By Any Means Necessary

Laws will not save the oppressed. Only power. Pompeo’s statements on Israeli settlements remind us once again that laws without power are toothless. The liberal delusion is that if we submit ourselves to the law, we will arrive at a neutral, self-correcting system. What liberals don’t tell you is that in order to assert the rule of law, it must be enforced by a powerful entity — the state. This entity must be more powerful than you and me. It surveils and confines our dissent to that which is least threatening to the liberal state and its laws. This is why MLK Jr, Malcolm X, leftists, and feminists were sabotaged by the FBI (COINTELPRO), but capitalists and white supremacists were allowed to have an outsized influence.

COINTELPRO is a great example of the priorities of the liberal state, because around the same time another famous scandal occurred: Watergate. Most people have heard of Watergate, but not COINTELPRO. Watergate is basically one half of business elites spying on the other half of business elites. What a scandal! On the other hand, the world’s most powerful government spies on its own citizens, wrongfully imprisons them, smears individuals and groups by planting false reports, arms fascists militia groups to suppress them, and resorts to violence including assassinations? Most people have never heard of it. This is COINTELPRO, and many of these tactics are still used and practiced today. Inarguably, this is much more serious than Watergate. However, the victims of COINTELPRO did not have the state or the law on its side. It doesn’t matter that the FBI broke the law in many cases. The law doesn’t come from nowhere; it comes from the state — and states have interests. Under capitalism, states are run by business elites and their servants. There is no disinterested state or party in politics. Centrism just means the interests of certain business elites.

If we look at politics in this way, Trump’s statements on Israeli settlements is quite revealing. Liberalism’s conceit is over. The right has long abandoned the pretensions of liberals politics. Liberals who follow the law, rather than create them; liberals who decry Trump’s illegal gestures, but ignore the much larger cost of his legal wrongdoings; liberals who believe in compromise with capitalists and fascists; are toothless in facing a foe that plays outside the rules. How are liberals going to check Trump’s brazen disregard of international law with regards to Israeli settlements? Shame him? Convince the US government that has been largely complicit with Israeli violence to suddenly change its mind? Liberals have no answer. The same can be said about virtually every significant issue. We cannot compromise on climate change. There is no time. You cannot be pro-immigrant, if you follow the law and deport millions like Obama. The laws need to change, and our perspectives must be challenged — transformed.

In order to do so, we must come together and exercise our power. Agendas must be set by us, the people, not passed down to us by lawmakers and their donors. These agendas will be unfamiliar and uncertain. This is just the nature of life. Those with a future have multiple paths and embrace the uncertainty that accompanies change. In contrast, the certainty of death is what awaits us under capitalism. Everything always appears so certain and measurable, because capitalism rejects radical transformation. It rejects futurity altogether. There are always cracks of potential and movement within the illusion, of course. For example, the rise of Bernie Sanders and the supposed certainty of Hillary’s victory. Instead of treating these cracks as aberrant, we must regard the illusion itself as pathological. These cracks are opportunities, and we better catch onto ‘em quick, because the certainty of death is looming larger than ever. If liberals get in our way, we must confront them with everything we have. We must gather the power to transform the world. Do not be hampered by liberal sensibilities in your quest for power. As Malcolm X often said, “by any means necessary.”

Fox News, Vox, Capitalism

Vox makes a good point: Fox News is a freak show. It’s a chapter from a dystopian novel. Unabashed racism, sexism, partisan hackery, and distorted facts. Unsurprisingly, Vox wishes to return to the past, when news show hosts like Sean Hannity didn’t openly campaign for a political party. But, my question is this: didn’t the past lead to the present?

Liberal democracy requires its participants to have faith in its process. To believe in the neutrality of the system. A privately owned, partisan “news” network like Fox News must abstain from pursuing partisan hackery from the good of its heart. A private corporation must assume neutrality rather than maximize profit. Perhaps, that is where the problem lies. FoxNews is not the only network that enabled Trump because he generated a lot of views. CNN and MSNBC hopped on the Trump train as well. The media under capitalism is addicted to controversy and sensationalism.

Certainly, our past news networks were less polarized. Fox News is a turning point. Yet, did it make a categorical difference? USS Maine. The Chinese Exclusion Act. Martin Luther King Jr. Angela Davis. The Black Panther Party. The media represented them as the controversy and sensationalism of the time. FoxNews certainly opened a new era of unabashed FakeNews. Yet, I cannot say that a privately owned media network in a racist, capitalist nation does not possess the seeds of Fox News. Similarly, fascism forever haunts capitalism as a specter.

Private corporations pursue profit rather than the liberal ideal of neutrality. Capitalism itself is opposed to the public good. Maybe, we need to question the nature of these networks owned by billionaires. Perhaps, large, private media networks should be converted to be more public and democratic? More radical than NPR and PBS which are rather largely private. If we do not want to repeat the past and the present, perhaps we should move towards the future. It won’t be perfect at first. We might just hear what we like. Democracy ain’t easy. Democracy is the difficult project of learning to build the future together. To make political decisions together. To make sure we hear the truth. To share a common life. Liberal democracy expects us to make decisions together while living separately as individual consumers.

John Oliver, Facebook, the Printing Press, and Capitalism

John Oliver and many others are criticizing Facebook for effectively spreading hate and fake news. Indisputable at this point. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s good for one’s health. Nonetheless, I feel like they’re missing the point.

The printing press under capitalism has always been broken. One of the first major jobs of the printing press was the witch-hunt. They effectively spread the paranoia of witches to corners of Europe that were rather unaffected. Historian Silvia Federici has pointed out the undeniable link between the witch hunts and capitalism (Caliban and the Witch). There was a reason why the witch hunts were most severe in areas with mass land privatization, whereas those with communal ownership suffered close to none. The printing press was an effective tool for the capitalist genocide of women. Accordingly, the printing press and later corporate media have been spreading hate and fake news for the sake of capitalism. This is why Iraq had WMD’s, women were witches, black men were rapists, North Korea is crazy, and Edward Snowden is a Russian spy.

Eliminating Facebook is not going to fundamentally change this dynamic. Fox News still exists. YouTube helped Alex Jones more than Facebook. YouTube and Reddit have been fueling far-right channels, in some respect, far more effectively than Facebook. CNN and MSNBC lie all the time. Children in Yemen will never matter more than Trump’s toupee under capitalism. Facebook would not exist if not for capitalism.

Facebook deserves criticism. I am not trying to deny that. Rather, my issue is that too many stop at just that. I think there is a clear reason for this. John Oliver is a descendant of the printing press, beholden to capitalist interests. His show is run by a large corporation and is dependent on social media; thus, it cannot question certain matters. This is why John Oliver is a liberal darling.

Last but not least, is Facebook truly a radical step towards unhappiness and lack of human connection? Before Facebook, there was Fox News and the mainstream media in general. Before Facebook, we didn’t talk to our neighbors. Before Facebook, we wanted to sell our bodies and personas to become celebrities. Before Facebook, every aspect of our lives were advertised and commodified. Structurally speaking, there wasn’t a big difference. Facebook simply amplified these problems. We can become mini-celebrities on Facebook. Our everyday lives are now the products next to advertisements. We are still unhappy. Instead of watching TV, we scroll through the blue, Facebook wall. We still work most of our lives without much time for meaningful connection. We are still brainwashed by the media. What’s so radically different? Perhaps I might’ve missed a few radical elements. Nonetheless, I think my point still stands: a lot has not changed and we are not speaking against those aspects because of capitalist ideology.

Veganism, Christianity, and Capitalism

It’s great if you can be totally vegan. But, these are the facts: 84% of vegans and vegetarians return to meat. We live in a society that is built on cheap meat, factory farming, labor exploitation, etc. An individual can only do so much to alter such structural issues. This is why I actually think a utilitarian model of veganism is more effective than “animal rights.” Rights are derived from Enlightenment thinkers like Kant and Locke, who echo their Christian upbringing. Christianity, by this point, was shaped and molded by capitalism. They already had a conception of being “on time,” of the bureaucracy, and of the factory. There were “rules” that needed to be enforced, and they were “absolutely inviolable.” A recipe for disaster. Hannah Arendt rightfully pointed out the critical flaws of “rights” with regards to the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, I don’t think utilitarianism is the answer. There is no clear answer. This is a political and ethical issue. We require a radical departure from ordinary diet, which cannot be fully mapped out and imagined in the present. We are not going back to hunter-gatherer societies — or a vegan utopia that strangely resembles the present with capitalism and all that (I mean, they’re asking us to fight capitalism with capitalist consumption!) Just like our need to radically depart from capitalism, the patriarchy, and white supremacy, the future is uncertain and beyond our myopic imagination. It is not our fault that we have a stunted imagination. Neoliberalism did this to us. We were conditioned to be nostalgic over the future that never happened. We were conditioned to find the present fatalistic. It robbed of us our ability to imagine the future. Yet, it is up to us to dream and imagine. To live and eat differently. So different that it is unrecognizable, unintuitive. To this aim, we should merely use relics of the past like rights or utilitarianism as mere tools, rather than as ends in and of themselves.

K-Pop vs. J-Pop

K-Pop vs. J-Pop. This whole debate has a much more sinister backdrop than many assume.

Japan was destroyed by WWII. During its recovery, Japan copied and adapted the West. Like contemporary China, Japan developed its economy through developing infant industries. These infant industries shamelessly took ideas from the West. Frequently, the West criticized Japan for “stealing their patents and technology.” They were derided as “copy cats.” J-Pop is the product of this general trajectory. Neither rock nor funk originated from Japan.

Does this mean J-Pop is worse? Hell no. J-Pop is amazing. So is J-Rock or their Jazz. Japanese culture is fascinating. Often, J-Pop is more interesting than K-Pop — and vice versa. My point is that the reasons why we enjoy J-Pop or K-Pop might not be so historically innocent.

For example, South Korea’s pop industry gained popularity through westernization. Early K-Pop groups were shamelessly designed after western acts. K-Pop also shamelessly borrowed from J-Pop’s adaptation of western influences. This is why early K-Pop groups look like Japanese visual kei.

Many cite J-Pop or K-Pop’s musical attributes as their reasons for success. But, those musical attributes cannot exist without their economic conditions. Both genres gained popularity as their countries became extremely wealthy. Their industry was built from the bottom through severe exploitation: boy bands and girl groups signed “slave contracts.” Many were, and are, forced to undergo plastic surgery. They are worked to death; regularly, artists collapse from fatigue, sleep deprivation, and malnutrition. Their bodies are closely monitored for the “ideal weight.” Cheap, exploited labor, coupled with large ambitions, yielded huge profit. Modern production, especially in the 20th century, could not be accomplished without modern equipments. Modern genres cannot be copied without exposure to such influences, which requires a modern economy.

Furthermore, the musical attribute argument assumes that Nepalese or Thai music is not good enough. Do you really think Asia does not have creative talent outside Japan or Korea? Frankly, we’re just looking for different takes on western genres, rather than searching for genuine beauty and creativity. To prove my point: why is traditional Korean music not popular? Is it less beautiful or creative than K-Pop? No, it’s because westerners do not understand traditional Korean beauty.

So what do we really mean by the success of J-Pop or K-Pop? Mostly, we’re talking about economic success. K-Pop, for example, became a hot topic after its widespread success in Asia and later in the West. But, it’s not any kind of economic success. Indian music is loved by many, but it’s not mentioned alongside K-Pop or J-Pop. What kind of economic success are we talking about then? Well, we are referring to the perception of “successful westernization.” Many Asian fans praised K-Pop for its successful take on western culture. For instance, China regularly talks about trying to “replicate Korea’s successful westernization.” If you’re successful with music that is not western enough, then you’re not praised alongside K-Pop.

In other words, we have internalized the white gaze. What is beautiful is what we perceive to be favored by the White Race. This is why it’s so important for K-Pop to be “recognized by the West.” Great success in Asia was not good enough. K-Pop leaders like YG and JYP have always wanted to be “recognized by the West.” K-Pop fans are always trying to spread K-Pop to westerners. J-Pop fans claim to be less concerned with the white gaze, but if your entire economy is a copy of western capitalism, musical genres, etc…. You just think you are less attached to your chains. Any fan of Japanese anime or music know, first hand, the vast influence of the west. This is the truth behind K-Pop vs. J-Pop: we are hostages to white money and the white gaze. J-Pop is the relic of such power dynamics, and K-Pop is its grotesque chimera.

P.S. I am not claiming that we should not copy the west. That the west are entitled to their “patents.” Fuck that. Germany, Britain, France, and the US all developed their economies the same way. They stole from each other, built up their infant industries, until they were large enough to participate in “freer trade.” European music is just a copy of American music — and vice versa. The problem is that we are practicing this uncritically, without even considering its racial and power dynamics. How must we go beyond such cycles, if we do not even understand why K-Pop or American Pop is the way it is? For example, the history of American Pop includes the exploitation of Africans and African Americans. This makes the whole picture even more complex. Reducing such complex issues to “cool music” is not acceptable.

After Virtue

We are in a moral crisis. The unending arguments over abortion, health care, and gun control are symptoms of the flaws of modernity according to the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre. Modernity is a fragmented version of Aristotelian ethics; it demands an individualist worldview, despite the fact that our culture and vocabulary reflect a communitarian heritage. What this means is that our endless arguments stem from the fact that we lack a shared conception of the good; in other words, our moral systems are incommensurable. For instance, the central conflict between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is not that either is logically inconsistent; rather, it stems from the fact that each theory has a different conception of the good.

Both theories, in their best versions, follow logically from their stated premises; the problem is that these premises are merely stated. After realizing the heterogeneity of pleasures, the great utilitarian Henry Sidgwick concluded that moral beliefs couldn’t be argued and must be merely accepted —just trust your intuitions! Immanuel Kant argued that a rational agent is logically committed to the rules of morality in virtue of their rationality; in order to practice reason, one must possess the freedom and well being necessary for rational agency. This led Kant to the conclusion that one is entitled to such freedom and well being. Although it is logically necessary to possess such freedom and well being to practice reason, it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that one is entitled to them. This is merely asserted by Kant. According to MacIntyre, Utilitarianism and Kantianism’s fundamental premises are merely stated in this way. This is why the arguments between the two are endless: they are fundamentally incommensurable.

After Virtue is primarily a diagnosis of this moral crisis. It analyzes various aspects of our culture, language, and society to demonstrate that modernity is indeed a fragmented version of Aristotelian ethics; furthermore, it argues that the inventions of modernity such as emotivism and individualism are the root causes of our moral predicament. One of the most striking features of the book is its analysis of modern social roles. The defining character of modernity is that of a bureaucratic manager. A manager pretends to be effective and morally neutral; a manager adjusts the means to ends in the most economically efficient manner. Plus, managerial expertise requires a set of law-like generalizations to justify the manager. Unsurprisingly, one can easily spot the manager: Liberalism pretends to be effective and morally neutral, Liberalism privileges economic methodologies and conceptions, and the Enlightenment fetishizes law-like generalizations. The most interesting aspect of the manager, in my opinion, is McIntyre’s discussion on the fetishization of law-like generalizations.

This fetish is particularly apparent in the social sciences; they present themselves as providing law-like generalizations, despite the lack of evidence and predictability that is characteristic of those fields. Unlike most scientists who follow the Enlightenment, McIntyre contends that the worth of a scientific discipline is not determined by its predictive power. He believes that this is the wrong criterion by which to judge the success of the social sciences, because their subject is vastly more complicated and unpredictable: language, groups of persons, entire nations, and the global market. They cannot make predictions and generalizations that are nearly as strong as those made by Physics or Biology; even the strongest arguments have counter-examples.

For example, two of the most famous studies in sociology do not follow the Popperian model of falsification. First, James C. Davies’s famous thesis in 1962 generalizes Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution occurred when a period of rising and, to some degree, gratified expectations was followed by a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.  Second, Rosalind and Ivo Feierabend (1966) generalized that the most and least modernized societies are the most stable and least violent, whereas those at midpoint in the approach to modernity are most liable to instability and political violence. There exist many counter-examples to both: Russian and Chinese Revolutions to Davies, and Political Violence in Latin America to Feierabend’s. Nonetheless, such counter-examples do not refute their status as salient generalizations in Sociology. There exist no counter-factuals that ultimately refute a generalization.

This is not a fact that cheapens these disciplines. It merely reflects just how complicated human beings are. We are intentional beings that can choose one act over another. Choice creates unpredictability. All of this is then further complicated by the fact that we are social and linguistic beings. We have to figure out how complex beings interact with each other unpredictably in complex structures like the market, the state, and language. It would be impudent of Social Scientists to expect the law-like generalizations one encounters in Science. This is why McIntyre argues that it is wrong to expect law-like generalizations regarding sociology, politics, and so on.

Why is it then that we fetishize such law-like generalizations? As I briefly mentioned above, it is tied to the philosophical framework assumed by modernity; that is, modernity’s attachment to the ideal of the bureaucratic manager. Under the bureaucracy of modernity, moral beliefs are treated as inconvenient features of persons that function far better when they are managed by an “efficient” and “economically practical” bureaucracy. The manager justifies their position by insisting that they have law-like generalizations regarding human nature and social institutions; furthermore, they boast that they can provide an efficient governing of a pluralist society without privileging one good over another. However, modernity does, in fact, assume a set of goods that are disguised as morally neutral; the philosopher Michael Sandel lays out a number of such goods in his great book, What Money Can’t Buy.

Modernity cannot make law-like generalizations, yet we obey its tenets without much argument; we argue within the confines of modernity that were designed to be endless. McIntyre suggests that we look to the past for answers to our problems. Across several chapters, McIntyre sketches the moral framework of past societies ranging from the Greeks to Medieval Christians. What they all had in common was a shared conception of the good. Such goods like prudence, justice, and courage were achieved through the virtues that are human qualities acquired through practice. Furthermore, they recognized that a person is embedded in a social context: I am a son, a citizen, and a musician. Personal identity is a narrative that unifies one’s life from past to present, and my narrative is embedded in other narrative such as family, school, and friendship.

The problem of modernity is not only that it brings about endless arguments, but also that it is incompatible with our ordinary intuitions. We come from a past, in which our obligations and personal identity are constituted by the social context to which we belong. My community consumes most of my actions and thoughts; I act and think as a student and a family member, rather than a rational agent with his or her individual interests. When we judge a person’s character, we judge them by, more or less, a table of virtues, rather than whether they follow the categorical imperative or whether they pass the utilitarian calculus. The project of modernity is doomed to fail, because it cannot dissipate our communitarian past with its endless arguments and managerial fetish.

After Virtue turned out to be far more damning in its criticism than I anticipated. For the numerous Kantians and Utilitarians out there, this will be a group of pointed criticisms; one will not only find attacks on Kant and Sidgwick, but also criticisms of Rawls and Nozick. Indeed, this book is highly political; it analyzes Marx and Weber within the framework of the book’s communitarian argument. For my Marxist friends, this is not an easy read. Despite McIntyre’s admiration of Marx, he believes that Marx and his followers ultimately fall under the same moral framework that he takes down in this book. This is very much true in my own experience. Marxists have great criticisms of the managerial and bureaucratic aspects of Capitalism and Liberalism; yet, their solutions to Capitalism always end up Kantian or Utilitarian. It is either to follow an abstract principle of universality, or “to achieve communism by any means necessary.” What this suggests is that the faults of Capitalism and Liberalism are not merely economic and political: the error is modernity itself. By rejecting the Aristotelian system of virtues, any project is destined to fail no matter what social or economic structure they adopt. Undoubtedly, this is McIntyre’s deadliest gesture, because it indicates a deep pessimism about the project of modernity as a whole. As he discusses Trotsky’s later writings and his pessimism towards a communist future, McIntyre asks us to not fall into pessimism —it does not logically follow that we have no way out! But, the reader comes away with a dreadful feeling that we might never resolve the moral crisis; Aristotle has been dead for thousands of years.


Person of color, victimhood, and expertise

I don’t see how being a person of color makes one an expert on racism. That person may understand how it feels like to be a victim of racism. That person may tell you which aspects of racism especially bother them or their family. However, being a person of color doesn’t necessarily make one understand the psychological, socio-political, and economical causes of racism.

One might ask: how can you understand racism if you don’t listen to those who experience it? First, you don’t have to experience a robbery to study robbery. Second, one mustn’t assume that not considering victimhood as expertise means that one mustn’t listen to a person’s experience of racism. It’s probably wiser to gather data from people of color, because they usually are more aware of it than their white counterpart. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t take these testimonies at face value. One must test them to see if they’re true, see if they fit our current definition of racism, and decide whether it is wise to expand or re-define racism to accommodate certain testimonies; or see if it’s better to defer the testimonies to something else entirely like the availability heuristic or tribalism. This kind of work is very different from experiencing life as a person of color. So why do we reject this impersonal and objective method practiced by experts, and instead favor the subjective testimonies of people of color?

I think much of the fear of the impersonal or the objective standpoint is thanks to postmodernism. Postmodernists tend to believe that those who favor objectivity use the name of reason to further entrench the sovereign power. It is true that Enlightenment thinkers like Jon Stewart Mill advocated imperialism under the name of Reason. It is true that many still propose the same – Sam Harris and Douglas Murray. It is true that some do so in favor of the patriarchy or capitalism. Even so, that doesn’t mean the impersonal or the objective standpoint is always on the side of imperialism or the patriarchy. Enlightenment ideals like equality gave us the necessary soil to sprout movements like women’s rights and human rights. Also, who said the impersonal or the objective belongs to the Enlightenment? Even postmodernists make impersonal and objective judgments on knowledge, politics, and so on –a claim like “truth is not objective for reasons” is objective. As you can see, the objective standpoint is necessary and useful; and I see no reason to abandon it.