Hate, and its antidote

A few decades ago an elderly Jewish friend and I walked down a spacious avenue located in a multi-ethnic Brooklyn neighborhood. We passed a Hasidic Synagogue as we neared out destination. I never learned the name of the sect that used an inconspicuous Brooklyn home for their house of devotion, but I knew I did not care much for them because they prominently placed a sign in the yard that commanded: “Women must enter in the rear.” I often wondered for whom the sign was meant. After all, sect members would know which door they were to use to enter the building. But why would Sheila, a hypothetical mail lady, or Joyce, a hypothetical EMT, care a damn for their belligerent demands? I remembered the paradoxes of tolerance the sign always brought to my attention.

It was around the moment we passed the Synagogue that my friend said something to this effect:

Friend: “You just do not understand. Because you are not Jewish. They [the Goyim] will always hate us. It can happen here.”

“It,” of course, was a Holocaust. My friend’s fear of another catastrophe originated in his having been a young Jewish refugee who fled pre-war Poland and his knowing that his extended family had perished during the Holocaust. Encountering anti-Semites over his long life not only magnified his fears, these experiences turned them into something that could be called an unshakable belief in the fearful risks that went along with being a Jew. These risks reflected his belief in a recurring anti-Semitism. It may be surprising that these elements combined to redoubled his commitment to revolutionary socialism, a family preoccupation that lasted generations. But Zionism was not his thing. Besting anti-Semitism, on the other hand, was part of his being.

Friend: “Only a classless society will save the Jews from mass murder.”

My reply was measured and calmly stated:

Me: “While it is true that Anti-Semites can be found across the world, that some live in the United States and that a Holocaust occurred in and around Germany, I am nearly certain that ‘The Jewish Question’ is not an issue here. The ‘Black Question,’ on the other hand, drives and has long driven American reactionary politics. If we were to see anything like the Holocaust in the United States, it would likely feature a Black final solution as an animating goal.”

My friend replied: “You just do not understand.”

As we neared the falafel shop that was our destination, a mentally deranged black man carrying a large portable toy phone approached us and began spewing anti-Semitic rants about the shop (it was owned and operated by Sephardic Jews) and its mostly Jewish patrons. My friend, who considered himself a tough guy even though he was then old and partly disabled, looked a bit stunned by and scared of the crazy man with his phone and sadistic tirade. I, on the other hand, found the him annoying if only because he had undermined the point I had made a few moments before.

So, when his phone rang, I blurted out: “That’s for you. It’s Hell calling.” My friend looked relieved by my response or, perhaps, because a Goy had defended him against this kind of nonsense. We then walked towards the shop, a place where, as a Goy, I sometimes had personally experienced bias. Our lunch was uneventful.

If we can thank Donald Trump for anything, it might be this: The Trump campaign and election spurred the bigoted elements in the United States to emerge en masse and to assert themselves boldly with pride. Shameless anti-Semites, Islamophobes, Homophobes, White Nationalists, religious fundamentalists, etc. appear to believe it is their time to be seen and heard. Trump, briefly put, cleared a public space in which they can be who they are, where their aspirations appear legitimate, in which their presence can be known. Trump’s victory even inspired some to act without restraint. Crime and murder, hatred and war circulate in the air we breathe. Self and other, us and them, friend and foe, purity and filth — these are terms in which the bigots express themselves. Within such an environment the violence of the few clarify and expose the aspirations of the many. (What might be the goal of exclusionary violence but genocidal cleansing or purification of the land?) Although America’s hate-addled monsters are a minority and the energetic popular response to Trump’s prejudices should encourage everyone with more than a bit of good will in their souls, the United States still contains the social resources needed to mount collective expressions of hate. We need only to recall the potential violence on display during the Tea Party’s moment to glean the truth of this claim. Likewise, the many death threats directed towards Barack Obama and the First Family. So too the use Trump made of his followers to harass and intimidate his opponents. These individuals and groups intended to draw boundaries, and would use the blood of their opponents to do so. They wished to exclude others from White America. Moreover, we have also seen that American’s institutions can use these popular mentalities as a basis for attacks on the presence of human diversity within the country, to justify its imperial politics abroad and to suppress dissent at home. This situation is both disturbing and unsurprising. For what is Trump’s America but an enraged Uncle Sam with a loaded pistol and a nearly empty bottle. We Americans have been in this situation before. We know Uncle Sam has never been mentally fit or morally respectable. He has long had innocent blood on his hands.

My friend firmly believed that a (Marxian) revolution was the only feasible solution to the anti-Semite problem that once vexed Europe, that a classless society provided the only durable haven for the Jews. He believed no one would molest the Jews once the world had neither Yids nor Goyim, that is, once it had only human beings, liberated, free and happy. An inclusive solidarity would make these hatreds all but impossible, their condition of possibility being the assertion of those differences which efface our common humanity, differences that, in his mind, reflected the conflict of the contending classes.

He might have been right about this. (I, on the other hand, do not believe antagonistic class relations are the first cause of every form of oppression and misery.) Of course, our world remains polluted by hate and fury as well as class cleavages. It does not feature an inclusive solidarity. Nor institutions that promote such. Oppression and exploitation, conflict and war are our overbearing realities. A common humanity that affirms difference is thus a socio-political project, not an undeniable presence in the world. My friend’s implicit belief in an inevitable and pervasive anti-Semitism, one so stubborn that it survives every attempt to shame it into oblivion, may be more ‘realistic’ than not. Who is to say otherwise when we know Trump’s ascent includes many anti-Semitic episodes as obvious by-products? Nevertheless, even if we are fated to confront anti-Semites along with the race-haters, Islamophobes, etc., we know that many will oppose bigotry because bigots of every stripe are barely tolerable impediments to realizing the good life. The project, to be sure, makes our common humanity a living presence in an inhospitable world. Solidarity is always an antidote to hate.

Robert Polin on minimum wage increases

Lost jobs because of modest — and thus inadequate — minimum wage increases? Not according to Robert Polin:

Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years

Corey Robin nails it in his depiction of the collateral effects produced by neoliberal regimes like Obamacare. One may wonder why other countries can have single-payer health care systems while the United States generates a Rube Goldberg monstrosity? Well, Uncle Sam is exceptional, and Obamacare provides one more data point in the case proving his exceptional nature!

Corey Robin

In yesterday’s New York Times, Robert Pear reports on a little known fact about Obamacare: the insurance packages available on the federal exchange have very high deductibles. Enticed by the low premiums, people find out that they’re screwed on the deductibles, and the co-pays, the out-of-network charges, and all the different words and ways the insurance companies have come up with to hide the fact that you’re paying through the nose.

For policies offered in the federal exchange, as in many states, the annual deductible often tops $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple.

Insurers devised the new policies on the assumption that consumers would pick a plan based mainly on price, as reflected in the premium. But insurance plans with lower premiums generally have higher deductibles.

In El Paso, Tex., for example, for a husband and wife both age 35, one of the cheapest plans on…

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Getting what you vote for

Politics Does it matter that many can’t register for coverage?

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This has been said before, many times, in fact, but Zach Ward-Perkins and Joe Earle say it again because economists and their paymasters cannot learn from their past mistakes:

Every year thousands of economics graduates take jobs in the City, thinktanks and at the heart of government itself. Economics is highly technical and often mathematical, and this elevates economists to a position of expertise from which they mediate economic analysis to the British public. They are the guardians of our economy, charged with its upkeep, and they play an important role in shaping political narratives around economics. Yet British universities are producing economics graduates who are not fit for this purpose.

The financial crisis represents the ultimate failure of this education system and of the academic discipline as a whole. Economics education is dominated by neoclassical economics, which tries to understand the economy through modelling individual agents. Firms, consumers and politicians face clear choices under conditions of scarcity, and must allocate their resources in order to satisfy their preferences. Different agents meet through a market, where the mathematical formulae that characterise their behaviour interact to produce an “equilibrium”. The theory emphasises the need for micro-foundations, which is a technical term for basing your model of the whole economy on extrapolating from individual behaviour.

Economists using this mainstream economic theory failed to predict the crisis spectacularly. Even the Queen asked professors at LSE why nobody saw it coming. Now five years on, after a bank bailout costing hundreds of billions, unemployment peaking at 2.7 million and plummeting wages, economics syllabuses remain unchanged.

Catastrophes such as this are what one necessarily encounters when the mote remains in one’s eye.

On the forgetting of our human nature

Wendell Berry once wrote:

We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.

How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.

The essay from which I pulled this quote addresses the destruction of the land in America and around the world. Berry’s thought: If human beings destroy the land on which they live, they will have committed collective suicide and, ironically, genocide. If human beings lack habitable land upon which to create a life, our species, one of many, will become extinct.

For Berry’s land one could substitute the idea of a world that can sustain both human and a diverse abundance of non-human life. Human beings have known the ‘civilized’ version of this generic world since about 8,000 to 12,000 BC, from the time when our ancestors began to develop an agricultural economy. Although this habitable world is both necessary and irreplaceable, over the last one-hundred years it has become possible to imagine its destruction. About a century ago, the advent of total and world war brought about the age of catastrophe, the age in which we live, an epoch of holocausts and apocalypses, of the subjugation of the human world to globalizing economic and political systems. Nuclear weapons exemplify the destructiveness now in the hands of some of the most belligerent war-making modern states. But it is modern industrial production and consumption, now encompassing the globe, which mortally threaten those species attuned to the mechanisms and rhythms of a first nature billions of years in the making.

Civilized human beings believe themselves to reasonable, pragmatic and thus adaptable. They believe themselves to be masters of and responsible for their destinies. Yet it is the most powerful members of this lot that have shown themselves to be incapable of learning from the situation we all now confront. What must they learn? This: A civilization that requires the hyper exploitation of finite resources will not last forever.

The endgame of the human project has already appeared. These are reactionary times, a moment during which capital is at its apex, and, as such, they thus call for a radical response: Social and political revolution. “If not now, then when?”

Solidarity during the austere age

Aditya Chakrabortty, writing for the Guardian, considered Sweden’s recent and surprising troubles:

More than 20 cars torched in one night. School classrooms gutted by fire. Fifty far-right extremists chasing immigrants around a suburb.

You probably haven’t seen much about it in the papers, but for the past week Sweden has been racked by rioting. The violence began in a suburb of Stockholm, Husby, and spread around the capital’s edge before other cities went up in flames. Police have been pelted with stones; neighbourhoods have turned into no-go areas, even for ambulances. Such prolonged unrest is remarkable for Stockholm, as those few reporters sent to cover it have observed. Naturally enough, each article has wound up asking: why here?

It’s a good question. Don’t surveys repeatedly show Sweden as one of the happiest countries (certainly a damn sight cheerier than Britain)? Isn’t it famous for its equality, its warm welcome to immigrants? Whatever happened to Stockholm, capital of progressivism, the Mecca towards which Guardianistas face for their daily five minutes of mindfulness?

We all know the cliches, but the reality is they no longer fit the country so well. Whether it’s on the wealth gap, or welfare, or public services, Sweden is less “Swedish” than it has ever been. As in other continental capitals, the Stockholm version of the “European social model” is an increasingly tattered thing, albeit still appealed to by the political elites and still resonant in the popular culture. But the country seized by turbulence last week is becoming polarised, and is surrendering more of its public services over to private businesses (sometimes with disastrous effects). Those riot-scene correspondents ought not to be asking: why here? A better question, surely, is: if such instability can happen here, what might unfold elsewhere — including Britain?

Rioting has occurred in other OECD countries. Most notably, they took place in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey since the onset of the Great Recession. The United States also produced the peaceful Occupy Movement, which the various governmental bodies suppressed with rioting police forces. The causes of unrest are the same across Europe and in the United States: Growing inequality, social polarization, austerity and, in some instances, economic stagnation. Sweden is a special case, as Chakrabortty avers. Its welfare state was notable for its commitment to collective security and to economic growth. The Swedish economy continues to grow. But the Swedes are slowly jettisoning their commitment to collective security, to solidarity. This is when the authorities need the police to keep order. This is when the democratic class struggle becomes class warfare.