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GDS Book Talk and Panel Cal Poly Pomona April 9, 2012

Posted April 24, 2012

On April 9, 2012 Dennis Loo was joined by two of his colleagues at Cal Poly Pomona, Professor D. D. Wills, Chair of the Geography and Anthropology Department and Professor John Lloyd of the History Department, to discuss and respond to Loo's book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society. Alpha Kappa Delta - the International Sociology Honor Society - sponsored the event. The video is in two parts. For reader's convenience, a text of Loo's talk appears after the links to the two videos.

Part 1 Runs slightly over 55 minutes.

Part 2 Runs 58 minutes. 

Text of Dennis Loo’s prepared remarks follows. His actual remarks on the video differ very slightly from his prepared remarks, as is not uncommon in live talks.

Thank you Tanya and AKD for sponsoring this. Thanks to my colleagues DD Wills and John Lloyd for being a part of this. I’m so glad to have you as partners here. And thanks to all of you who are here for coming.

I am going to start my remarks by offering you a set of four propositions to frame what my book is about. The book covers a lot of turf, including in broad strokes the solution to the problems that I speak of, but these propositions encapsulate the essence of my diagnosis of the problem.

  1.  Neoliberalism (NL; aka free market fundamentalism, the idea that market forces should direct all of our affairs, public and private) is now the dominant doctrine worldwide with the ruling parties in virtually every country, including in the US with the Democrats and the Republicans, followers of NL.
  2.  NL is the politics of globalization. It is the political expression of globalization. The term liberalism in NL comes from the meaning of liberal in Adam Smith’s works, laissez-faire, let the market decide, leave business alone and keep the government out of it. NL aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It seeks to put power in the hands of big capital.  
  3.  NL’s fundamental logic is based on the dispossession of those who are not part of the 1% since the exploitation of the vast majority of humanity and the planet’s resources are the source of the profits for the 1%. NL is causing the shredding of the social fabric and producing epidemic and endemic disasters on the personal, national, and international scale. It is, in short, a virulent form of organized crime. I argue in my book that it is – because of a particular combination of its attributes at this juncture in history - the most dangerous movement in human history.
  4.  NL’s virulence grows out of the fact that it is based upon a profoundly anti-rationalist, anti-humanitarian philosophy.

What is this anti-rationalist and anti-humanitarian philosophy? It’s based on the view that one can have freedom without needing to take into account necessity and that individuals can and should act as if they are not tied to any other people or any other things, including empirical realities. As Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP put it in a plaque that sat on his desk before the BP Gulf Oil catastrophe: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” And as a senior official in the Bush White House put it, declaring that they were not members of the “reality-based community,” “We’re an empire now and we make our own reality.” Neoliberals believe that simply through their power they can make real what they want and make people believe what they want them to believe.

I’m going to focus on two major areas in my book that are in Chapter Four and Five to illustrate this point. Chapter Four is called “The ‘War on Terror’: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy” and Chapter Five is called “Why Voting Isn’t the Solution: The Problem with Democratic Theory.” If there’s time I will end by reading a segment from my final chapter, Chapter Seven, that illustrates the dramatic contrast between the anti-rationalist and anti-humanitarianism of NL and what I argue actually does reflect the truth and what is in humanity’s interest.

The WOT (War on Terror), as the official story goes, began with the 9/11 attacks and is a war, as Dick Cheney has said, that will last for generations. The foremost danger that terror poses for Americans since 9/11, the official tale maintains, has required a series of invasions and ongoing occupations, drone attacks (or death by remote control), and a raft of laws that expand the government’s and authorities’ powers to snoop into every aspect of all of our lives, the treatment of everyone as a suspect, strip search us even for the most minor of infractions, detain people indefinitely without a right to challenge your detention, even those who have been exonerated in a trial, the legalization of torture, including of American citizens, and presidentially ordered assassination should Obama decide that you are an enemy of the state.

The WOT, or as I put it in my book, the war of terror, however, did not start the day after 9/11/01. NL is not the enemy of terror but the purveyor of terror, both in the form of fueling and encouraging anti-state terror and in the form of state-sponsored terror that is allegedly designed to eradicate anti-state terror. NL is not the solution to the problem of terror; NL is the biggest source of terror in the world.

I say these things, by the way, not to be inflammatory but in the interests of being completely truthful. Unlike the neoliberals who tell you only what they find convenient to tell you, I believe that the people need to know the truth in order to play the role they can and should in society.

First, regarding when and how this war of terror began: The start date is September 11, but not 2001. It’s September 11, 1973, with the fascist coup led by Chile’s August Pinochet backed by the US government that overthrew and murdered the first Marxist elected to office, Dr. Salvador Allende and thousands of others. The imposition of so-called free market forces in Chile was made possible by bayonet, bludgeon, and torture chamber. Milton Friedman, America’s most famous apostle of neoliberalism and his students, dubbed the “Chicago Boys” because they came out of the University of Chicago, implemented neoliberalism in Chile first. Subsequently, NL policies were begun in Europe, under the name of public order policies, ska risk assessment policies, and initiated with full force beginning in the 1980s under England’s Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan under the signboard of Reaganomics aka supply side or “trickle down” economics.

Margaret Thatcher was an avowed supporter and follower of Frederick Hayek, the Austrian philosopher and godfather of neoliberalism. Hayek believed that human rights are based on property rights (which therefore means that if you don’t have property then you don’t have any rights) and he believed that liberty consists of your right as an individual to do what you want, no matter what anyone else says and irrespective of whether what you’re doing is good for you or others. Hayek was an explicit opponent of collectivism and his celebration of unfettered individualism is an apologia for big capital to do what it wishes and that governmental or other countervailing forces should be barred from attempting to do anything that adversely interferes with what capital wants to do.

Based on this, Thatcher explicitly rejected the idea that there was any such thing as society and claimed that all that exists are individuals and families. Reagan analogously claimed that government is the problem insofar as it seeks to have any say over what individuals and therefore corporations want to do. It is no wonder if this is your philosophical foundation - that there are no social bonds between people and that the individual is king and can do what he or she wants - that the tearing up of the social fabric should be a natural result since according to their view, there is no such thing as mutual obligations within the society, because there is no such thing as society in the first place.

If government, the media, and other leading institutions are in the hands of those who believe that society does not exist and the world is composed entirely of individuals with no necessary ties to each other than their families, then Social Darwinism is the ruling ethic. Social inequalities such as class, race, ethnicity, and gender, and the vast differences between the rich countries and the poor ones in the world, shall be maintained and indeed, expanded. To justify those disparities, we see the increasingly overt expressions of outrageous racism and women hating being aired. Everyone and everything is reduced to an economic transaction in which the ones with the most bucks can dictate the terms of relationships and the widening of those differences are only evidence of the greater alleged “fitness” of those who are the beneficiaries of this game of winner-take-all.

An egregious example of this logic is that of Lawrence Summers, former Harvard President, Treasury Secretary under Clinton, former World Bank head and most recently economics advisor to President Obama. Summers declared while Clinton’s Treasury Secretary “We are all Friedmanites now.” True to his word of being a Friedmanite, Summers helped foster the economic disaster of 2008 by promoting deregulation of banks. He lost Harvard over a billion dollars in risky investments while Harvard President. While being considered for the post of Obama’s Treasury Secretary when Obama was putting together his cabinet, a memo that Summers signed while World Bank President surfaced. The memo stated that exporting First World country’s toxic waste dumps to Third World countries makes eminent economic sense.

Let them eat toxic waste, in other words.

This exemplifies the relationship between the have it alls and the rest of us that NL policies promote. If your policies are systematically depriving people of the things they need to live and have a decent, let alone good, life such as job and income security, access to education, housing, and nourishing and safe food, because by destabilizing people and making them more insecure and by reducing the safety measures that you must use in your business you thereby lower your costs and improve your bargaining position as a capitalist relative to an increasingly desperate labor force, then of course you are going to engender resistance. If you’re doing this on a world scale where the stakes are life or death for people, then won’t some of them seek to retaliate due to their desperation and fury, including in the form of anti-state terror?

What we see in the WOT is a battle between anti-state terror and state terror in which each side of this violent struggle feeds the other the way that pouring gasoline on a fire in order to “drown” it sends the flames ever higher. When, for example, Bush was president and was running again in 2004 in order to once more steal the White House, Al-Qaeda released a video message that the CIA concluded was a subtle attempt to help Bush’s campaign because Al-Qaeda believed that Bush would make a better foil than Kerry in their recruitment efforts.

To cite another example, as former US Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified before Congress in 2008,

[T]here are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

This Navy Officer was stating, in other words, that flag rank US officers see that the first and second causes for the ongoing conflict in Iraq and deaths of American soldiers are the torture and indefinite imprisonment of people at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo by the US.

In Chapter Four I examine each of the official definitions of terrorism ranging from the State Department and FBI to the Encyclopedia Brittanica and the Patriot Act. Each of these definitions distorts, vastly inflates the meaning of terrorism to include the effort to influence public policy or overlooks a key element.

So I offer my own definition for terror in my book: murderous actions designed to induce a general climate of fear that involves either the conscious targeting of innocents or callous indifference to their fate. The virtue of this definition is that it includes both the actions of anti-state terror groups like al-Qaeda and that of governments such as ours that are consciously targeting innocents through the suspension of rules of engagement and through policies such as torture, which are not designed to extract information but designed to terrorize. As I write in my book,

As instances of terrorism break out, frequently in retaliation for the inequities and repression that neoliberal policies create and exacerbate, neoliberal regimes trumpet the need to further intensify government clampdowns on dissent and dissenters, on civil liberties, and on free speech and association. It is not inevitable that anti-state terrorism should follow on the heels of state terror. Anti-state terror is neither the correct nor the effective way to respond to state terror. But state terror does tend to produce its mirror opposite in anti-state terror, as they are opposite poles of the same perversity.

The two, after all, share fundamentally the same anti-humanist stance: people are to be acted upon as objects rather than appealed to and engaged with on the basis of reason and justice. Terror, whether state sponsored or anti-state in nature, represents the deliberate use of unbounded violence, including the use of torture and the deaths of innocents and many of one’s opponents. The indiscriminate use of violence upon others, indeed, is a necessary and inevitable component of terror. It is one of the sources of its efficacy (such as it is): one is supposed to surrender to those who use terror because one could easily be the next arbitrarily and capriciously chosen victim.

In the WOT, in other words, we see a concentrated exemplar of NL’s attitude towards the people as pawns and objects to be manipulated and killed at will.

In the domestic sphere, if neoliberal policies are relentlessly pulling the rug out from under the people, then the people are going to protest. If the government and corporations are not going to alter their policies – and they’re not, as Steve Jobs put it, referring to Apples’ exporting of American jobs to China, “Those jobs aren’t coming back” - then how can authorities continue these policies in the face of growing popular resistance, with Occupy protests an example of that resistance, resistance supported by a majority of the population? Authorities can only continue these policies that stick it to the people by whipping up fear of the Other, passing laws that make protest illegal, and inflicting increasingly severe punishment upon those who dare to dissent. Did you see what just happened to some Santa Monica Community College students who thought they had a right to protest the trustees’ introduction of a two-tiered system where only those with more money could get into classes? The students were pepper sprayed and two of them even had to be hospitalized.

If the carrot is being withdrawn and fewer and fewer people are being given positive incentives to co-operate, then the only way to maintain social order is through using the stick. This is why we are seeing the shocking progression of each successive law being passed, each successive Supreme Court decision, each successive action by the White House, that not only appears possibly fascist by abrogating key Constitutional rights, but is in fact unquestionably fascist. The definition of a fascist measure is that it overrides civil liberties.

The National Defense Authorization Act that allows the military, merely on an accusation, to hold you indefinitely without your having a right to challenge that detention; HR 347 that Obama just signed that prohibits protesting anywhere that Secret Service agents might be found, including the Republican and Democratic National Conventions; the Supreme Court’s strip search decision that gives authorities the right to strip search you, no matter how minor your infraction, and its Citizens United decision that gives corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns; the DoD’s training all of its employees that protest = “low-level terrorism,” the arrests now of people for “thought crimes,” and laws such as Florida’s Stand Your Ground and Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, these are all part and parcel of these alarming developments.

Note that these federal laws that Congress has enacted could only have passed because so-called progressive Democrats voted for them. If these “progressives” had not voted yes, then these laws wouldn’t have passed, and would not have been made into the law if Obama had vetoed them instead of signing them. In the case of the NDAA, it was Obama who asked that the bill before it was passed include American citizens in the group who the military could indefinitely detain and strip citizenship rights from. When signing it Obama said that he would never use it against American citizens, but if that’s your stand then why ask for American citizens to be included in the first place and why not veto the bill rather than make it the law that you and every president after you can now use against anyone who they regard as a political rival? This law would still be terrible if it excluded American citizens but for Obama to be the one who wanted it expanded to Americans shows which side of this he’s on.

While our public officials continue to claim that they are following the law and abiding by the “rule of law,” they have expressly overridden the rule of law in their actions and policies and have replaced it with executive fiat. Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced in a speech that the president has the right to assassinate anyone he deems a threat and that due process and judicial process are not the same thing. As Stephen Colbert put it: the procedure now is that the President gets together with his advisors, they decide who they’re going to kill and then they do it.

One of the problems with this WOT is that anyone who is unscrupulous can now either allow a progressing terrorist incident that they’ve secretly uncovered to go forward, or even falsely claim that a person is a terrorist, and use either incident as a rationale for even more power in their hands and further incursions on civil liberties. There’s much more that can be said about this but I want to now turn to the question of voting and elections.

This brings me to Chapter Five, “Why Voting Isn’t the Answer…” Millions of people mistakenly thought that by voting for Obama who promised to restore habeas corpus, end torture and close Gitmo that they were ending the horrors of the Bush years. We now have another election coming up. And Obama and his people are telling us again that they are the solution to those crazy Republicans and that even if we’re not happy with what he’s done that we’re stuck: We can either throw our vote away for some third party candidate thus electing a Republican or vote for him and the other Democrats again.

This is a game that we’re being played in. I go into depth in my book why and how this is a game designed to fool the people but let me just focus on a couple of things here tonight.

As a preface to that, a brief description of how political power is actually exercised: all governments, for as long as governments have existed, which is less than 5% of human existence, exercise political authority, as Max Weber correctly put it, through a monopoly over the legitimate means of violence.

Another way of saying this is that states use persuasion and coercion to rule. I’m starting with this because there is very widespread misunderstanding of what political power is and where it comes from. Many people think that elections decide who rules and how they rule. This is a misconception that exists especially among those who bother to vote. Elections and the various institutions such as a legislative body, executive and judicial branches, and the discussions and votes that take place in those bodies such as floor votes, and the speeches and press statements that public officials give, are not how and why these decisions are made. While political decisions are made in those bodies, elections don’t determine what policies will predominate. If they did, then Obama wouldn’t have been doing what he’s been doing, would he, since he ran on a platform claiming that he was going to do the opposite of these things?

If popularity determined who would be the nominees of the major parties, do you know who would have been the leading candidates in the 2008 nomination race? It would have been Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Mike Gravel because their platforms closely matched what the majority of Americans wanted. Instead, most of you have never heard of Mike Gravel and all of you know that Kucinich was treated by the media and by his party as a fringe candidate.

The process by which the so-called major candidates are chosen for the final nominees is one that is fundamentally determined by a relatively small group of people at the upper echelons of the major political parties and the elites among the ruling class, or as most people refer to it now, the 1%.

Elections, in other words, when they’re not stolen during the voting, are stolen at an earlier stage when it is determined who will be the nominees. This is the equivalent of the way that some parents give their children the impression that they are in charge when they tell their kids that they can choose which vegetable to eat, the peas or the carrots, but they have to pick one. Thus, the impression of democratic decision-making is maintained by a sleight of hand trick in which the choices are predetermined so that either of the major party candidates are acceptable to the PTB.

The solution to this isn’t, however, getting money out of the political process or by running third party candidates. The general point here is that as long as the economy is wildly unequal the political institutions are also going to reflect that fact. You cannot have political equality if you have tremendous economic inequality. If, for the sake of argument, I were to stipulate that a popular electoral movement arose in this country that resulted in electing a socialist as president and a majority of socialists in the Congress, what would happen? We would then have a majority of federal office holders who are socialists, but the economic power still being held in the hands of the major corporations and the military force still in the hands of the brass.

What would happen if the new president and the Congress tried to wrest control of the country away from these economic giants and the brass and into the hands of the people? I think most of you know what would happen, don’t you? When the richest 497 people in the world have more wealth than the bottom half of humanity, where more than half of the largest 100 economic entities in the world are not countries but transnational corporations like Walmart and Exxon, where the profits of the biggest corporations are in the trillions over the course of a decade, where the US spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined, and where the label “military-industrial complex” doesn’t begin to describe the concentrated power and incestuous relationship between the military, industry, and media, would do you think would happen? As Weber pointed out, political power rests on a hard core of the use of coercion. The socialist president, would have an unfortunate fatal accident, the Congress would have a “terrorist” incident in which most of them were killed, and the imposition of martial law would be an unfortunate but necessary interim measure to get the country back on the right footing. The new martial law regime would likely conduct roundups of the leading dissidents and paint them all as terrorists, blaming them for the incidents precipitating martial law.

The reason why we don’t have real authentic popular rule in this country, or anywhere in the world today, isn’t because the people are stupid or apathetic, the media lazy about being watchdogs, corporations having too much money, or that human nature is evil or selfish or too corruptible. The reason is because democracies are really a sham to conceal the fact that political rule has everywhere and always reflected who has command over the gun and over the production of public opinion. Democratic theory isn’t a good theory that isn’t being lived up to. Democratic theory itself contains fatal flaws and contributes to concealing the fact that authentic popular rule cannot be achieved under its assumptions. Democratic theory tells you that if you have right to vote, then you have democracy. But how could this be true given what I’ve already indicated and what I can’t go into all that now but you’ll find it in my book?

The only thing that has actually made a difference in American history – or any other country’s history – has been when social movements have been determined enough and influential enough to change the whole political atmosphere and balance of forces, with some of them going so far as to precipitate revolutions. Changes in the status of blacks and women did not occur because of elections. They came about to the extent that they have because of the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement. The Vietnam War ended not because of elections but because of the Vietnamese people’s heroic and successful fight and because of the anti-war movement. Unions and protections for workers et cetera were achieved not through elections but through the labor movement and revolutionaries working with workers.

As Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it late last year when speaking before the Republican governors’ convention, Occupy “frightens me to death because it’s changing how the American people think about capitalism.”

I’m going to end my remarks with an excerpt of an excerpt from my book in Chapter Seven.

How Do the People Learn That They Are Not the People and How Do They Learn To Be the People?

The people do not actually rule; the present system of elections and, even more importantly, the present economic organization do not allow them to rule. Continuing to try to achieve authentic popular rule within the present structures and processes will only produce agony and repeated failure. Persistence by those of good intentions in that doomed enterprise grows out of continuing faith in the “democracy at work” thesis: the view that this is democracy and we just need to adjust and reform what has not been working, for the fundamental theory is sound. This mistaken belief interferes with people’s ability to recognize what has actually been going on and will continue to go on as long as this system remains intact. Just as the neoliberals have waged a fierce and highly successful fight to win people to their theory and ideology of how things work and ought to work, those who seek a different world than the neoliberal nightmare need to wage a fierce fight for an alternative worldview and theory. You cannot defeat the empire employing the belief and value system of that empire. …

Neoliberals believe that popular opinion determines what is true; if a lot of people believe something, this makes it true…Truth, however, is not—and should not be—determined by popularity or how loudly it is shouted. … So how can we determine what is true in current events, since there are so many different opinions and reports about what is going on?

Here is where facts and what is treated as true interpenetrate with one’s desires. Like a group of people riding a bus to a series of destinations, some people want to go further than others. Some people, once they get “theirs,” … want to get off the bus. They also think that their stop is suitable for everyone else and that the bus should end its journey there, even if this destination does not provide justice or fairness for the vast majority of people. Reactionaries such as Rush Limbaugh, who appeal to the people’s worst sentiments and desires to scapegoat, scoff at the desires of minorities/nationalities and women to undo centuries of oppression. “Get over it!” Rush says in effect. “Quit your bellyaching! The way things are is fine and dandy. I’ve got mine, why are not you content with what you’ve got? What’s wrong with you?”

While truth exists independently of any individuals’ or groups’ perceptions of truth and advocacy of what they think is true, the connection between the politics and ideology of different groups—their version of where the bus should end its journey—and their views and stands are crucial to recognize, for they play central roles in the configuration of the political arena. In any major political battle, different individuals express differing group interests (whether or not they do so consciously) and those different groups have different attitudes about how to proceed and where we should go.

Breaching the framework of what the self-interested elites of our society present to the people as their only choices must occur if any actual change is to occur.

Unleashing the actions of the more politically advanced who are, by definition, smaller in number but key to the behavior and attitudes of others since they set the standard for others, is central to bringing about genuine and fundamental change....[I]t is not people’s beliefs that hold systems together as much as the inertial forces of the system itself. People do not trade the status quo for something radically different unless the status quo is no longer the status quo. When the existing authorities are in profound trouble and they can no longer hold things together, and if an alternative leadership with sufficient influence and size (with its roots and influence having been established during the period preceding the full eruption of the crisis) is present and contending in the midst of this crisis, then a fundamental shift can potentially occur.

The neoliberals with their neoliberal vision are proving themselves unable and unwilling to act as superintendents of this planet. They are wracked by crises, and while they are still in power and in command of huge resources, they face immense contradictions for which they have no real answers. …

An alternative to the neoliberal nightmare exists. Will humanity take it? At this point that is a decision to be made by a relatively small number of people. Revolutions—as well as fashion and musical trends—begin among a very small group of people and spread to another relatively small group, in total a mere one percent of the people, equivalent to roughly three million in the US. …

While not everyone or even many people are able to become the leaders of such change, many people are capable of becoming a leader, even on a modest level among their friends and family. Moreover, the logic and premises of the dominant forces today are extremely vulnerable to counterarguments and actual facts. …

To paraphrase Archimedes, give us one percent and we can lift this country and this world.

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