Category Archives: Essays

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”

As I tried to understand how the global economy could be shut down by a handful of greedy people, I kept recalling a famous line by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I read many years ago but which has always stuck with me. I think if offers us much more insight than anything we are being fed by the media.

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.”

The Rich Boy,”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

On Corruption

“Remember, the corruption we see today spans the Earth. There is no place which is beyond its reach and there is likewise no place where there are not sprouts of freedom and righteousness.”

Emanuel Pastreich

Let us also remember always what Frederick Douglass wrote,

“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.”

 August 3, 1857

“West India Emancipation”

Canandaigua, New York, 

A world without government, without ideology?

I believe we need government, as imperfect as it is, and I think that the more dangerous fantasy is that we can live somehow without government. Similarly, some think that we can live without thinking, without any   ideology.

If you believe that you can live without government, you will be ruled by governments that you cannot perceive. If you think you can live without ideology, your thinking will be controlled by ideologies that you cannot see.

Emanuel Pastreich

January 16, 2020

The argument for staying away from technical terms like “capitalism”

I have to say that to blame everything on “neoliberalism” or “capitalism” or “consumption” does not really answer the question. Nor does blame of the super rich answer the question. Ultimately there is a flaw in human nature, in the structure of the human brain, that lies behind the chaos and destruction we witness. We tolerate things we should not tolerate. We are able to convince ourselves that things which are not seen are not important. And finally, the human brain is made of different parts which interact, but do not conform to an administrative hierarchy. The pre-frontal cortex may put together arguments for rationality, and also promote contemplation, but it runs in parallel with the amygdala which responds with fear to events and refuses to permit a careful consideration of anything but initial impressions. Then there is the brain stem which functions in an entirely instinctive manner, without a concern for logic, or even for whether the human will survive the current situation, or not. We are ultimately an interference pattern of these elements and our brains can be manipulated by technology, by repetition, by images that have pre-programmed connotations, and by complex fictions that are convincing as reality, or more so.

Such technical terms should also be avoided because they cost us an audience among ordinary people. Everything that we attribute to “capitalism” can be described in an objective manner without ever using that word. In fact, using that word often results in people ceasing to think carefully about the details of economic processes.

Organic in Plastic

“Organic”?

When did petroleum-based plastic become organic??

Or is it just the food that counts? The Earth does not see it that way. And most “organic” is a throwaway expression, like “exciting” or “hot”

Living in the Phantasiacene

People use the term anthropocene to refer to the current age of manmade climate change. I wonder whether the better term might be “phantasiacene” as the primary problem is how humans have collapsed into unrelenting self deception. What do you think?

玉城玉城デニー知事と「武器よさらば」

私の誕生日(55歳)十月十六日に沖縄県の玉城デニー知事がワシントンを訪問し、コスモスクラブでマイクモチヅキ教授とローレンス ウイルカーソン教授と一緒に食事をなさいました。私がその時たまたま飛行機にのって大阪行きでした。ぜひ玉城知事に会って私の本「武器よさらば」を差し上げたいと思いました。それはできなかったので、 ウイルカーソン教授 に伝達をお願いしました。玉城知事が私を本をもってこの写真を撮れました。関心があったと伺いました。

今度ぜひ沖縄にいって本について講演したいと思います。

Walter Benjamin on Fascism

“Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, who Fascism, with its Fuhrer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.

All effort to render politics aesthetic culimate in one thing: war. War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system.”

Walter Benjamin
“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,”
1935

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The question here is what is meant by “render politics aesthetic” ? I would guess that “aesthetic” stands in contrast with a concrete, transactional and explicit form of politics in which it is clear what the political act is and what its intention is. An “aesthetic” approach means that the true nature of the political process is obscured by images, myths, mythology and spectacle. The population is swept up in a performance which allows them to feel they are taking an action, but which is choreagraphed by the hidden political players.

The feckless and pathetic progressives

I see this reporting and the docile manner in which it is received by the American public as indicative of the bankruptcy of the entire political culture.

The actions taken are not “alarming” they are unethical. They are not unethical, they are unconstitutional and a violation of the law. They are not just a violation of the law, they are “criminal.” That means we must demand that people go to jail. They they be forcibly removed from office, at whatever cost and punished. Similarly, the so-called “left” is so weak, so feckless, that it thinks that “regime change” is a bad word. It thinks that to do anything other than say nice things is taboo. But the Fascists burning down the Amazon are criminals and regime change demands, not protests in front of embassies, are the only response. Remember the fight against Franco in Spain? Thousands from around the world volunteered the go down and get themselves killed in that fight. But now? Forget it.

“The idea that [Palestinian student] Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of Free Expression Programs. “That he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless. This despicable action also flies in the face of the purpose of international educational exchange, which is to open the mind and expand one’s understanding of the world. Instead, [the world] has been shown only the U.S.’s failure to uphold the very values it purports to stand for.”

Stephen Jenkinson on “The Meaning of Death”

Stephen Jenkinson

Says in “The Meaning of Death” something quite profound about our age, and how the fate of our civilization is tied to the personal experience of death.

I have watched the video maybe twenty times and have been both moved and confused by what he said. I transcribed the entire text, but I am still not sure exactly what he is saying. What I can say is that I would not have been drawn to it if it were not compelling.

Stephen Jenkinson

“The Meaning of Death”

You know I was asked, many, many times when I was in the front lines of the.. No! When the people in death’s shade thought I was a good idea–to come and talk about finding meaning at the end of life.

That was the standard request

So you can see the idea that meaning is somehow potentially elusive, or even fugitive. And has to be somehow be wrung from the circumstances is behind that question.

It is a particularly modernist dilemma

To find meaning.

But the real problem is in conceiving of it as something that you have to find. You can see the language implies that it is hidden, or that you are not looking in the right place, or that there is some nefarious architecture that keeps it from you, or that… You understand—or that

you have to claim so-and-so as your personal savior.

What but what if the meaning is not hidden? What if is not something to find.

What if the story is that meaning is not found at all, but it’s made. It is made by the willingness to proceed as if certain things must be.

Like, life has to continue, not you have to continue. That life is not your lifespan, or your children’s lifespan, or the lifespan of what you hold dear.

How about holding dear the fact that nothing you hold dear lasts? How about holding that close to your bosom? That’s making meaning of the end of life, the willingness to do that.

It is not hammered into the sky for all to see so that nobody can forget.

You see how precarious the whole proposition is. It actually has to be lived out and told in order to pertain.

It ha(s) no police, it ha(s) no enforcement branch.

You know.

If you’re not willing for it to be so, it probably won’t be. End. Well, what’s the consequence of that? Well, it is not a conjecture, look around you. Our way of life is the consequence.

Life does not feed life. Life is on the receiving side of life, always. No it is death that feeds life. It is the end of life that gives life a chance.    

It is a hurtful kind of comfort, maybe, that the dominant culture of North America is in some kind of beginning stage of a terminal swoon.  Because it’s the beginning, it is hard to tell the difference between that and dancing, or having a good time, you know.

But, it is terminal alright, meaning that there is no turning back from it, there is no undoing it.

Alas, it is worse than talking about it as a punishment.

It’s not a punishment, no more that dying is a punishment for being born.

Our particular dilemma, I think, is trying to live with the realization that what the world requires of us humans is not that they piss off already and why don’t you all die and then we’ll go back where we were.

No, I think that the world whispers, “All we need of you is that you be human—that’s it.

The dilemma is in the meaning of the word, “human.”

What has to die is your refusal to die; your refusal for things to end.

If that dies, life can be fed by (that) and so the plea is not for punishment, it’s for remembrance. You are not supposed to feel bad about having forgotten. You are supposed to feel more. See, that is the invitation.