Go Forth This Fourth

There have been, on occasion, squawks of outrage in the comments here by people upset that I bring politics into the mix along with pretty pictures of nature. How anyone can separate the two is beyond my understanding. This is the Anthropocene: humans are geosystem engineers on an unprecedented level, transforming the planet as we breathe. We are an “infrastructure species.” And we’re reducing the number of species and thinning the number of those that survive. We’re radically changing the chemical composition of the very atmosphere! And the sea, for fuck’s sake, source of a good portion of the world’s oxygen. And we garbage everything, from heavy metals at the poles to gyres of plastic in the most remote oceans. And always, toxins in our very bodies.

Take a smaller example: a few hundred people own half the private rural land in Scotland. This land is made up of estates, long ago (well, not that long ago) cleared of the indigenous population by laws made by rulers and the force of arms backing up them up. Clearances and enclosures did similar things south of the border in England, but Scotland is particularly screwed by the relics of feudalism. These estates are maintained for the benefit of wealthy grouse and deer hunters: banksters, tax cheats, oil barons, Russian gangsters, and the other examples of the awful 1%.

Every year, “game keepers” employed by these estates illegally slaughter raptors. The Hen Harrier, for instance, is touch and go in Britain as a result. These killer-keepers believe the harriers are taking grouse; that is, they think these raptors are competition for massa’s power-given right to grouse. Yes, that’s right, the oligarchs are afraid of the competition! But then, those who fetishize competition as the only way to go about ordering our universe are talking bollocks and always have been.

I have been recommending Mike Wallace’s incredible Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. It takes as its foundation Consolidation, the political unification of Brooklyn and Manhattan and the rest of what become the boroughs into a supercity. It was the age of consolidation. For the capitalist class also hungered for consolidation. Those who had made their piles as robber barons HATED competition. They wanted massive corporations, trusts of oligarchs if not outright monopolies. They wanted order in business and in their control of the nation. They wanted a state that took care of troublemakers for them or at least didn’t bother the private armies that did their head-breaking and killing for them.

The reason to read Wallace’s book isn’t just for the pleasures of history, however many there are; the reason to read it is as a mirror on our own time. We’ve returned to the days of yore, the new Gilded Age, of corrupt gangster-like oligarchies the world over dismantling liberal democracy in the name of their profits, property, and wealth transfers from the rest of us. That’s what “tax cuts,” corporate-written international trade deals, and outright theft amount to.

Ah, that word “liberal.” It has meant so many things. “Neoliberalism” for instance, seems to confuse a lot of people. It means a return to the classical 19th century liberalism of “free markets.” Of course, that “free market” talk was always nonsense: the reigning free market state, England, was fueled by slave sugar and slave cotton, and THEN it ensnared the economy of India to suck it dry. Neoliberalism most definitely does NOT mean a return to New Deal liberalism (which had to save capitalism from a descent into what now seems the inevitable result of unfettered capital: fascism).

“Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by the private enterprise […] By this means, enterprise is [supposedly] liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanizing hand of the state.” This succinct definition is from George Monbiot, in How Did We Get Into This Mess: Politics, Equality, Nature, his collection of snapshots from our collective (but mostly British in his case) neoliberal hell.

Oddly for a creed that is always going on about “freedom,” the first great neoliberal experiment after the high tax post-war era took place in Chile under a dictatorship. Thatcher and Reagan were the great tribunes of this anti-statist ideology, lavishly bankrolled by oligarchs (many of them inheritors of wealth), who also set up think tanks, university chairs, and bankrolled existing parties to defeat democracy, common wealth, public life, community, and civilization. All the parties: in the UK, Labour, and in the US, the Democrats, followed slavishly behind the Conservatives and Republicans in kowtowing to the plutocrats.

And so today we have the massive wealth disparities caused by these policies and, it follows like day following night, rapidly diminished democracy. Democrats actually get more votes in the US, but have fewer representatives; and the Supreme Court — having been returned to its horrible traditional role of defending wealth — recently ok’ed wholesale voter list purges.

Here’s an elegy for a great city, hollowed out by the bandits and their bipartisan toads.

And on top of all this, indeed, it’s apotheosis: the deranged rampages of Donald Trump leading a party that has made no bones about its yearning for authoritarianism and a fundamentalist white ethno-nationalist state in the service of corporate power.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Tom Paine’s the only Founder worth reading today, and he’s not even one of the official ones. Who will make a musical about him? But we’ll end on Franklin, even if he might not actually have said to the lady who asked him if the boys in the backroom had come up with a monarchy or a republic: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

2 Responses to “Go Forth This Fourth”


  1. 1 G. Paul Randall July 4, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Great post, thanks.

  2. 2 alaspooryorick July 4, 2018 at 9:33 am

    the link is to an article in Harper’s Magazine. it’s lenghty but well worth the read. impassioned, well-documented information. the downside is a feeling of loss and despair.


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