Stories a Name can Tell

There am I in the digital universe doing information indulgence care of the BBC, ESPN, and Google News -(soccer, folks)- and along came a signifying digital interloper causing cognitive dissonance. The surprise was the name of one Benedict Cumberbatch; an actor, English, of theatre, television, and film, most famous for playing the title role in the Sherlock Holmes television series.

The moment the Cumberbatch name was sighted it became a source of attention, I asked myself, because of what the name signified and was a signifier of, for me, “is he Caribbean heritaged?”

Or, to be charitable and politically correct to the other nations and peoples of Caribbean Civilization, since the English-speaking ex-colonies of England are but part of a greater cultural political economic and linguistically diverse region “ does Benedict Cumberbatch …play cricket, eat callaloo and salt fish, bake breadfruit, eat guava, cassava, plaintain, edoe and/or yam?” Is he a descendant of cane cutters?

Through Internet searching, I was both surprised and not surprised to discover he is both of Caribbean Civilizational heritage and not of Caribbean Civilizational heritage. So how can he be and not be at the same time? Is he or is he ain’t?

But then when I read entries in the digital universe about him, intuitive suspicions were confirmed, for Mr. Cumberbatch was that historically peculiar variant of the Cumberbatch family, an English-English Cumberbatch in contrast to the Caribbean-African descended Cumberbatch’s descended from sugar cane cutting enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and Americas. His name was an imperial interloper into the drama of this history.

The Caribbean-African descended Cumberbatch’s lived in ex-English colonial dominions like Barbados, Guyana, Dominica, Jamaica, Antigua, St-Kitts and St-Lucia. Their name was one of the many English names my ancestors claimed as their own, either because they worked on a plantation owned by their name sake, or, once worked with an overseer with such a name, or found the name associated with a person of local distinction or heard of it from the Bible and liked it, or were commanded by force of law. This naming practice was repeated throughout the Caribbean and Americas by enslaved Africans be they in Spanish-, Portuguese-, or, Dutch-speaking dominions.

This latter feature of Caribbean colonial history, explains the variety of names among the African-descended players from the Caribbean and Americas in the 2014 World Cup of soccer in Brazil. You had Valencia from Ecuador, to J. Campbell of Costa Rica, to Juan Zuniga of Colombia, to Nigel de Jong of the Netherlands and Jozy Altidore (Haiti) of America. Of course there are many others, but this sample was chosen to make a point: there is more to name than the name itself.

A name is history, culture, economics, gender, and politics. It is time, place, identity and purpose. It is change, stability, violence and revolution. It is us when faced with ourselves and us when we run from ourselves. It is, lastly, a digital entry for the state in its bureaucratic management of society.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s name belongs to him; it also belongs to the history of Britain and the many nations and peoples its imperial past gave birth to. And Benedict whilst not of Caribbean African heritage is by virtue of his ancestral ties part and parcel of that heritage as are those who claimed that surname as their right marching forward into the future unknown part of the ancestral heritage of his England, regardless of what the English might think and or feel-his name says so.

Pages: 594

Charles Simon-Aaron

July 20th, 2014

World Cup Brazil (2014): Global Vomit

One of the most beautiful features of the June-July 2014 World Cup is its planetary inclusiveness. It is globalization before Globalization; globalization without violence. It is a quarterly reminder we are members of a human family participating in a planetary phenomenon greater than the human eyeballs watching and human ears hearing.

World Cup matches have differences resolved at the blast of a referee’s whistle with a supporting cast of decision makers in FIFA, behind the scenes, appealing to the greater good of the game both for the benefit of the game’s ethics and their global corporate allies for whom the Cup has become a window to market consumer products.

FIFA has successfully made the World Cup a big business; this explains its urgency to punish Luis Suarez of Uruguay for biting the Italian defender Chiellini. FIFA’s corporate allies disapproved of Suarez’s spontaneous cannibalism (smile!) so FIFA also disapproved and quickly. For soccer aficionados this new love affair with global corporate powers is like daddy having a second wife and a new family, aficionados are no longer as important as once they were; they have to share the house of soccer with more economically powerful newcomers and new markets. They want eyeballs, we want soccer.

During this World Cup the globe is vomiting its present day political realities. By this I mean the parade of players and teams from now politically independent nation-states that were previously colonized peoples under the yoke of western and eastern European colonial domination. Now free they are playing the planetary game against each other and against former colonial powers. We have the spectacle of teams from countries that are not having an easy time of it, playing in the World Cup and giving their peoples a sense of hope that better than suffering is possible (Iran; Algeria).

Further, we have the physical evidence of modern human migration from the colonies to the metropole; from the south to the north. I am writing about surnames that are not traditional to certain teams in the World Cup. The Switzerland team has several players whose surnames provoke a “WHAT!” Take a look at these surnames: Behrami, Djourou, Rodriguez, Fernandes, Mehmedi, Shaqiri, Dzemaili. These names are not traditional Swiss surnames which are more like Lichtsteiner, Benaglio, Schar, and Senderos.

These unusual Swiss surnames are of a new Switzerland (do not tell that to the Swiss). They are existing in a country that has made a public case against “foreigners” and “illegal migrants” and “Muslim veil wearing migrants” and “too many Africans’’ and “too many unskilled immigrants” and “too many people in our country who do not want to follow our cultural ways.” One can but hope entry into the World Cup and play against the likes of Argentina (to whom they lost 1-0) might make a positive difference in the Swiss journey on the road of human tolerance.

The World Cup has vomited evidence of the reordering of the post-Second World War geopolitical map of nations. We are witnesses to an independent Croatia and Bosnia on the world stage when, historically, both were members of the unified nation of Yugoslavia, which no longer exists; further, we have Russia and not the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which also no longer exists.

Words: 547

Charles Simon-Aaron

World Cup 2014: In Temple Brazil We Bow

For both Brazils, the country and the soccer team, victory is guaranteed in the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament. With Brazilian soccer, the world is visiting its temple of soccer excellence to pay it tribute for the gifts it has granted its followers and for permission to imitate. Brazil is the global temple of soccer creativity. With Brazil the country, its global business accomplishments have gained global recognition for playing by the rules of the American-Anglo controlled international finance and commercial complex in the post-Cold war world of integrated markets and free flowing capital. Brazil, here, is a temple to global capitalism.

The creative self of global soccer originates in Brazil and its favela dwellers; this community of Brazil’s poorest are largely African heritaged and account for 54% of Brazil’s population. That’s right, African-heritaged Brazilians are the historical and cultural source of the  innovative changes in the style of Brazilian football that so amazes, called “Samba ball” it is the play of these favela dweller’s that is the envy of the world.

Samba-ball: Think of the pull-back, where the ball is shown to the opponent, pushed forward to the opponent and is then pulled-back from the opponent with amazing speed; the nutmeg, here the ball handler pushes the ball between the unsuspecting open legs of the opponent, the striker runs around the opponent collects the ball and is off to the Gods with a message of intent; the over-the-head kick, here the striker approaches, face-first, the opponent, chips the ball over the head of the opponent at high speed, runs behind the opponent and…; the crossover, here, the attacking player steps over the ball at high speed, this is designed to frustrate the opposing defender after which the striker breaks for attack, a staple of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The modern innovations of Samba-ball are the sausage meat in the Burger of the World Cup in Brazil, its bread wrapping is Brazilian money-power which has marked its rise to prominence in commercial aircraft manufacture, pharmaceuticals, agri-business, car manufacture, food manufacture, petroleum, hydro-electric power, minerals and mining. The World Cup, to be followed by the Olympics, is the global money markets reward to Brazil for its willingness to play big business by the rules of global commerce in a post-Cold War world.

So powerful is this new Brazil that its Portuguese is the dominant and only Portuguese on Google’s search engine. The casting weight was Brazil’s population of 202,656,788 compared to Portugal’s 10,813,834 and the rise to global prominence of Brazil’s capitalist economy. The colonizer has been usurped by its former colony in the age of the Internet and globalization.

The teams attending the World Cup in Brazil 2014 are saying thank you Brazil for the uniqueness of your soccer; and global business is saying congratulations Brazil on playing by the rules of international commerce. The joys your game and your players have given to the world are now matched by your economic and financial success on the global stage in the post-Cold war world of integrated markets and the free flow of capital.

Words: 524

Charles Simon-Aaron

‘Straight Outta Compton’ Casting BOO! BOO! NO! NO!: Freudian Slip or Freudian Vomit?

Whilst surfing through the digital universe checking momentarily for the latest cultural production that might, be worthy of my hard earned crocodile tears, I saw an entry care of the Washington Post web site( 2014/07/17) “Universal distances itself from ‘Compton’ casting”

Care of Associated Press, July 17th, 2014, the story relates to an open casting call posted on Facebook by the Sande Alessi Casting Agency recruiting background actors for the Universal Pictures biographic film of the pioneering Rap group N.W.A (N…..s With Attitude), titled,“Straight Outta Compton,” founded by Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. It is directed by F. Gary Gray and supported by the group’s founder members.

The casting agency sought to recruit women in four categories. “A girls” were described as “the hottest of the hottest” and could be of any ethnicity. “B girls” were to be “light-skinned,” whereas “D girls” were “African-American… Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone.” (Associated Press; July 17th, 2014)


I am thinking Facebook! Los Angeles! Rodney King! Riots! Donald Sterling!  How in the name of modern America can you *#@^–up like that? How? To further add to the shock, it was posted on—wait for it—Facebook! Facebook!! F-A-C-E-B-O-O-K!!! THE DIGITAL DICTIONARY of the digital universe where the whole world watches, or, at least the 1 billion that have access to a computer and are sufficiently literate to use it. Wow!

Now you know and I know that not 1 billion Facebook users watched the post by the Sande Alessi Agency. The point is in the Internet age there is a safety first thinking called for whenever you post: always assume that whatever you post is going to be seen by 1 billion human beings some of whom might not have your best interests at heart. So write as if your enemy is reading, hates you and wants to harm you. Virtual thinking in a virtual world; or, put another way: CYA: Cover Your A_s. The Sande Alessi Agency failed to do so; or, did it?

Could it not be that the collective wisdom of a small part of the American community of which the Sande Alessi Agency and its employees are a part holds the above to be so true, normal and natural that its airing on Facebook is a normal unproblematic fact of life and business? Could it not be? And, that what we are witnessing is a social Freudian slip cum Freudian vomit, a vomit of sub-communal sputum onto the terrain of mainstream America? Or, is it?

Surely what we are witnessing is the new impress on social and commercial relationships in the modern world wherever the computer and Internet are present and accessible: all posts are transparent; automatic; universal and subject to interpretation by all who view. The technology is ahead of its users. The Sande Alessi Agency is the latest victim of the rapid growth in mass usage of the Internet. It is a teacher in a learning moment for us all. The Internet is flatlining social communications.

Needless to say Universal Pictures issued the following statement:

The company said in a statement late Thursday that “the filmmakers … did not approve and do not condone the information in this casting notice. We regret and sincerely apologize for being in any way associated with the offensive descriptions it contained.”

We are all part of the evolution of public speech via the Internet, including you. Be careful now.

Words: 599

Charles Simon-Aaron

July 19th, 2014

What does Hollywood, the Oscars, Jesse Jackson and Octavia Spencer have in common?

Who is Octavia Spencer (1972-    ) I hear you say?

Well, she is only the most recent winner of an academy award for best supporting actress-“The Help” (2012). She is testament to personal determination to take membership in a profession that marginalizes women whose figure and color are, to coin a phrase, irregular deviations from the preferred norm.

I remember Spencer as a familiar face in countless episodes of television dramas and comedy films (Bad Santa; Blue Streak; Big Mommas’ House; Beauty Shop). Her roles were small and fleeting; they made use of her size, face and color as supportive props for the normal and everyday that defines African American life: the girl opening the door; the waitress; the security guard; the customer; the landlady; the nurse. However, even in those limited acting moments she added such a touch of “realness” to the scenes in which she appeared one more often remembered her presence than that of the “star (s)” of the venture.

She won an academy award for the role of a maid in “The Help” (2012), the type of role African-Americans and African-American actors hope would cease to be their pathway to paid work in the acting profession, or, at least, the filmic part of it.

It is always a tortuous moment for African-Americans when their actors receive recognition for roles that continue to affix them in a symbolic continuum of subordination and inferiority. They appreciate the recognition for acting talent the particular actor or actress receives, but shudder when the role is that of a character that mimics their history as unfree labour in America’s past.

The collective call is for roles that show the wide variety of accomplishments, good and bad, of African-Americans in the modern era; roles that reflect their earned capacity to determine their own destiny. It is this request ticket buying European America and some members of the Hollywood casting, directing and producing establishment refuse to promote. Take, for example, the directorial history of Theodore Witcher, who wrote and directed, “Love Jones” (1997), starring Nia Long and Larenz Tate; some 15 years after the film’s debut, Witcher has not directed another film. In an interview with the Internet magazine, The Root, Witcher had the following to say about his disappearance:

TW: No. I intended to have a long list of credits, but I couldn’t get another movie. There has to be something that you want to do that a studio wants to pay for. I was never able to sync that up. I wanted to do ambitious films with more black people. You don’t get to do that.(,1)

The yearning for diverse and respectable images is therefore an ongoing political struggle that no one individual can engage in alone and hope to win. It is for this reason Reverend Jesse Jackson’s pre-Oscar’s open letter to the Hollywood establishment care of his Huffington Post blog, becomes reason to pause. Titled, “Academy Award Voters Need Diversity in Script” Reverend Jackson made a case for an elite and unrepresentative Hollywood to become more representative than it presently is:

“… the 5,765 voting members of the Academy are far from representative of the moviegoing public…. A remarkable investigation by Los Angeles Times reporters pierced the screen of secrecy to reveal that the voting members are a stunning 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male. Only 2 percent are African-American, and less than 2 percent are Latino. Their median age is 62, and only 14 percent are younger than 50.

The Academy’s leaders say the organization is trying to do better, but it is hard to see any evidence of that. Since 2004, the names of 1,000 invitees have been published: 89 percent white, and 73 percent male. The 43 member Academy Board of Governors has all of six women, one of whom is the sole person of color. The Academy’s executive branch is 98 percent white, as is its writers branch. Corporate boardrooms do better than that.

Not surprisingly, the voting tends to reflect the composition of the voters. In the 83 years of the Academy, the Times reports, only 4 percent of Oscars have been awarded to an African-American. Only one woman has received the award for directing.

In 2011, not a single minority person was among the 45 nominees for the major awards: best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, director, original and adapted screenplay. More astounding, the Academy failed to identify even one black male presenter for the awards. African-American actors were not only shut out of the awards; they were shut out of the attention that comes from presenting them.

….Women and minorities dream of becoming directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors just as white men do. Young talent drives Hollywood and our popular culture more than the established older generation. And Hollywood’s audience across the country and around the world is young and diverse.(–diversity_b_1290850.html).

Are roles of helpful, when not angry, subordinates, the only roles and images African-Americans and non-African Americans are to be permitted to see of the former, or can more diverse and respectful images be trusted to make profits at the box office?

In my book, The Atlantic Slave Trade: Empire, Enlightenment and Cult of the Unthinking Negro (Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), I created the concept, the commodity property of anti-African hatred, to make sense of how and why African American actors partake in the creation and reproduction of demeaning roles and images. The answer: Africans as a scapegoated community are symbolic evidence of inferiority (non-being) to the European superior (being). In other words, the African, just by virtue of his/her skin color represents to the European American confirmation of his/her superiority and the African’s inferiority.

Hollywood is the symbolic police; the police industrial complex, the body police: one polices the African image to maintain it in a posture of inferiority vis a vis European America; the other, polices the African body to keep it in the geophysical space of inferiority designed for it to reproduce the reflexes of subordination socially prescribed for it. In both instances, the desired outcome: the innate sense of superiority European Americans enjoy in America is a function of policing protocols by Hollywood and the police-judicial system.

Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films (1973) was an important resource in my efforts to theorize the above. Bogle showed African American actors transformed stereotyped roles into much more than Hollywood directors and producers expected. They used their limited time on screen to protest their anti-human minimization claiming the fullness of their humanity in the process. Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis-her fellow maid in “The Help”- are the latest African-American actors to transform demeaning roles into filmic works of art. A Luta Continua: The struggle continues….

Words: 1,194

Word: 2007

Charles Simon-Aaron: Mugabe: Land Wars, Resource Nationalism and Empire (Forthcoming)

Class Ideology and African Political Theory (Edwin Mellen Press, 2011)

Henry Louis Gates and Disciplining of Recalcitrants

Henry Louis Gates’ New York Times article, “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” New York Times, April 22nd, 2010, sits on a conceptual pivot of moral equivalence in its cleverly shaped dismissal of the call for reparations from members of the African-American community to the American state and the mythical community of white Anglo-European owners and controllers American state and the

Gates article is a cleverly disguised politics masking as a history.

Designed to transcend the rancorous tenor of the unbridled partisanship provoked by the reparations movement in the African-American community, Gates promotes an ideological bridle of moral equivalence to stymie and constrict the damaging political effects of this challenge to the conscience of white Anglo-European Americans, one of the three founding communities of the modern American nation, the other Native Americans.

Gates attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the reparations movement by suggesting African elites and Anglo-European slave traders were equal traders engaged in a rational exchange of equivalents-“slaves for trinkets”-and since fair exchange is no robbery, descendants of the two communities in the modern American nation have no right to feel guilty about this aspect of their nation’s past, especially descendants of the Anglo-European American community whose political and economic dominance of American society this movement is designed to challenge and undermine.

“…slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.”

The slavery business, given the above, for Gates, was a value neutral business beneficial to two parties equal to each other in the pursuit f private profit in a free market. This is so because business is value neutral and as such it is a technical transaction without prejudice when done between equal partners. Such a value neutral enterprise is empty of blame since the responsibility for the conduct of the exchange is mutually shared between economically equal partners. If the historical victors of the trade, the descendants of the Anglo-American enslavers choose to feel guilt over the trade, they choose to do so for reasons removed from the evidence of history. Their reasons are personal and not inspired by the technical neutrality of fair trading but by a self-burdened conscience afflicted with self-ascribed guilt, for there is nothing in either business in general and the slavery business, in particular, which justifies this voluntary indulgence.

In Gates’ hands the politically suspect reading of business to which partisans for reparations subscribe is the causal culprit of white guilt; and this moral, spiritual and psychological leakage within the well meaning liberal white psyche needs be mended by a correct conception of business as value neutral when engaged in by equal partners. Gates’ essay will suture this wound in the white psyche by attempting to protect the liberal white conscience from its self.

The partisans of reparations see business politically, and therefore, wrongfully. Business is evil in their eyes and mind. What they are here doing is collapsing their hatred of the business that enslaved their ancestors with the nature of business itself. Were they to understand that business between equal partners is a mere technically impersonal transaction devoid of personal feeling then they would see as he, Gates, sees: descendants of Anglo-Europeans enslavers are without blame since their African partners in the conduct of the trade were their ancestors equals in trading, therefore there should be no objective economic foundation to guilty feelings among descendants of the historical victors in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was just as much a business for African elites as it was for Anglo-European slave traders. It is this simple and transparent truth, reparations activists refuse to acknowledge, because it interferes with their preferred story of white victimization and black innocence. The capture and sale of African slaves was a source of gold and foreign currency to African elites and a source of slaves to Anglo-Europeans. It was a credible and transparent series of commercial transactions between equal economic partners over a long passage of historical time. Claims Gates:

“But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.”

Africans of the day had fewer emotional or moral problems with the slave trade than contemporary Africans in modern America, their absence of moral judgment on the conduct of the trade is an attitudinal and behavioral guide from which the latter should learn and reflexively accommodate in their deliberations on the issue-(witness Queen Njinga’s behavior towards traditional African leaders after her conversion to Christianity: she sold them into slavery: see above!). African elites in charge of the conduct of the trade saw it as a rational exchange of equivalents between themselves and the various European slave traders on their West African coastline. Their indifference to its existence was a function of the harsh calculus of rational self interest they practiced in pursuit the economic advantage of their kingdom-states against competing kingdom-states and the European slave traders. Asks Gates:

Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved.

African monarchs also sent their children along these same slave routes to be educated in Europe. And there were thousands of former slaves who returned to settle Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Middle Passage, in other words, was sometimes a two-way street. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.

African elites of the day were aware of the very injuries to the African personality celebrated by partisans of reparations today as proof of the evil of white slave traders. They drew no moral judgment, however; instead, promotes Gates: it was just business; cold; calculating; instrumental rationality; on their part, just like their Anglo-European counterparts. They were disciplined instrumental and rational in pursuit of their self interests. They were realists. As a result, for Gates, they were modern day corporate warriors in embryonic form: they were the historical acorn of the modern day (global) corporate oak tree. The issue of why Anglo-Europeans became ascendant in free market commerce and their African counterparts not when this was an era of primitive capital accumulation for both, from which the seeds of economic growth sprouted for the Anglo-European and did not for the African elites is a question best answered by the evidence of the contemporary realities of modern Africa and that of Anglo-American economic dominance of the modern world.

One people seized the opportunities for progress endlessly reinventing themselves on disciplined and sustained obedience to law and justice the other allowed itself be conquered and corrupted by foreigners and its own moral and political weaknesses.

Gates political history is a politics identifying with the attitudinal complex and emotional insecurities of an American elite for whom the “present order of things”-power, privilege and opportunity- are as they should be, despite the vivid evidence to the contrary for working and middle class America in the present era. This America is a good America; an America whose prominent values, operational efficiencies and deficits are consistent with the central obsession of state, corporation and social classes benefiting from such arrangements: the unregulated accumulation of private wealth.

There is profound disquietude for certain constituencies of onlookers in understanding how someone like Henry Louis Gates can partner the conceptual apparatus of a power system  and its political arrangements which so impales the great mass of those who look like him and from whom he culturally originates, against the temple walls of economic impoverishment when not uselessness. Gates, in promoting a creative and partisan play on the data of American history ingenuously insinuates the Anglo-European American beneficiaries of the business of slavery [read: the Atlantic Slave Trade] are devoid of blame for trading in a rational exchange of equivalents between themselves and the continental African elites providing the pre-enslaved labor sources for their trinkets and guns.

For Gates, trade obeys the proverb, “fair exchange is no robbery,” and therefore the rational exchange of trinkets for human war booty, which here is accidentally African, is a value-free exchange. It is technically pure; morally innocent; and, absent politics. Therefore, the moral opprobrium historically generated against the trade and those that have materially benefited from it, for political purposes, by professional historians, Pan-Africanists, Afrocentricists and Marxists intellectuals all of whom champion the writing of history from the vantage point of its victims, are at best misguided; and, at worst, reverse racists against Anglo-European Americans; a practice they would loathe to perform against the other beneficiary of the trading process-the African elites.

Gates’ assumptions collectively declare economic activity morally neutral since morality and economics do not mix.

This is a fundamental tenet of neoliberal economics-the conceptual framework of American led globalization- through which Gates builds the bridge of moral equivalence between the Anglo-European and African elites involved in the cross Atlantic trading system.

For Gates, descendants of African elites would serve best their own present interests for material development by issuing conceptual, political, economic and cultural subordination to those whose technical mastery of rational economic calculation has made them masters of the modern human universe. There is nothing harmful in learning from your intellectual and cultural superiors if such exchanges are technically value neutral economic and cultural learning exchanges.

The paradox between supporting an economic system based on the separation of economics and morality and a political prescription based on the connection of economics and morality such a moral equivalence can be said to exist between Anglo-European Americans and African elites based in their economic equality as trading partners, is neutralized when one realizes Gates’ conception of morality is the enlightening pivot.

For Gates, the morality through which moral equivalence can be claimed for his two protagonists is a narrow restrictive economic morality, the rules of honest, value-neutral, private profit-making in a free market, an economically centered morality-morality two. Morality one, the more expansive, universal morality of the United Nations Human Rights Code, for example; that morality through which the champions of the abused rights of the African victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade have championed their cause and whose dominant narrative Gates is writing against, for Gates, is a nuisance morality, old skin that should be shedded by it bearers on the march of history to the nirvana of glorious materialism and technical mastery of the mysteries of commerce.

Gates’ bridle of moral equivalence comes with a prescriptive call for behavioral and attitudinal modification both for Africans enamored of the politicized morality of self-righteous victimhood which provides emotional satisfaction and psychological revenge-(get whitey!)-but no wealth; and corporate Anglo-Europeans to whom it issues the call for continued indifference to the reasoned challenges to white supremacy and unbridled capitalism from its critics-(go whitey, go!)- for since the unique American formula of wealth-making has made America number one in the world militarily, economically, politically, culturally, and technologically, how could something so good be so bad if even its critics benefit materially from it. The evidence of the rightness of corporate capitalist leadership of America is in its creative ingenuity, military dominance, technological prowess and all the other indices of its brilliance. It is this neoliberal formula Gates suggests descendants of the African elites of the continent and America would do well to learn from and repeat.

Neo-liberalism: Eternity on Life-Support

The American economy is “the” economy in the global free market system. All roads leads to it as the epicenter of global market economy; its consumers are “the” consumers of this integrated economy as trendsetters of new patterns of consumption, pioneers in the use of new technologies, new payment technologies, or just consumers consuming.

How did this come to be?

Answer: neo-liberalism

Neo-liberalism, the political theory partnering the economicsof globalization, was instituted during the Conservative administration of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of United Kingdom (1979) and, the Republican Presidential administration of Ronald Reagan (1981).

Thatcherism was defined by deregulation, flexible labor markets, privatization of state owned corporations, and hostility to trade unions. Reagonomics was defined by “supply-side economics”-(i.e., monetarism)- and was based upon disciplined control of money supply to control inflation, reductions in corporation tax, reduction in red tape, reductions in government spending, at the Federal, State, and Municipal levels and unbridled hostility to trade unions.

For both political leaders state monetary policy-(i.e., preserving the value of money to avoid a rise in inflation by controlling the government’s printing of money) – was the raison d’etre of responsible government. This project had a missionary commitment to profit making in a free market for global corporations and an unbridled hostility to the state as an agent of social progress, which for it was equivalent to socialism. The state, for the neo liberalism, was an ally of multinational corporations.

The state was a night-watchman state, a minimalist state, that is, one minimally involved in the management of the economy and which kept its distance from the private affairs of private business, conceiving of the unregulated private sector as the chief vehicle for wealth accumulation for private holders of investment capital. This private wealth would eventually “trickle down” to the middling classes and poor. The main intellectual architect of this economic philosophy was the University of Chicago economist, Milton Freidman-(of “Capitalism and Freedom” fame)-, along with Austrian economists Friedrich Hayek-(The Road to Serfdom)-and Ludwig von Mises-(Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis).

The state was purposed to free business from unnecessary regulation and social obligations. The coordinates of this line of thinking: removal of state support in the provision of social services to better the common lot of ordinary people-“the social compulsive”-through privatizing social services via levying of fees for services that previously the state provided for free; removal of state controls on corporate taxes (or oversee substantial reductions) and remitted profits; removal of foreign currency controls; repression of trades unions and lowering of wages; the removal of wage and price controls; restriction of the money supply. This formula of corporation-friendly economics at its core was insensitive to the material lot of working people and was predetermined by a desire by ruling elites in the metropole to reverse post-Second World war concessions to its own working classes and organized labor, made to preserve social unity in their war against established socialism-(read: Soviet led international socialism and the Cold War).

Anti-socialism was the dominant subtext of the imperial project of neoliberal globalization both domestically and globally.

The United States of America as the most powerful capitalist nation in the world in post-Second World War era, along with its British ally-(the American-Anglo compact)- desired to crush socialism globally and sought to so do by a variety of measures one of which was the integration of the entire world economy on a free market platform of integrated production and supply networks for agricultural, low cost consumer items and natural resources from the periphery with unregulated capital and sophisticated technology supplied from the metropole. Obedience to its dictates meant celebration and support for elites so complicit; rebellion: regime change; assassination; sanctions; isolation and exclusion from global financial markets.

The periphery is not allowed to engage in secondary production of manufactured goods for a  integrated domestic market. They are to meet their needs for manufactured goods and technology via imports from the metropolitan core-(think: European Union; USA; UK; and Japan) and content themselves supplying raw materials to the global market in accordance their supposed comparative advantage. This arrangement of the global order viewed the new entrants into the global production cycle as cheap labor pools that would remain in such a condition in perpetuity. Neo-liberalism was the natural order of the universe and as such was the earliest footprint of the eternal in the present.

Unseen and hence unprepared for by the architects of empire, that is, the corporate and policy makers in Washington, London, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, was the advantage some nations would make of their incorporation into this order to the detriment of the domestic economy in the metropole-(think: China). Their labor cost advantages savaged the high wages of working people in the domestic economies of the metropole, destroying the traditional industries that provided them a high standard of living: car; steel; consumer products. Even though this was intended, its pace of revelation came as a shock to the managerial constitution of imperial policy makers.

Some of the paradoxes of this exercise are that the minimalist night-watchman state was, in practice, just as interfering in the production process avoiding involvement as it were when involved, since the modern economy is interdependent with the authority and responsibility complex of the modern state-the two are necessarily intertwined. The ideology of “trickle down economics” was betrayed by the reality of trickle-up wealth and substantial structural inequality between rich and poor. The natural resources comparative advantage of the periphery was in practice a comparative disadvantage vis a vis the metropole and its technological superiority. Neoliberal globalization far from being a new world order, in practice, was a continuation of old imperial relations under a new name.

Neo-liberalism brought gross ecological despoliation and robbed many nations of fair market value for their natural resources. It abandoned the public good and in making of politics a violent indifference to human needs reformulated economics into an autistic science of private profit accumulation. It has unleashed what the Uruguayan essayist, Eduardo Galeano, has called genocide on the peoples of the periphery.

The diminishment of its technical value, discrediting of its developmental promises and degradation of its statistical evidence of mass harming has collectively made of neo-liberalism an ideological project on terminal life support in the court of global public opinion, so much so that even its two most noted votaries, IMF and World Bank, are distancing themselves from its profit seeking singularity.

The ending of the neoliberal era is marked by the birth of the post-liberal where moral uncertainty, transformation in American imperial practices, rise of new global market competitors, deindustrialization and the new knowledge economy is giving birth to a new set of crises of profit making provoking civilizational anxieties unparalleled in the history of western civilization.

Good sources for further reading include the following: Michael Parenti’s, “The Face of Imperialism” (2011); Robert Wood, “From Marshall Plan to Debt Crisis”; George Caffentzis, “Rambo on the Barbary Shore: Libya, the Oil Price and the US”; David Harvey, “A Brief History of Neoliberalism” (2007);  and, Noam Chomsky and Robert W. McChesney, “Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order” (2011). 

Charles Simon-Aaron: Mugabe: Land Wars, Resource Nationalism and Empire (forthcoming); Dilemmas of Western Civilization: Narratives of Loss (forthcoming):

Post-Liberalism: Age of Uncertainty

One of the most difficult tasks for the ordinary citizen in the post-liberal age is making sense of world affairs on an everyday basis, for the modern world is both simple to understand and complex in its mysteries.

This age is one of the most elusive eras in human history to understand and locate from the vantage point of one’s personal self interest-(the “what’s in this for me question”)-for it goes unnamed by most commentators on world economy.

With the demise of neo-liberalism post-liberalism was born.

This era registers a strange feature for one whose thinking was shaped by the Cold War era of East-West conflict and the simplistic “us” and “them” separatism it promoted: it has no master template by which human understanding can be guided and state affairs managed. Capitalism is no longer fighting against socialism and socialism is no longer fighting against itself for all are friends shaking hands in the global marketplace and seeking the blessings of the money-making god of modern economics-Foreign Direct Investment, which the West has a lot of and everyone else less, if any.

Take the resource nationalist events of recent times: who would have believed that a right wing Canadian Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) would see eye to eye politically with nationalists Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), and all three drink from the same cup of post-liberal opportunity as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard whose country is a card carrying member of the free market society.

According to the ideological framing of the Cold War era these politicians existed on opposite sides of the imperial divide, Canada and Australia loyal partisans of the American-Anglo compact; Zimbabwe and Venezuela, its enemies. Yet in the post-liberal era they all share the same policy attitude to multinational mining companies and their dominant ownership of their nation’s natural resources: they want their nation’s natural resources to be owned by their states in the interest of their peoples or to tax and levy financial obligations on these companies such income so earned can be used for infrastructural development.

This “turn” from pro-capital policies to pro-state policies can be seen in the official responses of political leaders in this post-liberal era where multinational resource corporations have had to accept state involvement in their income streams as the political price they have to pay to operate in a given country, a far cry from their neo-liberal heydays where and when governments globally had to give them free reign to get access to World Bank and IMF funding for fiscal deficts.

Take the case of Zimbabwe where ZANU-PF under the aegis of its leader President, Robert Mugabe, and Minister for Indigenization and Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere, who has held major corporations in the country to account, in accordance the Law of Indigenization, to relinquish 51% control of their assets to indigenous Zimbabweans, to correct the peoples long history of racist exclusion from ownership positions in their economy.

Mugabe’s nationalism was disliked by the American-Anglo compact that levied sanctions on his administration in the aftermath of land reform initiatives 2000-2004 and hotly contested elections between his party and that of its rival Movement for Democratic Change.Yet Canadian, Chinese, Australian and South African mining companies prevail in the Zimbabwean mining landscape even though sanctions exist; and, given stock market quotations many of these mining companies have ownership relations with investors from the compact.Go figure?

Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, prevented BHP Billiton’s $40 billion hostile takeover bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., the world’s largest fertilizer company in 2010. This from a free marketeering officer of the state who remains committed to foreign investment and foreign takeovers of Canadian assets, though not those in the Knowledge economy like BlackBerry.

Prime Julia Gillard, of Australia, has levied higher taxes on mining companies in Australia citing the need for investment in infrastructure to maintain the country’s high standard of living and well developed human resources infrastructure. This against the backdrop of massive profits which mining companies have made over the past 20-30 years with little of its monetary benefits coming to Australians care of their government because of the neo-liberal consensus which said the government was not to be involved in private economic activities since corporations did so best.

President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela, has sought to redistribute wealth by using income from the country’s oil industry to finance housing development, building medical care facilities, schools, roads, bridges, water supply and dental and eye care facilities to the people for the first time in their lives.

In the major corridors of global power such social initiatives in the Cold War era were defined as socialist and inefficient in the allocation of resources since they do not obey the profit motive and competitive free markets, they are, today, in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial meltdown, in the post-liberal era, tolerated, since they serve the interests of global business by bringing more people to the global market for the products it has on offer: cell phones, smart phones, computers, cars, housing materials, foods, clothing, media products, and financial products to name but a few-all of which are produced and sold by the major corporations of the Western world and Japan. Go figure?

It is this paradox of circumstances in the post-liberal age which contributes to making this era so difficult to understand and to “choose sides” on global issues for we no longer have clear cut enemies nor clear-cut friends, a feature of the era best expressed with the neologisms, “frenemy” and “edutainment”. The lines of definition are increasingly blurred though interconnected.

In addition, governments are finding that their only friend is their self interest because the pivotal global player, namely the USA, because of domestic fiscal deficits and trade imbalances with major competitors, is no longer able to shape world affairs with the same single mindedness of purpose it once was able to during the neo-liberal era, since its financial means are “difficult” after the longer than expected wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which it has had to give a leading hand in financing.

America’s central role in organizing the global economy was based upon its willingness to sacrifice its domestic manufacturing economy on the altar of global competition in order to co-opt the support of powerful socialist countries like China and Russia and stop their continued support for socialist economic policies substituting them with free-market profit driven options. This sacrifice has succeeded, perhaps even more than expected with unforeseen consequences that are proving problematic and irresolvable to policy makers.

The global economy has intensified global competition for markets and natural resources converting former friends into potential enemies-think, China and America; and, China and America in Africa. Was this outcome scenario mapped by Washington governmental and New York corporate policy officials? Such a question from such a source of circumstances is the datum of the post-liberal age: uncertainty is king in the imperial palace of global authority.

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Word 2003

Charles Simon-Aaron: Mugabe: Land Wars, Resource Nationalism and Empire (Forthcoming); Class Ideology and African Political Theory (Edwin Mellen, 2011)

Obama Droned by Hurt-Mail

Please hazard a caring thought for the besieged occupant of the Presidential Office of America, President Barack Obama (2008-), who, in preparing for a second run for Presidential office, is on the receiving end of comments that are, to say the least, lacking in tact and sensitivity as to his person and family history, and which unknowingly and unintentionally lowers the moral threshold of public conduct mimicking in the process the past of exclusion and silencing many new Americans do not wish to have be repeated in their nation’s present form.

Such comments when they surface serve as a sign of a nation in struggle with its past and vexed over the socio-cultural transformations of its present with the cult of rights and cult of respect of previously excluded and silenced communities traveling in tow to much consternation. Here, the future America is slowly baptizing itself silently and in some pain, but baptizing itself it is for there is no turning back to the past of unbridled violence, discrimination and contempt that besotted the daily lives of its poor European Americans, its African, its Native, its Mexican and its Asia Pacific populations. That America has been struggled to the ground with strangle holds to its neck still.

For many Americans, especially European Americans ( the community of Americans for whom such changes are mostly felt as loss) the new-America-in-the-making is so far removed in outward appearances and cultural ways from that with which they are historically familiar, and prefer, it seemingly does not reflect their value systems and cultural ways, hence social change=equals=social loss, loss at the expense of their cultural preferences and security of continued political and economic dominance of “their” America. This has provoked psychic dissonance and much resistance since flagrant public demonstrations of contempt towards this new-America-in-the-making are socially unbecoming and much disapproved from leadership communities of the new America that have learnt and mastered the art of protest in the American nation.

It is therefore highly significant when an event such as the e-mailed message by Richard F. Cebull surfaces. For Judge Cebull, Chief U.S. District Judge (the chief federal judge of  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Montana, 2008) in sending his e-mail to other chief judges, where he engaged in polite private humor among friends, unveiled the following:

Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine:

A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!

(Source:  HYPERLINK “ March7th, 2012

For the uninitiated the above requires a certain measure of interpretative skill to discern the vulgar subtext of its intent: one, Barack Obama’a father was a metaphorical dog on two levels: (a) a rampant unrepentant womanizer; (b) a person bereft of civility in intimate relations with members of the opposite sex. Two, he was literally a dog; and, a black dog at that. The resonance with the African ancestry of Barack Obama’s father and the traditional animalistic metaphorical allusions to which the African is traditionally associated in disreputable literature in America and for that matter globally, is the pained attachment of this exposed exercise in private humor, and the one that is particularly disturbing to many a reader for this kind of thinking has been the tradition of far right activism; and, one prefers to believe was waning in use, alas that is not the case, since it has acquired new life in the hands of a chief judge in the American judicial system.

As one astute blogger remarked: The “joke” doesn’t “clearly insinuates [ sic ] that young Barack’s father could have been a dog, and that this somehow explains why he is black” but it does imply that a white woman that had sex with a black man would also have sex with dogs. This is actually more offensive, in my opinion. It’s sad that race is an issue because ignorant people like this judge deflect attention from the real issues. I don’t care for Obama but next to men like this he seems like shining example of everything we could hope for him to be.  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” burning_plastic ( HYPERLINK “

(March 7th, 2012)

The lessons of this experience for non-American communities in the global family of nations rented with such conflicts are that in the American scenario the writer of the e-mail could have freely written it. The newspaper that published it–(the Great Falls Tribune)-could have freely published it. And, the aggrieved public could have voiced their substantial disapproval once it reached the public domain. The outcome: the nation that is America is free to adjust its collective temperature of moral tolerance for the new violations of its own new codes of decency as it transitions from a Eurocentric to a pluralized Eurocentric-plus, plus, plus, plus, cultural universe-minus external interference. Nice.

The freedom to self define that is the hall mark of the American way is the desire of those nations and peoples globally who would like to regulate their own domestic temperature of tolerance for their own standards of conduct which they perceive the American way (in company, its British ally) as blocking via its entertainment-financial-diplomatic-military-industrial and educational complex. The irony of modernity is that the global family accepts the liberal prescriptions of civility as promoted by America and Britain as its new civilized norms only to find that in the context of empire, doing as empire does, that is, self-defining in keeping with national self perceptions and expectations-national self determination-is defined by American-Anglo empire as anti-imperial and politically disobedient, hence worthy of punishment.

Subordinate nations are to do as they are told and not as the leadership nations of the world do. Obedience to foreign dictates is their lot to experience and limited self definition at that. It is this limitation on autonomy that is the fuel of much acrimony in many quarters in the global community: Their cry: “Why can we not be allowed to set our own standards of morality and self police and regulate in accord our own value systems and have such be respected by all just as leadership nations do?” This is the kernel of much anti-imperial acrimony in the modern world.

Harmful to many communities as they engage in such national debates is their failure to understand what often they do not even know exist-empire, what it is; what are its means and, what are its ends.

Barack Obama as the official symbolic leader of the world’s single largest empire has experienced a verbal drone of vitriolic contempt from Judge Cebull’s e-mail which in no way parallels that of the real drones he has authorized be used in America’s war theatre in the early part of the 21st Century but it sure did hurt-even if, just a little; and it hurted in the American way-in full public domain.

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Charles Simon-Aaron:

Mugabe: Land Wars, Resource Nationalism and Empire (Forthcoming)

Class Ideology and African Political Theory (Edwin Mellen Press, 2011)

[Steven]Harper’s Revenge: Toronto and the G20 Summit

The lead up to the G20 meeting in Toronto was a series of puzzles to many onlookers: one, why locate the G20 meeting in the country’ largest city and in its congested city core at that? Two, why spend $1 billion to do so? Three, why alienate a decent law abiding and responsible citizenry with overwhelming policing force?
The only local beneficiaries of this largesse of Harper’s fiscal generosity seemed to the city’s Police Force, regional Policing Forces, RCMP, CSIS and the other peripheral elements of the nation’s policing complex like private Security Guards and the Canadian military in the provision of extra manpower for the occasion.
Lost in interpretation of this scenario was the obvious need to protect World leaders once invited to the country, for should harm befall them questions would be raised as to why no expense was spared in protecting them; and if no harm befell them then any expense was worth it to protect them and Canada’s international reputation.
Haunting this evaluation of Harper’s actions however is the why question, for Canada is a huge country—the second largest country in the world, after Russia, in terms of physical size according to the CIA Factbook– with many adequate locations where protections of such leaders could have been conducted with greater ease and lower cost; with cost efficiencies the cause célèbre of the neoliberal handbook of political strategy.
In ignoring cost and choosing Toronto as the most appropriate location for the G20 meeting Harper deviated much from his party’s mandate of fiscal responsibility and responsible government. $1 billion in G20 cost saw to that.
When the why question is asked Harper’s choice of actions reveal political behavior that neoconservatives by no means have a monopoly in practicing: political revenge.
Harper permitted the G20 meeting in Toronto to punitively demonstrate to urban Reform Party hating Toronto they will not escape the smell and fist of his power. He rules Canada; and, therefore, by extension, Toronto.
For the Reform Party and Steven Harper, Toronto, is a most disobedient and politically indifferent city to its Federal authority able to live independently because economically rich, economically diverse and internationally linked. It lives as if Federal authority is a paper fiction and not a political reality in its day to day life. It therefore had to be brought to heel, symbolically, to know the limits of its independence. What better way to so do than to take control of the city through full Federal rule under the perfectly legitimate guise of protecting World leaders for the Group of 20 economically leading countries.
How can a Federal take-over of the country’s largest city be seen as a Reform Party coup when the massive investment in policing manpower and telecommunications surveillance took place in the name of securing World leaders from harm?
Toronto’s cosmopolitanism and entrenched liberalism (small “l” liberalism) which has been emitting disdain for Harper and the Reform Party by simply not electing any of its candidates in the several federal elections the country has witnessed since Reform was formed out of the debris of the Progressive Conservative Party and Preston Manning’s Reform Party, must be taught a lesson in subservience. If it chose not to bow voluntarily it will be forced to bow by force: hence G20 in Toronto and the massive demonstration of police force and paramilitary authoritarianism.
Harper seems to be saying, scorn me at your peril. Reform rules, baby! Smell it. Eat it. Feel it.

The infantile, testosterone fuelled, egotistical aggression, of such a declaration was partnered by the policing authorities assigned to implement Harper’s strategy of contempt for the city and its Reform scorning multitudes.
Reeling from a series of media friendly calamities Canada’s policing bodies have in their conduct demonstrated a substantial deviation from the popularly held assumptions of good character and fair judgment that has been their social capital for generations. They now find themselves mistrusted, called racists, Islamophobists (meaning: they scorn Islam and Muslims), drug dealers and drug thieves, fraudulent, and anti-democratic. There exists alternative, competing, interpretations of their conduct in many sectors of the public; the public is no longer of one mind about the “Police” as the recent fall out over the killing of Robert Dziekanski, at the hands of four RCMP officers, October 14th, 2007, at Vancouver International Airport, revealed. The scenario worsens when we add the Air India Inquiry Report of ex-Superior Court Judge, John Major, presented to the public, 17th, June 2010, where he found the Federal Government, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Security and Intelligence Service were complicit in allowing the bombing of the Air India plane, June 23rd, 1985, to take place.
Canada’s “Police” needed a face saving boost to their public image and G20 was the perfect fit. They got to demonstrate to the public their “hard power” skills-(which need no explanation)-and “soft power” skills like mastery of new telecommunications technologies that monitor cell phone conversations and even close them down altogether, in service the national interest.
In addition, Canada’s Policing authorities in historically suffering from a constitutional inferiority complex vis a vis their American counterparts saw in policing G20 a source of redemption. It gave them an opportunity to run their very own anti-terrorist show and illustrate, in the boy’s club way that matters in such a community, that Canadian Police can do anti-terrorist policing too: there is more to being white and Canadian than ice hockey
Harper’s revenge and the Police’s desire to gloat before their American counterparts were two agendas that met, mutually reinforced and mutually fulfilled each other’s expectations. This explains the extravagant cost and lockdown of the downtown core of the country’s largest city: ego made policy.

Charles Simon-Aaron
University of Malaya

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