Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Terrorism as Anti-Globalization Culture-Jamming

By the time of 9/11, decades of countercultural politics had conditioned many people to see just about every major political problem as a consequence of mass society. Since the sixties, the left has been committed to the idea that a repressive and hegemonic System -- variously understood as Capitalism, Empire or Patriarchy -- is the single greatest threat to global freedom. This led to the widespread adoption of a "jihad versus McWorld" intellectual template, which explained the attacks of 9/11 as a natural and somewhat justifiable reaction to globalization. Its greatest folly was that Islamic terrorism, while deplored, was interpreted as an extreme form of culture jamming, with suicide bombers being merely the most committed members of the anti-globalization movement. The left followed a similar path of thought when it came to understanding the American desire to topple Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Iraq: the invasion was immediately linked with a dystopian narrative of suburban excess -- it was about providing a steady and cheap supply of oil to fuel the gas-guzzling SUVs that symbolize all that is odious about American consumer comfort.

That's from Andrew Potter's column in Maclean's magazine, which sets out his take on the Euston Manifesto and its implications. I wrote my take on it all in the Globe and Mail last month.

Potter is one of the more interesting writers out there these days (his weblog is one of most interesting around, too). Although I'm a regular contributor to Adbusters, I'm nonetheless a big fan of Rebel Sell, the book Potter co-authored with the Joseph Heath, which subjects the Adbusters' umwelt to a fierce critical analysis. Heath's another guy whose ideas I find pretty interesting. Heath's book, The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets, is one of those rare books that invite a housecleaning of one's assumptions.

Potter's Maclean's essay reminded me that I should really get around to outing the Canadian Eustonians I'm aware of. I haven't been keeping track in any meticulous fashion, so the following list is almost certainly shy of several names, but as it is, it's fine company to be keeping, I think. In no particular order:

Nav Purewal, writer, activist, University of Toronto.

Jim Monk, Ontario union & gay rights activist.

Martin Deck, Windsor, Ontario.

Robert Harlow, novelist.

Mark Unger, B.C. union activist.

Jack Cunningham, writer, Inuvik.

Daniel Dale, York University student activist.

Paul Franks, associate professor (philosophy), University of Toronto.

Simon Harvey, Vancouver punk critic, "neurotictext" blogger.

Axel van den Berg, McGill sociology professor.

Nadia Khouri, Dawson College humanities professor.

Marc Angenot, language and literature professor, McGill.

Morton Weinfeld, sociology professor, McGill.

David Pariser, art education professor, Concordia.

Stanley Sadava, psychology professor, Brock University.

David Ross Mann, New Democratic Party, Brantford.

Mark D. Watson, University Of Saskatchewan, computer science.

Rod Weatherbie, Toronto artist.

Michael Collinge, Western Birds (a terrific grunge band)

Mark Fournier, Ottawa.

Bob Lane, Nanaimo.

Bruce Lyth, Vancouver Liberal, Iggyist.

Brooks Gray, CHUM-TV writer.

Rose deShaw, Kingston Raging Granny.

Frank O'Hara, Toronto new-media whiz.

Alan Revich, Toronto negotiator/mediator.

Daniel Stewart, associate psychology professor, Sir William Grenfell College

Stephen Reeves, Toronto.

I reckoned I'd set out these names after reading Jack Cunningham's post yesterday:

A great Italian novelist and exponent of democratic socialism, Ignazio Silone, penned an essay entitled “The Choice of Comrades”, a choice he regarded as among the most significant and revealing one can make. The signatories of the Euston Manifesto are as fine an army of comrades as one could find, and I am honoured to stand under their banner.

Speaking of joint efforts, here's one Jack's just joined. And give Nav a hand with this.

7 Comments:

Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

The left followed a similar path of thought when it came to understanding the American desire to topple Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Iraq: the invasion was immediately linked with a dystopian narrative of suburban excess -- it was about providing a steady and cheap supply of oil to fuel the gas-guzzling SUVs that symbolize all that is odious about American consumer comfort.

Gah!

No. Once again, a disproportionate focus on the easy-to-critique fringe whackjob opposition to the invasion, presumably because it either fits neatly into a preconceived analysis of the left, or because it's easy to shoot down.

Given the horror of today's Iraq, the threat of partition of the country along sectarian lines, and the complete destabilization of the region, I am astounded that those who predicted exactly this outcome continue to be portrayed as hippy-dippy tofu-eating naive peaceniks.

It's enough to drive one to drink. And I mean lots of strong drink.

2:16 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

Yes indeed, lots of strong drink is what you'll want for looking at Iraq. I can barely read the news out of Baghdad without resorting to the hard stuff. But did anyone really predict the depths of savagery the place would fall to? Children having their throats slit because their parents work on American-funded projects, Sunnis blowing up crowds in Shia markets, Shiites blowing up crowds of Sunni workers. . . "quagmire" doesn't quite cover it somehow.

But look again at what Andrew's saying, and let's put the sentence you've snipped back in its context. Perhaps Andrew would have been on safer ground using the term "Counterculture left" instead of just "The left," but he's not arguing that the people who warned about the likely ill outcomes of overthrowing Saddam were all silly little peaceniks. "It's all about oil" is hardly a fringe notion associated solely with the far margins of the, em, tofu-eating community.

The ideas in Rebel Sell (which directly inform Andrew's column) go a long way to explaining why the Anglo-American "left" keeps losing its arguments, I think. "Hands Off Iraq" was, after all, the most noticeable failure among those arguments in some long while. It's the "path of thought" Andrew's after, here. And I think he makes a perfectly solid case.

6:56 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

But did anyone really predict the depths of savagery the place would fall to?

Civil war, insurgency, the likihood of an Iran-friendly Islamic theocracy, and the danger of partition were all high on the lists of predictions well before the shooting started.

"It's all about oil" is hardly a fringe notion associated solely with the far margins of the, em, tofu-eating community.

Without polling, I'm not sure how to determine the truth of that. I do know that the liberals and leftists that I choose to listen to were quick to point out that the US was the largest purchaser of Iraqi oil before the invasion.

And I think he makes a perfectly solid case.

In the same way that a case against conservative policies would be made if it assumed that Coulter, O'Reilly, and Limbaugh represented modern conservatism, or assumed that the "Nuke Mecca" crowd were spokespersons of the ideology.

If he chooses to tackle the Galloway crowd and debate the merits or lack thereof of their arguments, that's fine. But the phrase in question was "The left followed a similar path of thought...". As a member of the left, I take issue with that.

10:39 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...

I still don't think you're being quite fair to Andrew here. His is a general critique. I agree with you that we should be very careful about tarring with too wide a brush, but what is it that's so wrong, specifically, about his take on the general drift of the left?

The way I read Potter, he's arguing that the left has become increasingly committed to the idea of "a repressive and hegemonic system - variously understood as Capitalism, Empire or Patriarchy", that is properly the object of left "resistance." He also argues that this kind of intellectual template has tended to situate 9/11 within the phenomenon of resistance to the system's globalization - albeit a nasty and extreme part of the resistance, but nonetheless an "understandable" expression of resistance.

I wish I could say that this "path of thought" was confined to George Galloway's alliance of Mosleyites. I also wish I could say that the "Galloway crowd" was as marginal to the left these days as you say the Coulters and Limbaughs are to contemporary American conservatism.

From what I can see, the "Galloway crowd" is certainly not marginal to the anti-war left - it's central to the anti-war left. And from what I can see, the Fox News / O'Reilly / Limbaugh / Coulter "right" are not exactly bit players in American debates about foreign policy and military policy, either.

I would love to be wrong about all this, d-p-u. And I would welcome you to try to show me how wrong I am.

But I'm not getting my hopes up that you'll succeed.

12:46 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

I would be more convinced of Potter's analysis if there were reasons given to believe that his assertion about the left was realistic. Yes, there are certainly shallow-thinkers on the left (cough-cpc/ml-cough), but there is also a wealth of excellent liberal and leftist critical thinking available that does not fall into the pattern as presented.

There's not much to go on in the way of objective counting, however, so we'll probably have to agree to disagree.

And yes, the Fox News crowd does seem to reflect some popular right-wing thought on policy, but there are also many excellent conservative thinkers and writers. They're totally wrong about almost everything, of course :)

2:09 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

Jeez. People accuse ME of being overly optimistic.

I agree there is "a wealth of excellent liberal and leftist critical thinking." I just happen to put Potter and Heath in that category. Also Stangroom and Benson (see my post from a couple weeks back on "Why Truth Matters.')

And really, you should read Rebel Sell. I'd be interested to know what you think about it. I found it a bit glib and broad-brush in spots, but I'm happy to let that pass owing to my voracious appetite for intelligent liberal-left "self-criticism."

And if in fact "there are also many excellent conservative thinkers and writers," don't hesitate to let me know who they are.

Cheers,

t

3:13 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Though I believe the Euston Manifesto does make a few points, overall I am of the opinion it is flawed and a bit weak on many points...
Being lazy at the moment I will defer to the linked article(This Mag's blog) which reflects many of my own thoughts on the EU.Though I would not hesitate for a moment to admit,that I admire some of it's(EU) signatories and would consider them allies.Anyway check out the article
http://blog.thismagazine.ca/archives/2006/07/pottering_about.html

7:21 PM  

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