Thursday, August 29, 2013

Who is this 'we', mammal?

Two and a half years.  Approximately 100,000 documented deaths on all sides.  And despite fractures in the regime, despite some advanced forms of decomposition, there seems to be no prospect of Assad falling soon.

The opposition, meanwhile, has never cohered.  It has made advances, and it has taken control of local state apparatuses - a town here, a police station there.  But this has merely accelerated the fragmentation and disintegration of political authority within Syria.  The one area of the country where the opposition is unified is in the Kurdish north-east, where a regional administration is governing with the support of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces - out of a fusion between the old SNC, the Muslim Brothers, the secular democrats, the socialists, the Free Syrian Army and the Local Coordinating Committees - might suggest that some cohesion has been achieved, and that a popular interim government is ready to take power if the military balance of forces changes.

It is not as simple as that.  It is true that the regime is militarily backed by Russia, but it clearly retains a significant degree of popular support, from which it has been able to forge a counter-revolutionary armed force with which to defeat its opponents.  It is not, and never is, purely a military calculation: the revolution has failed to spread because it has not won politically.  And this is because despite what some people would call 'top table' agreements between leaders, there is very little practical unity on the ground between anti-Assad forces.  It is this which has given a certain space to the salafists, so-called 'Al Qaida in Syria' (Jabhat al-Nusra), to punch well above their weight.  Of course, the idea that the opposition is dominated by a few thousand salafists is as implausible as the idea that when US boots land on Syrian soil their major foes will be 'Al Qaida'.  It's horseshit.  But it is better organised and more efficient than many of the other groups, it does get involved in most major anti-government actions, its politics are extremely reactionary, and it bears responsible for some of the worst war crimes.

Now we are potentially on a war footing*, with the ostensible issue of the conflict being the use of Sarin nerve gas in the suburbs of Damascus.  Think about this gas.  It works by causing the muscles to spasm, causing your respiratory system to stop working.  It literally renders you helpless.  There is nothing you can do except die, through a sequence of convulsion, vomiting, defecating and urinating until terminal suffocation.  That is the grim end that hundreds of pale corpses reached in Damascus.  It is true that hundreds of people are dying grisly deaths every day in Syria.  It is also true that war crimes, some committed by the revolutionary forces, are a routine occurrence.  It is true that most of the weapons used by the regime are indiscriminate in nature - shelling, cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs.  Still, I think there's something specifically obscene about this type of attack.  It solicits attention; and it says 'fuck you'.  I don't claim to know who carried out this attack.  And the fact that we have bounced into 'humanitarian' war before, on the pretext of certain salient atrocities, is reason enough to maintain a wary caution about official attributions of responsibility.  Still, this atrocity has been used to push the button for 'intervention'.  And, as we all know, 'intervention' solves all problems everywhere, ever.

What are the possible justifications for war, then?

1)  Punishment.  This strikes me as the most futile idea in the history of war.  The concept of punishment has always been futile, but in this case it is woefully underwhelming and incredibly vague. How much 'punishment' exactly would be sufficient?  If you bomb a police station or a barracks, is that enough?  If you bomb a palace or two, will that do it?  How much is enough to express the disapproval of 'the international community' at the use of nerve gas?  Yet, staggeringly, this is the main justification for war being reported.  I now suspect Robin Yassin-Kassab was correct when he said that the idea was to save face.

2) Tilt the balance of the war in favour of the opposition.  It seems highly unlikely that this would be the goal of any such intervention.  After all, it would take more than a few scuds to do that.  As I said, the balance of forces is necessarily, though not exclusively, a political problem.  And indeed one aspect of that political problem is likely that significant sections of the Syrian population regard the revolutionaries as too dependent on external support.  If the US intended to overcome that, it wouldn't be enough to bomb a few targets; it would have to start funnelling arms in a serious way directly to the opposition.  It would have to start sending in special forces to start training opposition fighters, and bring a load of cash to buy favour and keep the influence of well-organised jihadis at bay.  It would have to think about bombing strategic targets.  Given how entrenched the regime appears to be, it would have to seriously consider the possibility of significant aerial and ground commitments.  'Mission creep' would be an obvious peril, and the military leadership of the US is, I suspect, profoundly wary of this.

3) Regime change.  This is the most obvious goal in a way, but it seems unlikely again.  They would need a government-in-waiting, and the opposition is too fragmented to be that; the bourgeois leadership doesn't have sufficient control over the base, and is too divided among itself.  The Obama administration has recognised the opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, but it has been extremely lukewarm.  So if regime change did become the goal, they would have to find a way to knock the opposition into their desired shape - the 'interim government' that Hollande claims it is - and fast.  Then they would have to be prepared for precisely the sort of escalating commitment that the Pentagon and imperial planners would do a great deal to avoid.  This is to say nothing of whether such means would actually reduce the amount of civilian incineration and slaughter, which seems extremely unlikely at best.

4) 'We have to do something'.  This argument isn't an argument.  It's just one step up from 'think about the children'.  If you're thinking 'we have to do something', just do yourself a favour and fill your mouth with cake or something.  And anyway, as I was saying, who is this 'we', mammal?


*The UK parliament voted against war tonight, with Labour voting against the government.  David Cameron, summoning up his immense, salesmanlike dignity, said: "It's clear to me that the British parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly."  He might actually have to resign.  Well, fuck my socks.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The austerity cookbook

"But there is more. The revival of austerity regalia is linked to another revival: that of the idea of empire. In the same tacky gift shops in which one finds the "Keep Calm and Carry On" dinner plates, one also finds the "British Empire Was Built on Cups of Tea" trays. This melancholic sense of loss is associated with the idea that today's poor have lost their way. They're not like the poor in the good old days; they are seen as feral, mindlessly self-indulgent, and stupid. In this purview, virtue can only be restored by a return to traditional families using traditional cooking and traditional husbandry."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A post about Miley Cyrus

Do I even deserve this?  To come back, after all this time away, and write a post about Miley Cyrus?  Don't I have to earn it a little, perhaps with a resume of the Syrian situation and the threat of impending war, before indulging trivial nonsense?  Well, look, I'm doing it anyway.  Deal with it.  Besides, I will write about Syria shortly.  And anyway, this isn't really about Miley Cyrus, but about the way otherwise trivial cultural moments become Rorschach tests for all and sundry.

So, a few points about Miley Cyrus.

1) Miley Cyrus is, in and of herself, not particularly interesting.  She comes to my attention only because of the reactions to her, pertaining to a musical performance in which she 'twerked'.
  
2) There are three types of reaction.  The dominant reaction which is evident on Youtube, CNN, Fox, in the outrage of Robin Thicke's mother, and in endless commentary about how Cyrus's eroticised dance with Thicke was done despite knowing he had a 3 year old daughter and a wife, etc.  (Innocence horribly shattered, irreparably stained, killed to bits.)  And also, as Fox pundits insisted (protesting too much), this dance was "not attractive, Miley".  Basically, the dominant reaction of the media was to "slut-shame" her.  

3) The other types of reaction are, a) the denunciations of the "slut-shaming", and b) the leftist and anti-racist critique along the lines that Miley Cyrus should not be shamed, but her dance was a type of minstrelsy, a patronising and degrading appropriation of black culture which reinforced the traditional racist notion of the 'black jezebel'.  (A good example of this here, although it specifically uses the term 'misappropriation'.)

4) The intriguing thing about the language of 'appropriation' is that it leads to a terrible logjam of incoherence.  Since few want to explicitly buy into a racial metaphysics, and no one wants to believe that culture is neatly segregated according to 'race', nationality, etc., the claim of 'appropriation' cannot be sustained.  Culture is an open-ended process of cooperative creation, not a thing with definite, imporous boundaries.  Cultural forms are not coherent, and their edges are more like shifting weather fronts than the neat, static lines of maps.  They do not have an author; far less could their author be a certain 'race' or nationality somehow embodied.  Cultural forms do not have an origin, a once-upon-a-time, and the search for origins is a sure route to absurdity.  (If you doubt me, check this out).  The notion that a representative of one culture can appropriate from another, each corresponding to a certain racial belonging, seems implausible outside the framework of a metaphysics of race.

5) The charge of 'appropriation' boils down to this.  Miley Cyrus, implicitly and in other ways, claimed to be appropriating 'blackness'.  The line was, 'as a dumb, Southern hillbilly white, I can do this cool black dance'.  And of course, she did so in a way that used 'twerking' in a pantomime of race, as a symbol of black femininity (cf, the 'jezebel' stereotype).  It is not so much an accusation of appropriation - I'm just guessing, but I bet that no artist who has 'twerked' thus far had anything to do with the invention and creation of that particular movement - as of the misuse not only of the 'twerk' but also of the black women on her set whose 'big butts' she literally handled as props.  And this is what one would expect.  I am not inclined to moralise about 'commodification', but there is a sense - one sense anyway - in which the inevitable attempt to turn a profit from a developing cultural form tends to have hypostatising effects, which arrest and freeze its development, assigning its fluid elements fixed meanings.  In this case, the 'twerk', and the 'big butt' have been assigned their place within a system of meanings connoting a conception of black femininity, and they can be used again and again to evoke the same thing for the music industry.

6) This adds another dimension to the shaming mentioned earlier, because it seems obvious that one of the things the Right resents about the performance is that they really feel it did represent blackness - they really believe in it.  And they're not concerned about 'appropriation' so much as a white woman embracing what they imagine to be 'blackness'.  After all, on the authority of two white, male, middle aged and rich presenters: "That's not attractive, Miley."

7) Obviously, all of this was anticipated by Cyrus's producers and marketers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

3D print your way to freedom!

It's been a matter of controversy lately, whether you can 3D print your way to freedom.  I want to intervene in this dilemma with some thoughts toward a strategy of 3D liberation.

It's very simple. You start off with the 3D printers becoming mass consumer items, enabling people to print off tat with acrylic or whatever material it is - cheap t-shirts, dresses, trainers, etc.  Eventually they become more sophisticated, and you end up printing off pizzas and quarries and libraries. You order the bag of raw ingredients online, and then download the bootlegged 3D design from a file-sharing site or whatever.

But this totally flouts the attempts by the manufacturers to keep income streaming in from their designs. So governments, reacting to business lobby pressure over illegal downloading, cracks down in defence of intellectual property rights. The restrictions implemented are so severe that, suddenly, millions of teenagers can no longer access free dubstep and bestiality videos. They rage in the streets, in ill-fitting, badly printed-off clothes, drinking ill-printed cider.

Meanwhile, about 100 million Chinese manufacturing workers get put out of work, and the heads of CCP bosses roll in the streets while the global economy tanks. Further, the thrusting new petty bourgeoisie in the capitalist core, that was supposed to start a million new enterprises using 3D printers and a fuck load of cash borrowed from banks at usurious interest rates, end up being driven back to the bottom of society, all their stuff repossessed.

The last straw is that people start memes where they print off 3D scans of celebrities in realistic silicone, and take pictures of themselves fisting them in public spaces, with the hashtag: #fistingcelebs. This leads to a strike by all 'creatives' in television and Hollywood.

With no television, no money and no prospects, people are enraged. They draw the logical conclusion that production can no longer be efficiently organised on the basis of private ownership, and as a result we have a global revolution.

That's how we 3D print our way to freedom. True story.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

If you think you hate social workers now, wait until you have to pay them

In response to an effort to make children pay for being 'in care', I recall some episodes from my mis-spent youth (a period I am still not completely certain has ended):


Throughout the whole of my conscious childhood, I knew social workers in one form or other. I'm glad I did. They're nowhere near as unpleasant as everyone says they are.
People find social workers annoying because of the necessarily paternalistic and bureaucratic aspects of what they do. They process dysfunctions in society with some limited resources and techniques, without being able to address the underlying causes. Sometimes they also bring a certain middle-class moral judgment to the role, something which, in my experience, becomes more prevalent the more senior the social work professional is.
From about the age of 14, I knew them as the hated authority – "staff" – when I was "in care" at an adolescent unit. This was not a disciplinary institution, although a list of my petty misdemeanours at that point would have resembled Cartman's confession ("and then this one time …"). It was just a place, underfunded and not very pleasant, where mostly damaged working-class children lived when there was nowhere else to put them.
And when I say "damaged", this is to give you no idea of the depravities involved. There was, for example, a quietly disturbed boy who insisted on repeatedly breaking into my bedroom while I was out, and leaving a shit under my mattress. But it wasn't all excitement. Most of the time, it was sheer boredom.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Don't Ban This Filth

In which I venture into the perilous terrain of David Cameron and pr0n:


  A young person trawling any pornographic search engine on the internet can be exposed to some shocking material, so I hear.  Men with their heads in laundry baskets, sniffing undies and pulling themselves off while being whipped.  Lesbian menstruation fetishism.  Gothic sex scenes with implied necrophilia.  Amateur couples cranking and leaping about on the sofa with smug looks on their faces.  Male strippers having cream licked off their thingies.  Shoes being submissively, whimperingly, tongue-washed by crisply presented trans* women.  Gay men pretending to be ‘cop’ and ‘suspect’.  Burly shaved men getting well humped up the bum with a strap on. 
  But pornography also has a dark side...

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

I know, I know.  I'm a neglectful blogger.  And you poor dears have been hanging around the dodgy looking blogs for your sustenance.  God-only-knows what that has involved.  I don't like to think about it.  In mitigation, I have been working on a manuscript, among other things.  But I will, if you can just hold on for a little while longer, return shortly with a beatific smile and wonderful gifts for you all.*  Safe, fam.

*Obviously, not real gifts.  More like 'gifts', as in 'the gift of laughter'.  Fake gifts.