Voyou Désœuvré

Dinosaur in church John Gray in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago joined the trend of writing kind of stupidly about religion and secularism. Gray rather wants to have his cake and eat it, arguing that secularism is based on religion and, anyway, secularism is worse than religion. Now, the first  half of this argument is true; contemporary western secularism really does draw a lot on early Christian arguments against paganism, reformation arguments against Catholicism, and enlightenment arguments against a personal God, which is a tradition of ideas central to Christianity. But true as this is, it doesn’t constitute the knockdown argument against secularism that Gray seems to think it does. On the contrary, secularism’s relationship to religion is no argument against secularism at all. Read more↴

Now I’m not going to deny that Kyra Phillips looks super cute in her faux-military olive fatigues. But isn’t there something just plain weird about the willingness of journalists to, still, after five years of clear and documented bullshit, identify with the military? If it was just the stylish caps, I wouldn’t mind, but it leads to horribly fawning interviews like this one (skip forward to 18 minutes or so in to see how bad it can get):

Watch: Kyra Phillips interviews General Petraeus

Once upon a time, I suggested adopting Britney’s image as a kind of collective anonymous identity for protests, rather like a more stylish version of the white overalls. In her last video, Britney herself adopted the idea, although admittedly in the struggle against the paparazzi, rather than against global capitalism.

Watch: Britney Spears - Piece of Me

And in her new video, we get even closer to my imagined tactic, with an animated Britney Spears versus riot police.

Watch: Britney Spears - Break the Ice

So, although shaving her head may not have ended up marking her conversion to militant radical feminism, perhaps we can still hold out some hope for Britney the revolutionary.

It’s not uncommon for people on the left to see neoliberalism as anti-political, the criticism being that neoliberalism attempts to impose market mechanisms, thereby destroying the political. Here for instance is Daniel Bensaïd:

Hannah Arendt was worried that politics might disappear completely from the world…. Today we are confronted with a different form of the danger: totalitarianism, the human face of market tyranny. Here politics finds itself crushed between the order of financial markets—which is made to seem natural-and the moralising prescriptions of ventriloquist capitalism.

The solution is then held to be an assertion of politics against markets, in which markets are subordinated to the political system.

But doesn’t this supposed solution just reproduce the terms of the problem? The distinguishing feature of politics here, as the reference to Arendt makes clear, is that it is a sphere of agency, of subjective intervention. But that gets construed as the intervention of politics into markets. Markets provide the negative definition of politics, because they are objective, mechanical, unfree; but that is to say that this contrasting of politics with markets doesn’t question the naturalness of markets at all. In fact, it requires that markets be natural, so that they can provide the raw material on which the artifice of politics can work. Bensaïd (and he is hardly alone; he follows Lenin here, among others) is highly amivalent; he objects to capitalism, but using a concept of the autonomy of the political which is depends on the continued existence of capitalism.

How can we think about this differently? How can we understand politics and the market without separating the two? How can we understand freedom and necessity in a way that doesn’t split the world into a free and a necessary part, condemned to always remain circling around one another? The answer is presumably, as ever, “communism”; but what exactly does that mean?

Much as I dislike George Bush, I don’t think he’s actually a Nazi. Which makes it doubly odd that he’s such a fan of facist-sounding language (the one that really does my head in is calling America “the homeland”). It seems like a strange kind of cultural illiteracy: Bush adopts certain authoritarian tropes from fascism without quite knowing where they come from. Now, though, we have a much more entertaining version of a sort of similar thing: the Obama campaign’s Maoist æsthetic, which is reason enough to hope that Obama gets the nomination.

Why is Obama using a variant of the Freedom Road Socialist Party‘s logo? Why do posters made by his supporters so often use the two-tone woodblock stylings of 1960s third-worldism? Not, I fear, because Obama actually is a Maoist, but perhaps because of a similar kind of historical amnesia to that of Bush. In the case of the Obama campaign, the æsthetic comes from a vague memory of a time when revolutionary political change really did seem possible, which never quite rises to the level of actually knowing what that movement for change was actually about.