Whither Capital II: The Toughest Reparations, Research Time, 31/05/2018

Here’s something interesting and troubling that Jeremy Gilbert points out in his history of Cultural Studies integrating with anti-capitalist social movements. It starts from the fact that this social movement was against globalization.

From that perspective, you could almost co-opt that branch of the movement into an intense nationalism. After all, when political leaders across many ideologies call for slowing down globalization, or how globalization has hurt us and our industries, the call to build more walls becomes implicit.

Canadians are now rushing to defend NAFTA, but when it was being written, it was protested and mocked just as vigorously as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Those actions against the TPP, by the way, are still going on.

From a protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Santiago, Chile.
See, globalization is a powerful force for improvement in people’s lives across human civilization. Now, there’s plenty of Victorian-style mass poverty and exploitation. But the sweatshops of Bangladesh and Indonesia are a few labour movements away from proper reform. Democracy is a powerful social force – its fuel is human frustration with injustice, and that’s never going to run dry.

Globalization’s harm to the working class populations of the West was a form of reparations. The Western countries no longer had a monopoly on industry. So they were undercut by the competition. We were undercut by the competition.

This was the economic end to colonialism. The countries that European militaries used to occupy, control, and loot were free to become capitalistic themselves. They’d industrialize on their own terms as much as they can. Old-fashioned trade links have taken some time to fray. But many countries now hold economically dominant positions that used to be prostrate.

Ask a Chinese person about the Opium Wars, and you’ll see someone immensely proud of how his country has succeeded after such colonial degradation. Even if in the next breath, they call Xi Jinping a dictatorial megalomaniac and the Communist Party a living disaster area.

So that aspect of globalization is good. It’s the first time the Earth has had a globally integrated economy without the overpowering dominance of a single pole by military domination.

The problem is that it broke the possibility of the 20th century social democratic bargain. The welfare state – especially as it existed in Europe – required high taxes and full employment. Otherwise, it became unsustainable. But people had no problem working good jobs in diverse industrial economies, with generally solid benefits and wages, if that also got them cheap medical and welfare services from their governments.

Statist social democracy, in its traditional form, requires full employment. Otherwise, its tax base disappears. The employment rates of the West took a serious hit as globalization took full effect and local industries were opened to competition with Asian cities for the first time. A lot of those European firms didn’t make it through the heat.

So it had become impossible to return to the old answers. As Gilbert argues, Cultural Studies – those activist university scholars – were one of the few people to see how this would happen in the 1970s and 80s.

It remained an open question what you’d do about it.

Whither Capital I: The Best Tools, Research Time, 30/05/2018

Gilbert’s book Anticapitalism and Culture digs into the cultural influence of Stuart Hall and the other founders of the Cultural Studies tradition in Britain. I think I’m going to use this shorthand for the rest of this set of posts about Gilbert’s book:

When I write Cultural Studies, I refer to that particular tradition of radical theorists who are based primarily in the university system, who write critiques of cultural objects like artistic works, as well as the institutional and cultural systems whose figures produce art.

Pictured: The end of history.
The Cultural Studies scholars come in for praise for being ahead of the curve when it comes to other radical left-wingers in the university system. Most of the other marxists were, in the 1970s and 80s, generally too busy rolling with communist guerrilla groups or applying Marx’s own categories and concepts to the Reagan era.

Contrast the Cultural Studies scholars who could leave the most dogmatic marxist concepts behind to understand the character of neoliberalism. Basically, they understood how the intensification of global free trade and financial investment was transforming the industrial processes of human civilization.

The old-school marxists, meanwhile, were trying to figure out who the proletariat was. I’m being glib, but that’s basically the glib version of the mistakes of traditional marxists. They never learned the lessons of Antonio Gramsci.

One – there are many different ways to build destructive industrial economic systems. Two – an economic and political system can change in contingent ways. Your categories won’t help you when the world makes your thought obsolete.

Gramsci smacked pragmatism into the anti-capitalist movements. At least, he does when you take his lessons seriously.

The Cultural Studies concentrated on the cultural aspects of the globalized capitalism that kicked into gear in the 1980s. Maybe today, you could call it that version of capitalism financial sector oligarchy. But it leaves so much else out. Put it to the side for now.

That was one success – a better diagnosis on the largest scale. Now the question would be whether they could give us a set of tools to carve political alternatives. It wasn’t going to turn out well.

Wither Universities? Whither Universities, Composing, 29/05/2018

So I ended up taking an extra day off the blog because election campaign season can be pretty draining. I don’t know how Americans live like this nearly every day, with some kind of intense election happening all the time.

But the extra day off marks a decent transition. I’ve finished going through all my most meaningful notes on Paul Patton’s stuff about Gilles Deleuze. At the time, when I finished that book, I wanted to walk away from secondary material on Deleuze.

You could kind of tell that I was getting a bit annoyed at how Patton’s focus on writing secondary material on Deleuze kept him from exploring his most interesting ideas. So I thought I’d pick up a direction that engaged more in political work. Focus on the real world.

There’s one part of the real world that embodies some of the major political problems we face today. Universities have been battlegrounds of radical politics over the last few years. They’re also deeply corrupted spaces – wide-scale underfunding and the growing influence of a culture of greed have made universities into parodies of the values the institution supposedly embodies.

Apparently, when this comic was first published, it described how
the Russian Bolshevik Communist party would infiltrate and
overthrow the free society of the United States. But when I see this
panel, the first person I think of is Rupert Murdoch.
Writing Utopias, I don’t want to focus entirely on the student movement. But I think there should be a passage there that reflects on what the universities of North America are, and the terrible processes that make the institutions fall short of what we tell ourselves we want from them.

There’s an ideal to the university in a democratic context – in our ideals and our political rhetoric* – as a place of impartiality, of the pure pursuit of learning for the sake of knowledge alone.

* Or as I could call it, our ideals turned into soundbites for political parties, business leaders, and TED Talks.

Who’s laughing yet? I know I am.

So I turned to a book that examines how the university system has fostered left-wing radicalism in its faculties, and what that radical thought has done to make real change in the world. Of course, I didn’t go to any of the right-wing works. They tend to be filled too much with stereotypes and cheap character assassination. Or else full on delusional theories about globalist communist conspiracies in our secular education system.

I wasn’t going to go down that road. Conservatives tend to do a terrible job of understanding how left-wing politics actually works. It’s their greatest weakness against the left – the total inability to know their enemy.

No – no one can trace the failure of the left better than a leftist. So a friend told me to get hold of a book by Jeremy Gilbert, called AntiCapitalism and Culture. It’s an insightful study of the role of Cultural Studies as a university-based research discipline in actual agitation against the neoliberal economic system and the institutions that uphold it.

It asks if the core right-wing smear of the university system is really true – Is it really a place that fosters dangerous radicals capable of helping overthrow the state and the industrial capitalist economic system?

Or are they all just jerking off?

Time to Give Up Your Fear, Research Time, 25/05/2018

One final criticism of liberal thinking in Paul Patton’s use of Gilles Deleuze’s weapons on the subject.* It's based on liberalism’s aversion to risky, rapid political change.

* This was already a good book. But it would have been so much better if he’d done that very thing, without ever referring directly to Deleuze.

Liberal thinking is inherently gradualist. There was an old joke in Canadian politics that a New Democrat is a Liberal in a hurry. Well, that’s the Liberal Party at its best, anyway. The next generation really is farce.

We live in a time of unprecedented political developments.
The most powerful social movements emerge from
complex, self-organizing networks of cooperation.
What the Liberal doesn’t realize when he tells that joke is that the joke is on him. What a liberal calls careful caution, it's more sensible in some circumstances to call fearfulness. What a liberal calls a commitment to gradual reform, it’s more sensible in some circumstances to call cowardice. Or worse, a blatant willingness to prefer an unjust status quo to the risks of a radical change.

Risk averseness is its own kind of risk when circumstances require risky behaviour. Here are some political examples that are bound to be controversial. The anger they generate in simply discussing them is enough to frighten a liberal away from mentioning it at all.

An oil pipeline is slated to move through ecologically sensitive territory, where an Indigenous nation also has its territory. The protests from environmentalists and Indigenous people are unprecedented. The situation is manifestly not okay.

What does a liberal do? Well, in the case of what a Liberal does, they put their fingers in their ears and talk seriously about compensating the oil company for their trouble, like they can’t afford it or something. Because The Economy™.

And that follows pretty much what liberalism does as a philosophy. Social change, in this perspective, is always a matter of slow-moving reform, mitigating all risk. That has its problems.

I’m not about to be one of those left-wingers who grumbles about the reformists. When I read Antonio Gramsci, particularly some of his pre-prison essays, there are a lot of slugs thrown at “reformists.” The social democratic parties, the trade unions that are happy with general improvements in work conditions – everyone who falls short of full revolution against the ruling class comes in for scorn.

Gramsci gets a little more chill once he’s had a few years to rot in a cell. You can really reflect on yourself when you’ve been reduced to the barest murmur of a life. But I see some of this talk when I check out the forums and articles of young marxist academics and Communist Party members.*

We shouldn't ignore our democratic instincts which show us that the
current trends are not something you can negotiate with. You can
only achieve social progress through reforms when there's a social
consensus behind their goals. We can't rely on the consensus that
privileges human rights and peace about police and war.
* You don’t see the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada getting into this pettiness. So I respect them that much.

That kind of talk just doesn’t work anymore. The progressive social movements aren’t interested in taking over the state – we’re much more radical, in that way, than the Communist guerrillas of the 20th century. Radical in our peacefulness.

The progressive social movements of the 21st century have largely understood that the structure of the state is the problem. States were designed as police apparatuses. You can’t liberate people by forcing them into obedience to an authority, no matter who’s in charge of that authority. An order is still an order.

Liberation is about having to rely less and less on the state to live a good life. And where we have to rely on states, they should be tools always at our disposal. That’s a deeply radical shift in the entire way we treat our states, our governments, our leaders.

I’ll get into it over the next while, once I catch up to my notes about Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s new book Assembly. But for today, I want to make this last point about the weakness of the liberal state of mind.

It’s that presumption that nothing fundamental needs to change. Reformism that takes all the underlying system of institutions and relationships as basically okay, just in need of a tweak. Some more funding going here, tax things a little differently over here. Enforce those laws, but decriminalize these other things. Fine enough.

But good intentions can still be part of a problem. Sometimes, polishing the status quo isn’t good enough to achieve the world you want.

Noble Enough to Fall Short, Research Time, 23/05/2018

The last chapter of Paul Patton’s book about the political aspects of Gilles Deleuze's ideas contains what I think is an exquisitely concise argument about the weaknesses of liberalism.

I mean, aside from the weaknesses we’ve been talking about for the last few days already. But this late passage in Deleuzian Concepts walks through a summary of a very profound problem that I don’t think the liberal approach to politics can handle.

So it goes like this. Because we’re philosophers, Patton focusses his argument on a beautiful summary of what John Rawls was doing in building his reconstructive liberal concepts. We go to the source of the most intense innovation in the concepts themselves – that’s the philosophers. And if you’re talking the 20th century revival of progressive liberal political philosophy in the North American academy, you’re talking about Rawls.

There's a lot to admire in Rawls philosophy, but I've
always found it kind of frustrating. I think it's because,
even before I could fully articulate it, his liberalism felt
inadequate to me, incomplete. As if I could tell he was
leaving out something important, without quite
understanding what it was.
The desire for your own enslavement, your own
disempowerment, your own depression. Politics as
suicide.
Patton teases out four political purposes in Rawls’ liberalism. They’re very noble purposes. But they leave out one important part of human existence. Here’s how it breaks down.

Purpose of Liberalism 1. Discovering the common principles among disputing political factions.

This is a wonderful thing to accomplish – the original position, followed through faithfully, does help you isolate what components of your identity are shared across all people. It helps identify the common ground that can be a slim anchor for peace in an intractable conflict.

Purpose of Liberalism 2. Harmonizing the goals of individuals and communities.

Another product of that original position – where you have to imagine what a community would look like when you have no idea what your place in it would be. So you have to think about the good of your community when you could end up as the lowest of the low in it.

So the original position thought experiment becomes, in this context, an exercise in sympathy with the good of your community – not just of yourself or your family. Not that you’d sacrifice yourself or your family for your community. But you’d be more amenable to helping yourself and your community at once.

Rawls gave us a reminder that there need never be a zero-sum game in life. We need this reminder badly, especially at times like these.

Purpose of Liberalism 3. Demonstrating the limits of conformity possible in a community.

This is a product of the full scope of liberalism, beyond just his original position thought experiment. One of the main goals of liberalism is to allow individual freedom, and so in that simple sense, conformity of culture of any kind is a severe problem.

In that, Rawls comes closest to inching into thinking becoming. But he only ever conceives of being a divergent character – not actually diverging. Oh, well.

Purpose of Liberalism 4. Exploring the limits of possibility for practice social progress in the near-term – a gradual utopian movement of better society.

Because in conceiving of a society where no one is badly off means conceiving of a better society than we live in.

It all sounds great, but there remains one shortcoming. How do we actually get there, once we imagine it? Is that still philosophy? I think so.

It Makes No Sense to Call Us Liberals, Jamming, 22/05/2018

Carrying on with another short reflection about liberalism. I went to the Andrea Horwath rally up in Brampton today. It seemed like the most exciting thing to happen in Brampton in years, though in this context, we are dealing with a pretty low bar.

As I work more in the different vectors of resisting oligarchy and nationalism in North America, one thing annoys me. It’s just a contingent little quirk of the rhetoric,* but it just plain bugs me.

* And if you want to get a little too poetic about the whole mess, aren’t we all, really?

Why do nationalists keep calling us liberals?

I mean, in a way, I’m happy to be misidentified by the people with large private arsenals of weapons. They might not be the most accurate in tracking us down, so they’ll kill some of their own when they invade the cities to end the liberal slime once and for all.

I hope it's at least recognized that my side of politics recognizes
liberalism for the inadequate model of thinking it is.
I snapped the photo myself after her speech in Brampton's Bombay
Hall yesterday afternoon. Stood on a chair. I think that's a cute
moment – I love photos of photos.
Conservatives and nationalists that don’t have large arsenals of weapons? Them I’m okay with. We can talk, even if I find some of them jerks.

The Dershowitz Problem I talked about yesterday is the perfect example of this. Paul Patton explores more of this idea in one of the most interesting passages of his book on Deleuze and Guattari’s political thinking.

See, liberal philosophy** is fundamentally about identifying and protecting rights against state violation – a boundary of personal sovereignty around yourself that every other personal also shares.

** I’m distinguishing the singular character of the philosophy from a lot of the ways liberal politics have been done over the years. All political projects end up including aspects of every relevant philosophical concept that it interacts with as it develops. But the concepts themselves are pure structures.

Liberalism’s essence as a philosophy is the civil right – the negative right to be free from interference in expressing yourself. That’s why liberalism is such a great philosophy for protecting people from privacy violations or defending them from state intimidation and power.

But it’s awful for protecting you against the corruption of your economic system. It won’t protect you against the oligarch, the robber baron, the pirate hedge fund. They won’t steal from you specifically, but they’ll change the conditions under which you can earn your keep. Yet there’s no liability on liberal principles because the zone of personal sovereignty only regards direct, personal violations.

If you aren’t directly and intentionally seeking to cause some particular harm in your actions, you aren’t responsible in a pure liberalism. Even if you’re looting the public treasury with tax breaks and industrial contract giveaways, defunding to dysfunction a state institution that people rely on isn’t a harm.

Because there are no responsibilities in a pure liberalism to each other beyond leaving each other alone. So you’re free to do what you want, no matter the indirect harms your actions cause. You only have your civil rights.

Civil rights definitely can’t be dispensed with. But in terms of what we need to live well, civil rights are incomplete.

A Principle Without Limits, Jamming, 21/05/2018

So I read this fascinating and very sad article about Alan Dershowitz. He pretty much single-handedly invented the political theory and ideology of civil libertarianism, the activist path of the principles in John Rawls’ liberalism of ideal fairness.

Very short version – because I actually want to keep today’s post short. The article is a pretty detailed argument, based on Dershowitz’s history and approach to his career, that his natural ego is leading him into a substantive mistake. He doesn't want to leave the media limelight yet, and so he’s continuing to advocate for the rights of a prominent individual against government scrutiny.

Trouble is, that individual is Donald Trump. Now Dershowitz’s rhetoric has gotten pretty slippery, probably because the atmosphere of his more frequent conversations on FOX News* will tend to push you into more heated casual declarations than you’d make if you were able to think for a second.

* If you're going to defend Donald Trump, then this is the only American network that’ll have you on quite so regularly.

Consider for a moment what kind of person would think intuitively
that civil liberties are always of absolute importance. It would be
someone who never had to question seriously his access to the
material grounds of all the other liberties he needed.
Read the article as Dershowitz becoming an example of the limits of his own ideas. Ever since the brief flowering of open naziism in the United States last summer, circles on the left have been talking about the paradox of tolerance.

If you're going to allow free speech for all perspectives, that has to include perspectives that all those who live differently than me deserve no rights. So the liberal, taking his views to the absolute, can allow people to destroy liberalism. People can elect a dictator at the ballot box who will never allow them to exercise democracy again. And they’ll want it.

A liberal can’t conceive of someone who would want to be enslaved, or would want to enslave others. They’re unable to conceive of enemies.

The nationalist right can definitely conceive of enemies. I see it every day in the everyday talk of nationalist circles online. Their entire political agenda is based on identifying the enemy and purging it from their society.

So we on the progressive side have to overcome both problems. We can’t think of the nationalist as an enemy on the racializing terms that they do – that would make us nationalist. We also can’t accept the liberal paradox of tolerance – that would leave what social freedoms we have open to attack.

Our answer is that we recognize our enemies in those who would define politics as eradicating enemies. And instead of eradicating them, we neuter them. We block them from building power. Instead of a strong leader, show them a greasy criminal. Mock their dehumanizing rhetoric as the bullying it always was.

Always encourage people to conceive of the power of their own potential, their own ability to reshape the world if they join in the effort even a little. Let society become revolutionary.

It's Toughest of All to Accept, Research Time, 18/05/2018

A brief few paragraphs to have a go at a quick classification. Following on from what I talked about yesterday, here are some substantive ways that the animating concepts of Deleuze and Guattari’s political philosophy set them apart from what’s still the mainstream.

I mean, I do consider the academic ghettoization of the many different philosophies smacked with the “Continental” label to be shameful territorial pissing. One of those paths of thought so smacked is Deleuze and Guattari’s. That annoys me, because their ideas include solutions for a lot of the conceptual problems that are roadblocks for mainstream North American university philosophy.

If you follow their ideas all the way to their natural conclusions, they tend to take out the whole road along with the barricades. But aside from a little rubble, the way forward is clear.

You know she won't live. But then again – Who does?
So what are those ideas?

One. Evaluation is always context-dependent. That goes for moral, mathematical, scientific, empirical. Anytime you examine a process, try to make sense of it, identify a value – that assessment is always specific to a contingency, a particular way the world is.

It’s never necessary and universal, because even the existence of the universe it contingent. It need never have been. Period.

Think about this example. You might think that a context-independent, universal, necessary truth is that chattel slavery of humans is wrong. But if there never were humans at all, would this truth have come to exist?

If the Cambrian extinction had never happened and the Earth’s biosphere developed in totally different directions, any question to do with humans wouldn’t make any sense because there’s be no humans. Ever. Not in future, present, or past. They’re inconceivable. Vague fictions at best – certainly not the sort of things you’d expect to find any truth more solid than the canon of a tv franchise.

Two. Nothing has an endpoint that sums up its existence. Processes stop. Death doesn’t bring anything about a life into a neat little bow. Death just ends it. Authors do that, but they do it by stitching events into narratives. That’s not a life – it’s a story.

Three. Anything that can change can blow to pieces and destroy itself. So everything can destroy itself.

It’s not a comforting world, if you need certainties to comfort you. I recommend cultivating strength of character. Not a perfect process, never really complete, always more work to be done. But then that's true of everything.

What Kind of Politics Is This Anyway? Jamming, 17/05/2018

Yesterday, there was no energy at the end of a long – but very pleasant – day for me to blog. Right now, I have barely any energy left, but I want to throw a short reflection together.

I wrote earlier this week about one of the limitations of Paul Patton’s book Deleuzian Concepts – It’s too securely rooted in the academicians’ sub-discipline of ‘Deleuze Studies,’ so he doesn’t explore the most interesting directions that come from what he finds in Deleuze’s work.

He’s writing mostly for an audience of academics who specialize on writing secondary material on Gilles Deleuze’s books and life.

What the conservative disciplines of philosophy call "Continental" is
just the stuff that they reject for challenging their own ways of
thinking too much. If John Searle couldn't understand what Derrida
was on about
, we should just dismiss what any of their contemporaries
had to say. Because John Searle is such an admirable guy.
There’s another, wider audience he’s talking to. Unfortunately, it isn’t a wide enough audience to reach that most interesting path of thinking either. There’s a part as well where Patton talks about political theorists throughout North America.

His argument – which did apply quite broadly – was that Deleuze and Guattari should be read as political philosophers. Their major run of joint works were fundamentally political – from the long sections of Anti-Œdipus that were explicitly an analysis of capitalism and statism as a political-economic processes.

And so on for all the other works they made together. Kafka: A Minor Literature was about a mode of cultural resistance to a hostile and racializing mainstream. I feel like calling it multi-vector creole resistance. A Thousand Plateaus contained several different analyses of different dynamics of stability and chaos rooted in human life – psychological, political, economic, cultural, ethical. And beyond.

All of it deals with issues of progressive politics that are quite mainstream now. But in the academy, they aren’t considered political theorists at all. Patton doesn’t say it, but he means that they’re still called “Continental.”

But all the designation really means is that Deleuze and Guattari are rejected by departments across North America because they don’t speak the typical language of liberal philosophy. They don’t talk about rights, principles, and universality.

They come up with entirely different language to talk about things that are much more important for how societies actually work at all. They talk about the material dynamics among institutions and forces that destabilize – maybe it’s a better description to say “deterritorialized” – human societies. Among other things, but that’s a major focus. That’s inherently political – and yet they aren’t political theorists.

So Patton effectively calls out the mainstream of North American philosophy departments. But he does it without saying so. Because no one will read a call-out. A call-out is – from the perspective of the called-out in our university faculty – ‘terribly rude,’ ‘an unnecessary hostility,’ ‘a crude polemic.’

So you trick them. Explain the true nature of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas in words they’ll understand. Simple language. Basically, it’s just, “Guys, they’re just not liberals, okay?”

I mean, it doesn’t go so far to say that this is a better philosophy than liberalism. Maybe I’ll write about that part tomorrow. Or on the weekend.

You Don’t Know When It Happens But You Know When It Has, Research Time, 15/05/2018

A few paragraphs about a curious metaphor. It might be a metaphor, and it might be an application. I’m honestly not sure, because it only comes up for a couple of pages. Even though it could be a whole book.

What am I actually talking about? It’s a passage in Paul Patton’s book Deleuzian Concepts. It shows up about halfway through the book, as he’s working through different ways to explain the nature of iterability.

I’m not going to get into Patton’s concept of iterability in much detail. In very short form, he understands becoming and change as the repetition of a process with a few chance variations each cycle. What I found interesting was how he used this concept to describe a complex political and historical process.

Too much philosophy forgets the real suffering of the people caught up
in the radical transformations of the real world. If philosophical
thinking remembers them, it would become epochal again.
Colonialism. It’s impossible to say for sure, in the middle of a colonization process, when the place truly transitions from a free land to a colonized space. Some white dude showing up in the middle of a forest in Gaspé and saying, “I claim this land for France!” as he plants a flag in the ground is fundamentally ridiculous. He’s a bloody cartoon.

By the time the government is taking your children away to boarding school to have their culture beaten and raped out of them, you can be certain you’ve been colonized. Patton is exploring how we think of this transition from the ridiculous to the terrifying.

You can follow the transition, the small changes that make up a massive transformation. As a process, you can see it all unfolding, bit by bit over time. But what is the event of colonization?

See, this is where Deleuzian Concepts suffers from an unfortunate tendency in academia. When you specialize in writing secondary material in a particular main figure – like how Paul Patton always writes books and articles about Gilles Deleuze – there’s often a tendency to think of their work as a unified system.

So you produce articles or book chapters about, say, how to reconcile two concepts of the event in Deleuze’s work. Before he started working with Guattari, Deleuze thought of the event largely through a Stoic lens – the sudden transformation, the moment when everything changes. Afterward, he started thinking of events as processes – transformative processes whose changes are fractal pretty much to the Planck length.

Here's one way in which I've been thinking of Russian global policy
these days. Among many things I've been thinking about the Russian
government lately. We Westerners have been raised, pretty much, to
think that international relations have moved past this weird way of
fighting over territory on Earth. That's not the model of politics that
we developed international law for – it's a game of Risk, not politics.
But Russian leaders these days act like they never got the memo.
Maybe they really didn't.
Those two ideas don’t go together – if you try to call them both “the event,” the conceptions just about contradict each other. The only reason you’d try to reconcile them is because of the unfortunate tendency in philosophy scholarship to think about a figure’s works systematically instead of historically.

If you thought historically, you’d actually have to think about the concepts themselves, and the thinkers themselves as people. You’d realize that the question has a pretty simple answer. Ask why Deleuze developed these two seemingly incompatible concepts of the event?

You won’t get anything all that philosophically fascinating. You won’t get some complicated attempt to build a system of philosophy, a hermetically sealed “Deleuze Studies.” No, you’ll get the ordinary story of a writer who thinks one way for a few years, then a happy encounter convinces him that he’d been barking up the wrong tree. So he went in a better direction.

And in all this academic posturing, the events at the heart of the example are forgotten. Because you actually could use the tension between the two concepts of the event – instantaneous transition and slow process of variation on variation – to develop a complex, powerful, and illuminating conception of how colonialism works.

As a whole book, it would be an transdisciplinary blend of history, indigenous narrative, economics, ideological analysis of racism, and social ontology. But Paul Patton is not such a writer. He specialized in Deleuze Studies. So two pages is all he’s got.

I know what the better book would be. And Patton didn’t write it.

Spinning Our Own Futures, Research Time, 14/05/2018

This has been a busy weekend for me. It was my first working in the campaign office of a major party’s election race in a densely populated urban district. It’s intense sometimes, but it’s so much fun.

I went on a little reflection on Twitter last night, about how happy I am that the New Democrats have stopped pandering to the ideology of marketization. Often, that’s called capitalism or neoliberalism. But I feel like using a more descriptive term that isn’t quite as much of a catchphrase as those two.

The words ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘capitalism’ work as tribalisms as much as descriptive terms themselves. So let’s try getting more explicit so you can really see the process in the word.

I'd love one day to ask Andrea Horwath to compare how she felt on
the campaign trail in 2014 to 2018, when the messaging she was
delivering was so different each time. I'd like to know which set of
talking points – taxpayers or care – is closer to her heart. I have a
decent idea, but I want a better picture. To contribute to her
posterity, if not my own writing career.
There’s a discussion New Democrats in Canada have been having for decades. It’s whether the party crafts its policy with an eye to winning power or an eye to political principle. Well, the general idea of running every institution in your country on free market principles is running out of steam – a good plurality of us now know that total marketization leads to the disaster of oligarchy.

So you don’t have to choose principle or power. Western people are catching up to the reality that marketization’s marketing is a pack of lies. The principles of the people are now our principles. Now we start the job of repair.
• • •
I still see parallels in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. As I slowly assemble the research points for Utopias, I feel like this book will be one for our time. By the time I’m probably ready to publish the thing in the early-mid-2020s, it should catch the wave of democratic pushback against 21st century fascism. It’s just building steam now.

In Deleuzian Concepts, Paul Patton writes about the concept of utopian thinking that emerges from Deleuze’s thinking. See, one of the reasons why utopian thinking has been largely dismissed over the last few decades is the totalitarian character of state governments run on marxist principles.

The Soviet Union, Mao-led China, Khmer Cambodia. They were all states that killed millions to remake their population’s culture according to radical communist programs. It was – to the tune of genocide after genocide – the biggest mistake of the Western left. The notion that a state could craft cultural transformation through police and military action.

To craft a population in your own image takes weapons much more
subtle than gulags and secret police. You need ideas, and you need
the people to embrace these ideas on their own terms. Only then
will people ever accept an idea – if they've thought of it themselves.
Gilles Deleuze calls philosophy utopian. Paul Patton calls Deleuze’s political thinking utopian. I consider my own approach to political activism utopian. But it has a very different meaning than the utopian thinking of those old statist totalitarian leftists.

A philosophical concept gives shape to an ongoing development – in many contexts, like thought, technological invention, psychotherapy, politics. Not as a blueprint of the perfect endpoint – that’s the totalitarian way of thinking.

The diagram of a concept is like a character sketch, or a personality profile. But of a complex transformation – like someone re-evaluating his morality, developing or implementing a new kind of machine, or managing a centreless political movement.

When you know the personality of a political movement in this sense, you don’t think in terms of an endpoint. You think in terms of potential – what that movement can do as it adapts to the dynamics of a world in flux. As the world always is.

Utopia properly done is a style. How you adapt to the problems that life will throw at you. How a culture develops, grows, changes. There is no endpoint. Only stopping eventually.

One day the sun will burn the oceans away. Then there’ll be no more politics.

Thought Is Never Private, Jamming, 11/05/2018

Just a short one this morning. I’m writing this after a very long day. Another thinker Paul Patton talks about in relation to Deleuze is Richard Rorty.

The very, very, very short version of Rorty is that he takes the contingency of reality very, very, very seriously. But that it results in the most unserious kind of materialism you’ll ever find. One very out of step with the demands we now face.

He’s another thinker who takes atheism all the way to its final logic. But he’s entirely too complacent about the result. So the conclusion of Rorty that gets you in the most trouble is that our moral principles are a product of our social relationships, our discourses. Being contingently developing organisms, our moral principles are arrived at contingently too.

So there’s nothing necessary about any moral system. As long as moralities can be made to work in the world, individuals can hold them. We each develop our own personal kink in the set of moral principles we socialize into as we grow and age. But all of that is a matter of our discourse. There’s no absolute in morality.

A nice young boy from a respectable family is not supposed to grow up
as a hateful, resentful, racist, misogynist jerk. That's why American and
Canadian liberals have been so shocked to see emboldened extremists
come out of the most unexpected places. James Damore was right
when he said that liberals couldn't even see their own echo chamber.
But I'm glad he could puncture it for them. By now, even the most
complacent liberals should know how seriously you have to take
your values, because there are people who hate you for them.
Naturally, this freaks a lot of people out when you think about it. But as I’ve read different works of Rorty over the years, I find it makes what should be an existentially chilling thought sound like a banal fact to deal with.

Part of that is his skill with language, but part of that is also his own personality. I definitely don’t think you can reduce everything someone wrote to the general conditions of their daily lives. But it does play a part, it contributes.

So I think one of the main causes for Rorty’s ability to be so calm about a genuinely troubling idea is that he was born into a genteel upper-middle class life, and stayed comfortably in the Ivy League (or close to it) for pretty much his entire adult life. And he put his head down for a very conventional academic career for his first couple of unremarkable decades in the field. His life embodies the image of middle American security of the 20th century.

No wonder he was content to say that we’d resolve our moral differences through pleasant conversation over dinner. He lived a life without real hardship, without the kinds of deep ethical challenge that many experience. Never faced racism, misogyny, violence, poverty, addiction, injustice.

It’s very different to know that such things happen in the world, and to experience it yourself. It’s much tougher to know the real stakes of the world. Rorty could take the contingency of the world so flippantly because he never experienced himself the most intense suffering the contingencies of life can offer.

He could never conceive of liberal thinking being challenged, especially not by a resurgence of fascist social values and white ethnic nationalism in the West. He could easily conclude that the Civil Rights Movement was all it took to end the "conversation" over universal human rights; that the Second World War concluded with the "permanent defeat" of fascism.

That's what all good little boys were taught at school, after all. And he spent his entire life in a social world of good little boys grown up and growing old. He could take it all for granted, and so concluded that we could all take it for granted. The world remains much more serious than Rorty ever thought, and it always was.

What’s the Point If We Can’t Be Perfect? Research Time, 10/05/2018

I want to pick up on the point I was talking about on Monday’s post. Aporias – the endpoint of Jacques Derrida’s greatest works. Those moments where, as you examine a concept or work through an argument, the idea itself escapes from you. And it escapes because you know it so well.

It’s a very profound idea. Paul Patton writes about aporia very well, delivering a critique of the idea that equally implicates the main trend among Jacques Derrida’s work. In the words of Canada’s most famous and equally annoying scholar, post-modernism.

A lot about Derrida was erased in his popular
uptake. His most famous books are his early ones,
the ones that made the biggest shocks when they
dropped. I've met a few Derrida fans who don't
know what to make of his later work, who don't
understand why he would have made such a
puzzling turn to ethics. They're always the
ones who have to be reminded where Derrida
came from – that he was a black Algerian Jew.
I mean post-modernism in its popular reception – among barely original academics, and many in areas of real life who were familiar with only a vague outline of the major messages of Derrida’s work. It was the notion that we aren’t even able to express truth in language.

This is the general reception of the aporia in Derrida’s work. He took many different approaches to the same concept throughout his career – absolute truth. Derrida followed through on one of Nietzsche’s central projects – he wanted to develop a way of thinking that followed atheism to its logical endpoint.

No matter how limited human reason might be in the world – goes the traditional Western idea – there still is an absolute truth about the nature and order of the world. That’s God’s truth, the word that expresses being itself.

So here’s Derrida thinking through whether truth is possible when God is truly dead to you. When there is no Word. His later work considered that idea in an ethical context – How does absolute truth emerge from our ordinary experience with other people?* From our ordinary experience with other people – love, friendship, being asked for help.

* And the answer was already in ancient Jewish teachings. Please never forget that Derrida was Jewish, a religion with a long-running culture of mystical scholarship that is both pantheist, atheist, and monotheist.

I think the philosophical tradition among its keepers in the university sector – at least that sub-section called Continentals – would have been better off if this end of Derrida’s career came first. As it is, it was his nature as an academic – a historian of philosophy as well as a philosopher – messed with the reception of his idea.

The first half of Derrida’s career focussed on the history of philosophy – so he was examining all the traditional arguments and works where the godly concept of absolute truth appeared as a serious aim. He brought those concepts to aporia to demonstrate the real untenability of absolute truth without some point in your thinking where you take it as given.

So you made all the traditional arguments trying to arrive at the truth of some philosophical concept like justice or knowledge as going nowhere by their nature. Derrida wasn’t a nihilist – he was a phenomenologist, an atheist, a Jew, a historian, and a deeply ethical person.

But when you reveal the emptiness of absolute truth without also giving people at least a clue to where it actually occurs in the material world, you end up with nihilists. Your sequel came too late.

That’s the heart of Paul Patton’s critique of Derrida – his big argument at the start of his most purely philosophical book. It was the interpretation that he used to shock other academic philosophers out of their thrall to Derrida and onto Deleuze.

Deleuze makes aporia – the most unsettled but most profound state of philosophical thinking – into his starting point. Aporia is a particularly solemn way of catching hold of that total chaos where there’s no reliable truth or fact – chaos.

Derrida’s early philosophy was about revealing how our comforting and dogmatic truths reduce themselves to chaos. Deleuze starts his philosophy crafting order from chaos.

A very oversimplified story. But all polemics are.

Letting the Resentment Settle In, Research Time, 09/05/2018

So I mentioned the other day that Paul Patton established his professional reputation by shifting a lot of folks in the North American academy’s community of Continentalists.*

* These are the researchers who specialize in pretty much any philosophical writer from the European continent from Hegel onward. This is the slightly disdainful label they’re given in the North American mainstream of university philosophy. In Cultural Studies departments, they’re just called profs.

There's no need to take affront on his behalf.
Deleuze never took affront at anyone, as far as
I know. The occasional awkward moment, but
never affront. He was very consistent that way.
Patton was trying to shift the whole field’s centre of gravity – from Jacques Derrida and deconstruction to Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of becoming and production. That’s great. But there are some passages of Deleuzian Concepts that make me cringe – the tone of his writing makes his critique feel uncomfortably personal.

Not personal in the sense that it involves a particular person in Patton’s circle, about which he has biases or excess sympathy. Aside from Gilles Deleuze, of course.

See, there was one event that kind of dropped the ball on Deleuze and Félix Guattari's international public relations. It was a conference at Columbia University in 1975.

Total disaster. There was a group of radical feminist activists who were so essentialist about the nature of gender that hearing Félix Guattari give a talk about how any essentialism would send them into a frenzy.

Up next, Félix Guattari discussing how all forms of essentialism are utter failures as theories because they include no possibility for change. A man will always be phallocentric in all aspects of his existence – ridiculous, when we are all processes, changing all the time.

Really, gender is changeable as both a social and physical construct, so there can be as many genders as our ingenuity and self-discipline can successfully create.** They refused to hear it and heckled him all lecture.

** TERFs. Félix Guattari was heckled by a bunch of TERFs. You do know, right, that the philosophical basis for all TERF activism and ideology is this utterly obsolete, bumbling theory of gender essentialism? It’s a theory that has failed as knowledge because reality is utterly different from how it says the world should be.

Then a bunch of guys from the local Lyndon LaRouche society started interrupting Michel Foucault’s closer, screaming that he was paid by the CIA. Yeah, that Lyndon LaRouche.

If he's in the CIA, then the Maidan protestors were all gay fascists
working for the Americans, whose government is funded by
George Soros and the Freemasons' cabal whose Grand Wizard
is Barack Obama. Here to our newsdesk at RT to explain why
all this makes sense, aside from government orders to believe it,
is respected American economist, philosopher, and activist
Lyndon LaRouche.
Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault were all so upset at how they were insulted all though the conference, that they all decided they didn’t want to go back to America again. Foucault overcame his initial disgust more quickly.

The next time he did an appearance in New York, another dick from the LaRouche society asked him about the charges that he was CIA. At least he had the decency to wait until question period. But Foucault immediately goes on the warpath.

“Yes! Yes, I am CIA! And she’s CIA! And he’s CIA too! And everyone in this room is CIA except you. You work for the KGB!”***

*** Michel Foucault. You know how to deal with crazy fascist internet trolls when the internet was still secret military tech. We lost you too soon, old man.

But Deleuze and Guattari themselves hardly went back to America. It took that extra generation of mostly Canadian philosophy researchers who first translated and wrote on Deleuze to bring him to the prominence he has in the North American academy today. Paul Patton was part of that generation, even if he does suffer from being Australian.

It was a public relations screw-up. The conference let too many extremists in, when they needed an audience of thoughtful nerds. Like the generation of Patton, Boundas, Genosko, Massumi. But Deleuze and Guattari were too pissed off about it to bother going back to America. They presumed they’d get the same reception.

That is painful in so many ways, paths, vectors. Sports teams need
therapists to help players deal with their own-goals.
Own goal, guys.

Yet when Patton writes his remarks about the feminist and postcolonial misinterpretation of Gilles Deleuze, including the 1975 conference, a bitterness seeps into his tone. And it isn’t necessary.

He’s trying to make an important point – don’t take Deleuze’s words like ‘becoming-woman’ or ‘nomadism’ as metaphors, but as literal descriptions of thought processes in the most abstract language he and Guattari could muster.

Patton seems bitter at the misinterpretation, as if it was an affront to be misunderstood. That somehow these feminists and these post-colonial writers were foolish, inadequate thinkers for taking Deleuze to be writing metaphors, saying that disruptive thought is merely “like” a bedouin nomad.

He strings well-meaning, professional, thoughtful theorists with extremist radical TERFs. I don’t think Patton would like it if I said explicitly what I don’t like about this part of his book.

Don’t make me say it. I don’t want to say it.

When a Lost Monk Meets a Happy Wanderer, Research Time, 07/05/2018

Paul Patton wrote another book about Gilles Deleuze that I read as part of my research. It was called Deleuzian Concepts. It’s a more complex study than his earlier Deleuze and the Political, though it deals with many of the same topics.

But a few more years of work and thought have made it a richer book. Let’s have a look through some of its ideas and arguments.
• • •
Early in the book, Patton sees a curious relationship between Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida – they’re mirrors of each other in a particular way. Their different approaches maybe show something intriguing about what philosophy as a tradition can do.

We forget so much of the ones we're certain we
know everything about.
Art by this guy.
The way Derrida thinks philosophically, he always ends up in aporia. He’s illuminated and interrogated a problem from so many different angles that he understands it very deeply. But the key to his understanding is the precise part of the problem that makes it impossible to solve.

What makes it impossible to solve? Applicability. You can understand a philosophical concept in its abstract form very well – almost as a diagram. But now put that concept to work when you design institutions, laws, moralities, economic conventions, religions and so on. Or keep it in thought – use that concept to understand and build a wider framework of other concepts.

It might work fine, but doesn’t unfold precisely as the diagram said. There’s a slippage of the concept with the world and with wider systems when you put it to work. An inconsistency that undercuts the meaning of the concept itself. You’re left with all this work falling into inconstancy, instability.

Aporia – Philosophers sputtering. Very poetically written sputtering, but still sputtering.

Deleuze thinks about philosophy very differently. For him, the slippage is where philosophy actually does its work. He understands concepts themselves totally differently.

The way Deleuze sees it, thought is actually stagnant when you have a perfect idea that never expresses any inconsistency and acts just as you conceived it every time you use it. He thinks of concepts as producers of new concepts. With each use, the concept changes – your job as a philosopher is to trace the continuities and differences. Now you see if the shifted concept can do anything new, or has lost some of what it could do.
• • •
So Deleuze builds on the failure of Derrida. That’s how Patton spins it.

Now, I'm going to be frank here. I don’t actually know what the relationship between Deleuze and Derrida really was. I’m not sure that they were really very close at all. They knew each other, were familiar with each other’s work, but they were both aware that they were each involved in very different projects.

People always associate Derrida with irony, I think because of mediocre
readings of his work. But I see a profound irony in Deleuze – not in
what he wrote or how he lived, but how he's been received. He wanted
his followers to be creative thinkers developing concepts by
schizzing his own, pushing them to reveal inconsistencies or changes
so you could create a new concept from them. Instead, they act like
traditional academics – squabbling with each other over whose
interpretation of their Great Figure is the right one, always certain
that it's theirs.
I know what the relationship between Derrida and Deleuze is now that they’re dead, when you go to the academic departments that study them. When the French theory that we generally call post-modernism or post-structuralism* blew up in North America, Derrida had the best reputation.

* Radical democracy, actually.

Deleuze and Guattari tried one crossover event, a conference in New York that was an unmitigated disaster of mansplaining and misinterpretation. So Deleuze and Guattari’s work took some time before it was noticed on a large scale.

Patton’s book came out in the boom of interest for Deleuze’s work. So he was engaged in a little succession management. Not of Deleuze himself, but for the other academic philosophers called Continental. He had to show them why they should lay down their Jacques and pick up their Gilles.**

** I’m so, so, sorry.

It was based entirely in trying to shift academic territorial claims – who we all in a particular (sub)-sub-discipline going to squawk about now. But I’m not an academic, so I don’t have to squawk secondary material about anyone to any paywalled journals that will only accept writing about someone else.

I keep Derrida and Deleuze on different shelves, but they’re both valuable for me to have as sources of ideas. It’s better to combine them and see what new concepts will result. Which I believe was Deleuze’s point.

Is That a Philosophical Concept or a Doctor Who Story? Research Time, 04/05/2018

As you can tell from how many of his ideas influence my own thinking, Gilles Deleuze is a major touchstone for my own writing and related work. But I’ll always be the first one to tell people that he can be a damn difficult writer in a lot of ways.

For one, he’s prolific, and doesn’t always take the time to re-introduce concepts that he uses in an earlier book before blasting into some wild application. But that’s not really the most frustrating aspect of his style – it’s more of an annoyance.

There are always more things going on in a creative work
than we can say. Good quality communication of any kind
that involves ideas absorbs us in a feedback loop of
our own creativity in thought and reflection. Attentive
thought in that cycle can create some remarkably useful
insights. But not all our insights are useful, or even
all that reasonable.
Today I want to talk about a problem with Deleuze’s approach to philosophy that’s more central to how his ideas get taken up. Paul Patton displays an excellent example in his own account and interpretation of some of Deleuze’s political ideas in his work from the early 2000s.

Patton describes a particular kind of social-political transformation as a metamorphosis machine. The roots are clear in Deleuze’s own works if you look for them, and they’re easy to find. Let’s count those down first.

Kafka is all over mid-period Deleuze. He’s the central case study in his and Guattari’s major book on the concept of the minor. What is the minor or minority? Not a literal minority, but a culture, language, and way of thinking that’s pushed away from public acceptability in its explicit expression. Cultural ideas that have to go underground, or adapt themselves to a mainstream that doesn’t always fit them.

Kafka’s Jewish identity, heritage, and seeking was pushed out of public acceptability in late imperial Austria, and later Czechoslovakia. And the Czech language itself was pushed out of public acceptability – Kafka spoke Czech as his first language, but adapted his writing to German. Those cultural and linguistic schizzes inform his work, and contribute to the subtle ways his writing destabilizes the enforced mainstream of his country.

Patton combines the power of the minor to destabilize and rupture a suppressive mainstream with the concept of the war machine – a physical social assemblage which does the same thing, but more explicitly and violently. War machines are social assemblages and forces that break the strictly policed codes, laws, and institutions of states.

They’re important things / processes to have around, considering all the horrible things state institutions can do to oppress and control people. Every authority needs some kind of check on its power so it doesn’t use all the power it has.

What I immediately thought of when I first read the phrase
"metamorphosis machine." I feel like I want to watch some of my
favourite stories from the David Tennant years of Doctor Who
again. I did enjoy that feeling of exuberance throughout Davies'
years making the show, especially in the smaller, mid-season
episodes where there was less pressure for spectacle. The
story had time to smile for us.
Here’s where we get to the problem. Although Deleuze and Guattari describe the concept of the war machine in a lot of detail in A Thousand Plateaus, the description stays at a very abstract level of thought. So it’s really tough to apply a concept so abstract without twisting it too much.

Sometimes, twisting a concept too much can have really productive results – you end up with an equally interesting and useful concept. But you can just as easily mess up your thinking and end up just plain confused. And I think that’s where Patton’s concept of the metamorphosis machine ends up.

Patton’s concept moves in the same direction as my paper about process models of activist communication. A dispersed, but mutually connected, movement of people demonstrate in their publicly-displayed spectacles and daily conversations with the public that a mainstream way of life is unjust. As people in the mainstream understand it, they change their moralities to stop excusing that injustice and help correct it.

But Patton stays himself in a very specific context, while also speaking abstractly. He frames the metamorphosis machine as an agent of change through micro-movements, like I did. But when he gets specific, he talks about overthrowing the state.

Nothing necessarily wrong with that. But the thinking that made overthrowing the state his priority was off track. See, the war machine concept in A Thousand Plateaus was described using a particular introductory framework – a nomadic army overthrowing the state.

For all the wide range of ways you can use their concepts, there will
always be some aspects of Deleuze and Guattari's work that were
very much peculiar to their own specific time and place. Their hair
alone should be sign enough of that.
Patton tied himself too much to the application that best suited the political priorities of Deleuze and Guattari’s time and place. In 1970s Paris, anti-capitalism meant aligning yourself, at least in spirit, with the communist urban guerrilla movements out to overthrow the governments of Western Europe.

In late-2010s Canada, putting yourself in the same political spirit as Deleuze and Guattari means embracing and allying yourself with movements of peaceful demonstrations that freer ways of life are possible.

Real freedom of religion, freedom to immigrate wherever you want, freedom from the cultural presumptions and hostility of systematic, atmospheric racism, freedom from the indignity of poverty and vulnerability of addiction. So you look at these oppressive structures that are matters of public belief, culture and enculturation, moralities that encourage hatred and disgust. Morality is today’s target. Maybe it’ll be more effective in building a more just society.

Given how the European communist guerrillas did, I’d say we have a pretty low bar to clear for a grade of "Has Shown Improvement."

The Only Way to Accomplish Anything Is Becoming Revolutionary, Composing, 03/05/2018

So I just finished the draft of a policy paper for Ghubril on activism as a process model for international organizations to adopt in their own outreach. I explain activism as a communication project.

Stage inspirational events – as small as a memorial artwork to murdered Indigenous women or as large as the occupation of an entire street. Some people will attend that, or see it, who hadn’t seen it before. They will have never questioned their presumptions about their culture, country, or way of life.

There's much to say about Gandhi's actual politics, how he so ironically
was a fellow traveller with the Hindu nationalist ideas that he helped
create the social conditions for the more violent radicals to thrive.
That's how we have Narendra Modi, and how Gandhi got shot.
But this demonstration questions those presumptions, making you question them yourself. ‘Perhaps,’ you think, ‘it isn’t so simple as I’ve always thought.’ So you read up on the subject – what people who think in this different way have to say about many aspects of your life. It goes into more detail than the event that kicked the whole thing off.

All the time, there’s continued contact with these people you hadn’t ever engaged with before. You read books by environmentalists, maybe even some of the classics like Aldo Leopold. You get a flavour of the different approaches that people have developed over the years. In your own small way, you develop your approach.

But your old values aren’t compatible with that new approach. You can’t drive a car everywhere, or go through so much plastic waste. You have to at least figure out ways to lower your impact on the world. Lowering your electricity bills when you actually use less power is supposed to incentivize you to do that.

So you have to reject them. Look upon those values with disgust – even a sense of shame that you were ever so wasteful, that you thought so little of your ecology, the world around you. Fly away from that territory – anger is your fuel. Live in the better way that you want.

Be someone else’s encounter that helps transform their life. Do it as often as you can. Demonstrate the future you want.

Yes, I basically wrote the Gandhian model of activism in terms more like a marketing pitch. He played the principle to his audience – Now you let me play it to mine.
• • •
Reading Paul Patton’s early book about Gilles Deleuze, Deleuze and the Political, I come across the same model of how social revolution happens. Gandhi was explaining the idea to rural Indian peasants. I’m explaining it to a subscriber base of NGO workers in the international aid and peace sector.

He developed concepts. They were technical yet succinct. Clear and
abstract. Uncertain and obscure. But very useful when you understand
what they're actually for.
Deleuze was explaining it to a bunch of other philosophers and people who could understand highly abstract, multidisciplinary conceptual theorizing. I just explained it again for a general blog audience that I’ll boost through Twitter during my spare moments at work tomorrow.

I’m trans-literating how I understand Deleuze’s concept of becoming-x into a model of progressive social activism. It supplies a lot more complexity, detail, and even guidance for implementation than the simple statement of populist Gandhi ever could.

Yes, everyone knows the phrase, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” But people need more than just the title of the paper – part of my job is to turn this into an action plan. It works to help folks along, adding a few more steps. A little more detail.

So you think about a person deterritorializing their existence – departing from one way of life for another. You focus your moral beliefs around entirely different concepts, which requires you to kick the old concepts to the curb. That takes force, and the only moral force strong enough is anger and rage at yourself for what kind of person you’d been for so long.

Patton writes about this specifically in terms of the state. That’s what it takes to reject the morality that the institutions of your state enforce. Overcoming the codes of enforced universal conformity to fly away from them entirely.

That’s one place to take the ideas. I have no problem with that application of them. I’m just applying the ideas differently.

How Could We Have Missed It? Research Time, 02/05/2018

You know, I want to be a little careful about how I write this post, given how Kanye West’s publicity for his latest single seems to have taken an unexpected turn.

Through some of my notes from a while ago, I’m having another look at a recurring problem in my own political thinking – Why do people desire their slavery? I’m not at all talking about what Kanye’s talking about, and I’m rather glad I never have.*

* My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still a masterpiece, and I’m going to keep listening to it. Though I will never do so in a way that will ever give Kanye West money again. He’s had enough of mine.

If you don't understand its danger, you can't protect yourself.
No, I’m talking about the slavery of fascist ideas – embracing the leadership of an increasingly authoritarian state as long as it acts in the name of your resentments.

I started reading the latest book by Timothy Snyder this week, The Road to Unfreedom. It's a fascinating analysis of the ideas, ideologies, imagery, and marketing communications techniques at the heart of modern fascism’s resurgence. Some thoughts on that one directly are coming eventually.

I’m still looking through this idea with Gilles Deleuze’s concepts themselves, for now. Paul Patton’s book on his political concepts reveal a few useful aspects of our return to fascism.

For one thing, he helps explain how so many mainstream leaders in governments, political parties, businesses, and international institutions didn’t really see this anti-democratic movement coming. There were troubling developments in places like Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary.

Awful parties with policies built around racism were terribly successful in local elections. But those were in backward countries, the excuses went, where democratic thinking was still under-developed.

Billionaires and former spies kept dying rather violently. Some words were definitely said along diplomatic channels, but it was surely a simple matter of a heavy hand from an old-fashioned leader. Nothing to be concerned about. Nothing to see here, folks.

Why did so many liberal democrats not see the danger of fascism’s comeback? I think Deleuze, Patton, and Snyder are all onto something, though they all describe the same phenomenon a bit differently.

Picture: A kindly old man.
Democrats tend to feel like the principles of democracy make so much sense, that it’s intuitive that it’s the best life. The problem is, they’ve been raised in a democratic country with democratic values baked into almost every aspect of the culture. Or at least enough for it to be really significant.

Most liberal democrats are ordinary folks for whom this society is just how government, law, business works. When you take something for granted so intuitively as most liberal democrats take democracy, you’re unable to conceive of a different way of life. Once people understand democracy, you think, of course they’ll want to embrace it.

That’s dangerous thinking, because it means you no longer know how to argue for the greatness of democracy. You never learned what democracy’s real virtues were. You only know the call-and-response.

What’s great about democracy? “Freedom!” What keeps us free? “Democracy!” Isn’t it great to be free? “Yeah!”

If you can’t even conceive why people would reject your values, then how can you even start figuring out how to protect them from attack. It's difficult enough for you to understand why anyone would want to attack democracy in the first place.

George W. Bush said “they hate our freedom.” Which sounds amazing. But what does it mean? It’s been nearly two decades since I first asked that question. Since we all should have been asking that question. But so few of our leaders – whether politicians, writers, or business leaders – can even take a decent shot at answering.

Meditating on the Flows of Power, Jamming, 01/05/2018

Today has been a good day. At the college, I got to give a really intriguing presentation to a group of international student recruiters from different places around the world. A crew from Korea, a couple of folks from Mexico, one from Colombia, one from Brazil, and even one from Kazakhstan, which was a pleasant surprise to me.

If we get some Kazakh students coming to join my business program, it’ll be a real education for me as well. I know a few things in general about the history and culture of Kazakhstan, but I’d be fascinated to learn more about everyday life in cities like Astana and Almaty, life in a social and political culture so different from where I grew up. Where there is no popular public conception of democracy as such.

Turkmenbashi, a man who made himself the state.
How does someone who’s lived all their life in a country like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, or North Korea think about freedom? Or duty? Or love of country?

The state is a powerful presence in the lives of so many. But we should keep in mind the central lesson of the ontology of the social for politics – all relationships in society generate power. They’re dynamic exchanges of energy among people as individuals, groups, organizations, institutions.

The state is one institution among many that people have developed to shape their lives and govern their communities. The major failure of left-wing political movements over the last century and change has been their frequent focus on using the power of the state to affect and ensure change.

There are alternatives. The state, when all of its institutional powers are marshalled over a population, constitutes this brute force of pressure on all these people. A society is crushed by its police, bureaucracy, and agencies. People are stamped flat with the imprint of a statue made of gold.

Symbiosis. That's one alternative way of organizing a society's power, and institutions that shape those relationships. Gilles Deleuze – and Paul Patton following him – call symbiosis a double-capture. Two processes link with each other, and develop together. It’s an alliance that builds a mutual dependence, an interdependence. Each of them become more together than what they could have been alone.

It’s a model that offers an alternative to the heavy hand and coercive machinery – and the guns, always all the guns in the hands of people with the sole right to use them – of the state.

What are some models of politics, society, and friendship that work according to a logic of symbiosis? Something to think about, as this is just a short post of reflections that I’m writing almost as a diary tonight. It's been a long and tiring day, and I’m scheduling this to post early tomorrow morning.

I hope everyone’s had a good sleep. The world remains dangerous. But there’s power in all our hands.