How to Turn an Image Into a Concept II: Self-Consumption, Research Time, 29/06/2018

Most of the popular political activism around the environment and Earth’s ecologies is about climate change. Which is a very serious topic and problem that we do need to confront honestly. But it isn’t the only environmental crisis facing human civilization, just the one that’s gotten the most press.

Mining, and the pollution that comes from large-scale mining, is another process significantly adding to the conditions that will keep humans from staying alive on Earth.

Yet the problems of mining are much more difficult for an environmental activism movement to address. The causes how* are frankly painful. It all revolves around those rare earths mines that I was talking about earlier this week.

The Tesla auto company is promoted as a leader in developing the
technology for cars to have no negative environmental impact. It's
true that Tesla cars don't give out greenhouse gas as exhaust, and so
can be major contributors to preventing climate change. But
climate change isn't the only form of catastrophic result from
industrial pollution. The more you learn about heavy industry of
all kinds, the easier it is to conclude that we're damn if we do and
damned if we don't. It's definitely quite easy to feel damned.
* If we say “reasons why,” then why wouldn’t we also say “causes how”? I think I’m going to run with this phrase for a while and see what it gets me. Is it a neologism? Is its meaning clear? I think so, but I need feedback from people who aren’t me. Let me know.

Rare earth metals are essential for the core technologies of the renewable energy industries as well as computer devices. Some examples. Cerium and lanthanum are used in hydrogen fuel cells and batteries. Dysprosium, neodymium, and praseodymium are important for the powerful magnets used in wind turbines. Neodymium is also an essential component of hybrid car engines. Terbium and europium are used to make solar panels, and terbium is also needed to build fuel cells for fully electric cars.

So the environmental movement becomes, inevitably, complicit in environmental destruction. That’s just great, then. There seems to be no way of continuing large-scale industrial civilization that doesn’t cause severe ecosystemic harm somehow.

Jussi Parikka looks at this fact, as well as heavy industry’s dependence on fossil fuel energy, and concludes that any attempt at an ethical geological approach to philosophy will inevitably be an assault on capitalism as a social order. It seems we can’t build genuinely environmentally friendly and constructive technology products, without causing severe ecological harm somewhere in the production processes.

I’ve been talking a lot about the different social orders that we call capitalism. A lot of us have been talking about it. The last decade or more of Western politics has largely revolved around confronting or sublimating the economic anxieties of life under an increasingly destructive oligarchical economic system.

Because sites like this lie behind every Tesla car, every Prius, every
hybrid and all-electric vehicle, it can really drive you into a more
pessimistic point of view about our future. Here's another horribly
depressing fact: Most of the public transit buses we use today are
hybrid, so these filthy, destructive mines are behind every
proudly environmentally-friendly bus. We can't even reduce car
use without driving the heavy industries that to serious harm to
our ecosystems and ourselves.
You can find plenty of critiques of capitalism in today’s journalism, entertainment, and theory. When they occur in so many different contexts, it can seriously confuse the popular definition of capitalism.

If you use the term as a shorthand label, it means entirely different things to different people. So when I write official publications, I mostly describe economic relationships and processes, rather than the single label for this diverse family of systems.

Geological philosophy, as Parikka describes its mechanics, is an ontology and an advocacy all at once, because thinking philosophically about geology displays the most destructive aspects of capitalist economics. Unlike most of the capitalism-critical traditions, geological (and ecological) thinking focusses on the physical destruction of Earth’s processes and ecologies, rather than directly human misery.

Capitalist society is produced through societies’ energy consumption to build and consume things. But not all energy consumption is capitalistic. You properly call it capitalism when you cross a threshold of intensity in energy production that radically transforms how your society operates.

More than this. Crossing the threshold of heavy industry’s intensity of energy production and consumption transforms what is and isn’t possible for a particular society. That change in what can be is far more profound than a mere change in what is. Keeping energy consumption in a particular, very intense range limits some possibilities and opens others.

Here’s the question you’re left with. Are the possibilities of a high-intensity lifestyle of energy consumption better overall then the possibilities of low-intensity energy production? Is the worst of one better than the best of the other?

Which one?

How to Turn an Image Into a Concept I: Living Earth, Composing, 28/06/2018

Jussi Parikka's book The Geology of Media is one of several books that have come out in the last decade exploring aspects of our global ecological crisis with an old image. The living Earth.

I’ve come across different aspects of this in Tim Morton’s work, as well as others in his broadly-related crew of thinkers – Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, a few others falling under the name speculative realists.* A variety of creative – and in Bogost’s case, delightfully bizarre – fundamental pessimists about the future of humanity.

* They all went to the same conference in 2007 that had “speculative realism” in the title, and appeared in an essay collection with that phrase in the title.

I hope the insane billionaires of the world will be happy to invest the
massive fortunes they've squired away in building inter-planetary
mining infrastructure by the end of the century. Because that's when
we're going to run out of all the metals that make computers work.
I mean, the most thoroughly absurd stance in ecological philosophy in the 21st century is optimism. So the image of a brutalized, raging, vengeful Earth – whether radically alien or hauntingly personal – is a constant.

But there are other, more impish, perspectives as well. I remember reading Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter during research for my last big book. She built a curious outline of an ontology she called vital materialism – major components were a return to vitalist biological theories and a quirky extrapolation of metallurgy.

Another book that delivered on almost all its potential, but petered out a little. Still excellent, if not quite great – fascinating ideas that weren’t tied together quite as profoundly as they could have been.

Parikka himself offers another set of sources for this image of the living Earth – an important one for him is the history of geology. Geology is, in the simplest terms, the historical investigation of a planet’s own development and the essential nature of a planet, along with the techniques for doing all that well.

It’s a science that could work on any planet made mostly of rock, but Earth is where we’ve done the most studies so far. Works just as well for other planets, moons, and asteroids – but for now such studies are prohibitively expensive, and getting there is a bit of a commute.

Throughout his book, Parikka turns to media theory and art for the
tools to turn the image of the living Earth into a philosophical
concept you can act on (and through). There are many hitches with
this decision, but one of them is that there have been so many
such images that focussing on a single one requires so much
justification that you spend all your time on it and not the analysis.
A lot of the first people to study geology shared a general, kind of vague image that served as their very rough framework for understanding how Earth worked as a system. Scratch that – it was a framework to understand THAT Earth worked as a system. This was the living Earth – that the generation and dynamic fluxes of Earth’s processes were its life processes.

Not as an organism like us. No one seriously thought they’d find igneous analogous to kidneys or lungs. If you describe these early geologists that way, you’re just doing it to dismiss their ideas from relevance by making their interpretive frameworks sound too plainly ridiculous.

Here’s how they thought, in brief. Having dynamic internal processes that generate themselves – one powers the other, the other powers the first – is a necessary and sufficient condition for being alive. For being a life.

It didn’t imply anything ontologically or physically – it didn’t mean necessarily that a planet would have a geological circulation like an animal’s cardiovascular system. The implication was ethical – that the Earth deserved the respect that you’d accord any living thing.

For example, take my personal favourite utterly barmy image of the
living Earth in popular culture – Mogo! The Green Lantern that's a
sentient planet! Mogo is pretty much the only thing I like about
Green Lantern proper, mainly because of its core premise that our
hero is a narc.
That’s different from the other common idea about respecting the Earth – philosophers use words like alienation and sublimity. Because the Earth is so much more powerful than a person – storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanos, massive mountain chains, vast oceans, etc – we respect it because it dwarfs us. We respect Earth because we’re so insignificant compared to it and casually destroyable in the face of it.

A geologically-inspired philosophy for our current crisis can’t inspire respect for the Earth through fear. Our processes – the grotesque pollution of mining and e-waste, the overflowing dumps of nuclear waste – are enough to strike fear into the Earth. We no longer need to fear the Earth – we need to fear ourselves.

That begins from understanding Earth as something which we harm. Not something we wreck, the way an angry toddler wrecks a plastic toy or a train set. You wreck something, and all that matters is the money to replace it and the mess you made. Earth is something we harm, the way a psychotic toddler yanks a kitten’s tail or pulls her ears to hear it scream.

Harm is to inflict suffering. And we need to learn how to understand the Earth as something we can inflict suffering on. Not suffering like an animal – any more than the Earth has blood and breath. No – There is suffering. Earth suffers.

Fearing for Our Lives / Reaped by Robot Scythes, Research Time, 27/06/2018

I told you I was switching gears. Quite literally to metal gears. Some of the analyses in Utopias will include some concepts from media theory, but the research discipline of media theory comes with some limitations.

In short form, it gets a bit idealist, ontologically speaking. Here’s what I mean. Mainstream media theory concentrates on the structure of media communications. You study the structures, conventions, and techniques of how media products are assembled.

Above: a metaphor.
So you come to think in terms of a multi-form semiotics – language, meaning, and how the structure of communication shapes language and meaning.

Quick illustration. You watch a video on someone’s phone. It’s shaky, clearly a phone held in the hand. Clear yet distant. The form of the video itself tells you what it is, displays its genuineness. Understanding the form helps you understand the message. Sounds familiar for some reason.

This is a pivotal aspect of media studies, theory, and the general means we use to understand our enormous ecology of communication. But we need to understand the literally ecological aspects of communication, and the geological too.

Information is conditioned by the physical media that carries it, but the process of manufacturing that media conditions the structure of our world. Some of the most destructive pollution generated in the mining sector is in the rare earth mines.

We dig complex minerals and intensively filter and treat them to separate all the different metals like yttrium, dysprosium, thulium, neodymium, and all the rest of the lanthanides. The result of those industrial mining procedures is rampant and horrifying pollution.

Above: a referent.
I picked up Jussi Parikka’s book The Geology of Media because I’d heard it was a solid continuation of many of the geological and ecological concepts that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari developed. Damn right it was.

Semiotics – the study of meaning and how communication infrastructure conditions the information it carries – is vital to understanding contemporary media and globalized communication. But Parikka’s work is essential in understanding the brute physicality of our media – a hurricane of metals swirling into an assemblage of mines, factories electricity, and language that is simultaneously liberating and disastrous.

You can’t have contemporary media – computer and smartphone technology, including all the accessories as small and seemingly inconsequential as headphones – without these massive machines of metal extraction and manufacture.

The environmentalist movement makes a big deal about fossil fuel extraction, industry, burning, pollution, and impact on climate change. But quite often, activists will post their critical messages using smartphones and computers built with another horrifically destructive industrial process – lanthanide mining.

Is there any way out for us? I honestly don’t know.

If I want to start a blog post with Judas Priest lyrics, then I will. It’s the closest I have to an answer.

Drifting and Drifting Until . . . What Now, Composing, 26/06/2018

Tomorrow’s post is going to switch gears pretty hard. After going through Jeremy Gilbert’s history of academic Cultural Studies and its place in the anti-capitalist movement, I decided to switch gears in my research.

The ideas for which I came to Gilbert in the first place were locked in my thinking pretty solidly. His book and his bibliography offered me a great outline for some ideas and passages in Utopias. It was just what I wanted from his work. There was just one way where it fell short.

I think a reason why many academics' books peter out so sadly
as they end is because so much training and mentorship in the
humanities accustoms you to staying away from thinking with
the scope needed for a 250-300 page work. You need to think
with ambition to produce a unified work of philosophy or
history with that size. University philosophy especially trains
you to stop well short of that, sticking to smaller and smaller
debates and dialogues.
Anticlimax. Now, a work of philosophy or history doesn’t need to be written with a full narrative arc like the conventions of drama. When I talk about a philosophical or historical work being anticlimactic, I mean that it loses focus as it ends.

Here are a couple of examples. Maybe they’ll illustrate what I mean. Maybe they’ll confuse you more. I honestly don’t know.

In AntiCapitalism and Culture, the core ideas run up against the same wall. Now for him, it probably didn’t seem like a wall. As I said a few days ago, Gilbert was writing ten years ago in a very different time and with very different purposes, than I am. By the end of his book, he’d explored pretty thoroughly the history and ideologies he wanted to explore.

Yet his writing kept running up against the same point at the end, the repetition becoming frustrating. My own notes on the closing chapters are all reiterations of the same question. Exactly the question I wrote about yesterday.

Gilbert isn’t sure what protest can achieve other than simple demonstrating that a different way of living and thinking together is possible. He doesn’t think you can achieve much with that.

He has some good reasons for thinking so, most of which are reasons of strategy. Such a demonstration can’t finish the job. Plus, the globalized nature of 21st century capitalism creates its own problems – if there’s no real keystone to the networks of oligarchy and finance capital, then there’s nothing to attack with revolutionary activity. No palace to storm.

Which is fine, if you think of an economic system and ideology as a state government. That’s slipping into what had been a common tendency on the radical anti-capitalist left – falling under the image of 1917. The shocking attack on the centre of government, the speeches from the leader of the military and intellectual vanguard from the balcony of their deposed royals’ palace.

Seriously, guys. This was 100 years ago. I think at least the internet
and all of our contemporary technology has changed the economic
and military situation of politics from 1917. Yet the only folks I
know who sincerely think you can straight-up replicate Lenin's
revolution in contemporary Washington are underemployed
sessional academics who only talk to other marxist academics.
These people couldn't organize anything outside of a set of
moderators' rules for a Reddit forum.
Protest is the first step, in today’s context, of prompting rebellion everywhere. A system with no centre isn’t stormed – it’s eroded from the inside. Experimental spheres of new economics form, reinforce themselves against attack, grow and connect. But without these ideas, Gilbert’s book just runs over and over against the pessimistic premises.

I’ve even noticed this in other books I’ve been reading. A fascinating book on Martin Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge school is drifting into disconnected comparative moments from an earlier clear thematic unity. More thoughts on that will come from the SERRC later this summer.

Even a fiction book ended like this. I picked up Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan at a garage sale I wandered by last year, and finally got around to reading it a month ago. It’s a strong piece at the beginning, depicting the singular protagonist’s bizarre family and the vivid world of his upbringing in the Los Angeles barrio of the 1950s.

But that unique character becomes sadly generic once he leaves his eccentric, colourful world and becomes an ordinary rich white guy with shitty narratives who needs some therapy to deal with his PTSD from the Vietnam War and parental neglect. It drifts through well-written but increasingly boring stereotype after stereotype.

I think I dislike promising books that drift away more than books that are outright terrible from the start.

Anyway, an ecological / geological ontology of contemporary media tomorrow. Switching gears for a little bit.

Protest as the Foundation of Ethics, Research Time, 25/06/2018

Jeremy Gilbert's book on the history of resistance to neoliberal politics and economics in the British academy doesn’t end very hopefully. It was published at the end of the W Bush Presidency, for one.

It was a time when so much of the West’s progressive visions of humanity were destroyed, for one. The deranged patriotism following the Sept 11 attacks and during the Iraq invasion and occupation brought conservative patriotism to a horrifying extreme. The US government was so anemic from austerity that they couldn’t even repair a humanitarian disaster. Unrestrained investment bankers collided with poorly-considered mortgage policy to crash the economy as millions sunk into debt.

That's not what Gilbert was considering when drafting his book, though. How he crafts his history conditions how partial is his view. Because he focusses specifically on explicit resistance to neoliberal economics and politics, he focusses on the protest movement.

Remember how the conditions for the present madness lie in the
madnesses of the past. I'm not talking about learning your history,
just remembering the meaning of the history you actually lived
is hard enough for some people.
The key connection is that of Cultural Studies academe to the protest movement. But it’s primarily about the protest movement. It’s another case where he’s not wrong, but his focus misses so many other important vectors of history.

And I think that narrow vision plays into his pessimism. He asks whether protest against unjust economic systems can work in creating any significant change at all. The best a protest can do, he writes, is express an alternative morality. Such an expression is totally separate from real political organizing against that economic system.

In the decade since he wrote, there’s been plenty of progress in building opposition to that economic system. We don’t always call it neoliberalism every time we talk about it. But we know what’s going on.

I also think Gilbert’s book is wrong to dismiss as politically useless the expression of an alternative morality. The whole reason neoliberal thinking about economics and morality could become a default among many people’s thinking was the popular conclusion that no other way of thinking was genuinely possible as a sustainable system of human life.

Genuinely successful protest actions demonstrate by their existence that there can be sustainable ways of social thought beyond rabid mercenary individualism. Occupy and Standing Rock were events that created such alternative ways of life.

No political movement ends with protest, of course. You have to build alternative institutions, like communication networks, places of trade and exchange, places of education and outreach to bring people a new way of thinking. Work together to develop strategies to create other such places and networks. Finance, build, learn, and grow.

There’s going to be a lot of resistance to this project. Your way of life may seem monstrous or hypocritical to a lot of people who aren’t open-minded. The powerful people in the mainstream system – the oligarchs and the people who make decent livings serving their interests – will fight. And they’ll enlist as many oppressive arms of the state as they can to do it. No outcome is inevitable – not yours nor theirs.

You can create an alternative and change your society for the better. But you can’t put any of that work in when no one believes that it can come to anything at all.

Nostalgia Feeding Fascist Dreams of Cackling Joy, Research Time, 21/06/2018

We’re in a fascist moment right now. I don’t have to tell you this. Not only is the United States government locking away families seeking asylum from war and violence, but the guards enjoy their jobs, there are already allegations of abuse in the children and infants’ detention camps, and there’s a pretty big minority who doesn’t care or believe any of this is going on.

Maybe they really do think that everyone ICE is arresting and throwing into prison camps are all thousands of MS-13 gang members who constantly stream into the country.

Very little about the Trump family is subtle. The Republican Party
apparatchiks like Stephen Miller and Kirstjen Nielsen may prefer to be
more slippery, cagey about what they're actually doing. They won't
say what they're doing. The Trump family is different. They tell you
what you say, but it's so ridiculous that you know it's a stupid excuse.
Maybe that’s just what they tell people who they suspect would be a little disturbed by their real thoughts. Maybe they’re genuinely happy that thousands of Central American Hispanic and Indigenous people are locked in prison camps, degraded, and beaten. Children and infants included.

Stare at that hatred. It’s a human desire. It is not monstrous. It is not somehow inhuman. It is ordinary.

Different trends of research examines the images that warp a personality to express such intense hatred against the ethnically different. Many of those research trends percolated through the academic discipline of Cultural Studies. Jeremy Gilbert provided a damn good bibliography section for this end of my research.

An important set of fascist concepts is rooted in the appeal to stability. You could call it the desire for freedom from fear. Any change brings risk, and a major shift in the nature and makeup of your society is riskier than if little to nothing changed at all.* Fear is the most intuitive response to the notion that your world is growing riskier, more dangerous.

* This is, of course, not the actual nature of risk, which is way more complicated. The point isn’t about what risk is, but people’s intuitions about risk.

When our world feels more dangerous, we dream of peaceful times. If we associate our feelings of danger with the change happening all around us, we’ll idealize a time in our society before that change began. We’ll want to return to that state.

Make America Great Again.

That’s how nostalgia becomes the driving image of a fascist political movement. When you’re so motivated by a fear growing in the most important desires of your personality, you’ll condone whatever violence needed to make that dream come true.

He gives you permission to use his moronically stupid excuse so that
you have something to say when a less racist person talks to you at
a party. And you can, happily and relatively privately, sit back and
enjoy watching thousands of people you hate suffer and die.
If you fear a society where your ethnicity and cultural heritage will be a minority so much, you’ll be relieved those detention camps are booming. They’ll turn back the desperate civil war refugees by conclusively demonstrating that Central Americans will find no shelter here.

The imagery of nostalgia can turn to better purposes, of course. Nostalgic themes play an important role in the environmental movement. I find it naïve that people would think of a non-technological world as a Garden of Eden.** Simply false when you learn anything about the very turbulent history of Earth.

** As a cultural image of a peaceful, harmonious Nature before human corruption. Not some silly story about a naked couple living in the woods with a talking snake.

If you come from a culture and a community that’s treated ethnic minorities with terrible oppression for centuries, wouldn’t you fear becoming an ethnic minority? You’d associate being a cultural minority with oppression, unable to imagine people of different cultures and ethnicities living together peacefully.

When you’ve grown up hating by instinct, you have an instinctive feel for how terrible it is to be the object of that hatred. When you see yourself in danger of becoming that object, your survival instinct kicks in. Luckily, what you’ll do to survive supports your disgust at having to share space with them. You’ll be relieved that these disgusting creatures won’t come to find you so disgusting.

Reading Gilbert, he brings it back to neoliberalism. How all of this becomes a way to dupe people into supporting an oligarchic economic system. He’s not wrong. But let’s understand this aspect as well – an ethical phenomenology of the racist.

What You Wish For Might Ruin Your Country, Research Time, 20/06/2018

Life is often ironic. Sometimes, you can laugh at the irony. Sometimes, all you can do is cry.

One thing I cry about, when it comes to folks who self-identify as progressives, is how everyone feels about globalization. In many contexts, most of us think it’s bad.

That’s the simple version. I mean, the modern popular movement against new liberal economic policies and political philosophies began with a demonstration against a World Trade Organization summit. One of the major controversies in Canadian politics right now is the Trudeau government signing the country into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among many Pacific Rim countries.

When you demand the return of economic borders, you open yourself
to seduction by people who want borders closed overall. When you
blame trade with foreigners for the ills of your economy, it's easy to
start blaming all the people outside your country, not just the
powerful ones. That's how an anti-globalization activist becomes a
racist nativist.
People’s problem is that these trade agreements give too many rights to transnational corporations, which allow for increasingly intense concentrations of wealth among the oligarchs’ class.

Typically, all the major political parties jockeying for electoral control of state government institutions in the West have supported these corporate-driven trade agreements. There have been different emphases in those agreements and treaties.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party here in Canada focussed on resource extraction sectors. Typical of a party with a strong support base among Alberta’s petro-industrialists. Jean Chretien’s and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party encouraged growth in the financial sector. Typical of the party that has represented the interests of Canada’s banking sector since the founding of the current state. Both of those parties doubled down on our continental trade deal, met with opposition from social and economic justice activists around the country.

There has been plenty of resistance to these legalistic acts of corporate piracy: networks among the multitude, groups of radical anarchists who’ve largely dropped out of society, trade union and student movements, progressive electoral political parties, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations.

Then, amazingly, in the heartland of the Washington Consensus, a political movement that put people first ripped apart all the presumptions of one of the most revanchist state parties in the West. The movement against corporate-led globalization had a new champion, and against all expectations, he entered the White House as President of the United States.

The politics of rage, demonization, and hatred are all too often
depressingly effective.
You see the problem here now.

Globalization in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s the intensification of many physical, financial, and communicative processes that have linked different regions of the Earth for centuries already. It’s passed several major thresholds in the last few decades, which is why it feels like an entirely new phenomenon.

Yeah, it’s had plenty of drawbacks. Massive industrial pollution, the exponential growth in the power of global oligarchs to hide from public accountability and to hide their wealth.

But there are also plenty of benefits. Communication among people around the world can happen with incredible speed now, and we can learn about people in all parts of the globe. We can make friends from the other side of the planet. Communication connections can help build camaraderie, friendship, and community among people throughout the Earth.

People can move more freely than they ever have before. The late 20th century’s globalization had an amazing impact on a lot of the West: Asian, African, Pacific, and South American immigrants could come to our countries. If our labour markets throughout the Earth ever become truly open, it would be a genuine revolution of working people.

Imagine the economic and cultural booms that would result if Indian and Pakistani workers could come to the UAE or Saudi Arabia and have full rights, responsibilities, and legal protections of citizens who’ve lived there all their lives. If we had no borders, practically speaking, and everyone could move wherever the work was as long as they could learn the language(s) of the majority.

Globally open labour markets and globally-organizing union movements would take people out of the yoke of corporate wage slavery and state suppression as second or third-class citizens. Or worse.

Globalization can open our society to fantastic, unpredictable new paths of cultural creativity as traditions, languages, ideas, and moralities all merge and interact.

At this point, Earth’s progressives have to accept that globalization is a fact. You can’t turn it back now, without becoming the kind of xenophobic racist you hate. Those among the left who are taking advantage of the current moment to turn back economic globalization are racists and xenophobes. So screw them.

The 21st century left needs to accept that full-on anti-globalization is a failure. It’s been co-opted by some of the West’s most brutal racists and revanchists. The task of progressive politics now is to do globalization right. Globalization for the multitude.

From the Limits of the Earth to the Limits of Conception, Jamming, 19/06/2018

Here’s a tricky movement to follow if you’re trying to understand what hegemony is. Let me rephrase that.

If you’re trying to understand what Gramsci’s concept of hegemony helps us understand. That concept helps us understand how a complex economic system and the ideas that justify it can constrain each of our capacities to imagine possibilities for people’s lives in communities.

This is going to be a rough few hundred words. But I want to take a first pass at describing this movement.*

Can you reset a civilization? Just turn it on and off again? Because I
kind of feel like we have to do it with ours right now.
* I’m writing this post after a very frustrating evening of finally updating my OS. There’s just something about how long that takes, that annoys me so much. I know basically how everything works, but I’d be a terrible IT guy, simply because you have to wait so long for processes to finish running. And you can’t just read a book while you wait because you can’t risk your bosses perceiving you as slacking off.

When you say the word ‘neoliberalism,’ what do you actually mean? What are you referring to? What’s the concept? What are the material processes you discuss when you use that word?

You’re talking about a set of economic and governance institutions, yes. But you’re also talking about all the communications – books, television appearances, newspaper columns, blogs, videos, posts, films, academic programs, articles, advertisements, slogans, jokes, clichés – that express an ideology, a philosophy.

Individualism as an absolute principle, the reduction of our obligations to each other in a search for the minimal point at which a society can still function peacefully. Then maybe even going past that.

It’s an ideology that’s been mobilized – by think tanks, newspaper chains, television and online news and infotainment networks, all owned or bankrolled by oligarchs who’d prefer never to pay taxes, have no state regulations constraining their cost-cutting, and who want a submissive, pliable, precarious workforce so they don’t have to pay employees very much.

Revolutions in thinking that began in a prison cell.
But an ideology takes on a life of its own. Not literally, of course. But once people start taking the principles of an ideology for granted, they perpetuate it in their everyday conversations, decisions, and ethical stances. Contingent principles about the best way to run a business or handle personal debt are understood as intuitive, obvious, even necessary.

The first step in any revolutionary thinking is understanding that nothing is genuinely necessary.

The moral principles that justify a global-scale economic system are the unquestioned, obvious truisms of the people who live in this system. What’s ubiquitous, what’s everywhere, is all too easily taken as necessary – the only way of life possible, the only personal and economic morality possible.

Does everyone understand this well enough that they know what you imply when you say the one word? Or do they just hear a buzzword that means so many things that it doesn’t have much of a meaning at all?

A critic of neoliberal economics, politics, ideas, and moralities needs to isolate them to criticize them. But you can’t isolate every aspect of the whole world. Nothing is isolated.

Show people where they live in the system, how all these relationships affect each of us. Most importantly, push them to think of other possible ways of life. Maybe get them to play-act it for a little while, in public all together. That’s how you start people thinking differently.

No Simple Victory in a World Such as Ours, Research Time, 18/06/2018

Being a pretty active member – and occasional contractor – for the New Democratic Party in Toronto means I regularly have conversations with lots of different kinds of marxists.

That includes self-identified marxists, and folks who are only considered marxists according to the new popular conception of marxism. You know it – where people who think there should be a state-subsidized pharmacare plan are functionally indistinguishable from Josef Stalin.

The caption reads, "Study! Because we will need all your intelligence."
The painting is by the Italian artist SOLO. Its location is the entrance
to Antonio Gramsci Secondary School on Affogalasino Street in Rome.
See, I don’t really like to call myself a marxist because it always gets people ascribing philosophical views to me that I don’t actually hold. Telling someone that you’re a marxist tends to make a lot of folks think that all your ideas are just regurgitated from the Cliff’s Notes of Kapital. That’s true whether or not you actually want them to think this. Usually, you don’t, but it can’t be helped once you use the m-word.

But it’s a much more complicated tradition that folks in the popular media give it credit for. A lot of that is because of the nuanced analyses of political economy that you find in Marx’s own later works. I was reading about that Sunday morning on a pleasant deck in Riverdale.

Today, I want to go over some of my notes on Gilbert, his take on how Antonio Gramsci transformed the marxist tradition.

As you might remember from my last post, a major task for my district association’s policy work is figuring out the key differences in the drift of working class union folks from the New Democratic Party in Canada. It’s a shift that puts the lie to the Cliff’s Notes version of marxism – class is always the primary vector for social consciousness.

I’ve had self-identified marxists tell me this. They should know better. Don’t act like Antonio Gramsci didn’t exist. His influence remains strong today, in many parts of the world.

Gilbert focusses on what he takes to be a central transformation in how the term ‘hegemony’ was used, giving it an entirely new philosophical spin. He remixed and mangled this old concept from political science – the direct or indirect leadership of a privileged class (inside a state) or a military power (internationally).

The slogans of my own country's current
leading intellectuals aren't quite so
inspiring to me.
He turned this term into a concept that we could use in all vectors of activism that seeks cultural and economic transformation. For a group to have hegemony in a culture means that the group’s mainstream and accepted images, political frameworks, economic systems, moralities, and ethical principles pressure all other such cultural and economic elements around the globe to conform to its own structures.

In other words, the old 19th century political science concept of hegemony: imagine an American fleet pulling into your harbour and forcing you to open up a McDonald’s. Military power backs economic and cultural transformation.

Gramsci’s concept of hegemony: imagine an American businessman flying to your country, co-opting all your local businessmen to open McDonald’s franchises, and then the popularity of their menu causes people to drift away from their more traditional foods. Economic power backs cultural and moral transformation.

Then Gilbert flies through an account of how Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe updated Gramsci’s concepts. They brought research on how the global economy was changing from the era of Western stagflation onward. So from the 1970s.

Laclau and Mouffe – in their joint and solo books – described how cultural power can lead the way in a hegemonic transformation, not only military and economic power. Identity politics like nationalism bind communities together in movements for economic change and even military civil insurrection.

Any aspect of human existence can become the leading edge in a liberating or a revanchist social revolution. It could be violent or peaceful, or a mixture of all degrees of inspiration and blood. What matters is that circumstances align to bring one vector into a hegemonic intensity of influence.

What are those circumstances? How do we manage them? How do we understand them? Change them?

The Social Drift That Dare Not Speak Its Name, Research Time, 15/06/2018

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of convergence between research for my philosophical writing and the political activism work I’ve been doing. Here’s an example.

As you can tell from my Twitter feed, I spent the last month working a contract for the New Democratic Party in Ontario on a district campaign in the provincial election. We lost that race by a respectably small margin, but there were some promising and troubling signs of future directions in how people engaged with state politics in this part of Canada.

On a province-wide level, the New Democrats had a remarkable success, nearly doubling their seats in the legislature, showing a strong performance province-wide, and breaking into victories in areas that hadn’t supported them in some time or ever.

When I was searching for artistic images of Ontario Premier Doug
Ford, I ended up discovering that there's a whimsical visual artist
in Auckland, New Zealand who is also named Doug Ford. One
of his ongoing projects is painting amusing or pastoral scenes on
traffic light control boxes.
The New Democrats swept most of urban Toronto, and even into the metro suburbs like Scarborough and Brampton. They gained seats in Kingston and central Ottawa, as well as growing and consolidating support in and around Windsor, Hamilton, Niagara, Thunder Bay, the lesser London, Peterborough, Sudbury, and Kitchener. But the rural-urban divide in support was stark and disturbing.

The only rural seats that went New Democrat were Indigenous-dominated populations in the far north of the province and the area around Sudbury. Two smaller cities with very working-class backgrounds went to the Conservatives: Sarnia and Sault Ste Marie. A major Sault Ste Marie Steelworkers union endorsed the Conservative candidate after its members demanded it. It was probably a major factor in his slim victory.

Sault Ste Marie offered the most troubling story for an organizer in progressive politics. The New Democrats have historically been a very pro-union party, traditionally linked to the concerns of working-class citizens.* This is especially true in Ontario, with its powerful government, higher education, and manufacturing unions.

* I mean, the New Democratic Party was literally created from the merger of Canada’s federal socialist party and the country’s largest association of trade unions.

But many union members are turning away from the New Democrats, even though that party’s policies are generally the best for people in that sector and class. I want to do some investigations about this, but my hypothesis is that the socially conservative, pro-white sentiment among many working class people are driving them to support a party that dog-whistles sufficiently to let folks know their stance.

He's a symbol and a voice. A voice that does speak for far too many
people out there.
Yes, Doug. That’s what “I’m taking care of our own first” means.

One of the most insightful popular analyses of this problem I found last year, written by Erik Loomis, a historian at University of Rhode Island. American union leadership and membership has taken the side of heavily-polluting oil companies against environmentalists and Indigenous people. Throughout the country’s history, American trade unions have supported openly racist policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act, and supported Donald Trump’s economic isolationism.

During the campaign, a Meet-and-Greet I was organizing fell apart. It was with a group of strong NDP supporters, all of whom had spent their entire lives in Toronto’s manufacturing and construction sectors, all of whom were dedicated union activists. My contact in the group even told me why.

Late in the campaign, the Liberal and Conservative parties began blanket messaging of opposition research on different New Democrat candidates around the province. I didn’t consider any of these issues a dealbreaker. In fact, I considered these additional reasons to endorse those candidates. But I can understand why many Ontarians who aren’t me found these people’s activism disgusting.

Gurratan Singh, running in the same Brampton riding his brother left to become federal NDP leader, once held a sign at an anti-violence protest reading “Fuck the Police.” Jessica Bell, running in central Toronto, once got herded into a police wagon and arrested at the protests against Stephen Harper’s G20 summit that saw Toronto’s entire financial district occupied by the Canadian military.

Erica Kelly, running in central Etobicoke, once said on social media that gun owners disgusted her after a blitz of post-Stoneman Douglas NRA ads made her blood boil. Laura Kaminker, a candidate in central Mississauga, refuses to wear a poppy leading up to our Remembrance Day because of how the symbol has been turned from a sign of mourning to one of patriotic jingoism.

Because the government of Tony Blair brought nothing but justice
and prosperity to Britain and the wider world. People got a little
disappointed about this, and more than a little angry.
We also ran a young trans woman in the Vanier suburb of Ottawa. She lost. So did Kelly and Kaminker. Singh and Bell won, though.

What reason did my contact give for his community turning down our campaign event? They were all disgusted by Kaminker, Singh, Bell, Kelly, and the other candidates slammed as ‘radical activists.’ They all threw their support to the Conservatives.

Jeremy Gilbert describes a parallel problem happening in Britain in the late 1990s. After Tony Blair led Labour to an electoral victory in 1997, the British labour movement of union activists and organizers largely shut down for several years. They presumed that, with the unionists’ party having taken government, there was no need for them to advocate. They had won.

You never win. The Labour Party won the 1997 election, so the popular movement for social justice in Britain was complete. I couldn’t finish writing that sentence without laughing. I’m not sure how much I should trust Gilbert on this assessment. It sounds a lot like hyperbole.

But I can’t deny that when one sector associates themselves with a political party so much, you can identify the party’s electoral victory with your own.

If the NDP ever wins government in Ontario again, I’ll be among the first to criticize its policies if they fall short of what we want to do and what we can do. Even if they’re giving me another job. My principles will never take a back seat to any party loyalty.

It seems the union folks abandoning the New Democrats think the same.

The Alienation of Loneliness, Research Time, 14/06/2018

Something generally understood today about capitalism as a concept is that it’s not the same as a market. In any society, there are markets, currency, purchases, and businesses. The transition from the many different kinds of society with markets in them to a capitalist model is a threshold of stratification.

The creation of oligarchs, literally and essentially. What makes oligarchies – the snarling parodies of aristocrats for capitalisms – so destructive is that they’re businessmen. A medieval European aristocracy was a large-scale landholder with many local inhabitants held in bondage. But he didn’t have a drive to buy up all the other aristocrats. It was a static class structure.

What kind of person would choose to have no
one at all? Totalizing self-reliance.
Oligarchs blow class structures to pieces because they never stop accumulating. They want their personal and corporate wealth to measure in the billions and trillions of dollars. They’ll raze economies to do it.

Yesterday, I was talking about the anxiety, fear, and timidity that a brutally competitive working culture and an unstable, precarious economy produce in people across the society. Well, there’s another destructive psychology that brutal capitalism trains in many people.

You separate yourself from the rest of your neighbours, co-workers, friends, everyone you encounter. You come to treat people as a competitor before a friend, or anything else, for that matter.

Marx himself wrote about the alienation of people from their labour and its products in the mid-19th century. But in today’s economy – at least in most of the West – people are alienated from any social connections at all.

It’s a loneliness bred from fear, paranoia, and hostility. It’s a psychological forge of sociopaths and human wreckage.

Jeremy Gilbert discusses how some of the most culturally influential social movements have made ending this alienation their priority and method. One important example was the UK’s Reclaim the Streets movement, which provided an alternative form of social connection whenever they occupied space.

Then, of course, there was Occupy, obviously – its greatest success was as an experimental space to demonstrate that another form of society was possible. Very few of those experiments in social connection could survive the pepper spray that eventually broke up those spaces. But the point was that any demonstration of alternatives had been successful.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the popular mood and political party leadership across the mainstream board said that there was no alternative form of society anymore except liberal capitalism.

As if there were only ever two forms of society anyway. Nothing works forever. In all the revolutionary movements in social connection and reconnection that flowered over the last decade, all those varieties had one thing in common.

They were different. They were alternatives to the anxious, alienated existence that we’d come to take for granted. They were real.

The Anxiety of Having to Work For a Living, Research Time, 13/06/2018

We think of the millionaire – or billionaire these days – businessman as the bold entrepreneur. A fearless experimenter. We hear the rhetoric all the time, and have for years. The startup business is where people take risks – develop new ideas – transformative new ventures.

Can't spell adventure without venture (capital), after all.

Look, I know that wasn’t even funny. It wasn’t supposed to be. I just want to make one brief point that I found very insightful – it appeared in Jeremy Gilbert’s book on the history of Cultural Studies, and Antonio Negri’s new book Assembly.

The will to become epochal is equally inspirational and ridiculous.
Entrepreneurial culture is a homogenizing force, risk-averse to the point of cowardice. Their fear is a psychological affect of life in capitalistic economies. It’s the fragility of the wealthy.

The entrepreneurs we lionize in our culture are those few who’ve taken great risks and been incredibly successful. They’ve transformed our culture with new technologies and business models. For better or, from many perspectives, worse.

But that’s only a very small number of people. They were uncommon, not just in their luck but their personalities. Every biography of a legendary entrepreneur is fascinating because they are genuinely remarkable, singular personalities. Brilliant to the point of mysticism, ruthless to the point of infamy, driven to the point of mania.

Such people are rare. Very rare.

So what about all those thousands of people I see in shared office spaces all over Toronto?

Graphic designers. Intellectual property lawyers. Call centre. Dudes developing an app to create insurance packages for you. A really good SEO guy.

But innovators? People out to transform the structure of an entire economic sector? An entire global economy? My buddy is a really good SEO guy, but that is not his goal. Dude just wants to pay off the mortgage on his condo, maybe pump out a kid or two with his wife in a couple of years.

Only a few people understand how rare that combination of the
inspirational and ridiculous truly is in society. So rare you can, for
the most part, only find it in fiction. Usually, they're the
supervillains. The fictional versions too.
The losers of a rat race die in poverty. That’s the problem with the rat race of a new liberal economy. It doesn’t actually empower most people to innovate their way to a bold new future. Desperation drives people to anxiety and heart disease, not creativity and risk. When you know you can lose the mortgage on a bad bet, you’re less likely to make bets at all. You’ll just be desperate for some security.

This is how most people live under our economic system. It’s a desperation that breeds poor decision making, anxiety that perverts reason with constant worry. People do not take risks when they are terribly worried, unless they’re so brilliant, ruthless, and driven that they can drown worry out with the raw screams of a sustained explosion of all-consuming volcanic will.

My buddy is a really good SEO guy, but I don’t think he’s really capable of that kind of thing. I haven’t asked him yet, but I’m pretty sure he’d agree.

When a dense theorist* talks about how capital is a homogenizing force, this is one of the actual mechanisms they’re talking about. The anxiety that quiets most people into complacent, frightened, risk-averse, desperate conformists whose judgment has been warped into thinking selfishness is a virtue.

* In both senses of the term.

Concepts express life at its most abstract. A good philosopher unfolds her concepts into reality, not more and more ideas.

A Time and a Place for Abstraction, Research Time, 12/06/2018

Over the last few years, I’ve read a decent chunk of marxist theory. I’ve read the good stuff – some of the original, a lot of Gramsci, too much Zizek, Laclau, Mouffe, a little bit of Lenin; the anarchists too, like Bakunin, Goldman, and the uncategorizable Rancière.

I’ve also come across scattered essays of the bad stuff. A lot of it is contemporary – not to say that it’s bad because it’s contemporary. It’s bad because it’s the casually-written stuff.

Even 100 years ago when political revolutionaries really did argue matters of profound philosophy in journals and magazines, most of those essays were kind of shit. We don’t remember the many, many people who filled the pages of those journals every day, the ones who only looked good when Gramsci hadn’t written that week.

The gold-plated promises of wealth and power.
Quality is always rare. Make of that what you want.

There’s one trend that I find unfortunate in a lot of the everyday theory writing in the marxist tradition. The word ‘capital’ gets taken for granted. A catchall term whose conception grows more and more vague every time it’s used. Which, in the sloppiest of marxist writing, is an omnipresent and omnipotent force controlling everything.

Anyone who treats the shorthand as anything more than shorthand isn’t worth reading. The point of understanding capital as the basis of a lot of social and economic problems isn’t to blame capital – it’s to understand the machineries of capital.

That’s why you always need to be an empiricist when you’re writing political and economic philosophy. You need to look at real engines of wealth to see what produces all that cash.

In Gilbert’s history of Cultural Studies, he writes that the field pretty accurately identified one serious problem with capital today. The major engines of wealth have become the boardrooms and trading floors of investment companies and stock exchanges.

They move the most money around the world. They power the global movement of money – even though it’s turned out that they can’t control it.

The dystopia is real. The dystopia has always been real.
More than that, the investment industry doesn’t even really create anything, says Gilbert. Not quite true, of course. The investment industry does create analytic, algorithmic, and other mathematical tools to manage and regulate those capital flows. But those are machines to move the money – not what actually powers the movement.

No, the sources of power for the financial industry come from the traditional industries of making things. Laboratories, streets, studios, factories, offices – these are the types of things that the investment industry invests in, speculates on.

As global money and trade flows move faster and faster, they grow fractally complex – new cultural, communication, and technological products develop at faster rates and spread more quickly around the world.

Communications technologies open up more possibilities and diversity in what’s on offer to people. More bandwidth means more niches – for cultural products like movies and television, and for all commodities, as people make themselves increasingly unique as more possibilities for expression become available.

The financial industry provides a massive and powerful flow of money to channel into this increasingly intense production. But the real crisis – corruption, embezzlement, breakdown – comes when the financiers think they’re the creators, not the funders. The money circles through the same few hands, expanding by handshake, while the actual creators of material and conceptual wealth are starved.

Then the collapse comes.

The Inevitability of Nightmares, Research Time, 10/06/2018

I was too busy with the last few days of the provincial election in Ontario to produce any blog posts. I was working on a campaign, and it took up so much of my time and energy in that last push.

Then in the days after the election, I was recovering. A Conservative majority government in Ontario led by Doug Ford will turn a significant chunk of the machinery of the state against vulnerable people. Within the Ontario Conservative party, a key part of Ford’s support base are social conservatives, and outside the official party many bigots and racist extremists are quite happy for his victory.

I’ll be the first to admit that many edgelords across all demographics drank my liberal tears that night.*

The stuff of nightmares. Hidden in the deepest crevices of our homes,
our lands, where the most destructive and cruel tendencies of our
natures are cultivated and so flower. They will eat us alive.
* Even though I’m totally not a liberal. To them, everyone on the left is a liberal. It’s part of the widespread complete misunderstanding among most of the modern conservative scene of how progressive thought actually works.

It’s easy to feel discouraged by elections like Doug Ford’s, Donald Trump’s, Binyamin Netanyahu’s, or Theresa May’s. There are plenty of profound philosophical sources that justify and explore that pessimism about real social and political progress.

As well as the Frankfurt School figures of Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin, there’s the Situationist project. I’m thinking in particular of the project as laid out in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle.

He developed a union of political demonstration and theatrical exhibition that influenced techniques of protest around the world. But much of the Situationist perspective remained limited by its own pessimism. Protest created a space for the imagination to roam free – it was a space where, for a few moments, a different kind of life was possible.

But that possibility could never become reality. It was always an act of imagination, a performance, an act of refusal to acquiesce facing the inevitability of its own defeat. Protest, on the Situationist model, is a demonstration of a dream from material, but which will always be a dream, a performance, an image. Not a real system of economic, cultural, and ecological activity.

There is no one more fearful than the richest of men. That fear is why
they hate and destroy. And also why they become grotesque neurotics.
Maybe they're absurd germaphobes. Maybe they subsidize an insane
scientist's quack research on human urine as an aid to rejuvenating
us into near-immortality.
It is so difficult to find guides for philosophical creativity that also considers material success possible. Recovering and maintaining optimism is the most difficult task of progressive politics.

The secret to overcoming pessimism is to identify the real material relationships and dynamics that maintain an unjust system and people’s support for it. It’s an inherently empirical act, but it needs the precision of a philosophically-trained mind to identify the keystones – the relationships of a social-moral-economic system without which it will fall to chaos.

Here’s a key idea that Jeremy Gilbert – along with an old influence of mine, Manuel DeLanda – has identified. You can have markets without capitalism. What turns a market system into an exploitive capitalist system is crossing a threshold of accumulation. When your markets have produced oligarchs – the absurdly rich – those central power figures are able to turn the entire system to serve their personal goals.

Markets are places where people experiment with new ideas for economic activity, moral thinking, and ecological development. People have the social and economic space to adapt to changing circumstances. People in markets on fairly equal terms have the power to take risks, knowing that a risk gone sour won’t be a disaster because they can fall back into the community.

An oligarch operates by a selfish fear. They’ve accumulated so much that their kingdom is more important than the prosperity that produced it in the first place. They become risk-averse and greedy. It’s the irony of massive accumulation – the weight of wealth perverts you with paranoia.

When you’ve been taken out of a community, you’re no longer capable of trust, because your wealth has alienated you from those who are different from you in the most important way.

You’ve become an alien to the non-wealthy. You imagine that they hate you, and so you fear them. Your actions from that fear makes them hate you. You’ve fulfilled your own nightmare.

Whither Capital VI: Unlike Attracts Unlike, Research Time, 06/06/2018

Political alliances are marriages of convenience. That’s true when we’re talking about the coalitions of political parties. But it’s also true in other contexts. Some straightforward illustrations first.

If things go well in the Ontario election tomorrow, the province will have a government led by the New Democratic Party. In the popular gathering places of conservative and reactionary folks, it’s painted as a monolithic left – an undifferentiated mass of feminist trans gay communist black Jews.* But reactionaries don’t really understand the left.

* You can fill in what they really call us yourselves. But I’ll give you a hint. Actually no. I’ll just tell you, so that you can know how much progressive people are really hated. Bitch tranny faggot commie nigger kikes. That’s the language of Ford Nation.

This election campaign has been consuming significant amounts of my
life. It better, because I'm paid staff putting in 25 hours per week. So
naturally, I'm invested. And while I don't think the state is the most
effective machine to drive political transformation, its oppressive
machinery is extremely effective. So I want the state's purpose
perversely channeled toward helping the poor and the marginalized
instead of helping to destroy and enslave them. The New Democratic
Party, in Canada, is the best vehicle for those lewd perversities,
prosperity and peace.
So let’s go over who the coalition of the New Democrats really are. In broad swaths, of course.

There are trade union folks. There are anti-poverty activists and actual poor people. There are social progressives of the big cities and suburbs. There are people of non-straight sexualities and fluid or trans gender identities. There are environmentalists. There are racial justice advocates and the racialized, especially black and Indigenous people. There are religious people from traditions like the Catholic Social Gospel, liberal Islam, communitarian Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths, peacenik socialist Jews.

This is a really unstable coalition. For a really obvious example of its instability, look at the conflict between the NDP governments of Alberta and British Columbia over building an oil pipeline from the tar sands through the temperate rainforest of the Rockies, to the fjord network by the Pacific coast.

John Horgan’s NDP government is rightly concerned that this is an inevitable earth-shattering ecological disaster. Rachel Notley’s NDP government is rightly concerned that Alberta’s natural resource industry and the many thousands of well-paying jobs it fuels needs pipeline access to thrive.

This is a conflict between two major components of the party’s coalition – trade unions and environmentalists. I knew it would happen eventually. A dedicated trade union man will gladly drink carcinogenic water and breathe black air as long as the salaries, pensions, and medical benefits are good. A dedicated environmentalist will gladly live in poverty if his world is clean.

There is nothing necessary about any political alliance. As the circumstances of the world change, people will come together and drift apart. Sometimes, it feels like the only thing that brings such a disparate left together is that such a unified reactionary movement hates us all so much.

It feels good to rage. Feels good to steal. Feels good to bully. Do it
because it feels good, man.
What does this teach us about social movements’ need for leaders? It’s instructive because one of the main reasons people will say social movements need leaders is to unify them and give such a disparate collection of people a direction.

When even a political party’s identity doesn’t unify its own social coalition but can win anyway, it’s a sign that total unity isn’t even a condition of victory. Politics is more creative than that.

Believing that unity is necessary for political alliance presumes that the act of allying never actually happens. That has two possible meanings.

One is that the movement is always already unified, making alliance unnecessary and differences among allies meaningless. We know empirically that this isn’t the case because significant differences** persist among those happily in political alliances.

** Differences that make a difference in your lives – just ask Rachel and John.

The other possible implication? That leaders alone inspire political unity, whether through charisma or coercion. So a social movement needs a leader to unify them through their authority. Maybe it’s moral. Maybe it’s steel. The point is that people aren’t capable of action on their own, building networks of cooperation.

Alliances are forged among all the members of different communities learning about each other and helping each other out. They have a lot in common with friendships that way, but coming together faster, spreading at a higher intensity. Friendship, solidarity, alliance are all different words for different contexts of the same phenomenon.

Building a network of self-conscious agents. If you think you need a leader for that, then you depict people as entirely passive, incapable of change on their own power or through their own decisions. Acting only through the will of the leader.

Don’t mistake one model of politics for its necessary essence. Especially when it’s such a horrifying, destructive model.