두 편의 글을 올려 본다. 오바마에 대한 두 사람의 평이 어떻게 같거나 다른지 비교해 보면 나름의 지적 유희 정도는 있을까? 모르겠다. 하여간 관심이 있는 사람들이 있으면 읽어보시압...(나는 읽기야 하겠지만, 이 둘을 비교하는데 그리 열성적이지 않은 까닭에.. 지금으로서는...)
Use Your Illusions
Noam Chomsky called for people to vote for Obama ‘without illusions’. I fully share Chomsky’s doubts about the real consequences of Obama’s victory: from a pragmatic perspective, it is quite possible that Obama will make only some minor improvements, turning out to be ‘Bush with a human face’. He will pursue the same basic policies in a more attractive way and thus effectively strengthen the US hegemony, damaged by the catastrophe of the Bush years.
There is nonetheless something deeply wrong with this reaction – a key dimension is missing from it. Obama’s victory is not just another shift in the eternal parliamentary struggle for a majority, with all the pragmatic calculations and manipulations that involves. It is a sign of something more. This is why an American friend of mine, a hardened leftist with no illusions, cried when the news came of Obama’s victory. Whatever our doubts, for that moment each of us was free and participating in the universal freedom of humanity.
In The Contest of Faculties, Kant asked a simple but difficult question: is there true progress in history? (He meant ethical progress, not just material development.) He concluded that progress cannot be proven, but we can discern signs which indicate that progress is possible. The French Revolution was such a sign, pointing towards the possibility of freedom: the previously unthinkable happened, a whole people fearlessly asserted their freedom and equality. For Kant, even more important than the – often bloody – reality of what went on on the streets of Paris was the enthusiasm that the events in France gave rise to in the eyes of sympathetic observers all around Europe and in places as far away as Haiti, where it triggered another world-historical event: the first revolt by black slaves. Arguably the most sublime moment of the French Revolution occurred when the delegation from Haiti, led by Toussaint l’Ouverture, visited Paris and were enthusiastically received at the Popular Assembly as equals among equals.
Obama’s victory is a sign of history in the triple Kantian sense of signum rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticum. A sign in which the memory of the long past of slavery and the struggle for its abolition reverberates; an event which now demonstrates a change; a hope for future achievements. The scepticism displayed behind closed doors even by many worried progressives – what if, in the privacy of the voting booth, the publicly disavowed racism will re-emerge? – was proved wrong. One of the interesting things about Henry Kissinger, the ultimate cynical Realpolitiker, is how utterly wrong most of his predictions were. When news reached the West of the 1991 anti-Gorbachev military coup, for example, Kissinger immediately accepted the new regime as a fact. It collapsed ignominiously three days later. The paradigmatic cynic tells you confidentially: ‘But don’t you see that it is all really about money/power/sex, that professions of principle or value are just empty phrases which count for nothing?’ What the cynics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom which ignores the power of illusions.
The reason Obama’s victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures – think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn’t really believe that they would disintegrate – like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama’s victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise.
The true battle begins now, after the victory: the battle for what this victory will effectively mean, especially within the context of two other more ominous events: 9/11 and the current financial meltdown, an instance of history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy. President Bush’s addresses to the American people after 9/11 and the financial meltdown sound like two versions of the same speech. Both times, he evoked the threat to the American way of life and the need for fast and decisive action. Both times, he called for the partial suspension of American values (guarantees to individual freedom, market capitalism) to save those very values. Where does this similarity come from?
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 marked the beginning of the ‘happy 1990s’. According to Francis Fukuyama, liberal democracy had, in principle, won. The era is generally seen as having come to an end on 9/11. However, it seems that the utopia had to die twice: the collapse of the liberal-democratic political utopia on 9/11 did not affect the economic utopia of global market capitalism, which has now come to an end.
The financial meltdown has made it impossible to ignore the blatant irrationality of global capitalism. In the fight against Aids, hunger, lack of water or global warming, we may recognise the urgency of the problem, but there is always time to reflect, to postpone decisions. The main conclusion of the meeting of world leaders in Bali to talk about climate change, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue the talks. But with the financial meltdown, the urgency was unconditional; a sum beyond imagination was immediately found. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children . . . All that can wait a bit, but ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and gets immediate action. The panic was absolute. A transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges among world leaders momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. (Incidentally, what the much-praised ‘bi-partisanship’ effectively means is that democratic procedures were de facto suspended.) The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?
Compare the $700 billion spent on stabilising the banking system by the US alone to the $22 billion pledged by richer nations to help poorer nations cope with the food crisis, of which only $2.2 billion has been made available. The blame for the food crisis cannot be put on the usual suspects of corruption, inefficiency or state interventionism. Even Bill Clinton has acknowledged that ‘we all blew it, including me,’ by treating food crops as commodities instead of a vital right of the world's poor. Clinton was very clear in blaming not individual states or governments, but the long-term Western policy imposed by the US and European Union and enacted by the World Bank, the IMF and other international institutions. African and Asian countries were pressured into dropping government subsidies for farmers, opening up the way for the best land to be used for more lucrative export crops. The result of such ‘structural adjustments’ was the integration of local agriculture into the global economy: crops were exported, farmers were thrown off their land and pushed into sweat-shops, and poorer countries had to rely more and more on imported food. In this way, they are kept in postcolonial dependence, vulnerable to market fluctuations – soaring grain prices (caused in part by the use of crops for biofuels) have meant starvation in countries from Haiti to Ethiopia.
Clinton is right to say that ‘food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.’ There are at least two things to add here. First, developed Western countries have taken great care to maintain their own food self-sufficiency through financial support for their farmers (farm subsidies account for almost half of the entire EU budget). Second, the list of things which are not ‘commodities like others’ is much longer: apart from food (and defence, as all patriots are aware), there are water, energy, the environment, culture, education, health – who will make decisions about these, if they cannot be left to the market? It is here that the question of Communism has to be raised again.
The cover story in Time magazine on 5 June 2006 was ‘The Deadliest War in the World’ – a detailed account of the political violence that has killed four million people in Congo over the last decade. None of the usual humanitarian uproar followed, just a couple of readers’ letters. Time picked the wrong victim: it should have stuck to Muslim women or Tibetan monks. The death of a Palestinian child, not to mention an Israeli or an American, is worth thousands more column inches than the death of a nameless Congolese. Why? On 30 October, Associated Press reported that Laurent Nkunda, the rebel general besieging Congo's eastern provincial capital Goma, has said he wants direct talks with the government about his objections to a billion-dollar deal giving China access to the country's vast mineral riches in exchange for a railway and highway. Neo-colonialist problems aside, this deal poses a vital threat to the interests of local warlords, since it would create the infrastructural base for the Democratic Republic of Congo as a functioning united state.
In 2001, a UN investigation into the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Congo found that the conflict in the country is mainly about access to, control of and trade in five key minerals: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold. According to this investigation, the exploitation of Congo's natural resources by local warlords and foreign armies was ‘systematic and systemic’. Rwanda's army made at least $250 million in 18 months by selling coltan, which is used in cellphones and laptops. The report concluded that the permanent civil war and disintegration of Congo ‘has created a “win-win” situation for all belligerents. The only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people.’ Beneath the façade of ethnic warfare, we thus discern the contours of global capitalism.
Among the greatest exploiters are Rwandan Tutsis, the victims of the genocide 14 years ago. Earlier this year, the Rwandan government published documents that demonstrated the Mitterrand administration’s complicity in the genocide: France supported the Hutu plan for the takeover, even supplying them with arms, in order to regain influence at the expense of the anglophone Tutsis. France’s outright dismissal of the accusations as totally unfounded was, to say the least, itself unfounded. Bringing Mitterrand to the Hague tribunal, even posthumously, would cross a fateful line, for the first time bringing to trial a leading Western politician who pretended to act as a protector of freedom, democracy and human rights.
There has been in recent weeks an extraordinary mobilisation of the ruling ideology to combat the threats to the current order. The French neoliberal economist Guy Sorman, for example, recently said in an interview in Argentina that ‘this crisis will be short enough.’ By saying this, Sorman is fulfilling the basic ideological demand with regard to the financial meltdown: renormalise the situation. As he puts it elsewhere, ‘this ceaseless replacement of the old with the new – driven by technical innovation and entrepreneurialism, itself encouraged by good economic policies – brings prosperity, though those displaced by the process, who find their jobs made redundant, can understandably object to it.’ (This renormalisation coexists with its opposite: the panic raised by the authorities in order to make the public ready to accept the proposed – obviously unjust – solution as inevitable.) Sorman admits that the market is full of irrational behaviour, but is quick to add that ‘it would be preposterous to use behavioral economics to justify restoring excessive state regulations. After all, the state is no more rational than the individual, and its actions can have enormously destructive consequences.’ He goes on:
An essential task of democratic governments and opinion makers when confronting economic cycles and political pressure is to secure and protect the system that has served humanity so well, and not to change it for the worse on the pretext of its imperfection. Still, this lesson is doubtless one of the hardest to translate into language that public opinion will accept. The best of all possible economic systems is indeed imperfect. Whatever the truths uncovered by economic science, the free market is finally only the reflection of human nature, itself hardly perfectible.
Rarely was the function of ideology described in clearer terms: to defend the existing system against any serious critique, legitimising it as a direct expression of human nature.
It is unlikely that the financial meltdown of 2008 will function as a blessing in disguise, the awakening from a dream, the sobering reminder that we live in the reality of global capitalism. It all depends on how it will be symbolised, on what ideological interpretation or story will impose itself and determine the general perception of the crisis. When the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is open for a ‘discursive’ ideological competition. In Germany in the late 1920s, Hitler won the competition to determine which narrative would explain the reasons for the crisis of the Weimar Republic and the way out of it; in France in 1940 Maréchal Pétain’s narrative won in the contest to find the reasons for the French defeat. Consequently, to put it in old-fashioned Marxist terms, the main task of the ruling ideology in the present crisis is to impose a narrative that will not put the blame for the meltdown on the global capitalist system as such, but on its deviations – lax regulation, the corruption of big financial institutions etc.
Against this tendency, one should insist on the key question: which ‘flaw’ of the system as such opens up the possibility for such crises and collapses? The first thing to bear in mind here is that the origin of the crisis is a ‘benevolent’ one: after the dotcom bubble burst in 2001, the decision reached across party lines was to facilitate real estate investments in order to keep the economy going and prevent recession – today’s meltdown is the price for the US having avoided a recession seven years ago.
The danger is thus that the predominant narrative of the meltdown won’t be the one that awakes us from a dream, but the one that will enable us to continue to dream. And it is here that we should start to worry: not only about the economic consequences of the meltdown, but about the obvious temptation to reinvigorate the ‘war on terror’ and US interventionism in order to keep the economy running. Nothing was decided with Obama’s victory, but it widens our freedom and thereby the scope of our decisions. No matter what happens, it will remain a sign of hope in our otherwise dark times, a sign that the last word does not belong to realistic cynics, from the left or the right.
This became most salient in the emergence of the counter Bradley-effect, when voters could and did explicitly own up to their own racism, but said they would vote for Obama anyway. Anecdotes from the field include claims like the following: "I know that Obama is a Muslim and a Terrorist, but I will vote for him anyway; he is probably better for the economy." Such voters got to keep their racism and vote for Obama, sheltering their split beliefs without having to resolve them.
It becomes all the more important to think about the politics of exuberant identification with the election of Obama when we consider that support for Obama has coincided with support for conservative causes. In a way, this accounts for his "cross-over" success. In California, he won by 60% of the vote, and yet some significant portion of those who voted for him also voted against the legalization of gay marriage (52%). How do we understand this apparent disjunction? First, let us remember that Obama has not explicitly supported gay marriage rights. Further, as Wendy Brown has argued, the Republicans have found that the electorate is not as galvanized by "moral" issues as they were in recent elections; the reasons given for why people voted for Obama seem to be predominantly economic, and their reasoning seems more fully structured by neo-liberal rationality than by religious concerns. This is clearly one reason why Palin's assigned public function to galvanize the majority of the electorate on moral issues finally failed. But if "moral" issues such as gun control, abortion rights and gay rights were not as determinative as they once were, perhaps that is because they are thriving in a separate compartment of the political mind. In other words, we are faced with new configurations of political belief that make it possible to hold apparently discrepant views at the same time: someone can, for instance, disagree with Obama on certain issues, but still have voted for him. This became most salient in the emergence of the counter Bradley-effect, when voters could and did explicitly own up to their own racism, but said they would vote for Obama anyway. Anecdotes from the field include claims like the following: "I know that Obama is a Muslim and a Terrorist, but I will vote for him anyway; he is probably better for the economy." Such voters got to keep their racism and vote for Obama, sheltering their split beliefs without having to resolve them.
Along with strong economic motivations, less empirically discernible factors have come into play in these election results. We cannot underestimate the force of dis-identification in this election, a sense of revulsion that George W. has "represented" the United States to the rest of the world, a sense of shame about our practices of torture and illegal detention, a sense of disgust that we have waged war on false grounds and propagated racist views of Islam, a sense of alarm and horror that the extremes of economic deregulation have led to a global economic crisis. Is it despite his race, or because of his race, that Obama finally emerged as a preferred representative of the nation? Fulfilling that representative-function, he is at once black and not-black (some say "not black enough" and others say "too black"), and, as a result, he can appeal to voters who not only have no way of resolving their ambivalence on this issue, but do not want one. The public figure who allows the populace to sustain and mask its ambivalence nevertheless appears as a figure of "unity": this is surely an ideological function. Such moments are intensely imaginary, but not for that reason without their political force.
As the election approached, there has been an increased focus on the person of Obama: his gravity, his deliberateness, his ability not to lose his temper, his way of modeling a certain evenness in the face of hurtful attacks and vile political rhetoric, his promise to reinstate a version of the nation that will overcome its current shame. Of course, the promise is alluring, but what if the embrace of Obama leads to the belief that we might overcome all dissonance, that unity is actually possible? What is the chance that we may end up suffering a certain inevitable disappointment when this charismatic leader displays his fallibility, his willingness to compromise, even to sell out minorities? He has, in fact, already done this in certain ways, but many of us "set aside" our concerns in order to enjoy the extreme un-ambivalence of this moment, risking an uncritical exuberance even when we know better. Obama is, after all, hardly a leftist, regardless of the attributions of "socialism" proffered by his conservative opponents. In what ways will his actions be constrained by party politics, economic interests, and state power; in what ways have they been compromised already? If we seek through this presidency to overcome a sense of dissonance, then we will have jettisoned critical politics in favor of an exuberance whose phantasmatic dimensions will prove consequential. Maybe we cannot avoid this phantasmatic moment, but let us be mindful about how temporary it is. If there are avowed racists who have said, "I know that he is a Muslim and a terrorist, but I will vote for him anyway," there are surely also people on the left who say, "I know that he has sold out gay rights and Palestine, but he is still our redemption." I know very well, but still: this is the classic formulation of disavowal. Through what means do we sustain and mask conflicting beliefs of this sort? And at what political cost?
There is no doubt that Obama's success will have significant effects on the economic course of the nation, and it seems reasonable to assume that we will see a new rationale for economic regulation and for an approach to economics that resembles social democratic forms in Europe; in foreign affairs, we will doubtless see a renewal of multi-lateral relations, the reversal of a fatal trend of destroying multilateral accords that the Bush administration has undertaken. And there will doubtless also be a more generally liberal trend on social issues, though it is important to remember that Obama has not supported universal health care, and has failed to explicitly support gay marriage rights. And there is not yet much reason to hope that he will formulate a just policy for the United States in the Middle East, even though it is a relief, to be sure, that he knows Rashid Khalidi.
The indisputable significance of his election has everything to do with overcoming the limits implicitly imposed on African-American achievement; it has and will inspire and overwhelm young African-Americans; it will, at the same time, precipitate a change in the self-definition of the United States. If the election of Obama signals a willingness on the part of the majority of voters to be "represented" by this man, then it follows that who "we" are is constituted anew: we are a nation of many races, of mixed races; and he offers us the occasion to recognize who we have become and what we have yet to be, and in this way a certain split between the representative function of the presidency and the populace represented appears to be overcome. That is an exhilarating moment, to be sure. But can it last, and should it?
To what consequences will this nearly messianic expectation invested in this man lead? In order for this presidency to be successful, it will have to lead to some disappointment, and to survive disappointment: the man will become human, will prove less powerful than we might wish, and politics will cease to be a celebration without ambivalence and caution; indeed, politics will prove to be less of a messianic experience than a venue for robust debate, public criticism, and necessary antagonism. The election of Obama means that the terrain for debate and struggle has shifted, and it is a better terrain, to be sure. But it is not the end of struggle, and we would be very unwise to regard it that way, even provisionally. We will doubtless agree and disagree with various actions he takes and fails to take. But if the initial expectation is that he is and will be "redemption" itself, then we will punish him mercilessly when he fails us (or we will find ways to deny or suppress that disappointment in order to keep alive the experience of unity and unambivalent love).
If a consequential and dramatic disappointment is to be averted, he will have to act quickly and well. Perhaps the only way to avert a "crash" – a disappointment of serious proportions that would turn political will against him – will be to take decisive actions within the first two months of his presidency. The first would be to close Guantanamo and find ways to transfer the cases of detainees to legitimate courts; the second would be to forge a plan for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and to begin to implement that plan. The third would be to retract his bellicose remarks about escalating war in Afghanistan and pursue diplomatic, multilateral solutions in that arena. If he fails to take these steps, his support on the left will clearly deteriorate, and we will see the reconfiguration of the split between liberal hawks and the anti-war left. If he appoints the likes of Lawrence Summers to key cabinet positions, or continues the failed economic polices of Clinton and Bush, then at some point the messiah will be scorned as a false prophet. In the place of an impossible promise, we need a series of concrete actions that can begin to reverse the terrible abrogation of justice committed by the Bush regime; anything less will lead to a dramatic and consequential disillusionment. The question is what measure of dis-illusion is necessary in order to retrieve a critical politics, and what more dramatic form of dis-illusionment will return us to the intense political cynicism of the last years. Some relief from illusion is necessary, so that we might remember that politics is less about the person and the impossible and beautiful promise he represents than it is about the concrete changes in policy that might begin, over time, and with difficulty, bring about conditions of greater justice.