Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hindutva (BJP) inspired mobs are killing Muslims and Dalits in India

(While the snippet from the article below is about acts of violence against Muslims, Dalits in India have also been routinely targeted by these Hindu nationalists.) 

In India, killing cows and the consumption of beef is banned in most states. Since Modi and his party assumed power in 2014, this beef ban has been used by Hindu nationalists to justify their attacks on innocent Muslims in public. [….] [Prime Minister] Modi’s government … routinely disseminates fake news, targeting and demonising Indian Muslims.” The full article from The Guardian by Rana Ayyub is here.
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The Member States of the United Nations have acknowledged that they have the primary responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of these crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means, and is consistent with existing obligations under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law. The international community has a parallel responsibility to encourage and assist States to fulfil their responsibilities towards their populations. The policy options presented here are aimed specifically at preventing incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes. They should be placed in the broader context of the structural and operational measures that States and the international community can take to protect populations from these crimes, which are set out in the reports of the Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect.” 
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It is awfully clear that the government of India is ignoring its “responsibility to protect” obligations under international human rights instruments and international law. At some point we have sufficient evidence for the crime of “incitement to genocide,” keeping in mind that acts of genocide do not have to occur for this to be a crime in international criminal law (‘incitement’ is classed as an ‘inchoate’ crime, meaning that it does not require completion of a harmful act for the assignment of criminal liability). Incitement is defined as “encouraging or persuading another to commit an offence,” and under both the Genocide Convention and the more recent Rwanda Tribunal Statute, “direct and public incitement is expressly defined as a specific crime, punishable as such.” [I hope to write more about this in the near future.]

Monday, January 14, 2019

Elizabeth Anderson’s moral and democratic reformulation of equality

First, please read this article, “The Philosopher Redefining Equality,” by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker, from which the following snippet is taken: 

“To be truly free, in Anderson’s assessment, members of a society had to be able to function as human beings (requiring food, shelter, medical care), to participate in production (education, fair-value pay, entrepreneurial opportunity), to execute their role as citizens (freedom to speak and to vote), and to move through civil society (parks, restaurants, workplaces, markets, and all the rest). Egalitarians should focus policy attention on areas where that order had broken down. Being homeless was an unfree condition by all counts; thus, it was incumbent on a free society to remedy that problem. A quadriplegic adult was blocked from civil society if buildings weren’t required to have ramps. Anderson’s democratic model shifted the remit of egalitarianism from the idea of equalizing wealth to the idea that people should be equally free, regardless of their differences. A society in which everyone had the same material benefits could still be unequal, in this crucial sense; democratic equality, being predicated on equal respect, wasn’t something you could simply tax into existence [one might note the means of equalizing wealth have not of course been limited to progressive taxation schemes]. ‘People, not nature, are responsible for turning the natural diversity of human beings into oppressive hierarchies,’ Anderson wrote.” 

The idea of being “equally free” as a democratic principle (which is intrinsic to the tripartite motto, or perhaps better, triune ideal, liberté, égalité, fraternité) need not and should not involve “shifting from the remit of egalitarianism” insofar as that entails a move to toward equalizing wealth, as long as that is not understood in an absolute sense (and I don’t think most political theorists of this persuasion have viewed it that way). The problem today is the societal distribution of wealth around the globe has been moving dramatically in an inegalitarian direction for some time now, such that many of the conditions of being “equally free” in Anderson’s salutary democratic sense are undermined. In other words, a more egalitarian distribution of wealth (which involves, at the same time, an ecological or environmental constraint of the nature or character of such wealth) is a necessary yet not sufficient condition of being “equally free” in truly robust democratic terms.* And those moral and political philosophers with egalitarian sensibilities, however different their precise philosophical views, from John Rawls to Amartya Sen, from G.A. Cohen to Martha Nussbaum, for example, all appear to appreciate this, although one might wish they had devoted more attention to notions of solidarity and, especially fraternity (as realized in motley reference groups and communities); the latter, I suspect, is indispensable to the widespread incarnation and cherishing of the notion of being “equally free” in a would-be democratic society.

Here is where Jerry Cohen’s critique of “classical Marxists” is spot-on: “It was partly because they believed that equality was historically inevitable that classical Marxists did not spend so much time thinking about why equality was morally right, about exactly what made it morally binding” [which is what, I think, Anderson is in effect attempting to do]. Hence the demise of “scientific socialism” brings us back to normative political philosophy, ideals, and even the utopian socialists of yesteryear or utopian thought more generally. And this is one reason Cohen later came to believe that there is some truth in the proposition (or ‘nostrum’) that “for inequality to be overcome, there needs to a revolution in feeling or motivation, as opposed to (just) in economic structure” [what Rudolf Bahro meant in part by the need for a ‘cultural revolution’]. Put in simpler if not more stark terms: “how selfish people are affects the prospects for equality and justice” (keeping in mind that whatever selfishness exists, may be conditioned by capitalism, or more broadly, the Rawlsian ‘basic structure,’ as Cohen appreciates, thus the disappearance of capitalism or change in the basic structure may alter the frequency or intensity of selfishness in the general population, but we should hardly expect it to be thereby eliminated). Cohen also came to realize the significance of an ethos of justice “that informs individual choices,” an ethos that is intrinsically related in various ways to the “basic structure” of society, which is close in spirit at least, to Anderson’s point about the democratic nature of equal freedom, this ethos being the requisite democratic sentiment in social or moral psychological terms for motivating the struggle for democratic equality, i.e., being equally free. Cohen came to this conclusion in his critique of Rawls’s “difference principle” (which we can’t go into here):

“A society that is just within the terms of the difference principle … requires not simply just coercive rules, but also an ethos of justice that informs individual choices. In the absence of such an ethos, inequalities will obtain that are not necessary to enhance the condition of the worst off: the required ethos promotes a distribution more just than what the rules of the economic game by themselves can secure. And what is required is indeed an ethos, a structure of response lodged in the motivations that inform everyday life ….”

We can thus begin here to speak of democratic distributive justice, which is not “economistic,” but which retains, as a necessary but not sufficient condition, economic egalitarianism. Perhaps one lesson from Anderson’s Sen (or Nussbaum)-like focus on functionings (an ugly word insofar as it applies to persons, but now common in the literature) and capabilities is to accord far more consideration to the public rhetoric we choose in making our arguments and policy recommendations in pursuit of more equalized wealth distribution within the overarching value of being equally free. In any case, being equally free is indeed the foremost desideratum of the (reconstructed Liberal) democrat, and thus this democrat is, at the same time, a socialist. 

* As to what the phrase “robust democratic terms” means or implies please see, for example, Robert E. Goodin’s Reflective Democracy (2003) and Innovating Democracy: Democratic Theory and Practice After the Deliberative Turn (2008); the works of Nadia Urbinati; and, finally, for how this might be understood in terms of a eudaimonistic individualism (or, if you will, the democratic ideal of ‘self-rule’) which accords essential formative or developmental roles to tradition(s), worldview(s), and community(ies), see David Norton’s Democracy and Moral Development: A Politics of Virtue (1991).
Relevant Bibliographies:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Beyond Punitive Capitalist and Liberal Society: Toward a Syllabus

While still working for the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, Erich Fromm penned two articles on the criminal justice system, “The State as Educator” (1930) and “On the Psychology of the Criminal” (see the volume edited by Kevin Anderson and Richard Quinney, Erich Fromm and Critical Criminology: Beyond the Punitive Society, 2000). In The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet (2013), Lawrence J. Freidman summarizes several of the principal arguments:

“On a … basic and psychological level … the state was referring to crime and deterrence in order to present itself on a subconscious level as a father image. The child knew that he was defenseless against the power of the father, particularly the capacity of the father to castrate the child. By drawing upon unconscious fear of paternal punishment, Fromm noted, the state sought to promote obedience to its dictates

The state also used the criminal justice system to enhance itself, Freud claimed, by treating the criminal as a scapegoat instead of confronting society’s deep social problems. In dwelling on crime and punishment, the state manipulated society into becoming less attentive to the social and economic inadequacies and oppressions in daily life. That is, a punitive criminal justice system was employed to divert the anger of the masses from the oppressive social conditions that required government remedies. In brief, the criminal rather than state policy became the scapegoat for social ills, economic inequality, and governmental corruption and callousness.
Fromm 2
Did the criminal justice at least deter crime? Fromm answered in the negative. Reliable evidence consistently demonstrated that imprisonment, harsh sanctions, and even capital punishment had no salutary effect on crime and thus did not protect the public. 

Fromm’s final point linked to the others—that the criminal justice system had a decidedly class bias. Whereas the propertied classes had opportunities to sublimate their aggressive propensities into socially acceptable channels, the disadvantaged lacked these channels and were consequently more likely to commit crimes. Therefore, the reform of social inequities through the redistribution of wealth constituted a more effective plan for combating crime than a harsh system of incarceration and punishment that offered little protection to the public. In essence, these papers reflected Fromm’s own rather eclectic fusion of psychoanalytic commentary and Marxian analysis to promote a view of criminal justice that was ahead of his time.”

  • Aertsen, Ivo and Brunilda Pali, eds. Critical Restorative Justice. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing, 2017.
  • Anderson, Kevin and Richard Quinney, eds. Erich Fromm and Critical Criminology: Beyond the Punitive Society. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
  • Beirne, Piers and Richard Quinney, eds. Marxism and Law. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1982.
  • Bissonette, Jamie. When the Prisoners Ran Walpole: A True Story in the Movement for Prison Abolition. Boston, MA: South End Press, 2008.
  • Braithwaite and Philip Pettit. Not Just Deserts: A Republican Theory of Criminal Justice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Brottman, Mikita. The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison. New York: Harper Collins, 2016.
  • Cohen, Stanley. Against Criminology. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988.
  • Davis, Angela Y. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
  • Gorringe, Timothy. God’s Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Greenberg, David F., ed. Crime and Capitalism: Readings in Marxist Criminology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1981.                   
  • Harring, Sydney L. Policing a Class Society. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2nd ed., 2017.
  • Honderich, Ted. Punishment: The Supposed Justifications Revisited. London: Pluto Press, revised 4th ed., 2006.
  • Karpowitz, Daniel. College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2017.
  • Lagemann, Ellen Condliffe. Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison. New York: New Press, 2016.
  • Murphy, Jeffrie G. and Jean Hampton. Forgiveness and Mercy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • O’Mahony, David and Jonathan Doak. Reimagining Restorative Justice: Agency and Accountability in the Criminal Process. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing, 2017.
  • Sarat, Austin and Nasser Hussain, eds. Forgiveness, Mercy, and Clemency. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
  • Sweeney, Megan. Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
  • Tigar, Michael E. Law and the Rise of Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2nd ed., 2000.
  • Van Ness, Daniel W. and Karen Heetderks Strong. Restoring Justice: An Introduction to Restorative Justice. New York: Routledge, 5th ed., 2015.
  • Wang, Jackie. Carceral Capitalism. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2018.
  • Zimmerman, Michael J. The Immorality of Punishment. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2011.
Crime and Capitalism

Basic Bibliographies:

Bibliographies with family resemblance to this topic:
Policing a class society

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Toward Red-Green Socialism: Recommended Reading

Ecosocialist 4
“In Marx’s analysis, the growing destruction of nature under capitalism is not simply a function of nature having become an object for humanity; rather, it is primarily a result of the sort of object that nature has become. Raw materials and products, according to Marx, are bearers of value in capitalism, in addition to being constituent elements of material wealth. Capital produces material wealth as a means of creating value. Hence, it consumes material wealth not only as the stuff of material wealth but also as a means of fueling its own self-expansion—that is, as a means of effecting the extraction and absorption of as much surplus labor time from the working population as possible. Ever increasing amounts of raw materials must be consumed even though the result is not a corresponding increase in the social form of surplus wealth (surplus value). The relation of humans and nature mediated by the labor process becomes a one-way process of consumption, rather than a cyclical interaction.” — Moishe Postone

“The problem with capital accumulation, then, is not only that it is unbalanced and crisis-ridden, but also that its underlying form of growth [emphasis added] as marked by runaway productivity that neither is controlled by the producers nor functions directly to their benefit. This particular sort of growth is intrinsic to a society based on value; it cannot be explained in terms of misdirected views and false priorities alone. Although the productivist critiques of capitalism have focused only on the possible barriers to economic growth inherent in capital accumulation, it is clear that Marx criticized both the accelerating boundlessness of ‘growth’ under capitalism as well as its crisis-ridden character. Indeed, he demonstrates that these two characteristics should be analyzed as intrinsically related.” — Moishe Postone

“… [A]ny attempt to respond fundamentally, within the framework of capitalist society, to growing environmental destruction by restraining this society’s mode of expansion would probably be ineffective on a long-term basis—not only because of the interests of capitalists or state managers, but because failure to expand surplus value would indeed result in severe economic difficulties with great social costs. In Marx’s analysis, the necessary accumulation of capital and the creation of capitalist society’s wealth are intrinsically related. Moreover, …because labor is determined as a necessary means of individual reproduction in capitalist society, wage laborers remain dependent on capital’s ‘growth,’ even when the consequences of their labor, ecological and otherwise, are detrimental to themselves and others. The tension between the exigencies of the commodity form and ecological requirements becomes more severe as productivity increases and, particularly during economic crises and periods of high unemployment, poses a sever dilemma. The dilemma and the tension in which it is rooted are immanent to capitalism; their ultimate resolution will be hindered so long as value remains the determining form of social wealth. [….] The particular relation between increases in productivity and the expansion of surplus value shapes the underlying trajectory of growth in capitalism. This trajectory cannot be explained adequately in terms of the market and private property, which suggests that, even in their absence, economic growth would necessarily assume the form marked by increases in productivity much greater than the increases in social wealth they effect—as long as social wealth ultimately remains a function of labor time expenditure. Planning in such a situation, however successful or unsuccessful, would signify a conscious response to the compulsions exerted by the alienated form of social relations expressed by value and capital; it would not, however, overcome them.” — Moishe Postone

“There has to be a change in our whole system of production, for technology in the present-day world carries the capitalist mode of production within itself.” — Rudolph Bahro

“More important than the quality or quantity of consumer goods, in my view, is the need for a new consumption pattern geared to the qualitative development of the individual, so that the length of young people’s education, for example, becomes a higher priority than the addition of one more piece of clothing to my wardrobe. [….] [W]e have not yet succeeded in breaking through the horizon of capitalist civilization to reach the vision of a world-wide alternative. It is true that the peoples of the world are at different levels of development, but one has to make use of the concrete possibilities where the civilization is not so overdetermined. [….] The point of the concept of a cultural revolution is that man has to rise above the level of capitalist reproduction process for the satisfaction of life’s necessities. We cannot wait until we are sated with material goods. A level of basic needs has to be defined, and a standard of living may be achieved in underdeveloped countries that may be more rational than our own.” — Rudolph Bahro

*    *    *
Recommended Reading:
  • Angus, Ian. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.
  • Bahro, Rudolf. Socialism and Survival. London: Heretic Books, 1982.
  • Bahro, Rudolf. From Red to Green: Interviews with New Left Review. London: Verso, 1984.
  • Bahro, Rodolf. Building the Green Movement. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1986.
  • Benton, Ted. Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice. London: Verso, 1993.
  • Benton, Ted, ed. The Greening of Marxism. New York: Guilford Press, 1996.
  • Bernstein, Henry. Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 2010.
  • Bernstein, Henry, et al., eds. The Food Question: Profits Versus People. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990.
  • Borgnäs, Kajsa, et al., eds. The Politics of Ecosocialism: Transforming Welfare. New York: Routledge, 2017.
  • Burkett, Paul. Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2009.
  • Burkett, Paul. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2014.
  • Carter, Alan. A Radical Green Political Theory. London: Routledge, 1999.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. Ecology against Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. The Ecological Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. “Marxism and Ecology: Common Fonts of a Great Transition,” Monthly Review, 2015 (Vol. 67, No. 7).
  • Foster, John Bellamy, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010.
  • Ghosh, B.N. Beyond Gandhian Economics: Towards a Creative Deconstruction. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012. [I have included this title because I think both Marxists and environmentalists (and by implication, ecologists), can benefit from examining Gandhi’s principles of moral and spiritual political economy.]
  • Gorz, André. Ecology as Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1980.
  • Gorz, André. Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology. London: Verso, 1994.
  • Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.
  • Kovel, Joel. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? London: Zed Books, 2nd ed., 2007.
  • Löwy, Michael. Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2015.
  • Magdoff, Fred. “A Rational Agriculture is Incompatible with Capitalism,” Monthly Review, March 15, 2015 (Vol. 66, No. 10).
  • Magdoff, Fred and Chris Williams. Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017.
  • Magdoff, Fred, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel, eds. Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.
  • Magdoff, Fred and Brian Tokar, eds. Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010.
  • Moore, Jason W. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso, 2015.
  • O’Connor, James. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford, 1998.
  • Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2007.
  • Pepper, David. Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Postone, Moishe. Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Ross, Eric B. The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development. London: Zed Books, 1998.
  • Ryle, Martin. Ecology and Socialism. London: Radius/Century Hutchinson, 1988.
  • Saito, Kohei. Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017.
  • Smith, Neil. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 3rd ed., 2008.
  • Tokar, Brian. Toward Climate Justice: Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and Social Change. Porsgrunn, Norway: New Compass Press, 2nd ed., 2014.
  • Williams, Chris. Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2010.

See too the many works of the Marxist geographer, David Harvey, especially the earlier stuff. I also think it’s important to carefully and dispassionately examine “conflicts on the ground”* between and among Left and Green movement politics and parties (e.g., consider early conflicts between the ‘Realos’ and ‘Fundis’ in West Germany and the ‘deep ecologists’ and largely Bookchin-led or inspired ‘social ecologists’ in the US). On the Left, André Gorz (1923 – 2007), the pen name of Gérard Horst (born Gerhart Hirsch, also known by his pen name Michel Bosquet), was a New Left theorist who early on developed an “ecological politics. Rudolf Bahro (in)famously moved from Red to Green, eventually developing something like a “deep ecology” or apocalyptic-like (some would say messianic) spiritual environmentalism that largely left Marx behind (at least rhetorically and strategically), but his writings, beginning with The Alternative in Eastern Europe (NLB, 1978), remain worthy of study. 

* Alas, these conflicts all too often degenerate into stultifying because dogmatic and sectarian infighting that serve to distract us from the purposes and urgency of, thereby canalizing energy away from, our emancipatory struggles, calling to mind—among other things moral psychological—Freud’s poignant and pregnant idea of the “narcissism of small differences.”

Should you want to venture beyond the literature above, please see the bibliographies with strong family resemblance on (i) Marxism, (ii) environmental and ecological politics, philosophies, and worldviews, and (iii) beyond capitalist agribusiness: toward agroecology and food justice, at my Academia page.

Friday, January 04, 2019

C.L.R. James, the “cricketing Marxist” and “urbane revolutionary” (4 January 1901 – 31 May 1989)

Today is the birthday of C.L.R. James (4 January 1901 – 31 May 1989), the remarkable Marxist humanist and Afro-Trinidadian socialist, historian, journalist, and essayist. 

Here are two of my posts from the archives on James: From “Cricketing in Compton” to the “Cricketing Marxist,” and The Marxist Spirituality of C.L.R. James. The following works help illuminate the life and writings of C.L.R. James, the “cricketing Marxist” and “urbane revolutionary:”
  • Buhle, Paul. C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary. London: Verso, 1988.
  • Buhle, Paul, ed. C.L.R. James: His Life and Work. London: Allison & Busby, 1986.
  • Høgsbjerg, Christian and Charles Forsdick, eds. The Black Jacobins Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.
  • Renton, Dave. C.L.R. James: Cricket’s Philosopher King. London: Haus, 2007.
  • Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London: Zed Books, 1983.
  • Rosengarten, Frank. Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.
  • Worcester, Kent. C.L.R. James: A Political Biography. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.
One might also read two other books that are not about James or Black Marxism as such: first, Tommie Shelby’s We Who are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005) which makes a compelling argument for aiming to “achieve a robust form of black solidarity without a commitment to black identity,” a view I think has much in common with James’ Marxist humanism. And then Michael C. Dawson’s Blacks In and Out of the Left (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), which is a brief history of black radicalism in the United States toward outlining the elements of a progressive black radicalism for our own time and place. In the words of Shelby, “in the spirit of hope and possibility, it calls for utopian yet pragmatic political thinking that regards independent black political organizing not as a balkanizing force or distraction from the ‘universal’ fight for a democratic society, but as an indispensable element of any viable Left-wing politics.” 

Most of the major works (books only) of C.L.R. James (for a comprehensive list, see the bibliography for ‘published primary sources’ in the Høgsbjerg and Forsdick volume above):
  • James, C.L.R. Minty Alley [a novel]. London: Secker and Warburg, 1936.
  • James, C.L.R. World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International. London: Secker & Warburg, 1937/ New York: Prism Key Press, 2011.
  • James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Random House/Vintage Books, 2nd, 1963/1989 (1938).
  • James, C.L.R. A History of the Pan-African Revolt. Oakland, CA: PM Press, in conjunction with Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. (Chicago), 2012 (1938).
  • James, C.L.R. (Noel Ignatiev, ed.) A New Notion: Two Works by C.L.R. James (The Invading Socialist Society and ‘Every Cook Can Govern’). Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010 (1947 and 1956, respectively).
  • James, C.L.R. Beyond a Boundary. London: Stanley Paul & Co., 1963/Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 50th anniversary edition, 2013.
  • James, C.L.R. The Future in the Present. London: Allison & Busby, 1977.
  • James, C.L.R. Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution. London: Allison & Busby, 1977.
  • James, C.L.R. Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In. Detroit, MI: Beswick, 2nd, 1978/London: Allison & Busby, 1985.
  • James, C.L.R. Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin. London: Allison & Busby, 1980.
  • James, C.L.R. Spheres of Existence. London: Allison & Busby, 1980.
  • James, C.L.R. At the Rendezvous of Victory. London: Allison & Busby, 1984.
  • James, C.L.R. (in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee) State Capitalism and World Revolution. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., 1986.
  • James, C.L.R. (Anna Grimshaw and Keith Hart, eds.) American Civilization. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

The pathology of normalcy—or the shared mental pathologies of millions—and the quest for a sane society

Pollock 2
Some years ago, after one of the many and more horrific mass shootings in the U.S., a reader responded to a Crooked Timber blogger’s argument about the possible and probable underlying socio-cultural (and I would add ‘psychological’ and spiritual) conditions that appear to be responsible for making such shootings all too commonplace in this country (and, in this respect, atypical of similar affluent welfare state capitalist democracies): 

“…I am always a bit suspicious of claims that the modern world or modern America is unusually prone to psychosis, or is somehow generally schizotypal in ways that other places and times are not. It’s entirely possible, but how would one even begin to measure that, with changes in diagnostic criteria and changes in the way people deal with mental illness?” 
Pollock 3
Herewith my reply to the original post and subsequent response to the reader above, more or less, as it is now edited (I have both subtracted and added material):

I think my country, the United States, is a rather militaristic and violent society generally, from its military industrial complex, national security state, and criminal justice system, to its popular films, video games, television shows, and other forms of “entertainment.” Now of course not everyone who votes supports the “pentagon of power” and mass incarceration, nor does everyone ritually or habitually indulge in such forms of (escapist) entertainment. And more notably, not everyone is likely to be affected, in a moral psychological sense, in just the same way by such things, and there’s the rub. The variety of personalities or temperaments and character types, combined with genetic inheritance and socialization processes across a spectrum of socio-economic conditions, leaves some individuals more liable to being affected by such phenomena than others: they’re intrinsically vulnerable we might say (and that vulnerability is likely to be expressed in symptoms of mental illness). Of course it is hard to precisely identify beforehand just who such individuals are or might be by way of lessening any potential harm or violence they may do to themselves or others, although not infrequently, those who have intimately interacted with such individuals have hunches, suspicions or concerns, have seen “warning signs,” and so forth (although when these are verbalized ex post facto, they may not be genuine), which they may or may not act upon owing to any number of reasons: not wanting to get involved, uncertainty, or fear, for example. To make matters worse, the mental health system in this country is a mess, one egregious example of which is the number of people with serious mental illness who are incarcerated, be it in the short-term or serving prison sentences. Some of our mental health problems arose as a direct result of “de-institutionalization” of the mental health care system, which has had some well-known perverse effects not anticipated by those who may have earlier summoned humane and principled reasons on its behalf. 

More than a few of the rhetorical characterizations of those guilty of mass shootings exemplify a more generalizable tendency to avoid examining how the larger society and regnant cultural ethos bear some measure of responsibility for the kinds of individuals (and communities) that compose it. Moral responsibility is not simply individual but collective and shared, and many forms of violence have identifiable background conditions and variables that can be changed or eliminated by way of dramatically reducing the risk of the worst kinds of interpersonal violence. Individual lives are not lived in vacuums, and there are myriad effects on these lives, some of them identifiable and even predictable, others hidden or mysterious. If only in the beginning as an heuristic exercise or thought experiment, however painful or inchoate, I think it behooves us to see ourselves as sharing in some degree, however small and indirectly, in the enabling or complicity of such acts, or the creation of mental illness itself, at least insofar as we’ve done nothing to change a society which is incredibly punitive, aggressive, and violent, and in which an astonishingly large number of people display symptoms of mental illness. 

Erich Fromm memorably spoke of the “pathology of normalcy” (while the particular locution was his, the idea has ancient pedigree). Setting aside for the moment the conspicuous forms of violence (be it random, drug- or gang-based, the domestic kind, mass shootings, drone strikes, or aerial bombing), Fromm argued that much of our cultural and political life evidences the expression of low-grade, chronic schizoid tendencies. In brief, our society is in many respects “sick.”

As for the question of why and how entire societies or even civilizations might be “sick” in more than a metaphorical sense (although I would think even a descriptive metaphorical reference is damning), I have the audacity—or is it temerity—to recommend (this is not a complete inventory) works from the philosophical traditions of Daoism, Buddhism, and Stoicism; writings penned by Rousseau, Tolstoy and Simone Weil; the young Gandhi’s scathing tract (‘written [in Gujurati] with terse directness and solemn fervor’), Hind Swaraj; lastly, and more succinctly in a contemporary theoretical idiom, Arno Gruen’s The Insanity of Normality—Realism as Sickness: Toward Understanding Human Destructiveness (Grove Weidenfeld, 1992), and the chapter, “Consensus, Conformity, and False Consciousness: ‘The Pathology of Normalcy,’” in Daniel Burston, The Legacy of Erich Fromm (Harvard University Press, 1991). 

With regard to the question(s) of “measurement,” I strongly doubt such claims are amenable to decisive or convincing measurement, at least not in a way that would satisfy biomedically derived epidemiological assumptions and standards (which themselves are contestable*), although I do believe we can assemble evidence and construct reasons of various kinds on behalf of such a claim. At least one reason for this epidemiological skepticism is provided by Burston: “When it comes to questions of fundamental sanity, laypeople and clinicians alike are accustomed to gauging the sanity of thought processes in terms of the degree of consensual validation that attaches to their content, and in terms of the adequacy or intelligibility of their underlying process (so far as we can apprehend it). Many of the diagnostic instruments and protocols used by mental health professionals are merely refined and systematic extensions of these commonsense assumptions.”

And we are well served by remembering, again with Burston, that the very idea of Erich Fromm’s locution, the “pathology of normalcy,” is found in ancient Greece before, during, and after the time of Plato (e.g., Hellenistic ethical philosophies like Epicureanism and Stoicism), as well as among Hindu and Buddhist philosophers, Daoist sages, and some (Judaic) rabbinical traditions. Nonetheless, assessed largely within the strictures of and standards provided by the aforementioned biomedical criteria and thus conceding the increasing psychological “medicalization” of certain otherwise normal mental attitudes, moods, dispositions, or emotional states like depression, sadness or shyness (see works, for example, by Allan Horowitz and Jermoe Wakefield, and Christopher Lane), it does appear to be the case that 

“… Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for which the federal programs were created.

A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46 percent met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives. The categories were ‘anxiety disorders,’ including, among other subcategories, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); ‘mood disorders,’ including major depression and bipolar disorders; ‘impulse-control disorders,’ including various behavioral problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and ‘substance use disorders,’ including alcohol and drug abuse. Most met criteria for more than one diagnosis. Of a subgroup affected within the previous year, a third were under treatment—up from a fifth in a similar survey ten years earlier.” (Marcia Angell in the New York Review of Books)

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Of course this raises all sorts of questions, the most important of which Angell herself asks:

“What is going on here? Is the prevalence of mental illness really that high and still climbing? Particularly if these disorders are biologically determined and not a result of environmental influences, is it plausible to suppose that such an increase is real? Or are we learning to recognize and diagnose mental disorders that were always there? On the other hand, are we simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one? And what about the drugs that are now the mainstay of treatment? Do they work? If they do, shouldn’t we expect the prevalence of mental illness to be declining, not rising?”

Well short of here answering (or even beginning to answer) the necessary and urgent questions posed by Angell, and relying largely upon mental health and well-being criteria found within the above philosophical traditions, writers (be they political philosophers, activist intellectuals, or karma-yogins defying ready-made classification, like Gandhi), as well as the Freudian (and post-Freudian) psychoanalytic tradition,  I think one can, if only reluctantly or uneasily, correctly conclude that American society (and perhaps more than a few elements essential to modern civilization) is (are), generally speaking, “sick” (this was of course originally written a number of years before Donald Trump’s presidency). I am inclined to believe that there are in fact a lot of people who are, routinely, quite unhappy (to the point of episodic or even chronic depression), miserable, anxious, fearful, insecure, and prone to an unusual degree in their structural susceptibility to living daily with self-deception, (debilitating forms of) wishful thinking, and states of denial, in addition to a welter of illusions and, in the worst cases, delusional thinking. The extent of such symptomatic and often pathological behavior is such that we might safely claim there are an alarming number of people in this society that lack a reliable disposition to truth, have a tenuous grip on reality and a corresponding untenable notion of what constitutes a fact, and a stubbornly elusive moral compass.

Insofar as this is indeed the case, existing capacities for individuation have been thwarted or stunted and the quest for generalized (in a Marxist sense or otherwise) self-realization (or what Rudolf Bahro termed ‘general emancipation’) becomes purely utopian or but a mere dream. Can we assert, with confidence, or make an unambiguous judgment to the effect that this adds up to widespread mental illness as defined by contemporary psychiatrists and psychologists? Perhaps … or sometimes (if only because of the different kinds of psychiatry and psychology: from the ostensibly ‘scientific’ to the humanely psychotherapeutic). 

To be sure, the boundaries between ordinary unhappiness, everyday depression and generalized anxiety and the exhibition of pathological symptoms are not always hard and fast. But it is all too clear that there is precious little evidence, so to speak, of eudaimonia or flourishing among the masses, and thus a widespread dearth of meaningful or true self-fulfillment, suggesting the absence of basic mental health, if not the presence of mental illness of various kinds and degrees of severity. The main problem with the former is that it is liable to be a breeding ground for the latter. People in this country are in fact, at least in the first instance and as a manner of speaking, self-diagnosing (which becomes self-fulfilling or -confirming in the clinic) and self-treating or self-medicating (again, often or later in collusion with a biomedically disposed health care system and health insurance agencies), and the disturbing results and nefarious consequences are all around us, in both the daily round and public realms. 

* See the formidable critique in Sridhar Venkatapuram’s “crucial and impressive work,” Health Justice: An Argument from the Capabilities Approach (Polity Press, 2011).
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Relevant Bibliographies:
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