@voyou Anthea Turner is trending, which is a good time to remember this banger: https://soundcloud.com/lolitastorm/anthea-turners-tears 6 Mar 21 Reply Retweet Favorite

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.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Hilary Clinton

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↴

Sometimes I run, sometimes I hide

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↴

No-one cares about property damage

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↴

Overwhelming stupidity

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↴

Racism: not historical

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.