Brian Holmes on Sun, 6 May 2012 10:01:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Why I say the things I say

On 05/05/2012 01:56 PM, Nicholas Knouf wrote:

How does one take a principled stand against the repugnant policies
of the Koch Bros., while also holding out the possibility that their
philanthropic actions just_might_ cause some positive change in the

I reckon it's close to impossible.

The reason why is that by continuing to admire, in whatever way, the
oligarchs of your country or any other, and by refusing to condemn
them and the people who support them, one sits on the fence and
thereby encourages everyone else to do exactly the same. How to oppose
the oligarchy without frankly opposing them? How to be part of and
against the ruling class?

This has ever been the dilemma of the so-called "middle classes,"
those who mediate between the rulers and the ruled. It is not an easy
position when one springs from those middle classes, because as you
point out, Nick, our culture, our very subjectivity, is largely given
to us by the "gifts" of the rulers. Only by some deliberate effort
can the middle-class person actually break out of this position of
admiration, this inarticulate belief that the rulers are somehow
"the good people." The great resource whereby the rulers have always
legitimated the iniquity of their rule has always been art, culture,
philanthropy. Should one be suspicious of those things? Is the culture
of the rich a double-edged sword? What does it mean to be cut by it?

To rule is not simply to bestow gifts on the less enlightened. It is
to extort one's wealth and power by means of violence both physical
and psychic. And in the case of oil magnates, it is to participate in
military imperialism, to support war and to damage the environment
irreparably. The case of the Koch brothers is surely the most explicit
in this regard. I recall, for those who would somehow not know, that
the Koch brothers are in the oil business; that they founded the
libertarian Cato institute which has served as an ideological arm
of corporate neoliberalism; paid out more to their political action
committee between 2006 and 2010 than any other oil industry including
Exxon-Mobile; and have backed since its inception the one organization
that has done more than any other to support the Tea Party, namely
Americans for Prosperity, which is also pushing climate-change denial.
Well, I could go on, but anyone who has not done a minimum of reading
about the Koch brothers simply should do so. I will put a few links
below, but I think everyone already knows these things.

Under the rule of oligarchs like the Kochs, the US has led the world
in the transformation from public cultural funding to private. So
isn't it nice, they pay for your museums. At present this structural
transformation is overtaking Europe and other regions under the
pressures of austerity, which arise from the very libertarian
philosophy promoted by the Koch brothers and so many other corporate
billionaires defending their class power. The transformation extends
to the formerly public universities, which are now debt-traps for
unwitting human prey. The transformation of the formerly public
institutions is documented quite well in books such as Academic
Capitalism, Unmaking the Public University, and many others which I
cite in my text "Silence=Debt." When this transformation is complete,
you will indeed have something like the Carnegie Libraries on which to
nourish your subjectivity. You'll have the Met, Harvard, the MoMA, a
militarized and corporatized UC Berkeley, etc. What you will not have
are self-governing institutions maintaining a sense of responsibility
both to the internal ethics of intellectual disciplines, and to
broader regulative ideals of equality. That is to say, what you won't
have is any pretence of a democratic society. The tacit requirement
for crossing the threshholds of these institutions will be to bow down
before the godlike figures who created them.

I am not sure how to exit from this situation where we "middle-class"
people are dominated while serving also as the vectors and relays of
domination. I know it's a fact, because I have seen conditions in
both the US and Western Europe degrade over my lifetime, particularly
the US, where the existence of what's called "the oligarchy" or
"the ruling class" is now a reality so patent, so statistically
evident, that it is simply undeniable. And yet people accept it, they
internalize the competitive, winner-take-all values of the oligarchy,
just as they have followed the lead of the oligarchy in increasingly
denying the existence of human-induced climate change. Trusting that
this rule of the oligarchs "just might" create something culturally
positive - that's naive, Nick. While you're trusting, or even merely
speculating on the possibility, we are headed toward the complete
disempowerment of our democracy by billionaire Political Action
Committees. One more step and and naivete becomes complicity. Which is
the usual fate of the middle classes.

Help me out, everyone or anyone, if you are interested. I don't know
exactly what to do. At this point, I think it would be politically
useful and valuable to publicly tell people that they are wrong when
they speak in support of the ruling classes. The first time one can
do it very politely, as I did a while ago to Sascha D. People told me
privately that I was wasting my time. But it seems to me that one can
and should try publicly to tell people why they might reconsider what
they say; and one can argue these things at length, it's a good thing.

However, at a certain point I do believe one also has to say:
"Declarations that support the culture, and therefore the influence,
of the super-rich, are quite simply declarations in support of the
ruling class." That's not a simple ad hominem attack. That's a
political argument based on principle.

If my dear friend Mark Stahlman were right, that is, if life in
democratic societies were always and ever simply the rule of
the powerful minority over the powerless majority, then another
consequence must necessarily ensue. We must all, to the extent that we
are in the powerless majority, become either hopelessly naive ("Well,
every capitalist Armageddon has it's cultural silver lining") or we
must become hopelessly paranoid ("It's all a trap, a Matrix, foisted
on the majority of zombies by the minority of all-powerful rulers").
To refuse that diabolical alternative, it seems to me that one has
to say, "Well, the situation is bad, but because we are capable of
something better, we must appeal to those who recognize the danger and
begin to struggle together not only against the ruling classes, but
also against those who do not recognize the danger and choose instead
to promote complicity."

Translation: At some point, you gotta say to those around you: "Stop
defending the rulers for their poison gifts. Start attacking them
because they are a clear and present danger."

Alas, this means accepting the friend/enemy distinction of classical
politics, which is not a happy one. At a certain level it means
tearing your very self apart, when you are partially the creation
of those ruling classes in their more enlightened, gift-bestowing
aspects. I don't find the vocation of the critic particularly smooth.
When people start defending the Koch borthers, or the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation, or privatized universities and museums because
they're excellent and they have such good art, I admit it, I sometimes
freak out: I think I'm be hearing the ventriloquized voice of the
enemy. Friend, enemy, dualism, linear, bad. Therefore anyone who has
a better solution to this whole problem, go ahead, speak up. Let's go
forward with all this.

best, Brian


Oh, and by the way, fuck the Koch brothers:

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