Posted 6 years ago on Aug. 22, 2014, 11:32 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Written by Micah White, PhD
Contemporary activism begins from the realization that for the first time in history, a synergy of catastrophes face us. Our physical environment is dying, our financial markets are collapsing and our culture, fed on a diet of junk thought, is atrophying -- unable to muster the intellectual courage to face our predicament.
While some may caution against immediate action by pointing out that societies often predict perils that never come, what is remarkable about our times is that the apocalypse has already happened.
When we compare the anxiety of our age to that of the Cold War era, we see that what differentiates the two periods is where the threat is temporally located. During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear destruction was always imagined to be in the future. What terrorized the Cold War generation was the thought of life after a nuclear holocaust. Anxiety was therefore centered on what life would be like "the day after" the future event, which was symbolized by the blinding light of a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Thus the post-apocalyptic narrative was deployed in a series of nuclear holocaust science-fiction stories either to mobilize fear in the name of anti-nuke peace -- the exemplar of this tactic being the horrifying and scientifically realistic 1984 BBC docudrama Threads in which civilization collapses into barbarism -- or, like Pat Frank's 1959 novel Alas, Babylon, convince a wary public that winning and happily surviving nuclear war is possible, given resourcefulness, discipline and patriotism.
But for those of us alive today, the catastrophic event is not located in the future. There is no "post”-apocalyptic per se because we are already living in the apocalyptic. And although we can anticipate that life is going to get starker, darker and hellish, the essential feature of our times remains that we do not fear the future as much as we fear the present. We can notice this temporal shift in the work of James Lovelock, whose Gaia Hypothesis is gaining traction inside and outside of the scientific community. According to Lovelock’s book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, even if we were to immediately cease all C02 emissions, sudden and drastic climate change will still occur. In fact, Lovelock argues that a drastic decrease in emissions would trigger climate catastrophe immediately whereas continuing emissions will trigger climate catastrophe eventually and unpredictably. This realization -- that the line into a post-climate-change world has already been crossed -- fundamentally changes the temporal and spatial assumptions underpinning activist struggles. And the first aspect of activism that must be rethought is our notion of temporality.
The typical activist project is inscribed within the horizon of a modern conception of temporality. The modernist activist acts as if we occupy a present moment that is a discrete point on the linear progression between a mythical, ancient past and an either utopian or dystopian future. But if we accept this model, then the goal of the activist can only be to change the future by preventing the dystopian possibility from being realized. This involves pushing for changes in laws and behaviors in the present that will impact our predictions of how the future will be. But activism based on this temporal model -- which as John Foster points out in The Sustainability Mirage: Illusion and Reality in the Coming War on Climate Change underpins "green capitalism" and "sustainable development" -- inevitably fails. For one, unable to accurately predict the future, we constantly play the game of basing our actions on rosy predictions while the future grows increasingly gloomier. Another problem with relying on linear temporality is the assumption that time moves in only one direction. Without the freedom to imagine going backwards, we are left the task of steering the runaway train of industrialization without hope of turning around.
Of course, linear time is not the only way to understand temporality and some models can have even worse political consequences. Take for example, the notion that time is cyclical. For the Roman Stoics, time was marked by a series of conflagrations in which the world was razed and a new one formed only to be razed again. In times of adversity when resistance seems impossible, such as the build-up to World War 2, a watered down version of cyclical temporality sometimes enters the cultural consciousness. It infected Nazis who cheered total war and anti-Nazis who used the spurious argument that only by a catastrophic Nazi triumph would a communist state be realized because only then would the people rise up. A similar line of thought was pursued by Martin Heidegger in a letter to Ernst Jünger in which he wondered if the only way to "cross the line" into a new world is to bring the present world to its awful culmination. Unlike the linear conception of time that calls the activist to act in order to realize an alternate future, the cyclical conception is often leveraged to justify inaction or worse, action contrary to one’s ideals.
To escape the problems of linear time and cyclical time, activism must rely on a new temporality. Perhaps the best articulation of this new activist temporality is in the work of Slavoj Žižek. In his most recent book, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Žižek blames the failure of contemporary activism on our assumption that time is a one-way line from past to future. He argues that activism is failing to avert the coming catastrophe because it is premised on the same notions of linear time that underpin industrial society. According to Žižek, therefore, a regeneration of activism must begin with a change in temporality. Paraphrasing Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Žižek writes, "if we are to confront adequately the threat of (social or environmental) catastrophe, we need to break out of this 'historical' notion of temporality: we have to introduce a new notion of time." This new notion of time is a shift of perspective from historical progress to that of the timelessness of a revolutionary moment.
The role of the activist should not be to push history in the right direction but instead to disrupt it altogether. Žižek writes, "this is what a proper political act would be today: not so much to unleash a new movement, as to interrupt the present predominant movement. An act of 'divine violence' would then mean pulling the emergency cord on the train of Historical Progress." To accomplish this act of revolutionary violence involves a switch of perspective from the present-looking-forward to the future-looking-backward. Instead of trying to influence the future by acting in the present, Žižek argues that we should start from the assumption that the dread catastrophic event -- whether it be sudden climate catastrophe, a "grey goo" nano-crisis or widespread adoption of cyborg technologies -- has already happened, and then work backwards to figure out what we should have done. "We have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, that the catastrophe will take place, that it is our destiny -- and then, against the background of this acceptance, mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change destiny itself and thereby insert a new possibility into the past." In other words, only by assuming that the feared event has already happened, can we imagine what actions would need to have been taken to prevent its occurrence. These steps would then be actualized by the present day activist. "Paradoxically," he concludes, "the only way to prevent the disaster is to accept it as inevitable."
Žižek is right to suggest that activism is at a crossroads; any honest activist will admit that lately our signature moves have failed to arouse more than a tepid response. The fact is that our present is being swallowed by the future we dreaded -- the dystopian sci-fi nightmare of enforced consumerism and planet-wide degradation is, day-by-day, our new reality. And thus, activism faces a dilemma: how to walk the line between false hope and pessimistic resignation. It is no longer tenable to hold the nostalgic belief that educating the population, recycling and composting our waste and advocating for "green capitalism" will snatch us from the brink. Likewise, it is difficult to muster the courage to act when the apocalyptic collapse of civilization seems unavoidable, imminent and, in our misanthropic moments, potentially desirable. Žižek's shift in temporality offers us a way to balance the paralyzing realization that our demise is inevitable with the motivating belief that we can change our destiny. By accepting that as the world is now we are doomed, we free ourselves to break from normalcy and act with the revolutionary fervor needed to achieve the impossible.
The question for would-be activists is therefore not, "how does one engage in meaningful activism when the future is so bleak?" but instead "how does one engage in revolutionary activism when the present is so dark?"
Corresponding to the necessary temporality shift is a spatial change in activism. The future of activism will be the transformation of strictly materialist struggles over the physical environment into cultural struggles over the mental environment. Green environmentalism, red communism and black anarchism will merge into blue mental environmentalism -- activism to save our mental environment will eclipse activism to reclaim our physical environment.
Activism is entering a new era in which environmentalism will cease viewing our mental environment as secondary to our physical environment. No longer neglecting one in favor of the other, we will see a push on both fronts as the only possible way of changing either. This will involve a shift away from a materialist worldview that imagines there to be a one-way avenue between our interior reality and the external reality. Instead, recognition of the permeability of this barrier, an exploration of the mutually sustaining relationship between mindscape and landscape, will open, and reopen, new paths for politics.
This movement toward an activism of the mental environment is based on an ontological argument that can be stated succinctly: our minds influence reality and reality influences our minds. Although simply stated, this proposition has profound implications because it challenges the West’s long standing Cartesian divisions between internal and external reality that serve to ignore the danger of mental toxins. Whereas traditional politics has assumed a static mind that can only be addressed in terms of its rational beliefs, blue activism believes in changing external reality by addressing the health of our internal environment. This comes from an understanding that our mental environment influences which beings manifest, and which possibilities actualize, in our physical reality.
At first it may seem like a strange argument. But the imaginary has been a part of environmentalism since the beginning. Most people trace the lineage of the modern environmentalist movement back to Rachel Carson’s 1961 Silent Spring. Carson’s book argued that the accumulation of toxic chemicals in our environment could work its way up the food chain, causing a widespread die- off. It may not have been the first time the bioaccumulation argument had been made, but it was the first time that it resonated with people. Suddenly, a movement of committed activists and everyday citizens rallied under the environmentalism flag.
Looking back on Carson’s book from the perspective of mental environmentalism, it is significant that it begins, not with hard science as we may expect because Carson was a trained scientist, but with fantasy. The first chapter, entitled “A Fable for Tomorrow,” reads like a fairy tale: “There once was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” She then goes on to describe an idyllic, pastoral community known for its abundant agriculture and wild biodiversity. She writes of foxes and deer; laurel, virburnum and alder; wild birds and trout. However, the beauty of the place is not permanent – an evil, invisible malady spreads across the land. Birds die, plants wilt and nature grows silent. The suggestion is that the land has been cursed; if this were a different story perhaps the farmers would have prayed, offered sacrifices to the gods or asked their ancestors for help. Instead, Carson shifts the blame away from transcendental forces and back to the materialist domain of man. “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life on this stricken world.” Carson concludes, “The people had done it to themselves.”
Some literary critics have argued that the reason “Silent Spring” resonated with the larger public, sparking a movement of everyday people is largely due to this opening fable. They explain that Carson’s story takes Cold War era fears of radioactivity (an invisible, odorless killer) and redirect them into a new fear over environmental pollution that is, likewise, an invisible, odorless killer. This is a compelling interpretation that explains the rhetorical power of Carson’s story but it misses the larger point. Namely, that at its origin, environmentalism was grounded in a mythological story about a cursed land. Faced with a choice over whether to continue in this fantastical, narrative vein or enter the domain of scientific facts, environmentalism tried the latter. Environmentalism has thus become a scientific expedition largely regulated by Western scientists who tell us how many ppb of certain pollutants will be toxic and how many degrees hotter our earth can be before we are doomed. But here we see again the linear temporal model cropping up again which may explain the inability, according to James Lovelock, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to predict the rising temperatures we have experienced. In light of the failures of the exclusively scientific approach, it is worth considering another option.
What if Carson had written about how the disappearance of birds was accompanied by the appearance of flickering screens in every home? What if she had drawn a connection between the lack of biodiversity and the dearth of infodiversity? Or the decrease in plant life and the increase in advertised life? To do so would necessitate a new worldview: a blue worldview that acknowledges the interconnection between mental pollution and environmental degradation, spiritual desecration and real-world extinctions.
Keeping one foot within the domain of imagination, environmentalism could speak not only of the disappearance of the wild birds due to physical pollutants but also their disappearance due to mental pollutants. We could wonder at the connection between a culture’s inability to name more than a handful of plants, and the lack of biodiversity in the surrounding nature. And instead of assuming that the lack of biodiversity in external reality caused our poor recognition skills, we would entertain the opposite possibility: that the fewer plants we recognize, the fewer plants will manifest.
Blue activism begins with the realization that internal reality is connected to external reality and then wonders at the relation between pollution of internal reality and the desecration of external reality. The primary pollutant of our mental environment is corporate communication. It is no longer controversial to claim that advertisers stimulate false desires. Any parent knows that after their child watches the Saturday morning cartoons they will suddenly "need" new toys, new treats, new junk. But the effects of advertising go beyond, what the marketers call, “demand generation”. Advertising obliterates autopoesis, self-creation. It is an info-toxin that damages our imagination and our world picture, essential elements of our mental environment. Activists must work on the assumption that there is a connection between the level of pollution in our minds and the prevalence of pollution in our world. At the most basic level, this is because when our minds are polluted, and our imaginations stunted, we are unable to think of a different way of doing things. At a more complex level, it is because our mental environment dictates, to a certain extent, whether certain beings manifest in our physical environment. Naming calls beings into existence and when all the words we know are corporate-speak, the only beings that will manifesto are corporate- owned.
To understand how the pollution of the mental environment can impact the manifestation of beings, consider the story of the Passenger Pigeon. In 1810 one of the great American ornithologists, Alexander Wilson, observed a flock of Passenger Pigeons so plentiful that it blacked out the sun for three days. On another occasion he documented a flock estimated to be two hundred and forty miles long and a mile wide and comprised of over a billion -- 1,000,000,000 -- birds. A century later, the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden on September 1, 1914. How do we explain this alarming extinction of the Passenger Pigeon?
If we take a materialist activist position, then we will argue that their sudden demise is due to a combination of forces, all of which are located outside the psyche: overhunting combined with unenforced laws against killing the birds in their nesting places was exacerbated by the telegraph which was used to track the birds over hundreds of miles. The species death of the passenger pigeon is thus interpreted as a tragedy of specific technologies: guns, nets, laws and communication systems. Of course, this account is not wrong; it would be mistaken to argue that these technologies did not play a major factor in their extinction.
But physical environmentalism boils down to conservationism. It is allopathic, only able to treat the symptom, the disappearance of the birds, without considering the root cause. By focusing our attention exclusively on material forces, we are confined to certain activist tactics: a spectrum from reformist gestures of calling for greater enforcement of environmental protection laws, courageous tree sits and militant ELF arsons. And while these actions are commendable, and with open acknowledgment that a diversity of tactics is necessary, the focus on a secular materialist politics is limiting our success. Under this model, Ted Turner is considered a philanthropic hero because he is the nation’s largest landowner and maintains the largest privately owned bison herd. What we do not need is a rich patron of endangered species, but instead a world without endangered species. That requires more than money, it necessitates a paradigm shift.
The unexplainable extinction of the passenger pigeon is a symptom of the state of our mental environment. Species facing extinction can only be saved if we take their disappearance as a symptom and address the root cause of their disappearance. Because of an over-reliance on a secular, materialist conception of politics, scientists dictate the aims of activists. The irony is that our exclusive concern over the physical environment renders us unable to save it.
The curious interplay between our imagination and external reality gives credence to the argument that the struggles over the mental environment are the future of activism. The future of activism begins with the realization that only with a clear mind, a clean mental environment, do we approach the possibility of a clean physical environment.
Dispel immediately the notion that our mental environment is unique to each individual. Just as we share our natural environment, we also share our mental environment, which is crafted through the culture we consume – the television shows we watch, the websites we frequent and the symbols and concepts that comprise our thoughts. Thus, the mental environment is not something entirely within us but is instead something that is outside of our complete control and shared collectively.
Activism of the mental environmentalism is not a politics of solipsism, or an attempt to dodge the imperative of direct action. Instead, developing a politics of anti-consumerism and anti-materialism, places the role of imagination back into the forefront. Denying corporations the right to dominate our mental environment is the most effective long-term strategy of insurrection in the twenty- first century because it directly influences the manifestation of our natural environment. By targeting the mental polluters, vandalizing billboards and blacking out advertisements, we do more than clean up urban blight -- we clear a creative space for a revolutionary moment.
This article was written by Micah White and originally published in Reconstruction 10.3
Posted 6 years ago on Aug. 17, 2014, 10 a.m. EST by MicahWhite
As righteous people, how can we live in a world that is poisonous to our souls, harmful to our minds and at odds with our ideals?
Common sense counsels us that we have only two options: either imitate or hate the world. But if we remain stuck within this binary opposition, we will lose ourselves: if we imitate the world we sacrifice our spirit; if we hate the world we succumb to being reactionary and lose the positive passion that grounds our affirmation. What then can we do? This is the question that Seneca, the great Stoic sage, posed nearly two millennia ago. And his answer speaks to today’s struggle of being true to oneself in a corporatist society.
Roman imperial culture was as ruinous to Seneca’s ideals as endgame corporatism is to ours. In a well-known letter to his friend Lucilius, Seneca writes that exposure to crowds and the entertainment they consume ought to be avoided because within the crowd we lose our inner resolve for living a good life. “To consort with the crowd is harmful,” Seneca writes in Letter VII of Epistulae morales ad Lucilium, “[because] there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.” To prove his point, Seneca tells of his experience watching a gladiator death-match and returning home feeling “more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous and even more cruel and inhuman” than before.
In our era, Seneca’s observation will often be rejected on the presumption that his critique of mass culture is based on an aristocratic or antidemocratic philosophy. Proponents of this position will argue that Seneca’s dislike of crowds is due only to a prejudice toward common people and that his position is therefore not worthy of consideration. But this argument misses the deep philosophical insight that Seneca opens for us—there is a correlation between the culture that surrounds us and our inner life. If Seneca is correct then each of us has a legitimate reason to be concerned about involuntary exposure to violence, pornography, and lies because these cultural forms are destructive to our spirit. In other words, Seneca’s stoic philosophy provides another way to understand spiritual insurrection.
The pressing concern is how to resist the dominant culture in such a way that our ideals remain intact and our will to fight stays strong. And it is on this question that Seneca is most articulate. For Seneca, we must be on our guard at all times. He writes: “much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us imperceptibly; the neighbor, if he be rich, rouses our covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What then do you think the effect will be on character, when the world at large assaults it!” But Seneca refuses to accept that we ought to either imitate or loathe the world.
Instead, Seneca proposes that we develop a parallel culture in which we commune among ourselves to strengthen our opposition to the dominant culture. Seneca’s counsel is simple: “Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better person of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.” While this advice seems simple, it is actually the most difficult to accept because it foregoes the principles of mass participation and mass culture that underlie the majority of contemporary politics.
It would be a mistake to assume that what Seneca has in mind is a politics of neutral moderation. For a stoic, moderation fails to address the root cause of society’s ills. Instead, the art of stoicism is to live within the tension of two extremes without seeking the middle path of unprincipled moderation. Stoicism challenges us to live an affirmation amidst the world as it is, to maintain our inner resolve in the face of temptation and to teach resistance by way of personal example. It is a difficult task for which Seneca offers only one suggestion: decrease your desire.
Seneca writes that the key to attaining happiness, pleasure, riches and anything else of value is, paradoxically, to lower our desires. He relates the story of Epicurus who when asked by Idomeneus how to make his friend Pythocles rich replied, “If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.” This wisdom does not only apply to wealth, Seneca argues, and he goes on to give further examples of what Epicurus could have said: “‘if you wish to make Pythocles honourable, do not add to his honours, but subtract from his desires’; ‘if you wish Pythocles to have pleasure for ever, do not add to his pleasures, but subtract from his desires’; ‘if you wish to make Pythocles an old man, filling his life to the full, do not add to his years, but subtract from his desires.’” And I think Seneca would agree if we were to add one of our own to the list and say that if you wish to make a spiritual insurrection, do not wait for many people to join, instead subtract from your desires.
Seneca challenges us to imagine a positive cultural movement that is built on the shared practice of a radical decrease in desire. He suggests that we first build small friendship networks of resistance that are impervious to the influences of mass culture because their highest ideal is a life without consumption. Seneca encourages us to be like the wise man, who when asked why he devotes his life to a philosophy that may reach only a handful of people replied, “I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all.”
— Micah White, PhD lives on the north coast of Oregon. Follow him at @BeingMicahWhite. A version of this article originally appeared in Adbusters
Posted 6 years ago on July 29, 2014, 4:46 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
“When we asked the revolutionary philosopher Simon Critchley to help us understand the contemporary moment from a new perspective, he replied with a richly conceived work of political satire. We read it once and laughed. Then we read it again and again—each time finding another way of understanding the story.
Occupy Philosopher, Simon Critchley, is the celebrated author of numerous books including the classic of anarchism, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. He is a Professor of Philosophy at The New School and the Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien (EGS) in Switzerland. Critchley’s contribution to Occupy’s Reboot is a meditation on dynamic social change and we are honored to share it with you today.” - Micah White
An evening, sometime in the near future…
26 Kadashevskaya nab. 115035 Moscow
January 1st, 2019
I guess we could all have seen it coming a few years back. Things really started to get worse around the end of 2013 and then dragged on into the long, cold winter months. That whole business with that guy, what was his name? Mountain in Wales. Snowden. That’s it. He went underground for a while and then emerged as the CEO of Bozhe Moi! (My God!): the amazing Russian search engine that overtook Google early in 2017. Totally wiped them out. I find it reassuringly old world and Le Carré-like to have the FSB watching all of us rather than the NSA.
Shortly after the President’s death, events moved fast. Well, suspicions were raised when they declared it accidental. Everyone knew it was suicide. He lost face (and faith) after that awful video circulated. You all know the one I mean. That was just after the attempted toppling of 1 WTC. Why did they build that thing? It looked like a huge robot schlong. It was lucky that only a couple of hundred people died in the rogue drone strike, but the building’s been empty - cursed - since then, apart from a shelter for the homeless on the ground floors. The city began to go bankrupt after whatshisname, De Blasio, was unable to raise taxes to pay for all the damage from the great storm of summer 2016. That was when the BBB movement (“Bring Back Bloomberg”) really got momentum. It turned out that people missed his bad Spanish at those press conferences. He’s been in power for a year now, even bringing back everyone’s pal, Ray Kelly. It’s just like old times.
Biden governed heroically, if ineffectively, until they called an early election due to the state of emergency. But he was never going to beat Chris Christie, particularly after Hillary had to pull out of the primaries because of that scandal with Anthony Weiner’s ex-wife. God that guy really embraced new technology. I think he’s still serving time. Chris Christie was a surprisingly popular president. It was like being governed by Tony Soprano. People love a benevolent despot. But I guess we weren’t surprised when the heart attack happened. He was inspecting the Acela line to Boston after it had been destroyed by floodwaters.
President Rubio has been in power for over a year now. He looks the very picture of health, glowing like the self-satisfied Miami sun when he speaks. Obamacare has been fully repealed, the rather minimal tax increases on the rich have been reversed, the federal budget has been slashed (his “War on Debt” campaign), and Rubio plans to implement the NRA’s proposal to arm all schoolkids. That’s equality. Everyone gets a gun. People seem to feel safer that way. Or they just stopped caring after that horrific school shooting in Greenport: the sixth one last year. I mean, who’s counting, right?
The truth is that national politics no longer seems to matter. Neither does the state. Cosmos is the new 1% international political force, set up by Jamie Dimon and other senior business figures from across the world. Its radical plan is to abandon all states and national borders and establish an independent league of mega-cities (initially New York, Shanghai, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, but many others want to join) with its own police force and border agents. They’ve already begun to issue passports. It comes free when you sign up for their premium credit card. I have one here in my wallet. It has their catchy motto engraved on the titanium: “The world is ours. Make it yours”. They were initially called “The League of Rootless Cosmopolitans”. But they shortened their name: like the magazine, like the drink. The only political imperative was how to preserve the patina of liberalism while maintaining existing levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, this is not that hard. It turns out that this is what we had anyway. A large proportion of the funding base for the Democratic Party has evaporated. Bozhe Moi! is also a big funder of the Cosmos party. Secession from their various states is expected to begin this year.
After the whole Google glasses debacle and the copycat suicides where people filmed their own deaths while wearing them, huge amounts of money were spent on lawsuits and the program was abandoned. Capital was poured into the development of what was called “inner space research.” There were various plans to insert probes under the skin at the wrist in order to internalize search functions with fingertip control. They also tried to develop an ultra-gossamer type mask where computer and skin surface would meet and merge. They called it “2 Skin”. It also failed. As did the plan to insert implants in the retina. The stroke of genius at Bozhe Moi! was realizing that the search engine and the whole apparatus could be run from a customized pair of headphones. People really like headphones. It turns out that there is still a huge difference between what you are prepared to stick in your eyes and your ears. I’m wearing mine right now to talk to you. The translate function means that everyone can speak any language they wish, which is what I do here in Moscow. Rosetta Stone is already a distant memory.
Of course, we knew that the rise of Bozhe Moi! was a soft authoritarian takeover. Old-fashioned leftists would proclaim that the promised means of our emancipation (the internet circa 1996. Remember that?) had merely shackled us more tightly in virtual servitude. Boring! I mean we read Foucault too when it still mattered. But the truth was that people didn’t really care about their privacy. Not really. Not even the Germans.
Wars came and went in the Middle East, huge populations were displaced and innocent civilians were killed. Business as usual. The pieces moved slightly on the global chessboard and then moved again. We stopped caring, particularly after the big broadcast networks began to fold – CNN was first. We knew less and less about world, particularly after all those attacks on BBC journalists. But life was just fine here. There is still no two-state or one-state solution in Israel and settlements are still being built. After the attacks on Iran following their nuclear tests, the Ayatollahs even took out a new fatwa on Salman Rushdie and one on Bono too, after he was involved in that hit musical about the Iranian Revolution. But I think they both still go to parties.
I guess the weirdest changes have been around sex. The omnipresence of the highest quality 3D pornography, combined with “sensorium” patches that went on sale in 2015, effectively killed it off. Together with the first cases of a fatal testicular cancer caused by a variant of the HPV virus that was said to be in 90% of the sexually active young male population. That got their attention.
This led to two trends. A sudden vogue, that summer, for reckless, public sex: in buses, parks, sidewalks, subways, everywhere. It became a kind of display of political indifference or even resistance among the poor, but it was picked up and imitated by a lot of college kids. They call themselves the “League of Lovers” or LOL as way of mocking the Cosmos. There continue to be many arrests and an African-American couple was shot last weekend for refusing to stop making love in Prospect Park. Not so much “Stop and Frisk” as “Stopping Friskiness.”
The other trend – less numerous, but much more influential - was the Cenobite movement, where people would pay significant amounts of money to live together but in such a way that they could remain apart and not constitute any kind of threat to each other. The first one was founded outside Warren, Vermont a few years back. But they have spread all across Vermont, New Hampshire and Upstate New York. After electing to withdraw from the world – what they call anachoreisis – each Cenobite is given an “anchorhold” where they can stay safe and warm with their devices and sleep. Any participation in public events is optional, but with the right use of a wonderful new anxiety medication called Atarax, cenobites are able to be together socially and even main eye contact without looking at their devices for up to two minutes. For fear of contagion, celibacy is the rule in all cenobite groups. This did not extend to masturbation, of course. That would have taken things too far.
People incapable of even this degree of social activity or who could not bear to be disconnected from their devices began to gather outside the Cenobite communities in more extreme group. They began to be called “Hamlet camps” or the “Inkies” after their customized black clothing, that was something between sports clothing and a Benedictine habit. The sign up fee is prohibitively high in order to pay for the private police force and guarantee exclusivity. But I hear that some of the “Inkies” are beginning to produce some really high-level electronic music.
New York City began to feel too much like Alexandria in the late fourth century and I decided to get out when the right job offer came through. I’ve been living in this hotel in Moscow for the last 6 months working for a contemporary art space funded by one of oligarchs behind the Cosmos. It’s alright. The Russians make a generic version of Atarax and I have a bodyguard and a driver. But I stay in the hotel most of the time as it’s too dangerous to go out. Oh, happy new year.
Posted 6 years ago on July 16, 2014, 5:01 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
A message from the good people at @CascadiaNow!
Summer is in mid-stride, and that means it's almost time for our first ever Cascadia rainingman festival. So what exactly is Rainingman? is it a burning man ripoff... or Cascadia cult event.... or.....
Well, the answer is kind of a mix of all three. More than anything, we want to create a space for anyone in to the idea of Cascadia to come together for a fun weekend of camping, music, art and organizing, and have a great time.
During the day we'll have presentations, panels, discussions, workshops, skillshares from individuals, groups and organizations from around the Cascadia bioregion, and in the night, we party.
Saturday: We will focus on Cascadia as it exists now, with presentations and discussions focused around groups active right now, and issues facing our region.
Sunday: will focus on Cascadia tomorrow! and be focused around organizing and planning for the future.
Located near Concrete, WA, the event will be held an a 100+ acre farm/wooded area right off of a tributary of the Skagit.
Directions sent upon registration. Learn more at RainingMan2014.org
Posted 6 years ago on July 16, 2014, 12:54 p.m. EST by Andy-Merrifield
“This is the inaugural article in a Theory Thursday series commissioned by the Occupy Solidarity Network to encourage intellectual curiosity, strategic thinking and tactical innovation within the global Occupy movement. To catalyze an Occupy reboot, we asked the greatest political philosophers of our movement to contribute a thought-piece. We will post one each week.
We begin with Andy Merrifield—a prolific political philosopher—because his work is woefully under-read in North America. And yet, he is one of the greats. For an introduction to Merrifield’s work, find yourself a copy of both The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World and Magical Marxism: Subversive Politics and the Imagination.” - Micah White
Anybody who glances at the latest literature on cities and urban development will see a lot of hype about “global cities” as engines of economic growth. Yet you’ve really got to wonder what cities these commentators have in mind? You’ve really got to wonder if big cities nowadays are actually about the “wealth of nations” (as Jane Jacobs proclaimed in the 1980s) or express some “triumph of the city” (Ed Glaeser’s patent). On the contrary, today's big cities have economies almost exclusively predicated on activities we could justifiably categorize as “parasitic.”
World cities are giant arenas where the most prominent activity is the activity of extorting land rent, of making land pay. London, like New York, like other megacities, is now rich pickings for the world’s super-elite. Its property market is a newer, safer investment haven (at least for the time being), a stock market in exile, a global reserve currency with bonanza rates of annualized return (currently around 10%), generating an inflationary spiral that squeezes other, more modest sectors of the housing and rental market.
The only thing that is truly entrepreneurial and creative about parasitic elites is the innovative way in which they’ve reclaimed the public sector, how they’ve used and abused the public sector to prime the private pump, to subsidize the accumulation of capital rather than the reproduction of people. “Creation” here seems more akin to creative accountancy and creative ways to avoid paying tax; creative devices to gouge make-believe fees from ordinary citizens (especially in utility bills); creative finagling of stock and financial markets (like LIBOR); creative destruction of competition to garner inflated monopoly rents and merchant profits; creative excuses to cadge money from the state. The list goes on, creatively. And when they parachute into cities, these “creative” parasitic classes have little use of public infrastructure anyway; their lives are so utterly privatized, geared only towards individual, market-oriented goods, that they bid up land values and property prices and hasten the abandonment of the public realm in the creative bargain.
“These are fiery, start-up movements and ideas that we, the people, can further fuel and develop.” - Andy Merrifield
When things go belly up, furthermore, as they inevitably do, when there are glitches within the overall economy, the state inevitably plays its ace card as a first line of defense, as a veritable executive committee managing the common affairs of a bourgeois and aristocratic super-elite, stepping in at the first signs of crisis—bailing out the bankrupted corporations, the debt-ridden, too-big-to-fail financial institutions, dishing out corporate welfare to multinationals, turning a blind-eye on tax avoidance and sleazy accountancy.
One string in the state’s bow is austerity governance. Austerity is manufactured consent, ruling class ideology, neatly fitting into the material needs of the 1%. Austerity enables parasitic predilections to flourish by opening up hitherto closed market niches: it lets primitive accumulation continue apace, condoning the flogging off of public sector assets and infrastructure, the fire-sales and free giveaways, the privatizations, etc., etc., all done in the name of cost control, of supposedly trimming bloated public budgets. What were once untouchable and non-negotiable collective use-values (public services) are now fair game for re-commodification, for snapping up cheaply by the predators only to resell at colossally dearer prices to those who can afford them.
Austerity conditions the global urbanization boom by nourishing the parasitic city. In parasitic cities, social wealth is consumed through conspicuously wasteful enterprises, administered by parasitic urban elites, who, acting like rentier aristocrats from the Gilded Age, now squander generative capacity by thriving off unproductive activities. They prosper from rents and interest-bearing assets, from shareholder dividends and fictitious fees. Paradoxically, they’ve amassed colossal wealth when corporate profits have dipped, defying economic gravity because rentiers have helped themselves to the commonwealth the world over. They’ve eaten away inside our social body, stripped peoples’ assets, made predatory loans to people who can’t afford these loans, repossessed homes, engineered land grabs and eminent domain to dispossess value rather than contribute anything toward its creation. They’ve simply invested in themselves rather than built up human capital, privatizing profit all the while as they socialize risk.
How can ordinary people develop civic immunity? One initial measure is to stop the billions of pounds and dollars draining from public finances because of corporate tax avoidance. Governments insist on belt-tightening policies, running down public service provision at the same time as they turn a blind eye on tax dodging companies and super-rich individuals, who’ve carved themselves up and re-registering head offices in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Monaco or Luxembourg, etc., etc. Already a groundswell of opposition has developed. Grassroots organizations in Britain like “UK Uncut” has adopted rambunctious and brilliantly innovative direct action occupations, creating scandals around tax-avoiding parasites like Vodafone (with its handy 0% income tax rate for 2012) and assorted banks like HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclay’s and other Dodge City financial institutions.
Maybe there’s a sense in which tax reform and stamping down on bigwig tax avoidance can be revolutionary? Paris-based economist Thomas Piketty has lately been campaigning for a “fiscal revolution” [“révolution fiscale”]. While Piketty has stirred up debate in France, his manifesto has broader, European and global implications, given systems of taxation everywhere cannot be reformed: they need a complete overhaul, a thorough reconstitution on a new democratic basis, with a dual prong of equity and progressive taxation. Equity here boils down to applying the same fiscal logic to capital as to work, rallying around the development of a Financial Transactions Tax(FTT). In Britain and Europe, ordinary small-businesses and self-employed people are compelled to pay 20% Valued Added Tax (VAT) on profitable earnings, so why should we let financial institutions off the hook, particularly when they balk at even a miserly 0.01% penalty?
We might also bring the other aspect of that famous capitalist holy trinity—land—into the taxable bargain. Long ago in Poverty and Progress (1879), Henry George proposed a novel idea that we might want to explore today. In order to “satisfy the law of justice,” George said, a rent tax seems the only alternative preventing parasitic anti-social wealth appropriation. George, accordingly, declared that all land accruing inflated dividends for private investors should be subject to taxation. “I do not propose either to purchase or to confiscate private property in land,” George wrote. “Let individuals who now hold it still retain, if they want to, possession of what they are pleased to call their land. Let them continue to call it their land. Let them buy and sell it, and bequeath and devise it. We may safely leave them the shell, if we take the kernel. It is not necessary to confiscate land; it is only necessary to confiscate rent.”
Thus that preeminent parasitic organism, the leech of landed property—“the monstrous power wielded by landed property,” Marx called it, “expelling people from the earth as a dwelling-place”—can be expunged, or at least democratized by a Community Land Trust that collects this rent tax, instigating another notion of the public realm, one not owned and managed by any centralized state but owned and run by a collectivization of people, federated, communal and truly responsive to citizens’ needs.
Likely the greatest fiscal reform and strongest prophylactic against parasitic urban invasion, though, is democracy, a strengthening of participatory democracy in the face of too much representative democracy, especially when representation means public servants intent on defending private gain. On this note, French philosopher Etienne Balibar has reversed the famous American Revolution mantra and Washington D.C. bumper sticker slogan—“no taxation without representation”—suggesting these days that “no representation without taxation” is more appropriate. Balibar concurs with Piketty, and even thinks that widespread political mobilization for such a “fiscal revolution” could be a key for converting the current “passive citizenship” of the populace into an “active citizenship.”
Active citizens need to engineer some planned shrinkage of the financial sector, and must wage war on monetary blood sucking in the same vein as ruling classes waged war on public services during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, then-New York City Housing Commissioner Roger Starr said the city, any city, needed separating into neighborhoods that were “productive” and “unproductive” on the tax base. The plan was to eliminate the unproductive ones, closing down the fire stations, police and sanitation services. Poor areas like the South Bronx suffered immeasurably. Ironically, the idea retains some purchase. Shrinking services that are unproductive drags on our tax base might boil down to financial services; and neighborhoods like London’s Mayfair, home of hedge funds and private equity companies, discreet behind iron-railed Victorian mews, spotlessly painted white, might be the first to be reclaimed. Indeed, as Nicholas Shaxson says, “Mayfair would be far more economically productive if it were turned into a giant waste-disposal center.”
Meanwhile, citizens can strike out at our “Creditocracy” (Andrew Ross’s label), and participate in a debtors’ movement, like Rolling Jubilee, Occupy Wall Street’s roving Strike Debt group, which hasn’t only waged war on the debt collector (college tuition debt alone stands at $1 trillion), but has likewise bailed out the people, organizing a committee to buy back $15 millions worth of household debt, at knockdown prices, on the secondary debt market. Rolling Jubilee has liberated debt at the same time as highlighted the grand larceny and absurdity of the growing debt racket.
These are fiery, start-up movements and ideas that we, the people, can further fuel and develop. We’ve sat back way too long watching our cities and society get repossessed by crooked investors and creditors, gaped helplessly as all this gets endorsed by career politicians and their administrators (or is that the other way around?) who no longer even pretend to want to change anything significant.
Andy Merrifield is a radical political philosopher. Merrifield has written several books including a biography of Situationist philosopher Guy Debord. His latest work is The New Urban Question forthcoming from London’s Pluto Press (March, 2014)