We’re a couple days into the New Year, so technically I’m a bit late on this. (Wanna fight about it?).
I read a lot of great stuff on the Internet in 2015. This doesn’t contend to be a “best of” or have any particular kind of coherence – it’s just a few things that stuck with me at year’s end:
Thanks jointly to the refugee crisis and the emergence of ISIS, discussions of the “Islamic threat” were a major feature of political discourse in 2015. A recurrent theme among neocons, New Atheists, gunboat liberals, and fellow travellers has been the ostensibly barbaric nature of Islam itself: Islamic “ideology”, it is said, demands and supports ISIS and all of its depredations. Writing for the New Statesman in March, Mehdi Hassan offered the most nuanced take on ISIS I have yet encountered pointing out, among other things, that most ISIS recruits don’t seem particularly religious and that much of its logistical muscle is drawn from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s (secular) regime.
A favourite theme of contemporary right wing paternalism is the notion that poverty is essentially an outgrowth of moral failing: Shifting our attention away from structural factors like unemployment or uneven patterns of property ownership, modern conservatives ask us to look instead to individual behaviour. Social problems like crime or drug abuse, or so the story goes, are the products of lax ethics and inferior morals among the constituencies in which they prevail. What the poor needs, in other words, is some good, ole’ fashioned discipline. One of the latest incarnations of this narrative comes from none other than David Brooks – the conservative many liberals seem to love. The New Republic’s Elizabeth Bruenig gave Brook’s argument a thrashing for the ages. Engaging with related themes, CUNY Professor Sanford Schram and University of Minnesota Professor Joe Soss wrote for Jacobin Magazine on the neoliberal effort to remake the American welfare state into an apparatus of paternalism in an article that was circulated to every Member of Congress by Rep. Keith Ellison.
Among retired political figures who continue to haunt public life with their garish ways, perhaps none is more irritating or unwelcome than Tony Blair. Sam Kriss’ blog post (“Tony Blair: Dread Creature of the Forbidden Swamp”) should be read and enjoyed by everyone who dislikes Blair as much as I do.
By far the best thing about my Atlantic subscription (it was a gift, ok?) was the opportunity to read Ta Nehisi Coates in print. Coming just a few months after the publication of his excellent book Between the World and Me, Coates’ “The Black Family and Mass Incarceration” offers a dark and eloquent history of a criminal justice system that continues to inflict structural violence against its black citizens, suppress their freedoms, and keep many of them in crushing poverty.
One of the most exciting political events of 2015 was the victory of the Greek left in the Greek national election…until the whole project came crashing down a few months later. Decades before Central European governments and their banking establishment compelled Syriza to reverse its program, the French socialist project lead by Francois Mitterand was forced into catastrophic retrenchment. Jonah Birch’s magisterial history of these events in Jacobin Magazine taught me a hell of a lot about French politics and made stark crucial questions about the left and state power.
A longstanding interest of mine is the relationship between psychology and political ideology. While political ideologies are essentially abstract systems for understanding how the world is and how it ought to be, they are invariably the products of human experience and have inescapable psychological dimensions attached to our hopes, fears, and desires. At times this is laid quite bare, particularly when it comes to those who seek a particular kind of experience from politics more than the realization of any actual objective or program. Writing for Salon CUNY Professor Corey Robin profiles America’s “perverse centrist patriots”: those who, in Robin’s words, “are always on the lookout for a certain kind of experience in politics. They don’t want power, they don’t seek justice, they’re not interested in interests. They want a feeling. A feeling of exaltation and elation, unmoored from any specific idea or principle save that of sacrifice, of giving oneself over to the nation and its cause.”
Now for some Canadian content. Besides the federal election of 2015, perhaps the major political event of the year was Alberta’s election of a social democratic government last Spring. The province’s right, not especially known for its temperance or sophistication, has been throwing quite the tantrum ever since. Politically represented by the earnest but at times comically inept Wildrose Party, the gaffes and blunders for Alberta’s conservative opposition have continued to mount. Writing in Vice, James Wilt has been profiling the ongoing meltdown with hilarious results.