Friday, May 17, 2013
The traditional goal of aesthetics is to produce, by means of art, impressions of certain past elements of life in circumstances where those elements are lacking or absent, in such a way that those elements escape the disorder of appearances subject to the ravages of time. The degree of aesthetic success is thus measured by a beauty that is inseparable from duration, and that even goes so far as pretensions of eternity. The goal of the situationists is immediate participation in a passionate abundance of life by means of deliberately arranged variations of ephemeral moments. The success of these moments can reside in nothing other than their fleeting effect. The situationists consider cultural activity in its totality as an experimental method for constructing everyday life, a method that can and should be continually developed with the extension of leisure and the withering away of the division of labor (beginning with the division of artistic labor).
Art can cease being a report about sensations and become a direct organization of more advanced sensations. The point is to produce ourselves rather than things that enslave us.
Mascolo is right in saying (in Le Communisme) that the reduction of the work day by the dictatorship of the proletariat is “the most certain sign of the latter’s revolutionary authenticity.” Indeed, “if man is a commodity, if he is treated as a thing, if human relations are relations of thing to thing, this is because it is possible to buy his time.” But Mascolo is too quick to conclude that “the time of a man freely employed” is always well spent, and that “the purchase of time is the sole evil.” There can be no freely spent time until we possess the modern tools for the construction of everyday life. The use of such tools will mark the leap from a utopian revolutionary art to an experimental revolutionary art.
An international association of situationists can be seen as a coalition of workers in an advanced sector of culture, or more precisely as a coalition of all those who demand the right to work on a project that is obstructed by present social conditions; hence as an attempt at organizing professional revolutionaries in culture.
We are excluded from real control over the vast material powers of our time. The communist revolution has not yet occurred and we are still living within the confines of decomposing old cultural superstructures. Henri Lefebvre rightly sees that this contradiction is at the heart of a specifically modern discordance between the progressive individual and the world, and he terms the cultural tendency based on this discordance “revolutionary-romantic.” The inadequacy of Lefebvre’s conception lies in the fact that he makes the mere expression of this discordance a sufficient criterion for revolutionary action within culture. Lefebvre abandons in advance any experimentation involving profound cultural change, contenting himself with mere awareness of possibilities that are as yet impossible (because they are still too remote), an awareness that can be expressed in any sort of form within the framework of cultural decomposition.
Those who want to supersede the old established order in all its aspects cannot cling to the disorder of the present, even in the sphere of culture. In culture as in other areas, it is necessary to struggle without waiting any longer for some concrete appearance of the moving order of the future. The possibility of this ever-changing new order, which is already present among us, devalues all expressions within existing cultural forms. If we are ever to arrive at authentic direct communication (in our working hypothesis of higher cultural means: the construction of situations), we must bring about the destruction of all the forms of pseudocommunication. The victory will go to those who are capable of creating disorder without loving it.
In the world of cultural decomposition we can test our strength but never use it. The practical task of overcoming our discordance with this world, that is, of surmounting its decomposition by some more advanced constructions, is not romantic. We will be “revolutionary romantics,” in Lefebvre’s sense, precisely to the degree that we fail.
“Thèses sur la révolution culturelle” originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #1 (Paris, June 1958). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Monday, April 22, 2013
"Between Pridicates, War: Theses on Contemporary Struggle" by The Institute For Experimental Freedom
“To great writers, finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives”W. Benjamin
The Institute for Experimental Freedom is proud to announce the release of Between Predicates, War: Theses on Contemporary Struggle. Almost two years in the making, Between Predicates, War is a fragmented collection of theses on our tumultuous situation. From Egypt to the US, Greece to the UK, contemporary struggle announces a revolt against government. These theses draw a line connecting the forces at play, examine their parodic language, affective practices and radically self-annihilating tactics. At the threshold of our epoch and at our phase of self-governance, the events unfolding rub up against the meaning of autonomy, and in doing so ask the question, “What does it mean to live a life?” This uneasy question—and this decade of experiments aimed at answering it—anticipate the formation of a real force. What grew rhizomatically—in subterranean practices of sharing—between anti-globalization and radical environmentalism, between riots against the democratic police and irruptions of occupied spaces, burst through into the open and unpredictable air of the now. At our particular moment there is a chance that—from ancient Athenian democracy to our refined economy of subjectivation techniques—the paradigm of government may come to close.
As we wrote in Politics is Not a Banana, we have no illusions of leading a charge—and furthermore, that's the wrong way to think about the situation. We simply want to understand our conditions, and act accordingly. With humility, a healthy sense of the humors, and the passion, we offer this text as another chapter in this project.
Between Predicates, War: Theses on Contemporary Struggle is a pocket book, of a 100 or so pages, designed with care and finesse, available from LBC Books, or directly from the Institute.
From the Introduction“Contemporary struggle” is our way to conceptualize what links the events of our epoch—events that cannot be defined as social movements or categorized within leftist conceptions of reform and revolution. Events are the common form that struggles take after the collapse of the historical subject and the zone of the social. We define contemporary struggle as a vast set of heterogeneous practices of revolt that appear to have everythingas their object; that is to say, events whose antagonisms are not directed against the state or capitalism per se but against techniques of government, against the productive power of government. Perhaps we will be reproached for reducing the specificity of all the movements of the past decade. However, the velocity with which struggles since the Greek uprising of ’08 have moved from intelligible anger over a collectively perceived injustice to celebratory or revolutionary situations, reveals that they are irreducibly revolts against the paradigm of government.Government no longer sits in a closed chamber of educated men; it acts through each of us and through every apparatus that orients us and amplifies our senses in a particular direction. Government doesn't just repress, it produces a distributed multiplication of governable subjectivities. Contemporary struggle resists, flees, and attacks being produced as a subject, appearing in the space between one coherent subjectivity and another.Because it appears in the space between subjectivities, contemporary struggle—consciously or not—contests the meaning of autonomy. Capitalism has done away with the social as a foundation to human life, leaving the individual as self-entrepreneur to develop solutions to the crises of baseless existence. If social media appears on the theater of culture and politics this is because economic life demands that individuals collaborate on problem-solving. In order to develop itself in harmony with the economy, the individual is allocated the self, as the vehicle and instrument of freedom. It is given the space to think freely, go against the rules, and open doors of creativity—if only to eliminate flaws in the flows of the economy. Government needs subjects to self-govern because principles no longer reign with any authority; the economy needs subjects to self-manage because technology and ecology present fatal limits to its rhythm of expansion. However, when struggles originate in an open field devoid of authoritative principles, the desired affects of self-management sometimes fail to materialize, and in turn the space between coherency, contingency, and predicates can appear more hospitable than the generalized hostilities of economic life. Contemporary struggle locates the space of autonomy as a potential for a different way of living, and holds on for as long as it can.Contemporary struggle reveals the limits of language. The grammar of justice, democracy, and equality could limit past movements because these terms were situated in a meaningful discourse—that of the enemy. Today, these words and their institutions are empty. What is perceived as logical inconsistency by political pundits is precisely the plane of consistency where a new language is being constructed. The parodic, ironic, and absurd character of today’s movements' discursive promiscuity, irrational application of language, and use of memes reveal a new language coming into being.Contemporary struggle loves/hates technology. It’s no surprise that the same mobile apparatuses we are required to buy to integrate our lives into the flows of the economy—smart phones, laptops, and tablets—are the media protagonists of the turbulent present.. However, the use of technology by today’s uprisings is no mere affirmation, even in the “Free Information” movement. From hacking to instagram flashmobs, from social networking an occupation to manipulating attention spans, contemporary struggle renders technological apparatuses inoperative in their proper form.Contemporary struggle will produce the basis for either generalized ungovernability or a more horrific form of government. Social movements from the '60s to the late '90s created the conditions for general self-management; the most radical horizon they could perceive was a world democratically administrated and without work as production. The social movements anticipated the distribution of racial, gender, and sexual subjectivities, freedom as choice, and cybernetics. Today their demands reflect back at us in so many commodities, so many techniques of government, so many empty environments affectively managed by food and retail attendants. Today’s revolt could give way to our dreams or our nightmares.
Available for mail order at LBC Books, and at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair.
PDF for viewing here!
List of vendors and events coming soon.
List of vendors and events coming soon.
Nothing is too beautiful for the unwanted children of capital,
The Institute for Experimental Freedom | March, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was an enormously influential French philosopher who wrote, among other things, historical analyses of psychiatry, medicine, the prison system, and the function of sexuality in social organizations. He spent some time during the last years of his life at UC Berkeley, delivering several lectures in English. And happily they were recorded for posterity:
- Four Lectures on Truth and Subjectivity (1980)
- Six Lectures on Discourse and Truth (1983)
- Three Lectures on “The Culture of the Self” (1983)
One of Foucault’s more controversial and memorable books was Discipline and Punish (1977), which traced the transition from the 18th century use of public torture and execution to–less than 50 years later–the prevalence of much more subtle uses of power, with a focus on incarceration, rehabilitation, prevention, and surveillance. Here he is in 1983 commenting on that book (thanks for the link to Seth Paskin). The Partially Examined Life podcast recently discussed the book with Katharine McIntyre, doctoral candidate at Columbia. Foucault’s image of the panopticon well captures modern privacy concerns in the electronic age.
Finally, we leave you with a Schoolhouse Rock-style presentation of Foucault’s book The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 and some vintage video of Foucault’s 1971 debate with Noam Chomsky. Foucault’s lectures have been added to the Philosophy section of our Free Online Course collection.
Jacques Lacan, Academic Rock Star, Gives a Public Lecture, 1972
Lovers and Philosophers — Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir Together in 1967
Philosophy with a Southern Drawl: Rick Roderick Teaches Derrida, Foucault, Sartre and Others
75 Free Philosophy Courses
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination.
Young Americans—even more so than older Americans—appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it. A 2010 Gallup poll asked Americans “Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?” Among 18- to 34-years-olds, 76 percent of them said no. Yet despite their lack of confidence in the availability of Social Security for them, few have demanded it be shored up by more fairly payroll-taxing the wealthy; most appear resigned to having more money deducted from their paychecks for Social Security, even though they don’t believe it will be around to benefit them.
How exactly has American society subdued young Americans?
1. Student-Loan Debt. Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt.
Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life.
2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Noncompliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm, the then widely respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”
Many of America’s greatest activists including Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010); a major reason for this, according to theJournal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients).
3. Schools That Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy. Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating: “The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.” A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed.
The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.
4. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities.
5. Shaming Young People Who Take Education—But Not Their Schooling—Seriously. In a 2006 survey in the United States, it was found that 40 percent of children between first and third grade read every day, but by fourth grade, that rate declined to 29 percent. Despite the anti-educational impact of standard schools, children and their parents are increasingly propagandized to believe that disliking school means disliking learning. That was not always the case in the United States. Mark Twain famously said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Toward the end of Twain’s life in 1900, only 6 percent of Americans graduated high school. Today, approximately 85 percent of Americans graduate high school, but this is good enough for Barack Obama who told us in 2009, “And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.”
The more schooling Americans get, however, the more politically ignorant they are of America’s ongoing class war, and the more incapable they are of challenging the ruling class. In the 1880s and 1890s, American farmers with little or no schooling created a Populist movement that organized America’s largest-scale working people’s cooperative, formed a People’s Party that received 8 percent of the vote in 1892 presidential election, designed a “subtreasury” plan (that had it been implemented would have allowed easier credit for farmers and broke the power of large banks) and sent 40,000 lecturers across America to articulate it, and evidenced all kinds of sophisticated political ideas, strategies and tactics absent today from America’s well-schooled population. Today, Americans who lack college degrees are increasingly shamed as “losers”; however, Gore Vidal and George Carlin, two of America’s most astute and articulate critics of the corporatocracy, never went to college, and Carlin dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
6. The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities?
7. Television. In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following “three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use). Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards).
Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.
8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism. American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.
These are not the only aspects of our culture that are subduing young Americans and crushing their resistance to domination. The food-industrial complex has helped create an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. The prison-industrial complex keeps young anti-authoritarians “in line” (now by the fear that they may come before judges such as the two Pennsylvania ones who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated). As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”
Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net