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leberwurst proletariat

Month: November, 2015

Refugeezation

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I. We Can’t Address the EU Refugee Crisis Without Confronting Global Capitalism by Slavoj Žižek

In her classic study On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed the famous scheme of the five stages of how we react upon learning that we have a terminal illness: denial (one simply refuses to accept the fact: “This can’t be happening, not to me.”); anger (which explodes when we can no longer deny the fact: “How can this happen to me?”); bargaining (the hope we can somehow postpone or diminish the fact: “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”); depression (libidinal disinvestment: “I’m going to die, so why bother with anything?”); acceptance (“I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”). Later, Kübler-Ross applied these stages to any form of catastrophic personal loss (joblessness, death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction), and also emphasized that they do not necessarily come in the same order, nor are all five stages experienced by all patients.

Is the reaction of the public opinion and authorities in Western Europe to the flow of refugees from Africa and Middle East also not a similar combination of disparate reactions? There was denial, now diminishing: “It’s not so serious, let’s just ignore it.” There is anger: “Refugees are a threat to our way of life, hiding among them Muslim fundamentalists, they should be stopped at any price!” There is bargaining: “OK, let’s establish quotas and support refugee camps in their own countries!” There is depression: “We are lost, Europe is turning into Europa-stan!” What is lacking is acceptance, which, in this case, would have meant a consistent all-European plan of how to deal with the refugees.

So what to do with hundreds of thousands of desperate people who wait in the north of Africa, escaping from war and hunger, trying to cross the sea and find refuge in Europe?

There are two main answers. Left liberals express their outrage at how Europe is allowing thousands to drown in Mediterranean. Their plea is that Europe should show solidarity by opening its doors widely. Anti-immigrant populists claim we should protect our way of life and let the Africans solve their own problems.

Which solution is better? To paraphrase Stalin, they are both worse.

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Secular Utopia

by Wes Enzinna

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One of the safer crossings into Syria is at a small town called Fishkhabour, in the far northwestern corner of Iraq. In a whitewashed shack on the shore of the Tigris River, an official from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government pointed out the window toward a pontoon bridge that bobbed in the cola-colored water. A year ago, 30,000 refugees fleeing an Islamic State massacre in Syria walked for 30 hours before crossing it in the opposite direction, half-starved, half-dead, terrorized. The official told me and my interpreter, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, that a few days before we arrived, an Italian volunteer was arrested by a border patrolman while trying to swim back toward Iraq. ‘‘Don’t change your mind,’’ he said, wagging a finger.

Our destination was a sliver of land in the far north of Syria: Rojava, or ‘‘land where the sun sets.’’ The regime of President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t officially recognize Rojava’s autonomous status, nor does the United Nations or NATO — it is, in this way, just as illicit as the Islamic State. But if the reports I heard from the region were to be believed, within its borders the rules of the neighboring ISIS caliphate had been inverted. In accordance with a philosophy laid out by a leftist revolutionary named Abdullah Ocalan, Rojavan women had been championed as leaders, defense of the environment enshrined in law and radical direct democracy enacted in the streets.

But much of the information emerging from Rojava seemed contradictory and almost fantastical. To the Turkish government, the territory, which is now the size of Connecticut and has an estimated 4.6 million inhabitants, was nothing more than a front for a Turkish group known as the P.K.K., or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Since its founding in 1978, the P.K.K., led by Ocalan, had been fighting for independence from Turkey, hoping to establish a homeland for the country’s 14 million Kurds. The effort had caused the deaths of 40,000 people, thousands of them civilians, and led to the imprisonment of Ocalan. The American State Department designated the P.K.K. a terrorist organization in 1997. Having failed in Turkey, officials claimed, the P.K.K. was trying to create a Kurdish homeland amid the disruption of war. ‘‘We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s north and our south,’’ President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said in June. ‘‘We will continue to fight in this regard no matter what it costs.’’

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Trigger Warning

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 Micro-aggressions, Privilege Theory, Safe Spaces deemed acceptable by Capitalism

Dolphinocene

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we’re coming for you.

The Future

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Inventing the Future

The opening post in our latest forum, on Nick and Alex Williams’ new book, Inventing the Future. Commentaries will follow over the week, and Nick and Alex will respond soon thereafter with a rejoinder to points raised. All will eventually be available under this tag url.

Today kicks off a symposium on our new book, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. On a surface level, it is a book analysing post-work, the global crisis of surplus populations, and the challenges of rebuilding the contemporary left. Yet it is also a book designed to intervene in the current political conjuncture. It is written to produce discussions, rather than close them down; to spark debate, rather than dictate; and hopefully to persuade people of the utility of its prescriptions. As such, this blog event is the perfect avenue to inaugurate what we hope will be a series of productive engagements. Rather than simply summarising the book here, it is perhaps more useful if we briefly outline some of the debates we sought to contribute to.

The first such debate is the question concerning the dismal state of the left. While some find elements of hope in the contemporary left, for most it has been a series of marginal successes at best, and outright defeats at worst. In the book we attempt to offer a new explanation for why this is the case. Without rejecting the contributing factors of objective changes in the organisation of capitalism, and subjective changes in the self-understanding of class, we try to add a third explanation based upon a widespread common sense amongst the left. It is what we call ‘folk politics’: an intuitive set of beliefs that leads those on the left to instinctually turn towards immediacy as the solution to political problems. It finds greater and lesser expression in a series of recent movements, and while sometimes explicitly valorised, more often than not it goes on unconsciously in practices and habits. Our argument is that this folk political common sense tends to lead movements to organise and do politics in a way which constrains the possibility of escaping a global capitalism. This does not mean that folk politics should be rejected or dismissed; rather we simply try to point to its wide circulation and strategic insufficiency.

On a second level, the book seeks to generate discussion about what the future should look like. Too often, the activist and academic left only offers visions of the future in negative terms: the end of wage-labour, the end of racism, the end of sexism, the end of colonialism. These are all agreeable, of course, but ultimately remain empty signifiers. If we want a better world, we need to have some idea of where we are going. This doesn’t mean taking the opposite tack, and outlining a detailed plan for a future society (as with Parecon and New Socialism, for example). Rather it means setting out a series of broad proposals for what should be desired, what can be achieved, and how to get there. We have no illusions about the errors, biases, and limitations that our own proposals will include. We are, indeed, keenly aware of the limits of a small book written for a general audience. But the point of setting out a vision of the future and a series of demands is to lay our cards on the table for others to take up, critique, or reject. It is too easy to adopt a comfortable critical stance against the world.

Finally, discussions about the problems of the left and visions of the future must come together in debates over how to rebuild the power of the left and bring about a new future. To this end, our argument is for a counter-hegemonic strategy across an ecology of organisations, intervening in newly discovered and constructed points of leverage. While we try to give some concrete content to these broad proposals, we have also intentionally pitched these ideas at a level which allows them to be taken up in different forms across different countries and under different conditions. It is our hope that people who are convinced by our analysis and proposals will then take up these broad ideas and translate them into their own specific circumstances. We offer the book as a possibility – one among many – of what the future could look like.

-Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams

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All Tomorrow’s Parties

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by Jason Smith

Whoever battles monsters should take care that he doesn’t become one in the process. And if you stare for a long time into an abyss, the abyss looks into you, too.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

With the recent victory of Alexis Tsipras’s post-referendum, streamlined electoral machine, shorn of its nettlesome Left Platform, it is finally time to soberly survey the wreckage the Syriza sequence has left in its wake. It was not long ago, we should remember, that much of the European left was sent into a frenzy by the prospect of a properly socialist mass party assuming command of the levers of state power. Across the continent, militants young and old looked to Greece as a “laboratory of hope” while dusting off the old Eurocommunist playbook (Gramsci, Poulantzas) with earnestness, as if things had gone well the first time, or as if the resounding defeats of decades ago could be made right. Just a few days after Tsipras’s first turn at forming a government, in late January, Antonio Negri enthused that “the situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power.”1 To refer to the forming of a government with a dubious right-wing party—less surprising if one noticed the unseemly nationalist rhetoric that ran through even Syriza’s left faction—as a seizure of power is surely an exaggeration, even for Negri; that such a pronouncement echoed in the void of any real open antagonism, in the streets or in workplaces, underlines just how heady those days really were.

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Social Reproduction

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Viewpoint Magazine #5

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Inside Out

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Marx famously described capitalism as mad and inverted. Daniel Spaulding re-examines speculative realism through an Adornian prism to disclose a thought of ‘the great outdoors’ beyond capital that is very much immanent to a world not only upside down but increasingly inside out 

In his book After Finitude, published in France in 2006 and in English translation two years later, Quentin Meillassoux refers to what he calls the ‘Great Outdoors’: the wilds of the Real to which philosophy may achieve direct access once it frees itself from the correlation between thinking and being. The Great Outdoors is Meillassoux’s term for everything that philosophy stands to gain from the reversal of Kant’s Copernican Revolution. Except, it turns out, it isn’t, since the original phrase is, rather, le Grand Dehors, which means something more like ‘the Great Outside.’[1] Le Grand Dehorshas no vernacular resonance in French; at least, it is devoid of the woodsmanly connotations of its English (or American) counterpart. The difference, slight as it is, may have led certain Anglophones to fantasise about camping trips to the vales of the Absolute, where marshmallows, thinking their marshmallow thoughts, roast in their ineluctable withdrawnness over the flames of unfettered speculation. Le Grand Dehors by contrast sounds rather less adventuresome. Perhaps, also, more intimidating: the dehors is a placeholder for the beyond of all sensuous experience, akin to Pascal’s terrifying infinite spaces. Gemütlich it’s not.

I mention this only because the ‘Great Outdoors’ has come to be something like a structuring trope in a broad swathe of recent philosophical thinking, in which, often enough, Gemütlichkeit returns with a vengeance. We have, over the past decade, been invited to take seriously the prospect of an ‘object oriented cookery’ that would grant full honors to non-human agents in the kitchen (that is, everything but the chef – marshmallows presumably included).[2] We have been informed, of inanimate things, that ‘the same charm is present in foreign cultures, and for all the endless diatribes against ‘Orientalism,’ objects themselves are a perpetual orient, harboring exotic spices, guilds, and cobras.’[3] We have also been told, in a meditation on the September 11 attacks, that an ‘explosion is frightening because it’s ontologically uncanny.’[4] And we have seen the rehabilitation of H.P. Lovecraft as an evidently major figure in the history of speculative thought, as well as much else passing as philosophy that seems straightforwardly reducible to kitsch: Carl Sagan-esque paeans to the wonder and weirdness of the cosmos, for example.

How to make sense of this conjunction between the familiar and the strange – cuteness combined with terror? What is it that its consumers expect from it? My answer is necessarily oblique. As an art historian rather than a philosopher I tend to read this literature with a sense of bemusement, if not bewilderment. Surely no one can care this much about whether objects are ‘fourfold’ or ‘virtual proper beings’?[5] – But then, surely nobody could care all that much about a splatter of paint. I have come to write this essay by way of a collision between adjacent realms of the abstruse.

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Submission

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Cultural pessimism is as old as human culture and has a long history in Europe. Hesiod thought that he was living in the age of iron; Cato the Elder blamed Greek philosophy for corrupting the young; Saint Augustine exposed the pagan decadence responsible for Rome’s collapse; the Protestant reformers felt themselves to be living in the Great Tribulation; French royalists blamed Rousseau and Voltaire for the Revolution; and just about everyone blamed Nietzsche for the two world wars. Though a minor work, Soumission is a classic novel of European cultural pessimism that belongs in whatever category we put books like Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. [nyrb]

Was all this refinement, all this decadence, this misanthropy and disillusionment, were all these religious agonies and scruples merely the sublimation of a longing for the sedate pleasures of a bourgeois life? [Knausgaard]

Vandalizing Vandalism

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A.M. Gittlitz is a freelance writer, essayist, and delivery boy living in Bushwick Brooklyn. He is a frequent contributor to The New Inquiry and has contributed to Vice, Gothamist, Salon, and Truthout. His essays and journalism focus on counterculture, radical politics, and punk, and he recently released the 6th issue of his personal zine ⒶFOLK, a collection of travel essays about squatting and leftist nostalgia in Berlin, Rome, and ex-Yugoslavia.

The horrific erasure of Five Pointz’ walls last winter is a wordless sign written in Wite-Out that despite the alchemic success of street art and the reverance for graffiti and hip-hop culture held by the New York culture industry, the war on vandalism is still in full effect.

It was Ed Koch who first started treating graffiti writers like semiotic terrorists, pulling subway cars at the first sign of a tag. Then with the clearing of homeless from Tompkins Square Park under Dinkins, the implementation of Broken Windows Theory policing under Guiliani and Bratton, and the monstrous culmination of all this during the Bloomberg regime, the graffiti writer is today at their height of both danger and celebration.

The contradiction is resolved by civil society’s drawing of borders between art and graffiti, street art and vandalism, etc. As long as we remember that one is always “good” and the other “bad” then there’s nothing to worry about—that lengthy pun spraypainted in lowercase letters? Street art—good. That illegible tag written in magic marker? Graffiti—bad. Writers play into the same game, arguing that their tag is good and valuable no matter what anyone thinks.

Pushing the lines even farther are the recent spate of art vandals—possibly the most talked-about movement in contemporary art. A Rothko was tagged at the Tate, a Poussoin repainted in London, a Gauguin gouged in Washington D.C., a Clifford Still soaked with urine in Denver, the Piss Christice-picked in France, and a Picasso re-painted in Houston. Last month a vase of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was smashed by a local artist in Miami in protest of the international art market’s colonization of Miami as a hub. He was charged with criminal mischief, and the police vase was valued at $1 Million. Photographs of Weiwei’s own smashing of a Han-dynasty vase were exhibited in the museum, but as Malcolm Harris pointed out in his essay “U.S.Ai,” “It’s only freedom of expression if you break something you own, otherwise it’s vandalism.”

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