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Book reviews - reviews of selected recent publications in our field of interest

TonyCartwright

NO IS NOT ENOUGH: Defeating the New Shock Politics by Naomi Klein

AGE OF ANGER: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra

TRUMP AND A POST-TRUTH WORLD by Ken Wilber

Review by Tony Cartwright

This extensive review is in two parts.

Part 1 focusses on Klein's NO IS NOT ENOUGH and part 2 (to be published in mid-March 2018) on Mishra's AGE OF ANGER, and Wilber's TRUMP AND A POST-TRUTH WORLD

Two days after the Brexit referendum I found myself at a conference in Bristol. The focus of the conference was quite wide-ranging - on cultural approaches to current world problems - but you can imagine where our minds and feelings were focused. The atmosphere and sense of shock that pervaded the weekend was understandable, as was the anger and confusion, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the degree of contempt, hostility and condescension of the mainly Southern and educated members towards the “stupid” and “ignorant” people in the country who voted “leave”. I voted to remain but, coming from a region in the North where the “leave” vote was quite high, I was shocked at the level of antagonism that was being expressed in the conference. Feeling quite angry myself, I pointed out we live in a democracy and that many of the “leave” voters will have experienced a steady decline in their living standards for a number of years which they felt neither the rich “elite” of Southern England, nor the bureaucrats of Brussels had done anything about. If similar dynamics held sway in the US, then the stage, it seems, was set for the election of Trump.

The shock has continued to reverberate and we are faced with a conservative government, reeling from divisions and further setbacks affecting their Brexit negotiations, and a Trump administration that threatens the worst for the planet. There is of course a daily avalanche of comment in the UK on Brexit and across the world on Trump but the books reviewed here are three immediate responses by otherwise scholarly and thoughtful authors who also take the long cultural view. Perhaps the speed of publication speaks for the depth of anxiety as well as the hope of possibility they feel. All demonstrate the need to go beyond shock, anger and bewilderment and to think clearly about what we can learn from current developments. Naomi Klein builds on her climate change perspective and suggests how the left might open itself to a new sense of vision that offers a real alternative to the doomed ideology of neoliberalism. Pankaj Mishra points to the European historical roots of the anger and ressentiment - including the global terrorist phenomena - that characterise the end of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, while Ken Wilber, drawing as he does on perennial traditions throughout world history, offers the widest possible cultural analysis of our post-truth age.

Our own shadow

All three books also point to the importance of recognising our own collective shadow in recent events if we are to try to understand them. This is crucial to knowing the truth about ourselves. Climate change and mass extinction face us with the prospect of our own imminent demise. In the classic psychological responses to a terminal condition - our “end times” - shock is an initial stage, followed, or accompanied, by grief, anger, and depression before some sort of understanding, acceptance, active reparation and radical hope can also emerge. The political reverses of recent times offer us the possibility of addressing all these responses, but do we not also have to take a good, honest look at ourselves? Wilber published two books this year, the one under review here and the other, a major work, The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions, which emphasises the importance of shadow work as a prelude to understanding ourselves.

The term “shadow” was used by Jung, though of course the work of analysing the darker side of one’s personality also belongs to Freud before him. Everyone, and every group, carries a shadow and the more we ignore or repress it, the darker and more fearful it seems. In his A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, Andrew Samuels quotes Jung’s definition of the shadow in 1945: “the thing a person has no wish to be”. Hence we project it onto others and events outside. But by facing the truth about ourselves we can learn from it. If we don't, it is likely to burst out and overwhelm us. This is a basic understanding in any form of psychotherapy.

The idea that Trump - the fake president - mirrors something in us is a difficult thought to concede. With his shameless worship of money and all things shiny and glossy he embodies the worst side of our consumer society. Perhaps his addictions mirror the shadow of our own greed? After all, our press helped to get him elected while our fixation on his worst personal qualities distracts us from addressing the reality of his neoliberal administration, now doing its best, as Naomi Klein illuminates, to deconstruct any ecological initiatives towards a better world.

At the same time our obsessive attention to Trump’s negative qualities may be blinding us to the possibility of light in this shadow. Psychoanalytic approaches tend to emphasise the split between light and dark, whereas the truth is simply that you cannot have one without the other. All light casts a shadow. Look into the shadow and you come back to the light. Our liberal “enlightened” leadership has failed us. Trump’s shock election has given us the opportunity to reflect on this. Perhaps we should thank him for that at least.

NAOMI KLEIN

Klein acknowledges that NO IS NOT ENOUGH is different from her previous books. NO LOGO, No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, published in 2000 and THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) are lengthy, thoroughly researched but timely and explosive works which each took a number of years to write. By contrast she wrote and published NO IS NOT ENOUGH, Defeating the New Shock Politics, this year in a matter of months, though draws on all the work she did in her previous books to explain why Trump is no aberration “but the entirely predictable, indeed cliched outcome of ubiquitous ideas and trends that should have been stopped long ago”. And of course she also writes in the perspective of THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. Capitalism versus the Climate (2014) which adds a whole new dimension and power to her arguments.

In her introduction Klein describes a strange feeling, as she watched Trump’s rise to power, that behind the ’shock politics’ were a range of trends that she has documented over the years:

the rise of Superbrands, the expanding powers of private wealth over the political system, the global imposition of neoliberalism, often using racism and fear of the ‘other’ as a potent tool, the damaging impacts of corporate free trade, and the deep hold that climate change denial has taken on the right side of the political spectrum.

The more she thought about it the more Trump seemed to her like “Frankenstein’s monster, sewn together out of the body parts of all of these and many other dangerous trends”.

He is a “monster” because behind the “domestic shock doctrine”, designed to create maximum confusion and disorientation amongst the public, lies the goal to pursue “all-out war on the public sphere and the public interest” and the establishment of unfettered power and freedom for corporations, a programme “so defiantly unjust and so manifestly corrupt that it can only be pulled off with the assistance of divide-and-conquer racial and sexual politics”, as well as “a nonstop spectacle of media distractions” which are being backed up by a massive increase in war spending and “a dramatic escalation of military conflicts on multiple fronts, from Syria to North Korea, alongside presidential musings how ‘torture works’”.

Corporate takeover

Trump’s cabinet speaks for itself: Exxon Mobil for secretary of state, General Dynamics and Boeing to head the Department of Defence, and Goldman Sachs for many of the other jobs. All seem to be focused on what Steve Bannon openly declared was “the deconstruction of the administrative state”. Klein calls this “a naked corporate takeover”. Of course Trump had his own ambitious money-making reasons for being elected to the top dog position - the presidency of the most powerful state in the world - as the extension of his own personal super brand, “the Trump presidency”, but behind his personal ambition is a group of super-rich business men who have dispensed with the whole idea of politics and any ethical values associated with it. As Klein writes in her introduction:

A near-impenetrable sense of impunity - of being above the usual rules and laws - is a defining feature of this administration. Anyone who presents a threat to that impunity is summarily fired….. Up to now there’s been a mask on the corporate state’s White House proxies: the smiling actor's face of Ronald Reagan or the faux cowboy persona of George W. Bush….. Now the mask is gone. And no one is even bothering to pretend otherwise.

Klein’s account of how “Trump won by becoming the ultimate brand” and established “the first family of brands” is shocking itself, as are the “games” at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s own “White House” residence in Florida. He sees the presidency in terms of reality tv and, no politician himself, is more at home in the crude bullying practices of The Apprentice and the fake antics of the wrestling profession. As Klein says, “The Trump Show is now broadcasting live from the Oval Office.”

Trump is immune to scandal because he doesn’t play by political rules. Nor is it possible to see any consistent principled pattern in his unpredictable behaviour and thinking. He seems to recognise no values except those that promote his own personal brand. As long as he remains true to his brand and makes more and more money, he is invulnerable. But that, says Klein, is also his weak point. If the bubble of his brand can be “jammed” and he starts to lose money, he will have been deprived of the value and logic by which he, and his administration, lives.

Resisting the shock tactics

Where do we start? In No Logo Klein suggested how “to take aim at the brand bullies”. In No Is Not Enough she points out any distinction between the Trump brand and the Trump presidency is “a concept the current occupant of the White House cannot begin to comprehend. The presidency is the crowning extension of the Trump brand”. Beyond that Trump is a “hollow man”. The more we are shocked by his contradictory behaviour and unpredictable mind, and just say No to him, the more we feed into his game. No isn’t enough. We have to start by not being shocked, understand the rules he plays by and find an alternative way of responding. We have to develop what Klein calls “a road map of shock resistance”.

Klein has learned in reporting from dozens of locations in the midst of crisis that it is possible to find ways of resisting shock tactics. Two crucial things have to happen. First we need a good understanding how shock politics work and whose interests they serve. This is “how we get out of shock quickly and start fighting back.”

Second, and just as important “we have to tell a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs.” This must be “a values-based vision….one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious and gender divides….one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilising wars and pollution.” She adds that most of all that vision needs “to offer those who are hurting - for lack of jobs, lack of health care, lack of peace, lack of hope - a tangibly better life”. George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist, also wrote - “How do we get out of this mess?” September 17th - about the importance of telling an alternative story to the traditional one of competitive and possessive individualism. Altruism and cooperation are more fundamental to our nature than we recognise. Knowing this is the essential antidote to despair.

The question is how do we go about building Klein’s vision? In her introduction she doesn’t claim to know what it looks like, but by part 4, “How Things Could Get Better”, she offers us a range of ideas with practical examples. Firstly she suggests, when faced with shared trauma, or common threat, there are signs communities can come together in “defiant acts of sanity and maturity”. Rebecca Solnit wrote, for instance, of the extraordinary communities that can arise in disaster in her original, even exhilarating book, A Paradise Built in Hell.

Secondly, the blitzkrieg strategy of the shock doctrine is actually quite high risk. If it doesn’t succeed in demoralising people it could have the opposite effect of uniting them. There is the experience of Argentina in the early 2000s when in the asambleas barriales (neighbourhood communities) people assembled to resist the policing and austerity measures of their prime minister, Fernando de la Rua. Similarly when Spain’s president, Jose Maria Aznar, tried to bring in firm and reactionary policies following the terrorist bombing of a Madrid commuter train in March 2004 the Spanish people refused to be cowed either by the terrorism or the extreme reaction of the government. Interestingly, fifteen years on, and when the terrorism is more frequent, we might observe there are examples of calmer and more reflective responses to terrorist attacks amongst communities. After the bombing at the ManchesterArena Centre this year the town came together in a spirit of defiant solidarity and community feeling. Similarly in Barcelona people flooded La Rambla the day after the vehicle attack in August. Perhaps fear is now having less hold on people.

Sheer facts and interior realities

Other factors weighing against the neoliberal view are what Klein terms “The Revenge of Reality”, the sheer facts of science - whether about climate change or the increasingly obvious truth of mass extinction - and how these realities are influencing the activities of more and more people. With the World Wide Web and information sources like Wikipedia, the average person is so much more knowledgeable - at a time when Trump seems to take pride in his ignorance and twitter mentality. If we are going to rise to the urgency and challenge of our times, Klein urges, we need more skills and knowledge as well as vision - “about history, about how to change the political system, and even about how to change ourselves”.

That word “even” doesn't really do justice to the importance of the change happening inside ourselves and I think Klein realises this when later in her book she emphasises the need to address her own “internal Trump”, her own shadow. Analysing one’s shadow may seem introspective but it complements political practice. The more you understand yourself, the more effective you can be in your activities. Political action and psychological health are complementary. Thoughtful activism and self-insight go together. Introspection is not just about developing individual psychological health but about tuning into something much larger, the evolving zeitgeist of this century.

“Yes” and lessons from Standing Rock

Klein writes admiringly about the active movements of the nineties such as the anti-globalisation protests at Seattle and Genoa and the Occupy initiatives, but what she has learned from them is that “NO is not enough”. There has to be a YES - “yes to the ‘yes’” - in the form of an alternative vision. Her book is an encouragement to begin thinking how this vision might take form.

She describes “the lessons from Standing Rock” in North Dakota when the “water protectors” gathered outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to try to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. The company was determined to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, the sole source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as take it under the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for 17 million people. The tribal leaders argued, if the pipeline ruptured, their people would have no safe water and their sacred sites would be desecrated. The slogan went up: Mni Wiconi - “water is life”.

In the end Trump reversed Obama’s initial decision to deny the permit for the pipeline but this could not erase the original achievement and lessons learnt. December 5, 2016 was the Sioux’s “last stand” against the most violent state repression. Many arrived to stand with them, including a convoy of more than two thousand military veterans. When Klein joined them she found a network of camps comprising ten thousand people. It had developed into a community that was much more than just a resistance to the pipeline. In the words of Bull Allard, the official historian of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, it had become a school, not just here to protect the Earth and water but “to help humanity answer its most pressing question: how to live with the Earth again, not against it”.

For Klein and the many other non-indigenous supporters the Standing Rock community had shown them “A Path through Anger”: “a way to deal with rage and grief that went beyond venting”. Klein had thought the space for this lesson would come through universities or city halls but Standing Rock was where she discovered it, “in the camps’ combination of reaction and contemplation, and in the constant learning-by-doing modelled by Brave Bull Allard and so many other leaders here”.

The Leap

Klein’s book is a clarion call to action. She is an engaging left of centre socialist but she is also aware of the need to go beyond the old Utopianism. From Rousseau through Marx to twentieth century socialism, utopian ideals have inspired revolution and reform but they are also flawed. A new Utopianism which “dares to dream” must learn from the old limitations. Her penultimate chapter is entitled “A Time to Leap. Because small steps won't cut it”. On the one hand there is the single issue of life’s very survival due to climate change and mass extinction, while on the other “a gang of scandal-plagued plutocrats” has seized control of the White House. In Canada the NDP party of the centre left has developed a “Leap Manifesto”, which is printed at the end of Klein’s book.

In the past progressive political movements have espoused unreal utopian dreams on the one hand and campaigned on a variety of valued but disconnected issues on the other, what Klein refers to as “siloed politics”, whether it be climate change or particular environmental causes, jobs and employment, human or animal rights, welfare benefits and so on. In their general meetings in Canada, convened to discuss many of the different issues at the same time, “we emphasised the frame that showed how so many of our problems - and solutions - are interconnected, because the frame could be expanded in whatever place or community the vision was applied. What they needed were integrated solutions”. The “leap”, they also realised, would depend on people coming together round values, not policies.

The Left has always been in a double bind. It has progressive ideals but has historically defined itself in opposition to the right. Revolution has always needed an established order to rebel against. To that extent Left and Right are symbiotic, which is the dynamic that makes for history. Now we can visualise an actual end to history, evidenced by science, the urgent task is to find a way of understanding this symbiosis differently? Is there an “integrated solution” that understands Left and Right as some sort of unity, or at least frees the Left from its traditional co-dependency on the Right? What would it look like?

“Recovering environmentalism”

Paul Kingsnorth, who describes himself as “a recovering environmentalist” (see his book of essays by that title published this year) addressed the same problem in his own way in an extended essay in the Guardian, “The lie of the land: does environmentalism have a future in the age of Trump?” (18 March, 2017) In the article Kingsnorth tells us he voted for Brexit. He didn’t disclose this at the time, not because he didn’t have good reasons for his voting decision but because of all the “mudslinging” going on and which he preferred to avoid. He is genuinely mystified why Greens and the left should have voted almost unanimously for “a multinational trading bloc backed by the world’s banks, corporations and neoliberal politicians”.

He writes, almost amusingly, about the surprise he experienced of waking up the morning after to discover unbelievably that the leave voters had won, an astonishment repeated at the election of Trump. Most interestingly he quotes Trump in his last TV spot before election victory: there is “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities”. Whatever we make now of Trump saying this, it certainly weighed with the American electorate. As Kingsnorth comments: “they were words that could have been heard at any social forum, anti-globalisation gathering or left-green beanfeast from the last 20 years, as could Trump’s last rousing sentence: ‘The only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you”’.

For Kingsnorth this was evidence that the anti-globalisation movement was not dead but moving in mysterious ways. In his Guardian essay he goes on to quote an article last year by Jonathan Haidt, “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism” in The American Interest, where he suggests a new, or alternative, binary to the left/right political tradition of the last three hundred years. “Nationalism” Kingsnorth explains, “in the broadest sense of the term, was the default worldview of most people at most times, especially in most traditional places. It was a community-focussed attitude, in which a nation, tribe or ethnic group was seen as a thing to be loved and protected (the quality of life the Standing Rock Sioux community stood for). Globalism, the ideology of the rising urban bourgeoisie, was more individualistic. It valued diversity and change, prioritised rights over obligations and saw the world as a whole, rather than particular parts of it, as the moral community to which we all belong”.

Belonging

Trump stoked the worst side of nationalism, the angry, prejudiced, intolerant form. But there is another way of looking at it. As Kingsnorth says: “What Haidt calls nationalism is really a new name for a much older impulse: the need to belong. Specifically, the need to belong to a place in which you feel at home”. The anxiety about the increase in immigration may be more about this fear of losing a sense of secure identity than bigotry and prejudice towards foreigners. The globalists seem to have ignored this distinction.

The new populism, which the far right seem to have successfully harnessed for their own neoliberal interests, is evidence less of an economic than cultural wound at the heart of Western civilisation and which the globalists have not understood: “What is driving the modern turmoil are threats to identity, culture and meaning. Waves of migration, multicultural policies, eroding borders, shifting national and ethnic identities, global attacks on western culture: all that is solid melts into air”. It is the Right who promise, however speciously, the return of that solidity, not the Left.

As Ken Wilber writes in his book on Trump, “worldcentric” globalism, as a cultural rather than economic phenomenon, demonstrates an advanced, more evolved form of cultural consciousness than modernity or traditional forms. But if it separates itself off from the main body of humanity and, worse, looks down contemptuously on them, then it leaves the way clear for the alternative Right to move in. Globalism is seen by many to be too elitist, too tied to narrow identity politics, and enthusiastic about breaking everything down, from gender identities to racial distinctions to national borders, while at the same time regarding any dissent as prejudice or hatred.

Global and local

Brexit and the defeat of Hilary Clinton provide important lessons for the globalists about how to remain true to a new global and ecological consciousness while staying empathetically in touch with the general electorate. The old maxim the Greens embraced from the 1970s on was to think globally while acting locally, but it seems to have been forgotten today. It is a timeless principle which comes out of the neo-platonic, mystical and ageless wisdom, as the One and the Many. Not everybody can see the big picture but the interconnectedness is everywhere if we look for it.

As Paul Kingsnorth suggests, the anti-globalist attack on the Greens is “a wake-up call. It points to the fact that green ideas have too often become a virtue signal for the carbon-heavy bourgeoisie, drinking their fair-trade coffee as they wait for their transatlantic flight. Green globalism has become part of the growth machine; a comfortable notion for those who don’t really want much to change.” We might do well to ask what a benevolent green nationalism would look like, the importance of the principle of acting locally in addition to thinking globally.

There is no one answer to this. Kingsnorth goes on to offer up one piece of advice from all his years of environmental campaigning: “any attempt to protect nature from the worst human depredation has to speak to people where they are”. The natural world should not be “an obstacle in the way of our progress but a part of our community that we should nurture’. That is part of our birthright. The challenge is how to be both ‘global and local”. That requires vision, a vision which Naomi Klein and the Left are beginning to think about.

Before that, perhaps we first have to address the issue of anger - not just at Trump, complacent globalist greens, or the fact of climate change denial, but our own, often objectless anger. Perhaps we need to understand where that comes from within ourselves. Naomi Klein’s righteous anger shines through in all her writing. Anger is a natural emotion but doesn't have to be destructively acted out. Hence the importance of getting to know it and learn what it can tell us about ourselves.

Part 2 will be posted in mid-March 2018

 

NO IS NOT ENOUGH: Defeating the New Shock Politics by Naomi Klein
Allen Lane: 2017, 273 pp, £12.99

AGE OF ANGER: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra
Allen Lane: 2017, 406 pp, £20.00

TRUMP AND A POST-TRUTH WORLD by Ken Wilber
Shambhala: 2017, 145 pp, US $14.95