Chuuni Sensei & The Dragon of Chaos 

(Originally posted on 


“Unbelievably Cool” sculptures of “entwined serpents that merge as dragon of chaos that manifests itself as nature and culture”.

Rule #0 – KILL ALL SNAKES!!

Jordan Peterson does to evolution what Deepak Chopra did to quantum physics, albeit with a little more finesse. Peterson is the counter-enlightenment to Nu-Atheist Sam Harris style hyper-rational enlightenment. He wants to get all the logic worshipping autists in touch with their irrational, mythical anima and chase the dragon away to restore the individual to its rightful place at the top of all dominance hierarchies.
The meat of his online presence is the two courses he teaches every year and uploads to youtube. One is called ‘Maps of Meaning’ which is an earlier academic book, a hodge-podge of Cog-Psych and Jungian readings of myths. In the other called ‘Personality and its Transformations’ he pivots to using his reading of myths in the mode of a life-coach, sort of a midway point before his current turn as full blown self-help guru for NRx. He speaks in his guru mode as if kids brought up in the anglo positivist tradition have never come across a Nietzsche or a Dostoevsky, introducing continental thought only to reinstate liberal morality and wisdom.
The course on personality is based in the Cog-Psych re-invention of the Jungian Myers-Briggs test. An extensive self-survey questionnaire is used to assign percentile ranks to people on a five factor model of inherited characteristics – extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. Peterson reads these statistical studies mostly in a Jungian mode but with some lip service to Husserl’s students who formed Existential and Phenomenological Psychology. He uses this latter group to insist on meaning being primary (rather than sense) in psychology and therefore essential to human life, something to be wrested with great struggle from Chaos. This explains why the greatest threat to ‘Western Civilization’ for Peterson is the student of Husserl who buried him, Derrida.
He uses Jung to give a veneer of academic credibility to a pop Campbellian framework of reading myths while dismissing Campbell as derivative of Jung. His rehabilitation of Jung repeats the move many waves of new agers made before him – to focus on Freud’s early work on dreams in order to bury his subsequent development of psychology on the basis of sexuality and neurophysiology and replace it with a sweeping trans-historical anthropology of archetypes and myths. The evo-bio stuff is window-dressing to this core of his theory. He never really sorts out his conflation of libertarian individualism with mythical heroics or what any of it has to do with evolution.
He teaches Jung before Freud because ‘… excavated so many more levels of the unconscious than Freud’. This he uses to segue into developing your ‘potential’, according to him the Jungian ‘self’. You see “our materialist view is essentially wrong. the proper way of looking at being is that being is potential and from that potential, whatever consciousness is, it straps out the reality we inhabit.” From here, he gets on his favourite theme, the hero’s journey of self-realization (the Jungian ‘individuation’). George Lucas’ regression of science fiction to pre-war space adventures is more responsible for Peterson than Jung. Peterson appeals to chuuni teens endemic in YA lit in the same way as Star Wars or Hunger Games: objects exist in Peterson’s universe but no other subjects – just representations of the hero’s unconscious, learning from his ‘experience’ to make his life meaningful and gain absolute power.

A painting from an Alchemical scroll that shows a dragon fertilizing the winged ball used for witch soccer by later generations of magicians

Of late, he has started shoehorning Christianity into the equation on the same basis as the hyper-rational skeptics use to reject it, by flattening the history of religion and making it just another hero myth. In his version of Christianity, God is the Jungian Logos and human destiny is to bring Chaos into order, therefore Christianity is part of one long snake hunt that humans have been waging since being ejected from Eden. He finds support in evolutionary theory for his reading of myths from Lynne Isbell’s book whose back cover reads,

“Predation pressure from snakes is ultimately responsible for the superior vision and large brains of primates… snakes could have influenced the development of a distinctively human behavior: our ability to point for the purpose of directing attention. A social activity (no one points when alone) dependent on fast and accurate localization, pointing would have reduced deadly snake bites among our hominin ancestors… snakes may well have given bipedal hominins, already equipped with a non-human primate communication system, the evolutionary nudge to point to communicate for social good, a critical step toward the evolution of language, and all that followed.”


Venn Diagram of the Holy Trinity and the Dragon of Chaos

This stuff is self-satirical but Peterson makes it even more ridiculous by drawing parallels to pop culture, like saying Moses is like Logan or that “the bible is the first hyperlinked text in the history of the world”, an insight that could have come from anime twitter.

His wiki entry has this related quote,

“…the ethical responsibility of a Christian is to imitate Christ, for Peterson meaning “something like you need to take responsibility for the evil in the world as if you were responsible for it … to understand that you determine the direction of the world, whether it’s toward heaven or hell”.

Again, this is protestantism for chuunis. Any serious examination of the legacy of Christianity in Enlightenment Individuality would deal with Kant rather than pushing the argument into deep time and resort to myths. Peterson follows Stephen Hicks here, a professor at a Randian-Libertarian department called ‘Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship’ at Rockford University. According to Hicks, Kant is a Counter-Enlightenment figure responsible for ‘Postmodernism’ because he took the skeptic problematic of correspondence between reason and reality, subject and object, and came down on the side of the subject, severing reason from objective claims.
This argument is the ever-fertile ground of philosophy but don’t expect any insight from Peterson’s confusion. He believes (along with other hyper-rationals) that reason corresponds to some objective reality and at the same time (unlike other hyper-rationals) defines this reality negatively as what lies outside rational order. In the name of reason, he makes an ingenuous appeal to ‘reality out there’ for a nineteenth century romantic fantasy of the enterprising adventurer setting out to tame chaotic reality and bring it under capitalist order.

In his two and a half hour paean to Lion King‘s great depiction of the hero’s journey to restore the status quo (imo Madagascar is more fun and ideologically interesting), it becomes apparent that his style is facile free association like how light represents knowledge and rationality while darkness holds chaos, that the dominant person is represented at the apex of the painting and other such revelations. He interjects these with a spattering of shitty evo speculations like

“Mufasa’s posture is because of increased serotonin of a dominant person.”

“The rational mind has a totalitarian element… that kind of rationality seems to be more left-hemisphere focused… the right hemisphere keeps track of exceptions and fantasies.”

His evolutionary howlers are numerous. He is convinced dominance hierarchies exist among humans just like chimpanzees or other animals,

“You have a counter at the bottom of your brain that keeps track of where you are in terms of status and it bloody well regulates the sensitivity of your emotions… if you’re at the top of hierarchy, than your counter tells you that and your serotonin level goes up – your less sensitive to negative emotions, less impulsive, live longer. your immune system works better.”

He thinks the aquatic ape theory is credible. He makes off-hand comments like “half of our brain is dedicated to visual processing” or that a baby can babble all phonemes but its impossible for adult westerners to pronounce asian phonemes. He makes typical obscurantist statements to emphasize the mystery of the world ready to receive the adventurer like “dream is the birth of thought like artists are the birth of culture” or that in a daydream, “half you are doing it voluntarily and the other half is manifesting itself. It’s like a gateway between you and the collective unconscious.” Talking about morality, he says

“How did we learn how to act? We’ve been trying to do that for 3.5 billion years [??]. There’s a lot of information encoded in our actions and social interactions, way more than we understand.”

Jung at least had better training in interpretation. He self-consciously distanced himself from Freud by repressing the question of sexuality but in Peterson, evolution is the pretext for a regression in sexuality never directly addressed but assumed as fact. He’s trying to be an authority figure that teaches nobility is still possible and sexual success a side effect of striving towards that.

“How about the heroic willingness to encounter the unknown and share that with people? There is no nobler vision than that… if you do that, you will be successful… you will rise up above men, you will be selected by women, you will be admirable and valued.”

He warns against MRA resentment,

“The women think, ‘why should I bother with you if you are not the embodiment of spirit that would move into the unknown and face the leviathan’, which is exactly what she should be saying, and you’re thinking ‘well I don’t want to have to do anything with that but I would like women to like me anyway’, so that doesn’t work out and instead of getting your act together, you say ‘those goddamned women’.”

But relax, you don’t have to go far to face the unknown. Who knew the local frat bash was this dramatic?

“Let’s say you are socially anxious. You go to a party, your heart is beating. Why? the party is a monster. Why? Because the party is judging you. It’s putting you low down the dominance hierarchy and that interferes with your sexual success and that means you are being harshly evaluated by nature itself. You are confronting the dragon of chaos.”

He clarifies his role,

“Educators are surrogate fathers, not mothers because it’s not their job to provide a safe space.”

But that doesn’t mean women are not important touchstones,

“Women are more self-conscious than men. Further, women taught men to be self-conscious… because there is nothing that that makes a man more self-conscious than to be rejected by a woman he desires.”

What really gets Peterson’s goat is not the dragon at the edge of his farm but the dragon that is domesticated and cute. Only he sees how dangerous it continues to be. This is his laughably salty understanding of marxism. Another quote from his wiki entry,

“I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words “zhe” and “zher.” These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that… [is] frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.
As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs.”

Peterson, much like the rest of the hyper-rational crowd, is above ideology. He has developed immunity to ideology because Jung taught him that “Ideologies are parasites. Their hosts are archetypes. Knowledge of the underlying archetypes can produce immunity against ideological possession.” Communism, according to him, is ‘inorganic’, it arose without mythology so it’s not part of the ‘Western Civilization’. Of course without a mythology to establish a transcendent morality, communism makes people murderous. This reading begs the question of how can anyone develop immunity to an ideology that is not based in myths and archetypes. He considers Nazi propaganda aesthetically admirable, yet regularly flies into a rage any time someone treats communism as less than the final boss dragon.

I think the adulation Peterson has received has nothing to do with his work since his work is in line with bog-standard positivist/ego psychology that gave rise to the american self-help industry although he would like to sell it with european credentials. If he insists on being Jungian, i would gladly classify him as another iteration of new-age mysticism that began with human potential nonsense, all waves given theoretical legitimacy by Jungian revisionism. Peterson is The Secret of alt-right, air-headed self affirmation for chuunis raised to believe in perpetual teenage narcissism.
In the ongoing psychotic derangement of anglo politics where both sides have taken recourse in paranoid conspiracies, Peterson might come across as ‘sane’ but the adulation he has received is precisely because of his voice – it doesn’t matter what he says, what matters is that the whiner’s voice is amplified. His fans identify with the scratchy quavering that signals how emotionally invested he is. Ironically, he believes idpol is a marxist conspiracy to ruin ‘western’ values when there are enough criticisms of idpol from the left. He quixotically fights marxist dragons while actually feuding with neoliberals over his idea of classical liberalism. He represents another ghetto in the idpol slum even though he thinks of himself as a critic of the game.
Here is Peterson’s statement of counter-enlightenment,

“The individual’s sovereignty is the bedrock principle of western civilization. The individual is the eye above the pyramid. The individual is the thing that dominates the set of dominance hierarchies. The individual is the thing that plays not the game but the meta-game. The individual is the thing that revivifies a dead culture. That’s why it’s is sovereign and valuable. That’s the foundation of our legal system and culture. So to think about it as the emergent property of enlightenment ideals is dangerous because that’s 400 years. Who cares about 400 years? This is forever. Forever is a lot more firm grounding than 400 years. It’s not a set of rational ideas. It’s way deeper than that.”

This cold war holdover dadcore Randian libertarianism could have been cute but he is after all a psychologist, and for a psychologist to tell fables and indulge in naive sentimentality to restore a withering ideal is a farce.

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Left-Fascism at the end of Neoliberalism

(originally posted on 29/09/17)

Someone wrote an obituary for neoliberalism. Let’s enjoy criticising it.

Like other dead historical forms, for example Christianity or cinema, liberalism lumbers around zombie-like, continuing to define lives and wield material power.

strong start.

Liberalism, and its preferred governmental form liberal democracy, is collapsing because the nation-state — the concept that animated liberalism and gave it historical force through the European wars and revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries — has transformed from a necessary tool for capitalist development to a hindrance to growth… Neoliberal economic policy has produced growth through a series of debt bubbles, but that series is reaching its terminal limits in student and medical debt. Liberalism today has nothing to offer but the symbolic inclusion of a small number of token individuals into the increasingly inaccessible upper classes.

political diagnosis – good, global.
economic diagnosis – bad, NuYawker.

As liberalism collapses, so too does the left-right divide that has marked the past century of domestic politics in the capitalist world… the political dichotomy going forward will be between a “left” and “right” fascism. One is already ascendant, and the other is new but quickly growing.
Jürgen Habermas and various other 20th century Marxists used “left fascism” as a generic slander against their ideological opponents, but I am using it to refer to something more specific: the corporatocratic libertarianism that is the counterpart of right fascism’s authoritarian ethnonationalism, forming the two sides of the same coin. When, in the wake of the imminent economic downturn, Mark Zuckerberg runs for president on the promise of universal basic income and a more “global citizen”-style American identity in 2020, he will represent this new “left” fascism: one that, unlike Trump’s, sheds the nation-state as a central concept.
The difference between state and nation-state will become increasingly clear as a new fascist politics of total corporate sovereignty comes into view… In America, the right fascists find their base in agribusiness, the energy industry, and the military-industrial complex, all relying heavily on state subsidies, war, and border controls to produce their wealth. Although they hate taxes and civil rights, they rely on American imperialism, with its more traditional trade imbalances, negotiation of energy “agreements,” and forever wars to make their profits. But the left fascists, based in tech, education, and services, do best through global labor flows and free trade. Their reliance on logistics, global supply chains, and just-in-time manufacturing, combined with their messianic belief in the singularity and technological fixes for social problems, means they see the nation-state mostly as a hindrance and the military as an inefficient solution to global problems.

uhhh… ok.

This is, in fact, how much of early colonialism worked, with its chartered joint-stock companies running plantation microstates on opposite sides of the world. Instead of the crown, however, there will be the global market: no empire, just capital.

The specific past chosen for comparison is productive but something is missing…

Revolutionaries have to get over their fetishization of both nation and state,…

So just to be clear, ‘left-fascism’ according to this writer is libertarianism, which means that we have to do one of those space invaders type scroll where the term goes off-screen on the left and reappears on the right. Regular ethno-nationalist populism (aka fascism) is the new left (inasmuch as it is still democratic) and ‘left-fascism’ is the new right. This couple of regressive populism vs technocratic incrementalism threatens to replace liberal democracy.

The problem with his entire argument begins at the point he thinks Faceberg is an electable entity. Media can make a Trump palatable but to convince people to vote for bots is absurd. Neither do technocrats care about politics enough to run for election – they undermine it with lobbying and funding.

Just to provoke, I would say that only a revolutionary after the revolution can give up the fetishization of nation and state. This was the situation for Kojeve as he understood it (according to his ‘end of history’ theory) so he helped to establish a transnational and apolitical organization – the EU. These are the true ‘left-fascists’, not those total privatization libertarians. We can shit over Belgian technocrats but the fact remains that the EU regulates nation-states on matters that national politics don’t touch like information security and environment.

But the EU is crumbling and nothing like it existed on the other side of the Atlantic anyway. The world-historical conjuncture today resembles not of early but of late colonialism. Capital without a crown is not a good time for civilians (revolutionaries rejoice!). The 20th century is remembered today as an excessively violent era but what is coming will make us remember the post-war pre-internet time as an idyll. Taking over the state remains necessary for everyone but capitalists. However, it might not be enough – there is a case here to be made for link faschismus of the Kojevean variety but I am too lazy for that rn.

Platform Economy 101

(originally posted on 18/08/17)

Astra Taylor’s book The People’s Platform is the most popular work about this. She directed the documentaries Zizek! and Examined Life. She makes some good points about the continuity between old and new media (as part of neoliberal economic restructuring) and what new media means for culture. From the nyt review of her book,

the web never really threatened to overthrow the old media… Instead, it was the cultural industry’s middle ­classes that have been wiped out and replaced by new cultural plantations ruled over by the West Coast aggregators.

from her preface,

Many of the problems that plagued our media system before the Internet was widely adopted have carried over into the digital domain—consolidation, centralization, and commercialism—and will continue to shape it. Networked technologies do not resolve the contradictions between art and commerce, but rather make commercialism less visible and more pervasive.

Nick Srnicek, who you might know as an accelerationist, has also written a book on Platform Capitalism. Its dry, economic and not very in-depth; still, it’s valuable and much better than his accelerationist stuff. Srnicek builds on platform theory from Benjamin Bratton’s book The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty. The wiki summary of Bratton’s argument,

The book challenges traditional ideas of sovereignty centered around the nation-state, and develops a theory of geopolitics that accounts for sovereignty in terms of planetary-scale computation at various scales. Its two core arguments are (1) that planetary-scale computation “distorts and deforms traditional Westphalian logics of political geography” and creates new territories in its own image, and (2) that different scales of computing technology can understood as forming an “accidental megastructure” that resembles a multi-layer network architecture stack, what Bratton calls “The Stack.” The Stack is described as a platform. Bratton argues that platforms represent a technical and institutional model equivalent to states or markets but reducible to neither.

Bratton’s theory is a bit ‘arty-farty’. It’s political implications haven’t been teased out but Srnicek works out the economic angle. He defines platforms as

“characterized by providing the infrastructure to intermediate between different user groups, by displaying monopoly tendencies driven by network effects, by employing cross-subsidization to draw in different user groups, and by having a designed core architecture that governs the interaction possibilities.”

Srnicek also ties in the platform economy to economic exigencies in post-2007 capitalism.

“This low interest rate environment within the global economy has, argues Srnicek, provided “a key enabling condition for parts of today’s digital economy to arise” by reducing returns on a range of assets and encouraging investors to seek higher yields elsewhere. This is the context within which platforms emerged and were readily able to find vast investment, even in the absence of profitability.”

________________________

Moving on from books to posts, John Herrman has been writing about the platform economy in NYT. He lays out his idea of platform economy here.

Uber, like so many other successful tech companies in 2017, is a “platform business,” one built around matchmaking between vendors and customers. If successful, a platform creates its own marketplace; if extremely successful, it ends up controlling something closer to an entire economy. This is intuitive in a case like eBay, which connects buyers and sellers. Airbnb, too, resembles an age-old form of commerce, connecting property owners with short-term lodgers. TaskRabbit and Fiverr connect contractors with people looking to hire them. Some of the largest platforms are less obviously transactional: Facebook and Google connect advertisers with users, users with one another, software developers with users. But while the transactions that happen on their platforms largely take a different form — taps, shares, ads served and scrolled past — the principles are essentially the same, as are the benefits. These businesses are asset- and employee-light, low on liability and high on upside. They aspire to monopoly, often unapologetically, and have been instrumental in rehabilitating the concept. (The logic is seductive and often self-evident: Facebook is more useful if everyone is on it, therefore everyone should be on Facebook.)

Comparing platforms to state capitalism,

Within a rigidly structured platform like Uber, for which the company sets prices, the economic problems are somewhat akin to those of a command economy: How low can we push the cost of a ride before drivers stop participating? (Quite low, for now.) How do we deal with sudden increases in demand? (Surge pricing, controversially.) How might new drivers be both induced to join the platform and more deeply compelled to stay? (Through the introduction of vehicle-financing programs and short-term loan services.)
Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls.

a pithy summary of Kalanick’s incident with a driver in his company,

Nowhere is that ideological dimension more clear than in the Kalanick video from February. Driver and founder sat inches apart, alienated from each other by the system over which one presides and within which the other toils: the founder explaining to the driver how the platform works and must work; the driver appealing to this person for better pay. It resembles nothing more than one man remarking on the rain while the other thinks, “Don’t you control the weather?” Platforms seek total control even as they abdicate responsibility.

In an article on service economy and labour under Amazon, he says

Amazon’s grand proclamations, on the other hand, tend to focus on domi­nation, not on providing any sort of abstract benefit to society outside the lowering of prices and the delivery of goods. The company has never put forth a rosy vision of the future of service labor. Amazon warehouse work is hard, often subcontracted and kept out of sight of consumers. According to a 2015 investigation by The Times, even at the corporate office, the work culture is unapologetically ruthless.
Amazon’s attitude toward labor is emblematic of the culture it grew out of — and an augur of the service economy that’s on the rise today. Other tech companies, in particular platforms like Uber and TaskRabbit, have helped regular consumers grow comfortable with a software-mediated system wherein jobs are sliced into an endless series of assignments, with compensation negotiated wordlessly, instantly and without room for a second thought. Even Starbucks — once a champion of compassionate capitalism — recently began experimenting with pitiless automated scheduling software to assign shifts, before backing off after public outcry.
Amazon need not bother to tell a story; in fact, its goal is to reduce the retail story to a single button, an instant, an unprecedentedly complex process taken for granted.
Mackey (of Whole Foods) sought to build a more ethical company, and to herald a more ethical mode of consumption. He sought to take the politics out of labor and the labor out of politics. Amazon, by contrast, doesn’t try to tell you yet another story about what it does and who it pays to do it. It bets — rightly, ruthlessly — that you’d be more comfortable with no story at all.

Herrman’s best work was done along with Matt Buchanan when ‘the gingers’, as they were collectively known, took over the awl’s editorship for a year. This first attempt at theorizing the platform economy appeared as a series of blog posts under the tag ‘The Content Wars’. it’s unedited and repetitive but you can follow the chain of reasoning better. I would suggest going through these posts chronologically but some highlights are ‘platform creep’, ‘john oliver video sweepstakes’, ‘extremely public relations’ and ‘Cash and Anxiety on the Weird New Internet’.
John Lanchester has been on the tech beat for lrb for almost two decades starting with the microsoft trials. The articles are thankfully not paywalled. Apart from the new comprehensive one on Facebook, the other long and rewarding one is on bitcoins. Bitcoin itself might have failed but it demonstrated the idea of a decentralized, peer to peer cryptocurrency works in practice (look ma, no banks!). Secondarily, there are his articles on Elon Musk (in comparison with the Wright brothers) and the one on automation.

a short note on Sino-Indian war

(originally posted on 11/07/17)

a good article on Sino-Indian War. some moments jumped out,

in February 2014, Maxwell did the Indian people an inestimable service by releasing the first part of the Brooks-Bhagat report on his website. New Delhi’s immediate reaction was the inexcusable one of blocking his website.

report can be found here

Its conclusion was damning: “Against all evidence of increasing military disadvantage, and all the warnings that the Chinese gave us by actions like those at Galwan and Dhola, the government had convinced itself that when forced to choose between going to war against India and withdrawing, the Chinese would withdraw.” Their indictment of the forward policy approaches the heights of literature: “The Art of War teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming but on our readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking but on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

What should the Indian public and its representatives learn from the disclosures contained in the Brooks-Bhagat report? The most important is that China is not the aggressive, expansionist nation that two generations of Indians have been reared to believe. In Indian eyes, China committed its original act of aggression when it began to build a road connecting Tibet and Xinjiang through Aksai Chin in the mid-1950s… Topography and hindsight show us that this alignment lost its raison d’etre the moment China annexed Tibet, for the British had chosen it with the specific purpose of blocking the valleys between the two ranges that could have given Russia easy access to Tibet, and thence to India and southern China, through Tibet. This alignment was, therefore, a product of The Great Game, and became history when China annexed Tibet.

However, having secured its basic requirement, China went to great lengths to demonstrate its desire for a negotiated settlement. The lengths to which it was prepared to go were demonstrated by Zhou when he virtually forced himself upon Nehru in New Delhi in February 1960, and went from one Indian cabinet minister’s home to the next, trying to obtain a consensus. Nehru’s failure to take advantage of this extraordinary overture must be counted as one of the greater, and by far the most costly, diplomatic mistakes India has made. For the hostility that Zhou encountered, and the humiliation to which he was subjected by ministers such as Morarji Desai, almost certainly triggered the rapid build-up of Chinese forces in the east and the west, which led Nehru and his advisers to adopt the forward policy.

What did Desai do?

When Zhou complained that India had given the Dalai Lama refuge, Desai reminded him that Karl Marx himself was given asylum in the United Kingdom. Then, when Zhou asked why the government had permitted protests outside the Chinese embassy, Desai once more underlined the fundamental distinction between dictatorship and democracy. His own effigies, he noted, were burnt in the streets after every Budget he presented in Parliament.

Smarmy pontification based in political ignorance – typical Indian ruling class behaviour.
a misstep in an otherwise good article,

The dangers that democracies face from ill-informed public opinion is, therefore, the second lesson to be learned from the debacle of 1962. Nehru knew that he had used up most of his political capital getting Indians to accept China’s annexation of Tibet. When China began to build its Tibet-Xinjiang road without even informing, let alone reaching an agreement with India, and when a spate of revelations of the oppression the Chinese had unleashed upon Tibet gained currency after the Dalai Lama’s arrival, he felt unable to concede any more ground.

imo Nehru wasn’t as concerned with domestic public opinion as with imperialist designs, playing them against the commies. further, I don’t think public opinion in the 60s about commies was worse than today’s, shaped by the hellish domination of corporate broadcasting and social media where every patriot is constantly exorcising the ghost of ancestor’s defeat.

The Communism Cynicism deserves…

(originally posted on 23/05/17)

So I was discussing China’s belt and road program with a friend yesterday. North Korea came up and he said that instead of talking to DPRK, just talk to PRC, implying it’s a Chinese client state. I said that’s untrue. He brought up two moments in a documentary on DPRK that he saw: first, they wanted to shoot inside a church when they were told to wait for couple of hours. The people arrived after that time and sang in unison quite well. He found the proceedings suspicious. Second, they tooks shots inside a computer lab with Hewlett-Packard PCs. Now what were HP computers doing in DPRK when there are sanctions against tech transfer?
The first claim can be countered easily – to an atomized consumer in a cynical economy always asking ‘where’s mine’, the life of a DPRK citizen free of marketing imperatives to build your brand (at the expense of others), a disciplined life in service of communal organizing is stupid, whether religious or communist. So my friend remains suspicious.
The second point about HP PCs inside DPRK at first glance could be guessed as Chinese knock-offs that flood Asian markets but light digging revealed my friend was right! There was a minor ‘conspiracy’. Fox News reported five years ago an “EXCLUSIVE: Cash for computers: Is the U.N. busting its own sanctions in North Korea?” on “An agency of the United Nations ” that “has quietly shipped computers and sophisticated computer servers to the government of North Korea, despite ongoing U.N. sanctions… procurement and payment for the WIPO goods appears to have been arranged between WIPO’s Geneva headquarters and China, bypassing the U.N. offices in North Korea.” After building up the threat of a “truculent communist dictatorship with a thirst for nuclear weapons, whose often-starving citizens are brutally kept in line by a military-dominated elite with widespread international criminal ties”, the writer George Russell admits “the latest WIPO technology transfer has little to do with nuclear weapons or satellite launches. It involves laptops, printers and servers intended to create a high-speed digital archive for North Korea’s Inventions Office – the equivalent of the U.S. Patent Office.” The DPRK patent office had ~5 TB of storage in toto before this deal; now they got a RAID setup, some printers and a reliable UPS.
Moncef Katab at WIPO snitched on this ‘conspiracy’ and was fired two years later in 2014 but not without raising enough noise to get an enquiry into Francis Gurry, the DG of WIPO. Katab managed to get a petition out with the help of trade unions of UN workers in Geneva for his reinstatement while Gurry’s Wikipedia page is permanently marked with the ‘cash-for-computers’ scam. Fox news has helpfully uploaded emails, memos, invoices, and the patent office plan.
This is a topsy-turvy situation, a non-scandal that left a stain – The head of UN IP enforcement went against the IP regime’s sanctions and gave the DPRK patent office hardware better suited for running Counter-Strike servers, never mind enterprise level tech. They would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for the whistleblowing union member. Just some guy on top (!) trying to do some good, going against rank-and-file to help out a ‘truculent’ dictatorship. His reward was the undying suspicion of Fox News. George Russell continues to warn against the DPRK, his latest scoop that WIPO is helping DPRK develop patent application for production of sodium cyanide, a ‘banned nerve gas chemical’. Of course, he wouldn’t mention that the chemical is also widely used in extracting rare metals (like gold) used in electronic components. To close all brackets here, guess which company reported using ‘conflict minerals’ processed from DPRK? Yes, it’s HP. Thus the circuit of global market completes itself by including the exception to it.

Neoliberalization provides the framework for circulation of capital globally at the expense of political and economic self-determination of the people. Nations that reject come-hithers of capital are exsanguinated and replaced with governments (or militias) willing to sell resources for cheap while the people in such nations are forced to migrate just to survive. Thus capital gets resources at rock-bottom prices and destitute labour that cannot organize itself because it isn’t a citizen anywhere. This economic circuit is replicated at the ideological level as well.
The role DPRK plays in capitalist ideology is of the ridiculous remainder of the cold war – every effort at demonizing it in the vein of ‘socialist dictatorship’ fails, the confrontation a farce between an empire and a holdover. This doesn’t stop paranoid Americans from practicing the spy version of ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ though, recognizing messages where there are none and attempting to decipher them. The NYT report on North Koreans playing volleyball is better than any satire. Similarly, the bohemian blogger dude went to the market in Rason and was “struck by the sense of having stumbled across that fabled thing which seems so hopelessly impossible to find: the ‘real’ North Korea.” As chill as he might be, the bohemian dude is prey to the widespread ‘Truman Show’ syndrome, looking for the ‘real’ DPRK. This ‘real’ DPRK is thoroughly ambiguous in the capitalist ideology – the expectation of a nightmarish failure outside the circuit of capital is also the expectation of an authentic life outside the semblances of capital. The true horror, as the bohemian blogger realizes at the Kum Yong restaurant (“the service and surroundings had been so carefully and thoroughly Westernised, as to give little or no impression of how real locals live. I guess the same could be said for five-star restaurants the world over, though.”), is that there is no outside to capital.
OTOH, Roland Boer on his blog crossposted an article by Marcel Cartier on misconceptions about DPRK. North Koreans make fun of Canadians (who doesn’t?), the young listen to Linkin Park (again, who doesn’t) and there are ‘microbreweries’ everywhere. More interestingly, the DPRK knows it’s position in capitalist ideology and consciously completes the ideological circuit by returning the message of the sender in an inverted form. Boer writes

… a desire by some visitors to act as pseudo-journalists, attempting to find out about what is being kept hidden. It may take the form of trying to photograph items they think they are not supposed to photograph, or of ducking off from a tour group for a few minutes to see what might be seen. But let me give two examples.
When travelling the metro system, one is told not to photograph the metro tunnels. So of course one or two try to photograph the tunnels. But as soon as the photographs are taken, a platform attendant immediately walks up, calls to a guide and demands that the photograph be deleted. This only exacerbates the mystery. I happened to be standing next to one such culprit when the deletion took place. The photograph merely contained a black space, with nothing to see. But the fact that you could not take a photograph of black space meant that it much conceal something.

It’s horses. The subway is infested with horses. But let’s continue,

The other example is the fabled ‘fifth floor’ of the Yonggakdo Hotel. The lifts skip by the fifth floor, jumping from four to six. And if one has bothered to check the internet, then stories abound of the mysteries of the fifth floor (check google or youtube). Many are speculations: here the guides are kept under guard so as not to be corrupted by foreigners; here is equipment to spy on visitors; here is a crack military squad ready to deal with any problem. To add to the mystery, occasionally a guard may appear and sternly demand that you depart. In our group, a few tried to get to the fifth floor by the stairs. One or two even managed a photograph. What did they reveal? Some pipes, perhaps a door or a wall or a corridor. And of course rooms with doors. Nothing else.
That is the point: nothing is there. The Koreans are very good at creating the impression that something is there, hidden from prying eyes. I suspect that they have created such zones precisely to maintain the mystery, for it appeals immensely to some foreigners, especially of the bleeding heart liberal type. Nothing actually exists in the metro tunnels except tracks for the trains. And nothing is to be found on the fifth floor of the hotel, except rooms and a possible guard to tell you not to enter. After all, if there really was something to hide, why have stairs with a door that opens on the fifth floor, or why have a ‘secret lift’ that visitors can actually use to get close to the fifth floor?

To go full Zizek here – Isn’t this ideology at its purest? The deepest wish of a liberal tourist is to find some ‘real’ behind the peace and order on the surface. The DPRK has already taken this wish into account and provides for blank spaces protected by needless prohibitions to serve as a screen, to reflect liberal desire back at itself, to sustain desire instead of giving them the ‘real’ (like a tour of a model prison camp). Isn’t this the Christian gesture par excellence? Instead of treating the neighbour (liberal) with solidarity, the DPRK demeans itself needlessly, playing its expected role in capitalist ideology to give liberals what they want. this isn’t just the communism we need, but the communism cynicism deserves…

The Meaning of Trump

(Originally posted on 16/08/16)

I have to say this. People outside of the United States do not understand what’s going on in this election, they really don’t.

President Obama said this in his speech at the Democratic National Convention while extolling Hillary Clinton’s respected position across the world as a capable representative of America, exporting “freedom and dignity and human rights” to Burma and the Baltics. He reassured the Democrats that the world was incredulous along with them at the rise of Trump as a serious contender for the position of the leader of the free world. Now I am no Burmese farmer but Trump isn’t an ‘outlier’ as much as the result of shedding off “freedom and human rights” like used clothes that America finds restrictive and outmoded, giving them away for the benefit of poorer countries.

Democrats see Trump and his followers as dangerously stupid at best and fascists at worst, compared to Hillary who is a whip-smart operator. Her league of qualified technocrats will facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship that has made America the engine of the world. IMO, overt stupidity isn’t so dangerous since it can be checked (I look forward to the impeachment of Trump if elected. We might even get to see a military coup in US!) but covert intelligence, the sort of smug knower-than-thou attitude with which Democrats go about disregarding rules and then ask us to “grow up” and accept the cost of realpolitik, all the while feeding us mealy-mouthed corporatese or plain old fear, that is a cartoonish imitation of supervillainy.

The Conventions

All this became quite clear over the two weeks of conventions. The Republican convention had amateurish optics. The party machine didn’t know what to do with Trump or his supporters. After some early attempts at disqualifying him, they let him operate his campaign although he was kept at an arm’s length from the establishment and received no support from regular Republican donors.

The Democratic convention though was an unmitigated shitshow. The primaries leading up to the convention were already tainted with stories of voter disenfranchisement through re-registration, closing polling booths or simple erasure. Similar measures have been taken by the Labour party in England to stem the tide of discontent that appointed Corbyn as the challenger to the Neoliberal consensus that has dominated Labour for decades. None of this implies a conspiracy of electoral fraud perpetrated by the Democrats. It does, however, point to a broken and baroque electoral process (more a popularity contest now) that has been ably gamed for pushback against popular demand or scrutiny.

But if it’s (incompetent) conspiracy you wanted, you got it on the opening day of DNC. Wikileaks dropped a database of unredacted emails between the Democratic party and Hillary campaign revealing what everyone suspected anyway — that Sanders was not only being sidelined by the establishment but that they discussed sabotaging his campaign. Money laundering, espionage, comically tone-deaf marketing statements on brand loyalty of hispanics — the party machine untiring in its efforts to set a new low.

The Democratic party responded to the leaks by throwing Debbie under the bus and then straight away launched into time-tested red-baiting, saying the leaks were an attempt by Russia to manipulate American elections. Obama at the DNC implied similarly when he said “That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.” The truth is that the leaks can be attached at best to hacking techniques and software associated with Russian hacking crews.

After Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton (triggering walkouts by some delegations), the convention pivoted right so hard that some Republicans were in tears by the end of the DNC, bawling at the sight of American pageantry. An apt moment that captured Democrats being no less jingoistic and gung-ho about the American future than past Republicans came when protesters chanting “stop the war” were drowned out by counter-chants of “U-S-A!” and their section was literally thrown into darkness.

Why do I recite a series of bubbles being popped that the populace would rather forget or never heard in the first place? Because it reveals that the Democratic party machine put in much more effort than Republicans to deny, attack and downplay discontent. Ironically, the Republicans seem more ‘democratic’ because of their inept handling of Trump, who represents popular political will of the right, while the Democrats threw everything at the insurgency from the left to suppress it successfully. After some lip-service to the vanquished, they redoubled their efforts to bring centrists together on a bipartisan message upholding the status-quo.

The Liberal Commentariat

Hillary’s campaign could do without all this nuisance from below. Various parodies attest to the indifference of her campaign to campaigning. Her message is naked neoliberalism — We are in permanent economic emergency and America requires a crisis manager to steward it ever forward on the path of techno-militancy. For her supporters, her presidency is just her destiny. Who would grudge the rise of a fated heroine to her rightful place?

But she must deign to democratic compulsions and so we are treated to the message-free messaging of technocratese that dominates the speakers’ circuit. This is the legacy of Obama’s presidency that Hillary will continue— to reduce the office to optics while expanding and exercising executive powers beyond the pale of democratic accountability. Obama will be remembered for inaugurating the first presidential instagram account, replacing political engagement with a 24/7 behind-the-scenes photoshoot. This focus on optics is justified by their supporters as politics already — Just the presence of a black dude or a white woman in the presidential chair is historical enough, much like Jay-Z could say that his presence was charity already.

The optics of patriotism was not the only thing to rival Republicans at the DNC — the Democrats finished on that note but began every speech re-affirming family values. As Jill Lepore said in her New Yorker article, “the love of children [is] an all-purpose proxy for each fraying bond, each abandoned civic obligation, the last, lingering devotion”. The optics of Democratic family values take on an erotic charge from the supporters who relate to their leaders as fans. So we get commentary on the nominees from the ‘fuck me daddy’ crowd — is this a candidate you could have a beer with? How about a blow job? The same crowd loses no opportunity to point out the creepiness of Trump’s acceptance (and even pride) of his daughter’s sexuality, unexpected considering the chastity and repression usually associated with Republicans.

The unseemly triumphalism of liberals quickly turns to naked terror and smarmy sentimentalism in moments of uncertainty— suddenly we are asked to consider the minorities, who take the place of the children of the future in the now. While Republican invocation of fear is a regular opening ritual, on the Democratic side it serves as a last resort. In any case, we end up with people across the political spectrum reasoning from fear, from the place of a victim. Curiously, whichever side gains power continues to think like a victim — expecting the worst to re-occur, it lashes out pre-emptively. Thus we get the strange spectacle of a trembling superpower before a paralyzed victim, like all those cops overkilling all those black guys, Iraq, etc.

Apart from paranoia about Russian interference, other cold war anxieties are re-activated — imagine buffoons like Trump and Kim Jong with the nuclear option. Dangerous indeed but not crazy. What is crazy, much like recreational assault rifles, is that nuclear holocaust remains part of foreign policy.

h/t Corey Robin

The Meaning of Trump

Liberals find it hard to accept Trump as a leader because he is too American; For the same reason, the rest of the world sees Trump as a selfie of America. He is a product of thirty years of neoliberalism (from the city where the program was first enacted) embodying it’s worst aspects — a vacuous rapacity in the pursuit of money and attention. He is the cultural outcome of MBA degrees, Home Shopping networks and reality tv — a culture of bullshit. He represents the zeitgeist today as much as Fred Durst at the turn of the millennium (although Fred was against bullshit, specially of the he-says-she-says variety). New Yorkers blame hipsters from Williamsburg for gentrifying the city these days but there is a long tradition of lamenting the decline in city culture. Alex Cockburn marked the beginning of neoliberal regime with Trump, “He [Alex] loved the density and flamboyant energy of New York, but moved on when he felt the quicksand of ’80s vulgarity, “Trumpismo,” flowing close.” Needless to say, Hillary is also from the same milieu.

We can find political parallels to Trump’s campaign for comparison. Two years ago another ‘fascist’ was running for Prime Ministers of India, Modi, but then he turned out to be more neoliberal and corporatist than the liberal establishment. This is the best outcome liberals can hope for — that Trump continues with the status quo. Sadly, there is a difference between Trump and Modi — Trump (aka Mr. Brexit) is part of a wave of isolationism in the heart of Anglo empire, a new development in the first world. Liberals are justifiably scared of their future under Trump, but the world is scared of Hillary — Trump’s talk of reducing American military presence and engagement, the sprawl of empire, is welcome although a coup is far more likely than a radical shift in foreign policy under him.

Trump signifies a shift, a re-alignment along the political axis of the major American parties. The Democrats have moved so far center-right that the extreme right was pushed off the screen and re-appeared on the other side, like aliens in space invaders, imbibing elements of the left. Thomas Frank explains it best,

The party of free trade and free markets now says it wants to break up Wall Street banks and toss Nafta to the winds. The party of family values has nominated a thrice-married vulgarian who doesn’t seem threatened by gay people or concerned about the war over bathrooms. The party of empire wants to withdraw from foreign entanglements.

…it was only possible for our liberal leaders to be what they are — a tribe of sunny believers in globalization and its favored classes — as long as the Republicans held down their left flank for them. Democrats could only celebrate globalization’s winners and scold its uneducated losers so long as there was no possibility that they might face a serious challenge on the matter from the other party in the system.

Well, today all that has changed. The free-trade consensus lies in shards on the floor. The old Republican party has been smashed by this man Trump. It is a new political world out there… So far, Democrats are acting as though nothing has really changed. Democrats seem to be endlessly beguiled by the prospect of campaign of national unity, a coming-together of all the quality people and all the affluent people and all the right-thinking, credentialed, high-achieving people. The middle class is crumbling, the country is seething with anger, and Hillary Clinton wants to chair a meeting of the executive committee of the righteous.

This particular faceoff is better understood in the context of alternative outcomes of the primaries. If the establishment was in tune with the public (imagine ideal democracy), then we would have Sanders Vs Trump — the real conflict for the soul of America played out in electoral politics. If the establishment wasn’t bothered by the public (imagine ideal kleptocracy), then we would have Clinton Vs Cruz — a battle between drones in a Game-of-Thrones style showdown. But the choice that is facing American voters is Clinton Vs Trump — not much of a choice since Clinton and Trump both are neoliberals. Yet, Trump is bullshitting that he is anti-establishment and the risk is that even if he is not serious (or coherent) about his bullshit, the people supporting him are numerous and seriously pissed off.

The left is defined by its antagonism to the state. If the left becomes part of the establishment, it remembers to keep a distance to the state which is only an instrument for emancipation. To identify with the state as a patriot, that is what liberals do and why they are not the left. They believe in the American mission, to wipe out the left wherever it emerges, and they have been quite successful too. This success has caught up with them domestically. By wiping out the popular insurgency on the Democratic side and denying an existential crisis in the neoliberal programme, imploring us to ‘Keep America Great’, they have ceded ground to the anti-establishment Republican candidate, who, however cartoonish and phony, is now the only representative of actual popular discontent. The Democrats have turned this election into a referendum on the American dream giving the warped imagination of the right a real chance.

Socialism in a single country, like Trump promises, national socialism, is the definition of fascism. Internationalism without socialism, well that’s that neoliberal crap America has been feeding the world for decades now. So can we imagine a politics beyond status quo and fear mongering? Well of course. Hillary Clinton could, if she wanted, channel her appetite for militarism towards the environment, putting the reversal of climate change and shift from fossil fuel economy on a war footing. Saving the planet should be an ambitious enough goal for her.

The depressing reality is that whoever comes to power can hijack the American state’s turn towards fascism, the shadow process accompanying neoliberalism. It began with militarization of police during the war on drugs, expanding the incarceration complex and disbanding welfare programs, and then gained steam after 9/11 turning into a surveillance state. The innovation of Obama was to take war away from popular consciousness and hide it at the edge of perception, normalizing the state of perpetual war with secret courts, a ‘legal’ shadow state and personally signing off on drone murders. Superhero movies do their part in re-orienting the cultural matrix on such lines with zero calorie ruminations on the cost of life.

Democracy is a nuisance for neoliberal technocrats and funny fascists. Please resume your regular programming of fear & money now. Here’s my candidate.

chupa una verga

Korean Rap Mix

(Originally posted on 12/04/15)

Those looking for ‘authenticity’ will be disappointed. Those looking for a little fun on the weekend should pop right in.

Before we start with the artists unknown outside Korea, Here’s last year’s international collaboration of note to set your expectations.

Now that you have been exposed to the fragmented, frenetic, chopped-and-bent aspect of Korean-pop, here’s something smooth to replace any lingering affection towards catchy Chris Brown songs.

A few months later, veterans Yoon Mi Rae, Tiger JK & Bizzy (aka MFBTY – My Fans Better Than Yours, a dig at idol fandom since they are from the underground) released this single from their new album which balances flow and hysteria while nodding towards India in its sample of Carnatic classical and Holi colours in the video.

Every idol group has a rapper these days. Here’s a new idol group with multiple rappers. The video is quite tongue-in-cheek and outer-space themed so I expect more goodness from these guys.

Easily the best new rapper from any idol group is Rap Monster from Bangtang Boys. He inhabits the zone between Kanye (his look) and Tyler the Creator (his youth).

Its that point in the mixtape when you play the best track. Here’s MFBTY with Rap Monster, your new trap overlords inducing hypnosis in black & white with ‘BuckuBucku’. When the beat drops even lower at the start of Tiger JK’s verse, heads snap.

I can’t resist playing another classic, so here’s last year biggest hit featuring half a dozen rappers from the underground to the idol groups (Epik High, Beenzino, Verbal Jint, B.I, Mino and Bobby) irritating their ‘haters’ with vertical video. Even people who only like ‘old school’ can enjoy this.

To wind down, here’s the trap song which united Korean and Japanese rappers while riding OG Maco’s ‘U guessed it’ wave and baffling the internet.#underwatersquad #orcaninjasgorambo #northface


Now that the tape is over, the hidden emo track! Here’s a recent release leaning on the poppier side which caught me in a vulnerable position because it laid out the pattern of a relationship too close to real life. Giriboy, apart from being supercute, is working the rich vein of modern disconnect. Against the backdrop of pastel pop art visual design, he lays out the disappointment in a relation that is easy, casual and convenient – where we are more concerned with staying ‘cool’ than taking the plunge, where we are more concerned with giving each other ‘space’.

The nights I spent up in useless hopes

I don’t think I’ll be excited even if things go well

But to end it all here, I’ll miss your waist

Interspersed throughout the video are images of

  • him sitting on a very shaky chair pile under attack by a bird,
  • helping his more masculine rapper friends try out heels,
  • waiting for the apple of knowledge to fall only to be foiled by a moment of distraction,
  • an elastic table separating the couple,
  • the girl fisting him right in the catcher arm bowl & most memorably,
  • a stray nose hair.

The clash of picture perfection and what gets lost in the gap has never been so well rendered.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

(Originally posted on 03/31/15)

Who doesn’t enjoy a tale of incest and inertia? Here we have George Sanders playing a big-name-in-small-town living with three overbearing women in the household, two sisters and a servant. The depression has shaped this family’s childhood.

He is clueless to his place in the emotional landscape of women around him and vice versa. In comes a NY girl to upset the small town order as upheld by this family. I won’t spoil it for you but the climax is typically noir, i.e, the femme fatale gets her revenge from beyond the grave (like Leave her to Heaven etc.)

In the penultimate scene (which, without the MPCC code, would have been the original climax), we get the kernel of relations in families who had to fend for themselves – the dependent wants to prove that he/she is deserving of the care of the provider. They pretend to share moments, taste and understanding but the lie is short-lived. Eventually, the provider just wants his/her freedom from blood obligation but the dependent has entrapped the provider through the gesture of self-sacrifice.

There is also the element of Americana which drew me to it as reviewed by Croce here:

“Trafficking in sabotaged relationships and perverse awakenings, the ironic farce is couched in snapshots of provincial America as fond and sardonic as any in Shadow of a Doubt: The coed softball match, the barbershop quartet, the ice-cream parlor for biddies, all the Nabokovian delectations that modulate toward the image of the poison in the cup of hot chocolate.”

You can find this movie streaming here. Its only a little longer than an hour. Can’t lie, I got hooked due to Ella Raines. Check out her posture. I wilt like a goddamn rosebud around women like this. mmm…

The Ideology of ‘Muslim Rage’

(Originally posted on 02/22/15)

A favourite tactic of trolls is the ‘wall of facts’. You would be surprised by the amount of people who attribute weight to an argument because of its volume. Last Thursday The Atlantic posted 10k words with the title, ‘What ISIS really wants?’. The answer is take us back into the medieval world.

Here’s the chorus of response. Lets see who praised the article,

Wood, of course, didn’t accidentally invent the idea that violent passages in Islamic texts make the religion especially prone to violence, or that ISIS’s supposedly Islamic nature is evidence of deeper issues within the tradition. These concepts have been around for some time, but are becoming increasingly popular among two groups that usually find themselves ideologically opposed — namely, right-wing conservatives and the so-called “New Atheists,” a subset of atheism in the West.

It is perhaps for this reason that Fox News and several other conservative outlets fawned over Wood’s article after it was published, as did prominent “New Atheists” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Ah, the usual Islamophobes. Now lets see a balanced reception to the article,

The beliefs of Islamic State… are expounded upon at length. In arguing the case for Islamic State’s religious legitimacy, The Atlantic quotes exactly one Western academic, Bernard Haykel, a Princeton scholar of Near Eastern Studies,… From there, Wood does a brief tour of several Western cities… This entails traveling to places like London and Melbourne to seek out the opinions of people such as British radical Anjem Choudary and Musa Cerantonio, who lack any religious credentials or mainstream following, and whose qualifications seemingly do not extend past their ability to behave provocatively in front of journalists.

It seems like a fairly consequential oversight to ignore the views of influential and traditional scholarly figures like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and Sayyid Hossein Nasr — all of whom who have spoken at length in religious terms against the Islam preached by Islamic State, and who are easily accessible to an English-language, American publication.

At worst, such an approach replicates the irritating practice of writing about foreign or minority populations as though they are passive subjects with no voice of their own, save for fringe characters who can be relied upon to confirm a particular narrative.

Such a style of writing and argumentation may make for enjoyable reading to a casual observer attempting to gauge the relationship between ISIS and Islam from the outside. And indeed, the piece is erudite, well-written, and one may even say well-intentioned despite its flaws.

But the underlying premise is nonetheless poorly substantiated.

While Wood is correct to push back against the flawed notion that Islamic State has absolutely no relation to Islam, he neglects to engage the predominant view that the group embodies one of the heretical versions of the religion that have cropped up periodically throughout history.

The end result is a 10,000-word exercise in confirmation bias. If the Islamic State is indeed, as Wood claims, “very Islamic,” his essay makes an unconvincing case of it to anyone familiar with the historical and religious context in which the group has arisen.

Well, What did the expert quoted, Dr. Bernard Haykel, have to say,

“The reason ISIS emerged clearly has to do with the chaos in Iraq, the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis of Iraq (which is the result of the American invasion-occupation), and the chaos in Syria (which is a regime that has also disenfranchised Sunni Muslims),”…

“I see ISIS as a symptom of a much deeper structural set of problems in the Sunni Arab world,” he said. “[It has] to do with politics. With education, and the lack thereof. With authoritarianism. With foreign intervention. With the curse of oil.”

Right. Now can we have a polemic against this piece,

For all this fearful talk of a global Muslim Caliphate, it’s the West that has made real progress in creating transnational institutions. There’s no Muslim counterpart to the European Union, the Schengen Treaty, NATO, the G-20—a Western initiative—or the many bilateral and multilateral agreements and processes that make the West what it is. Nor is this exclusively a mark of the Muslim world: You think China, Brazil or India enjoys the alliances we do? The kinds of integration that make our societies so prosperous and powerful?…

What would you think would happen to people raised in that kind of place [Iraq]? What would you think could possibly come out of this kind of context? Would you be surprised if I said ISIS? ISIS didn’t come out of nowhere. Already our intervention in Libya has opened the door to the same kind of chaos Iraq has seen so much more of — is it any surprise there’s an ISIS franchise in Libya now, too? The same foreign policy mistakes produce the same results.

Finally, can we have the truth about Islamic fundamentalism?

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology, with a very significant debt to western political history and culture…

When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.

Western tradition

Such sovereignty is completely absent in medieval culture, with its fragmented world and multiple sources of power. Its origins lie instead in the Westphalian system of states and the modern scientific revolution.

But Maududi’s debt to European political history extends beyond his understanding of sovereignty. Central to his thought is his understanding of the French Revolution, which he believed offered the promise of a “state founded on a set of principles” as opposed to one based upon a nation or a people. For Maududi this potential withered in France, its achievement would have to await an Islamic state (The Process of the Islamic Revolution).

In revolutionary France, it is the state that creates its citizens and nothing should be allowed to stand between the citizen and the state. That is why still today French government agencies are prevented by law from collecting data about ethnicity, considered a potential intermediary community between state and citizen.

This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam” (Islamic Way of Life). Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.

Modern violence

Don’t look to the Koran to understand this – look to the French Revolution and ultimately to the secularisation of an idea that finds its origins in European Christianity: Extra ecclesia nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), an idea that became transformed with the birth of modern European states into Extra stato nulla persona (outside the state there is no legal personhood). This idea still demonstrates extraordinary power today, the source of what it means to be a refugee.

If IS’s Islamic State is profoundly modern, so too is its violence. IS fighters do not simply kill. They seek to humiliate as we saw last week as they herded Syrian reservists wearing only their underpants to their death. And they seek to dishonour the bodies of their victims, in particular through postmortem manipulations.

Such manipulations aim at destroying the body as a singularity. The body becomes a manifestation of a collectivity to be obliterated, its manipulation rendering what was once a human person into an “abominable stranger”. Such practices are increasingly evident in war today, from the Colombian necktie to troops trading images of body parts to access pornographic websites during the Iraq war.

So what was the argument for connection with the medieval world? Mr. Wood has three words for us – “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings.” Ah, those sensational idiots. Why can’t they kill people in a ‘humane’, modern manner – the injection, the chair – a manner which turns this cathartic event into a humdrum daily occurrence with nothing film worthy about it. Hey lets agree to show only fictional gore in this nation, all right? & what was the policy measure anyway for which such a hefty argument was constructed?,

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options.

So much labour and controversy, just to justify the status quo explicitly. Centrist journalism mystifies me.