Voyou Désœuvré

I haven’t paid much attention to Left Unity, because TBH a group organised around the electoral road to social democracy seems more like an Old Labour re-enactment society than a viable political trajectory. Apparently, at their recent conference they decided not to adopt a basic income as a policy, which some have taken as a confirmation of Left Unity’s backward-looking position.

Certainly, there are plenty of reactionary old left arguments against the basic income, but it is worth reflecting on the fact that basic income was initially a right wing proposal (it was popularised by libertarians in the 70s, but, as I discovered from Angela Mitropoulos’s very persuasive criticism of basic income, it was earlier proposed by a Tory peer in the 40s). These capitalist advocates of the basic income do have a point; a basic income is a pro-market measure, at least in so far as people need to transform this cash income into the necessities of life by purchasing these necessities on the market.

There are two good things about the basic income as a demand, I think. Read more↴

revenge-emily-capeI think I liked Revenge more when it started as Gossip Girl meets The Count of Monte Cristo, before it turned into 9/11 conspiracy theorist Batman. The first season, in which Emily remorselessly enacted revenge on the family that framed her father, did have a war on terror connection, but it seemed properly post-9/11 in that terrorism was almost purely background (I initially thought, on the basis of some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that the terrorist event that formed the backdrop of the show took place in 2001, although it turns out there was an additional chunk of the timeline that puts it nominally pre 9/11). In the second season the terrorist attack becomes a more direct focus of the show, with Emily now targeting the vague conspiracy of politicians and businessmen who planned it (under the guidance of the man who taught her the Batman skills necessary to her quest for vengeance). Read more↴

This piece by k-punk on communist strategy is worth reading, but there’s one formulation I don’t like:

It is essential that we ask why it is that neo-anarchist ideas are so dominant amongst young people, and especially undergraduates. The blunt answer is that, although anarchist tactics are the most ineffective in attempting to defeat capital, capital has destroyed all the tactics that were effective, leaving this rump to propagate itself within the movement.

What this risks missing is that a tactic that has been destroyed by capital is, a fortiori, a completely ineffective tactic. Read more↴

Facebook’s recent decision to ask people to inform on any of their “friends” who aren’t using their real names on the site is faintly surprising to me, as I’m not really convinced by claims that social networks have much to gain financially from knowing the legal names of their users. Isn’t Facebook’s use of data collection aggregative rather than individualizing? Marketers don’t care what I, as a specific individual, think or like, they care about how a network of “likes” connect to flows of money they can tap into. More generally, pace Bat, Bean, Beam, I don’t see why the “authenticity” of data would be important to Facebook, which is interested in what the population does, not who I think I am. This is why the idea that you could somehow get one over on Facebook by feeding them false data strikes me as rather quaint: you’re just giving them more data about the potential consumption decisions of the people who enjoy trying to fuck with Facebook (presumably they’ll try and sell you a copy of Adbusters).

I think Facebook and Google have, when asked about their real name policies, actually been telling at least a partial truth; they are interested, they say, in the idea that requiring people to use their legal names will change the way they behave on the site. This is supposed to be an unobjectionable attempt to get people to behave “better,” but isn’t the idea of behavioral modification by social media terms of service actually rather creepy? The data that Facebook collects is the site of most concerns about the site, but, while there clearly are cases where the information held by social networks, and its indiscriminate release, puts people in danger, most of the free-floating paranoia about social networks and privacy strikes me as overblown. However the reasoning behind the real name policy points to a different concern, which is not about what Facebook knows but about what we know, that is, how we might internalize our awareness that Facebook is watching in ways that change our behavior. In light of this concern, the description of social networks as “panoptic” is actually rather accurate. The point of the panopticon is not that someone is always watching; the panopticon could work even if no-one actually observing through it, because it functions by leaving inmates unsure as to whether or not anyone is watching, and thereby causing them to internalize the hypothetical inspection and judgment of the observer (more generally, the Foucauldian idea of power/knowledge isn’t about what people know, but about the ways in which particular ways of producing knowledge always involve particular organizations of power).

Anyway, the point of this post is to announce that I’ve set up a Facebook page for this blog. I notice through my own panoptic surveillance of how people arrive at this blog that some people are sharing posts on Facebook, and it occurs to me that those of you who use it might like to get updates about new posts via Facebook; if you “like” this blog’s Facebook page, you should start seeing updates from the blog in your news feed. I’ve also, slightly more problematically, added “like” buttons (and also “tweet” buttons) to each post. This does allow Facebook and Twitter to monitor your use of this blog, even if you’re not signed up with them; given the ubiquity of these buttons on other websites, I assume if you object to that you will already have taken steps to prevent it, but let me know if you’re particularly against the idea of these buttons showing up on this blog and I may change my mind.

People usually describe The West Wing as idealistic. This is reflected in what is taken to be the show’s signature directorial move, the “walk and talk,” in which two characters walk briskly through the corridors of the West Wing engaged in some high-powered discussion of the story of the week; this is a visual representation of the show’s commitment to the idea of the good that can be accomplished by energetic, intelligent, good people. But I always thought the heart of the show was in a slighty different move, that usually appeared towards the end of the episode. Again two characters, but this time usually static, in the muted light of an office somewhere out of the way; one character gives an impassioned speech to persuade the other of the moral rightness of some course of action, and just as this speech reaches its argumentative climax, the character breaks off and says, “but of course, we’ll never be able to implement that policy.” This reveals the cynicism which Žižek identifies as central to idealism: the idea, not just that good people sometimes do bad things, but that the “goodness” of good people is an internal, essential, quality untouched by any bad things they may by chance happen to do; indeed, the very distance between the bad actions and the internal goodness, perversely, comes to be taken as evidence of this internal goodness.

While The West Wing exhibits the cynicism of idealism, there is also a naivete of cynicism. Cynicism operates by revealing that, behind people’s actions lie their true, hidden, motives; but this just reproduces naivete at one remove, with a simple faith in the reality of these underlying motives. What I like about Political Animals is that it challenges this naive cynicism.  Read more↴

The new issue of Street Spirit, a paper put together by a group of Quakers and sold by homeless people throughout the Bay Area, is mostly made up of articles on non-violence. In an astonishing (in a bad way) interview, George Lakey, “longtime nonviolent activist and trainer” manages to outdo Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau’s infamous claim that protesters linking arms is “not non-violent”:

Lakey: Running does not heighten the contrast between the activists and the purveyors of violence. The running, to a T.V. or a news photographer or a bystander just looks like a riot and it gets reported in the news, that black people rioted on the streets of Birmingham or whatever. So sometimes you need to heighten the contrasts in order to make your point, and if that means getting people on their knees so they won’t run, great. Read more↴