Thursday, June 25, 2015

The case for flag-burning. posted by Richard Seymour

Just a quick note on the Confederate flag and this vexed problem of 'whiteness'.

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.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tragicomic posted by Richard Seymour

I 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.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

We all had a lovely time. posted by Richard Seymour

What a success; what a win.  70,000.  100,000.  250,000, say Counterfire’s curates of the power of positive thinking.  There is no point in haggling; it was a huge demonstration by anyone’s standards, and it has helped shape the national conversation.

Let no one say that the atmosphere was other than joyous.  Comrades couldn’t keep the grins off their faces.  This is the sort of thing that makes the troops happy.  All the sects and groupuscules were out, distributing printed material as they always do on a Saturday afternoon - but this time, there were tens of thousands of activists, confident and hopeful, to take it.

The familiar yet inspiring kaleidoscope of the Left was out in full technicolour.  From brass bands parping out The Red Flag to the notorious neon ‘Fuck the Fucking Fuckers’ placard, from union banners to pointlessly large balloons.  The relief was palpable.

It was, indeed, a joyous occasion.  The people thronged into streets barely big enough to contain them, and chanted and sang in notes of cheerful defiance.  Those who claim that such events are ‘boring’ are wrong in point of fact, and give the impression of political thrill-seeking.  We all had a lovely time.  And this was precisely the problem.

A minimum condition for sentience on the left is an awareness that this protest is itself evidence of at least five years of catastrophic failure.  There is something powerfully and stunningly incongruous in the subjectivity of a left marching as if in recreation, when we know we are also mourning for the casualties and the dead.  It suggests that we don’t really mean business.  It suggests that, rather than wanting to shake the walls and pillars to the earth, we want to grab some ice cream and go home.

What is a demonstration of 70,000, 100,000 or - give delusion its due - 250,000 people actually for?  What is it that we wish to demonstrate?  Are we out to demonstrate worthiness and plausibility for the spectacle?  Or are we out to demonstrate a threat?  

Are we out to indulge the left’s peculiar and subcultural forms of entertainment?  Sing our anthems, spot our left celebrities, and enjoy the festival atmosphere?  To ‘send a message’ that ‘austerity isn’t necessary’, as one speaker said?  Or are we out to say, as every serious and successful movement before us has said, that with these numbers we mean to turn the country upside down?

Because so much of this - the pleasant amble, the burned placards, the anarcho antics, the singing, the half-hearted fists, the pseudo-rock concert denouement - is gimmickry.  This is the left buying the world a Coke.  It is, at worst, a feel-good simulation of struggle.  Unless it goes somewhere new.

There has been much sneering about A to B demonstrations, but when did we ever get to B?  To go from A to B implies a step forward, and we show no sign of even knowing what step B would look like.

The point is not to criticise the march for happening, for even positioning ourselves at point A, against austerity, but to say that we have been here before, and we need to reflect critically on how we got back to the same spot as we enter the sixth year of Tory rule.  We have sent enough messages.  We have pleaded and proved our case for long enough.  We have patiently waited.  We have watched, demoralised, as the institutions of labourism tumbled headlong into their historical abyss.  And we waited for Ed Miliband, of all people, to deliver us from the Tory nightmare; by, of all means, triangulating Nigel Farage.

Now, finally, we have endured enough.  But it is no good to go from somnolent passivity back to the same pointless, upbeat-but-vacuous activism that led to the original demoralisation - unless we want to be defeated.  It is no good waking up, only to become like a canary flapping in a cage, showing much motion but little progress.  The counter-productive burn-out of soi-disant 'Leninist’ party-building is hardly improved upon by the burn-out of another cycle of marches.

This is life or death for the left.  Our mode of struggle, and our militancy, has to be adequate to the challenge.  If we have no justification for existing, no relevance to the workfared and socially cleansed, the race-baited and brutalised, the exploited and oppressed, then we may well not exist.  We need to go out solemnly, furiously, with rage in our hearts and tears in our eyes, and fists clamped shut with death-dealing hatred, knowing that this is life or death and that the stalemate of the Big Day Out means death.  We need to mean business.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Yes you can hate the rich. posted by Richard Seymour

I am tempted to offer Jeremy Corbyn the same advice I offered the Greens: you need to hate more.

You're not called upon to be a nice guy, to be reasonable, to play the boring parliamentary game of civilised politics.  You are called upon to preach.  Yours is an evangelical mission, to change the political and ideological culture in this stupid, backward, cretinous country.  We need fire.  We need serious, fire and brimstone exhortation. 

When they, the ubiquitous they, the ten-a-penny bourgeois journalists and hacks, say to you, "so you want to raise taxes to the levels of the bad old days?", tell them you want to hammer the rich until they piss blood.  Tell them the bankers who have wrecked millions of peoples lives need to be taxed into the ground, the full six feet under.  Tell them, and tell the people, that under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership the rich would be squeezed like a sponge to water the gardens of the poor.

Yes you can, Jeremy. Yes. You. Can.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

The casualties of Fortress Europe. posted by Richard Seymour

Given today's damning Amnesty report on the 'neglect' by 'world leaders' of refugees, I just want to put something in perspective.  

In the case of the EU, it is not so much a 'conspiracy of neglect', as Amnesty calls it, as a range of policies - 'illegal pushback', detention camps, Operation Triton - which are supposedly intended to fortify the frontiers of Fortress Europe.  The drastic increase in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean can be traced largely to the tightening of such policies.  And remember the EU's response to the deaths at sea: they wanted to bomb somewhere.  

Yet, given that the effects of this relative to the scale of immigration to Europe are actually negligible - since most migrants arrive by air, with a visa, to work - these restrictions can't be interpreted as being, in any direct sense, about 'controlling numbers'.  In Farageite terms, I would suggest that this is about 'quality not quantity'.  

That is, EU states are engaged in a loosely coordinated range of policies designed to brutalise migrants, not to significantly reduce the flow of migration, but to maintain and entrench the existing pattern whereby European employers are serviced with the labour they require but Europe is not burdened by the wretched of the earth.

More detail in the embedded video.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

As long as you think you're white, there's no hope for you. posted by Richard Seymour

There is no point in me joining in the endless attacks on Rachel Dolezal.  I'm tempted to say that I have no moral basis for criticising her when, like millions of people worldwide, I have been fronting as a white man all these years.  The accent, the hairstyle, the appalling diet, the sumptuary choices, the music, the terrible, terrible clothing.  I've bought into every racial stereotype of back-woods Northern Irish redneck scum you could possibly invent.  You wouldn't believe the lengths that some people will go to in order to uphold some specious 'identity'.

And actually, what's striking about Dolezal is precisely how powerfully invested she is in the logic of race.  The 'hot takes', the Buzzfeed disses, and so on all take due note of her stories about her genealogy, and the lengths to which she went to get the hair right - even presenting lectures on the history of African American hair.  She is alleged to have excluded a Hispanic student from class activities on the grounds that he appeared 'too white'.  And reportedly, she even invented racist attacks on her person in order to sustain the decoy.  Even allowing for some embellished and sensationalist reporting, and allowing that many complexities are being omitted, it seems fair enough to say that her whole strategy for being 'black' depended upon investing in, and to a degree reinforcing and policing, the colour line.  But there are two very peculiar reactions to this story.

The first is that of critics who are perhaps even more invested in race than Dolezal herself.  She is white.  She is whitewhitewhite.  Her parents, look, they're white.  She is, what, Czech, German, Swedish, and that all adds up to white with a capital white.  With all this expertise on pedigree, it's like listening to a dog breeder describe his mutt.  Without trying to decide whether Rachel Dolezal is white or black - trust me, you don't want me to be the authority on this, because I am a massive stirrer (she's both, she's neither, it's undecidable, Schroedinger's cat race theory, ahahahaha) - the introduction of a genealogical logic, the logic of racial pedigree, displays incredible fidelity to what we had hoped were antiquated and discredited notions of race.  Anyway, how do we know this logic wouldn't fail according to the 'one drop of blood' creed?  White people get DNA checks which reveal black ancestry all the time (and Christ, they never shut up about it).  Maybe she even has some Cherokee Indian heritage, like no white American ever: wouldn't that be something?  (Answer: no, it wouldn't.  It doesn't matter.  We shouldn't be investing in these specious notions of heritage.)  

Likewise, the deference to visible cues as self-evident markers of race - look, she had pale, freckled skin, and light, straight hair, how much more white do you want? - cannot help but corroborate the logic according to which someone with slightly darker skin and curlier hair would be automatically turned down for a loan, followed around an upmarket shop, or harassed by the police.

The second is that of defenders, who have discovered that 'race is a social construct'.  Well, thank god for that.  And it is true, race is a social construct.  And they add, identities are fictive, there's an element of fantasy in all of them, they're fluid and open-ended.  And that too is correct.  And they go on, why try to police the boundaries of an ossified logic of race?  This is almost irresistible.  And yet, even if it wasn't the case that Dolezal herself bought heavily into the petrified logic of race, and preached it and practiced it every day as seems to be the case, there seems to be something that is not being thought through here.

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.

This is not to deny that 'passing' can have certain retroactive effects.  For example, Dolezal supposedly fabricated racist attacks that happened to her.  Paradoxically, however, by ensuring that she was widely accepted and acknowledged as 'black', she probably did undergo a degree of racialisation, and probably did suffer actual racist aggression as a result.  But the axis on which this question is decided appears to be, not a particular agent's political identifications, but the socially accepted protocols of race.  Since she has been 'exposed' as white, any racialisation achieved through decoy may now be reversed, because the protocols of race, backed up with all the big arsenals of power, say that if you were born white, you stay white; and, likewise, if you were born black, you stay in your place.  

I don't think we should have any loyalty to this state of affairs.  We should, if anything, be in staunch opposition to it.  We shouldn't invest in the categories of white and black as anything more than hierarchical social locations, and as ones which we intend to abolish.  But it is a state of affairs that is not superseded by an individual's will or say-so.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

You love it. posted by Richard Seymour

You 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.

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