to point out, Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world and thus is not offering us a historically accurate version of the European medieval past. But it is, at another level, just as obviously set in a version of that past, albeit one with giants and dragons and the living dead. And insofar as that temporal orientation is the case, in its final maneuvers the show cheats its viewers of the capacity to respect the very pastness of that past by overlaying a presentist moral logic of political development onto it. In this narcissistic political schema, characters who are untroubled by monarchy are evil, while characters who support electoral systems are good. The effect of this rigged historical framework is to generate a smug sense of quasi-recognition, coating the sedimented layers of a past-that-never-was with a zesty little spritz of incipience.

Eating the Frog

Eating the Frog

David Wallace-Wells's new book is one of the few honest accounts of the costs, both tangible and metaphorical, of global warming.

David Wallace-Wells’s new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, reads at once as an innovative look at manmade climate change and also as old news. As Wallace-Wells himself states at points, not much in his book is new. Even the scariest near-term predictions and assessments, like the possibility that “should the planet warm 3.7 degrees . . . climate change damages could total $551 trillion—nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today,” or that, at the upper-end of temperature predictions for the end of this century, “humans at the equator and in the tropics would not be able to move around without dying” have been accessible to the general public online or in academic articles and assessments. What is new is the candor of the narrative and relative impassivity with which Wallace-Wells, a career journalist, elucidates the distressing implications of the facts that he reports.

The Origins of European Neoliberalism

The Origins of European Neoliberalism

The real source of neoliberalism in Europe is neither technocracy nor hegemony but a problem specific to the continent: intergovernmentalism

The real source of neoliberalism in Europe is neither technocracy nor hegemony but a problem specific to the continent: intergovernmentalism. Accordingly, left nationalists in parties such as the British Labour Party, France Insoumise, and Germany’s Die Linke have the correct intuition about where a progressive politics can overcome neoliberalism—at the national level—but their flirtation with breaking out of the Union is the wrong strategy for achieving that goal. To address intergovernmental problems, national lefts must join forces at the European level. As voters across the Union prepare to elect a new European parliament next month, the question that confronts the European left is whether it can find the common ground needed to counter neoliberal discipline both through and beyond the nation-state.

What Will They Think of the Megadisasters to Come?

What Will They Think of the Megadisasters to Come?

Dispatch from the Extinction Rebellion protests in London

Mass arrests are part of Extinction Rebellion’s strategy to raise the profile of the climate emergency. “The action itself is not actually that important. It’s the going to prison that’s got cultural relevance,” Roger Hallam, an XR founder, said in a short documentary made by The Guardian. Just a few days into the protest, hundreds of arrests have already been racked up: there are reports of activists being booked as far away as Brighton, Luton, and Essex because London jails are overwhelmed. When the police decide to arrest XR members, they usually do so by issuing Section 14 notices, which can be done if officers believe that a stationary protest “may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.” Technically, the police monitoring the XR actions are in their power to declare this at any time they see fit, but in reality, for reasons of optics or understaffing, they often choose to watch how things progress from the sidelines. The rhythms of the protest are strange: long periods of calm punctured by sudden moments of drama when the police decide to move in on one area or another in a coordinated attempt to clear it.

There Is No Alternativelessness

There Is No Alternativelessness

What's been hiding Germany's hidden crisis?

Now, when a politician or a public intellectual or a newspaper goes on a Rumspringa in the rightmost reaches of the political spectrum, or if the fine citizens of some small town decide to set fire to a house, there is less of a script by which they would be welcomed back into respectability. Certain ethnic Germans used to take it as their seigneurial right to shower cruelty on the vulnerable and return to the mainstream after a cooling-off period to be listened to and shaken hands with. They are beginning to feel deprived of that right.

The Elections in Israel

The Elections in Israel

More than Netanyahu’s election to a fifth term as prime minister, the collapse of the Zionist left was the night’s historic result.

At least since Netanyahu’s election in 2009, Labor has repeatedly tried to defeat Likud by tacking right. Labor voters elected Avi Gabbay, a millionaire telecom executive and former minister in Netanyahu’s government, to head the party in 2017, in the hopes that he could reach voters beyond the party’s base. Gabbay, the son of Moroccan immigrants and raised in a poor Jerusalem neighborhood, was meant to take the party of the kibbutzim in a new direction. And in a sense, he did. He joined the right-wing attacks on the legitimacy of Arab political participation; when asked if he would form a governing coalition that included the Arab-led parties, he responded, “We have nothing in common with them.” He pledged not to evacuate Jewish settlements from the occupied West Bank. When, two weeks before the election, a rocket fired from Gaza hit a house in central Israel, Gabbay accused Netanyahu of being weak for not authorizing a more forceful military response. But voters who truly want ethnonationalism will always choose the real, bloody thing. Triangulation only moves the center of political gravity rightward, and when the center moves right, the left loses.

Meeting Needs

Meeting Needs

If movements’ labor produces change in society, who then produces the movement?

Political meetings rely upon social reproductive labor: washing dishes, caring for children, feeding participants. But the meeting itself also presents a reproductive challenge: how do participants sit, in what sequence do they speak, how do they address one another? The stakes of these questions are high, and can ultimately sustain or destroy us. These sorts of high stakes are why Silvia Federici lifts up movements that “place at the center of their political project the restructuring of reproduction as the crucial terrain for the transformation of social relations.” The work of reproducing movements is not only that of sharing the invisible labor that makes a meeting possible; it is also about attending to the ritual practices of meetings themselves, like speaking and listening, that foster and maintain relations of activism. This is the work of meeting needs.

Geopolitics for the Left

Geopolitics for the Left

Getting out from under the “liberal international order”

China’s ascent to great power status mirror’s the US’s in many ways. Like the US in the Gilded Age, the basis for China’s entrance into the first rank of global powers is its staggering economic growth. Averaging just shy of 10 percent of GDP growth annually for forty years, in a country of 1.4 billion people, it is the most spectacular economic feat in the history of capitalism. And like the US in the Gilded Age, China has benefited from a favorable international environment. In the late 19th century the British empire smiled upon the consanguine rising power, enabling the US to attract enormous amounts of foreign capital to its project of continental capitalist development. In the case of China, the US’s strategy of “convergence” has meant openly supporting and facilitating the country’s integration into the circuits of international capitalism, especially through endorsing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 1999. Finally, the US’s willingness to import hundreds of billions of dollars a year of Chinese goods while exporting only a fraction of that to China, and to permit US firms to enter into joint ventures with potential Chinese competitors, have contributed hugely to China’s economic growth.

Other People’s Blood

Other People’s Blood

On Paul Volcker

Those who praise Volcker like to say he “broke the back” of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: “I told them, ‘You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.” (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.”) Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn’t have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that “to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people’s blood.”