Gregory David Roberts – Shantaram

I visited a schoolmate this weekend and had no book with me (which happens once in a blue moon), which was perfect because browsing through his shelf I found „Shantaram“ which another friend of mine proposed to me. So I took and started it and well, the story seems interesting, I like the style of Roberts but most importantly on page 25 there are sentences which blew me away. In the story the main guy meets a woman on the streets and his thoughts go like this:

„The ancient Sanskrit legends speak of a destined love, a karmic connection between souls that are fated to meet and collide and enrapture one another. The legends say that the loved one is instantly recognised because she´s loved in every gesture, every expression of thought, every movement, every sound, and every mood that prays in her eyes. The legends say that we know her by her wings – the wings that only we can see – and because wanting her kills every other desire of love.

The same legends also carry warnings that such fated love may, sometimes, be the possession and the obsession of one, and only one, of the two souls twinned by destiny. But wisdom, in one sense, is the oppposite of love. Love survives in us precisely because it isn´t wise.“

Wow. Except for the wingy thing I think that this is true and having read a bit further, the book seems to contain more of such insights. Looks like a great read.

Anyways, now I have a nice book for the trainride to Kiew later this month, I already thought I´d have to take the Ulysses with me.

 

Let me calculate: I started it beginning of July, finished beginning of November – 5 months for this 900 page behemoth of a book. I feel ambivalent about it.

Roberts definetly has a story to tell, a story about love, hate, crime, redemption, adventure, revenge, forgiveness, hardship, death, joy etc etc. and his style keeps you very close to him and the story. And on every second page you´ll find sentences of wisdom like the one above, most of them quite agreeable, some nah. But on the other hand, honestly after 500 or 600 pages it got me bored quite much and I had to make a decision – leave it at that or try to finish it. And well, I decided or the latter and regret this a little bit because its all repetetive and the story also lacks depth and turns.

Should I recommend it? Don´t know. It´s a great adventurous story which sucks you in the first 200, 300 pages but then… I don´t know, honestly.

Richard Morgan – Black man

Another masterpiece by Richard Morgan.

Black man plays in the same league as the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy. It´s a fast paced, partially violent, more than less complex story of a James-Bond-Terminator-Jason-Bourne lone wolf type of guy who gets things done. It also contains futuristic concepts (Mars colonization yeah) and plays somewhere in the future. The story takes a bit too many spins in the end maybe but hey, actually you don´t want to stop reading, at least I didn´t.

So, if you like hard-boiled sci-fi or fast-paced thrillers gibe it a try. If you´re a fan of Richard Morgan this is a must-read.

What is left-wing politics

This question has been asked and answered a thousand times so here is my opinion. With my 37 years of age I´ve read lots of political theory, have experienced and followed politics, talked about it and although I sometimes feel conservative thoughts getting through these days (because of age I guess) I manifested a left-wing liberalism in my head as the best political concept. So let me write about my thoughts on it.

There is a strange, mostly unexplainable paradox going on in the world: On the one hand more people than ever are complaining about the social, economical and political consequences of global capitalism; on the other hand this protest seems to lack a coherent vision of an alternative society so that this protest remains silent (on a global scale) or people are adhering conservatism and nationalism which both will not change anything. There is a lack of utopias.

One reason for this lack of “enthusiasm for revolution” is that in the western world most people are satisfied with their lifestyle and at most have fear that it will change. This may seem paradox to the sentence above but it seems to be human nature to be satisfied with an agreeable but could-be-better situation than to risk losing it for the chance of improvement.

Another reason why left utopias are very unpopular is that with the breakdown of the Berlin Wall and afterwards the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the obvious failure of the state-socialist system the self-confidence of people who were left was shattered and sometimes eliminated and it was not “chic” anymore to be left but rather one has to defend and explain himself.

But what is also clear after this failure of a huge social experiment is that it cannot be the claim of the left to put into reality a socialist concepts which includes a powerful state controlling everything. In the times of globalisation and capitalistic internationalization these concepts are obsolete anyways.

One of the difficulties left parties are facing today is that politics these days is driven by (mostly economical) necessities which make reformations very difficult, for example the politics of austerity in Europe cannot be abolished from today till tomorrow because there are many players and obligations in the game. The left may have ideas for a better system but it has to be clear that the obstacles to reach these goals may be too high. It is therefore important to accept that implementing left politics will take time, requires endurance and may even be bound to fail in certain areas.

The abstract goal of all left parties is the transformation of capitalistic economical and social order towards a socialist society. Concerning strategic questions on how to reach this goal the parties differ though: Should the transformation be organic reformatory or revolutionary? Is violence an option? Should there be a state-planned economy or small self-organizing production units? Is the resulting society libertarian or authoritarian?

So, how should left politics look like?

It should stand for strengthening international institutions and for reforms inside them, e.g. abolishment of the security council of the UN (this is an old relic from the Cold War and does not represent the situation of power today), reformation of the international finance architecture (IMF, World Bank, WTO) so that these institutions are not helpers of global companies but become adversaries of them, transformation of the EU towards a social union with more participation of the people. This requires international cooperation of left wing parties since it cannot be done alone.

One of the most important aspects of a global left initiative has to be the reduction of poverty in the third world, since this is the breeding room for terrorism and refugee movements which are problems that will become uncontrollable in the future. This is also one tough if not impossible ask since it requires that the people in the Western countries will have to radically question their lifestyle. Whoever does that will not get votes. It is way more likely that conservative or nationalist approaches will be favored. But I believe that more money transfers to countries in Africa, SE Asia, Central Asian and Central American states in combination with strengthening democratic structures in these countries is the only solution to stop the helplessness and desperation of the people there.

This goes hand in hand with protection of the environment, because climate change is another driver for people becoming refugees. The details for environmental protection are all there – establishing local production to reduce transportation, clean energy, taxes for pollutant industries, production efficiency etc. – so I won´t go into detail here.

Next point is regulation of the internet and internet companies. The obvious thing is to create a worldwide legal and tax framework in which companies have to operate. Today many large internet companies are paying very low taxes because they can set the origin of their “product” in almost any country in the world (guess which ones they choose) which is a scandal. Second, ligitable acts cannot be prosecuted because of different or non-existing laws. But the more interesting point is the creation of a consciousness for the dangers of the internet in regards to solidarity and communicative interaction – a very deep pedagogical task for every society. I haven´t read psychological studies on this but I believe that a generation growing up with Facebook (although this may sound paradox) will become more solitary and will show a lack of solidarity towards each other in real life.

Another task for left parties is the reformation of the working world away from the patriarchal system currently established. In most western states a woman has to make a decision between career and family leading to childlessness or dependency of the mother from the father. This can be done with a reformation of the tax system and more support towards educational institutions.

Another important task is the reformation of the social system. The concepts are also all there: a just tax system and closure of tax holes, empowerment of the lower classes, free education and health systems, controlling or abolishing lobbyism.

Socialism

(This text is completely inspired by the book “The idea of socialism” by Axel Honneth and is more or less a synopsis in my own words.)

Socialism developed as a byproduct of capitalistic industrialization in the early to mid 19th century. After the French Revolution most people realized that they didn´t profit from the egalite-fraternite-liberte symbols and that everything went on as before just with different rulers. The main intent of all early socialist projects (e.g. Owen, Fourier) was to give back economic and social control to the state, to reorganize the economic sphere, to end the poverty of the lower working class and give them a voice.

Besides that early socialists were seeing that the two goals fraternite (brotherhood) and freedom were exclusive and that freedom had to be stripped of its character of being only a means for egoistic fulfillment of desires and expanded to a more intersubjectual context. This binds together with another aspect of criticism which was first objected by Marx – the exchange of goods via the anonymous market. According to Marx this will not lead to a social society because every member on the market only acts out of self-interest and for his own best benefit. If this would be exchanged by an “association of free producers” each member would take more care for the needs of everyone around him and not see his benefit first but that of the whole community/society.

The first step towards the goal of unification of freedom and brotherhood is the acceptance of dependence of each member of a society. Each individual requires the others to fulfill his desires and to be free. This leads to the point were basically there is no more individual freedom but only the act of cooperation with other members of the society can be considered as freedom. But still this cannot be considered as collectivism since it´s still about individual freedom; on the other hand it cannot be considered as individualism since everybody needs the community to fulfill this individual freedom. Acknowledging the others as somebody each is dependent on for his own sake will lead to an understanding of equality and not lead to exploitation or other misbehaving – this brings the three principles of the French Revolution together and is the starting point for every socialist thought.

The socialist idea bears some problems though. The first being that early socialists did not differentiate between different spheres of a society (Liberalism in contrary was much more differential concerning all aspects of society) and saw the problem and solution only in the economical area. By restricting the concept of social freedom to an only economical sphere and leaving out areas like family, political participation or law there is no place for political freedom of each and on the other hand a common will (like in democracies) has problems to manifest itself. This problem was later solved by adding “democratic” to “social” but still the gap between attaining social freedom via cooperative production and individual self-determination remained.

Another point of criticism is self-reference of the early socialist thinkers. They had the presumption that the working and the lower class were basically waiting for somebody to free them from feudal and capitalistic production towards a society of free associations. There was no empiric evidence that these thoughts were widespread. This opens the door to theoretical capriciousness because the thinkers only assumed what the people want. It has later been shown (by Horkheimer and the Frankfurt School) that there has also been a tendency to Authoritarianism amongst the working class in the 19th century and that the assumptions of Marx et al. had no real empirical foundation. But of course this can be said about many theoretical political concepts. For today this leads to two conclusions: Either socialism will stay an only normative concept which has to defend against other concepts but with no political impact or substitute groups for the working class have to found with which the ideals of socialism can be put into reality.

The biggest flaw in the early socialist concept is its deterministic and theory-laden view on history though. Marx and his predecessors thought that society will naturally develop into socialism without much ado from the people. Marx thought this for two reasons: First because the main driver of social development is class struggle, meaning that on each step of evolution the former bigger but politically unrepresented group will be in charge and that with the ruling of the working class history will come to an end. The second thought is that social development is a linear process of thought-based environmental control and the next step from the capitalistic way of production has to be the socialist community-based one. These both assumption lead to one conclusion: Socialism is determined to be the next step in social development and the old system has to be abolished completely or to put it bluntly: There can only be revolution. This leaves no way for experiments or reformation and this can only bring illness and is more or less bound to fail.

This either-or thinking also extends to Marx understanding of capitalism. The foundation of capitalism is the market with its horizontal exchange of goods between marketmembers. According to Marx this has to be completely abolished and exchanged by a vertical approach of state-controlled planned economy without giving the market or capitalism the chance to reform. One way to revive the idea of socialism is therefore to undo the equalization of market economy and capitalism.

One of the most important tasks of socialistic theory today has therefore to be to cleanse the construct of market from all capitalism-specific additions to test it on its moral capacity and integrity. For example by analyzing specific markets on their feasibility of free pricebuilding or if the state should regulate them. Or by deconstructing assumptions and premises of economical theory, e.g. does a higher income motivate a person to work more efficient or why is it allowed to make a profit from speculation on the stock exchange although these profits do not benefit the society as a whole?

Also socialism has to get rid of the idea that it only represents the proletarians or the working-class; the group of recipients has to be extended to all people with precarious jobs (science industry, arts, low-paid jobs). The gap between rich and poor is extending continually and the idea of socialism should be attractive for more and more people.

Another task is to extend the concept of social freedom to other spheres of the society like family and development of democratic opinions and not just see it as a problem of the economical sphere. And here one should not follow the liberal tendency and put an emphasis on the free development of each individual but rather establish a common sense of informal togetherness for the benefit of all.

The answer to the question whether the idea of socialism should be established locally or globally cannot be an either or, it should be both. Globally socialism should follow the role of successful NGOs like Greenpeace or Amnesty International and should be an international connected representative organ which pushes ideas of social togetherness and freedom. On a local scale there are of course political socialist parties which should fight politically for the concept of social freedom and implement it into the democracies but not go for a revolution like the thinkers of the first days implied. Also the public should be won for social experiments and the voices of the so far unheard should be included in the democratic process to find solutions for their problems.

Only if every member of the society can satisfy his need for emotional and physical intimacy, economical independence and political self-determination in a way that he can rely on the help and interest of his partner in the interaction, our society could be called socialistic.

Youth is getting reckless

Hey yo, my brothers and sisters in your Twenties, how´s it going? No wait, wrong tone.

GET UR ARSES UP, GO VOTE, SHOW SOME INTEREST IN YOUR FUTURE!

In the Brexit vote the percentage of voters between 20 and 30 years of age has been 25%, three quarters decided to not take position, to be uninterested, to be apathetic. And I assume it has been the same with the US elections. It´s a fucking shame, their future gets stolen by people who have good, economically stable lives but are afraid of change; but change has come to the world and the only way to deal with it is to adapt – the conservative executioners want to preserve, built walls around our pretty lifestyle, widen the gap between rich and poor, look away from the rest of the world and leave them alone with their problems. This political style may buy some time but the heat will rise and not boil down.

The people who voted and are in power now will be dead in 30 or 40 years and are leaving a conservative, anti-liberal mess behind which the young generation has to clean up. But I wonder how they are gonna do this when even today they are not showing interest in politics but rather live their innocent, free, facebooky but insecure lives.

What I want to say is this: If you have children or if you get in contact with young people tell them to show some interest in politics (maybe not in the words at the beginning of this text though), tell them to go vote, tell them that democracy lives from every participant, tell them that their future is in severe danger of turning into a hellhole if more anti-liberal fucks like Trump are elected. My generation is doing their part and more or less votes for the middle but there are many old and bitter people and these days its the youth who tips the scale.

Donald Ray Pollock – The devil all the time

Brutal book, not an easy read. It is full of violence, perverted characters ( and I mean really abnormal like child abusing priests and a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style serial killer couple) with no humor and written in a very sinister language. But believe me, once you start to read and survive to page 10 without putting it away, you´ĺl get sucked into this downward spiral of darkness; this book is fascinating.

The story is manyfold and describes the lives and deaths of several characters in the bible-belt-US between 1945 and 1960. These lives and their either desolate or gruesome inner workings are depicted and meetings between the main characters end mostly fatal.

The main topics of the book are guilt and believe. All the bad guys in the book are guilty of something (mostly of murdering the innocent) and all the good guys are hardcore believers and only toys for the badasses – a bit too much black and white, although there are greyshades and the main character doesn´t fit into this black and white scheme either.

If you get your hands on this book give it a try. It´ll be a short read – either you put it away quickly or you´ll suck it in breathlessly.

Richard Morgan – Takeshi Kovacs trilogy

Well, well, Richard Morgan and his Takeshi Kovacs. These books have blown me out of the window together with the interior of the whole damn room. On my all time favorites list this trilogy would at least be in the top 10. It cannot gamble with “Ulysses”, “Lord of the rings”, “Das Boot” or “Bleeding edge” sure but after these there are a few candidates and Morgan is one of the better ones.

The books are called “Altered carbon”, “Broken angels” and “Woken furies” and are of equal quality, both all three compared and also in each book, you won´t find major divergences from the middle line, which means that if you read 50 or so pages of one book you know what the rest will be like. But this only refers to the style in which the book are written, storywise it´s only one direction – forward.

The story is about Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-black-ops special-force soldier (think of a mixture of James Bond, Jason Bourne with the unscrupulousness of the T1000) and plays several hundred years in the future. Technology has advanced to a point where the whole human brain can be downloaded into a stack and therefore be transferred into a new body. This implies that people are basically immortal. Also space travel and planetary colonization is common, the three books play on three different planets. There is an extinct race of extraterrestrials in the books (“Martians”; winged creatures, but technologically advanced. They have been able to travel space and construct advances weapons etc.) but they only play a minor role, most of the story is human-centric.

The first book, “Altered carbon”, plays on Earth where Kovacs uncovers a ploy amongst the rich. In the second book “Broken angels” he leads a group of mercs and scientists on a war-torn planet on an expedition to uncover martian secrets. In the third book “Woken furies” he is back on his home planet (hundreds of years after his birth), has an encounter with a feminist-religious rebellion leader long thought dead and teams up with old mates to free her from the hands of the ruling family. This book has an exceptional ending.

All of these are full of fast-paced action, violent shootouts and killing, philosophy about society, friendship and life in general, meager dialogues, the occasional (very explicit) sex-scene, all in all very hard-boiled literature, certainly nothing for the faint-hearted.

I´m not sure why I´m so fascinated by these books, but ok, I certainly like when a book has action in it, when the story is pushed forward without much hesitance, when there is some philosophy in it, when there are no long passages of lets say landscape descriptions, also to me most of the characters don´t need depth, I´m fine with stereotype descriptions of thugs, prostitutes, the rich etc. Add to that the sci-fi scenario and basically thats it. These books got me.

Also these books bring up something inside me which is a bit scary and that is the lust for violence, or better said I don´t mind reading about the violence displayed in the book. Now, I´m a very peaceful person and do definetly not enjoy watching horror movies or shit like that. But when reading about it, fine and entertaining – scary, as I said.

All in all, if you want to read some sci-fi and don´t mind the above said things give these a try, I promise you´ll not be disappointed.

Jennifer Egan – A visit from the goon squad

An unspectacular but very good book. Egan won the Pulitzer Price (in 2011 I think) for it. Her language is simple, never ugly or explicit, with strong sentences here and there. I wouldn´t want to have this convenient reading in every book but on the other hand I don´t need the linguistic force of Pynchon or Joyce or the vehemence of hard-boiled sci-fi all the time either.

It is a mixture of a novel and a collection of short stories. It consists of 13 chapters which all tell a story in themselves. The people in the short stories are all connected to a music manager, which gives the book its consistency and feel of a novel. The stories themselves are unspectacular sometimes even dull, although there are two or three scenes in the book where I couldn´t believe what I just read, e.g. [spoiler ahead] in one chapter she describes a holiday from the view of two young siblings, then fasts forward to tell that the 10 year old boy will shot himself aged 28 [spoiler end]; what the hell?

Egan has a nice way to give the characters depth, also because most of them appear more than one time. Also none of the characters are bad guys or complete losers, they could be you or me, which is good for attachment and plausibility. They are shown in everyday scenes, on holiday, at work, at parties; some find their luck, to others bad stuff happens. The main topic about which the book circulates is time; what it does to people and that you cannot cheat time. The title of the book is best described in one of the best sentences in the book: „Time´s a goon right? You gonna let that goon push you around?“

Feb 2017 Trump

Trump

First; dont understimate this guy

He will have success in reviving the economy or at least that his voters will believe he did. His economic views and announcements towards state and global economy make sense. Threaten companies which want to make anti-US investment or anti-US job-creating decisions, cancel international trade agreements or twitter to do so, keeping jobs inside the US. This will work, it will create jobs (though of course half of these jobs will be low-paid, but he can grind some of these people with dumb nationalism or hang-on paroles), it will encourage foreign investment or shifting production into the US, and combined with low taxes it will lead to entrepreneurship and people setting up their own businesses (and by the way, people setting up their own one-man businesses also means for example new bakeries, new bicycle shops, new small-scale interesting shit. One should not think bad about self-entrepreneurs.)

So, Trumps economical strategy of confrontation with other competitors can be valid. Of course some nations will oppose (e.g. Germany, South-Korea, China), some will play his game to make profits themselves (e.g. Britain, Japan, India) and many other have no choice but to subdue. It´s the US, the strongest economy on the planet and if they direct then there will be movement, tension, maybe strife. But there is also a chance, I mean look at what globalisation has brought us, companies getting richer, environment getting polluted etc. I´m not of the opinion that everything will change for the better now but at least there will be a disruption and maybe people will start not only questioning Trump but also the economy in general.

According to the economy textbooks Protectionism or Mercantilism is bad for international trade and relations, it also is inefficient when it comes to global wealth progress. But of course this is only the global view. From the viewpoint of a very strong economy and a country which basically can be self-sufficient, it makes sense. The US don´t need other countries to grow and as I said there will be enough countries which will still trade or do business with them, even if they are the inferior part in this one. And every country which tries to fight back with import taxes or restrictions on US products will have to explain to its people why the iPhone is more expensive than in the neighbour country and why Facebook or Google are restricted – good luck with that.

The US has a huge consumer market and globally operating companies would be foolish not to invest there any more, there is a profit to be made and that is all that matters from a company point of view. Trump thinks the same. Viewing his country as a company (with a very strong position in the market) it is logical to behave in a competetive manner towards other countries or companies. He is a business man, his style of doing politics is different than you´d expect from a leader of a country, but hey, who said that politics should ever be the same again?

Second; yeah I don´t like him too.

Of course he has to be criticized for his dumb racism, his chauvinism, his averseness to facts, his egocentrism and I´m completely opposed to almost all of his views on society. Also, that he is “authentic” isn´t really a criteria to give him points, authenticity is something I expect from every politician and he has shown that he is an outright liar, there is no authenticity in that. But I don´t want to go into details, you hear it all day.

I am trying to see things in a realistic way and this includes that although things look pretty bad and the pace with which Trump shakes things up is quite astonishing, he is still bound to a constitution and there are other countries in this world which will show him that this kind of solipsism doesn´t work in a globalized world.

I read a very interesting article on TheAtlantic about how the US is directed into an autocratic state like we have in Turkey, Hungary and soon Poland. The first steps in this scheme are opposing the established media (to have your version of truth become the sole opinion, see ´alternative facts´), demolish or at least weaken the judicial system, creating an atmosphere of fear towards foreigners and discrediting the liberals and intellectuals. The end goal is not world domination or creating a prison state, the end goal at least for Trump is to enrich himself and his buddies. The best sentence in the article goes something like: “Establishing an autocracy or cleptocracy is not about prosecuting the innocent, it is about legalizing the actions of the guilty.” The problem of course is that this guy is short-tempered and has a large military under his command. So if anyone messes to much with him, they´ll pay. Riots in the streets, he won´t care; environment going down the drain, he won´t care; using nuclear weapons against bad hombres, well maybe thats too much, but I won´t bet on it.

But I have confidence in the people on this planet. I may be naïve (in fact thats the question that bothers me most these days: Is it naïve to be optimistic?) but I´m asking you: Do lies become truth if they are yelled via Twitter? Do people which didn´t like Trump before the election now suddenly enjoy his daily rampaging? Does the world bow down before him? Do people which are expressing themselves louder than others have better arguments? And the most important question: Do you think that normal people, not the hardcore followers, which voted for Trump (or which voted for nationalist parties in other countries) and who realize after the election period that nothing has changed or things got even worse, that they will vote for him again? As I said, people are not stupid, people are like you and me, if they see the shit hit the fan they´ll switch it of or run to the other side.

To conclude: I think that the election of Trump bears a chance for the global society to turn things towards a better future, because people are asking questions now (How could this happen?), especially the generation of the 20-30 year old should wake up now, during the Brexit vote these guys were absent – I don´t think this will happen again. Also, all this talk about fake news will lead to people questioning dubious information sources – something that hasn´t happened since two or so years, when every fucking Facebook post has been taken for granted and true. Of course the established parties (especially the social-democrats) have to change their political style towards more social justice and I think that this will happen now, but this is a topic for another text.

Maybe in 10, 20 years we will look back at 2016 and say that this year with so much political turmoil caused the silent majority, the normal people to stand up and act against the loud minority of racists which brought demise upon this world.

I hope so.