Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

Žižek for Obama?

On today’s Democracy Now:

And although I don’t have too many big hopes about—because I’m naturally a pessimist—about Barack, I think that here he has, if he will be elected, some space to do—to do things, you know, small symbolic gestures, but which are not only small symbolic gestures, like—I don’t know—a [inaudible] tribunal to clarify all this Guantanamo waterboarding stuff, repair relations with Latin America, open relations with Cuba, and so on.

It occurs to me that the transcriber’s faulty hearing was rather felicitous. I’m sure that if any US president sets up a tribunal to  “clarify all this Guantanamo waterboarding stuff,” they will indeed make sure that it remains inaudible.

The power of positive thinking

Owen wrote a great post on “Jobseeker Mandatory Activity,” the latest attempt to adapt the welfare state to the needs of post-fordist industry. For his troubles, he got attacked in the comments by some idiot who appeared to have stepped out of a 19th century philanthropic society.

Anyway, Owen’s post reminded me of a locally popular cult, the Landmark Forum, which seems to be based on a slightly odd combination of CBT and Heidegger; I’d say more, but I don’t want to infringe on the trademarks they’ve cleverly registered on all their technical terms (Derrida should have done that, he’d have made a killing). A couple of my friends are fans, and invited me along to an “introduction” session. It was quite an uplifting experience, in a way; being asked to spend $500 on a course intended to sort out my life made me realize I actually don’t have $500 worth of problems. Never have I experienced the icy waters of egotistical calculation more cheerfully. Owen’s post also reminded me of an excrutiating management training course I once went on, designed to teach me to become an “Investor in People.” I posted my notes from the course on an earlier blog that’s gone the way of all immaterial flesh, so I repeat them below for posterity. Read more↴

In a May that began with demonstrations for open borders and against the war…

Adam asks, “what happened to Hardt and Negri?” An interesting question; the current lack of interest in them is rather surprising, given that Empire was and is pretty much entirely correct. I was reminded of this by a post on ads without products, in which:

When it gets to the stuff that lies outside of the so-called “information economy” – when it comes to the relatively minor items like a roof over your head or food on the table or a stable income, I’ll be damned if I can see how non-market social-sharing systems are going to help a whole lot.

Now this is right and, as the post and comments emphasize, open source is no threat to capitalism. But the important point of Hardt and Negri’s analysis of immaterial labor is to look at this the other way round; it’s not that open source will provide us with food and housing, but that the things that deprive us of food and housing are increasingly overlapping with issues of control over information. The science of biofuels and genetically modified corn are immaterial components in the current very material food shortages; likewise, new forms of finance capital are the immaterial specificities of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is kicking people out of their homes. On international politics, Empire remains accurate, too; indeed, the discussion of the role of nuclear weapons in making all wars in Empire interminable could have been written to describe the choice between Hilary “Bomb Iran” Clinton and Barack “Bomb Pakistan” Obama.

So, why the fall in Hardt and Negri’s stock? Adam is probably right that they rather made themselves irrelevant by failing to stick to their guns after 9/11. However, I wonder, too, if the problem isn’t partly that Hardt and Negri are, well, too political. Jodi has been writing about the circulating drive of left academia, in which the concept of the political is put forward precisely to prevent anyone advocating an actual program. Žižek manages to stay in this game because his programatic statements are bound up with his ironic Stalinism (though I think the real irony is that he actually is a Stalinist, just as I ironically like Britney Spears in order to cover up the fact that I’m a fan non-ironically, too). Hardt and Negri don’t have that ambiguity and perhaps for that reason have been less effective than Žižek of late.


If people want to spend time grilling Obama for unfortunate turns of phrase, wouldn’t it be better to talk about Clinton’s “kitchen sink strategy”?

It is the final conflict

Happy International Workers Day.