Monday, November 12, 2012

Thrift and Anonymous

Thrift eloquently speaks to many of the issues we have been discussing this semester when trying to think about the politics of affect. As Thrift aptly points out, "we are living in a time of greater and greater authoritarianism" (222). But, Thrift argues, this authoritarianism relies on sentiment, media, and short attention spans rather than explicit coercive power. Unfortunately, many people on the left have struggled to respond to this new politics of affect. As Thrift argues, too many thinkers "have been bedeviled by the view that politics ought to be about conscious, rational discourse, with the result that affect is regarded at best as an add on, and as at worst a dangerous distraction"(248). As we've discussed in class, many people on the political left are too often grasping backwards in time for an age when rational democratic dialogue ruled the day (although it is doubtful that such an age ever existed). This sentiment is expressed on an almost nightly basis on the Jon Stewart show, where Stewart has recently become fond of calling Fox News "Bullshit Mountain" as he lampoons their deliberate distortion of information for political gains and affective manipulation. But, as we discussed in class, would Stewart really prefer a world where all news shows featured moderate and understated hosts like Peter Jennings, who still cling to ideas of objectivity? Perhaps not - it would certainly make his show a little less interesting.

At the end of the chapter Thrift throws out a bunch of different ideas about how what an effective radical politics of affect might look like. Among the things he mentions:
  • an emphasis on the politics of small things
  • a combination of hope, but also a certain kind of agression
  • the form of struggle as important in its own right
  • understanding diversity as strength
  • an understanding of the bio-politics of imitation 
In sum, he argues that this new politics must take "affect, imitation-suggestion, and entrancement" in to its fundamental workings (252-253).

I'm interested in trying to think about whether we should understand Anonymous as a good example of the new kind of politics that Thrift calls for. In many ways, they seem to fit the bill. Anonymous uses aggressive strategies, focuses on small disputes and issues, and is constantly analyzing the organization of its operations in addition to its ends. Additionally, Anonymous had an excellent understanding of imitation and contagion. This can be seen in the use of the Guy Fawkes mask, but also in their ability to organize computers to work as zombies during DDOS attacks. But I also must admit that I'm still trying to conceptualize how the obsession for "lulz" can fit into this schema (I honestly feel kind of bad for Jessi Slaughter). I'd be interested to hear what other people in the class think.

Finally, I really liked Thrift's discussion of how political campaigns use technology to deploy affect. If this kind of stuff interests you, I suggest you look into the great battle that took place on November 6. No, I'm not talking about Obama and Romney; I'm talking about Narwhal and Orca, the codenames each campaign assigned to the supercomputer programs they relied upon to orchestrate their get out the vote efforts on election day. Apparently, Romney's Orca crashed pretty spectacularly, sending his entire campaign into pandemonium.
Check it out -

1 comment:

Barry Elkinton said...

Case in point - "we don't have facts but we do have feelings"