Mapping the Mercantilist World Economy

Eric Ross, academic

This semester I get to teach Economic Geography, a Sophomore-level course in our International Studies program. I use World Systems and World History perspectives, both of which favor a global scale of analysis (the course textbook is Knox, Agnew & McCarthy’s The Geography of the World Economy). This week I presented on Mercantilism, which designates both the dominant political-economic doctrine of the 17th and 18th centuries (as hegemonic a doctrine in its day as Neoliberalism is today) and a set of trade practices institutionalized by European maritime powers. Our current globalized capitalist world economy was built on Mercantilist foundations, put in place in the first phase of global European expansion, the second phase being that of the formal European empires of the industrial age. In the case of the “New World” in the Americas, Europe’s Mercantilists were creating entirely new trade networks and hinterlands. In the Old…

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The Misplaced Left-Liberal Hysteria Over the “Naked Trump” Statue

The Emperor Has No Balls

The unveiling of an unflattering statue of a naked Donald Trump in New York and several other cities this week by a group that identifies as an anarchist artist collective has sparked an avalanche of protest and posturing faux-rage due to its alleged inappropriateness as a specimen of “body/ fat/age-shaming.” Such overreaction seems a bit odd since if anyone deserves to be shamed one can scarcely find someone more deserving than Donald Trump. To think of the disgusting and dehumanizing views of women he has expressed, the demeaning value he places on them as sex objects to be used until they “age out,” then tossed aside for new and younger models (literally in his case). To recall his racist insults, his disparagement of Mexicans and other immigrants he promises to round up and deport- surpassing even what has been done during President Obama’s tenure. His plans to profile and ban Muslims from the country, his cruel mockery of parents who lost their son in war, and his attacks on other vulnerable people like the disabled reporter. Such a reaction is indeed inexplicable.

It is inexplicable unless one is familiar with the culture of identity politics, trigger warnings, and “safe-spaces,” that is. How the proponents of these [over]protective mechanisms traverse the interwebs from Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook to any number of blogs news sites – the Huffpost comments section, for instance- in search of potentially dubious words, turns of phrase, and expressions that could might insult someone’s feelings – or mean something other than what they purport to say. All depending on what one chooses to read into them – of which the possibilities are endless. The reaction is incomprehensible unless one is familiar with how much influence these guardians of political correctness have within the circles of liberal and left-ish popular politics over the past few years, especially among the younger generation of millennials.

It seems clear in this case that the accusations of body or age shaming are inaccurate. Perhaps if the purpose of the Trump statue was to gratuitously shame him as “fat”or if the “fatness” of the statue were the main focus or point of reference, then it might indeed count as fat shaming. But it is simply incidental in this case. Anyone who has followed the course of this disgraceful election knows very well the references and message of the statue, which is the mark of good parody and political satire.

His body, one might hazard, is depicted pretty much as it would likely look naked; and yes, it has a pot belly quite typical in a man his age. The body part that holds the symbolic significance on the statue, however, is the tiny penis and the absence of testicles. That this is the whole point is evident from the title of the statue: “The Emperor Has No Balls.” The reference is to a man who has no integrity or sense of propriety himself. One who has bragged about his member as a shorthand for the “bigness and virility” of the masculinity he lays claims to, funnily, which, according to Trump, translates into his unrivaled leadership ability that will “make America great again.” Like clownish fascist front-men of the past, he presents himself as the “manly” personification of the nation, the leader all should gather round and exult, as opposed to his opponents who are either small (“Little Marco”) or female, like Hillary, and therefore not up to a “real man’s” task. Trump also portrays himself as a no-nonsense, straight-talking business man who gets things done. A “real man” who has the “balls” to “tell it like it is” unlike those who cower before the self-appointed liberal court of political correctness.

The statue in fact refutes these claims that are the stock and trade of Trump’s braggadocio. Rather than a “big man” he is a small and insecure one, who would be nothing without his inherited fortune and the privilege, access to power, and protective shield that gives him. He is portrayed as a coward who abuses those who are vulnerable, taking cheap shots unbefitting of one who claims to have the qualifications and character to lead a country (having “no balls,” contrary to his claims). If anything, the shaming involved in the image is directed toward crass, white, bigoted male blowhards like Trump – of which there are plenty- who revel in ostentatious display, unwarranted hubris, greed and the false social values attributed to the acquisition of money as the highest pursuit in our capitalist society.

Those who think it is an exercise in fat shaming are mistaken, and likely reading into it what is not there because they want to make it part of a crusade against body shaming prominent across social media. Such is an inappropriate imposition of meaning and  insertion of subjective feeling into politics. The statue was raunchy and funny, and hits Trump where he lives (really), and where his mind is at (repulsively). Bourgeois liberals and the sheltered sensitivity crowd lack a decent sense of humor and have taken up a disturbing puritanism of late, subjecting others to their misplaced moral crusades.

Humor is a form of resistance, a de-legitimation tactic used by the powerless against the powerful. Ribalding the rich and powerful goes back centuries, millennia, in fact, if one recalls the plays of Aristophanes. Trump is a clown and should be represented as such.

The whole body shaming thing is a ruse in this case. It is part of a larger problem of over-sensitivity and imposed political correctness that seeks to stifle dissent, homogenize opinion, and reduce debate and discourse to a lexicon of approved talking points that anticipate and avoid all possible offense. Liberals and damp-eyed emo Lefties need to stop this language and tone policing now. It’s rude, presumptuous, and dangerous when long-held rights are being trampled from above. It divides, alienates, and deflects debate away from what is important to the ground of the subjective; valorizing countless and unpredictable personal and individual feelings above critical engagement, wrongly making the perceiver the determinant of all meaning. This is an unacceptable distraction in a time when the big picture political stakes are high. Next these people will be issuing a Codex of Approved Language, Phrase, and Metaphor.

Such representations have nothing to do with anyone else but the intended target of criticism. That a rank fascist like Trump was depicted with a tiny prick, no balls, and a distended belly is not about anyone else but Trump. Anyone who feels offended by it ought to realize that they are not the subject. But it seems likely that most of those who are making a big fuss are just looking for another opportunity to virtue signal and engage in hypocritical moral posture. Enough already.