This is the end; this is the beginning

Commentary No. 500, July 1, 2019

My first commentary appeared on October 1, 1998. It was published by the Fernand Braudel Center (FBC) at Binghamton University. I have produced commentaries on the first and the fifteenth of every month since then without exception. This is the 500th such commentary. This will be the last commentary ever.

I have devoted myself to writing these commentaries with complete regularity. But no one lives forever, and there is no way I can continue doing these commentaries much longer.

So, sometime ago I said to myself I will try to make it to number 500 and then call it quits. I have made it to 500 and I am calling it quits.

My commentaries have a special format. They are not blogs, which are writings that the next to the last writer changes at his will. On the contrary, my commentaries are meant to be permanent and to never change.

The commentaries have a clear format. Sometimes as in commentary number one, the title is the theme. But most frequently the title is the theme in the following particular fashion.

The commentary opens with a few words that attract the attention of the reader followed either by a question mark or by a colon. There follows what might be thought of as a subtitle in which I indicate the concrete references to which this commentary makes allusion. This is usually another five or six words.

All commentaries may be translated, and I seek to have as many as possible translated. The translations have a strict format. We give rights gratis for the first 1,000 copies initial translation. This is to pay for the costs of translation.

But after that, the commentaries must follow certain rules. Nothing can be added, and nothing can be subtracted from the commentary, which must be reproduced in all fidelity. In order to ensure that this is the case, a proposer of a new translation is answered in the following manner.

First, we check to see whether previously a commentary has been translated. If it has, we thank the proposer for his or her interest and indicate that the translation has already been made. We indicate to the proposer the location of the completed translation. There can only be one translation, as there can only be one English language version.

There is only one language in which all 500 commentaries have been translated. This language is Mandarin Chinese. Furthermore, the translator has always been the same person. She is a former student of mine and is very familiar with my thought. Other languages have multiple issues translated, but only Mandarin Chinese has everything.

For a long time now, the commentaries are available for purchase by profit-seeking publications. They may enter into agreement with my agent – Agence Global. I take the occasion to thank all those who have been involved in fulfilling this arrangement.

It is I, and no one else, who chooses the theme of the commentary and who guarantees the uniqueness of the translation. All commentaries and all translations on an archive are available to anyone whatsoever, whether the person writes to us regularly or is simply someone who tunes in this one time. These commentaries are permanent members of a community of commentaries.

This is the sense in which the present commentary is at an end.

It is the future that is more important and more interesting, but also inherently unknowable. Because of the structural crisis of the modern-world system, it is possible, possible but not absolutely certain, that a transformatory use of a 1968 complex will be achieved by someone or some group. It will probably take much time and will continue on past the point of the end of commentaries. What form this new activity will take is hard to predict.

So, the world might go down further by-paths. Or it may not. I have indicated in the past that I thought the crucial struggle was a class struggle, using class in a very broadly defined sense. What those who will be alive in the future can do is to struggle with themselves so this change may be a real one. I still think that and therefore I think there is a 50-50 chance that we’ll make it to transformatory change, but only 50-50.

Europe’s telephone and the politics of non-real change

Commentary No. 499, June 15, 2019

U.S. superdiplomat Henry Kissinger is famously said to have asked, “Who do I call if I call Europe?” The question is repeatedly cited as a clever way to suggest pessimism about Europe as a reality. The answer, of course, depends upon what you want to know about Europe. There are at least a dozen European institutions of varying kinds of memberships and interests. You can telephone any one of them. Europe is so much a reality that there is even a European institution made up of those who wish to abolish European institutions.

We shall try to do two things in this commentary. One is to discuss the difference between what I call real change and non-real change. For that the discussion of Europe’s telephone is very helpful to us to see what is going on.

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Again and Again!

Commentary No. 498, June 1, 2019

Two leading actors in the modern world systems – Donald Trump and Theresa May of England – sound like broken records. They say the same thing each time they talk, knowing full well that their case is extremely weak.

Why have they done this? They have no better choice if they wish to remain leading actors. They are cheating, asserting that they are proposing something possible. In fact, it is the opposite. They are asserting as possible their ability to alter a situation, one that is virtually impossible to change.

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Decisive moment! Decisive moment?

Commentary No. 497, May 15, 2019

We all want to know what the future portends for us about anything important. We all tend to believe the future will be what the present is. If the polls show we shall make a certain decision, deciding if something looks good now, it will continue to look good as the future goes on. At the same time, it is a well-tested phenomenon we can’t remember decisions more than six months ago. What is a result of combining these two seeming facts? Let me try to explain how a combination works.

An example would be a decision most people are most concerned with – the election of the United States President in 2020. While we think the present is a favorable outlook for Donald Trump, it seems to me that it is more complicated.

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The Fire of Notre Dame Cathedral: How Tragic?

Commentary No. 496, May 1, 2019

On April 15, 2019, a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame was a tragedy for people all across the world, and particularly those in France. Everyone who ever saw it usually loved it. So this was a tragedy for perhaps half the world, if not many more. The question remains: was it undoable? The answer is absolutely not.

There is absolutely no reason Notre Dame cannot be restored exactly as it was, or as we wish to improve it. It is only a question of political will and money.

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Ontological Dilemmas

Commentary No. 495, April 15, 2019

Epistemology, especially statistics, is the study of how we measure things and how we know if our measurements are correct. Ontology is the study of whether the things we are measuring actually do exist.

A very long time ago, beginning in the sixteenth century, analysts were primarily concerned with methodological problems. But in the last century, more and more analysts turned their concerns to ontological problems.

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Who is Winning? It All Depends When

Commentary No. 494, April 1, 2019

For a worldwide struggle to capture the surplus-value there is always a choice.

One can give priority to short-term gains. Or one can give priority to middle-turn gains. One cannot do both.

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Unacceptable compromises: A clarification

Commentary No. 493, March 15, 2019

Two of my regular readers sent me indications that I was not clear in my explanation of what I was talking about when I spoke of unacceptable compromises.

I shall attempt to answer their queries and objections. Let me start by reproducing what they sent me.

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