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<nettime> antiglobalization and its discontents digest [jay, graham]
nettime's_movement_of_movements on Sat, 13 Oct 2001 21:13:11 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> antiglobalization and its discontents digest [jay, graham]

Re: <nettime> Anti-globalisation movements
     jonathan jay <jonathan {AT} speakeasy.net>
     Phil Graham <phil.graham {AT} mailbox.uq.edu.au>

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Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 21:11:21 -0700 (PDT)
From: jonathan jay <jonathan {AT} speakeasy.net>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Anti-globalisation movements

David,  below you state:

> Critics are really good at crying foul without having the responsibility of
> trying to govern 300 million people ... without offering realistic 
> alternatives to the status quo ... which, by the way, is quite stable right 
> now ... and

-= fair enough on the former, but we shall see just how stable things really are
very soon.  These next ten years will prove a watershed as global power
resources continue to deminish and resource conlicts escalate precipitating the
calving off of entire regions from the neoliberal economic 'grid'

-= meanwhile, i take exception to the below:

> Your definiton of globalization is ok but I offer the following: 
> Globalization is the export or expansion of capitalism and democracy.

-= please don't confuse capitalism's one-dollar one-vote as having
*anything* to do with democracy's one-person, one-vote.  Western Democracy
(did it ever?) does not appear to exist anywhere currently, while Western
Capitalism most surely does, and is expansionary (as are all unstable
systems). After the collapse of the former Soviet Economic Block, Western
Capitalim has it's crosshairs squarly on the remaining competing idealogy
-- what is left of Democratic Republicanism.

-= The cynical notion of "Exporting Democracy" is in practice a conceptual
fulcrum, a brilliantly conceived piece of meta-propaganda, effective both
internally and externally to gain policy traction from the political classes
(who pride themselves on proper 'values' while ignoring the fact that mass
politics is a hermetically sealed spectator sport).  The true role of
'democracy' is as a trojan horse to accelerate the the scale-up of Western
Capital's (19th century Imperial fantasy) of Global Neoliberal Empire.

-= With supertankers of "egalitarian utopianism" (the ruse) to lubricate
minds and soften opposition, hallowed 'Democracy' is in actually a means of
social control, a *managment tool* where the base of society plays _no_
real participatory role in the application of social power.  It true
purpose seems to be to confuse and immobilize people while their civil
society is dismantled and market-diktat resources are valueated &

-= Sure i am just blowing a lot of steam here, and trotting out what few
snippets of acadamese i can muster, but like you i am a human being trying to
muddle through what is going on right now, with only the limited convolutions
my meta-monkey-mind possesses.

-= what i am really trying to say, is simply this:  as the chinese curse goes
"we live in interesting times." However, things are about to get a lot more
interesting than we can ever hope to understand.  These next 50 years will be
*nothing* like the last.

from the pacific northwest sector of the freetrade area of the americas, i
remain respectfully,

jonathan jay Imperium
Day 283, 2001 CE.
============================ 2001.10.13 67:454.XT =============================
                    don't have the time? try xtime instead!                    

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Date: Sat, 13 Oct 2001 22:39:05 +1000
From: Phil Graham <phil.graham {AT} mailbox.uq.edu.au>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Anti-globalisation movements

At 12:48 AM 13/10/2001 -0400, David Goldschmidt wrote:
>Sometimes i think that activists, scholars, social critics, etc

Could you be more specific? which activists? which scholars? which social 
critics? which "etc"?

It seems to me that the role of, e.g., a US president is to be an activist 
(an agent of, and agitator for, change), scholar (s/he must study and 
understand prevailing conditions), and social critic (s/he must understand 
what is wrong woth society so as to improve it) all at once. Usually the 
president is a revolutionary, or a "reformer", depending on how you want to 
phrase it, or on how you see their actions. Either way, you are being very 
sloppy with your terminology. Do you just mean anybody that goes against 
the world as it is and wants to change it, or what?

>give the ruling powers way too much power.

Either there are "the ruling powers" or there aren't--nobody can give 
ruling powers more power than the power to rule. You seem to be confusing 
power with people who wield it. Let's say there are "ruling powers", e.g. 
institutions of governance (including lawmaking ones), means of production, 
legal means of death, other means of punishment, means of policing, means 
of distribution and circulation (including money), etc. Then there are 
people who have access to some of these means of wielding power over 
others. Then there are most other people who don't. According to your 
definition below, you say that the people who have access to these means 
are the ones who understand the way the world is, while the people who 
don't understand are the ones who have no access to the means of power. In 
other words, access to power is based on an ability to understand. But 
there are far too many exceptions to this rule, on both sides, to claim it 
is a rule.

>It's as if they think that the leaders of the top democracies and 
>corporations are in control and conspire against the common
>good (whatever that is).

If you don't know what the common good is, may I suggest that you refrain 
from talking about it. In place of a closed, formulaic, abstract, 
utilitarian "the greatest good for the greatest number", let us assume that 
the common good is an increasing amount of general happiness which stems 
from very low levels of hunger, stress, exploitation, inequality; very high 
levels of education, health, nourishment, and access to what we now call 
privilege. Universal access to the necessities of life. Universal access to 
democratic process, including the organs of communication. That sort of 
thing. I doubt that many people would disagree that these conditions would 
be good in general -- i.e., they would constitute "the common good".

The system in the "top democracies", as you put it, is currently designed 
to act against these outcomes. In fact there is very little recognition of 
"a common good" in current practices amongst the "ruling powers" (as 
defined above), precisely because of the individualistic prejudices you 
exhibit which are inherent in the system -- i.e. that people can only 
achieve for *themselves*. Thus people at the top of corporations and 
governments *must* conspire against the common good to get the most for 
themselves, as you acknowledge in the following sentence:

>One of the things that i witnessed in corporate america is that those who 
>rise to power ... have a very good understanding of
>human nature ... are very adept to discovering the way things work ... and 
>use the system to their advantage (to accomplish their goals).

"Their goals", "their advantage": there you have it. But you left out: "at 
the expense of others' goals". All of a sudden, too, we have people who 
"rise to power". Out of nowhere? I think not. Your statement indicates a 
very bad social science. Who are these people who all of a sudden "rise to 
power"? Are we to suppose that they are born with the inherent ability to 
understand "human nature" better than, say, a carpenter or a taxi driver or 
a con artist? Or might we be more likely to find some correlation with, 
e.g., economic status at birth, education, and the social networks specific 
to those? I think the latter is a more likely general explanation than the 
former (of which we might find instances at very rare times in history, 
namely unstable ones).

>That is the difference between leaders and critics.  Leaders, by 
>definiton, understand how things work and how to use the system to their 
>advantage regardless of what system is dominant at the time (capitalism, 
>marxism, gangs, communes, nonprofit organizations, christianity, islam, 

By your definition, and, apparently, your assumptions about the relative 
worth of leaders vs critics, a Hitler would be a more valuable asset to a 
society than would all the people who criticised what he did. I strongly 
doubt that you actually believe this. I just want to point out that your 
view and its logic is somewhat contradictory. Perhaps I have misread you 
and you think that leaders are, by nature, a curse. In any case, there is a 
moral imperative in all of this: you say in the following that critics have 
no social responsibility, while leaders (implicitly) do. Don't you think it 
is important that we despise and actively fight against despotic leaders 
and their regimes? If you do, then you cannot condemn criticism. Critique 
is democracy in action, free speech, all that stuff that libertarians are 
supposed to approve of.

>A leader in America has the advantage of living in a system that is based 
>on eliminating the barriers to individual success.  In America, an 
>individual can define success for his or herself and work towards their 
>own goals without having to belong to a particular race, sex, religion, et 

I do not buy this at all. When do expect the next impoversished, female, 
Islamic US president to "rise to power"? You are talking about exceptions, 
not rules. The general rule is that an economically and socially 
well-connected, ivy-league educated, white protestant male will be the 
president of the US.

>Critics are really good at crying foul without having the responsibility 
>of trying to govern 300 million people ... without offering realistic 
>alternatives to the status quo ... which, by the way, is quite stable 
>right now ... and stability is one of the primary things average citizens 
>want and need.  History is filled with examples of what people are willing 
>to endure just for a little food and shelter.  (I offer that last 
>statement not as an excuse for American behavior but for a little 
>perspective on the matter-at-hand. Capitalism/Democracy is not perfect but 
>its an improvement over many of the past systems of government).

Here it is: the old "carping critic without realistic alternatives" 
shibboleth. Most critics, at least as far as I can see, engage in critique 
with an extremely strong sense of social responsibility and (at least) a 
strongly felt need to *stop* something bad happening (which doesn't 
necessarily mean having to put something else in place of the badness). 
Let's take the horrendous treatment of women under the Taliban as an 
example: a carping social critic might say "this should stop!" But do we 
need to replace, e.g. torture, repression,  and rape with something else? 
No. We just need to stop it.

It's impossible to engage in critique without the feeling that something or 
other is fundamentally wrong. It's easier to watch tv and just go along 
with everything. In any case, most real alternatives are dismissed as 
"unrealistic" mainly because vested interests could not maintain their 
advantage without things being such as they are. That is why, for example, 
we still have massified fossil fuel technologies decades after practical 
alternatives were developed. That is why we actually have absurdly 
centralised systems which are premissed on some perceived need to govern 
300 million people. In fact, 300 million people are impossible to govern. 
The size of such systems are untenable in the long run. There are too many 
divergent interests, ways of life, cultural disjunctions, and so on.

>Your definiton of globalization is ok but I offer the following: 
>Globalization is the export or expansion of capitalism and democracy.

Once again, I think your terms are very sloppy. First, capitalism hasn't 
existed for some time: witness the fact that so much tax money has been 
given to propping up ostensibly "private sector" firms over the last 20 
years (even more in recent times), and that so much money has been torn out 
of health, education, welfare, etc throughout the west during the same 
period. Most multinational corporations are not owned by capitalists, those 
romantic figures of the 18-19th century who owned the means of production 
and employed wage-labour directly. Mostly, ownership of multinats is widely 
and globally dispersed in equity markets, and control in such firms is 
distinctly separate from ownership. Ours is a post-capitalist, 
transitionary phase in economic organisation. Nobody's come up with a name 
for it yet.

And do you think you *really* live in a democracy? What is the difference 
between a one-party system in which factions fight with each other for 
power, and a two-party system whose policies are practically 
indistinguishable from each other's? How many *real* choices for president 
will you get at your next election? Two. That's how many you'll get. And it 
won't make any difference who you vote for because there is no substantial 
difference between the two "sides". Which is why your next president will 
be voted in by less than a majority of the population. Maggie Thatcher knew 
what she was saying when she said: "There Is No Alternative".

And at the global level, who did you vote for? Did you vote for the Vatican 
to have a permanent seat on the WTO and IMF? Did you vote for any of the 
people who make legislation in those bodies? Who did you vote for at the 
OECD? The Asia Development Bank? The UN?

Apart from multinational corporations, which are democratically 
unaccountable by definition, these institutions are the institutions of 
power at the global level. They are *not* NGOs. They are the legislative 
agents of globalisation (activists); they are scholars (collecting facts 
about the whole of human interaction); and they dislike the world the way 
it is and has been (social critics). Anyway, as well as a whole lot of 
other trends, what was being called "globalisation" ended on September 11, 

>This definiton is more accurate, less confusing and its easier to 

No it isn't. It's incorrect, as well as doctrinaire. One cannot argue with 
doctrines. One can only believe or disbelieve in them as matters of faith.

>At abolishthebank.org (an anti-capitalism organization) they
>state, "We reject a system driven by an exploitative logic that sees human
>beings as human capital, ecosystems as natural resources, and culture as 
>a commodity. We reject the idea that the world is only valuable in terms of
>profit, competition and efficiency.".
>I've read some of their criticisms and, like the above statement, i can agree
>with some of their concerns.  However, it seems to me that they are assuming
>that I, and Americans in general, are not able to distinguish between our
>business life, our social life and our spiritual life.

I have never heard any but the most doctrinaire and prejudiced people talk 
about "Americans in general" (I am assuming you are not referring to 
Canadians or Mexicans or Peruvians when you speak of "Americans in general" 
-- you mean the US, right?), especially in reference to "globalisation". 
The US is like mediaeval Europe in many respects. There is absolutely 
nothing common to, for example, Holland (Michigan) and, eg, Lawrence 
(Kansas), or New York city, except perhaps a standard form of language 
through which people from each of these areas communicate, and their 
legislative conflation under the US constitution. There is even more 
diversity of opinion and culture within those areas. While US corporations 
have done well from globalisation, so have UK, European, and Asian 
corporations. If you think globalisation has been purely an "Americanising" 
process, you are incorrect. It is, however, purely a corporatising, 
privatising process.

>  They think we are only defined by our work.  They assume that we only 
> see humans as capital [AND] that profit is the ONLY thing we value.  In 
> my opinion, they are elitist (as are many scholars and activists).  They 
> grossly underestimate the intelligence of

I think you might be confused, and this has nothing to do with "Americans 
in general" but everything to do with the labour relation.  Under the 
labour relation (which originally arose as a general form with capitalism), 
human life is *necessarily* a commodity. Under State-Capital (our current 
system, where State and Corporations collude against labour on a global 
basis), this relation is generalised in policy, and every level. The 
premises of capital become policy. The effect is to turn capital into 
not-critique (don't forget, capital was a liberal revolution arising from 
activists, academics, social critics, and etc), into something other than 
itself. Regardless of anybody's intelligence, or any of their other 
attributes, the labour relation is premissed on profit.  Under 
State-Capital, capitalist revolution becomes legislative conservatism: a 
government cannot treat its constituency as both labour and citizens at the 
same time. It has to take sides, either for or against citizenship; either 
for or against the labour relation. Clearly, the west has gone in favour of 
the labour relation and against citizenship and self-determination. Hence 
"democracy" lies almost dead in its womb.

>But my biggest comlaint is that they offer no alternative.

Okay. If you're talking systemically: smaller legislative units over larger 
ones; economic self-sufficiency over economic dependency within those 
units. Each legislative unit should be small enough so that every person 
can be involved in outcomes that affect their self-determination, including 
economic decisions. It will happen eventually anyway.

>They say this about their own organization, "We are autonomous, 
>decentralized and non-hierarchical ... ".

I don't believe a word of it.

>Is this what they want for the rest of the world?  What are the 
>implications of such a system?  How can it be encouraged and promoted?  If 
>the whole world followed this model would we finally have justice for all?

The question is, rather: is a non-hierarchical system possible? The answer 
is: not under current circumstances, but circumstances are changing very 
rapidly. Until we stop raising competition to a dogma; until we stop 
thinking "bigger is better"; until we stop making our systems increasingly 
vulnerable by making technologies increasingly violent; until we stop 
making all calculations in terms of money and realise that money is an 
illusion given a sometimes material form; until we stop prattling on about 
the need for "leadership", "growth", and all the other mantras of the 
current age, non-hierarchies are impossible --- in short until we stop 
thinking that one life is more valuable and important than another, and 
start realising that all people have inalienable rights to a decent and 
happy life, we are doomed to murder each other in millions.

>Their message will never be taken seriously until they can offer a real
>alternative to the status quo.
>"Perhaps the most disturbing and objectionable aspect of globalisation is 
>a move towards the denial of responsibility, or obligation, to the world's 
>This is very true.  The strong must help the weak or their will be a 
>revolution.  The question then is, how do we help them?

This "we" -- you are one of the strong then? Who is the weak "they" you are 
denoting? Me? My children? Your children? The revolution will be when 
people start to see that everybody has different strengths, and that 
perceived weaknesses are a function of an exploitative relationship. Never 
mind worrying about the threat of a revolution -- realise its absolute 
necessity for human (not to mention humane) survival.

>If a corporation does something wrong then we should be able to charge the 
>corporation and its top officers/board members as criminals.  If we do 
>this, will it help those in developing countries?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I 
>think it would strongly discourage corporations from abusing their power.

Here you are attributing power where before you said that people attribute 
too much power to corporations. What right have corporations, literally 
defined, to power? What sorts of power do they have? Do they make law? Are 
they the organs of governance? Corporations are legal fictions. They exist 
*because* of the organs of power, not despite them. As legal people at law, 
corporations should be able to be put to death much easier than 
individuals, precisely because they are legal fictions---fictitious people 
who in fact live far longer than any human being. States should be able to 
sieze the assets of criminal corporations after they are condemned and 
distribute them to victims. I find it astonishing that many of the 
worst-behaved corporations in WWII are still alive and kicking today. Many 
remain our most successful criminals.

>Or, maybe we should join the thousands of other organizations that are 
>trying to help developing countries ... educate them to the alternatives 
>(what are the alternatives again?)... help them to learn from the mistakes 
>made in the West.
>Or, maybe we should re-write the IMF and World Bank charters.  I think 
>doing so could be very beneficial.
>I don't think a clear definiton of "anti-globalization" will ever sell 
>(unless everyone becomes isolationists).

That might be true if we take your definition of globalisation (they would 
be anti-democratic and anti-capitalist). Why does globalisation necessarily 
have to stand in opposition to isolationism? The truth is that it doesn't 
and never has. The distinction is more between public-ness vs private-ness 
of various domains (economic, cultural, social, linguistic). Globalisation, 
as it is currently conceived of, proceeds on the assumption that everything 
is best left to "private" (i.e. corporate) ownership and that there is no 
such thing as public goods. In fact there have been few "isolationst" 
nations in recent history, except perhaps for the US until 1916, and more 
forcefully, Japan (most notably alongside other SE Asian countries) in the 
nineteenth century. Even then, the US was only partially isolationist (tin 
plating was the final sticking point in the trade war with the Brits). The 
Keynesian system was not isolationist; global trade was its presupposition. 
Not that I'm advocating for a new Keynesian era, merely pointing out that 
global trade (given how much of "the globe" has been known to any person at 
any time) has been a fact for many centuries.

There is no homogenous "anti-globalisation" movement. There never has been. 
But "globalisation" has not been a singular movement either. But it has 
proceeded on a singular assumption: that government should divest itself of 
all public responsibility except protecting and expanding private property, 
private interests, and private ownership. All of these should be rights, 
according to the doctrine, available and open to any corporate person (as 
distinct from individual persons), regardless of their nationality, 
intentions, or ability to perform public service. As such, globalisation, 
which is the "privatisation" of publicly built and owned infrastructure 
throughout the west (and large parts of the "east"), has crossed many lines 
of interest: health, welfare, employment, environment, education, wage 
levels, legal norms, political decisions, etc ect etc. Thus it is a 
movement that has annoyed people for many different reasons.

Best regards,

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