Down In The Trumps

Writing in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, Franco “Bifo” Berardi tells us in The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy that “there will be no full employment in the future.” The global workforce over the last twenty years has been forced to work more and more but with less and less guarantee of job security or economic stability. Working from home sounds convenient, but what happens when jobs become increasingly “temporary” and flexible workers drift from low wage job to low wage job without health care or the promise of retirement benefits? The precarious nature of work is indeed a dire situation, but it might be a blessing in disguise. Against centuries of capitalist logic, Berardi states his case for a dramatic reversal of values:

Society does not need more work, more jobs, more competition. On the contrary: we need a massive reduction in work-time, a prodigious liberation of life from the social factory, in order to reweave the fabric of social relation. Ending the connection between work and revenue will enable a huge release of energy for social tasks that can no longer be conceived as a part of the economy and should once again become forms of life. (213)

Berardi is dead serious: too much work is killing the Soul. There’s no use producing goods and services for bodies too exhausted to enjoy them. The Soul, which Berardi says includes language, creativity and affects, has fallen into a deep depression. People suffer individually. Society suffers as a “hole.”

It’s time to utilize our creative powers to rebuild a more just society in which everyone is entitled to food, clothing and shelter.

“Every person has the right to receive the amount of money that is needed for survival. And work has nothing to do with this. [. . .] Until the majority of mankind is free from the connection between income and work, misery and war will be the norm of the social relationship” (214).

Depression is a natural response to perpetual misery and war. But a way out emerges in the midst of tragedy, a revolution via the Soul. The pain of depression is infused with the potential to develop a new existential template, an enlightened approach to life accessible to us only through our unique brand of suffering under capitalism. To overcome depression—both on a personal and social level—we need a special type of therapy, one that helps each patient “singularize” and “become conscious of his or her differences, to give him/her the ability to be in good stead with his being different and his actual possibilities” (216).

The goal of therapy is to find and embrace my “self” in order to appreciate the Otherness of others.

After the Great Recession, de-growth is here to stay. Today the notion of wealth should not be based on possession but enjoyment, on having enough time to spend with each other in communities rooted in trust and understanding. Politics and therapy should be one and the same.

A therapeutic politics. A political therapy. Berardi is the ultimate idealist; for his passion and vision I applaud him. But he wrote The Soul at Work at the beginning of Obama’s first term as president. Hope and change were promised but rarely delivered. Congressional Republicans had made a pact, we later learned, to thwart the first black president’s efforts at the same time he was dancing with his wife at the inaugural ball.

Berardi puts too much faith in rationality and the triumph of compassion over fear and bigotry. Some people hate for no reason. Some people vote for “security”—from minorities, immigrants and refugees—over their own economic interests. Economic competition is no longer just a race; it’s about “opposing” races competing for American jobs that end up being outsourced or go to robots that don’t complain or call in sick. Inequality is a social, not a natural, division between individuals who all live and suffer and die together. We are more alike than different, and we’re all afraid of poverty, disease and isolation. Yet our misery under capitalism grows.

Prior to 2015, few could imagine a Donald Trump presidency. Berardi has redefined some of his thought in light of Trump’s rise to (white) power, but the core ideas he laid out eight years ago appear naïve today. Rather than less work, there will be more work. Plenty of work after Trump unravels “the fabric of social relation.”

We live in a post-truth world. Can the Soul survive post-hope?

Thanks, Obama

I’ve heard that many Donald Trump supporters are sick and tired of politics-as-usual. Washington is full of self-serving bureaucrats looking to win re-election the day after they’re elected. If this is the case, then both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for misleading and misrepresenting their constituents. Trump doesn’t rise to prominence as a “political outsider” without Washington insiders screwing the American people.

But Trump supporters are naïve to assume that an outsider can change the political landscape. If Trump wins, he immediately becomes an insider. Sure, Trump’s funding his own campaign, but how can John Q. Public trust a billionaire who can afford to fund his own campaign? How would Trump look out for the little guy economically? Nobody knows because he’s too busy insulting Muslim Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, disabled Americans, female Americans, etc. And this is Trump’s appeal: he blames others, just as the little guy voting for him blames politicians.

We saw this with the Tea Party. Ultra-conservatives were voted into power to shake up the power structure in Washington. It didn’t hurt that a black man was in the White House—and not working the coat check room—to convince the little (white) guy that America was in decline. Trump the front-runner doesn’t exist without the Tea Party’s anti-Obama sentiment.

So, where Trump is concerned, the meme once again prevails: Thanks, Obama.

Erogenous Ozone

Two days ago at a busy intersection a few miles from my home I found myself in the presence of greatness: street corner anti-Obama enthusiasts. I’d seen them in town before, along with anti-choice protesters holding signs of aborted fetuses. These are my kind of people: conscientious objectors to reality fighting against an immoral government that may or may not be led by a black Nazi president.

“Putin is right. Obama is wrong,” one sign declared without further explanation. Another one urged drivers simply to “Dump Obama.” It was enough nonsense to make even Ted Cruz roll his beady eyes.

It was easy to pick my favorite. “Global Warming—As Real As Your Girlfriend’s Orgasm.”

That’s a low blow to the clitoris. I suppose they didn’t refer to wives since married couples only make love.

Mother Nature. She’s hot and bothered. Wet and wild. And faking global warming so we’ll finish up already and go back to sleep.

Words With Adversaries

Yesterday, a thought: I’m a college-educated, middle-class white American male with a loving family—how sad can my universe be? Yes, I have an illness, but it’s not who I am. It’s time to get my head out of my ass—even if it’s just a slow, calculated maneuver. Listing people who piss me off is a good start:

  1. Trump Supporters. Go ahead and vote for the Donald. He’ll make America great again—for rich white assholes looking to make billions on the backs of the weak and exploited.
  2. Frat Boy Alpha Males. We get it—you’ve got a big dick. Stop posturing—you’re just as small in the grand scheme of things as everyone else you put down.
  3. Militant Pro-Lifers. Murdering innocent people sounds more like you’re anti-life.
  4. Obama Haters. We get it—you don’t like black people. Or Mexicans. Or adults who can read beyond a fourth-grade level.
  5. The National Rifle Association. Protecting the rights of domestic terrorists across the USA.
  6. Religious Fanatics. No, you don’t know God’s will. Stop enumerating my sins while discounting your own.
  7. Ted Cruz. We get it—you don’t like black people. Or Mexicans. Or adults who can read beyond a fourth-grade level.
  8. People Who Love Their Smartphones More Than Human Beings.

Not-So Gun Shy

Last week the White House released a photo of President Obama skeet shooting at Camp David back in August 2012. The photo hasn’t received much press beyond various gun enthusiasts coming out to criticize the president’s shooting stance. One expert called Obama “a novice.”

Are we supposed to think our president more masculine—more American—because he skeet shoots? Leaders aren’t required to follow the majority, especially when the majority is wrong, and yet here’s the leader of the free world pandering to gun nuts. Isn’t it manlier and more American to stand up against mass stupidity?

Besides, are gun rights advocates who see the photo magically going to think: “Oh, he skeet shoots, so he’s to be trusted—he’s not against our way of life—let’s go ahead and support gun control legislation”? No chance.

People on both sides of the gun control debate should find the photo odd; if anything, it’s disingenuous, feels forced, and induces cries of “political stunt.”

It’s a crime that we maintain such a strong, logic-resistant culture of guns in America. In trying to reduce gun-related violence in America, President Obama inadvertently contributed to the madness expressed by gun nuts.

Clint Eastwood’s One-Man Show

There was a lot wrong about Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention last night. Eastwood was joined on stage by an empty chair where President Barack Obama was “seated” and “conversing” with the 82 year-old actor and Oscar-winning director.

Obama as invisible, the prime example of Other, not there, unlike you and I (the true Americans)—these are the tired assumptions of the whole pathetic bit. When Eastwood used a slicing motion toward his throat as a visual for “letting Obama go,” I wonder how many Republican delegates in the hall sensed that the actor had crossed a line in essentially calling for the president’s head.

There may be one thing in America worse than being Other: being a lawyer. Eastwood—who did little to defy the notion that many Republicans are old, rich white guys—gave his thoughts about who should be in the White House running the country.

Surprise! It’s not a lawyer.

See, I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president, anyway. I think attorneys are so busy. You know, they’re always taught to argue everything, always weigh everything, weigh both sides. They are always devil’s advocating this and bifurcating this and bifurcating that. You know all that stuff. But I think it is maybe time—what do you think?—for maybe a businessman. How about that?

Setting aside the fact that Mitt Romney has both a business and a law degree from Harvard, I take issue with Eastwood’s argument that America needs to be run by a corporatist. Let’s examine some basic assumptions here.

Why is weighing both sides, especially by the president of the United States, such a bad thing? Does “Dirty Harry” really believe that business people don’t weigh options? Are they better thinkers, better decision-makers, when compared to attorneys? Since all businessmen view themselves as “job creators” and not just self-interested money hounds, does this mean that Romney would reduce American unemployment more effectively than President Obama simply because Romney made millions at Bain Capital?

These questions could go on, but I’d like to highlight something more complex at play here. Many people on the Right who dislike him have labeled President Obama “professorial.” He was, after all, a senior lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Hidden behind this resentment of Obama’s ties to academia is an attitude that has dominated American culture for over two centuries: anti-intellectualism.

That darn Obama, he just talks at us. He thinks he’s so smart. All he does is lecture. Pontificate. Over-analyze.

Most Americans don’t fare too well during actual lectures, so I understand their distaste for and distrust of critical thinking. (And, yes, I doubt the average American, when considering President Obama—or any other speaker—would ever use the word “pontificate.”)

Many Republicans embrace rigid thinking rooted in superstition and fear-mongering. They have little use for the other side of an argument. They want a decider, not a debater, regardless of the consequences our country could face, such as when the last great “decider president” took us to two wars without consulting Congress and then lowered taxes on the wealthiest Americans without considering how those wars would be funded.

Shallow thinkers that they are, those revved up Republican delegates loved the utter stupidity of Eastwood’s performance, a one-man show that left the anti-Obama crowd wanting more nonsense and less intelligent discussion.

Us Against Them

In the last week, two related stories have grabbed the American public’s attention.

The controversy surrounding the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center and place of worship in New York has taken on a life of its own.  And then there’s that recent poll which shows that nearly 1 out of every 5 Americans surveyed believes that President Obama is a Muslim and not, as he truly is, a Christian.

It’s striking how, in both cases, a large segment of America views Islam as “not-like-me” or, to take it a step further, “not-American.” 

Many of us, still hurting from the horrors of 9/11, find it easy to see those extremists who attacked our country and more moderate Muslims who peacefully follow their faith as one in the same. 

Meanwhile, as his approval ratings continue to sag, some of President Obama’s uninformed political adversaries contend that, at its core, his belief system deviates from what the average American citizen values.  Speaking out last week in favor of green-lighting the Islamic center near Ground Zero, while the majority of Americans say they oppose it, only helped to reinforce the “Obama’s a Muslim” misconception.  

Simply put, what we have here is the old, dangerous “logic” of Us Against Them.  But this time some of us have gone so far as to paint our commander-in-chief as one of them.