Genealogies of the Present

by zunguzungu

From “A Different Sort of Blowback”:

“One of the defining policies of Cold War liberalism, President Johnson’s “War on Poverty”—which had less than one-tenth of the lifespan of the “War on Drugs”—took for granted that federal and state governments should take responsibility for improving the plight of the poor in northern cities, and represented a semi-coherent response to African American riots and insurgencies. But what if poor black people in cities could be held responsible for their poverty? What if, as industrial jobs disappeared by the millions, they became addicted to selling or consuming illegal drugs produced and/or distributed by U.S. government allies in Cold War counterinsurgent campaigns? Then, of course, African Americans could be locked up for non-violent drug offenses and warehoused in prisons at an accelerated rate.

“In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon and Governor Nelson Rockefeller in New York campaigned for office by whipping up hysteria about “crime” and “drugs,” and then criminalized African American communities, militarized policing, and increased incarceration…The idea was to put African Americans back in their place without Jim Crow segregation, and to get elected or re-elected by doing it…In his diary in 1969, Nixon’s top aide, H.R. Haldeman, provided a succinct summary of the overall strategy: “Nixon emphasized that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes that, while not appearing to do so.” In a letter to Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon wrote, “Ike, it’s just amazing how much you can get done through fear. All I talk about in New Hampshire is crime and drugs, and everyone wants to vote for me—and they don’t even have any black people up here.”

From Glenn Greenwald’s fascinating interview with Remi Brulin (on the origins of “terrorism” as a discourse):

RB: …what I’m looking at specifically is the American political discourse on terrorism, basically since ’45 but what I show is that the discourse, the term ‘terrorism’ started being used in the discourse only in ’81, beginning with the Reagan years…basically the term is not used in the US political discourse at all, until the ’70s, more or less…presidents until Carter never really used the term terrorism, and Carter used it mostly in ’79 and 1980, and it was in reference to the hostage crisis in Iran. Even then, even when Carter used it, and he used it in, I don’t know, 120 speeches or so, even he was not using the term terrorism as a discourse, meaning that the term was used once or twice to refer specifically to that one act of terrorism, namely the hostage crisis. But he did not turn this into a discourse. The term terrorism is not suddenly supposed to explain everything, to tell us who the enemy was, and did not draw a line between those who were the terrorists and those who were not. It was just about that one incident. So there was no discourse. The real discourse appears with Reagan administration in 1981
…there are possibly two origins, two explanations for where the discourse comes from. One is from Latin America, and the other is from Israel.

GG: With regard to Latin America, as you just said, that began in 1981 with the Reagan administration, the various wars that it waged there in terms of who was a terrorist, who wasn’t, were we funding the terrorists, like with the Contras, who were trying to overthrow the government, or were we fighting against terrorists, and those terms got confused.

RB: Israel started using the term to explain or to characterize its struggle, its conflicts with Palestinians and with the Arab states in general, since early on, in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, if you study the debates at the UN, which is something I looked at, you can see that there’s a very different way of talking about terrorism on the Israeli side, and on the American side, throughout the ’70s, all the way up until the ’80s. For Israel, right away, in the ’70s, in the early ’70s, there is a war against terrorism. The Arab states are terrorist states, and they are at war with Israel. There are parallels with the threat of terrorism and the threat posed by the Nazis. Those are terms that are used over and over and over again by the Israeli representatives at the UN General Assembly and at the UN Security Council in the ’70s. And Israel was the only state to say that about terrorism.

GG: …the first conference that was designed to define or come up with a consensus definition of terrorism, was already cast in Middle East terms because the conference was named after Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother, who had tried to rescue the hostages from Uganda…

RB: …the official objective is…”to focus public attention on the real nature of international terrorism, on the threat that it poses to all democratic societies, and on the measures necessary for defeating the forces of terror.” And everything in the book is about the fact that terrorism is not something that, is not a threat that Israel only is facing, but it’s a threat to all democracies, the whole Western world.

Wendy Brown talks about the “quotidian nihilism” of neoliberalism’s meaningless direction:

CPS: “…What would it require to translate the despair that many people experience in very personal and de-politicized ways into a form of political mobilization?”
Wendy Brown:  “That is an interesting question because it assumes that neoliberalism produces despair.  I wish it did but I am not convinced that it does.  I think that the process that some of us have called neoliberalization actually seizes on something that is just a little to one side of despair that I might call something like a quotidian nihilism.   By quotidian, I mean it is a nihilism that is not lived as despair; it is a nihilism that is not lived as an occasion for deep anxiety or misery about the vanishing of meaning from the human world.  Instead, what neoliberalism is able to seize upon is the extent to which human beings experience a kind of directionlessness and pointlessness to life that neoliberalism in an odd way provides.  It tells you what you should do: you should understand yourself as a spec of human capital, which needs to appreciate its own value by making proper choices and investing in proper things. Those things can range from choice of a mate, to choice of an educational institution, to choice of a job, to choice of actual monetary investments – but neoliberalism without providing meaning provides direction. In a sad way it is seizing upon a certain directionlessness and meaninglessness in late modernity.  Again, I am talking mainly about the Euro-Atlantic world: without providing meaning, it provides direction…”