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Category: Truth

Redemption Through Discourse?


by Peter Osborne (2017)

‘After us, strictly speaking, there will be nothing’, Theodor Adorno wrote to Max Horkheimer on 17 August 1954, from the Hotel Reber au Lac in Locarno, where he was spending his summer vacation.[1] It was less than a year since Adorno had taken up a permanent professorship at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt—a position to which he was entitled under the terms of the law governing compensation for acts of National Socialist injustice. The occasion for his pathos was the fact that the young Ralf Dahrendorf—only recently appointed to the Institute for Social Research to oversee a project on the political attitudes of students—had resigned to take up a position in Saarbrücken. Dahrendorf was a significant loss, not only for his academic abilities and interests (he had completed his PhD at Hamburg on Marx’s theory of justice), but also for his anti-fascist pedigree. The son of a Social Democrat deputy in the pre-1933 Reichstag imprisoned towards the end of the war as an underground agitator, Dahrendorf had himself been arrested in late 1944, aged 15, for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. He was sent to a concentration camp in Poland. Almost a decade after the war’s end, finding such suitable candidates for a junior position in the Institute was proving difficult.

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Science fiction when the future is now


nature journal

AlphaGo, fake news, cyberwar: 2017 has felt science-fictional in the here and now. Space settlement and sea-steading seem just around the bend; so, at times, do nuclear war and pandemic. With technological change cranked up to warp speed and day-to-day life smacking of dystopia, where does science fiction go? Has mainstream fiction taken up the baton?

Nature asked six prominent sci-fi writers — Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard — to reflect on what the genre has to offer at the end of an extraordinary year.

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Winter in Catalonia


Don Quijote en la playa de Barcino, Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau

by / 

Narrative Confusions

In Catalonia morbid symptoms abound.1 The population lives through bitter division. The Catalan leadership is in prison. The left is divided. On December 21st, all political parties in the self-declared Catalan republic will participate in elections forced on them by the Spanish government. In the confusion of the interregnum of the Spanish state, all actors struggle to find a narrative form that might elevate their mission of establishing a new regnum.2

It is no wonder the world struggles to discern the narrative form of the Catalan independence struggle. Official European opinion, never a good reader, discerns a morality tale of the dangers of populism and nationalism, in which a reluctant Spanish hero is forced to put into place a rogue separatist government. Meanwhile, unofficial opinion is rallying to the Catalan cause, interpreting it in the register of a great epic of national liberation and the struggle against Francoism. Horrified and enthusiastic spectators alike cannot but observe the Catalan secession drama through the lenses of its key antagonists: the gobierno of Mariano Rajoy in Madrid and the independentistas lead by Carles Puigdemont’s now deposed govern. But the very nature of an interregnum is that governments cannot truly rule, and that people do not wish to be ruled. In the interregnum genres fail, and when the epic fails, the result is invariably tragicomic. The greatest reflection on that is Cervantes’ Don Quixote.3

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The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015


This paper answers fundamental questions that have preoccupied modern economic thought since the 18th century. What is the aggregate real rate of return in the economy? Is it higher than the growth rate of the economy and, if so, by how much? Is there a tendency for returns to fall in the long-run? Which particular assets have the highest long-run returns? We answer these questions on the basis of a new and comprehensive dataset for all major asset classes, including—for the first time—total returns to the largest, but oft ignored, component of household wealth, housing. The annual data on total returns for equity, housing, bonds, and bills cover 16 advanced economies from 1870 to 2015, and our new evidence reveals many new insights and puzzles.


by Òscar JordàKatharina KnollDmitry KuvshinovMoritz SchularickAlan M. Taylor

NBER Working Paper No. 24112 / Issued in December 2017

Reading Adorno’s Fascist Propaganda Essay in the Age of Trump

Writing shortly after the end of World War Two, just as the enormity of what had transpired begun to set in, Theodor Adorno turned to the writings of Freud to help account for the convulsive power of the fascist spell. Drawing on Freud’s studies in the psychology of masses, he was able to render an account of the psychological conditions for the rise of a charismatic leader, as well as the arsenal of gestures used by the leader to bewitch and to mobilize.

In an era marked by the rise of a paradoxically international right-wing populism, and in the midst of ethno-nationalist tumult in the United States, this roundtable reflects on the legacy and contemporary utility of Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda.

Might Freud and other psychoanalytic theorists still have something to offer to social and political philosophy today? How can Adorno’s analysis of Fascism in the 1930s and 1940s inform our analyses of contemporary right-wing movements? These are the questions discussed by this roundtable, featuring J. M. Bernstein, Chiara Bottici, Vladimir Safatle, and Jamieson Webster.

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Marxism, Psychoanalysis and Reality


by Erich Fromm

During the last 35 years, I have written many works, in which — under different aspects — I tried to explain that there are not only points where Marxism and psychoanalysis overlap but that there is also an intrinsic interdependency between the two. This means, I do not only believe that a synthesis is possible but also an existential necessity.

Freud and Marx have in common that both — the first contrary to pre-Marxist sociology, the second contrary to earlier psychology — are concerned not as much with superficial phenomena as rather with driving forces, which act in certain directions and with varying intensity, and evoke phenomena that are changing and temporary.

Psychoanalysis is the only scientific form of psychology, as Marxism is the only scientific form of sociology. Only these two systems allow us to understand the hidden driving forces behind the phenomena and to predict what happens to an individual in a certain society when, under certain conditions, the acting forces evoke phenomena that seem to be exactly the opposite of what they actually are. In the field of individual psychology as well as in sociology, non-dynamic thinking is surprised when deeply effecting, existential transformations occur, while dynamic thinking, which recognizes forces that remain invisible from the surface, is able to predict probable transformations.

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Bitcoin Mania


by Doug Henwood

Bitcoin, once a fairly arcane topic, is now everywhere.

The market pundit Robert Prechter, who is a great psychologist of financial markets despite being a devoted follower of Ayn Rand and believing in a piece of superstition called Elliott Wave theory, once argued that in the course of a major bull market there’s something called a “point of recognition,” when the general public gets on board. That means it’s getting late in the run and it’s time for pros to think about getting out (though a serious mania can go on well after John and Jane Q get involved).

It sure seems like we’re at that point with Bitcoin, whose price trajectory over the last few years resembles some of history’s great manias, like the Dutch tulip bulb frenzy of the 1630s, the South Sea bubble of the 1710s, and the US stock market orgies of the 1920s and 1990s.

What is going on? Before getting into the details, I should say that money in general is not a simple topic. Most people have a good understanding of how gold, which is something of a primal money, is mined, refined, and shaped into ingots or coins. Slightly less obvious is why it has a monetary status unlike, say, platinum. But it is rare, pure, easily divisible, and has been highly cherished throughout the ages.

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Where Millennials Come From


by Jia Tolentino

Imagine, as I often do, that our world were to end tomorrow, and that alien researchers many years in the future were tasked with reconstructing the demise of civilization from the news. If they persevered past the coverage of our President, they would soon identify the curious figure of the millennial as a suspect. A composite image would emerge, of a twitchy and phone-addicted pest who eats away at beloved American institutions the way boll weevils feed on crops. Millennials, according to recent headlines, are killing hotels, department stores, chain restaurants, the car industry, the diamond industry, the napkin industry, homeownership, marriage, doorbells, motorcycles, fabric softener, hotel-loyalty programs, casinos, Goldman Sachs, serendipity, and the McDonald’s McWrap.

The idea that millennials are capriciously wrecking the landscape of American consumption grants quite a bit of power to a group that is still on the younger side. Born in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, millennials are now in their twenties and thirties. But the popular image of this generation—given its name, in 1987, by William Strauss and Neil Howe—has long been connected with the notion of disruptive self-interest. Over the past decade, that connection has been codified by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, who writes about those younger than herself with an air of pragmatic evenhandedness and an undercurrent of moral alarm. (An article adapted from her most recent book, “iGen,” about the cohort after millennials, was published in the September issue of The Atlantic with the headline “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” It went viral.) In 2006, Twenge published “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.” The book’s cover emblazoned the title across a bare midriff, a flamboyant illustration of millennial self-importance, sandwiched between a navel piercing and a pair of low-rise jeans.

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The economics of Luther or Munzer?


by Michael Roberts (TheNextRecession)

Last week leading leftist economists in the UK held a seminar on the state of mainstream economics, as taught in the universities.  They kicked this off by nailing a poster with 33 theses critiquing mainstream economics to the door of the London School of Economics.  This publicity gesture attempted to remind us that it was the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church, Wittenberg and provoked the beginning of the Protestant reformation against the ‘one true religion’ of Catholicism.

The economists were purporting to tell us that mainstream economics was like Catholicism and must be protested against as Luther did back in 1517.  As they put it, “Economics is broken.  From climate change to inequality, mainstream (neoclassical) economics has not provided the solutions to the problems we face and yet it is still dominant in government, academia and other economic institutions. It is time for a new economics.”

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Just do it?: The Dilemma of Engagement


by Simon Critchley (Artforum, 2017)

ONE BRIEF ANECDOTE amid the carnage; possibly a parable.

A few weeks back, I was involved-against my inclination, probably out of a misplaced sense of duty to students-in a debate with two theologians about the limits of secularism. This took place at the New School for Social Research in New York, where I have my day job. My intent was to say as little as possible, just respond politely to the theologians and make my excuses and leave to get a drink. (After all, it was Friday evening.) Inevitably, everyone started to talk about Trump and how depressed they are and what we should all do, etc., etc., etc. Inwardly, I sighed. I was tired. I’ve been tired a lot recently.

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Climate Change: What is to be Done?

Explosons les codes sexuels! Une ancienne du “Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire” (FHAR) parle

Née en 1947, Lola Miesseroff a pris dès sa jeunesse une part active à la critique et aux luttes sociales. Elle raconte ici son engagement dans le Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR) au début des années soixante-dix, et bien d’autres choses encore. Nous avons préféré couper certains passages, détails concernant des personnes, anecdotes ou vives digressions qui auraient triplé le volume de ce texte. En attendant qu’un jour Lola Miesseroff ait l’envie et le loisir d’écrire ses Mémoires, on lira avec intérêt son Voyage en outre-gauche. Paroles de francs-tireurs des années 68, à paraître en 2018 aux éditions Libertalia1. Pour plus de développements sur les tumultueuses années 1970, voir le chapitre 11 de la série « Homo » : « Être ce que nous ne savons pas encore (Stonewall, le FHAR et après) ».

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Libertarian Police Department


by Tom O’Donnell

I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.

“Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”

“What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”

“Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”

The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”

“Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”

“Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”

He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it.”

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The Case Against Civilization


Did our hunter-gatherer ancestors have it better?

Science and technology: we tend to think of them as siblings, perhaps even as twins, as parts of stem (for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics”). When it comes to the shiniest wonders of the modern world—as the supercomputers in our pockets communicate with satellites—science and technology are indeed hand in glove. For much of human history, though, technology had nothing to do with science. Many of our most significant inventions are pure tools, with no scientific method behind them. Wheels and wells, cranks and mills and gears and ships’ masts, clocks and rudders and crop rotation: all have been crucial to human and economic development, and none historically had any connection with what we think of today as science. Some of the most important things we use every day were invented long before the adoption of the scientific method. I love my laptop and my iPhone and my Echo and my G.P.S., but the piece of technology I would be most reluctant to give up, the one that changed my life from the first day I used it, and that I’m still reliant on every waking hour—am reliant on right now, as I sit typing—dates from the thirteenth century: my glasses. Soap prevented more deaths than penicillin. That’s technology, not science.

In “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States,” James C. Scott, a professor of political science at Yale, presents a plausible contender for the most important piece of technology in the history of man. It is a technology so old that it predates Homo sapiens and instead should be credited to our ancestor Homo erectus. That technology is fire. We have used it in two crucial, defining ways. The first and the most obvious of these is cooking. As Richard Wrangham has argued in his book “Catching Fire,” our ability to cook allows us to extract more energy from the food we eat, and also to eat a far wider range of foods. Our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, has a colon three times as large as ours, because its diet of raw food is so much harder to digest. The extra caloric value we get from cooked food allowed us to develop our big brains, which absorb roughly a fifth of the energy we consume, as opposed to less than a tenth for most mammals’ brains. That difference is what has made us the dominant species on the planet.

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Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
18 September 2017

Description from LSE:
Leading Marxist scholar David Harvey discusses the profound insights and enormous power Marx’s analysis continues to offer 150 years after the first volume of Capital was published. His latest book is Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason.

David Harvey (@profdavidharvey) is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate School and an Honorary Graduate of LSE. His course on Marx’s Capital, developed with students over thirty years, has been downloaded by people from all over the world.

Hyun Bang Shin (@urbancommune) is Associate Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at LSE.

The LSE Department of Geography & Environment (@LSEGeography) is a center of international academic excellence in economic, urban and development geography, environmental social science and climate change.

Germany stutters

(via Michael Roberts)

The general election in Germany produced a sharp swing to the right.  The two main parties of the centre-right and centre-left, the Christian Democrats/Social Union (CDU-CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) suffered significant losses in their share of the vote.  The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel lost 8.5% pts from the 2013 election to finish with 33%; and the SPD lost 5.2% pts to finish with 20.5% – both achieving the lowest share of the vote since 1945.  The share of the vote going to the two main parties, which were in a ‘grand coalition’, is hardly above 50% of those voting – and the voter turnout rose to 75% from 71% in 2013.

The big gainer was the anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist, anti-muslim, Alternative for Germany (AfD) which polled 12.6%, compared with 4.7% in 2013 and entered the German parliament (Bundestag) for the first time.  The other major gainer was the petty-bourgeois, neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) which polled 10.7% compared to 4.8% last time and re-entered the Bundestag.  Die Linke (Left) party polled more or less the same as last time with 9.2% and so did the Greens with 8.9%.  Indeed, the left (if you include the Greens in that) polled less than 40% of the total vote, even lower than in 2013.

The SPD says that they will not enter a new grand coalition with the CDU, and that’s not surprising after the hammering they have taken in the election for being part of Merkel’s government.  The SPD particularly lost support in higher unemployment areas of West Germany, revealing that the poorest sections of the working class do not see the SPD as fighting for them any longer.

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The Uninhabitable Earth


Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

By David Wallace-Wells

I. ‘Doomsday’

Peering beyond scientific reticence.

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. This past winter, a string of days 60 and 70 degrees warmer than normal baked the North Pole, melting the permafrost that encased Norway’s Svalbard seed vault — a global food bank nicknamed “Doomsday,” designed to ensure that our agriculture survives any catastrophe, and which appeared to have been flooded by climate change less than ten years after being built.

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On the ecology of capitalism


by Antithesis (pdf)

The growth of production has been entirely verified until now as the realization of political economy: the growth of poverty, which has invaded and laid waste to the very fabric of life... In the society of the over-developed economy, everything has entered the sphere of economic goods, even spring water and the air of towns, that is to say, everything has become the economic ill, that “complete denial of man”…

Guy Debord, The sick planet

The process of the expansion of the capitalist mode of production on a world scale in the previous century was at the same time a process of transformation of the biosphere as a whole. This process resulted in the disturbance of the ecological balance of the planet, a balance which lasted for the past 10.000 years, which is known as the Holocene geological period. According to recent scientific studies the main aspects of this planetary ecological transformation are the following:[1]

  • Increase of the average temperature of the planet due to the increase of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and of other greenhouse gases. This increase is caused both by the burning of fossil fuels for supplying energy to capitalist production and reproduction and by the emissions originating in the capitalist mode of agricultural production.[2]
  • Great loss of biodiversity mainly due to the conversion of forest ecosystems into zones of agricultural production or into parts of the urban fabric. It is predicted that within the 21st century up to 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species will be threatened with extinction.
  • Perturbation of the cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus which are transferred with increasing rates from the atmosphere to the oceans and the lake systems of the planet due to the use of huge quantities of fertilizers in capitalist agriculture. The pollution of oceans has even led to local anoxic events (e.g. in the Baltic sea) during which the oxygen levels in the sea were significantly reduced.
  • In addition to the phenomena described above, the depletion of atmospheric ozone and the level of ocean acidification have reached a critical point.

All these environmental changes are consequently manifested on a more local geographic scale in various ways: great increase in hurricane frequency, desertification of large areas in various parts of the world, deforestation, increase in the frequency of extreme weather phenomena such as floods and long droughts, emergence of new diseases transmitted in an unpredictable manner and so on. At the same time, the productivity of agriculture has been significantly slowed down due to soil exhaustion. Further, new biotechnological methods of cultivation based on genetically modified plants failed to reverse this slowdown due to the rise of the so-called superweeds. Between 1980 and 2008 the global production of wheat and maize had been reduced by 5.5% and 3.8% respectively compared to a counterfactual without climate trends.[3] These phenomena have negative effects on the living conditions of the global proletariat. The weaker and most poor parts of the proletariat are affected in a more extreme way by having to face even shortages in food and drinking water.

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“American thought”: From theoretical barbarism to intellectual decadence


by Juraj Katalenac: ADIDAS Marxism (August 22, 2017)


America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

— Oscar Wilde

Have you noticed how, for example, being rude towards fat people has suddenly become a question of left-wing politics instead of proper upbringing and being a decent human being? Have you noticed suddenly embracing your own mental illnesses, instead of treating them in a proper way, and encouraging others to act the same, has become an act of political “emancipation” and “empowerment” of the individual? Have you noticed how toxic Western political correctness has become the mandatory language of the left-wing politics with its aim being the enforcement of a certain way of discussion without examining the content? Have you noticed how being working class has suddenly become just one of the identities, how suddenly you can become working class just by association, instead of needing to work for a wage or being dependent on somebody that does, and how the working class has lost its role as the “wheel of social change” to become “oppressed peoplex”? Have you noticed how the problem of racism is suddenly “challenged” by enforcing particular ethnic identities?

In short: have you noticed how left-wing politics has completely abandoned its content in the pursuit for useless forms and/or smokescreens and how it has stopped being an idea aiming at the creation of a mass movement of the working class with the aim of change and the creation of a better society and has become a social scene for a socially non-adjusted people?

To quote the sixteenth-century Spanish philologist and humanist Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas: “Latet enim veritas, sed nihil pretiosius veritate [Truth is hidden, but nothing is more beautiful than the truth].”1

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The Failure of the Recognition Paradigm in Critical Theory


by Michael J. Thompson (PDF)

Critical theory has been decidedly transformed over the past thirty years by the influence of ideas that, in many basic ways, run counter to the initial set of ideas and propositions that defined and shaped the first generation of critical theorists. Now, critical theorists deal with questions of human rights, dignity, justification, and theories of democracy. They have broken with a more robust, more insightful, and more radical project of understanding the mechanisms of social domination, the deformation of character and the deformations of cognitive and epistemic powers that explain the increasing acceptance of the prevailing social order and the increasing integration and legitimacy of pathological forms of social life. The break was effected with a move toward pragmatist themes on the one hand and toward a concern with neo-Idealist ideas rooted in Kant and Hegel. This reworking of critical theory has been centered on the elimination of ideas rooted in Marxism and into a kind of system building that champions the supposed self-transforming powers of intersubjective social action. Indeed, whereas Habermas has been highly successful at promoting a Kantian-pragmatist paradigm based in discourse, Axel Honneth’s work has been premised on a neo-Idealist return to Hegelian themes fused to pragmatist ideas about social action and self- and social transformation. I believe that this move has been lethal for the actual political relevance of critical theory, that it has drained it of its potency even as it has allowed for more professionalized success within mainstream intellectual and academic circles. The price paid for winning this acceptance, however, has been dear and it has compromised the very methodological and philosophical commitments of critical theory . . . [continue]