Thursday, June 25, 2015
The case for flag-burning. posted by Richard Seymour
Every thick white Southern person they interview on television about this stupid flag says something thick about, it's about our heritage, it's not about slavery. It's about the South defending itself, it's not about slavery. It's about states rights, it's not about slavery.
If this was just ignorance, then the ideological function of 'ignorance' would be self-evident and need no elaboration. But we have to remember that ignorance is an active, not a passive factor; people choose ignorance in order to protect the enjoyment they derive from a particular ideological position. So here's where 'whiteness' comes in.
Fundamentally, 'whiteness' is unconscious. The signifier, 'whiteness', is linked to, and holds in place, an unconscious fantasy of a well-ordered racial hierarchy without antagonism, in which the only stirrers are outside agitators, and in which the only agents are white, and in which the only issue is white freedom. This fantasy stages a desire for the impossible: total, limitless enjoyment of black lives, total domination over black lives, total mastery of black lives, and total being in whiteness without boundaries. Obviously, such fantasies can't be expressed or even admitted, any more than the desire which they stage. They're totally unacceptable to the contemporary political superego. But it is a little kernel of enjoyment at the core of contemporary white-supremacist discourse, and my impression is that this fantasy manifests itself all the time in the totally obvious slips and lapses of white Americans.*
So when someone perversely literalises these fantasies by engaging in white-supremacist terror, sincerely trying to put black Americans 'back in their place', it has an interesting series of effects. In the public discourse, there's suddenly an anxiety about whiteness, which the right-wing media try to deflect - like the moronic journalist who questioned whether Roof was even white. But under the surface, people are doing something else: they're buying Confederate flags in record numbers.
The rationalisations for this, we know: it's not about slavery, it's not about slavery, it's not about slavery. "I'm just buying this because the liberal media is about to go on the attack against Southern people, and I want to show that we're a proud, big-hearted people" etc etc. But there's no getting away from the fact that buying this flag constitutes at a basic level an unconscious symbolic identification with the killer, who was seen brandishing it. It's the unary trait through which they establish their equivalence to him.
It's an extremely good idea to burn that flag. You're fucking with the enjoyment of white-supremacy. There can be moments at which desecrating a symbol just reinforces the enjoyment in it, but this is not one of them. Burn the flag.
*I am not letting the white British off the hook here, but our miserable, grotty, grotesque little fantasies are structured differently, around making up for the loss of total omnipotence by creating a small fortified island of whiteness. It's different.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Tragicomic posted by Richard SeymourI remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the day the Beautiful Soul entered Russell Brand. It began to slowly cannibalise his innards, metabolising them into an oddly potent type of spiritual ordure.
At first, he seemed to welcome it, and the ecstasy of its sweet ministry. How could he resist? The oneness of all living things, upon which it staked its colonising zeal, appeared to be the most perfectly sublimated narcissism. The sheer monstrosity of the thing was not yet plain to view. Not until it had metabolised almost every bit of him. Even his previously versatile voice, which slipped effortlessly between Kenneth Williams camp and Joe Pasquale red coat cheer, was gradually usurped by a wheedling undertone.
By the end, he was just a shape of skin; its form preserved, like that of a rubber glove, by that which occupied it. The parasite within gazed out of blank, dark eyes, looking for more bodies to consume.
One day, his cavernous lantern mouth cranked open, and it spoke through him. "Wotcher kids," it offered in a hollow mockery of the host's estuary accent, "the cops are avin a reeeaally hard time, right? It seems like all they see is hate and conflict, yeah? And ah fink, right, what we as a community need to do right is give em a right big ol hug, yeah? What we desperately need is more love in this greed-driven, fear-addled society, so please..."
And as it spoke, mesmerised bodies huddled before their screens and began to hashtag frantically to social media contacts, #lovethepigs and #giveanofficerarimjobtoday. And as they did, it passed into each of them, guzzling and regurgitating them all into a perpetually enlarging, pulsing sac of sanctimonious hippy shit.
The final, terrifying denouement: it shed the carcass, a flimsy paper thin greased exterior by this point, and emerged triumphant and terrible, singing its holy glory across the land in a Latin skewed by unintelligible diphthongs.
That was when I knew it had Charlotte Church in its sights.
Sunday, June 21, 2015
We all had a lovely time. posted by Richard Seymour
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Yes you can hate the rich. posted by Richard SeymourI am tempted to offer Jeremy Corbyn the same advice I offered the Greens: you need to hate more.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Sunday, June 14, 2015
What do people mean when they say 'race is a social construction'? What sort of materials is it constructed from, and how robust is the construction? I think race is oppression, and nothing else. It has no essential biological or cultural truth outside of the social relationship which constitutes it. It is power, all the way down. From the stratification of slave labour following the Bacon Rebellion to the 'whitening' of the Irish, the whole point of race is that it situates you in a particular social location. And it is the product of collective action - hence the 'social' part of 'social construction'. As to undoing race, there is the example of Dessalines conferring the status of 'Black' on Polish Legionnaires who had defected to the side of the Haitian revolution. In the Haitian context, 'Black' was no longer raced - to be 'Black' was just to be a citizen. Of course, those soldiers had a choice in the matter: they could have returned to Europe, where they would be 'white'. In the global context, 'Black' still functioned as a racial designation; and given Haiti's situation and the attacks it would weather, identifying as 'Black' meant joining the racially oppressed in an insurgency against race.
So the interesting question is, why is race so resilient despite being so malleable, and despite having no fundamental reality outside of power? Why are examples of 'undoing' so rare? Why does it take such giant collective efforts to even change the racial status of a particular group? It would seem to warn against the tendency to collapse race into identity. It is primarily, like class, a social relationship. Identifications will form around that relationship, and signifiers like 'black' or 'bourgeois' can accrue all sorts of differently accented cultural meanings. But, just as a factory owner does not necessarily become working class by dropping aitches, wearing scruffy clothes, reading the Sunday Sport and calling himself a proper working class diamond geezer, so it would seem that - unless we do want to collapse race into identity - one does not become black by styling one's hair in a particular way, acquiring a new accent and family history, and declaring oneself black.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
You love it. posted by Richard SeymourYou know that if you visit a shrink and say, "I want to get better", the analyst ought to be very sceptical right away that this is actually your demand. Most likely, they will interpret your demand as something like: "please get my symptom working again, so that I can go back to doing exactly what I did before, regardless of how dysfunctional".
And that is what we have paid the banks for. We gave them everything, so that they would get the symptoms of financial capitalism working again. Even with all its precarities. We paid them billions. Trillions. We gave them unprecedented access to political power. We didn’t nationalise the banks as we like to think - we semi-privatised the Treasury! We turned the worst crisis of capitalism in generations into an opportunity to raid the welfare state. And for what? To keep making us more precarious, to keep the housing market spiralling out of control, to drive up unemployment, to push as much of the money as possible into the hands of billionaires.
I know. I know. I know perfectly well what you're thinking. You're thinking, if you have any sense, "who is this 'we', honky?" Of course, of course, of course, 'we' didn't do anything. It was the government and their ruling class allies. 'We' just sat on our plump arses and fearfully waited for an 'honest broker', for that nice Nick Clegg, to cut us a deal that wouldn't leave us all dead. Fucking idiots that 'we' are. Yes, I know. It's more complicated than that. But let's look at it from another angle.
'Free schools' are unambiguously, categorically, without reservation, hesitation or deviation, a disaster and a clusterfuck from the first zero hours contract to the last gleam on Toby Young's forehead. The main contribution of 'free schools' is not just capitalist spivs circling the children like fucking vultures, not just greater inequality of access, but lower overall achievement. 'Standards', the cri de coeur of neoliberal attack dogs and reactionaries alike, took a worse dive than [insert name of some fucking sporting celebrity]. And still the 'free schools' persist, and will go on forever, yeah, until the Lord returns and finds out he's been double-parked all these years.
We've had this before, with the Private Finance Initiative. On every index, PFI went badly wrong. Every PFI hospital was had at massively inflated cost, contributing to a terrible fiscal crisis in the NHS. Beds were lost. Staff were lost. Outsourced cleaning gave us MRSA. Nothing worked. There was overwhelming public opposition. The government kept going. More PFI. And now we have 'free schools'. And just like the Private Finance Initiative, this policy disaster is a bipartisan gift to the nation. Yes, they're all the same. If you want to live in a multiparty democracy, go back to Russia - circa 1917.
And of course, there is a peculiar state-capitalist nexus which drives these projects on, in the service of a combination of ideological, political and class interests. But still, there is something else at stake, and we shouldn't overlook the satisfactions that are invested in these moronic schemes.
With free schools, the dysfunctions are all structured around social cleavage. And that's the yield. That's what we pay for. That's why they persist.
To concretise this 'we', let's focus on the middle class and those 'aspiring' workers that Labour wants to talk to for some reason - you know, working class Tories who would rather sell their children to mine-sweeps than vote Labour. The middle class is probably shrinking in this phase of capitalist development. It is threatened in some areas with proletarianisation. It is experiencing precarity more than ever before. It is more dependent on financial insecurity, to keep house values rising and supply a steady stream of new income. For this class, new hierarchies established through the schools system could be just the thing they're looking for.
The education system has always been their means to self-reproduction. Their belief in meritocracy, while not necessarily hollow, is imbricated with this role of schools in reproducing and naturalising social hierarchy. The same goes for the well-known middle class obsession with 'standards'. Objectively, educational achievements can go through the roof. Even by the narrow standard of exams and testing, results can rise and rise and rise. That isn't what they want. They don't want achievement spread too broadly throughout the population and if it is, they'll assume that 'standards' are falling. The ideology of 'excellence' is an ideology of elitism, of achievement for the few.
So, however costly and ineffectual and stupid free schools turn out to be, as long as they protect and perpetuate inequality, they will persist.