Too Much Democracy, Research Time, 11/11/2016

It’s been difficult for me to keep my thoughts in one place yesterday. There’s been quite a lot of terrible news coming out of the United States today, as the Trump transition team begins its descent into autocracy. His administration will be dominated by white nationalists, prolific architects of voter suppression, and religious fanatics.

But the most emotionally destabilizing news I’ve been reading today are accounts of the hate crimes.

The face of American autocracy. Violence is already sweeping the
country on its own power and we're still months away from the
inauguration. He doesn't even have the keys to the security state yet.
Muslim women beaten and robbed in the streets. Black and Hispanic schoolchildren are taunted, insulted, and beaten in openly racist violence. A man screams and threatens a woman in a coffeeshop for having a Skype conversation in sign language.

We were only on the second day after Trump’s election and the worst is already happening. Everyone in America’s orbit has a lot of work to do to overcome the oppression and violence that’s coming. And it is coming.

I’m going to try to do my part from Canada. One part of that will be opposing the growth of white nationalism in my own country, which many elements of Canada’s conservative party are embracing. The most visible proponent is Kellie Leitch, frontrunner for leadership of the federal Conservatives.

I’m also floating some activist ideas with my colleagues in the local New Democratic Party – fundraising for women’s rights groups who’ll come under attack from the Trump government, coming up with some videography and social media projects about Toronto’s multicultural communities.

And call me naïve, but theory is important too. Even something at the small (but growing, little by little) scale of this blog can keep democratic ideas in the culture. Getting unashamedly strange, ambitious, idealistic. The book will be called Utopias, after all. And I plan on touring it.

The last couple of weeks of posts have been riffs on different ideas in Jacques Rancière’s short, dense book Hatred of Democracy. One core idea that he turns over and over in that book is the conception of freedom as essentially limitless.

Theorist of radical democracy Jacques Rancière. If there's ever a time
when we need radical democracy, it's now.
He considers two ways to think about this limitlessness. One is the way that a lot of establishment liberals in Rancière’s country France have spoken about democracy’s limitlessness since the turn of our century.

The limitless desires of the ignorant masses to consume. The gauche gluttony of capitalist consumption plus the unrestrained lechery and extremism of total cultural freedom. It’s a foundational concept for the hatred of democracy in the West today, the idea that all people want from freedom is more stuff.

Remember how Mitt Romney, in those innocent days of 2012, used to talk about free stuff? That people let the government take control over their welfare because they were lazy and wanted Barack Obama to give them free stuff?

The vocabulary is definitely different when you leave erudite, pretentious France for in-your-face America. But the idea is the same.

It's all a red herring, though. The real limitlessness of democracy is the limitlessness of freedom itself. You create new ways of living, new identities, affiliations. Freedom is the proliferation of difference. What I called the asymptotic approach along multiplying vectors of liberation.

To reduce this expansion of the multiplicity of human life to a desire for more and better consumer goods is to make the most profound dimension of human desire into an image of lazy gluttony. Contempt for the desire that is freedom itself.

That contempt is also a way to drum up support for social homogeneity. Bringing people back in line with old-fashioned socially conservative values carves away the differences that constitute freedom itself.

In America today, it’s the popular call for the domination of white, male, straight identity, and the silence of all other ways of existence. The imagination of an ideal of perfect uniformity and conformity.

It’s going to be a rough four years.

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