Archive for the Dispatches Category

The Era of the Late Republic, Part 1

Posted in Dispatches, Research Notes with tags , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2019 by Magadh

We are living in the late period of the American republic. The global order of the decades following the Second World War has entered an era of inexorable decline. A new global order has arisen whose fundamental characteristics are refeudalization, colonization, and hyperreality. It is shaped by a complex of overlapping and interlinked economic and political processes, for which these terms function as heuristic markers. The transformation of the global order has fundamentally undermined the institutions of the America republic. How, then, are we to parse the conceptual ecology of the late republic.

It is difficult to periodize precisely, because its roots reach back into the previous era, but also in some respects to the origins of capitalism itself. History resists the definition borders between clear, unambiguous periods. This, it is impossible to point to an exact moment at which the current age was born. Its existence has been defined by two overarching features, the outlines of which have become increasingly clear against the background of political and economic processes that make up postwar industrial mass society.

The political order of the industrially developed world has been reshaped by a process of privatization (and monetization) of previously public governmental functions which some (Jürgen Habermas, Sighard Neckel, and others) have termed refeudalization. This process involves the extreme concentration of wealth at the upper end of the income distribution which, as some (such as Thomas Piketty) have argued, is a tendency intrinsic to the capitalist mode of production. But it has also involved a project, often term “neoliberalism,” conceived in the 1940s and 1950s and operationalized with increasing intensity since the 1980s. The central thrust of this project was the substitution of private economically based modes of governance for public democratic ones.

At the same time, capitalism itself has been subject to a series of fundamental transformations. The first was the rise to predominance of finance capitalism. Finance has been a central element of capitalist production since the 19th century. Since the 1970s, financial profits have risen sharply as a proportion of the whole. Much recent work has shown, in the last 20 years capitalism has undergone a further metamorphosis. Shoshana Zuboff has argued that a variant of capitalism that she terms “surveillance capitalism” is increasingly becoming the dominant mode of capital accumulation. Others, like McKenzie Wark, Wolfgang Streeck, and the journalist Paul Mason, have argued that capitalism itself is in a process of transformative crisis. Wark views current conditions as post-capitalist, while Streeck and Mason argue that post-capitalism will arise soon. Both contentions merit further investigation.

Zuboff has argued persuasively that a process of colonization has driven the formation of a new mode of capitalism. A new digital nomos has been established, facilitating the large-scale collection, retention, processing, and sale of behavioral surplus data. This process mirrors in important ways the brutal projects of extractive colonial domination undertaken by European powers with ever extensively and intensively over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Carl Schmitt’s analysis of the parsing of colonial spaces in the era of the ius publicum Europaeum is an apposite reference point here. Citizens in the industrially developed world are now experiencing a sort of neo-colonial reflux of systems of domination and exploitation to which extra-European regions have been subjected, to one degree or another, for the last three centuries.

At the level of the political, hyperreality is the order of the day. Arguably, the hegemony of the hyperreal emerged in 1964. In that year, in response to a fictional attack on U.S. naval forces in the Gulf of Tonkin, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed (with a mere two dissenting votes) the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the president authorization to order military action without a formal declaration of war. A more compelling starting point is October 2002, when the U.S. Congress, approved the Iraq Resolution. Although there was greater dissent at this point (155 opposing votes out of a total in both houses of 529 members), it is the speciousness of the underlying evidence that connects these two events.

History is replete with instances in which dissimulation and bluster have formed the basis for military adventures. This difference in these two cases if the hyperreal context of the decision-making process. This context was in the process of formation in the earlier case. By the time of the (so-called) Second Iraq War, hyperreality was in full effect and debates over the course of action appropriate to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and/or global terrorism took place in a conceptual and intellectual ecology far removed from any viable concept of common ascertainable and demonstrable reality. These events in the politico-military sphere are symptomatic, the external faces of an order in which the internality of society and human being have disintegrated. In place of coherent subjectivity, there is now only performance and reflection.

Prediction is a vain, of also occasionally interesting mode of interaction with historical and contemporary conditions. As Max Weber wrote compellingly more than a century ago,

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrifaction, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.

It may be the case that the totally administered society that the thinkers of the Frankfurt School (quite rightly) found so alarming will arise in the context of a technological formation that they could not have imagined. The digital panopticon created by surveillance capitalism seems in many ways to be more powerful more all-encompassing than the “stahlhartes Gehäuse” with which Weber characterized modernity. What follows is an attempt to trace some of the features and synergistic interactions between the return to feudal modes of political action and organization, the colonization of private life through the collection of behavioral surplus data, and the spectacular politics of the hyperreal.

Consequences

Posted in Dispatches on October 13, 2019 by Magadh

This murder, and scores of others, can be directly attributed to Mr. Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria. Erdoğan’s desire to liqidate the Kurdish “problem” has long been an open secret and Mr. Trump, king of the suck ups, decided to play the facilitator.

If that actions of the Turkish Army and their proxies haven’t yet sunk to the level of actual genocide yet that is really only a matter of time. You could call this the new reality of world politics, but it’s really just more of the same…

Workspace

Posted in Dispatches on May 29, 2019 by Magadh

Every now and then I like to post a picture of my workspace, partly to record for myself what I’m working on, and partly to give anyone who is interested an idea of what goes into the pot.

The Technological Plane

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , on March 16, 2018 by Magadh

baud1“The technological plane is an abstraction: in ordinary life we are practically unconscious of the technological reality of objects. Yet this abstraction is profoundly real: it is what governs all radical transformations of our environment. It is even – and I do not mean this in any paradoxical sense – the most concrete aspect of the object, for technological development is synonymous with objective structural evolution. In the strictest sense, what happens to the object in the technological sphere is essential, whereas what happens to it in the psychological or sociological sphere of needs and practices is inessential. The discourse of psychology or sociology continually refers us to the object as apprehended at a more consistent level, a level unrelated to any individual or collective discourse, namely the supposed level of technological language. It is starting from this language, from this consistency of the technical model, that we can reach an understanding of what happens to objects by virtue of their being produced and consumed, possessed and personalized.”

Baudrillard, The System of Objects, 3

R.I.P. Fred Cole

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on November 10, 2017 by Magadh

fred2I heard today that Fred Cole of the legendary Portland band Dead Moon had died of cancer. I regard this as a tragedy, but if I may be permitted to utter a bit of heresy I will say that I never liked Dead Moon all that much. They just kind of weren’t my thing. I saw them plenty of times in practically every state of mind (other than stone cold sober of course), but I never quite got the lo-fi magic that everyone else seemed to be tuning in to. That said, I will say that there are few people with whom I have crossed paths in music for whom I have so much respect, and perhaps that distance between the first thing and the second is worth a bit of comment.

It was hard to avoid Dead Moon if you came up in the underground scene in Portland, Oregon in the 1980s. It was Fred who handed me the first musical instrument I ever bought, a Gibson SG bass that he recommended because I was left handed and it would be easy to restring. He even showed me how to flip the nut so that the strings would fit right. All of this happened in the course of a twenty minute conversation at Tombstone Music out in Clackamas (after I’d spend an hour trying to find the place because it was on 82nd Drive, not 82nd Avenue). Anyway, it was useful advice, and he didn’t hiccup at the fact that, at that point, knew just about zilch about musical instruments or what to do with them.

I must have seen Dead Moon at the Satyricon twenty times at least. They had the feel of having being around forever, even though they really only formed in 1987. Now, to be 100% honest, I hung around the Satyricon a lot and wasn’t terribly picky about what I was seeing there. In point of fact, I saw The Mentors like three years running (they used to play every year around Christmas on their way up to Seattle), and please believe me when I say that I had no inclination to see them even one time. For me, Dead Moon was kind of like sonic wallpaper in an environment which I was naïve enough to think would never really change.

It never really occurred to me that anyone outside the Willamette Valley actually cared about them until one night in the 90s when a bunch of us were chatting with Dregen Borg after a Backyard Babies show at Satyricon. Someone asked him how they like Portland and he was like, “Yeah, we love Portland. Dead Moon are great!” That was pretty close to the time that I actually moved out of town, and by that point I was so wrapped up in black metal and its more obscure variants that I didn’t really have the space in my head to wind back the clock and revise my judgment.

Well, Fred is gone now and I wish him a happy trip to Valhalla or wherever the legendary rockers go. He had a commitment to doing things his own way, and he clearly never gave a damn about making big or any of the other bullshit trappings that come with playing music. He just went his own way, churning out dark country music recorded in mono. There is something in that fundamentally worth respect. There are and will be many imitators of that way of doing things, but one thing I knew about Fred was that it was a fundamental expression of who he was, and I salute another idol as he fades into the twilight.

Technics 1

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on August 20, 2017 by Magadh

“Everything washes together into the uniformly distanceless. How? Is not this moving together into the distanceless even more uncanny than everything being out of place? The human is transfixed by what could come about with the explosion of the atomic bomb. The human does not see what for a long time now has already arrived and even is occurring, and for which the atomic bomb and its explosion are merely the latest emission, not to speak of the hydrogen bomb, whose detonation, thought in its broadest possibility, could be enough to wipe out all life on earth. What is this clueless anxiety waiting for, if the horrible has already occurred?

hydrogen

The horrifying is what transposes all that is out of its previous essence. What is so horrifying? It reveals and conceals itself in the way that everything presences, namely that despite all overcoming of distance, the nearness of that which is remains outstanding.”

Martin Heidegger, 1949

Spectacular Dispatches #2

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on March 30, 2017 by Magadh

“The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world has culminated in a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the non-living.”

trumpism1The individualistic ideology of liberal capitalism functions as a superstructure for the fragmentation and isolation of human beings. But this fragmentary individualism operates dialectically with the world of collective images. No feature is so definitive of politics in postmodern mass societies as the centrality of images that create the illusion of integrated life. These images surpass and eventually replace the true.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las VegasThe politics of Donald Trump (one hesitates to lend it coherence by designating it Trumpism) are predicated on the construction of a complex of stimuli coalescing into apparent coherenceThe utterances of Mr. Trump and his amanuenses weave together truth, rumor, and outright lies into a web the target of which is more affect than intellect.

trumpism2The creating of this spectacle is facilitated by the prevalence of infotainment, in process for at least half a century. The twenty-four hour news cycle created a need for the creation of ever greater volumes of content (although not substance), with sports punditry increasingly used as the structural model for political and social commentary. The sporting industrial complex has retrogenetically colonized the culture out of which it grew.

trumpism4Sporting events have cultural traction to the extent that they involve individuals in the narrative worlds of imagined communities. The insistence on referring to the fanbase of particular teams as “nations” seems ridiculous at first blush. But this is merely a function of the absurdity of nations as such, which does not practically diminish the capacity of such narratives to motivate mass human action, often with lethal consequences.

(Text from Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle drawn from Ken Knabb’s website)