|Brian Holmes on Sun, 6 May 2012 10:01:19 +0200 (CEST)|
[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]
|<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 world?
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: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/media-center/reports/koch-industries-secretly-fund http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOCHAv25uTw # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets # more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l # archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: firstname.lastname@example.org