Monday, December 24, 2012

12/6: heat

.. what happens when friction doesn't move or rather tries to force one to move OUT (gun lobbyists have petitioned the US gov to deport Piers Morgan after this interview was deemed a hostile attack of the constitution -- it has reached 49,000 signatures, only 25,000 was needed for the government to respond)

(Joyce channeling Ahmed)

11/22: MERIP

I cant believe I didn't know about the Middle East Research and Information Project before. The shift from a efficiently coercive autocratic government to a triangulated politicization of the streets -  delineated in the material from MERIP - was a fascinating take on achilles heel of any and all absolutism. I recalled a the French historian Tocqueville recalling a letter the politician Mirabeau wrote to king louis xvi reassuring him that the modern idea of a single class of equal citizens would help provide a smoother surface on which royal power might more easily apply itself (as you can tell from my paper as well I've been obsessed with the french revolution's implications for modernity). SO how much can an autocratic government adapt to incorporate the motions and semblances of democratic rule? And on the other side, wouldn't any inkling of paranoia set a citizen into a dizzy spiral of logic that figures the ruling power as abuser? - since there is no arkhe that legitimate ruling of one over another (Ranciere). 

"Doing politics outdoors brought citizens face-to-face with the caste that rules the streets: Egypt’s ubiquitous police. Mubarak’s was not a police state because the coercive apparatus routinely beat and detained people. It was a police state because the coercive apparatus had become the chief administrative arm of the state, aggregating the functions of several agencies."

This line shocked me most: "Our preparations for January 25 were as per usual, and the instructions were not to molest demonstrators." There is this interesting trade off of the police as a necessary force of threat and fear, of the brute force of suppression (no limits except on the books try not to molest), which allows the autocratic government's self-preservation and then its the naturally target that surrounds the police as the visible and thus representative body of corruption and coercion. Not to try my hand at autocratic strategizing but there's a flaw in placing the object of fear in the streets, its too accessible. 

"The fears are diffusion and linkage. Indeed, the diffusion of collective action in time and space emboldened Egyptians, signaling the unwillingness or incapacity of the coercive apparatus to suppress demonstrations. The simultaneity of protests across very different locations, especially the filling of streets in neighborhoods entirely unused to such processions, revised citizens’ calculations of what was possible and reduced uncertainty about the consequences of action. The second fear is the coordination between the three organizational infrastructures of protest. Indeed, the state security directorate existed to frustrate precisely this bridge building. It had done so quite successfully with the April 6, 2008 general strike, and had a stellar track record in branding each sector of dissent with a different label: Associational protest was “political,” but workplace and neighborhood protest was “economic.”"

Differentiate the root causes of various protesting communities - now THATS coercive. Its interesting to compare the impetus for or strategy of revolution (Egypt) versus reform (Ai Weiwei). Reform seems to be rooted in an optimism for the boundaries of absolutism to be pushed by working through the system - which seems to call for just a more strategic absolutism/soft control. In an interview on the Colbert Report, the director of Weiwei's documentary (Alison Klayman) said "Its in China's interest to not be doing this - not just that it doesn't look good, but its not good for Chinese society". I think this sums up the mirror image: chinese society will benefit from a more adapted autocratic government - are there true and real freedoms in a semblance of democracy? Lets take free speech and the ability to express dissent - which Mubarak allowed for to some extent. Is it free speech if its being monitored? Is it free speech if it is only being quelled because of riot technicalities? 

11/8: one love

"If only we were closer we would be as one"(138).

Ahmed's turn to multiculturalism through the nationalist rhetoric of love and integration as wound up in the use of the other as an assimilated difference to maintain an ideal of a tolerance and moral government. This evokes the deferment of 'a democracy to come' through an openness to otherness (Derrida) that is used to situate the current lack as not as a failure to recognize the other's face(Levinas) but blame the newcomer's inability to love properly, enmesh properly, disappear properly. To be here you must give your difference back. Give it up.

The transformation of pluralism into a consensus is telling. Others must agree to value difference: difference is now what we would have in common. In other words, difference becomes an elevated or sublimated form of likeness: you must like us - and be like us - by valuing or even loving differences (though clearly this is only about the differences that can be taken on and in by the nation, those that will not breach the ideal image of the nation). The narrative hence demands that migrant communities and working-class white communities must give up their love for each other - a love that gets coded as love-of-themselves, that is, as a perverse form of self-love or narcissism -and love those who are different, if they are to fulfil the image of the nation promised by the ideal and hence if they are to be loved by the nation. (138)

The nation is not only a physical container but must contain the other's subjectivity. The condition for hospitality is that you perform the free labor of love, of reassuring the imagined ideal nation = democracy. This shared love of ruler and ruled reminds me of the supplement needed for political grounding (Ranciere). This is a measure of self-preservation. So how would Ahmed suggest the nation recognizes its egotism? Is there any other way to cohere? If love is forced what comes of the resentment?

10/18: the death benefit

Risk has been a topic of my day. My kitten was diagnosed with cancer yesterday and my mother almost automatically replied that she was the runt of her litter and there was always been a higher risk for illness.. as if to supply me with some reasoning and reassure me that this was not a gross unexplainable injustice  .. as if to comfort me with this blanket root cause (her birth).. and it kind of worked. I said death doesn't have to be bad. I almost have come to believe its as fair and timely a death as any. We later turned to the topic of my birth. My mother had been late to have me and my brother (age of 37) and when she found out she was pregnant she was told to get an ultrasound because of the increased risk of developmental disorders. She said it was the worst anxiety she's every experienced. She was lucky. I am lucky. That was the affective manipulation of that risk narrative. The risk value for both instances was used to make me feel better. A risk had already existed, in the past, and had either been fulfilled or eluded. In the first, it was the risk of an early death due to a troubled birth (no agency there) and the second a risk my mother could have controlled but by the time of the pregnancy it was too late (we are the lucky ones). Although these risks are not globally shared, I found the comparison fruitful because it allowed me to conceptualize the affective power of risks after the fact, after its too late, and the inability for this futurity of affective release to be a factor when the risk is bare life and the affective anxiety just builds and builds and is repressed and repressed and where does it go? Probably into more risk analysis. Grasping for control. 

The category error of risk analysis that Beck highlights - a loss of social thinking within the binary of technology/industrialization and nature - reminds me of a ill-conceived attempt by Phillip Morris to respond to the Czech Republic's tax raise on cigarettes due to claims of increased health costs.  

from this american life transcript (07/16/2010)...

"Because people die early, you also pay less out in pensions and other social benefits to the elderly. People die early, you don't have to pay health care costs for all their non-smoking-related illnesses that they would get later in life, all of which in this study are seen on that kind of positive side of the ledger.// On the negative side, you have the costs of fires started by people smoking, falling asleep in bed smoking, doing other things with cigarettes. The financial implications of people who stop working earlier, either because they die or they get too sick to work, so the state then loses the income tax that they might charge those people. Also on the cost side is, the cost of treating people for smoking-related diseases and for secondhand smoke.// So the way these consultants tote that all up is people smoking is a net benefit, a net financial benefit to the Czech state of that CZK 5.8 billion."
That was the argument the cigarette company used. And it was true. Early deaths due to cigarette use did save the government a considerable amount of money. Now again, I recognize this is not the type of risk Beck was referring to (an economic rather than safety concern/ and cigarette risks are more than speculative) but I found it an interesting albeit extreme failure of argument craftsman in the face of a threatened market...a mounting frenzy of self-defense and spin-doctors. No smoke-stack is safe.
It is the erasure of the human in our multiplicity of social variables through averaging and then this appeal to the affective response of modeling or logic (which Phillip Morris somehow lost sight of) that really interests me. The human out to determine the future. The human in to determine the present. Isn't that a bit foreboding? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Make up post, Berlant

I benefited greatly from Berlant’s discussion of the concept of sovereignty in relation to the wearing out of community populations due to the fact that I make a similar statement in my paper about the reasons why people turn against the government of a nation-state. She writes that Achille Mbembe’s definition of sovereignty separates the government’s power over death and their manifestations of power. Berlant writes “Additionally, in casting death as a fact separate from the administration of life processes, this version of sovereignty concept has provided an alibi for normative ways of keeping separate the productive procedures of governmentality and the violence of the state, when, as I argue, the procedures of managing collective life include a variety of inducements for managing life’s wearing out, which sometimes amalgamates death to an act or event” (96). Similarly, Berlant engages Foucault’s definition of sovereignty: “the power to permit any given life to endure, or not” (97). I really found these definitions to be useful in regards to the reasoning behind mass uprising. Anger against the state, or more precisely, anger at the nation-state for not using its sovereignty in the ways it often proclaims it does, leads people, in particular those claiming strong association with the nation-state, to feel personally betrayed. Thus the communal (and by communal, here I think of communities formed by the various social classes of a state) unravelings of the ways to make a living should not be associated with personal responsibility, or lack thereof. They should be associated with the state’s misuse of its sovereignty, which does not always come in the form of mass genocide, concentration camps, or the like. It may be viewed in rising food prices that make it impossible for people to simply maintain a basic standard of living, or to be let to live. Particularly interesting to me was this concept of food management (or resource management in general) as a Foucaltdian form of biopower that literally, viscerally, betrays the body’s ability to abate slow death through the proper consumption of food.

Make up post, imagined communities

“The arrival of nationalism in a distinctively modern sense was tied to the political baptism of the lower classes. Although sometimes hostile to democracy, nationalist movements have been invariably populist in outlook and sought to induct lower classes into political life.” (The Breakup of States, p.41), Anderson 47.

Today, I think about how much of this idea that Anderson highlights has changed, and how much of it still describes the core of political involvement by the lower classes in the nation-state. In the Dominican Republic, involving the lower classes in politics, at least in the mass rallies and events that take place before voting, seems to be a symbolic act from which politicians derive unquestionable mass appeal that spreads to other social classes. When citizens of the lower class claim allegiance to a political party, they are also claiming allegiance, or buying, the vision of the nation-state that is put forth by certain political parties.  It seems as though this relationship mimics the buyer-seller relationship that is characteristic of societies under neo-liberal ways of being. Maybe it is possible that the same economic models and processes that drive the monetary formation of the nation-state also drive the political relationship of people to particular visions of the nation-state, as proposed by particular political parties. The extraordinary mass ceremony of voting has, at its foundation, a buyer-seller relationship in which supposedly the buyer has leverage. The problem that I noticed during my interviews is that many people in the Dominican Republic neither buy the visions for the nation-state that are proposed every four years, nor can accept that their vote has no currency, no value. During my interview with Marleny and Anyi, both accepted the impasse that came from the question: Should the masses simply not vote since the government does not truly include them? In retrospect, I realize that the masses had found other rituals of political baptism in the political rallies that have sparked throughout the globe (the latest occurred in the Bronx, New York this past weekend). It is not a question of how the nation-state and nationalist movements can induct lower classes into appropriate political participation. The challenge arises when these forms of political baptism no longer yield the same power that they used to.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"organic" "forms"

Making up a post (or two)

Throughout Friction, I kept coming back to the formal moves of the text and how they related to Tsing's discussion of the universal as an undertheorized issue. Tsing's text is not on face theoretical. It is emotive and site-specific; Tsing makes herself a character within it rather than an observer with some degree of critical distance--the criticism comes from within as much as it comes from without. The emotionality and rhetorical beauty of her words are placed on the same register as their argument. In section, I talked about the connections I saw between this approach and Tsing's discussion of biodiversity. A monoculture approach to nature--all one sort of acacia tree, say, or dipterocarp, or more broadly an approach either wholly global or wholly particular, nothing in between--fails to account for the interactivity of ecosystems. In replanting places that have been burned or cut or fallen fallow, approximating nature rather than utility, biodiversity becomes a relevant value. Replanting the things that once were, as they once were, a scientific and approximate approach of Nature; it is "one way of encompassing the local within the globe," Tsing writes, but "It also can be criticized for its imperial gaze. Might it be possible to attend to Nature's collaborative origins without los­ing the advantages of its global reach?" I'm interested in the formal moves forward she takes from this wall, this impasse, and at this particular moment she turns to a long quasi-biographical description of John Muir and his preservation ethic, the religious universalism that belied the Park System and its head-butting with Pinchot's Forest Service. I've worked for both agencies quite extensively all over the country and I've written about the contention between the two branches of government but this was the most articulate positing of the issue in terms of logistics and politics that I've seen. Mind you, this comes in the same narrative text as her descriptions of being assaulted while hitchhiking, the lushness of her prose about the landscape, etc. The tonal register varies so widely. She moves to climate change as an alternate sort of model--a way to navigate the glocal and move inside it. The question here, of course, becomes the risk problem we discussed w/r/t climate change predictive models earlier this semester… There's no upside. They rely on their unfulfillment--if we change our action, and crisis is evaded, then it never shows itself to be true. And if it's correct… then it's too late. I wonder, then, what the analogous mimetic or textual move towards this point might be, if we see Tsing's style as an attempt at linguistic organicism, one she knows will fail but, as Spivak so poignantly puts it, cannot not want.