Forget Traditional Terms for Globalized Workers, Research Time, 31/03/2016

I could call this one of a series titled “What Liberals Get Wrong About the 21st Century Left and Marxism.” But I feel like it would last forever.

Here are some important communication messages that left-wing activists or just plain old left-leaning people have to drill into a lot of people’s heads. The old psychology adage is that it takes seven repetitions of a message to give someone the impression that it’s true. 

Well, when it comes to the commentariat, it’s more like 700. Or maybe 7000. Probably a few more zeroes.

Yeah, because Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis
are all authoritarian Stalinists. You can read the sarcasm
in that sentence, right?
Jonathan Chait continues to earn clicks antagonizing people with left-wing political beliefs by calling them all authoritarian marxists. In other words, headlining an article about young people’s new sympathy for socialist politics and values with a big propaganda photo of Josef Stalin.

Conservatives in America call anyone on the left a liberal. Well, in terms of the actual concepts involved, a lot of American conservatives are liberals themselves. All the free speech* and free market** values that conservatives support are as philosophically liberal as John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, and Friedrich Hayek.

* Paying no heed to the destructive effects of some speech like racism and mob harassment.

** Which are more like global business oligarchies enabled through government-created trade treaties.

There’s a widespread belief among liberals (including libertarians, who are basically extremist liberals) that all left-wingers want total state control of the economy and people’s daily lives. That’s because too many people – under the influence of libertarian ideas like Hayek’s – believe that the role of the state in society is the only fundamental political question.

Well, politics is a whole hell of a lot more complicated than that. The subject matter of politics is every question about how people relate to each other to build their societies.

In that context, here’s what the traditional political directions of left and right mean to me. Horrifyingly simplified, of course. On the right are people who think society is generally alright, that ongoing dominant trends should continue and strengthen. On the left are people who want to change society’s course.

Those on the left once thought you had to use state control to change society. But that lesson has been learned. The memory of Stalin and Mao are the most extreme examples of the failures of social and economic state control.

The real driving concept of those leaders on the left who properly have their heads together is building a democratic, economically fair globalization.

Whether or not he wins the US Presidency (and he still
has a shot), Bernie Sanders has kept a generation of
people sick of the worsening labour conditions for
those entering the work force politically engaged to
fight for a better, more fair society and economy. I
consider him the only true democrat in the race.
Here’s an example of a bind that globalized knowledge workers find themselves in today. In a Facebook conversation about rough times working freelance these days, my friend L told me about a dispiriting experience on eLance (which, after a corporate buyout, is now upwork).

L is a well-educated former grad student like myself. He’s quite proficient in English, and makes an excellent freelance writer and editor. Or at least he would if he was able to live on the rates that have become competitive.

You see, on eLance, L had to compete with freelance writers from India who could – thanks to much lower salaries, as well as standards and costs of living in that country – afford to set their rates extremely low compared to North Americans. 

It was not uncommon for L to find ads for freelance writers where companies would post rates of only a few dollars for a 500 word blog post. Depending on how much research had to go into a given post, it would only work out to $1 or less per hour. 

That's an effect of unrestrained globalization. The labour pool available to many companies in all industries grew by literally billions in less than two decades. And it grew without a corresponding expansion of workers’ rights. 

North American and European workers had struggled for more than a century for fair rights, protections, and standards that unregulated, uncontrolled globalization eradicated. Simply by opening the market for labour while the circle of political rights stayed closed.

So what would I call myself? Honestly, I’m not sure. I call myself a believer in network politics, I believe that globalization can be turned into global democracy, I believe in fairness for all people on Earth. I believe that prosperity flows from the wealth of ordinary people, not state treasuries or private fortunes. 

Other people would call and have called me a lot of other things. They aren’t necessarily accurate.

The Christians in the audience know what the most infuriating answer to that question would be.

Lessons for the Corporate World From an Old Commie, Research Time, 30/03/2016

I generally think that everybody who cares about politics should read Antonio Negri’s Empire / Multitude / Commonwealth trilogy with Michael Hardt. Even if you don’t agree with his left-wing politics at all, the books supply a good way to think about the global economy and the possibilities beyond just the style of globalized capitalism that we all tend to take for granted.

It makes you think that maybe there are other ways of doing business, doing politics, building relationships around the world, communicating, thinking. It’s important as a society that we never forget how to think, how to imagine new possibilities for ourselves.

The most ridiculous insults toward Bernie Sanders
revolve around completely misunderstanding his
actual political message that our economy should be
fair to everyone.
For example, I’m a bit of a left-wing guy, and my more conservative friends are always astonished to hear that I’m not that big a fan of socialism, per se. “But how? I thought the left was socialism!” 

Well, you thought wrong, for one. Because while I agree with people like Jonathan Chait in his article from New York Magazine on why traditional state socialism fails. But that doesn’t mean I embrace new liberal politics or economics, become a libertarian, or build a personal shrine to Ronald Reagan like most Republicans seem to today.

Negri uses the term “post-socialism” in some places in Multitude, and that’s really the direction he’s trying to stake out. It’s where the contemporary left needs to go too.

For example, take the old marxist concept of alienated labour. In its shortest form, the idea goes like this. The artisan was deeply connected to his entire production process as a person, but going to the segmented labour of the factory floor’s assembly line broke that personal connection to his work.

The super-short version of a really complex concept, but that’s basically it. Now, the modern pitch for the gig economy is a solution to alienated labour. You become a contractor, negotiating each of your jobs on your own, representing yourself in all your ventures. You become your own entrepreneur.

But this has simply caused another kind of alienation – the alienation of precarity. No matter how hard you work, you have no safety nets, no one to rely on in case an emergency or accident prevents you from working as you should.

The worst examples are workers in sharing economy businesses. Taskrabbit seems to have suffered the greatest fall in this regard. It was one of the highest profile sharing economy companies, but has had to radically retool its business model because customers were turning away in droves. 

I would not hire a rabbit to do personal assistant jobs
for me. They have no opposable thumbs and are easily
frightened by things like cars and loud noises. And
they smell funny.
To put it simply, work as a Tasker simply couldn’t offer enough security to make it worth a genuinely driven and intelligent person’s time. Eventually, the compensation offered to be constantly on-call, but paid by the task only, was so little that the only people who were good enough workers to do all their crap properly wouldn’t do it.

And there’s another form of alienation that manifests in another sector that Negri calls “immaterial labour.” My own industry of corporate communications. Communications is fundamentally about building relationships, and the dominant model of industry in the 21st century is all about communicating and relationship building.

In a very literal sense, professional communicators make friends on behalf of the companies they work for. It’s a profession that can come naturally to gregarious people like me, but Negri makes an intriguing observation. 

Building professional networks operates in pretty much the same way as building personal networks. That's a pretty intimate activity. Our social relationships constitute a major element of who we are, our fundamental identities. You make that a profession, and your own identity can blur with that of your company’s in a very complex, multifaceted, and profound way. 

The stereotypes of any profession speak to a truth that people in the profession all admit is sort of right. No one in communications or marketing embodies all the worst stereotypes of the field. But there’s always that danger of losing sight of yourself. 

Like a strategist whose job is countering environmental activists who doesn’t seem to understand that grassroots activism is a thing that exists. Or those marketers who were so deeply embedded in the culture of McDonalds that they couldn’t understand how anyone could have any negative attitudes about McDonalds

This erosion of your individuality can happen in any circumstance. But if your labour is your life, and your labour is building relationships for a company, then you can start to confuse the relationships that build your company and the relationships that build yourself. 

The Real Vanguard II: The Leading Edge, Composing, 29/03/2016

Continued from last post . . . What really transforms humanity is a much more profound process than just a few orders from a government. No matter what kind of force you might summon to back up those orders. That profound process is what I want to write about when I write Utopias

It’s a profound process, even though it’s pretty ordinary: changing people’s minds. It’s ordinary because we typically think of our whole life narratives in terms of how we changed our minds about different topics. “I used to think this way, until I realized that it wasn’t quite the right track” or “I realized that I was making a mistake” or “that I was missing something very important.”

Writing my own existence.
Every now and then, I like to remind readers that they’re actually watching an unfolding storyline on this blog (with some interruptions). That storyline is my research and developing the ideas of my next big nonfiction book, Utopias

Utopias literally picks up from the end of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. There, I introduced the idea that the only way to build a mass political movement or a transformative social change is the hard, grunting work of changing people’s minds. One person, one act of outreach, at a time. The process itself is very profound, because when successful, it’s the complete reorientation of someone’s personality. But it’s also really hard work.

The arc of the actual book Utopias will start from the profound and work its way into the gritty meat of everyday reality. The core idea is that because self-conscious humans can understand themselves narratively, we have a special relationship with time itself. 

Everything has a history – the series of events that have happened to bring them into being, knock them around, and eventually destroy them. As fundamentally narrative creatures, each of us not only has such a history, but we make a historical narrative out of our histories. That power to understand ourselves historically (and also act socially) gives us a very special ability to shape our own history and that of other people.

So the first third of Utopias will be about understanding that special human relationship with time. The final third is about the process of political and social change itself – how you change people’s minds genuinely and effectively. The middle part bridges the two investigations in what will probably be its weirdest part.

Right now, I only have a vague idea of what this bridging section will involve. But it starts from a potentially very pretentious conception of humanity.

A philosopher in ink.
In Henri Bergson’s last major book, Two Sources of Morality and Religion, he writes about the transformative power of humanity – prophecy. The religious mystic, he says, is the vanguard of life’s creative energies, pushing human understanding into new territory and dragging the rest of us after him. 

You can also interpret this idea as implying that genuinely creative philosophers can do the same thing. That’s pretty controversial in Bergson scholarship, to my knowledge at the moment, anyway. But in very basic terms, the creation of new concepts is the leading edge of human progress.

And you can see how that makes sense. If progress is about developing new ways to live, solving the problems we’ve made for ourselves in our current era, then we need new ideas and concepts to do so. Concepts are our guides for self-positioning, self-definition as people and communities, and action. 

But as the Jewish tradition* says, the time of prophecy is over. The work of creating new concepts is less for mysticism and the ecstatic, and more for deep thought and detailed investigation. Work out what we need to do, what are conditions would be to do it, and then work to make those conditions real.

* And possibly also the Muslim tradition, though I’m not nearly as familiar with these kinds of theologies, and they’d certainly put the date later than Judaism too.

Philosophy is the discipline of human knowledge that focusses most intently on the creation and refinement of new ideas, new concepts. At least when it’s firing on all cylinders and not caught up in the unfortunate institutional games it tends to lose itself in, as an academic discipline.

This is why I’ve been following so closely the debate unfolding at the Reply Collective over what philosophy’s political role should be outside the formal academy. No matter what you might think philosophy used to do, the truth is that the university-based discipline is in a crunch.

The casualization of teaching and research labour is eroding job security in the academic sector and driving many of its brighter talents among the younger generation outside it. That’s one of the main topics of my upcoming presentation at the Canadian Philosophical Association – how to keep trained philosophers who’ve left the university system engaged in the creativity of philosophy as a tradition.

Rooting the creativity of philosophical thinking in a wide-ranging political activity – outreach, activism, and social change – can be a more firm ground for the philosophical tradition than the increasingly corrupt university system. 

Utopias will be a framework and a strategy guide for what that unmoored philosophy would look like.

The Real Vanguard I: Networks of Resistors, Research Time, 28/03/2016

It wouldn’t be controversial to say that the 21st century’s global politics are defined by war. The War on Terror, the occupation of Iraq, the breakdown of people’s revolutions across the Arab World into further repression and a true Fourth World War in scope and international involvement.

All these demonstrations of state military power might make you think that we live in an era where states are consolidating their power over people through their militaries and police. And all that is true.

The Black Lives Matter movement has begun a tent
city outside Toronto city hall to protest the lack of
accountability for police responsible for the death
of Andrew Loku. Its point isn't just to reform state
laws about police accountability for violence, but
to engage the city's people and change their minds
about our relationship with state power and police.
But we also live in an era of popular revolt against all those wars, the military incursions, the encroaching of surveillance on all our lives, and police violence against the population they ostensibly exist to protect. So is the real story of the ongoing century one of state power or popular revolt?

The answer, of course, is both. Which is why it’s so important for us to seize what victories we can in this moment. But what does it even mean to claim or consolidate a victory in today’s political environment?

There's a section in Antonio Negri’s Multitude where he goes through what different critics from the academic left have declared him to be. They’re the kinds of things that a right-wing libertarian or conservative would call him too. The book is about exploring the powers and potentials of the multitude, and it can be easy to misinterpret what the multitude actually is.

Multitude is how a thoroughly networked model of political organizing constitutes the politically active public. Sovereign power – the state, its militaries, police, and other command-and-control apparatuses – constitutes itself in direct action. Crackdowns, surgical strikes, targeted assassination, riot police.

Network politics has no strict command-and-control structure. That’s what lets so many different political movements work together – no one has to give up any of their own ideals or programs in exchange for solidarity, only come together in a single, mutually beneficial campaign. 

A network’s direct actions are more about creating demonstrations and teachable moments about some systematic injustice. So we can see how we’re embedded in that systematic injustice and learn how to change our minds and lives to erode that injustice.

Sovereign power is about the use of force. Network power is about transforming our society by, one at a time, transforming how we understand ourselves and who we are. It’s about creating new subjectivities.

Negri's Multitude also taught me about the Tute Bianche,
a group of workers' activists that was an Italian forerunner
of Occupy's values. They were active through the 1990s
in the "social centre" movement, occupying abandoned
buildings to open bookstores and throw parties. But
the group disbanded in summer 2001 after facing an
extremely violent police crackdown during
demonstrations of Genoa's G8 meetings.
What I’d call the most damaging accusation against Negri that misunderstands what the multitude is, is the one that calls it a new vanguard. Essentially, it accuses Negri and his collaborator Michael Hardt of being old-school, unrevised Leninists. 

The centrepiece of Vladimir Lenin’s political program was that the Bolshevik Party would act as a vanguard – a political avant-garde movement in Russian society that would capture state power and use it to radically reshape its industries, social structures, and subjectivities. 

Calling the multitude a vanguard puts Negri in the camp of these authoritarians. Which, for someone with such a massive hatred as Negri’s for the oppressive power of any state institution at all, is laughable. 

We’ve learned the lesson by now that using the state to change social values through coercion never quite takes – it breeds resistance and resentment of the very values you’re trying to push on people. The human spirit that brings people to revolt against oppressive institutions and actions is, as far as Negri (and I) are concerned, is the purest spirit of human democracy.

Too many people presume that left-wing politics is always about using state control to force changes on the population’s minds and spirits. The political left wing used to believe that, but we’re thoroughly over it. What really transforms humanity is much more profound . . . To be continued.

Infamous Jian, Advocate, 25/03/2016

Every photo of Jian Ghomeshi will now look incurably
creepy. Even this one. How could you, Kermit? And
how much did you know about him?
I was never totally sure that I’d write anything in detail about the Jian Ghomeshi trial. The first one, anyway. We’ll see how the June trial goes. This includes a musing after a long Twitter conversation with my Reply Collective colleague Jack Elliot. But when I read through Judge Horkins’ ruling, I realized that it made for a pretty significant idea.

Now, I’m not an expert in legal theory or wider philosophy of law. I have learned quite a lot over my years at McMaster from being exposed to so many lectures, papers, books, and especially casual conversations on the subject. But I’ll never call myself an expert on the category in this sense, at least compared to researchers for whom it’s their specialty.

But I can make a few key distinctions that matter in how to understand the legal, political, and cultural implications of the March Ghomeshi ruling. The central idea is that there is a categorical separation between the legal, the moral, and the ethical. 

Let’s look at the legal matter first, if only to get it out of the way. It’s the least important anyway.

The Law

The core presumption in any legal trial is that of the accused’s innocence. That’s necessary for any proceeding that has a risk of incarceration – the state’s violent confinement of a person. Let’s also look at the high standard it takes to overturn the presumption of innocence inside a legal trial – proof beyond reasonable doubt.

My earlier posts on George Zimmerman helped me see
how focussing only on the legal aspects of a controversial
trial blinded you to the more important cultural
movement it encouraged.
It was damn near impossible to acquire such proof in this trial. The only evidence the prosecutors could muster were witness testimonies about events more than a decade ago. The narratives of Lucy DeCoutere and the other two witnesses’ relationships with Ghomeshi were fragmented with time and the weirdness of the whole situation in the moment. 

Plus, Judge Horkins wasn’t allowed to consider the three testimonies as constituting a single narrative of repeating behaviour. He could only consider them in isolation as grounds to prove that some particular events happened. With that in mind, Not Guilty was the only permissible legal verdict.

It’s quite possible, as state prosecutors prepare for Ghomeshi’s second sex assault trial this summer, they’ll change their presentation of evidence in the light of Horkins’ judgement. As they should if they’re worth their salaries.

Morality / Politics

The (first) Ghomeshi trial was more than a legal matter, of course. It galvanized the feminist movement in Canada. That’s why there have been protests ever since the verdict was announced. People are rightly frustrated, enraged, depressed, and generally steamed that he has, in all legal contexts anyway, gotten away with a lifetime of sexual harassment and assault. 

The politics of Ghomeshi are about what he stood for in the wider culture after the revelation of Jesse Brown’s reports for the Toronto Star. He stood for male entitlement, and the powerlessness of women. This is why Lucy DeCoutere became so powerful when she publicly accused Ghomeshi of violence against her. 

Our legal systems are often called the justice system, but
justice is a political and moral ideal, which will always be
other and more than any real-world legal system can
supply. However much Lucy and others may have wanted
Ghomeshi to face justice, true justice is not found in
courts or in any material actions of humans.
The hashtag #IBelieveLucy wasn’t just about DeCoutere – it was about all women who have ever kept silent for years about an incident of sexual violence because they felt nothing would come of it except for more injury to herself. DeCoutere became an icon of women’s bravery, and that is extremely important for our society.

Because women still face hostility and verbal abuse when they accuse someone of sexual crimes against them. They’re presumed to be doing so for money, notoriety, or because they want to ruin the lives and career of a prestigious man. 

A woman who accuses someone of sexual crimes against her is the only crime victim received with hostility instead of sympathy. This is a serious and terrible political issue in our society. 

Fear of the hostility and abuse that follows a woman after she alleges a sex crime is a key factor in the underreporting of those crimes. It’s a fundamental factor in the helplessness many women feel when trying to recover from having been a victim of sexual violence.

And the legal system is caught in a terrible bind. Because even though law and morality are different domains conceptually, legal systems still have an ostensibly moral purpose. Though law is not necessarily informed by what’s morally right, we want it to be and believe that it should be. 

The high standard of proof required for a conviction and the rigorous cross-examination of physical and witness evidence influences how people receive sex crime accusations in the first place. 

A victim is cross-examined not only by defence attorneys in the trial – the only place where this is conceivably appropriate – but often more aggressively attacked from friends, family, and her community. This is even more horrifying when a victim is prominent or connected enough to spark a social media pile-on, where abuse can easily become horrific and uncontrollable. 

Jesse Brown became Canada's most notorious and admired
journalist after publishing his takedown of Ghomeshi. But
I quickly lost faith in him once I saw that his efforts were
mainly spent constantly trying to destroy the credibility
of the CBC as an institution. Someone who, during the
Harper years, attacks so vigorously the public
broadcaster while leaving private media untouched,
to me at least, invites suspicion about motives.
People hop on Twitter and demand that DeCoutere and the other witnesses themselves be prosecuted and imprisoned for perjury, simply because a judge found their accounts not reliable enough to send someone to prison. Leave aside that this isn’t what perjury is at all – this is a horrible thing to say about anyone in public, whether or not you believe they were a crime victim.

Judge Horkins’ judgment plays into these stereotypes in awful places. For instance, he discusses conversations between DeCoutere and another witness, where they prepare their testimony together with the explicit purpose of taking down Ghomeshi. Given that Horkins ascribes many witness inconsistencies not only to faulty memory but to outright lying, his accusation of collusion is only fuelling anti-victim rage.

That’s ultimately what the protests of the Ghomeshi trial come down to. People are trying to change how we treat sex crime victims. We should lend them credibility and psychological support while they prepare themselves for what will have to be a difficult trial. We should foreground the terror of sex crimes instead of tearing down sex crime victims. 


What kind of a person is Jian Ghomeshi anyway? To me, one of the most telling moments in Judge Horkins’ ruling is when he says that just because the witness testimony couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that assaults did happen, no one proved that nothing happened at all.

Leave aside the trial itself, the particular crimes and allegations, doubts and certainties. Ghomeshi’s firing from the CBC and subsequent public humiliation revealed a lot about who he was as a person and the institutions that gave him so much unchecked power over others. 

For all the corruption that has degraded the CBC this
century, our public broadcaster is not nearly so tainted
as the BBC was by its corruption, as they enabled a
massive child rape ring almost continuously
throughout its existence as a broadcaster. The BBC's
Light Entertainment division was known since the
1940s as a home to pedophiles. Jimmy Savile was
only the most notorious and prolific, having raped
more than 1000 children in BBC studios. I did not
cry when David Cameron had Television Centre
torn down.
Jian Ghomeshi is a swine, an egotistical, misogynistic bastard with little if any empathy for other people. Throughout his career with the CBC, he let his growing power, fame, and stature justify and enable abusing everyone around him. 

He had a history of violence against women that nearly everyone in the Toronto arts scene knew. Western University’s journalism program had an unspoken rule to send no female interns to his show because he was known to sexually harass every woman in his production office. 

No one ever did anything to stop him. Whispering about his abuse of women and co-workers did nothing. Ghomeshi was only the most horrifying of the corruption among CBC idols that Jesse Brown’s investigations revealed. 

CBC’s main studio on Toronto’s Front Street used to drape three-story-tall banners of the faces of their biggest celebrities. The company’s C-suite was so in thrall to them that they enabled ridiculous levels of corruption by these untouchables. 

There was Ghomeshi, yes. But there was also Evan Solomon’s art business, Amanda Lang’s conflicts of interest in programming her own show, Rex Murphy's checks from major oil companies, Peter Mansbridge’s astronomical corporate speaking fees. CBC’s moronic marketing strategy of building the station’s image around super-celebrities created a culture of entitlement and godliness among that cadre of ten or so personalities.

Ghomeshi will probably restart his media career on the Men’s Right Association lecture circuit, and become everything that Roosh V pretends to be. He can easily remake himself into a leader in the anti-feminist movement, the MRA and Gamergater’s own Donald Trump. 

He will have plenty of fans and supporters, and probably crowdfund more money for new projects in less time than DeCoutere or anyone else from Trailer Park Boys ever could have if they tried.* This greasy, misogynistic swine – if he survives his June trial without prison time, as is likely – will probably rebound faster than any of the other disgraced former gods of my country’s incurably corrupt public broadcaster.

* And Trailer Park Boys is a fucking masterpiece.

In all these ways, we are all complicit in the crimes and corruption of Jian Ghomeshi. We aren’t going to prison either. But what else will we do?

Our Hands Are Left and Right – Not Our Politics, Research Time, 24/03/2016

Because if anything – philosophically speaking – makes me seriously steamed about today’s popular understanding of left and right, well, it’s two things. 

Of all the reactionary political trends today, what I find
most disturbing is the defence of racism in the name of
free speech, of which the ideas surrounding Donald
Trumps presidential campaign are only the most
prominent expression.
One is how social and economic conservatives use racializing* resentment to whip up a marginalized populace in favour of a populism that makes them feel superior but keeps them marginalized. I ranted about this yesterday, and I’ll keep being annoyed, as it seems to be the major political trend of this generation.

* Here’s what I mean by this concept. There’s no such thing as race, except as a hierarchical category to split and antagonize communities who should be allies in setting each other free together. Like European indentured labourers and African slaves in the 1600s Americas; like men with stagnating careers and women; like union leaders and environmentalists. 

But what annoys me even more is the confusion over the evils of left and right. Reading this essay by Jonathan Chait yesterday on the bus put the problem fresh in my mind, and I wanted to hash it out here. 

At least I’ll try to get the concepts a bit more clear in some form. Because it certainly isn’t very clear in a lot of the minds of people who are paid way more than me to write about political ideas on the internet.

Let’s start with Chait. He describes everyone to the conventional left of someone like Barack Obama – his main targets are Bernie Sanders, his young supporters, and anti-racist campus activists – as conscious or unwitting supporters of totalitarian marxism. 

In the case of Sanders supporters, he writes them off as politically ignorant. Too young to remember the Cold War when Russia and China were totalitarian communist bureaucratic states, they think that socialism and social democracy are good ideas. In fact, so says Jon Chait, socialism and social democracy are the leading edge of oppressive states whose bureaucracies control every aspect of citizens’ lives.

Rob Ford was the Canadian prelude to the national
disaster of American Trumpism. He was an innovator in
masking political brutality and contempt with a façade of
approachable affability. He and other right-wing
populists believe the same silly things about the left
that liberals do, but at least their opposition is
To think that way about Sanders and the post-Occupy movement that forms his campaign’s youth backbone only reveals general ignorance about how today’s left thinks about politics. State control is not the only object of political thinking – it was a mistake for anyone to have thought so in the first place.

Politics is the transformation of culture through philosophical means – crafting messages that change each other’s minds. Some messages can be more complex or profound than others, depending on a person’s threshold to change how they think about something. 

It might be a phrase, a speech, a gesture, a joke, a protest, or a months-long campaign for president of the country. But any act of communication that tries to change how people think about how we live together is a political act. 

The Bernie Sanders campaign and the wider post-Occupy political movement is about changing our culture so that people think and act more justly. So why do Chait and so many others like him get this confused with conquering the state to impose a national command economy? What they call 20th century Marxism?

Patrick Iber’s commentary on that Chait essay hit it on the money. Too many older political thinkers of the liberal left were forged in the Cold War, when nearly everyone thought of politics as being about control of the state and how the state should be used to control its population and territory. 

This is why he lumps anti-racist campus protestors** with totalitarians. He sees their mission as lobbying for authorities to crack down on free speech. And several campus activist groups have already made exactly the same mistake, making the goal of their protests lobbying their universities’ administrators to ban some kinds of expression.

The massive popular success of Friedrich Hayek's work
in the United States contributed heavily to the popular
false equation of all politics with state control and
management, and all leftism with omnipresent state
control of every aspect of people's lives. Countering
this idea will be a key goal of my Utopias book.
** Chait calls them the new political correctness movement, but that’s a 20-years-outdated term for what this really is – an effort to call out everyday racism on university campuses.

It’s a typical human mistake – confusing the fastest route to your goal with the fastest possible route. Sure, you can use authorities to ban whatever speech you want, but that will only breed resistance to that authority and resentment of the very anti-racist movement that you wanted to succeed. 

Restricting free speech against casual, inadvertent, sub-conscious racism only encourages more open racism because people see the beliefs that got them into trouble as a cause for their own oppression. And humanity has a natural urge to rebel against oppression. When what’s being oppressed is a more insidious form of oppression, that other oppression becomes a badge of freedom.

And so we have the politics of Donald Trump and Rob Ford.

The inability to confront the problem of racism in the social context of free speech is the paradox that’s always stymied liberal politics. The necessity of free speech becomes a reason to let a racist rant without any opposition. 

Then, when someone who is all too aware of the hypocrisies and destructive paradoxes of liberal politics argues that racism is inappropriate and tries to expose racist people to alternative ideas, the liberal mistakenly believes that the anti-racist is advocating oppression, advocating silencing speech.

Authoritarian control of speech doesn’t change minds – politics changes minds. Liberals like Chait become frozen in their deserved fear of totalitarianism when they can no longer tell the difference between politics and oppression.

Who Owns Revolution? Research Time, 23/03/2016

That title isn’t talking about any particular revolution. I mean who owns revolution as a concept. What political approach best typifies what revolution as a political and social act is ultimately for? Revolution’s ultimate purpose.

The most famous photo of Donald Trump's army of
supporters, a reactionary social movement that I
consider America's contemporary conservative
revolutionaries. But can conservatives of this virulence
genuinely own revolution?
When you read Antonio Negri’s Multitude, he starts you with a meditation on contemporary warfare and how it relates to contemporary revolution. Warfare has become – as the parlance of our time would go – biopolitical. It’s fundamentally about controlling an entire population in every way possible. Through the army and police as well as social and psychological weaponry.

And this kind of warfare-as-control is carried out by states. Which is a weird thing when you come to Multitude after reading the first book in his series with Michael Hardt.* If you read Empire you can easily think that he’s describing a world where states no longer have any power.

* A word about Hardt. I don’t doubt that Hardt is an important part of the composition of Negri’s trilogy. Admittedly, I don’t know how they work together. But I have always associated the spirit of their books together with Negri. Perhaps it’s because the voice of someone who has actually been persecuted speaks louder in any collaboration, at least to me. Hardt has been a tenured professor in the United States for years. Negri spent more than a decade in prison on fabricated charges. 

That’s only because what’s most important in that earlier book is describing the essentially different way power operates when organized in a network. The network is the dominant model of how knowledge and power operate today – distributed and centreless, but also electric, rapid, and transformational. 

The state was the dominant model of power and knowledge in the modern era, with its dynamic of command and obedience. Power itself is controlled through a nerve centre that’s typically thought of as the sovereign authority of the state, the institution that calls the (sometimes terrifyingly literal) shots. 

Because revolution is not the same as populism. Rob
Ford was a populist of the Canadian right wing, but
while his politics rode resentment to state power in
Toronto, his ideas were never really about destruction.
State power is the consolidation of sovereign authority through institutions of command and control. Network power is polycentric, with many different power centres working together from their own autonomous but linked domains. When such a network power does political violence, we call it an insurgency. 

If network power is an insurgency, then the answer is clear when I ask who owns revolution? Or so it appears. It would be the insurgency, wouldn’t it? But there’s a catch.

** There’s always a catch, after all.

I’m writing this post before going to bed on the day that Rob Ford died. Over the last few weeks, Donald Trump has consolidated his lead in the race to be the Republican nominee for US President. These two men lead and have led social movements focussed on winning control of a state government. But they think of themselves and promote themselves as figureheads of popular insurgencies.

Those would be insurgencies against social liberals and “downtown condo-bound elites” in Ford’s case. Trump’s movement is far more complex, but he is the American face of racialized conservative revolution of white (and straight, cis, Christian) power against what his popular and populist armies see as a rising tide of black, hispanic, Muslim, and gay groups who seek to grind white people under their boots. 

The fear of white people who feel threatened by the growing social and economic power of those who have historically been oppressed is real. Fundamentally misdirected, but real. It’s the fear whose premise is the notion that someone’s liberation requires someone else’s oppression. 

The new face of American resentment. But only the face.
If the people who used to be oppressed are freeing themselves, then the free ones are next in line for oppression. Trump supporters, on the whole, believe this. They as a network are mobilizing behind Trump, and their potential has far more violence than the similarly motivated motley assemblage of Ford Nation ever did. 

Trump and Ford rallied their supporters, but they don’t command them. Trump issues commands in the heat of his rambling, dictatorial rallies. But the real energy in the room comes from the power of the people themselves. They are a people controlled by their own resentments and fears, but they’re still people acting with the power that they constitute themselves. 

Does networked power alone constitute revolution? Or does the content matter?

Prelude to a Provocation, Jamming, 22/03/2016

For the past couple of weeks, there’s been a fight brewing in one of the communities I move and publish in, the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. It has to do with a topic that’s quite important to me, the future of philosophy and its relationship to the academy.

Here’s my take on that fight, the perspective of one person from my own peculiar position. Rob Frodeman and his colleague Adam Briggle at the University of North Texas have thrown down a gauntlet that’s quite controversial in the academic philosophy community. 

The gauntlet: That philosophy as a community of practitioners should expand beyond the university system, and expand its discourse styles beyond academic research publishing. Philosophy works best when it blends academic intensity and the political activism that comes from engaging the wider world and popular culture.

Most of you outside that community might not find it that controversial at all. In fact, quite a few of the folks in the wider community of humanity about this general idea think it’s a great one. Things only get controversial when I bring up this idea in academic circles.

Legendary philosopher Bertrand Russell speaks at a UK
anti-nuclear weapons rally late in his life. Throughout
Russell's life, political engagement was never separate
from his philosophical pursuits. That engagement with the
wider political world has slipped away from the
community of philosophers as we've embedded ourselves
deeper in the disciplinary academy. We don't face an
either/or choice; it's a matter of how we adapt to changing
I’m presenting this idea – along with many of the ideas in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity – at the Canadian Philosophical Association conference in Calgary this May. And I’m hoping that my presentation causes a lot of anger among the more institutionally conservative attendees.

Part of the purpose of my book panel will be to shock people. It’s the same with my upcoming contributions to the Reply Collective’s discussions of Frodeman and Briggle’s recent piece. Those contributions will also be an advertisement for my upcoming book panel.

Because what I’m preparing is a bit of a shock to the Canadian academic system. Frodeman and Briggle identify three kinds of vocations for philosophers to follow in the future. 1) The usual academic route. 2) A philosopher housed in a university department, but who regularly works as an advisor to politically active organizations. 3) A philosopher who has left the university system, but brings the skills and powers of someone in the philosophical tradition to the private sector and political activity.

Frankly, I think this is necessary, given the narrowing of career opportunities for philosophers among conventional university faculty in the current era. The third route, a philosopher who primarily focusses his career in the private and political sector beyond the university walls, is my own career path.

Ideally, I’ll bring my abilities as a political and environmental philosopher to shape the agenda of the social democratic party of Canada, the NDP. While also getting involved with local arts organizations and advocacy for refugee rights. And my philosophical skills play an important part in my communications work – developing the ideas, concepts, images, and messages that will motivate people to bring their business to my clients.*

* And I’ll always do my best to make sure that my clients are as virtuous as possible.

Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity includes several passages where I praise different projects based out of University of North Texas for their political engagement and integration with the world’s most important social movements. 

So it’s quite fitting for two writers based in that university’s philosophy faculty to have developed what amounts to a modern manifesto to kick at least one eye of the philosophical tradition beyond the ivory tower. For a ton of reasons, it’s necessary. And they’re certainly not alone.

My First Theatre Production Was Probably My Last, Composing, 21/03/2016

Just under a month ago, I read a review of a piece of theatre that I’d quite like to see. It’s in London, so I really hope they record it and make a version available online eventually. It’s called Cleansed by Sarah Kane, and directed by Katie Mitchell.

It is an apparently very disturbing piece of art – deeply symbolic and filled with visceral violence and torture. Actors masturbate on stage. There are graphic murders and horrifying violence throughout the story. Anal violations, mechanical tortures, brutal stabbings. Nudity is a constant, and this nudity is disturbing and unsettling – as far from erotic as you can get. 

A scene from Cleansed, some seriously weird shit.
Yet compared to what I’ve learned of the most remarkable theatre of the last century, Cleansed actually fits in quite well with its history of provocation and the tradition’s recent desires to push the boundaries of art forward. Despite this, there seems to be a limit to the artistic innovation theatre can achieve. 

You can see this in the descriptions of the audience at the Cleansed preview. Its political content is challenging, but its on-stage violence amounts to nothing more unusual than a live theatre Hostel. It’s violent, but no more bloody than a typical horror or action film of the 21st century.

But audience members were hissing and walking out in disgust. The audience was composed entirely of refined, upper-crust, and frankly ignorant theatre buffs. The folks who, as far as the VICE reporter could tell, still tittered nervously at the double entendres of a farce like The Importance of Being Earnest

It seems to be the same conundrum that I hit two years ago when I produced my first play, You Were My Friend. I still thought about the theatre as a place for challenging, powerful art. That’s why I wrote an uncompromising story about two women struggling against the financial erosion of under- and unemployment in modern Toronto.

My whole crew and I thought the story was wonderful, and that (it’s my blog, so I’ll blow my own horn) the script itself was pretty damn good. What audiences were got were appreciative, and many people approached me after performances to say how affected and touched they were. It hit people in the souls and the guts. 

When I first thought of the story of You Were My Friend, I wanted to make a visceral, powerful theatre experience that depicted the struggles of so many people in this rough economy, and showed how low we could fall – financially and ethically – if we didn’t support each other.

English theatre director Sarah Kane
And we succeeded. Me, the director, the designer, our technician, and our two actors, we all succeeded. But the audiences were all at Theatre Aquarius down the road watching the feel-good Canadian patriotism play Billy Bishop Goes to War

Of course, a serious factor in Billy Bishop’s success was the terrible and tragic timing of our theatrical run. Barley two weeks before we opened in Hamilton were the Parliament Hill shootings, whose only fatality (other than the shooter himself) was Nathan Cirillo, a Hamilton-born soldier who was only in his mid-20s. 

The entire city went into a period of collective mourning. A city in that mood wouldn’t be drawn to a story like You Were My Friend, but would sit in the collective cushion of happy patriotism. But thinking about the reaction to Cleansed helped me understand that there was more to it.

The art of playwrights like Antonin Artaud, Henrik Ibsen, Dario Fo, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, and Harold Pinter could shock a popular audience because they had a popular audience. But theatre today is priced largely beyond the reach of ordinary people.

Most young people in my generation and with my cultural tastes – fairly intelligent hipsters raised on Quentin Tarantino, basically – love to watch these kinds of emotionally powerful and sometimes viscerally violent stories. We’re the generation who loves series on Netflix like Jessica Jones, television shows like Breaking Bad, and I hope movies like the film version of You Were My Friend

I’m finishing the script over the next couple of weeks, and then we’re searching for enough funding to get this thing produced. My lead actress Samantha from the theatre version is keeping her role and will direct as well.

Because people like Samantha and me (and our collaborators on the play version, Mel, Jeannette, and Hannah) are drawn to stories like this. They’re the kind of stories people love from artists like Greta Gerwig and Lena Dunham. But you put them on the theatre and they go nowhere. 

Theatre audiences largely aren’t young people anymore. The tickets are just inaccessible to them, especially in the most prestigious venues. So the biggest theatres in my current home city of Toronto – despite having a major large theatre district – play mainstream musicals and mainstream adaptations like Spamalot. Anything more experimental – even the classics – ends up on the margins.

So I’m probably not going to produce theatre again, unless it’s a trial run or some related part of a project that will be recorded and distributed more cheaply than live performance. There just aren’t the same possible returns. And I want to aim big.

This Mad British Monster VII: I Lived Through a Renaissance, Jamming, 20/03/2016

Steven Moffat’s era, taking over from Davies in 2010, improved on it in many ways. Doctor Who by then was so closely identified with RTD that the BBC considered resting the program after he left. Perhaps for another generation or more. But RTD found a successor in Moffat, and we could continue after the departures of all the stars and production leaders.

Moffat’s Doctor Who suffered from not having a Julie Gardner of his own. Having to do what should be the work of two people on Doctor Who, plus share creative producer duties on Sherlock with Mark Gatiss, ultimately caused a lot of cut corners on Smith’s second season and production slowdowns that spread Matt Smith’s three seasons over four years. 

Steven Moffat is the second-longest running, and the most
successful creative producer of Doctor Who. Popularly,
as a writer, and ethically.
This is why I consider Moffat’s era of Doctor Who to be really two eras. It’s not just because they’re split between the Matt Smith years and the Peter Capaldi years. It’s also the fact that the chaotic production of Smith’s era finally smoothed out once Moffat had Brian Minchin as co-producer starting in 2014. 

Moffat’s message was more optimistic than the nihilist Davies could ever have been. Where RTD’s aesthetic was ultimately about the absolute necessity of maintaining history’s course, Moffat’s story arcs saw history itself overthrown multiple times. 

He embraced the vision of the Doctor as the revolutionary – the Doctor must change history because his ethics won’t let him not do so somehow. Laws and necessity be damned if they stand against what’s right. The Doctor wasn’t just a charismatic adventurer. Moffat’s Doctor is a dedicated idealist. 

This is most evident in Day of the Doctor, the anniversary special which changed the most important history in Doctor Who, that of Doctor Who. In erasing the final genocide of his own people that ended the Time War, Moffat and Smith’s Doctor overcame the last element of Davies’ nihilism to sit in Doctor Who. 

The Doctor as a character no longer lived with the destructive contradiction of being a hero who had purposely murdered billions of people. He simply found a cheat within the possibilities of the moment, and changed the reality of history while deceptively keeping appearances just as they were. 

John Hurt's Doctor redeemed the ethical wound that
Russell T Davies' core tragic concept in Doctor Who,
the Time War, left on the show.
The anguish of the Davies era was now not a real, inescapable tragedy at the core of the character. It was a penance for having abandoned his idealism at considering genocide as the only solution to the Time War in the first place. The ethical idealism of Doctor Who was fully restored. 

Most of the descriptions of Moffat’s aesthetic stick to describing the complex nature of his season plots – farcical puzzle boxes. River Song’s arc is the core example. She’s a beautifully paradoxical character. 

The mystery of her identity and story is at the forefront of the Smith era. Even so, Doctor Who tells (and the Doctor experiences) her story out of chronological order, and many key scenes are in marginal places like episode previews and DVD extras. 

Her marginal place makes it seem as though her story and character is defined solely through her relationship with the Doctor. This was a key element of the popular feminist critique of Moffat – his apparently strongest female character was nothing but a cipher of worship for a man.

But that’s only because we saw her large, complex narrative when it intersected with Doctor Who. River unfolded on the margins, so however much she loved the Doctor and the Doctor was part of her early life, she had a long, full life of centuries where she and Smith’s Doctor were only passing partners. They may have been married, but she treated their relationship as open and on-off most of the time.

From the first time we saw River Song in Silence in the
, her story was one of tragedy and loss. But her
story on Doctor Who ended with redemption and love.
And Moffat himself made Doctor Who a thoroughly feminist show in the Smith years. Amy Pond is fundamentally shaped by her own desires and loves, and her own character arc is literally about growing into herself in overcoming trauma and tragedy. 

That storyline of the Pond family – overcoming the trauma of violence with love and friendship – so defined the fabric of the Smith years that it limited a lot of the potential of the character. I think that’s why, however much I enjoyed the interpersonal dynamic between Clara Oswald and Matt Smith’s Doctor, their time together felt like an afterthought.

The Smith era had been defined by the need for mystery – for whole season arcs and characters to be shaped by an investigation. Piece the clues together. Find the reality behind the disconnected appearances. 

With Amy and Rory gone from his life and (as The Name of the Doctor implied) the Doctor having caught up to River’s death in both their timelines, Clara – with the strange phenomenon of her fracture in time – appeared to be a cosmic-scale mystery. The Doctor treated her as one on the show, and we did as viewers.

But this was Moffat pulling our leg. He knew, after the four-year unravelling mystery of the River Song arc, that this technique could go no further. So while he figured out where to go next after replacing Matt Smith, he played a joke on us. Clara's mystery was no conspiracy, but her own affirmative act of risking her life to save her friend the Doctor.

Much as I love Matt Smith's portrayal of Doctor Who,
his performance was eventually limited by his
character's deep links to the arc of the Pond family.
Once that was complete, the character had little else
to do but show what a rut he was stuck in.
Peter Capaldi’s time on Doctor Who saw a turn away from these mysteries and complex narrative puzzles toward a focus on simplicity. Capaldi’s first season as Doctor Who was defined through the tragic arc of Clara and Danny Pink’s love. 

It’s a simple, beautiful story told in farce, drama, and tragedy. Farce because of the hilarious personality conflicts of the Doctor and Danny, and as Clara tries to hide her other life as a time travelling adventurer from Danny. 

Drama because Clara and Danny are really falling in love. Complicating that love, Clara finds herself conflicted between a life of variety, adventure, and empowerment, and the comfortable hearth of life with Danny. Danny who has some masculinist tendencies that Capaldi’s more openly gay* Doctor undercuts. Danny talks about protecting Clara, when we know that Clara needs no one to protect her.

* I say this only in terms of Capaldi’s mannerisms in his first season, with the physical and speaking style that reminds me of some of the elderly gay men of my own family. As well, he’s an older, flamboyant man who thinks nothing sexually of the quite beautiful Clara.

Clara’s remains a deeply feminist story because she is always more than the choice between life with Danny and life with the Doctor. Or as a mid-1990s Quentin Tarantino might have said, between an old-fashioned heterosexuality and an embrace of the gay way.

Clara and Danny's relationship was another leap forward
for Moffat's style of depicting romance as a dramatic
farce. His time running Doctor Who was defined by the
most rare of creative impulses – even at the top of his
game, he pushed himself to try new and different
things. He kept regenerating himself.
It’s a storyline fitting for Davies, given his long-running interest in gay people's stories. A few key comments in her second year with Capaldi established Clara as bisexual. As Jenna Coleman left Doctor Who, Clara leaves the Doctor as an immortal in a lesbian life partnership with Maisie Williams’ Ashildir.

Moffat’s era saw Doctor Who expand to become a truly global brand, rooted in the sci-fi fandom and popular culture of nearly 100 countries. Its deep links with television markets all over the world essentially prevents the BBC from cancelling Doctor Who in all but the most catastrophic circumstances. 

It’s all the greater achievement for Moffat to have universalized the popular love of Doctor Who while preserving its spirit as a fundamentally idealistic, forward-thinking, weird program with a heart of progressivism and revolutionary spirit.

Even Moffat’s most notable haters, the feminist sections of online sci-fi fandom, embrace the same idealism that Doctor Who as a program does. Feminist Moffat-haters are Doctor Who’s equivalent of the Bernie Sanders campaign (and Occupy, where those values came from). 

His Doctor Who had made more progress for feminism in the program than any other production leader. Yet he was still reviled by feminist activists, latching onto his laddish sense of humour and laying missteps of his writers** at Moffat's own intentions.

** Toby Whithouse’s “Mrs Williams” line in The God Complex and Smith’s own kiss-without-consent of The Crimson Horror. Matt Smith – however much I love his performance as the Doctor, once a footballer always a footballer.

Still one of my favourite moments of Peter Capaldi's Doctor.
River Song was a major recurring character who subverts the one-dimensionality of loving the Doctor (which wrecked Davies’ companion with the most disappointed promise, Martha Jones) with a full, complex, centuries-long life that unfolds totally separately from the Doctor as a character and Doctor Who as a television show.

River and Amy’s character arcs in their focal seasons of Moffat’s era were stories of overcoming violence and trauma through love and friendship. Clara’s tragedy of love and loss led to an embrace of a gay lifestyle, all of which unfolded entirely on her terms. 

Throughout, the Doctor was a visionary idealist and revolutionary. To me, there’s no sense in which the Moffat years haven’t been a time of progress for Doctor Who.

But his progress enabled a fanbase to demand more progress. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand about the nature of idealism. It never stops pushing, the world is never as good as it could be, and it will never be satisfied. 

Complete, absolute justice is an asymptote. Impossible to achieve, but we must keep pressing toward it and getting closer to it. I don’t know if we’ll get closer than this for a long time. So thank you, Steven Moffat.