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It is a common failing of human nature to be more confidant in strange and unprecedented circumstances...-Julius Caesar, "The Civil War"

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JUNE 21, 2011 3:06PM

Union Life, part four: Politics

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When I was very young, maybe five or six, I can't remember exactly, I used to have a recurring nightmare:

I was walking in a forest.  Up ahead there was a clearing, but it was dark and I was hidden from view by the undergrowth.  In the clearing, a large circular space, there was a rocket about to launch.  There was noise and activity around the area where the rocket was standing, but I couldn't see anyone clearly.  As I approached, I realized that I was terrified of being discovered, and each time my foot touched the earth the sound it made seemed incredibly loud to me.  It was almost as if I were a bug making my way along the forest floor, listening to my own footfalls like those of a passing giant.  Then, somewhere from the clearing, a countdown began.  It started at 8 for some reason (later I would associate this with the countdown from 8-to-1 on the target-lead before an old film begins)...and as it continued, my fear rose, until I couldn't stand it any longer.  I wanted to scream, but when I opened my mouth a deafening noise drowned it out.  The rocket was launching.  Suddenly everything was lost in a void, and I was rushing through the vacuum along with the rocket, which only then did I realize was a nuclear weapon...

Often when I awoke from this dream I would be screaming for real.  Once I raced out of my room, and my mother who came to comfort me, said later that I claimed I didn't want to go back to bed because "it was in there."  "What?" she asked, but I couldn't formulate an answer.

The dream became less frequent, though, and it stopped by the time I was in second grade.  The easy explanation was that I was terrified of nuclear war, a common feeling in the late '50s that was exacerbated by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  Of that I have only the vaguest recollections.  The dream did not return.  If anything, those events, and Kennedy's assassination the following year, remain opaque to me.  I remember my mother crying about Kennedy.  She saved the front page of the newspaper from the next day.  I still have it.  It's strange to see that less than 24 hours after the murder, there were already speculations about conspiracies.  One of the many articles analysing the shooting is accompanied by a picture of the president's route, with arrows describing the gunshots pointing from several different directions.  Again, this has no impact on me.  I couldn't care less who killed Kennedy, and I never have.  He's dead.  We have to live with the nightmare that is reality.

I have never bought into the idea that what we are living through is a "postmodern" period of history, or that the social space we're occupying is a "postmodern" society.  Dating something, or everything, as being after-the-modern makes about as much sense as claiming that poststructuralism or deconstruction are independent terms.  They're both still contingent on their critical second terms, in the same way and to the same extent that what they're engaged in as practices are what has always existed: the criticism of criticism, or simply put, philosophy.  In that sense all they represent is a "postmodern turn," or a new critical turn both in and upon certain disciplines.  Along the same lines, what we are stuck with at the level of the social and the historical is modernity itself.  We've never "gone" anywhere in any sense.  We still have the same problems--alienation, rootlessness, the isolation of the individual (or the consumer, if you prefer the "postmodern" term), and the economic stagnation and collapse of late capitalism.  And the fear of nuclear war.

But that brings up an interesting question: Is there really a "postmodern" form of politics?  Or are we stuck with the same chess-derived, war-fixated, and ultimately cynical theories and practices of the past?  To be less extreme...Has there been, or will there ever be, a "postmodern" turn in political reasoning?  I'm too old to believe in a peace dividend, but maybe we can still squeeze out a sanity remainder from the last 50 years of insanity.

Or maybe not.  Either way my introduction to politics, I believe, was that childhood dream about a first strike.  (Was it theirs, or ours?  In my dream, I never did see who was launching the rocket, or what uniforms, if any, they were wearing.  Maybe they were "mad scientists" straight out of a 1950s B-picture.)  The point is that for me politics, from my earliest inklings of it, has been about total destruction.  Maybe that's why, as I become aware that I'm much nearer my own end than my beginning, I see a radical new materialism, to ground both philosophy and politics, as the best hope for the future.  Anything less would mean annihilation.

Of course the trip in between was much longer and far stranger than that sentimental summing-up would suggest.  Let me relate just one more story before I dive into a final try at my own criticism of criticism...

Back in the mid-'90s I was in Nigeria doing work for a large IT-related company that was interested in the extensive local deposits of ores used in the processing of rare elements (tantalum and niobium).  These in turn make up ingredients in alloys for high-tech gear, components for computers, cell phones, medical equipment, etc.  My employer was already looking to find alternate sources of these materials to China.  Nigeria, and several other countries in the region, were supposed to play a big part in this "new plateau" of technology, at the level of raw resources providers, although most of the consumers who bought the final products would never know--and still don't, I would guess--that their gadgets were more drenched in blood than diamonds.  That was because at the time, and off and on ever since, Nigeria was engulfed in a civil conflict.  Not exactly a war, more of an internal, family-like disagreement.  Complete with all the heinous crimes and atrocities that accompany a Greek tragedy.  Part of this was a type of gangland conflict driven by greed, control over the country's oil concessions, or what little money flowed back to the upper layers of the political class from oil companies that kept (and still keep) most of the profits for their investors, and just plain hunger for power.  But already at that stage in the IT explosion, the rare elements issue was starting to gain prominence, and starting to attract the attention of various local parties.

It was my job to analyse the conflict situation in the country, specifically within the government--as well as taking a tour of the countryside to get the feel of the place--and report back.  I was not involved in any political negotiations.  I didn't know most of the political players.  And I never met the leader of the country at the time, Sani Abacha, who was later killed when a coup d'etat was arranged by a renegade force within the military that shoved forward their chosen candidate in a quick election.  This was redefined as a "heart attack," a "transition," and a "change to democracy" in Western media reports, which I have always found entertaining.  Still, it was generally considered a good thing by most people both inside and outside the country, since Abacha was a lunatic.  A former military dictator, Olusegun Obasanjo was promptly "elected," and so on.... In retrospect, I would have liked to have met Abacha, despite the fact that he certainly had the great, famous activist Ken Saro-Wiwa killed.  Abacha was a ruthless, corrupt leader, but subsequent rulers there, including the bizarre Goodluck Jonathan, a total avatar for corporate interests, make him look almost normal. 

My entire stay in-country lasted no more than three weeks.  It would be convenient at this point, considering my political sympathies overall, to blame all the conflict on the interference of large transnational corporations, including my former employer and its partners.  But while the intervention of foreign capital certainly didn't help to quell the violence, it also didn't really cause it, either.  That monied presence, and me along with it, remained surprisingly aloof from the situation "on the ground," as military folks (and increasingly corporate folks as well) like to put it.  It was almost like being encased in a shell of plexiglass rolling through the chaotic landscape.

Being in a destabilized, militarized country is not at all like people think.  It isn't even like most troops who see combat think, since they spend most of their time on base or engaged in security operations--and every once in a while, actual fighting.  The point is that every war zone is also a zone of destabilization, but not every destabilized country is going through an all-out conflict.  Mostly what you see in a destabilzed area is people.  Everywhere.  People streaming along the roads.  People milling around in squares waiting for food or water to arrive.  People trying to get out, or get through to another region, or just get under cover somewhere.  War means pitched combat, which can be unpredictable, but at least you can hear it and feel it, and avoid the hottest areas.  But destabilization means movement, massive, unorganized, desperate movement.  I began to have nightmares about being attacked by giant centipedes, which, when I tried to pull them off me, disarticulated and became thousands of little people who would then crawl all over me before clumping together again into aggressive, writhing, biting insects.  I saw horrible things as well.  Bodies stacked up by a shed rotting in the sun.  A man carrying a baby that had been dead for days, going from officer to officer at a government office trying to get somebody's attention.  One of them finally shoved him away so hard that his burden fell on the tile floor.

My most memorable encounter came right at the end of my stay.  I was in an area about a hundred kilometers from the capital.  There were the usual signs of hunger, disorganization, and the mountains of garbage that one came across everywhere.  But the people had some local commerce, there was less government presence, and the intra-party and tribal factionalism that defined everything in Lagos and other densely populated centers was not present.  This is one of the contradictory things about being in a country under an autocratic state, in this case an extended military junta: the ordered, drill-grounds image projected by the government is the reverse of life for the vast mass of people, which is chaotic and uncertain.  It's almost as if the best definition of autocracy, all autocracies, including those ruled by capital, is that of the state withdrawn in on itself.  Abandonment is the core of the relationship between the individual and the state under autocracy--and not constant surveillance, or a kind of invasive intimacy, as many dystopian fictions would have it.  In this type of system, power is only concerned with itself, and its own internal relationships of patronage and the sources of wealth that make them possible.  The people are almost in the way.  To the system, they're beside the point.  

One of the advantages of being pushed to the periphery (perhaps the only one) is that people in outlying areas, or at least those who live away from the centers of party and military patronage, can get on with life without having to worry too much about officialdom's response.  In other words, it works both ways, at least most of the time, and so long as general conflict doesn't break out.  This isn't a recommendation for autocratic forms of government, and the other facets of abandonment and official withdrawal--no real services, corrupt local police, the threat of fullblown civil strife--should give all the Ron Paul-supporting, "small government/no government" idiots in America right now some pause.  However, life on the periphery in a place like Nigeria does point out why, and how, people continue under these circumstances for a long time.  Of course, if you want to object to anything that officialdom is doing, either at the national level or more locally through their corporate alter-egos, or even start a discussion about such issues, then you can get into big trouble.

It was in this context, on my last visit to the countryside, that I encountered Jules.  At least that's what I'll call him here.  I never got his real name.  He was walking along the road that ran through the center of town, some distance from the first houses, pushing a cart filled with pots and pans, utensils, and other debris.  It was what one might call a "tinker's cart," and Jules did indeed advertise that he could repair almost anything.  A few people brought small appliances out to him, toasters and other things, while I was standing looking at his wares.  He shook his head grimly, pronounced a few words in the local dialect, and gave them a price.  They went away disappointed, resigned to doing without one of their few conveniences rather than pay his prices.  After this happened a couple times, and we had a moment alone, I turned to him and asked whether he was worried they might not be back.  He smiled and said "No," there was plenty of business, and besides, most of them came back.  It was worth it not to haggle too much up front, he explained--that would come later, when they returned to pick up their repaired objects, and demanded that the price be knocked down, claiming the work wasn't good enough.  "But if it runs...," I started, and he waved that away.  That was irrelevant, it was part of the process.     

That's when I noticed what was dangling off the end of his cart: limbs, prosthetic limbs--half-arms, half-legs, even a shoulder piece for a fourquarter amputee.  I paused for a moment and smiled at Jules, who, seeing where I'd been looking, explained to me that there was a big demand sometimes for such products, but not lately.  "Why?" I asked, perfectly aware that in this particular area there was an active rebel group.  There had been recent battles with government forces not too far from where we were standing.  "Too much fighting," he said, and he explained how while the fighting was going on, people that got wounded were more likely to make do with any old object, a broom handle or random piece of wood, to prop themselves up or use as an extension.  They didn't want to invest in a more permanent solution because they might not be around too long, and besides, nobody cares that much about vanity in the middle of a conflict.  But it was worth keeping the inventory.  For when peace came again, Jules assured me (and I understood this to mean, although he didn't say it, "when Abacha was gone"), that side of his business would pick up.  "Only you have to know what to keep," he said, getting more specific--"not everything goes, some things are more in demand, some less."  By this I took him to mean that only certain badly injured people survived.  If the whole arm or leg went, they'd probably not make it--but a partial amputee....  As for his suppliers, I didn't ask. 

I wished him a good afternoon, and he nodded and went jingling on his way.  Even now, whenever somebody starts talking to me about the supposed "greatness" of capitalism, the image I get in my head is not one of runners and traders rushing around on the floor of a stock exchange.  It's Jules, pushing his little cart along a dusty road somewhere, making calculations about which limb to keep and which to throw away.



As for the rare elements that the IT corporations and their suppliers intended to find and secure in Nigeria, the large-scale mining of them never emerged there.  Only recently has a Nigerian company started to exploit a major tantalum-niobium concession, as a byproduct of their tin slag operations, a dirty, pollution-laden process.  Meanwhile the discovery of rare elements in the neighboring Congo, along with huge deposits of zinc, copper and cobalt, has led to widespread conflict and the deaths of hundreds of thousands.  Still the threat of war and deadly local confrontations continue to be facts of life in Nigeria, due to the efforts of oil companies in the Niger Delta (Goodluck Jonathan was a local politician in the Delta region), a situation dramatized by the recent documentary "Sweet Crude."  I'm sure Jules still has plenty of business.   






Next: Union Life, part five: Philosophy, Conclusion

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Nigeria may still become a major producer of the ores from which rare elements are derived, but not soon. As China continues to strangle the market, look for the price of your favorite gadgets to start going up after years of "technological spread" and price decline. Also, there are material factors that play a big role here. The form in which these ores occur in the precambrian shelf of West Africa is not as easy to process, both physically and with chemicals, as what comes out of China. Cost of processing, plus local instability, plus corporate interference in regional politics, will not make for an easy future for Nigeria, the Congo, and other countries...
Rw - Part of what you're talking about has to do with postcolonialism and the differences in how that has developed in certain African states versus certain Latin American countries. The populist-leftist governments in the South have big social movements behind them, but you're right, they have also turned into new political formations, new parties, local organizations, advocacy groups. Why hasn't this happened in Africa, and will this happen in the Middle East in the wake of all these uprisings? In the case of a lot of postcolonial African states it did happen, but the movements were nationalistic and anticolonialist. They didn't represent a leftward turn, except as they were viewed by Western powers and some Western capital. Once things calmed down in the wake of the anticolonialist period, many movements turned in a very familiar direction--they took up where the systems of patronage developed under colonialism left off.

And in all fairness, the imbricated political structures that thrive under patronage are not all bad. (And who are America and the European powers to lecture anyone on corruption?) It's one way of moving wealth around in the system. I'm highly suspicious of specialized theories about corruption--prebendalism and so forth--since they all rely on elided histories that ignore the role of colonialism. Or these theories themselves play an intellectualized role in de-emphasizing the colonial past just enough to make the present seem incoherent. "Ah, it must be something about 'them,'" is the attitude, while corporations are busy shoving money at those at the top.
Rw - Nigeria's rare elements industry is woefully underdeveloped. I doubt that most people in diplomatic circles know anything about it. Everything having to do with the country is about oil. There's also a tendency not to discuss certain things that are being "set aside." I'm sure that there are plenty of people in Washington and its think-tank suburbs who regard Nigeria as some sort of ace-in-the-hole if China really goes hardline on rare elements (which they might). But the situation in the Congo, and the deep involvement of rare elements in the violence there, is well known.
boko - nigeria in relation to rare elements sounds a lot like the arctic or deep offshore drilling in the devoluton of oil exploration...evolved methods to extract the same resources as before, only in harder and harder to reach places and with less bang for the buck. when do you think it'll become vital, as in impossible for the industry to do without?

fear of nuclear war as the 'primal scene' of contemporary i buy it. the BOMB certainly still is the original trauma of today's political system, the old family secret we try so hard to forget about, or blame on somebody else. g/l jules.
Amazing image.

When comparing Latin America to Africa, the difference might be how far off ethnic boundaries are from political boundaries. Does that hypothesis make sense?
So you dreamed you were Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove when you were a kid. That’s heavy Boko I would rather have been Peter Sellers, all 3 of him. You really need to start paying attention to who killed Kennedy because that's who is running this country. I would give you a hint but I come from a “Family of Secrets”. You are right Post Modern is just a word that was coined to describe a lot of the art work coming out after the turn of the last century, like the poetry of WB Yeats. Unless you enter the world of sub atomic particles everything proceeds from the cause before it. Nigeria sounds a lot like the Bronx in the eighties. You should have took the Plexiglas off and got a real feel for things. Jules hawking prosthetic limbs to the maimed out of his push cart is about as accurate a simile as I could invent for capitalism. The European will pay in triplicate for everything he has done to the African people just like the Black man has paid for his past misdeeds (but I really don’t think you would know much about that). Like I said everything proceeds from a cause. Anyway great post I loved the imagery. I think you are improving as a writer.
BOKO - I was vaguely aware of Nigeria's involvement in the rare elements conflict, but of course knew that it must be a candidate since it's one of the places where the precambrian shelf is accessible, and actually above water.

It's interesting how early this all started on the timeline of more recent resource wars. It feels like we're coming full circle, and the ultimate destination for civilization is the original cradle of its origin. (Can that be what Jack is referring to? Or just a racist aside...?) I think that the longer this madness continues, the less room the beast will have to maneuver. We're narrowing in on it, but we can't bring it down yet. And I think it's more likely that populist-leftist movements and new parties will emerge in postcolonial Africa than the Middle East where oil still has everything wrapped up tight. Maybe the Congolese wars will be a wake up, and draw the comparison that needs to be drawn. If the exploitation of mineral wealth for newer and shinier technology continues in West and Central Africa, its future looks a lot like the Middle East today.
kosher - The only comparison I could think of along those lines is that the ethnic or indigenous movements have played a very large role in the Latin America revolutions, in Bolivia, and amongst landless peasants groups in Brazil and Argentina, and even more recently in Peru, where the indigenous movement has effectively displaced the government in some rural areas. The preservation of indigenous cultures in the South was quite consistent even in the most brutal periods of colonial rule. This isn't to debate the claims of prehistorical "authenticity" on the part of these movements, it's a more recent phenomenon we're discussing: the relationship between indigenous and colonial structures.

In most postcolonial African states, on the other hand, the tribalism is largely structured in the system along lines--or direct inversions--of the way the colonial powers arranged their alliances, using smaller, minority tribes which were easier to pay off and control in order to exploit larger populations. Africa, especially West and Central Africa, was the most heavily colonialized place on earth. The Dutch even created tribes by piecing together other separate groups, depending on what was most convenient for their administration--a policy that the Bureau of Indian Affairs reproduced in the U.S. It's hard to imagine a Chiapas-type movement emerging anywhere in Africa today.
Jack - History does not keep accounts. And there are many accesses to the ontological other than particle physics.

skinnydave - One can only hope that people are paying attention, and try to engage them for that purpose, and beyond. What would a postcolonial African leftist-populism look like? I wonder.
stu - It's hard to say how long it will be before Nigeria becomes "vital" to corporations in the rare elements area. In some ways, it already is, since any exploitation there, or anywhere else in Africa, puts pressure on the Chinese to loosen up. Certainly the sudden ascension of Goodluck Jonathan was not coincidental, but almost everyone seems to think that it was the oil conglomerates that played the largest part. Prior to the recent election they pumped an enormous amount of wealth into the patronage pipeline, which is why the NGO's can conspire with the politicians and claim that it was "fair." It takes suprisingly little force to determine an election when there's that much cash available. The involvement of the rare elements and IT industry is less clear. But since the election there has been a strong push to get investors lined up for the new combined coltan project. Excuse me if I'm cynical about the idea that the new wealth and new technology will be used to provide cheaper energy to the country.
The breakdown of the Congo, reformation of the DRC, and then its breakdown as everyone rushed in and looted the coltan and other precious stuff, is one of the great tragedies of our time. Millions died. I can see it being repeated in other countries, including Nigeria. It's hard to buy into the idea that it was ideologies that really fueled the Congo. Kabila was about as convincing as a Marxist as Mugabe is today as some kind of great anticapitalist. Postcolonialism and chronic power vacuums, along with sheer exploitation from outside and within, continue to be the norms in W. and C. Africa.

...and I think you meant "precambrian ridge," not "shelf."
Tracy - Thanks for correcting my geology. As skinnydave pointed out, the precambrian layer is pushed up near the surface in ridges in West and Central Africa, which is what makes the extraction of rare elementals possible there. Dave also mentioned his surprise at the fact that I was working for a company in the mid-'90s that was already looking at Nigeria in this way. In part that could have been because of the conflict in the Congo, as well as China's unpredictability--neither of which have changed much, as the effects of the war drag on, and China's position on rare elements becomes more uncertain. I don't know about my employer's full motivations. But the value of the rare elements derived from the ores we're talking about was never in doubt. By the early '60s the first applications of niobium were apparent, as an ingredient in alloys used to make superconducting magnets, the kind employed in SQUIDS and other super-sensitive components for medical imaging technology, current controls, and even mining exploration. There was a lot of theoretical work beforehand, but everyone knew for certain that superconductors would play a big role in the future of electronics by the '60s. Knowing that, and knowing that only certain geological formations contained the rare stuff that would be needed, make this a very early chapter in the high-tech revolution. It didn't require better mapping and exploration technology to figure out where they were located either, since geologists already knew that rare elements occur alongside certain more common ones. Follow the trail...and a pretty good map of rare element mining possibilities was available forty years ago.
This is interesting and I enjoyed and learned.

I had annihilation dreams similar to yours in the 1960s. Mine tended more toward the surreal than did yours. The event was usually triggered in a meeting that resembled a Rotary Club breakfast. Sometimes Miss America was there. Seriously.

If Freudian Analysis was still an accepted clinical practice, that dream could keep someone working for years.
steve - There are still a few Freudians around, Steve, although I don't think that Miss America being present in your dreams requires any type of deep analysis to figure it out. I also used to dream about a perfectly normal day--no Miss America though--being interrupted by the "event." And I'm always surprised how many people had dreams of nuclear annihilation but have forgotten them, until they're reminded. Thanks for passing.
Mary - Thank you, but dreams mean what they mean. Mine meant that I was terrified of nuclear war. To say that the subconscious or unavailable dream content is different from the availabe content is not the same thing as invalidating the dream content's regular, everyday meaning, a fact that I think escapes many people. Interpretation is not a zero-sum game here.
stu - The bomb as the "primal scene" of contemporary Maybe. Although I'm afraid that we're in danger of seeing it slip beneath a number of other things. These include minor threats blown out of all proportion, nutty conspiracy theories, even a pop culture that seems more fixated on what ex-athletes have to say about gay marriage (what is the relevance?) than the fact that there are still thousands of warheads pointed at millions of civilians, a remainder from the last World War's moral drift, which came to include the total civilian populations as fair game for slaughter on both sides, in both Europe and the Pacific theater. Here's the real "moral legacy" of the last five or six decades.
Have you read "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth" by Gar Alperovitz?
And to what extent do you think that your dream, and all our dreams and nightmares of nuclear annihilation, could be seen, in an ontological light, as an example of the terror that Sartre describes of the in-itself (the material world) coming to life and swallowing up the for-itself (us)? I think that's in "Being and Nothingness" where he discusses concrete relations.
Autocracies are chaotic. When the ruler is available in the body of an individual, it's easier to feel that power is distant from you. You see him on parade, or in an open car driving through his paid admiring supporters. We see primed images of this sort of thing now streaming out of Yemen, or we did before Saleh was hurt. Pre-prepared rallies are becoming the new-old media weapon on choice of aging dictators...

Isn't that inherently unstable though? Like you point out, life goes on largely without any intervention from 'officialdom' in the outlying areas. Usually one local representative is appointed to watch over people. Everyone ignores him, or tries to undermine him if he gets too smart. You wrote about Cossery a few posts back, and that's the sort of thing depicted in his books, life on the periphery or in poor neighborhoods in the city which are basically left to fester. These are also possible sites for incubating revolution, but how does one make the leap? How to inspire in such a cesspool of abandonment and withdrawal? You say that people get something out of it, a certain sense of freedom or at least non-harassment. Can that be converted into real action?
An interesting piece. I'll have to return to read the previous installments over again. Did you ever figure out what impact your report had on activities "in-country"?

All of the crimes done in the name of civilizing others sure do add up to a lot of uncivilized behavior. The sucking dry of the poor world by the rich continues. We need a new kind of union--non-nuke, super-labor, no-bureau-crats--and we need it soon.
skinnydave - I did read Alperovitz's book. He seemed over-eager to offer analysis at every turn, and I think he dismisses some important, damaging points. There is some recontainment going on there, but it's also very persuasive in other ways. It makes a few points very clear: The bomb was not dropped because we wanted to end the war, but because we wanted to prove something to the Soviets, namely that we would use it. I'm not convinced that Stalin really thought we wouldn't, but Truman's closest advisors believed that. At least that was the case with the ones that got in there and short-circuited the process of policy debate, like they always do, a built-in element of the power structure and not some kind of side-effect. It also made something else crystal clear to me: Stalin wanted us involved in Korea, so he armed the partisans that became the fighting force in the North, and then withdrew support, knowing they'd have to turn to China. He wanted us and China to get into it with each other so we'd be stretched and he'd have some maneuvering room in Europe. Remember, Truman started to push in on their sphere of influence through the creep intervention in Greece and more openly in Turkey. That wasn't in the book, but somehow it refocused the era for me.
skinny (cont'd) - It's funny that you mention it, I'm rereading Sartre right now. I'll wait until I come to that section and get back to you. But initially, I don't think it's the right reference. The in-itself is Being as it resides in the world, as we find it so to speak, or as Heidegger would put it, "Being in its own dwelling," while the for-itself is being in its surpassing--our attempt to bridge the gap between ourselves as being and Being itself. The nightmare you describe reverses the terms, and the role they play in the real world, while nightmares of nuclear annihilation continue our project to a potentially fatal conclusion. In Sartre's language, it's the for-itself self-sabotaging its engagement, all its engagements, and pre-empting any future ones.
Davey - I think that autocracies are about as unstable as any form of government. Just like with the others, including democracy, there is a gap between their rhetoric and reality, between the official level of discourse and the unofficial-official (obey this rule, and by the way, you can ignore it up to a point...). But the gap is problematized under autocracy, since the official claim is absolute, or nearly so. That's why an enormous amount of corruption, adjacent to the official system of power, is tolerated, but when flagrant, very public displays of rule-breaking occur, the reaction is harsh. That's the structure. The response-counter-response cycle seems very near at hand in an autocracy.

As for how to incubate a revolution in the slums, I think the work of Cossery, and Saramago, are good places to start. The true literary people always know.
We really do have a corrupt system of patronage now in our own country. You're right, that's not the problem--but I wonder what it'll take to dislodge the current crop of fuckers.
And oh, I read the other parts to this and they're quite good.
Sam - I issued my report and went back home. I remember sitting in a sweaty hotel room--the AC was out--thinking to myself, "This doesn't matter, this is all going to fall apart." And it did. At the time, I advised my employer to be cautious, to look for better liaisons within the goverment (they were relying too much on one individual who I thought had little real power despite his position), and to think of the conflict in Nigeria less in terms of tribalism, the rubric current then, and to concentrate on specific intra-party feuds. And to ignore future offers of patronage favors--that was off the books, of course. They took my suggestions about as seriously as I thought they would, and ended up entangled with the state, and their single "contact," as it fell. There's never been any follow-up to my knowledge, although recent activities to step up rare elements production there suggests that somebody is back in the game.
manhattankid - What will it take to get rid of the current crop of thieves in our own country and in Europe? I think we're about to find out.

And I thought you had already read the other parts to this series. Are you getting forgetful?
Still one of the best blogs on here, one of the few worth reading. When do we get to see the last chapter?
amsterdam was fun. novac won. ready to blow this joint...
It would be remiss of me to have posted this piece on my travels in Nigeria without going to the source. Chinua Achebe is one of the finest anti-imperialist writers, and a Nigerian. His essays, novels and stories are one of the great resources against both racism and imperialism we have today. Although from a previous generation, Achebe gives some insight in a passage from his essay "Thoughts on the African Novel" into the relationship between Western racism, the history of colonialism, and the present rulers of Africa:

"In our time a preoccupation with Europe [or America, we could add today] has seemed...inevitable despite the passage of nearly two hundred years. In the colonial period and its aftermath we were preoccupied with Europe in the form of protest. Then a bunch of bright ones came along and said: 'We are through with intoning the colonial litany. We hereby repudiate the crippling legacy of a Europe-oriented protest. We are tough-minded. We absolve Europe of all guilt. Don't worry, Europe, we were bound to violence long before you came to our shores.' Naturally, Europe, which was beginning to believe the worst about itself, is greatly relieved and impressed by the mental emancipation, objectivity and sophistication of these newcomers. As if any intelligent writer of protest had ever taken a starry-eyed view of Africa or doubted the reality of evil in Africa, the new anti-protest, broad-minded writer will now endorse the racist theory that Africa IS evil, IS the heart of darkness."

The passage demonstrates some of the subtleties of African politics and criticism since the post-colonial period got underway. It also makes a good point about how real protest movements, in art as well as in politics, get co-opted through a strange sort of mischaracterization on the part of those who come to power through apologism for brutality--a position which today is often hidden, in policies addressed both to Africa and to other regions, beneath layers of neoliberal propaganda about "humanitarianism" and "freedom."