Adam Curtis on self-organizing systems

What the anti-cuts movement has done without realising is adopt an idea of how to order the world without hierarchies, a machine theory that leads to a static managerialism. It may be very good for organising creative and self-expressive demonstrations, but it will never change the world.

Some straw-man arguments; but enough fact and sharp analysis to make it well worth reading. I always wondered what happened to Biosphere II.

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A 21st fascism would not look like 20th century fascism

From AlJazeera (full text).

A 21st fascism would not look like 20th century fascism. Among other things, the ability of dominant groups to control and manipulate space and to exercise an unprecedented control over the mass media, the means of communication and the production of symbolic images and messages, means that repression can be more selective (as we see in Mexico or Colombia, for example), and also organised juridically so that mass “legal” incarceration takes the place of concentration camps. Moreover, the ability of economic power to determine electoral outcomes allows for 21st century fascism to emerge witdhout a necessary rupture in electoral cycles and a constitutional order.

The United States cannot be characterised at this time as fascist. Nonetheless, all of the conditions and the processes are present and percolating, and the social and political forces behind such a project are mobilising rapidly. More generally, images in recent years of what such a political project would involve spanned the Israeli invasion of Gaza and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, to the scapegoating and criminalisation of immigrant workers and the Tea Party movement in the United States, genocide in the Congo, the US/United Nations occupation of Haiti, the spread of neo-Nazis and skinheads in Europe, and the intensified Indian repression in occupied Kashmir.

The counterweight to 21st century fascism must be a coordinated fight-back by the global working class. The only real solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power – downward towards the poor majority of humanity. And the only way such redistribution can come about is through mass transnational struggle from below.

William I. Robinson (University of California, Santa Barbara)

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A personal problem with boycotts

A problem with this boycott is that it gets played out personally; the abstract political relations are made concrete and distort the way we relate to people who otherwise might be friends. They erase all the empathy and nuance with which we listen to another’s views. It is not a question of demonizing a society as potentially demonizing individuals within it.

It threatens our integrity to let the abstract and political override our feelings — though if my feelings were vindictive, there could be cases where a progressive political principle rightly overrode it, I suppose.

Opposing the boycott there are some pretty nasty, delusive and vindictive characters; we might think that it’s not wrong to let our relationships with them be governed by the abstract political principles. Perhaps that is protective. But still I am not sure.

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A call from within

The Quakers in the UK are boycotting settlement goods. Norman Finkelstein has suggested that it’s best to focus on the boycott of settlements at present, as the campaign against the Occupation has to concentrate on getting people to take action on what is already universally agreed to be the case — that the settlements are illegal and unjust, that the land grab is real, that the oppression is real.

I think the case for settlement goods boycott is uncontroversial. But this blog is about boycott of Israel in general. A commentator on Democracy Now! a while back argued against the general boycott because it ‘demonizes a society’. His term ‘demonization’ is tendentious; it sounds like it’s insinuating that a general boycott may be antisemitic; and I don’t think that fears behind this insinuation can be lightly disregarded.

On the other end of the scales are the facts about the moral and institutional properties of the Israeli state and society. Has Israel really fallen so low that it is justifiable to risk ‘demonization’ and call for a general boycott? Watching from afar, it certainly seems possible. In fact, close-up experience of Israel’s supporters at home leads to the same conclusion. If a society cannot find one single sane and intelligent person to stand for it, what does this say about it? (There are sane, intelligent people who argue against the general boycott; but that’s not to defend Israel’s actions overall.)

Nevertheless, it’s problematic to base one’s ethical decisions on mediated observations of a distant society. It’s relevant here to take into account the views of Israelis themselves; in fact I think a general boycott is likely to be justified as a response to the ethics of what informed and engaged Israelis are saying. In this respect, the following text is relevant (thanks to Live from Occupied Palestine for this); an open letter published during the Gaza massacre. The letter remains relevant, not least because Israel is apparently preparing another Gaza massacre.

* The Guardian, Saturday 17 January 2009

The leaders of the western world are wringing their hands in despair at the sight of the horrors inflicted on Gaza (Gaza crisis, 16 January). The UN general secretary, the French president and others are holding intensive discussions with some of the leaders of the Middle East in an attempt to put an end to the carnage in Gaza. Word, words, words.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian civilians get killed, thousands are bleeding to death, tens of thousands are uprooted and wandering in vain in search of some shelter to protect them. The Israeli army bombs hospitals and Unrwa relief centres, and, defying international convention, it uses white phosphorus bombs against civilians. “What else can we do?” these leaders keep asking. Well, here is what you can do: move from words to deeds. Only immediate, decisive and strict sanctions against the state of Israel and its limitless aggression will make it realise that there’s a limit.

We, as Israeli citizens, raise our voices to call on EU leaders: use sanctions against Israel’s brutal policies and join the active protests of Bolivia and Venezuela. We appeal to the citizens of Europe: please attend to the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation’s call, supported by more than 540 Israeli citizens ( boycott Israeli goods and Israeli institutions; follow resolutions such as those made by the cities of Athens, Birmingham and Cambridge (US). This is the only road left. Help us all, please!

Signed by 540 Israeli citizens

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Israel hunts BDS supports

Democracy Now mentions a report from Ha’aretz that ‘Israeli military intelligence has begun collecting information about left-wing organizations abroad that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement’.

So it’s worth mentioning that although I’m agonizing about whether a boycott is justified, I also wrote a PhD agonizing about whether I knew that 1+1=2. Agony need be no guide to belief.

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Who benefits from EU-Israel academic cooperation?
David Cronin, The Electronic Intifada, 10 March 2011

Although I’m currently unimpressed by the content of Ali Abunimah’s objections to Chomsky, empirical evidence is relevant to assessing whether the boycott is justified, and here’s a whole bunch of it (there’s even more in the Alternative Information Center’s report on Israeli universities and the Occupation, available here, and which I’ve not yet read).

The problem will be: mere fact of university involvement in sustaining the Occupation and Israel’s massive arms trade will not be enough to warrant a general boycott without also warranting a general boycott of most other universities. And what fault is it of a philosopher in Tel Aviv university, or in LSE, if other institutions are contributing to violent oppression? –But perhaps they are at fault.

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Practical significance

Eini to US Jewish leaders: Don’t underestimate BDS movement

By JORDANA HORN 10/03/2011

Chairman of the Histadrut labor federation says that the boycott movement against Israel is “doing a good job all over the world.” NEW YORK – Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, told Jewish leaders in New York on Wednesday not to underestimate the power of the BDS boycott movement, and pledged to speak as often as possible to combat its efforts to sow anti-Israel sentiment among international unions. Eini, who is also vice president of the International Trade Unions Confederation, spoke at a briefing about the relationship between the Israeli and American labor movements, and about efforts being made to combat the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign to delegitimize Israel. The event was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the World Jewish Congress. Eini said that the BDS movement against Israel is “doing a good job all over the world,” citing its efforts at the International Trade Unions Confederation last June in Vancouver as illustrative of the scope of its reach. “There was a chance that Israeli merchandise wouldn’t be able to go on the world seas,” Eini said, as a result of potential international union opposition to dealing with Israel, “and from my perspective, that would mean the destruction of the Israeli economy.”

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