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Better things aren’t possible

A recent (recent in actual time, if not in internet time) review of Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now has led to a steady stream of moderate leftists acting scandalized at Lewis’s suggestion that abolition of the family should be at the centre of left-wing politics. This response, when it isn’t just incredulous scoffing, generally emphasizes the family as an institution that embodies qualities of caring that should be maintained and extended in a socialist society. As the critical review of Full Surrogacy Now puts it,

While abolishing the family is obviously fraught with problems, providing it with the resources to reform its pathologies has much to recommend it…. Any viable progressive vision of a postcapitalist future cannot look like an experiment in social engineering, but as a project that recognizes the ties, both within the family and without, that often underlie the everyday struggles of working people.

This genre of “don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses” propaganda seeks to counter the view that socialism is impossibly radical by asserting that people are already socialist, they just don’t know it yet, finding instances of putative socialism in things people already agree with. I’ve come to think of this approach as an attempt to trick people into being socialist, because, in taking the (obviously reasonable) point of beginning agitation where the audience already is, it dissembles about the genuinely radical changes that socialism requires.

Read more↴

Antisocial-ism

After my post last week about radicalising capitalist mediocrity, I was thinking about how another feature of capitalism might be transformed in communism: capitalism’s alienated but compulsory sociality. Capitalist production requires “sociality” in as much as capitalism forces workers to cooperate in collective work; but, capital also attempts to limit that cooperation so that it only includes the cooperation necessary for production and no more. So the assembly line, at least as idealised in capitalist imagination, would involve no direct human-to-human cooperation, but would instead embody all cooperation in machines.

One common Marxist response to this alienated compulsory sociality is to focus on the alienation part: in communism, the argument goes, alienated cooperation would be replaced with genuine human cooperation. This sounds horrible. Read more↴

Setting the basic income at anything less than a million pounds is a slap in the face of the working class

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↴

We need a Victoria Grayson of the left

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↴

Counter hegemony

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↴

I for one welcome our new panoptic overlords

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.