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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Global Civil War: The Enlightenment, Nationalism, Anger, Inequality, IS, and Trump

 Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra
Age of Anger: A History of the Prestent by by Pankaj Mishra, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Why is the world so angry?

These three programs from CBC Ideas help weave together the threads that reveal the answer.

Tuesday April 18, 2017

Globalized Anger: The Enlightenment's Unwanted Child

Trumpism. Hindu nationalism. ISIS. Chinese expansionism. People everywhere seem fed up with the status quo, and their anger and intolerance are finding political expression. But why? Pankaj Mishra believes that the current unrest isn't about any so-called "clash of civilizations" between the enlightened and unenlightened. He thinks the globalized anger is the legitimate offspring of the Enlightenment itself. He speaks with Paul Kennedy about his provocative book, The Age of Anger: A History of the Present.
"We should really look at the modern world as constituted by sameness and similarity rather than religious, cultural, theological difference. Obviously, people make all kinds of claims for their cultural and theological differences, whether it's members of Islamic State, or whether it's Christian fundamentalists or white nationalists, who are very insistent that their, race their religion, their nation, is unique and they are speaking on behalf of that -- on behalf of a particular tradition.

But I think the task of the interpreter is to go beyond these statements, not take them at face value. And to see what are the ways in which these supposedly disparate and diverse peoples are connected. What is the experience they are responding to, and what is their worldview, their particular makeup? And this is where I think terrorism, for instance, has always been a universal phenomenon. And behind that lies the temptation of violence as a kind of aesthetic, as a kind of existential experience -- and you see that right from the 19th century onwards, as a way of asserting your individual self, as a way of empowering yourself. And we see that again and again in modern terrorism, whether it is the man, Omar Mateen, who in Florida was constantly Googling himself, even while he was killing people: he was trying to see what people were saying about him. This kind of exhibitionism -- this is an attempt to find yourself, and to become famous, and to be celebrated by other people.

Terrorism, in almost all cases, is not separate from the way we live our lives today, in the ways in which we think of ourselves and the wider world. And I try to make this clear in a variety of ways, including describing this friendship that sprung up between Timothy McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef, the first man to try to blow up the World Trade Center. They found themselves in adjacent cells in a supermax prison in Colorado, and discovered that they had far more in common with each other than with anyone else around them. In fact, Yousef is on record as saying that: 'I've never met anyone who was more like me.' And this is a man who had spent most of his life moving through networks of various fanatics and radical Islamists. So it's really important to see how there are all these psychological affinities, emotional makeup, that connect these diverse figures --  and how this experience of powerlessness, experience of humiliation, the desire for vengeance connect all these different sorts of figures.

We have to move away from thinking of terror or violence as being specific to a particular religious community, or a particular part of the world. We have seen this over and over again erupt in all parts of the world. And we have to locate the sources of this violence in specific social, economic factors: we cannot really bring in religious scriptures, or indeed stereotypes about religious communities into our frameworks of analysis. If we do that, we are making a huge mistake."

​Pankaj Mishra is a London-based Indian writer and thinker who has written widely on history, politics, and literature. Age of Anger: A History of the Present is his ninth book. It's published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Further reading:
  • America At War With Itself by Henry Giroux, published by City Lights Books, 2017.
  • The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior published by Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2015.
  • How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System by Wolfgang Streeck published by Verso, 2016.

**This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa.

Wednesday April 19, 2017

Drone Warfare: Is Killing Terrorists Legal?

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) flies by during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015 in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Pentagon has plans to expand combat air patrols flights by remotely piloted aircraft by as much as 50 percent over the next few years to meet an increased need for surveillance, reconnaissance and lethal airstrikes in more areas around the world.

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPWolfgang Streeck on the various ways citizens living in the post-capitalist interregnum will behaveA) flies by during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015 in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Pentagon has plans to expand combat air patrols flights by remotely piloted aircraft by as much as 50 percent over the next few years to meet an increased need for surveillance, reconnaissance and lethal airstrikes in more areas around the world. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
Listen to Full Episode 53:57
On 30 September 2011, American military drone operators at an Air Force base in Nevada spotted Anwar al-Awlaki in northern Yemen. The radical Muslim cleric -- and American citizen -- was in a desert more than 13,000 kilometres away, sitting near an SUV. Awlaki spotted the drones and ran to the vehicle. Back in Nevada, an operator clicked a button. And within seconds, two Hellfire missiles blew the SUV to smithereens. In Objective Troy, Scott Shane examines the rise of an American radical cleric and President Obama's decision to have him killed.  **This episode originally aired May 11, 2016.

  "This is part of a generational conflict between the US and the West - and Canada - and a certain strain of Islam. And I think it is going to play out for many years to come. I wouldn't have said this a few years ago, but I think with the rise of ISIS and the tentacles of ISIS turning up in Western Europe, and indeed in Canada and the US, that we are in for a long drawn out conflict. And I think that Anwar al-Awlaki will remain a central figure, a central propagandiste all over the English-speaking West, and indeed since many of these videos are now put up in translation in many other languages as well." -- Scott Shane

Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President, and the Rise of the Drone is published by Tim Duggan Books.

Scott Shane - 2016 Gelber Prize Winner
Scott Shane is awarded the 2016 Lionel Gelber Prize for his book "Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone"

Scott Shane covers national security issues for the New York Times and is this year's winner of the prestigious Lionel Gelber Prize. The award is given to the world's best non-fiction book in English on foreign affairs.
The Lionel Gelber Foundation awards the prize in partnership with Foreign Policy magazine and the Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto.

** This episode was produced by David Gutnick.

Thursday February 09, 2017

Surviving Post-Capitalism: Coping, hoping, doping & shopping

Poster of video clip
Listen to Full Episode 53:59
The signs are troubling: the ever-widening chasm between the ultra-rich and everyone else. Mass protests. Political upheaval and social division. It looks as though the rocky marriage between capitalism and democracy is doomed, at least according to Wolfgang Streeck, who directs the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany, where he is also a professor of sociology. In conversation with Paul Kennedy about his book How Will Capitalism End?, he makes the unnerving case that capitalism is now at a point where it cannot survive itself.

How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck
(Verso Books, 2016.)
According to Streeck, capitalist societies are entering an interregnum -- a pause or suspension of normal governance -- as the system of capitalism collapses in on itself. In the absence of countervailing forces to keep it afloat, capitalism has essentially devoured itself. One consequence is a loss of state solidarity citizens in western countries have become used to. Streeck points to Italy, Greece and Spain, countries where young people can't get find jobs; where fewer people can live on their own; and where marriage and birth rates are declining. People everywhere are now trying to protect what little they have left.

Wolfgang Streeck sees day-to-day life in the interregnum in stark terms: coping, hoping, doping, and shopping. He says that when it comes to the harsh realities of the interregnum, those who cope well will wear their stress as a kind of badge of honour. Those who cope poorly will mask their inability with drugs and mindless consumerism.

Democracy vs. Capitalism

"Democracy was always a problem in a capitalist society. There's an enormous inherent tension between the two. Democracy is inherently egalitarian because every citizen has one vote. And the rich also have one vote but the rich are only five percent. Whereas in the market, every dollar has a vote. And the capitalist economy in particular functions according to -- I think it's [the Gospel of] Matthew -- where it says he who has will be given [more]. And he who has [little] will have even what he has taken away...

And where you have capitalism and democracy at the same time, you have a contest between these two principles of distribution: egalitarian versus inegalitarian. This is why democratic politics have always tried to intervene in the markets and tried to contain the "Matthew effect". You can also call it cumulative advantage if you want a more elevated term. So, where you have democracy in the form of trade unions, centre left political parties, sometimes centre right political parties, Catholic parties, and so on -- they look at the market and what comes out of the market and then they become concerned both about their capacity to get re-elected and about principles of justice which, in a democracy, are principles of social justice, not market justice."

Coping to Death

"Coping is an attitude or an activity whereby people who lack traditional support -- either from families or from social services -- work very hard to cope with increasing pressures on their everyday life.

And you can observe this in lots of studies on family life in the United States and Europe, where two people work full-time, they try to raise two children, they live a very sort of regulated, exhausting life in order to meet all the contingencies that hang together with competing in the labour market -- caring for others, caring maybe also for their parents, in a world in which external help is increasingly less available.

Now what I observe in ethnographic studies is that people actually can become proud of their ability to exhaust themselves in this struggle. So that they say we are coping, we're good, and others are less good or bad at coping. So it becomes a matter of pride to subject yourself to this rigid discipline imposed on you by the market."

Nuclear-Proof Apartments

"[In] The New Yorker, there was an article on survivalism among the American very, very rich. In my book, I envisage a situation in which inequality becomes so big that something happens that has never happened in society before in the history of human societies. That is, that the elites of society lose interest in the society as a whole because they can survive on their own.

Someone, for example, buys the silo of an intercontinental missile which is hardened against nuclear attack, and deep in the ground builds apartments that he sells within a matter of a few weeks to New York financial billionaires, tech billionaires from California, who all buy one of these apartments because they are afraid of the breakdown of social order, and of people taking guns and trying to go after them.

I think these people are not so unrealistic. I don't think they are obsessed. They see better than most others the decaying body of a system that can no longer keep itself together. I take this as a very interesting example of what I thought when I looked at the increase in inequality in our societies that we could be facing the moment when those who absorb and extract all the resources from these societies begin to think that they can dissociate themselves from it and live their own lives."

**The New Yorker article: "Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich"

The Coming Age of Uncertainty

"As a sociologist, I think we have to think very seriously about transitions in the structure of our societies. I happen to have come to the conclusion that we are facing a fundamental transition in modern societies, modern capitalist societies. And I feel that these societies have exhausted the capacity to build a framework, a social framework, around the hot core of capitalist profit-making -- so that we will see signs of social disintegration all over the place in unexpected, surprising ways, in a period in which we lose control and governance and orientation, and we'll live in an era of great uncertainty."

Further reading:
  • How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck, published by Verso Books, 2016.
  • PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future by Paul Mason, published by Allen Lane, 2015.
  • The End of Alchemy: Banking, the Global Economy and the Future of Money by Mervyn King, published by W.W. Norton, 2016.
Related websites:
**This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa.