Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Peter Lamborn Wilson: An army of Jacks to fight the power

From Reality Sandwich :

In fairy tales, humans can possess exterior souls, things magically containing or embodying individual life force -- stone, egg, ring, bird or animal, etc. If the thing is destroyed, the human dies. But while the thing persists, the human enjoys a kind of immortality or at least invulnerability.

Money could be seen as such an exteriorized soul. Humans created it, in some sense, in order to hide their souls in things that could be locked away (in tower or cave) and hidden so their bodies would acquire magical invulnerability -- wealth, health, the victoriousness of enjoyment, power over enemies -- even over fate.

But these exterior souls need not be hidden away -- they can be divided almost indefinitely and circulated, exchanged for desire, passed on to heirs like an immortal virus, or, rather like a dead thing that magically contains life and "begets" itself endlessly in usury. It constitutes humanity's one really totally successful experiment in magic: no one calls the bluff and after 6000 years, it seems like Nature. (In fact, an old Chinese cosmogonic text claimed the two basic principles of the universe are Water and Money.)

It's worth noting that in marchen, folk tales, the characters with external souls are often the villains. Clearly, the practice must appear uncanny to any normal society -- in which magic (call it collective consciousness in active mode) is channeled through ritual and custom to the life of all -- not the aggrandizement of one against all (black magic or witchcraft). In the form of money, the exterior soul, shattered into fragments, so to speak, can be put into circulation but also stolen, monopolized, guarded by dragons, so that some unlucky humans can be stripped of all soul, while others gorge or hoard up soul-bits of ancestors and victims in their goulish caves or "banks," etc.

The beloved in the tale may also have an exterior soul. It falls into the grasp of the evil sorcerer or dragon and must be rescued. In other words, desire, which is alienated in the form of a symbolic object (reified, fetishized), can only be restored to its true fate (love) by re-appropriation from the expropriator, stealing it back from the wizard. The task falls to "Jack," the third and youngest, sometimes an orphan or disinherited, possibly a fool, a peasant with more heart than any prince, generous, bold, and lucky.

Exactly the same story can be seen acted out in every honest ethnographic report on the introduction of money into some pre-monetary tribal economy. Even without the usual means of force, terror, oppression, colonialist imperialism or missionary zeal, money alone destroys every normal culture it touches.

 

Cargo Cults and Ghost Dances

Interestingly, in nearly every case, some sort of messianic movement Cargo Cult, or Ghost Dance type resistance movement springs up within a generation or two after first alien contact. These cults invariably make appeal to spirits (or even demons when

circumstances really begin to deteriorate) for the power to overcome money, to "provide good things" without recourse to the black magic of money, the vampirization of other peoples' external souls -- the malignancy of wealth that is not shared.

This is a major trope in all the tales. Jack gives away part of his last loaf precisely to the power-animal or shaman or old lady with the very gift he'll need in his quest, but he gives unwittingly, not in expectation of exchange. Jack always stands for what Polanyi and Mauss call the Economy of the Gift.

A great many fairy tales must have originated in "folk memories" of earlier non-hierarchal social structures, embodied in narrative (myth) and ritual, and given focus during the period when this ancient polity was threatened and finally overcome by later or alien systems -- particularly by money, by the coins that always appear in these tales.

Proudhon believed that money had originally been invented by the People as a means to pry loose and force into circulation the hoarded wealth of the "dragon," the oppressor class. This idea has interesting resonances.

It points to the fact that for "the people," money in hand represents not oppression but pleasure, gratified desire. Money may not be the root of all evil, but given the existence of money, "love of money" is quite natural. Alchemy epitomizes this jouissance of money in the fairy-tale concept of transmutation, production of gold without labor as a free gift of Nature to her lovers: Jove's body as shower of golden coins.

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Empire of bases

Hugh Gusterson reports in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists :

Before reading this article, try to answer this question: How many military bases does the United States have in other

countries: a) 100; b) 300; c) 700; or d) 1,000.

According to the Pentagon's own list PDF, the answer is around 865, but if you include the new bases in Iraq and Afghanistan it is over a thousand. These thousand bases constitute 95 percent of all the military bases any country in the world maintains on any other country's territory. In other words, the United States is to military bases as Heinz is to ketchup.

The old way of doing colonialism, practiced by the Europeans, was to take over entire countries and administer them. But this was clumsy. The United States has pioneered a leaner approach to global empire. As historian Chalmers Johnson says, "America's version of the colony is the military base." The United States, says Johnson, has an "empire of bases."

These bases do not come cheap. Excluding U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States spends about $102 billion a year to run its overseas bases, according to Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies. And in many cases you have to ask what purpose they serve. For example, the United States has 227 bases in Germany. Maybe this made sense during the Cold War, when Germany was split in two by the iron curtain and U.S. policy makers sought to persuade the Soviets that the American people would see an attack on Europe as an attack on itself. But in a new era when Germany is reunited and the United States is concerned about flashpoints of conflict in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, it makes as much sense for the Pentagon to hold onto 227 military bases in Germany as it would for the post office to maintain a fleet of horses and buggies.

Drowning in red ink, the White House is desperate to cut unnecessary costs in the federal budget, and Massachusetts Cong. Barney Frank, a Democrat, has suggested that the Pentagon budget could be cut by 25 percent. Whether or not one thinks Frank's number is politically realistic, foreign bases are surely a lucrative target for the budget cutter's axe. In 2004 Donald Rumsfeld estimated that the United States could save $12 billion by closing 200 or so foreign bases. This would also be relatively cost-free politically since the locals who may have become economically dependent upon the bases are foreigners and cannot vote retribution in U.S. elections.

Yet those foreign bases seem invisible as budget cutters squint at the Pentagon's $664 billion proposed budget. Take the March 1st editorial in the New York Times, "The Pentagon Meets the Real World." The Times's editorialists called for "political courage" from the White House in cutting the defense budget. Their suggestions? Cut the air force's F-22 fighter and the navy's DDG-1000 destroyer and scale back missile defense and the army's Future Combat System to save $10 billion plus a year. All good suggestions, but what about those foreign bases?

Even if politicians and media pundits seem oblivious to these bases, treating the stationing of U.S. troops all over the world as a natural fact, the U.S. empire of bases is attracting increasing attention from academics and activists--as evidenced by a conference on U.S. foreign bases at American University in late February. NYU Press just published Catherine Lutz's Bases of Empire, a book that brings together academics who study U.S. military bases and activists against the bases. Rutgers University Press has published Kate McCaffrey's Military Power and Popular Protest, a study of the U.S. base at Vieques, Puerto Rico, which was closed in the face of massive protests from the local population. And Princeton University Press is about to publish David Vine's Island of Shame--a book that tells the story of how the United States and Britain secretly agreed to deport the Chagossian inhabitants of Diego Garcia to Mauritius and the Seychelles so their island could be turned into a military base. The Americans were so thorough that they even gassed all the Chagossian dogs. The Chagossians have been denied their day in court in the United States but won their case against the British government in three trials, only to have the judgment overturned by the highest court in the land, the House of Lords. They are now appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

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