In late 2010, I finished my book The Right to Look and added this sentence:

In short, the choice is between continuing to move on and authorizing authority or claiming that there is something to see and democraticizing democracy.

Months later, the Arab Spring began and then spread to Europe and finally the Americas in the form of Occupy. So it never seemed a contradiction to me that I would be involved in Occupy.

I have often been asked how I found the time to write a post every day. It’s true that I have seen very little TV over the past year and I have no idea what’s been happening with music. But for the most part, it’s been a simple choice: this is how I choose to spend my time. It’s not been that difficult.

That said, I do want to acknowledge here that this has been a team effort and it would not have been possible without the support and forbearance of my partner Kathleen and daughter Hannah. Because the whole project has been about creating the hope for a better future I want to formally dedicate it to them.

What does that mean? My feeling all along has been that the purpose of occupying 2012 was not to change the world system in 2012, or any other overarching transformative goal. It was to maintain the possibility of a space in US society where we could think about democratizing democracy, a space where radical thought and action was practiced on a sustainable basis. There was a concerted effort on the part of government and media alike to define “Occupy” as a brief moment of rebellion in 2011. As we move into 2013 with a transformed and revitalized movement, I think we have resisted that enclosure.

As the first snow lies on the ground, we realize that the season for direct out-of-doors action is past. The Winter is our friend: it is a time we can dedicate to recuperation, recharging and rethinking. The rethinking needs first to imagine a different politics. In 2012, it was impossible to have a discussion about politics because the Presidential election intruded so forcefully. Now that it’s over, the multi-billion dollar extravaganza appears like a phantasmagoria: was there ever a person called Mitt Romney? And did any of that make the slightest difference to anything?

At this point in a social movement, the call goes out to recast the political. I’ve called this democratic autonomy. It involves setting aside the formulas of “the left,” not in favor of some bland consensus, but in order to try and determine how it might be possible to create radical change now. Perhaps the greatest obstacle in the past months to this goal has become the tedious sectarianism of a left whose pronouncements echo within its own chambers via corporate social media but very little elsewhere. This challenge is not unforeseen or unprecedented.

If past experience is anything to go by, any such “post-left” moves will be greeted as reactionary, uncomradely and so on by The Jacobin and its ilk. I remember similar attacks on cultural studies and Stuart Hall’s analysis of Thatcherism from the New Left Review in the 1980s, right up until the time that the NLR relaunched itself using precisely the same ideas in its new series beginning in 2000. This might sound more snarky than I intend. I just want to suggest that there’s a resistance to moments of reconfiguration, often highly principled, that later comes to a broad agreement. But the interim squabbling is so far from productive or useful.

Let’s dedicate the next year to using the space we have created for those to whom we owe everything, our friends, our families, those we love and care for.

Anti-Capitalism and the Great Extinction

How should we think of the past year? One way is to realize that in that time, any possibility of making serious changes to the global deterioration of the biosphere has dramatically receded. Whether you’re an environmental activist, a “that’s so terrible” headshaker, or an “it’s all about capitalism” person has become irrelevant. Short of major collapse, disaster or unforeseen events, we’re past the point of being able to do anything about this. What might get your attention is that the signs are that what worked for the climate issue is now being applied to capitalism–denial, displacement and legal enforcement.

The last surviving Pinta tortoise, Lonesome George, died in the Galapagos on Sunday. The species is now extinct.

If you have not been paying much attention, you may even not be aware that the UN Rio+20 environmental summit came and went last week. Rio was supposed to make good the promises of the earlier Earth summit and lead towards more sustainable development. The inevitable communiqué was dismissed as “283 paragraphs of fluff” by Greenpeace. Occupy activists did interrupt the closing ceremony to make a statement but were soon silenced. There was minimal media coverage and relatively little awareness in Occupy. When the COP17 Climate Change conference in South Africa collapsed in similar fashion early last December, there was a day of action at Zuccotti Park. Last week, as wildfires devastated Colorado, Arctic ice levels fell to record lows, and an early tropical storm flooded Florida, no comparable action took place.

Along with many others, I’ve been pushing this issue throughout this project to little effect. We did hold an Occupy Theory Assembly on climate. It started well but became becalmed in demands that we endorse a long submission to the Rio conference. Proposals for direct action against the fossil fuel industry were more promising. However, the idea of lying down in front of coal trains was a little daunting. It was not that people did not see the urgency of the issue but that they could not see how to make headway with it.

And here’s why. Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals in DC ruled against a suit attempting to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating green house gases. The judgment scathingly noted against the so-called climate skeptics:

This is how science works….The E.P.A. is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.

However, the Republican attorney general of Virginia gave notice that he will appeal the ruling. Any guesses as to how the Supremes will rule on this?

On the same day, we learned that, despite the disaster in the Gulf, Shell Oil will get off-shore drilling permits for Alaska. What’s so tawdry about this transparent election-year vote grubbing from the Obama Administration is that not a single Republican or Independent that wasn’t going to vote Democrat will do so as a result of this move. But one of the few remaining pristine landscapes will be ruined and yet more animals will die.

Humans are now causing what is known as the Sixth Great Extinction, a mass slaughter comparable to whatever it was that killed the dinosaurs, except that we’re doing it on purpose and we know we are. About 30,000 species a year are becoming extinct from megafauna like the Pinta tortoise to frogs. Insects are thriving and will inherit the planet.

Leave the disasters, extinctions, floods and fires to one side: we’ve got used to grey smog as the permanent condition in all the global cities, to a hole in the ozone layer, to holes in the floor of the ocean leaking oil, to the disappearance of drinking water, the spread of deserts and once-tropical diseases. If we’re ok with all this, do we expect debt and unemployment to generate a mass anti-capitalist movement?

For capitalism, this is all business-as-usual, what they like to call “creative destruction.” It’s also a new way to profit, as the wave of green-washing ads from oil companies makes clear. For anti-capitalists of all stripes, from the mildest reformist to the most wild-eyed revolutionary, our collective failure to develop anything other than rhetorical purchase on the survival of life is devastating. Not just to the biosphere, human and non-human life, but to the chances of pushing back neo-liberal capitalism.


Prometheus Falls

If Prometheus is anything to go by, the cinematic age of production is well and truly over. This apparently endless film barely retains your attention, the means by which that mode of production created value. Instead, poorly-thought through and contradictory “ideas” lead lazily to a conclusion that simply sets up the inevitable sequel. In that sense, I suppose, the film represents the circulation of its own capital but if this is capital’s vision of its own future, it’s in bad trouble.


The Alien movies directed by Ridley Scott defined the fear of alterity for a generation. Their vision of the future as a damp, dismal and dangerous place visualized the neo-liberal collapse of the Jetsons’ future promised in the 1950s and 60s. Far from flying with individual skypacks, this future offered low-paying jobs hauling crap from the far edges of the universe on ships ironically named Nostromo, after Joseph Conrad’s novel. And much worse besides.

Prometheus takes some mediocre theology from 1970s pop theory like Eric von Daniken and blends it with the familiar Alien tropes from the evil Company to the seething eggs, stickly effluent and dark corridors with forbidding spiky things. I would call what comes next a spoiler normally but in this case I doubt it. Anyway, there’s an evocative opening in which a figure derived from Blake’s drawing of Newton breaks himself down to his DNA in order to animate a planet that we take to be Earth. This leads into some archaelogical movie stuff–see, all the ancient art forms depict the same alignment of planets!–and we’re off to The Planet.

Two twists to mention: the Prometheans, for reasons yet to be revealed, first decided to send proto-Aliens to earth to kill all the humans and then decided not to. And the Alien is a hybrid of Prometheus and their own nascent Alien weapon. So, because human DNA is, as we’ve seen, Promethean, that means the Alien is half-human. Ta da!

I can’t really be bothered to get into a critique of all this because the narrative, the ideas and the visualizations are so lame. The scientists want to know “where we come from, where we are going.”

Paul Gauguin, "Where do we come from? Where are we going?"

The colonial dimensions of this quest are reinforced by the fact that Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is the daughter of missionaries–her mother inevitably died young–and is a convinced Christian. Like a good Republican, Shaw wants to know “why they hate us,” a formula in which Prometheans stand in for Muslims. It’s too late, no-one really cares any more about this Bush-era formula. The sad retreat from Afghanistan that will be called a “victory” already seems to belong to a bygone era.

Cinema had its day as the visualization of capital and there was a certain exhilaration to it. Brecht once said he found himself supporting the cowboys in a Western despite himself. Now that’s all gone. At the end of the Roman Empire, they somehow forgot how to make classical sculpture and their art became odd, rounded figures seemingly made from clay. The empire has forgotten how to make films.

Graduating to the Mad Men future

Like many in higher education, I have spent most of this week in graduation ceremonies of various sorts. Like all “traditional” rituals, such events are patently invented and everyone knows it. Perhaps it was just me, but the usual evocations of the future that dominate the endless rhetoric of these gatherings seemed more than usually trite this year.

At the events I attended were graduates who had been with me at Liberty Plaza, 60 Wall Street, Washington Square Park and the other locations of Occupy. We’d marched together on October 15, November 17, March 1 and most recently on May Day. None of this intruded, of course, and I would not expect it to have done so. Platform speakers this year seemed mesmerized by Facebook and Twitter, so I expect there will be jokes about Occupy Graduation in 2017 or so.

These grumbles in the back of my mind were given some shape when I watched Slavoj Zizek give a talk called “Signs from the Future” on YouTube (it’s over an hour long so I didn’t embed it). Zizek makes a similar kind of joke imagining OWS activists meeting for lunch in ten years time–on break from their jobs on Wall Street. He was warning against this possibility and arguing for the global social movements as a space in which

one should learn the art to recognize, from an engaged subjective position, elements which are here, in our space, but whose time is the emancipated future.

This is the move that many of us call “prefiguration,” a working out of the future to come in the complex temporalities of the present. Zizek describes it as theological, drawing on Pascal’s notion of the “hidden God.” There’s a long history here, which is fine, except that as soon as there is theology, there tend to be accusations of heresy and before you know it internal divisions of the kind that you can find all over the Internet if you want.

I was more interested by his switch to media as a form of prefiguration. Like everyone else, Zizek is appalled by the current state of Hollywood “cinema” and realizes that narrative in particular has shifted to television. None of his TV examples (The Wire, The Simpsons and 24) are very current, however, and are perhaps sufficiently well ripened even for inclusion in a commencement speech.

Sitting through these events, I wondered to myself how you could use the current hit Mad Men as a cultural symptom in the manner of Zizek: which is to say, in a non-disciplinary, perhaps undisciplined fashion (for proper readings of Mad Men, see the Kritik blog series).

Don Draper

For the first four series Mad Men was really the  Don Draper Show, in which the children of the Sixties asked themselves whether their distant, unavailable fathers maybe had more going on than they knew. Now it seems to have decided they didn’t and Don is just a Dad, sharing the stories of his first wife, once a terrible secret, as a minor plot device.

What we have instead is an ensemble drama, aka soap opera, in which the writing time and again circles around letting the upheavals of the 1960s into the narrative, only to move in a different direction.This is after all a spectacle about the spectacle, in which selling ads is both the subject of the program, and its real raison d’être. The entertainment machine, as Dana Polan calls it, knows its place in the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

The first episode of the current fifth series began with a civil rights direct action that a rival firm of ad executives literally poured water onto. The story quickly turned into a business success for “our” firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Campbell, leading to the hiring of an African-American woman as a secretary. As the show passes through 1965, race has only appeared again once, this time literally around the cash nexus.

Dawn and Peggy

Peggy has the new secretary Dawn stay over at her house and visibly wonders whether it’s safe to leave her handbag, which happens to have a good deal of cash from Roger Sterling in it, in the room with Dawn.

Such moments allow the presumed white viewer to have their racist frisson and disavow it at once. We “get” what Peggy is thinking, without any spoken dialogue indicating it, because “we” get how white racism works. That understanding is then at once disavowed both by Peggy herself in the plot and by the viewer. In this way, Mad Men presents long-term political struggles as minor plot moments for the well-versed TV viewer.

The fully explored pleasures in Mad Men are not really the smoking, sex and drinking that provide many plot points, so much as the repeated pleasure of the sale. In this period at least, there are an apparently endless stream of American manufacturing companies making money and looking for advertising. Cars and airlines are the jewels in this crown but the show invests most time this season in a protracted “get” of Heinz Baked Beans. New things are everywhere, from LPs to acid, and money flows as a result. Literally in the background of one episode, a newscaster talks about Vietnam.

Perhaps the real question to ask, then, is why so many seem to expect and hope that Mad Men will “deal” with the radical side of the Sixties. Bear in mind that for all the attention, this is a very niche show: 3.5 million watched the première but it’s down to 2.2 or so now and over half the viewing audience is over 49. The show works because the majority audience know how things turn out in the wider context and have become used to celebrating such victories as civil rights that are now part of almost any evocation of the “future.” That is, as so many commencement speeches will have had it, “we” triumphed over past adversities and so we will again.

More than this rather simple pay-off, I think there’s an investment (and yes, I’m using these terms on purpose) both in mass media as potentially significant cultural forms and in our own skills as readers of those forms.

For all the intricacy and subtlety of television drama narrative in shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and indeed Mad Men, it’s noticeable how often they deal with the past or institutions that have fallen from past glory, such as Baltimore or the Mafia. Mad Men‘s cleverness is to sell you a version of history in which the good things are still happening, albeit offstage to the central business of the show, which is indeed business.


This is what Occupy looks like

Axiomatic: to occupy is to place your body in space, there where it is not supposed to be. That space is three-dimensional but multiply so. Some of these can be evicted, some not. Some are not visible to the empire. But we can see it because power visualizes what it imagines history to be to itself. Let’s look around.

In the first instance, Occupy takes physical three-dimensional space in urban environments. It is attention-generating because the populace in global cities are highly regulated and policed. “Public” space is subject to particularly dense control, meaning that (in the U. S.) public-private spaces, where guaranteed access was the definition of “public,” became the location of choice.

To occupy global city space is also  to intervene in the highly-mediated imaginary of “New York.” Citizen and  professional media alike are so densely configured and adept that actions taken by a relatively small number of people receive immensely multiplied levels of attention. Thus it seemed obvious to state power that removing those bodies from their spaces would end Occupy.

There are multiple spaces available, however, in vertical and horizontal configurations. Conceptually, the horizontalidad of direct democracy is challenged and displaced by the verticality of power and neo-liberalism: and vice-versa. In their trilogy on Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri give some useful ways of thinking about this encounter. Borrowing from the ancient historian Polybius, they suggest that the global empire can be understood as a pyramid with three levels: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The monarch would be the United States, the aristocracy would be the agents of globalized economics, and democracy is associated with what they call the multitude.

Bringing this figure up to date, they adopt the image of the mainstream foreign affairs commentator Joseph Nye, who suggests:

The agenda of world politics has become like a three-dimensional chess game, in which one can win only by playing vertically as well as horizontally.

His aim was to correct the Washington-speak idea of a “uni-polar” world governed by the US, and replace it with three “boards” representing “classical military interstate issues,” or war. This was placed above the level of “interstate economic  issues,” meaning the global economy. Finally the whole rests on a base of “transnational issues, [where] power is widely distributed and chaotically organized among state and non-state actors.” In some ways, Nye has less respect for the level of the multitude than Polybius but he does realize that power cannot be exercised without its at least passive consent.

Let’s push this a bit harder. The game of Raumschach, literally “space chess” or three-dimensional chess,  was devised in 1908 by Ferdinand Maack in Hamburg. He felt that as chess was a war game, it should now be possible to represent aerial and submarine warfare as part of play. His initial concept was for an 8x8x8 board that looked like this:

8x8x8 "space chess" in 1908

He refined this towering edifice to 5x5x5, the variant now mostly used by the devotees of the game. Pieces can move in three-dimensions: a rook, for example could move from top to bottom vertically, while a knight could move two layers up and a square across. Players use the standard pieces, plus two “unicorns” that can move from corner to corner. The board looks like this:

Raumschach 5x5x5

In short, let’s by all means think of the political as a three-dimensional contest but be aware that it would have more than three layers and the possibilities for interaction are very diverse. Occupy geeks of a certain kind will already have this in mind:

Spock plays 3-D chess against the computer in Star Trek

The future used to be imagined as a liberatory expansion into space of all kinds. If in Star Trek, this expansion was hard to separate from the colonial and Cold War projects of the U. S., the fans were always able to imagine otherwise in slash fiction and other forms.

However, let’s follow Nye this far: the “top board” of global conflict is the one now in chaos. The counterinsurgency doctrine launched with such fanfare in 2006 stands revealed in Afghanistan as the imperialist fantasy it always was–such is 3-D chess, a game of imperial imagination. But with the “monarch” having lost control of the top, the game is now open in a variety of ways.

Vertical power is not just exercised by states or interstate organizations. In contrast to their usual emphasis on immaterial labor, Hardt and Negri point out that

Extraction processes–oil, gas, and minerals–are the paradigmatic industries of neoliberalism.

This “verticality” of this economic power is literal as well as metaphorical: the rewards for mining fossil fuels and other raw materials are spectacular. The sea level rise that results from the resulting acceleration of climate change is by the same token a literal and metaphorical verticality: only those in the “high places,” like the Tyrel Corporation in Bladerunner, can and should survive.

The primary alternative available form of wealth increase in overdeveloped nations at present is privatization and upwards wealth distribution by means of regressive taxation and other measures. In short, the verticalization of what had been made horizontal by political action, such as the former attaining of free university education that is now a market for private loans.

These are nonetheless relatively crass and unsubtle ways to play. If you have sufficient pieces, they may gain an advantage, perhaps some victories. But there are at least two, perhaps five, perhaps many more levels at which our would-be hegemons are not playing because they can’t see them.

Take the horizontalism of direct democracy. In this exchange, each person consents to look and be seen at once. To authority, this exchange is invisible. Formally, authority imagines itself as deploying the gaze with its force of law in which we are the looked-at, the passive object. In this view, direct democracy is just chaos.

By the same token, as I argued yesterday, there are always already spaces of the “primitive” where power is not vertical, disrupting the arrangement of the “boards.” Such spaces are equally invisible to authority because they are not part of its life processes but they are nonetheless present, understood as ghosts, spirits and specters. Indeed, there are places that, in the manner of China Miéville, we might call crosshatched with other pasts, futures and presents, intermittently visible.

On these horizontal levels, you can win the game by playing only horizontally, or by cancelling certain vectors of the vertical by using your “unicorns.” If the unicorn does not “exist,” that speaks to the ways in which magic–understood here as that which exceeds the “rational actor” theory of value–continues to be a real presence. Colonial power always feared the magic of local religions because it knew that it “worked,” meaning that it generated horizontal values and imaginaries, as well as moves to negate the vertical.

That’s why the signs saying “Game Over” in Egypt seemed so right. But this an odd game. You can checkmate the king only to find, like in the horror movie, that it is back in mutant form. The same is true for both sides. If empire has more power, its narrowness of vision means that Occupy has, paradoxically, more space. Game on.





To strike horizontally against inequality

After comparing the first two Communiqués in the OWS theory journal Tidal, today I’m reading the essays by Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak and Marina Sitrin. I see here an emerging concept of Occupy as the horizontal strike against inequality.

"True Democracy Is in the Streets"--Argentinian graffiti

First let’s applaud both the editorial team at Tidal and the authors for this mutual engagement: very few established publications could command such writers for their debut issues and it’s to the credit of these much-in-demand figures that they have prioritized writing for Tidal.

In two essays, Butler develops her approach from an initial stress on the “call for justice” in December to today’s key

claim that capitalism relies upon, and reproduces, social and economic inequalities [that]…are becoming greater, assuming new and devastating forms and [that] this accelerated process of inequality remains unchecked by existing state and global authorities.

If the earlier stress was on the “precariousness” that the global financial crisis has produced, as it were, by accident, Butler now suggests that capital is operating in such a way that labor has become a “disposable population.” We might recall that whereas it once took approximately eighty per cent of the workforce simply to generate sufficient food, contemporary agri-business can do so with only two per cent.

Any small adjustment in the current organization of society would not, then, address “the reproduction of inequality” that can be seen as the intended consequence of neo-liberalism. Here we recall Butler’s evocation in Tidal 1 of the cheering Tea Party crowd when invited to imagine a person without health insurance dying. Or the new waves of hate against people using contraception, marrying each other, or otherwise organizing to defend their equality.

Volumes have been written about the ways in which capitalism has always exacerbated inequality, and treated colonized and enslaved populations as disposable–and it’s safe to assume that Butler, of all people, has read most of them. What she is articulating here is a theory of resistance, and of the means to challenge the legitimacy of such a system. Interestingly, the counterinsurgency promoted by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan was centered on creating just such a legitimacy.

The counterinsurgency theory of legitimacy 2005

This combination of neo-liberal “economic pluralism” with militarized governance is precisely what is presently in crisis. As David Graeber might say, there is an inherent resistance to such notions, based on his demonstration that “communism is the basis of all human sociability.” By communism, he does not mean in any way the oddity of the Soviet system. It is a general theory of the possibility of society and a particular refutation of the neo-liberal fetish of “self-sufficiency as a moral ideal” (Butler).

As Butler now argues, this contestation of legitimacy is the moment at which Gayatri Spivak’s theory of the general strike becomes so important. She understands the strike as “a collectivity of disenfranchised citizens,” in which citizenship is not a formal case of documentation, so much as the index of membership of a given society. After giving a precis of the various forms of general strike from Du Bois to Gandhi and Luxemburg, Spivak provocatively suggests

[I]n the “Occupy Wall Street” movement the spirit of the General Strike has come into its own and joined forces with the American tradition of civil disobedience: citizens against an unregulated capitalist state, not against an individual and his [or her] regime.

The “spirit” of the General Strike is the specter haunting neo-liberalism. It is not the specter of state-centered command economies. It is a gesture towards the justice that cannot be deconstructed.

Writing with the collapse of Rosa Luxemburg’s Spartacist uprising fresh in his mind, Walter Benjamin, whose spirit pervades Tidal 2, defined the general strike as the event that

takes place not in readiness to resume work following external concessions and this or that modification to working conditions, but in the determination to resume only a wholly transformed work, no longer enforced by the state, an upheaval that this kind of strike not
so much causes as consummates.

In its “American” form, taking America to refer to the hemisphere, Marina Sitrin sees such a strike as something

we are discovering together, as we create, which is also how we create: together, horizontally and with affect. What we are doing and how we are doing it are inextricably linked, and both are part of this prefigurative movement.

What we do imagines, forms and creates what there will be next in place of this present disaster, if there is anything. Sitrin warns, based on her experience in Argentina after the crisis of 2001, against two potential distractions. First, the movement may be distracted from this project by already existing left or centrist parties seeking to use its energy. Secondly, and this will be a real issue once the Republicans decide which puppet best suits their Super PACs, we must guard against the electoral distraction: “vote? not vote? organize against the candidates?” In place of such vacillation, Sitrin offers the powerful slogan

With, Against and Beyond the State.

Which is to say, yes, vote in November as a tactical measure, but organize against the state that continues to be the agent of neo-liberal legitimacy. Above all, imagine and create a practice that is beyond the state.

The Tidal theory of Occupy as a horizontal general strike against inequality is moving and dynamic. It suggests two motifs for the present and some for the near future.

First, all Occupy action is a general strike. We should not get drawn into the numbers game that only a massive shut down of all services and industries would count as such a strike. There has been such a strike in North America since September 17, 2011 and in the Americas since the first indigenous revolt against the settlers and the first uprising by the enslaved. MayDay 2012 is a celebration of the return of this spirit of the general strike, not its coming into being. It grows as it turns, yes, but no one instance will be transcendent.

Next and by corollary, the state against which we strike is strong and weak at the same instant, which Negri has called “the porcelain effect.” Porcelain is both very resilient and breakable at once. It endures right up until the moment that it does not, as we saw most recently in Egypt. This is why it cannot be reformed: you cannot recast porcelain once it has been fired, you either use it or discard it.

For the future: Tidal can and should drive this debate, becoming the locus of a new discourse on the horizontal strike against inequality that prefigures what we are creating. There are questions in the spirit of the general strike as to the practice of direct democracy, the recognition of climate injustice and the rights of the non-human in the midst of what has been called the Great Extinction.

For the time being, let’s salute the work already done and the impetus it gives to us all.

Futures of Occupy

As much as I have wanted to stress the present and future present of Occupy, I keep getting asked to do events or to write about the future of Occupy. I’m coming to think that the “future of Occupy” would be changing the terms of the way that the “economy” is discussed. From this perspective, we can see how two parallel, failing discourses of governance regarding austerity and climate change need to be converged and reversed.

The prevailing governance requires austerity to placate the bond market, even as it also wants to promote growth to generate revenues to make future bond payments. It dismisses the possibility of climate change being a present-day issue, displacing it to a remote future. If Occupy is truly “a state of mind,” as many post-eviction banners have had it, then one way to express it would be to present a radical alternative to this neo-liberal consensus.

Present austerity is actively producing the societal emergency it claims to be solving from Greece to Portugal, Ireland and Italy. It seems as if bond-holders hope to recoup as much of their investment as they can as soon as possible, ignoring the future social ramifications of the crisis thereby produced. The Greek elections in April will undoubtedly be, shall we say, interesting. There are rumors from France that the National Front candidate Marine Le Pen may finish first in the Presidential elections: if she is in a run-off against the Socialist, it is uncertain that right-wing voters can be relied on to rally to Hollande. So neo-liberalism seems actively willing to gamble with the rise of the far right in order to sustain profits.

The vague hope for “growth” as a solution to the social crisis fails to recognize that all industrial and manufacturing growth at present is going to entail higher levels of carbon emissions. In New York today, I saw a cherry tree in blossom: on February 19. Yet when the New York Times published today about the impossibility of ice-fishing in Minnesota due to the thin ice this winter, the phrase climate change was not used. The deniers have pushed the debate out of the liberal mainstream.

In a report published yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists entitled Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense, the list of smear and diversion tactics described is as striking as the direct connection to the polluting corporations.:

the key driver of political interference in federal science: the inappropriate influence of companies with a financial stake in the outcome…


In 2010, the oil and gas sector donated more than $10 million to PACs. The largest donors were Koch Industries ($1.2 million) and ExxonMobil ($1 million).

For this, the oil and gas industry obtained the active support of a Republican House. A larger investment will secure the Senate and independence from the Presidency.

There is a further irony that one of the few government interventions into the recession that appears to have been very successful was also one that does most damage in terms of climate change–the auto industry “bailout.” After reading the UCS report, it is hard not to suspect that the same players that have targeted climate science were comfortable letting the government support the car industry, while being happy to see that mass transit options were defeated.

In the background lurks Keystone XL.

Al Gore's comment on Keystone

Al Gore has tried to characterize the tar sands campaign as “addiction,” part of the “addiction to oil” meme that is now a cliché. My feeling is that the neo-liberal corporate machine is constantly harping on Keystone not just to gain approval of the pipeline. The Canadians seem set on producing the “oil” and the Chinese will buy it, meaning that the multinationals will make their money. However, the “controversy” makes it less and less likely that the Democrats in Congress and the President will campaign on climate issues.

Therefore, any return to “growth,” the only solution that neo-liberal capital can offer, will not only be to the profit of corporations but structured around fossil fuel extraction and transport, leading to the continued success of the spectacularly profitable oil and gas sector. Mainstream liberalism nonetheless continues to believe that discussion can produce a return to what the UCS call “transparency and accountability in the use of science” and, by extension, in politics.

Occupy knows that this future is not going to happen. The future we’re likely to get is a willingness to “liquiduate everything” in the newly-fashionable phrase of depression era Treasury Secretrary Andrew W. Mellon. Fossil fuel generated growth will promote both greater climate change and further political chaos and extremism, funded by the unrestrained PACs. The Occupy encampments actively performed an alternative to that future. Other, unexpected ways have to be found to visualize it now, to make the connection between “prosperity without growth,” ending climate change and ending political corruption.