Interregnum by Zygmunt Bauman

from 44 Letters From the Liquid Modern World

Sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s Antonio Gramsci recorded in one of the many notebooks he filled during his long incarceration in the prison in Turi di Bari: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’[1]

The term ‘interregnum’ was originally used to denote a time gap separating the death of one royal sovereign from the enthronement of a successor, those intervals being the main occasions on which past generations experienced (and customarily expected) a rupture in the otherwise dull, monotonous continuity of government, law and social order. Ancient Roman law put an official stamp on this understanding of the term (and its referent) by accompanying interregnum with the proclamation of justitium, that is (as Giorgio Agamben reminded us in his 2003 study Lo stato di eccezione) a transition period during which the laws that were binding under the deceased emperor are suspended (admittedly temporarily), presumably in anticipation that new and different laws would be proclaimed by the new sovereign. Gramsci infused the concept of ‘interregnum’ with a new meaning, however, embracing a wider section of the socio-political-legal order while simultaneously reaching deeper into the socio-cultural realities underlying it. Or rather (taking a leaf from Lenin’s memorable definition of a ‘revolutionary situation’ as a condition in which the rulers no longer can rule in their old ways, while the ruled no longer wish to be so ruled), Gramsci detached the idea of ‘interregnum’ from its time-hallowed association with an interlude in a routine transmission of hereditary or elected power. He attached it instead to extraordinary situations: to times when the extant legal frame of social order loses its grip and can no longer keep burgeoning social life on track, and a new frame, made to the measure of the newly emerged conditions responsible for making the old frame useless, is still at the design stage, has not yet been fully assembled, or has not been made strong enough to be enforced and settled in place.

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What’s being faked to be going on in Venezuela in a nutshell

Please stop sharing that manipulative “What’s going on in Venezuela in a nutshell” Youtube video, that seems to have been going viral the last couple of days. A lot of it that is being said in the video is false, misdirected, exaggerated and overdramatized. Combined with photos that are for a part not even related to these opposition protests, it is an utterly misleading take on what is really happening in Venezuela.

Just like in 2012 with the whole Kony campaign, you sharing that video doesn’t make you more involved in making this world a better place, it only makes you look gullible, uninformed and falsely sentimental. Even worse in this case, it makes you complicit in a media campaign orchestrated by (extreme) right-wing political interests funded by the U.S. in an effort to destabilize and ultimately depose of a democratically elected government that is supported by a mass movement trying to better the lot of the majority  of the people.


The right-wing opposition’s protests are not about progressive social change, they are about social reaction trying to halt one of the most progressive social processes going on in the world right now. There is nothing progressive about truth distortion and what it is used for here even less so.

Here a proper dissection of how reality is being manipulated through social and mass media (via drdawgsblawg and venezuelasolidarity):

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The polarized politics of Venezuela are again in the news as demonstrations by pro- (see above) and anti-government forces are taking place, with, at this point, four deaths: a government supporter; an opposition demonstrator; a police officer; and one of uncertain provenance. But the foreign press is portraying these as evidence of bloody government repression.

Not to go over old ground, at least too much, but this manufactured crisis is a re-run. Anyone remember the massive demo/counter-demo at the Miraflores palace in 2002, the lead-up to a short-lived coup against Hugo Chávez?

That was all blamed on Chávez at the time, by the opposition and by much of the international press. Supposedly he ordered the military, and unidentified pro-Chávez thugs, to fire into the crowds of opposition demonstrators. As with the current unrest, it seems that the government side had remarkably poor aim.

The architects of these demonstrations are the leader of the party Voluntad popular (Popular Will), Leopoldo López, known in Venezuela for his links to the violence of the Venezuelan right, every time it does not achieve it’s objectives through elections. This time he blamed the government for the violence, even against all the evidence of small groups from the opposition causing chaos in Venezuela, through the obstruction of the streets, the damage to public buildings and killing people.

Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado and Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma are also part of the most visible face of recent events in Venezuela. They are currently trying to set fire to the country through a destabilization operation that they’ve called “La salida” (the exit), which seeks not to leave the streets until they achieve the fall of the government legitimately constituted of Nicolas Maduro, as expressed in their public statements.

There is no flabby pretense of “objectivity” on the part of the international media when it comes to Venezuela. That country poses a stark threat to the hegemonic order, characterized these days by tame Latin American states, emerging from US-backed military dictatorships, now gamely accepting neoliberal economic policies like good little boys and girls. Having enough oil wealth to say No to all that, Venezuela created its own counter-hegemonic partnership, ALBA-TCP. And domestically, while all we hear about is toilet-paper shortages and inflation, there has been substantial progress on a number of fronts for years now—a sharp reduction of dire poverty, major advances in education, reduced child mortality, and rapid steps taken towards gender equality, maternal health, and environmental protection.

You won’t read much about that in the mainstream foreign media.

Instead, we’ll hear about opposition grievances of all kinds, and we’ll get photographs, too, circulated on Twitter and sometimes picked up by big news outlets like CNN.

Here are some brutal cops, with nice woolly caps and fur collars to guard against the 24°C Caracas weather, I assume:

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And visiting police officers from Bulgaria:

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Here a picture of a pro-Chavez demonstrator, taken last year, and now turned into a member of the opposition still wearing the same bandages:

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Here’s a re-purposed photo actually taken in Argentina:

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And here’s a photo from Chile:

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Here another Chilean student protester that got lost in Venezuela:

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Here a Brazilian protester that came all the way to Venezuela to confront the police:

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Here’s an unfortunate fellow, shot in April and then again in the exact-same way during the current protests:

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Here is the famous riot dog Loukanikos from Greece being kicked in Venezuela this time:image

And here’s an absolutely shameless steal from Egypt. A photo that became known world-wide during the Arab Spring:

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Here’s a heart-wrenching picture of babies in laundry-baskets, with the question: “What kind of revolution is this?” The photo is from Honduras:

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Here’s my personal fave: a religious procession, reincarnated as an anti-government protest:

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Denouncing “repression” using a picture of a jail mutiny last year:

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Here is a delinquent that was killed in 2012 that was transformed into a student protester in 2014:

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And to top it off, here a picture from a porn flick that turned into a picture of an abused opposition protester:

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The social media that make this stuff go viral, and even attract mainstream media like CNN, are also the means by which fakers are quickly unmasked. Readers are invited to contribute more links to this international cavalcade of anti-government protest and government brutality in the make-believe land called “Venezuela.”

Immediate Riot, Historical Riot, Event and Truth by Alain Badiou

These are excerpts from Alain Badiou’s “The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings" that help conceptualize the transition from an immediate riot to a historical riot, as steps from riot to revolution.

Today, there are riots throughout the world, from workers ’ and peasants ’ riots in China to youth riots in England, from the astonishing tenacity of crowds under gunfire in Syria to the massive protests in Iran, from Palestinians demanding the unity of Fatah and Hamas to Chicano sans-papiers in the United States .There are all sorts of riots , often very violent, but sometimes barely hinted at, mobilizing either specific social groups or whole populations. They are prompted by governments ’ and/ or employers ’ decisions , electoral controversies , the activities of the police or an occupying army, even by simple episodes in people’s existence . They immediately take a militant turn or develop in the shadow of a more official protest. They are blindly progressive or blindly reactionary (not every riot is up for grabs … ) . What they all have in common is that they stir up masses of people on the theme that things as they are must be regarded as unacceptable.

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Surrendered to Love: bell hooks on Martin Luther King, jr.

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bell hooks explains how Martin Luther King’s vision of life based on a love ethic could heal our world.

Martin Luther King’s divine calling was to preach. He preached with an artistry, a divinely inspired creativity, that was wondrous to behold. He could call masses of people to hear the word of god; the holy, holy, holy spirit emanating from him was awesome.

King was a prophetic witness. Able to convert listeners, he not only made it possible for them to hear sacred teachings, he invited them to open their hearts and be transformed. One of King’s favorite scriptures, taken from the Book of Romans, admonished believers, telling them: “Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may know what the will of God is.” Prophet, preacher, man of god, seeker on the path of righteousness and right action, King meditated often on this scripture because he sought direct connection with the divine. He knew he was constantly in need of divine guidance. Willing to reflect critically, grow and change, he wanted only to do god’s will.

King was not an original thinker. Passionate about ideas, he was awed by the insights of original thinkers—especially the works of intellectual and/or visionary men of genius. Open-minded, willing to study and learn, King’s personal magic resided in his ability to take complex ideas and break them down bit by bit, placing them in a vernacular form that rendered them accessible to the widest possible audience. Two of the men who most influenced his thinking were Mahatma Gandhi and Erich Fromm.

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Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde ]

In 1984, James Baldwin and Audre Lorde sat down for a conversation that was published in Essence magazine. Their dialogue was situated at the historically critical and intellectually vibrant transitional moment between “second-” and “third-wave”  feminism, a transition led in part by lesbians of color. This major segue in feminist thought announced a new political task that was couched in a critique of white patriarchal privilege and its mimicking by white feminists, who during the 1970s had theorized middle-class liberation for themselves, often at the expense of women of color’s lived experiences. At the same time black feminists who  were instrumental for this transitional moment also challenged the heteromasculinist assumptions underlining the Black Power and Black Arts movements. At the forefront of this shift in feminist discourse were the writings by lesbians of color such as Lorde and, later, Angela Davis,  as well as Chicanas such as Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua.

In this historical context, the discussion between Lorde and Baldwin is revealing insofar as it brought to the table the misogyny and the representational disregard that black women experienced in relation to the black cultural and political movements. The Lorde/Baldwin conversation highlights the ideological shortcoming on queer black men’s part when black women’s issues and identity are discussed. But the conversation also begs that we redirect our reading of the text to parse the historically different aesthetic concepts to which queer black men and women turned.

Baldwin was looking for a literary language that would allow us to see the limiting nature of our current myths, legends, and discursive coercions— a literature of what Louis Althusser calls “internal distantiation” that can employ language such that the reader becomes able to “perceive” the limits of her ideological frameworks “from the inside” despite her reliance on them to make sense of the world. At the same time, Baldwin acknowledges that recognizing our social ideologies as myths and coercions risks not only losing the safety that society provides but also hurtling us into a psychic void, a void of an unknown self.

The two authors present differing gender-inflected perspectives on relations between black men and women, the need for constructing new models of black masculinity, and ways to effect radical social change. The one point on which they unconditionally agree is that the kind of social change necessary for black men and women in America can only come from turning to “look at” and “deal with” the “horror of … our different nightmares.” They agree that they must “look at [this horror] directly without embracing it.”

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James Baldwin: One of the dangers of being a Black American is being schizophrenic, and I mean ‘schizophrenic’ in the most literal sense. To be a Black American is in some ways to be born with the desire to be white. It’s a part of the price you pay for being born here, and it affects every Black person. We can go back to Vietnam, we can go back to Korea. We can go back for that matter to the First World War. We can go back to W.E.B. Du Bois – an honorable and beautiful man – who campaigned to persuade Black people to fight in the First World War, saying that if we fight in this war to save this country, our right to citizenship can never, never again be questioned – and who can blame him? He really meant it, and if I’d been there at that moment I would have said so too perhaps. Du Bois believed in the American dream. So did Martin. So did Malcolm. So do I. So do you. That’s why we’re sitting here.

Audre Lorde: I don’t, honey. I’m sorry, I just can’t let that go past. Deep, deep, deep down I know that dream was never mine. And I wept and I cried and I fought and I stormed, but I just knew it. I was Black. I was female. And I was out – out – by any construct wherever the power lay. So if I had to claw myself insane, if I lived I was going to have to do it alone. Nobody was dreaming about me. Nobody was even studying me except as something to wipe out.

James Baldwin: You are saying you do not exist in the American dream except as a nightmare.

Audre Lorde: That’s right. And I knew it every time I opened Jet, too. I knew that every time I opened a Kotex box. I knew that every time I went to school. I knew that every time I opened a prayer book. I knew it, I just knew it.

James Baldwin: It is difficult to be born in a place where you are despised and also promised that with endeavor – with this, with that, you know – you can accomplish the impossible. You’re trying to deal with the man, the woman, the child – the child of whichever sex – and he or she and your man or your woman has got to deal with the 24-hour-a-day facts of life in this country. We’re not going to fly off someplace else, you know, we’d better get through whatever that day is and still have each other and still raise children – somehow manage all of that. And this is 24 hours of every day, and you’re surrounded by all of the paraphernalia of safety: If you can strike this bargain here. If you can make sure your armpits are odorless. Curl your hair. Be impeccable. Be all the things that the American public says you should do, right? And you do all those things – and nothing happens really. And what is much worse than that, nothing happens to your child either.

Audre Lorde: Even worse than the nightmare is the blank. And Black women are the blank. I don’t want to break all this down, then have to stop at the wall of male/female division. When we admit and deal with difference; when we deal with the deep bitterness; when we deal with the horror of even our different nightmares; when we turn them and look at them, it’s like looking at death: hard but possible. If you look at it directly without embracing it, then there is much less that you can ever be made to fear.

James Baldwin: I agree.

Audre Lorde: Well, in the same way when we look at our differences and not allow ourselves to be divided, when we own them and are not divided by them, that is when we will be able to move on. But we haven’t reached square one yet.

James Baldwin: I’m not sure of that. I think the Black sense of male and female is much more sophisticated than the western idea. I think that Black men and women are much less easily thrown by the question of gender or sexual preference – all that jazz. At least that is true of my experience.

Audre Lorde: Yea, but let’s remove ourselves from merely a reactive position – i.e., Black men and women reacting to what’s out there. While we are reacting to what’s out there, we’re also dealing between ourselves – and between ourselves there are power differences that come down…

James Baldwin: Oh, yes…

Audre Lorde: Truly dealing with how we live, recognizing each other’s differences, is something that hasn’t happened…

James Baldwin: Differences and samenesses.

Audre Lorde: Differences and samenesses. But in a crunch, when all our asses are in the sling, it looks like it is easier to deal with the samenesses. When we deal with sameness only, we develop weapons that we use against each other when the differences become apparent. And we wipe each other out – Black men and women can wipe each other out – far more effectively than outsiders do.

James Baldwin: That’s true enough.

Audre Lorde: And our blood is high, our furies are up. I mean, it’s what Black women do to each other, Black men do to each other, and Black people do to each other. We are in the business of wiping each other out in one way or the other – and essentially doing our enemy’s work.

James Baldwin: That’s quite true.

Audre Lorde: We need to acknowledge those power differences between us and see where they lead us. An enormous amount of energy is being taken up with either denying the power differences between Black men and women or fighting over power differences between Black men and women or killing each other off behind them. I’m talking about Black women’s blood flowing in the streets – and how do we get a 14-year-old boy to know I am not the legitimate target of his fury? The boot is on both of our necks. Let’s talk about getting it off. My blood will not wash out your horror. That’s what I’m interested in getting across to adolescent Black boys. There are little Black girl children having babies. But this is not an immaculate conception, so we’ve got little Black boys who are making babies, too. We have little Black children making little Black children. I want to deal with that so our kids will not have to repeat that waste of themselves.

James Baldwin: I hear you – but let me backtrack, for better or worse. You know, for whatever reason and whether it’s wrong or right, for generations men have come into the world, either instinctively knowing or believing or being taught that since they were men they in one way or another had to be responsible for the women and children, which means the universe.

Audre Lorde: Mm-hm.

James Baldwin: I don’t think there’s any way around that.

Audre Lorde: Any way around that now?

James Baldwin: I don’t think there’s any way around that fact.

Audre Lorde: If we can put people on the moon and we can blow this whole planet up, if we can consider digging 18 inches of radioactive dirt off of the Bikini atolls and somehow finding something to do with it – if we can do that, we as Black cultural workers can somehow begin to turn that stuff around – because there’s nobody anymore buying ‘cave politics’ – ‘Kill the mammoth or else the species is extinct.’ We have moved beyond that. Those little scrubby-ass kids in the sixth grade – I want those Black kids to know that brute force is not a legitimate way of dealing across sex difference. I want to set up some different paradigms.

James Baldwin: Yea, but there’s a real difference between the way a man looks at the world…

Audre Lorde: Yes, yes…

James Baldwin: And the way a woman looks at the world. A woman does know much more than a man.

Audre Lorde: And why? For the same reason Black people know what white people are thinking: because we had to do it for our survival…

James Baldwin: All right, all right…

Audre Lorde: We’re finished being bridges. Don’t you see? It’s not Black women who are shedding Black men’s blood on the street – yet. We’re not cleaving your head open with axes. We’re not shooting you down. We’re saying, “Listen, what’s going on between us is related to what’s going on between us and other people,” but we have to solve our own shit at the same time as we’re protecting our Black asses, because if we don’t, we are wasting energy that we need for joint survival.

James Baldwin: I’m not even disagreeing – but if you put the argument in that way, you see, a man has a certain story to tell, too, just because he is a man…

Audre Lorde: Yes, yes, and it’s vital that I be alive and able to listen to it.

James Baldwin: Yes. Because we are the only hope we have. A family quarrel is one thing; a public quarrel is another. And you and I, you know – in the kitchen, with the kids, with each other or in bed – we have a lot to deal with, with each other, but we’ve got to know what we’re dealing with. And there is no way around it. There is no way around it. I’m a man. I am not a woman.

Audre Lorde: That’s right, that’s right.

James Baldwin: No one will turn me into a woman. You’re a woman and you’re not a man. No one will turn you into a man. And we are indispensable for each other, and the children depend on us both.

Audre Lorde: It’s vital for me to be able to listen to you, to hear what is it that defines you and for you to listen to me, to hear what is it that defines me – because so long as we are operating in that old pattern, it doesn’t serve anybody, and it certainly hasn’t served us.

James Baldwin: I know that. What I really think is that neither of us has anything to prove, at least not in the same way, if we weren’t in the North American wilderness. And the inevitable dissension between brother and sister, between man and woman – let’s face it, all those relations which are rooted in love also are involved in this quarrel. Because our real responsibility is to endlessly redefine each other. I cannot live without you, and you cannot live without me – and the children can’t live without us.

Audre Lorde: But we have to define ourselves for each other. We have to redefine ourselves for each other because no matter what the underpinnings of the distortion are, the fact remains that we have absorbed it. We have all absorbed this sickness and ideas in the same way we absorbed racism. It’s vital that we deal constantly with racism, and with white racism among Black people – that we recognize this as a legitimate area of inquiry. We must also examine the ways that we have absorbed sexism and heterosexism. These are the norms in this dragon we have been born into – and we need to examine these distortions with the same kind of openness and dedication that we examine racism…

James Baldwin: You use the word ‘racism’…

Audre Lorde: The hatred of Black, or color…

James Baldwin: - but beneath the word ‘racism’ sleeps the word ‘safety.’ Why is it important to be white or Black?

Audre Lorde: Why is it important to be a man rather than a woman?

James Baldwin: In both cases, it is assumed that it is safer to be white than to be Black. And it’s assumed that it is safer to be a man than to be a woman. These are both masculine assumptions. But those are the assumptions that we’re trying to overcome or to confront…

Audre Lorde: To confront, yeah. The vulnerability that lies behind those masculine assumptions is different for me and you, and we must begin to look at that…

James Baldwin: Yes, yes…

Audre Lorde: And the fury that is engendered in the denial of that vulnerability – we have to break through it because there are children growing up believe that it is legitimate to shed female blood, right? I have to break through it because those boys really think that the sign of their masculinity is impregnating a sixth grader. I have to break through it because of that little sixth-grade girl who believes that the only thing in life she has is what lies between her legs…

James Baldwin: Yeah, but we’re not talking now about men and women. We’re talking about a particular society. We’re talking about a particular time and place. You were talking about the shedding of Black blood in the streets, but I don’t understand –

Audre Lorde: Okay, the cops are killing the men and the men are killing the women. I’m talking about rape. I’m talking about murder.

James Baldwin: I’m not disagreeing with you, but I do think you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m not trying to get the Black man off the hook – or Black women, for that matter – but I am talking about the kingdom in which we live.

Audre Lorde: Yes, I absolutely agree; the kingdom in which these distortions occur has to be changed.

James Baldwin: Something happens to the man who beats up a lady. Something happens to the man who beats up his grandmother. Something happens to the junkie. I know that very well. I walked the streets of Harlem; I grew up there, right? Now you know it is not the Black cat’s fault who sees me and tries to mug me. I got to know that. It’s his responsibility but it’s not his fault. That’s a nuance. UI got to know that it’s not him who is my enemy even when he beats up his grandmother. His grandmother has got to know. I’m trying to say one’s got to see what drove both of us into those streets. We be both from the same track. Do you see what I mean? I’ve come home myself, you know, wanting to beat up anything in sight- but Audre, Audre…

Audre Lorde: I’m here, I’m here…

James Baldwin: I agree with you. I see exactly what you mean and it hurts me at least as much as it hurts you. But how to maneuver oneself past this point – how not to lose him or her who may be in what is in effect occupied territory. That is really what the Black situation is in this country. For the ghetto, all that is lacking is barbed wire, and when you pen people up like animals, the intention is to debase them and you have debased them.

Audre Lorde: Jimmy, we don’t have an argument

James Baldwin: I know we don’t.

Audre Lorde: But what we do have is a real disagreement about your responsibility not just to me but to my son and to our boys. Your responsibility to him is to get across to him in a way that I never will be able to because he did not come out of my body and has another relationship to me. Your relationship to him as his farther is to tell him I’m not a fit target for his fury.

James Baldwin: Okay, okay…

Audre Lorde: It’s so entrenched in him that it’s part of him as much as his Blackness is.

James Baldwin: All right, all right…

Audre Lorde: I can’t do it. You have to.

James Baldwin: All right, I accept – the challenge is there in any case. It never occurred to me that it would be otherwise. That’s absolutely true. I simply want to locate where the danger is…

Audre Lorde: Yeah, we’re at war…

James Baldwin: We are behind the gates of a kingdom which is determined to destroy us.

Audre Lorde: Yes, exactly so. And I’m interested in seeing that we do not accept terms that will help us destroy each other. And I think one of the ways in which we destroy each other is by being programmed to knee-jerk on our differences. Knee-jerk on sex. Knee-jerk on sexuality…

James Baldwin: I don’t quite know what to do about it, but I agree with you. And I understand exactly what you mean. You’re quite right. We get confused with genders – you know, what the western notion of woman is, which is not necessarily what a woman is at all. It’s certainly not the African notion of what a woman is. Or even the European notion of what a woman is. And there’s certainly not standard of masculinity in this country which anybody can respect. Part of the horror of being a Black American is being trapped into being an imitation of an imitation.

Audre Lorde: I can’t tell you what I wished you would be doing. I can’t redefine masculinity. I can’t redefine Black masculinity certainly. I am in the business of redefining Black womanness. You are in the business of redefining Black masculinity. And I’m saying, ‘Hey, please go on doing it,’ because I don’t know how much longer I can hold this fort, and I really feel that Black women are holding it and we’re beginning to hold it in ways that are making this dialogue less possible.

James Baldwin: Really? Why do you say that? I don’t feel that at all. It seems to me you’re blaming the Black man for the trap he’s in.

Audre Lorde: I’m not blaming the Black man; I’m saying don’t shed my blood. I’m not blaming the Black man. I’m saying if my blood is being shed, at some point I’m gonna have a legitimate reason to take up a knife and cut your damn head off, and I’m not trying to do it.

James Baldwin: If you drive a man mad, you’ll turn him into a beast – it has nothing to do with his color.

Audre Lorde: If you drive a woman insane, she will react like a beast too. There is a larger structure, a society with which we are in total and absolute war. We live in the mouth of a dragon, and we must be able to use each other’s forces to fight it together, because we need each other. I am saying that in our joint battle we have also developed some very real weapons, and when we turn them against each other they are even more bloody, because we know each other in a particular way. When we turn those weapons against each other, the bloodshed is terrible. Even worse, we are doing this in a structure where we are already embattled. I am not denying that. It is a family discussion I’m having now. I’m not laying blame. I do not blame Black men for what they are. I’m asking them to move beyond. I do not blame Black men; what I’m saying is, we have to take a new look at the ways in which we fight our joint oppression because if we don’t, we’re gonna be blowing each other up. We have to begin to redefine the terms of what woman is, what man is, how we relate to each other.

James Baldwin: But that demands redefining the terms of the western world…

Audre Lorde: And both of us have to do it; both of us have to do it…

James Baldwin: But you don’t realize that in this republic the only real crime is to be a Black man?

Audre Lorde: No, I don’t realize that. I realize the only crime is to be Black. I realize the only crime is to be Black, and that includes me too.

James Baldwin: A Black man has a prick, they hack it off. A Black man is a ****** when he tries to be a model for his children and he tries to protect his women. That is a principal crime in this republic. And every Black man knows it. And every Black woman pays for it. And every Black child. How can you be so sentimental as to blame the Black man for a situation which has nothing to do with him?

Audre Lorde: You still haven’t come past blame. I’m not interested in blame, I’m interested in changing…

James Baldwin: May I tell you something? May I tell you something? I might be wrong or right.

Audre Lorde: I don’t know – tell me.

James Baldwin: Do you know what happens to a man-?

Audre Lorde: How can I know what happens to a man?

James Baldwin: Do you know what happens to a man when he’s ashamed of himself when he can’t find a job? When his socks stink? When he can’t protect anybody? When he can’t do anything? Do you know what happens to a man when he can’t face his children because he’s ashamed of himself? It’s not like being a woman…

Audre Lorde: No, that’s right. Do you know what happens to a woman who gives birth, who puts that child out there and has to go out and hook to feed it? Do you know what happens to a woman who goes crazy and beats her kids across the room because she’s so full of frustration and anger? Do you know what that is? Do you know what happens to a lesbian who sees her woman and her child beaten on the street while six other guys are holding her? Do you know what that feels like?

James Baldwin: Mm-hm.

Audre Lorde: Well then, in the same way you know how a woman feels, I know how a man feels, because it comes down to human beings being frustrated and distorted because we can’t protect the people we love. So now let’s start –

James Baldwin: All right, okay…

Audre Lorde: - let’s start with that and deal.

On Bullshit Jobs, Dead Universities and How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

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According to data released in October by Gallup,  only 13 percent of employees are “engaged” in their jobs, or emotionally invested in their work and focused on helping their  organizations improve. The data, which are based on nationally representative polling samples in 2011 and 2012 from more than 140 countries,  show that 63 percent are “not engaged”—or simply unmotivated and unlikely to exert extra effort— while the remaining 24 percent are “actively disengaged,” or truly unhappy and unproductive. To put it in more simple terms; out of 10 people, only 1 actually likes what they’re doing,  about 7 to 8 just idly try to get through their menial jobs and 2 to 3 probably fantasize about  either murdering their boss or jumping out of the window.

In December I had a reunion with old friends with whom I studied Economics & Law at the Erasmus University. These were people I hung out with quite a lot in the first years of my undergraduate days, but hadn’t spoken to  for a long time. We very much diverged in a lot of ways qua views on society and we had a lot of  escalating discussions because of it. These were the kind of people who I still had to convince of progressive issues, like that people from lower classes and who have lower IQ’s should be allowed to vote, which was often in vain.  So you could say they were pretty much the most elitist people who you could find here, even on an already very  business oriented university, while I was probably one of the most virulently radical lefties walking around on campus.

Nonetheless, I met up with them, mostly because I still liked them as human beings, but also because I was quite curious  how they all ended up: two of them are tax lawyers now, one an intellectual property rights lawyer, one a consultant  and another is now looking for a job. Most of them were overworked, quite underpaid for the work that they had to do,  and I couldn’t help sense they didn’t really like what they were actually doing. When we got to talking and I asked them  what was the most important thing they learned in college, be it for life in general or their jobs,  they couldn’t come up with something else than the vague answer of “being able to think like an academic”.  When I asked them what was the most important skill a person had to have for being able to do (read: survive) their jobs, they  agreed that what was generally the most important thing to know is: office politics.

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Which was interesting, because I remember being a student representative in the university council and not being able to do anything significant for my fellow students. I organized quite some protests, and even helped  organize an occupation once, partly with the idea of getting more leverage in the meeting rooms of  fake university democracy, and I noticed that the board who managed the university (of which only 1 of them was a  professor, while the other 3 were all shady ex-business people) excelled in exactly 1 thing: office politics.

Isn’t this symbolic for what the whole development of neoliberalism within the field of higher education has led to? What transformed from small elitist institutions at the first half of the 20th century to mass learning ones in the second half, mostly still giving useful skills for the job market, but with the victory of neoliberalism that started in the 1970’s,  are now turning into places that in many cases don’t even train you in any skill that would be worth going to it for, gives you empty  qualifications, a huge load of debt, a chance to work a bullshit job and a more often than  not precarious postgraduate life. While on the other side of this equation the administrators and tenured professors are often getting 6  digit salaries, lending institutions are making huge profits while contributing to the creation of a student debt bubble and neoliberal  governments have created willful subjects pacified  by their debt bondage.

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Universities and Zombie Banks

Queer theorist J. Jack Halberstam made the interesting observation that “banking” isn’t only to be seen  in higher education as an oppressive pedagogical method (as insightfully conceptualized by the grandfather of  critical pedagogy, Paulo Freire), but it has actually become the essence of its modus operandi. And I think  there is a certain truth to this. Universities don’t just operate as edu-factories treating students as  commodities to deliver to corporations, they don’t just sell education as a commodity to students treated as  consumers anymore, they actually operate like a bank and bank on both  knowledge production as well as students’ lives. Just like banks, universities make students go into debt for their service as if the student has become some kind of entrepreneur of the self (see Lazzarato’s The Making of Indebted Man) borrowing and investing in their education as a risky insurance for future payoff. Just like banks, universities invest in their expansion to be able to take in ever more people willing (or forced) to go into debt.  Just like banks, universities are managed by a swelling class of overpaid executives who spend most of their time figuring out how  to rake in more money from people, states and corporations.

 But if the university is dead, as anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber proclaimed after the crackdown of British student protesters last year, and the university has incorporated the dynamics of banking, doesn’t that also mean that with its continued existence and  social prominence we will see a phenomenon that also took place in the financial sector the recent years; that of zombification? Are we witnessing the rise of the zombie university? It does seem like it at first sight if we consider the ever more useless and mind-deadening curricula, the strangulation of critical thinking, the attack on the humanities and the knowledge corpses it leaves behind (puns intended). In an age of Zombie Capitalism it wouldn’t be all that surprising that the logic of dead capital has also invaded and colonized (see Habermas’ colonization thesis)  the formerly sacred sphere of public reason, killing it from the inside and turning it into a brain killing machine itself.

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So how do we survive this neoliberal, zombie onslaught?

 I don’t think all of this means we should just leave the university en masse, as I do think, like education scholar Henry Giroux claims,  that every university is not just an apparatus of reproduction but also still remains a site of struggle. Think of the prison in the  TV-series The Walking Dead, even though it was initially infested with walkers, the tactical cleaning up of these brainless numbnuts  cleared the way for regroupement. And regroupement is what we need in this important war of position, with zombies taking over everywhere.  As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote in prison during the Fascist takeover of Italy, “the academies and other cultural organisations  currently in existence [are] to a large extent cultural cemeteries, though they continue to play a role in the psychology of the ruling class”,  and what counts for Gramsci’s time, probably is even more valid today. But hegemonic arrangements like in the university are never complete  and allow spaces for “swimming against the tide” or, to use Gramsci’s phrase, engaging in “a war of position”.

Essential to regroupement is also that we don’t turn on each other and forget who the enemy is. This doesn’t mean that critique in the form of constructive dialogue should be avoided, but it does mean that we should be aware of this habit, all too common among Lefties today, of  attacking our comrades-in-arms, which in a time of Facebook and Twitter more easily manifests itself than ever before (see the time-wasting and self-defeating phenomenon of trolling). 

We should also be aware that regroupement for critical thinkers doesn’t necessarily have to take place within the traditional confines of the university. Sometimes, because of a takeover of zombies or internal divisions that make an environment inhospitable and too dangerous to stay in,  it’s better to find new havens. I think alternative institutions like the Global Center for Advanced Studies, of which I’m a part of,  can provide such a “place”. A place that brings together activists, artists, critical academics and radical thinkers from all over the world to  create a potential site for transformative learning and the education and cultural formation of adults (which is according to Gramsci a key  towards the transformation of hegemony), and creating another trench from which to fight the war.

Until that revolutionary class of our society that is able to help us overcome the monsters of the market, and restore the world of concrete objectivity, breaks its spell of zombieism, we have to create new permanent spaces from which we can develop new ideas and analyses, keep critical thinking alive and do the prefigurative work of that social transformation. We have to self-organize, create zones of liberation and begin to imagine what a zombie-free society might be like. And as critical thinkers we have to heed Malcolm’s words and do it by “any means necessary” and “be willing to join in with anyone as long as you want to change this miserable condition that  exists on this earth.

The Hidden Persuader by Christopher Turner

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After re-watching Adam Curtis’ documentary The Century of the Self I was spurred on to do some research on the use of Psychoanalysis for the manufacture of consent and the making of consumerism culture and I encountered this concise exposition in Cabinet magazine of the two major and influential proponents who succesfully instrumentalized Freudian psychoanalysis for commercial and right-wing political purposes. I haven’t seen a lot written on them yet in literature dealing with the subject of psychoanalysis and politics, but, considering these figures laid the basis for the modern PR industry, I think the (Freudian and Lacanian) left can draw important lessons from them:

from Cabinet Magazine Issue 44 24 Hours (Winter 2011/12)

In the early 1950s. the United States produced half the world’s goods and possessed two-thirds of its machinery; the resulting prosperity and automation increased standards of living and swelled the middle-class.’ Sociologists such as David Riesman and C. Wright Mills began to worry less about poverty than about the conformist suburban nature of the American dream. and the corrupting and alienating results of affluence. The “new little men,” wrote Mills in White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951), were “cheerful robots” and “political eunuchs,” cogs in a bureaucratic machine that they didn’t feel they were able to change. In The Lonely Crowd (1950), Riesman painted a similar portrait of an apathetic, status-obsessed, socially anxious citizenry dominated by the “marketing mentality.”

Advertisers honed methods to exploit these anxieties and feed the fifties’ orgy of consumption. Since 1940, America’s gross national product had soared more than 400%. and the average citizen had five times as many discretionary dollars to spend on luxuries as in the previous decade. By the late 1950s, to compete for this spending power, corporations directed nearly $12 billion toward advertising (up from $2 billion in 1939) and three-quarters of the largest advertising companies used “depth techniques”: in a crowded marketplace, businesses came to rely on techniques inspired by psychoanalysis to make their products more seductive to the masses, to ignite customers’ desires, and make them buy things that they didn’t really need or even know they wanted.

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The University is Dead by David Graeber ]

via David Graeber

copsoffcampuses:

VIOLENCE AND THE UNIVERSITY

Make no mistake: to threaten someone with a stick is the ultimate anti-intellectual gesture. And if one thing has become clear in recent months, this is the first—really the only—impulse of the current government when faced with challenges to their vision for higher education. Police infiltration, surveillance, elected student leaders banned from political activities on campus, the arrest of students for simple acts of expression like chalking slogans on sidewalks, send a clear and constant message. There can be no reasoned discussion on these issues. There is no longer anything to talk about. Certainly, democracy has absolutely nothing to do with it. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding have been declared nothing but a consumer product, or else a form of technical training to increase overall economic productivity; these are the only way these matters can be discussed; if anyone wishes to gather to object to this, to gather in places of learning to insist that knowledge and understanding are not mere economic goods but something precious and valuable in their own right, they can only do so by permission of those who are telling them otherwise; otherwise, they can expect to be physically attacked.

There was a time—not so very long ago—when the employment of police, let alone riot police, on university grounds was considered shocking and outrageous. This was true even in the face of occupations and other civil disobedience, let alone in the face of simple protest. Even in America, people were shocked when cops were unleashed on Columbia campus in 1968. Until quite recently, there were universities—Athens Polytechnic in Greece was only the most famous—where police were strictly forbidden to enter campus grounds.

It was once assumed that, since knowledge is a value in itself, only those engaged in pursuing it can govern their own affairs, but also, that for the same reason, they have every right to do so. In Athens, it was because Universities have the potential to create environments where the working class, as students, can build a revolutionary challenge to the existing order that drew the army onto that campus to massacre revolting students and which ultimately led to the Junta’s overthrow and a banning of all police and army from universities  - A ban that that has now been predictably enough lifted since mass resistance to capitalism and austerity from places such as Athens Polytechnic began to rise again since 2008. 

Universities are now managed by a swelling class of overpaid executives who spend most of their time figuring out how to weasel more money from corporations. Objections to such arrangements are to be met with truncheons, tasers, and police dogs. It’s no coincidence that marketization has been accompanied by a new ethos where challenge is met with an instant appeal to violence. In the end, despite endless protests to the contrary, our rulers understand that the market is not a natural social arrangement. It has always had to be imposed at the point of a gun.

The university is dead.

The question to ask now is not, how do we bring it back. That’s impossible and quite undesirable. The question is what new forms of genuinely democratic self-organization might rise from its ashes?

To even begin to ask this question we must first of all get rid of the police.

II:

POLICE-FREE ZONES

There is an enormous potential here. On one level what we’re asking isn’t even radical. We have a long tradition of campuses as cop-free zones to appeal to. But the direction it naturally leads could not be more radical, because it leads to the prospect of opening our entire society to the principle of self-organization in every aspect of our lives.  Why couldn’t the expulsion of armed thugs from our campuses be the first phase in a general liberation, the gradual creation of social arrangements that would not have to be enforced by the threat of sticks and guns and prison cells, everywhere?

For most people, it’s a simple common sense that were the police to simply disappear, chaos would ensue. Everyone would just start killing one another. So certain is this belief that many will assert it as self-evident, as if history has shown this is what would happen again and again. In fact, nothing could be further than from the truth. Insofar as this prediction actually can be empirically tested—and it can—it has been shown to be simply false. There are plenty of places in the world today, particularly in the global South, where police have, effectively vanished. People did not all begin killing one another. For the most part, they simply carried on with their lives much as they had before.  Almost always incidents of violence actually declined. When one looks into those cases that seem to be exceptions—Somalia is the one almost inevitably trundled out—one finds it was because a civil war was already going on when the state collapsed, and it didn’t stop immediately after it did. (In most such cases the police don’t actually disappear, but join one of the contending gangs and carry on much as they had before.)

There is no denying: there are plenty of parts of the world filled with terrifying daily violence. But almost all of them are places with more than the usual number of police; and usually the cops are among the main perpetrators of the terror, extortion, and violence being meted out, acting almost indistinguishably from the gangs they claim to be there to keep from getting completely out of hand, and often, working closely with them. In fact, if you look at the world as a whole, the places where the cops are thin on the ground tend to be the least chaotic, and the least violent, rather than the other way around.

In richer countries such as our own, the chaos and violence that police make possible tends to take less overt forms: for instance, in the chaos of the lives of many working class families, with no dependable access to housing, employment, education, living in daily fear of bailiffs, stripped of any way to predictably organize their lives. In working class and immigrant neighbourhoods, police enforce an order that ensures children are effectively denied all access to institutions of higher learning; on the campuses themselves, they threaten physical violence against anyone who wishes to challenge such arrangements in an active, political, way. Destroying this system of fear and chaos must, necessarily, mean pushing the police lines back, restoring the principle of self-organization, creating zones of liberation, and learning from the experience of universities and communities that have learned to live outside the threat of violence, to begin to once again imagine what a free society might be like.

There is a reason we are all constantly taught that we are all, deep inside, monsters who would murder one another if left to our own devices. Our rulers want us to think such arrangements are inconceivable. That tooth-and-nail competition is our natural state. One reason for the clamp-down on higher education is because it threatens to demonstrate just what a lie this is: not only because it offers people the means to learn about how the world really works, but because of its own tradition as a place of self-governance where people were in the habit of resolving even profoundly philosophical differences amongst themselves without ever threatening one another with sticks.

After 2008, our rulers no longer can make any sort of plausible claim to superior understanding of anything. The economists who they claimed had such superior wisdom they had to be put in charge of reorganizing every aspect of our lives were shown to be incapable of identifying even transparently obvious frauds and scams, and brought the world economy crashing through their own absolute criminality and incompetence. By now, they’ve largely given up even claiming that capitalism is a good system—at least, in the sense that will lead us to a society that’s more free, fair, or prosperous. All they have left is to foment chaos, to try to stamp out anything that even looks like it might promise an alternative, and insist that nothing else is possible. But as a result, every space we clear from the threat of state violence, even temporarily, allows us an opportunity to begin experimenting with ways of dealing with our fellows in ways that would not require the constant threat of armed thugs to maintain, becomes a devastating argument against them. A liberated university will not—cannot—look much like the old university. But it will nonetheless be a rebirth of its founding principle of self-organization. The only argument that they have left is that such things are impossible. The moment we demonstrate, clearly, materially, that they are indeed possible—even in one place—the entire edifice of terror will begin to fall it apart.

Toward a Socialist Theory of Racism by Cornel West

What is the relationship between the struggle against racism and socialist theory and practice in the United States? Why should people of color active in antiracist movements take democratic socialism seriously? And how can American socialists today learn from inadequate attempts by socialists in the past to understand the complexity of racism? In this pamphlet, I try to address these crucial questions facing the democratic socialist movement. First, I examine past Marxist efforts to comprehend what racism is and how it operates in varying contexts. Second, I attempt to develop a new conception of racism which builds upon, yet goes beyond the Marxist tradition. Third, I examine how this new conception sheds light on the roles of racism in the American past and present. Last, I try to show that the struggle against racism is both morally and politically necessary for democratic socialists.

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For those who were wondering where the Zizek-Tolokonnikova correspondence went

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So there you have it. Letters raging against capitalism are taken down because, you know …. capitalist property rights. Nobody even considered I spent hours on translating and making sense of the letters so the rest of the world could read it too, before it was published in the Guardian.

So you can find a translation of the correspondence at the Guardian now, though it seems with quite a lot of passages left out, including the passages on Lenin, communism, utopia etc. and the translation really seems to not take account of Zizek´s style of writing and thus doesn’t do the correspondence justice. 

If anybody is still interested in my more complete translation, just send me a PM on facebook.

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