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↴
Given the amount of time spent discussing the handful of bank windows smashed during Wednesday’s Oakland general strike, you might imagine that many people care about property damage; and yet, if you look for such people, who are they? Liberals complain about property damage during the various marches and actions, but they’re quick to add that it is not they themselves who are disturbed or offended; rather, they are concerned about the effect this property damage will have on others, particularly the cops who will react violently and the media who will focus on images of destruction to the exclusion of whatever else the demonstration achieved. The liberal’s position here is perverse in the Lacanian sense: it expresses itself not as an actual desire, but as a desire to be the instrument of the desire of some fantasized other. Part of what supports this disavowed desire is that the objection to property damage can present itself as neutral, even expert, strategic advice. It’s bad strategic advice, though, and I think in a revealing way. Read more↴
I was very happy to see this response from the newly-formed coalition at Berkeley to the stupid College Republican bake sale. As College Republican groups have been doing for years, the Berkeley group decided to sell cupcakes at different prices to people of different races to make some kind of facile point about affirmative action. The thing about the Republican stunt is that it’s stupid, and intentionally so, which makes it difficult to know how to respond. The coalition, as it turned out, had the right strategy – ignore the ten racist wankers with cupcakes, and organize a few hundreds students, mostly of color, in a striking demonstration of their visibility on Sproul Plaza. Don’t engage with the idiots, just show how pathetic and marginal they are.
I was happy to see this successful response, because the response from the University administration had been (predictably) useless, and the response from Student Government (perhaps not quite as predictably), also awful. Read more↴
Towards the end of this interview with Doug Henwood, Adolph Reed criticizes the tendency to describe the effect of race on contemporary politics using analogies drawn from the racism of the past—as a “new slavery” or “new Jim Crow.” I was reminded of Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History”:
One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.
It’s no accident that the description of contemporary racism in terms of past racism appeals to progressives, because the structure of the argument is itself progressive; that is, it suggests that there is a natural tendency for things to get better, and things which are bad are bad because they are outdated. This view presents racism as an atavism, and, in doing so, actually downplays the importance and persistence of racialized inequality; racism, it suggests, should have ceased to exist some time back in the 50s, but mysteriously has failed to do so.
I realized the area I’d moved into was further along in gentrification than my old neighborhood when I went out to get some food and quickly came across a smart-looking cafe with only two items on its menu: soup and grilled cheese. This is probably a good thing; personally (the soup/grilled cheese combo was quite tasty) but also ethically. As a white guy who doesn’t have a huge income but has quite a lot of, for want of a better term, social capital, gentrification is my essence, quite independent of my will in the matter; so, better to live somewhere that’s already pretty much gentrified, rather than assist in kicking off the process in some new area.
I say “ethically” rather than “politically,” because centering your analysis around anti-gentrification leads to moralism and bad politics. Read more↴
That Jameson quote that Zizek loves, about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, is often mentioned in the context of our (I mean, late capitalist culture in general’s) love of apocalyptic scenarios. But the phrase also reminds us of something perhaps more important: that capitalism itself is necessarily incapable of imagining its own end. As Marx writes:
As representative of the general form of wealth—money—capital is the endless and limitless drive to go beyond its limiting barrier. Every boundary is and has to be a barrier for it. Else it would cease to be capital—money as self-reproductive. (Grundrisse)
This is, rather unexpectedly, one of the main themes of recent computer game Portal 2. Read more↴