What we are witnessing is the complete re-orientation of the global economy away from the petro-dollar to the data economy: days 34-37

I cannot reconstruct how I have got here, but I can tell you where I have got. You are probably not interested–who is? who has the time to be?–in the journey anyway. The conclusion will be bare. Just a bare line hanging without the scaffold of support.

What we are witnessing is the complete re-orientation of the global economy away from the petro-dollar to the data economy. We are seeing the completion of a process of re-orientation begun during the global crisis which had its inaugural moment with the bombing of the Twin Towers. At this time it became politically expedient to empower tech companies in the collection of data.

Data, farming it, harvesting it, owning it, selling it, mining for it, drilling into it, has become a more profitable industry than the oil industry. The data-dollar has outstripped the petro-dollar. The crashing in value of the petro-dollar and the crisis of oversupply in the energy market brought about by government-imposed lockdowns and the closing of national borders, particularly as it has affected the aviation industry, have leveraged the end of an era. COVID-19 marks the completion of a global re-orientation to the data-economy begun in pre-existing conditions of fear. Now the fear is of physical contact, digital contact is the solution.

It is as a spokesperson for a local social service writes, a contact-less digital solution, that without irony will be the complete solution to the contact tracing it is necessary to conduct. Asking our people to sign-in on a paper register and keep a diary of their movements can only go so far.

Social workers and educators move to online provision of services, often speaking to gains in efficiency and efficacy. Click and collect apps move the smallest transactions online, and whole stores migrate: New Hope is the name of the local dump shop, salvaging what people have thrown out for re-sale; it has now an online presence and offers click and collect, but not yet a proprietary app.

And this is where the frontline is: in compassionate examples and moral justifications. New Hope re-sells to benefit local initiatives. Social services take down names and personal details, aiding contact tracing, for the good of the society. The greater good has once again entered common parlance.

The farming of personal data from apps is for the greater good. For COVID-19 and for the complete re-orientation of the global economy. The complete solution.

He doesn’t like information,” the official said. “He likes decision points.”

I add this fragment as the most complete explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible statements of the POTUS.

I add the following fragment as ammunition for the frontline.

I went back to Milan Kundera for his view on kitsch, about the cruelty sentimentality and mawkishness cover over, and recalled how Kundera listened to Varèse and Xenakis, finding, especially in the latter, consolation. He asks himself why? Why, when he could be listening to Smetana? and recapitulating in its patriotism his nostalgia for homeland and for collective belonging.

He writes, equally brutally, perhaps, to the brutality he describes, and again, forgive me quoting at length:

“Despite Stravinsky’s denial that music expresses feeling, the naive listener cannot see it any other way. That is music’s curse, its mindless aspect. All it takes is a violinist playing the three long opening notes of a largo, and a sensitive listener will sigh, “Ah, how beautiful!” In those three notes that set off the emotional response, there is nothing, no invention, no creation, nothing at all: it’s the most ridiculous “sentimentality hoax.” But no one is proof against that perception of music, or against the foolish sigh it stirs.

“European music is founded on the artificial sound of a note and of a scale; in this it is the opposite of the objective sound of the world. Since its beginnings, Western music is bound, by an insurmountable convention, to the need to express subjectivity. It stands against the harsh sound of the outside world just as the sensitive soul stands against the insensibility of the universe.

“But the moment could come (in the life of a man or of a civilization) when sentiment (previously considered a force that makes man more human and relieves the coldness of his reason) is abruptly revealed as the “superstructure of brutality,” ever present in hatred, in vengeance, in the fervor of bloody victories. At that time I came to see music as the deafening noise of the emotions, whereas the world of noises in Xenakis’s works became beauty; beauty washed clean of affective filth, stripped of sentimental barbarity.”

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day 33

a propitious day to state the sabbatical principle, of one in seven is our rest taken, one day in seven, one year in seven

work is the saddest passion it will never be done

and rest relief on the seventh according to the seven virtues:

good wine

good food

good conversation

good sex

good art

good politics

good religion,

that follows them that is their thought and that accompanies each with thought and that follows rest relief from work

and from the sabbatical principle the good of birds mountains fish and seas, not men, women

and the virtuous things that are without number

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day 32

I didn’t tell anyone, how could I? But there were times at the beginning of this enigmatic time, which has only slowly begun turning its face towards us, when I thought I cannot bear to be part of a world where governments do not claim the political prerogative of representing the society that elects them; where governments are powerless: where in fact the political is powerless, and can only claim any power to act by proxy, or, as I wrote in the last post (the last post!), only by having forgotten what the instruments, the tools of political prerogative in one’s hands feel like can governments take hold of them again …which brings me to the topic of arts and culture.

(I in fact wrote last time that government forgets what it can do, it forgets that the labels on the buttons which stop the economy, the levers that switch it onto tracks all rusty from disuse, read use by political prerogative in EMERGENCY ONLY: of course this goes against all those commentators who want the state of emergency to have become the status quo of politics-as-usual; it goes towards the notion that the state of emergency becomes a political event when it is declared by governments so to be, that is, when it is not a declaration of economic policy and business-as-usual. Here the economies of developed (inculcated-with-neoliberal thought) nations seize a power earlier given away: it is this that inspired the earlier feeling of it being unbearable that this should be the case, and that the political seizure should be mainly unconscious.)

What are the arts and culture these days but institutions given an economic right to life? what are they except competitive examples of that which the principle of price in the market set up for arts and culture has placed among the political elect? that is, such institutions as survive in the marketplace politically set up for arts and culture are politically selected, much as we might talk about natural selection under social darwinism. Of course, the marketplace has to be set up first, and–first rule of neoliberalism–its setting up by political institutions has to be hidden, then forgotten.

In NZ, they are funding organisations for arts and culture and festival organisations, some of them charitable trusts, the ones with a right to life: the only institutions on the cultural artistic horizon which operate at the level of institutional, that is political, power. Of course, the prerogative here also hides from itself and is forgotten.

On 18 April 2020 I received an email from the New Zealand Festival, which among other things informed it was a charitable trust. The New Zealand Festival also wrote:

If you would like to play a role in supporting the
 Festival’s sustainability, New Zealand artists and arts 
workers in this extraordinarily challenging time, we 
welcome your involvement. For context, $10-$15,000 would 
enable us to commission a New Zealand company or 
artists to develop the concept stage of a new work for the
2022 Festival part-time over a period of 2-3 months. This 
would in turn provide much needed income, security and 
hope for the company’s artists. New Zealand artists, 
the very heart of our Festival, are the focus of our 
fundraising strategy right now...

The letter was signed, in a humanising, face-giving gesture, Meg Williams and Marnie Karmelita, to whom I then wrote asking if the New Zealand Festival might consider as a counterweight to this request for … charity and charitable donation, a similar letter addressing itself to artists, whose interests, in “income, security and hope,” it claimed to represent to its donors?

Would it not be appropriate to submit to artists on whose behalf it might be approaching these (its) philanthropists? I wrote. Or was the New Zealand Festival approaching its five-figure donors on its own behalf?

I was asking if charity might be due artists before it was due the charitable trust out soliciting … but not on the street … like those charity-beggars or chuggers?

In retrospect I wrongly used the word advocacy, asking if the New Zealand Festival might take on this role for real … and not something like disingenuously. (This was wrong of me because I have a habit long ago acquired of asking whether funding agencies should not be advocates to governments–to the Power–for artists, that is arts and culture. See here. My friend, U. kindly pointed this out. But in the case there is no Power!? (see above.))

I will not say I was surprised when somebody calling themselves Team Experience and Executive Coordinator, named Suzy Cain, for New Zealand Festival replied.

Kia ora Simon

Thanks for the feedback; I have sent it along to our Executive Team for you.

Please take care and all the best.

Mā te pono
Suzy Cain
Team Experience and Executive Coordinator
Tāwhiri Festivals and Experiences

As I understand it, not to be too pedantic, feedback, unless cybernetic, is a highpitched whine. No, you’re right: to be too pedantic.

OK, so we’ll take this as cybernetic.

I love the idea of supporting the New Zealand Festival … I can think of submitting a project: perhaps a season of Howard Barker plays?

First I’d have to form a company, again, from artists. The company’s support–and this on first reading was not clear to me: I thought the word company’s in the New Zealand Festival’s chugging email might be a kind of Freudian slip, the company referring rather to the trust itself than any artistic or cultural company–from your generous donation or tax right-off sponsorship would give hope, income and security to those artists … who would in fact be extremely easy to find. And involve. And company-ise or bring into an institution, like a theatre company, which could itself be formed on the (legal) basis of a charitable trust.

It might be consolidated on the basis of a charitable trust yet still support (the income, hope, security of) corporate-styled offices such as Suzy Cain describes as belonging to an Executive Team, who, might in turn be humanised and face-given by signing in their proper names, Meg Williams and Marnie Karmelita.

Although this is not at all what I wanted to say. I wanted to talk about society built on dissensus as being the model–clearly the meta-model of society–for arts and cultural involvement in the Power. Which must be at the institutional level–of arts and culture institutions–not funding organisations and festivals.

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day 29, 30 & 31

I knew that the promise of this crisis, that it didn’t make any; least of all did it promise through the slippages entailed in the political management of the crisis any reevaluation of the principles by which that political management is in government informed.

What is meant here by political management is shutting down economies; what is meant by principles are those on which the business-as-usual of economies is based. Then by reevaluation is meant the power of a political will, of government, to change those principles on which the business-as-usual of economies is based.

At best what we have had over the period of economic shutdown–which can be taken quite literally in the lockdown of the public realm to the private and domestic realm–is a vague period. It has been one of not knowing how it will come out, of not knowing if any political strategy is going to work, and of not knowing, or of having inadequate knowledge, of what is really going on.

On one side we have felt the state flexing its muscles, sometimes behind the vanity screen of voluntary adherence to social rules, and out in the open, the enforcement of an almost arbitrary authoritarianism, then through the complicity of private agents jamming police lines dobbing other citizens in for breaches, Stasi-like. On the other side we have experienced what has felt almost like an over-reaction. Although to say so is to fistpump with the types of people whose opinions Trump mainlines, so we won’t be saying that.

The enigma continues in the prospect of many workplaces becoming filled once more, but by people doing very little; the businesses themselves propped up by subsidy and returning to work workers who will have little work to do. This has been, will have been, another of those embarrassing moments when that light negligee of economic dogma has shifted–showing, unsurprisingly, but nonetheless still shockingly, no body, nobody!, underneath.

Others have been a universal living wage having been coughed out to millions without any government whining about if you don’t work for it, just die, you just die! (As it happened this was what a Russian friend said to a Chinese friend, then both laughed and said: And we both had revolutions!) And if we take into account that the pretext for this coughing up is not say so bad as some global pandemics (but we won’t say that), then has it been too easily sidelined, the economic orthodoxy of neoliberalism? Has it given up without a fight? (The enemy COVID-19 is… evil evil evil, but hardly lifethreatening to the world economy! or globalism!)

But some of the explanation can be found in the price-mechanism of Hayek-inspired (who said so? Mirowski said so!) neoliberal thinking. That is, the machine is supposed to run independently of government actions, government being relegated to irrelevance, otherwise known as governance.

Then what happens? State governments shut down the mechanisms of the market, almost as if they no longer know what they are; almost as if they have forgotten that these levers and stop buttons used to have big signs on them saying use by political prerogative IN EMERGENCY ONLY!

The market is the market’s to shut down!

What to say about the promise–some commentators have evoked the work of Mark Fisher, who talks of the present as haunted by the possible futures which have never come to pass, and now never can. Why haunted? because of the hope, because of the promise … even if it’s simply one of a technological utopia. (I recall undergoing training at primary school in how to deal with all the leisure time I was going to have to endure as an adult, when technological progress was going to have, was supposed to have, coincided with enlightened social policy.) Now the future’s here and it’s hardly what we expected. … But then the future gets here again, with COVID-19, and it’s really not what we expected!

And again it returns, the future, bearing the φάρμακον, the pharmakon, that Greek gift–think Troy as well as Austerity–Derrida so well interprets.

And with the promises of returns to work looming, for me and some young people I know, as if this were the promise, I picked up Kundera’s book Encounter. It reminded me about the role of kitsch in hiding human cruelty.

And in view of the certitudes of work, as opposed to the enigmas we have suffered through, and suffered from, I read: “The existential enigma has disappeared behind political certitude, and certitudes don’t give a damn about enigmas. This is why, despite the wealth of their lived experiences, people emerge from a historic ordeal still just as stupid as they were when they went into it.”

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days 25-28

It’s easy to criticise, particularly if you think you are the proxy of the public or speak on behalf of the common good. But you become then like those busybodies we know about from our local council, who although they have no vested interest in an issue–do not ride a bike when it is a question of bike lanes; do not catch a bus when it is a question of bus routes; do not drive a car when it is a question of carparks; do not have children when it is a question of child safety, child bearing, child welfare (who say it takes a village to raise one); are not part of a minority when it is a question of minority rights–crusade as if god and all his devils were on their side.

It’s easy to criticise if you are not Pooh who than not say anything good would rather say nothing.

It’s easy to be critical if you have the community’s best interests at heart, or think you do. But Pooh’s stance is far superior.

And in the first case, of having the community’s best interests at heart, we should note it doesn’t matter which community. Without having anything good to say will you say nothing? Or will you eventually say something good?

The Nietzschean proviso that goes for analytical critique takes it all the way to the roots of the issue, extirpates, demolishes, razes to the ground, in the familiar pleonasm, pulls

the roots up, planting something to grow instead.

But good doesn’t necessarily grow.

And we can imagine a graft instead; the stem of the bad idea, the resentment, the pity, or the humility, still with the sap in it of popularity and of moral superiority, cut by the critic at a certain angle will take a graft and change direction; but the new cutting has to be chosen carefully if it’s going to take and the sap is going to run through it when it’s grafted on: this approach is called trying to change the system from within

.

Critics will try and speculate and speculating try to outdo each other on what good, like Pooh, can come out of this current COVID-19 situation.

They will call on you for a reassessment of values: and in fact this is the speculation: that you will even entertain the idea.

Capitalist critics and liberal and neoliberal critics. It’s sad socialist critics do too. They explain the situation of COVID-19 as if it isn’t clear, then call it an opportunity, at which point they lay down the challenge: we must … since they don’t tend to say I or you or they (imagine if the critics called on them to make it right: what an abdication of responsibility that would be; and critics take responsibility seriously. They show they do by keeping a straight face, a poker face, when they say we must …, when they place their bet on the hand they’ve dealt themselves.).

The Dao might be, in saying anything good, saying anything is better is bound to be worse and to the worse.

New Zealand society is not good with criticism. Longstanding anti-intellectualism, waves of colonialism and neo(liberal)(re)colonisation, anticolonialism and decolonisation have been (processually) to blame: for the flight from reason, for the flight to a poorly conceived nationalism, informed by and awake more to blame than moral responsibility; for the swing back again to reason, as it has been demonstrated overseas in another country for that reason worthy of our admiration. It’s a funny version of Foucault’s pendulum, engaging the swing back in reaction, when the rest of the world begins to swing the other way. So we can catch up in retrogression. Just like goods meant for export are always better, NZ will even import its own good reason.

NZ has not historically been good with criticism. It prefers complaint. Not good with satire, it prefers comedy.

Excessive praise is also frowned upon. If a thing is really really good it ought to have been exported by now; if a thing was really really good it would have been exported by now. The other disincentive to praise is the getting high all those tall poppies with their bright and big ideas get: they get harvested off the field of Flanders–again the opiate of nationalism.

Then we are exporting the Rt. Hon. Ardern and exalting in the image-for-export of a government whose actions, whose performance backing and fronting up those actions, has been exemplary, over this crisis.

The other meaning of criticism must be these things are sent to test us.

The other meaning of criticism is then what is sent by

chance.

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day 23, 24: we are the destroyers of society

Yes, Je est un autre is become a collective and communal assertion: we are …

Or, if it remain a matter of me it still maintains and expects the collective endorsement of too, it is poised or it poses on the edge of common recognition, which is ours in general, which it assumes to make such good moral sense that you’d be a complete troll idiot not to recognise the righteousness of the numbers–and dissent.

But the sense of moral outrage is endlessly manipulable as Trump shows even when showing his small hands hamfistedly engaged in this sleight or slight.

We might ask, together, and unifying in our common moral outrage for or against, how does it hold up, the trick, when we can see how it is done, and how badly; how do they get away with it?

Should we think of them as the better magicians for it? Or of ourselves as the stupider? Dumb, and so on.

Who is behind the assumption of these positions if not us? Is it the fear of being left out–a real fear–that, by the speed of communication in the age of the interweb, is retrojected to precede the impulse on which each of us acts? Is this what pushes?–the statistical impasse in which not to recognise ourselves (with the other or others) is to deny our identity, to deny that with which we identify?

The big fear expressed by government in New Zealand over its handling of COVID-19 has been that the virus is in the community. Of course this is xenophobic. But we can sacrifice the bad meaning of fear of foreign agents for the good meaning, which is that those agents are not people. They are barely even life as we know it, but parasitical on life, not travellers, so much, not tourists,

but viral, which means foreign and subhuman…

…however: dissent in general does not exist…

except in society.

Society exists to protect us from community. What an outrageous claim!

But how many times have you heard, a number so large it is statistically absolute, I know my community

And: In my community this would never happen

But that it does.

It does with increasing, and statistically verifiable, frequency.

What in our communities would never happen is happening in and to our society all the time. Which is what I would suggest is the virtue of society.

Not virtual society. That’s just dumb. But the reason why our social media empower the limited cognitive bubbles and lowest common denominators (ah, the old language!) of communities. Not societies.

(Media is of course also a misnomer: since what are called social media are privately owned commercial platforms.)

Societies should be set up to deal with an influx of foreigners, viral and other, and not be part of the setup in which social infrastructures, nonvirtual, are stretched to the limit by that kind of dissent from community which is foreign, viral and other.

Didn’t we all always know the end would be an inside job? Like me.

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days 21, 22: or an institution is defined by its freedoms

Now when it comes to community do we not normally consider it to be ours?

When we think of it are we not drawn to think of community as this one in particular of which we are a part, to which we belong?

And then when the association is invoked, of other communities having a claim to our attention, is it not normal to think of them being like ours, composed of men and women, of rainbows and children? That is to say LGBTIQ communities now want to be thought of as communities just like any other, just like ours, because we are them. So it is not facetious to talk about the rainbow community, of community as being inclusive, universal and… possibly absolute?

The communities that suffer suffer through causes external. They do not suffer through any inequality but that it is imposed from some outside cause.

We think of our community and we award it qualities we wish to see replicated in others, or we wish in our communities for those qualities to be replicated we see in others.

And when one says others one means communities of others not other’s: when community comes up it has normally the meaning that it is not other, not other than our own. It is meant to reduce differences. To equalise–opportunities to prosper, the opportunities to live and prosper of all those, all of us, who belong.

Spinoza writes that to any person nothing is more useful than another person. Because if their natures are in agreement together they are twice as powerful; and if they are to find a third whose nature agrees with theirs, thrice as powerful; and a fourth and fifth, and so on, and eventually a whole community as powerful as the sum of the number of members who belong to it. Or is it to the power of the number of members?

Spinoza doesn’t say. But it would make sense that a community’s power to be, which is how Spinoza understands power, as also its power to act is the sum of the differences it includes to the power of the number of individuals belonging to it. The rider would be that of the equalisation of differences, that we can put our differences aside in belonging and caring for community. But our differences still count here. We simply understand them as equivalences. Just as their community is like or is the same as ours, your differences are like or are the same as mine.

I am different in so many ways from you, and my friendship with you is not despite our differences, but sums them up in a greater unity with a greater power to be and act, a greater essence, that is to the power of us two.

So community is not the extension of relations necessary for the perpetuation of a race, people, class or genetic line but extends the advantage of friendship to a larger group of individuals.

So community includes friends as well: it includes the differences friends set aside for the enjoyment of the friendship, which is that of a greater power to be, to exist, as Spinoza says.

Now we understand community also from an evolutionary perspective. We think of it as a survival tactic, increasing our power to survive. We agree we need to unite in our community against a common foe; we agree to agree. And this before any need is our genetic advantage.

Humans form organisations taking in numbers of individuals of both genders impossible for other primates which makes human communities capable of defending themselves against apex predators. Other primate species are not so gifted at this: sexual competition for gene continuation leads to internal competition impossible to reconcile, to the internal predation of males on males. Experiments with chimpanzees in captivity have shown that their communities do not have the human capacity for setting aside the claims of sexual competition. Disagreements over who has a claim over whom have led to the devastation of their communities in human captivity. On the other hand, humans can unite into a single organism. Claims are not neutralised but one’s claim to the preservation of one’s genetic line can be seen to be the equivalent of an other’s; and at the ultimate this equivalence is a right to life, since it serves to the preservation of life.

And it serves to a right to life beyond the individual.

Now by individual, do we not normally mean the one who says I, who can say of herself I am, who can speak of himself in what grammarians call the first person?

Human individuality has a special status. Is it perhaps derived from the human propensity to communal organisation? and the attendant evolutionary advantages?

It is not like the individuality of blade of grass or grain of sand or mountain, river or blue whale. Rather than equivalent, these are interchangeable. One blue whale is worth another, down to the last few. One blade of grass is able to be substituted for another without the first being too much missed–unless it was the first, or most perfect, or ideal blade of grass. But every human individual is the first, most perfect and ideal example of human individuality. It is absolute.

We do not pit individuals against communities. We do not set the differences individuals can claim to absolutise them against the communities which make those differences equivalent in absolutising themselves, communities in fact which amplify those differences to the power of the number of their members; communities which are, like the individuals belonging to them, regardless of their number or their differences, in their absolute-ness absolutely equivalent.

I am like you, I am as they say because you are; we are like (plural) you, we are because (inclusive) we are.

But is to consider oneself an individual to consider one’s qualities as like an other’s? One is an individual inasmuch as one’s qualities are thought to be unique. They have arisen out of internal causes in which we can count our communities. These are our good qualities; our bad qualities however are said to have arisen from external causes–in which we cannot count our communities.

I wrote here of those who cast their problems at society that they do so out of inadequate understanding of their causes. That we can try to understand but that it would be unlikely for us to be given credit, or for us to win their credence, for us to be thanked, or for them to be grateful for our understanding on their behalf.

But this is the presumption which exists in that of the equivalence of our differences, whether differences between communities, or among individuals, where differences are not interchangeable: human individuality seems to be an absolute of a different order than human community. It might seem to have been hasty to have suggested community is or could be absolute.

If it was hasty to suggest human community is absolute, does this also obtain for the evolutionary advantage of forming a community?

What possible evolutionary advantage can be maintained for human individuality?

What stake do we set on it now?

Do we consider it to be an evolutionary liability?

Or is the idea of absolute individuality equally at fault?

Now I wrote at the end of this post that society is defined by the problems attributed to it.

Neither is it impugned by the problems attributed to it, nor, as Thatcher said, does it cease to exist.

We are more likely to attribute the problems we face in our communities to society than we are to attribute to it the problems we face as individuals. They are not one the same.

Problems faced by communities that are cast at society have a general equivalence. They could so easily be faced by our community, by mine or yours.

But problems faced by individuals do not. My problem is not interchangeable with yours.

Individual problems are in this way effaced by community problems.

Your problem is not and you cannot let it be exchanged with an other’s or lumped in with those of a community. With the absolute identity of a community. A community is never a community of others but a community of consent. In this consists its absolutism.

Now society is defined by the problems we have. Not together. We have never been together. Noone should ask us to be together. We should not unite.

To each granted what is common to all; from all excluded what is unique to each.

This law of exclusion is society’s. But it is in a deeper sense community’s law, its rule being there has never been a community of others but that it has been assumed to be the same.

I have been troubled by the convenience of the term biopolitics for the political emergence, emergency, we seem to be living through in the current state of exception, emergency. And what is troubling seems to be tied to a social emergence. But one that is buried. Was in fact buried approximately 35 years ago. Because it was relayed to the infrasocial emergence of communities of difference from the extrasocial politics producing difference. That is it was diverted. Was a diverted social passion, as Lordon calls politics.

Arthur Kroker, from a recent post to <<empyre>> here, seems to have provided a more adequate term in biofascism–on which we can catch the faint scent of community and communicability, and transmission, as being the problem.

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on the amputation of infected members of society, III, day 20

I wrote that poverty is like a disease. But that it is one much easier to contain than COVID-19.

Although the same technologies are in practice engaged in containing it. These technologies include education and “contact tracing.” Among others: Rt. Hon. Ardern pointed to story-telling, a technique so venerable noone would dare question its morality. Story-telling can be shown to work in its absence, because if we can’t tell a story about how the disease came to be present–attributing it to credible causes–we must isolate, contain, but not necessarily treat, whoever has it.

You don’t have to get at a disease’s causes to know who is infected. They may be those whose narrative doesn’t fit. Imagine a terrorist who has no cause! It’s like an infection the transmission of which you cannot trace.

This is why “contact tracing” is included in the technologies of containment.

But overnight I began to doubt that poverty is like a disease, or that the comparison can reasonably be made between disease and poverty, especially during these “unprecedented times.”

Education is held up as some kind of cure for poverty. Story-telling might be. But does contact tracing apply?

I returned to thinking about my original inspiration in Gloria Kim’s use in a post to the <<empyre>> listserv of the term phantom touch. She used it to refer to the experience summoned through association–watching a movie where people are in physical contact–of feeling the touch of another, like a spectral caress. Not one’s own phantom limb but an other’s against one’s own.

If we are the virus, as the meme goes, who is this other, whose limb touch’s one’s own?

They are a member we, the virus, have cut off. But whose touch we still remember. It is recalled to us watching a movie, perhaps, the sensation of that touch.

As you saw from my previous post, this led to an association being made with society, to a society that, in Thatcher’s phrase, does not exist.

And so I asked if society were not itself a dead limb or a dying or dangerously infected one finally lopped off.

This led me to poverty. And to the question of our acceptance of society’s nonexistence reaching its conclusion in self isolation. We might say it reaches this conclusion by way of social distancing, familiar to anyone who has used a cellphone, now being a rule.

Social distancing is not quite a law. But seems in some places to be enforceable.

Social distancing might reasonably be said to mean distancing oneself from society just as self isolation means isolating oneself from it, cutting oneself off, or, in the phrase phantom touch, cutting the other off and cutting off other members of society.

If society does not exist, we are not members of society. We belong to communities. The Christchurch Shooter, you recall, was labelled one who did not belong. He did not belong in our community, said Rt. Hon. Ardern.

Years ago I remember being in New Caledonia, where I was billeted by a French family, in a beautiful white house on a hill.

One day, after breakfast, I remember I went out to explore the garden, which, because unfenced, seemed to me to be vast. It extended all the way down the hill, and in a gully I discovered a series of corrugated-iron-clad sheds or shacks, backing onto the hill.

I knew garden sheds from home, so thinking them unoccupied–I had seen smoke coming out of the chimney of one of them, but had dismissed this as a sign of habitation–the French family was all up in the house, anyway–I went around to the front. A whole Kanak family was there, three adults and several children.

I didn’t immediately recognise any of them because they were not wearing their uniforms. But then, after being spoken to severely by the man, one of the women came out, and I saw she was the French family’s maid. She was wearing a striped T-shirt, a brightly coloured skirt and had a saffron yellow scarf holding her hair back. The man was the gardener.

He wore dirty shorts and a short-sleeve collared shirt open to his waist. He had a stick or a poker and was poking the flames of a small fire with loose blackened rocks around it and a billy on a tripod above it in which something seemed to be cooking. Seafood maybe. It actually smelt really good.

The French family’s maid had served breakfast not so long ago, and she and I had chatted. I found her French easy to understand and she had been friendly. The French family were quite severe and opinionated when it came to French-New Caledonian affairs: they felt like they were treated as second-class citizens. But I remember the French Mum saying she went to Paris every year shopping.

The French family’s maid first tried to shoo me off. She told me I shouldn’t be there. But seeing that I didn’t understand, she started to smile and began to treat my being there as quite funny. She attempted to share the joke with the man, but he was not having it. He told her–I understood from his gestures–to get me away.

Now the woman who was the maid came right out and ushered me around the corner from where the kitchen was set up under the lean-to, and where these people obviously lived. And I went with her. I realised I had invaded their privacy and I felt guilty for that. But it was impossible to explain that in my country we have garden sheds but that people do not live in them.

This is the story tracing my contact with the infection of Kanak poverty. I could have had the experience in New Zealand. But I doubt the contrast would have been as great as that between the French family, all in white, in a white house, the son, slightly older than I was, I remember wore the whitest plimsolls I have ever seen, and the black family at the bottom of the garden.

I think I must’ve mentioned something to the French Mum, since she was more approachable than the Dad, behind his French newspaper, because I remember her face changing, her countenance as they say darkening. Do I really remember thinking she regarded me with suspicion from that point on, as something of a traitor, of class or of race?

Was the Club Méditerranée at Anse Vata really just being built when I was there? I seem to remember the French Dad pointing it out from the convertible he picked me up in to show off the coastline. I also remember delicious minty drinks being served on a magnesium white deck overlooking a deep blue swimming pool right on that coast, at the home of friends’ of the French family. I have tried to find out what that drink was ever since.

Lingis writes of the contagion of misery.

You might think it presumptuous or importunate to talk of poverty, misery and suffering as if they were transmissable diseases. That it does those who are afflicted out of something that is theirs and cannot be claimed be another not so afflicted.

But to see someone who is poor, who is suffering, who lives in misery or who is just miserable, is to catch something. It is to catch on to feelings that have no certainty, that leave one with no certainty of what to do or of what to feel. Guilt? Remorse? Sympathy?

Isn’t the meaning of society to see and to know there are people living at the bottom of the hill? to know how they live. Isn’t for a society to want to improve the conditions of those, not so one can feel good about oneself but good about the society one lives in? And isn’t it also to have mixed feelings, uncertain compassion, as Lingis writes? To not know what to feel. To know only that one has been called on to feel.

To not know how to act but to know one has been called on to act.

With the amputation of others in self isolation, with social distancing, we grow neglectful.

Our preexisting negligence or our inexcusable ignorance sees an opportunity. (As Rt. Hon. Ardern states with regard to the loss of 200 jobs in NZME, it is due to a preexisting condition.)

Worse than this, there can be no more solidarity with the poor, those in need, with problems, with the problems which define society; with the amputation of society, they are placed out sight, and like ghosts and phantoms, they become invisible.

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on the amputation of infected members of society, part II, day 19

They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.

– Margaret Thatcher in an interview in Women’s Own, 1987

The nonexistence of society concludes in the self-isolation of individuals, men and women, and families.

The role of government is to look after those who look after themselves first.

The role of the neighbour is to wait until they have.

No government can do anything except through those who know that their role is to look after themselves first.

Those who look after themselves first and after they have looked after themselves look after their neighbours are a community and communities comprise individuals, men and women, and families.

Some individuals cast their problems on society. Perhaps they are neighbours who are tired of waiting, who are disaffected, who are lonely, or weak, or old. But they are probably just moaners, loafers, bludgers, whiners, do-nothings; lazy, incompetent or naive and selfish in thinking they are owed anything by anyone: entitled, spoilt, ones who have it too easy.

Perhaps people who cast their problems on society believe it is to blame. Perhaps they believe that it is responsible for how they are or how they feel, for how good or bad they feel, or how well or badly they’re getting on. Or perhaps they think there is a whole lot of higher-ups who are, and they blame these and throw their lack of taking responsibility for themselves and how they feel, for themselves and how they’re getting on, at them.

As if it is the responsibility of the higher-ups, as if they are the grown-ups and society is full of children, as if the government were not just people like them, as if the government and the managers and bosses and service-providers, and nurses and policemen, politicians and army were not just people like them, trying to take care of their families, neighbours and look after themselves, and do their jobs and earn a living, a decent one, as if we weren’t all in the same boat, all trying to survive and see that our kids do OK and that our old people don’t die before their time has come.

We ought not to think badly of the ones who feel bad or who do badly. In fact we can understand it: society has failed them, but not society insofar as government is responsible for it–or they just have chemical imbalances and bad genes.

We can accept them casting problems that are their own at others, at society or blaming the government, because we know that society insofar as government is responsible for it does not exist.

Some of them, throwing their toys out of the cot, or at the nearest figure of authority in reach, and often it is the one who offers to help who cops it, are from poor families. Others are genetically predisposed to having feelings which overwhelm them, feelings of inadequacy, not the actual inadequacy, feelings of not-belonging, while not actually not belonging, that they have to get rid of, cathect, get out of their systems somehow, anyhow. You get artists in this group. But just as much you get the ones who don’t recognise how caring our communities really are. They let themselves down by not reaching out. They are no help to themselves. Those who end up poisoning themselves with drugs and alcohol least.

We just have to be there for them. We don’t have to listen when we are lumped in with the ones, teachers, parents, care-givers and case-managers who did not.

Poverty is like a disease. But one much easier to contain than COVID 19.

Although the same technologies are practically engaged in its containment. Including education.

Including “contact tracing.”

You don’t have to get at its causes to know who is infected.

But the infected must be cut off.

The process of social amputation begins with government cutting society off. It concludes with individuals, men and women and families, cutting themselves off from it:

Society never existed but as a source of disaffection, disease and of the problems it caused that were rightly or wrongly cast at it.

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enjoy your resurrection, day 17, into day 18

Once resurrected then what?

And what bits will be and which won’t?

What will society lose? the weakest and most vulnerable?

…or the sense that they are… having lost the sense of their welfare being our responsibility and of our meaning society.

There may never have been any society in general. But it is just as true to say there may never have been any body in general.

Of course there is the external society.

Of course there is the external body.

But neither the body nor society are relations to true externalities–until they include the experience of a society-of-others and a body-as-other.

Just this, or that which Lingis calls in his eponymous work the community of those who have nothing in common, is what is meant by bearing responsibility for the weakest and most vulnerable. And we might say making accountable the strongest and most powerful.

When do we experience the otherness of the body? When we are deprived of the touch of the other. Our own limbs start to feel eerily bereft as if they have lost touch with the sense they made before. Why did I have this hand if not to caress? Was it always meant to tap tap tap at the keyboard, to turn the pages, to work the remote, to slice and dice, to be endlessly scrubbed?

When do we experience the otherness of the body? When part of it is infected. Or afflicted. It is the opposite of a phantom limb. A dead limb. An arm in a cast. A dismembered member. A face, even, swollen and strange, only the eyes recognisable as our own.

When do we experience the otherness of society? When every other person we meet might be the potential carrier of a disease.

When part of it is infected. Or afflicted. …Perhaps even when part of society is afflicted with being weak, or poor, or vulnerable, we experience its otherness.

When we feel power over a part of society we are haunted by the feeling that we are the same as them. We want to deny it. Sometimes we can. Sometimes we cannot.

Levinas writes that this is the response to the address the other makes, the imperative she places on us to respond, and as Lingis takes on this thought, it is the stranger, the diseased one in the street, who reaches out his hand to us… making us responsible. Sometimes we can deny it. We might turn around to make sure we are not being seen turning away. Sometimes we cannot. We are haunted by that sick face… haunted by our own powerlessness to help. But what really were we being called on to do?

All we are being asked to do in order to get through the absence of treatment for COVID-19 is to treat society as infected.

We are not asked to deny those parts of society infected exist.

We are asked to cut them off.

resurrected, what will that do?

Fisher wrote that we are haunted by futures, our futures sometimes imagined glorious, sometimes perfidious, the possibility of which actually occurring is absent.

They are the phantom limbs of our current society, of our current social organisation. And they itch. And we scratch. A literary scratch there. A cinematic one here. Utopian here. Dystopian there.

At least we can take refuge in the thought we were not responsible and are not accountable for the not-coming-to-pass of futures, global, environmental or social.

We can take refuge in the thought we are responsible and accountable only for our individual ones. That we did not put away savings for a son or daughter; that we did not buy health insurance… that our private dream was never realised …

But this presence of those present who are cut off because infected…

can we take refuge in the thought we were forced to

cut them off?

(Thank you Gloria Chan-Sook Kim whose phrase ‘phantom touch’ in a post to the <<empyre>> listserv gave occasion to think these thoughts.)

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