Dan S. Wang on Mon, 19 May 2014 22:16:30 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> tensions within the bay area elites

HI Felix and nettime,

Bringing together again the two threads, Bay Area and gentrification....

> There is clearly a lot going. On a historic scale.

> None of this is fundamentally new, but the everyday contradictions this
> engenders -- particularly in centers of Western progress -- are more
> visible today under conditions of economic crises that they were during
> boom times.

All true. Chris says this was in progress when he moved to San Francisco 20
yrs ago. Well, try this one:

"What happened in the Haight echoed earlier scenes in North Beach and The
Village, among others?and it proved, once again, the basic futility of
seizing turf you can't control. The pattern never varies: a low-rent area
suddenly blooms new and loose and human ­ and then fashionable, which
attracts the press and the cops at about the same time. Cop problems attract
more publicity, which then attracts fad-salesmen and hustlers ­ which means
money, and that attracts junkies and jack-rollers. Their bad action causes
more publicity and ­ for some perverse reason ­ an influx of bored
upward-mobile types who dig the menace of "white ghetto" life and whose
expense-account tastes drive local rents and street-prices up and out of
reach of the original settlers?who are forced, once again, to move on."

This passage is from a letter Hunter S. Thompson wrote to David Wilcock of
the Los Angeles Free Press dated December of 1969. With some minor changes
in terminology and a couple of flourishes alluding to globalization and the
New Economy, it might have been written yesterday.

HST's observation was made in the context of outlining the Freak Power
strategy he was then implementing in preparation for his run for office in
Aspen, Colorado. He'd decamped to the mountains from the cities for the very
reason of having been pushed out by the rising rents of the consumer
bohemia, only to witness the same dynamic take hold yet again in Aspen. At
the time his best answer to the creep of the land hustlers was to run for
office himself, and to do it in a way that would present the clearest of
choices. He lost, but not by much ­ and that was for the office of Sheriff,
ie quaint on its surface but in those days the real muscle in the county,
the on-the-ground enforcer (of evictions, among other things). There was
real power at stake, which meant the established concentrations of power
were forced to defend what they had. For once, the developers and their
political cronies were made to fight, sink resources into something other
than land grabs, and in the process expose themselves further. That is still
the lesson.

> OK, we all know that. What astounds and dismays me now is that all we --
> lefty artist/intellectuals on this list -- manage to produce is a
> cynicism and bickering.
> I wonder what that represents. Is this simply the endless jockeying for
> difference typical of the attention economy? An exhaustion of the
> project of cultural critique on favor of endless self-reaffirming micro
> discourses? A situation to complex to comprehend? The decline of the
> West in the face of changing global lines of force?
> Perhaps all of that, or none of that. Whatever it is, it makes these
> discussions stale, to say the least.

What "it" is, is the unwillingness ­ for the usual thousand good reasons ­
of the leftist intellectuals to engage themselves (ourselves!) in the actual
workings of raw power: making legislation, lobbying, running for office. I
believe there is a profound link between the limits to our ideas (as
expressed collectively in the endless bickering) and the limits of our
political engagement, whether that is expressed in the staleness of protest
tactics, the way pressure group demands are articulated, or the
unwillingness to take political offices that might be had relatively easily
(school boards, local offices of all kind that are not so dependent on party

I'm all for the negative critique, but for that critique to advance a
liberation agenda ­ ultimately a positive turn in the society, and in
ourselves ­ people must produce new situations that then necessitate the
critique. To take the example right in front of me, the Wisconsin Uprising
surely merits full critical analysis in order to evolve as a movement. But
it was the early events of Feb 14-17, 2011, during which mass collective
actions moved with the speed of rumor and not the slowness of deliberative,
reflective analysis and argument, that created the new situation and that
temporarily destabilized power. The rearrangement devolved into retrenchment
(as it usually does), but the rearrangement itself opened whole new channels
for thinking through the role of union leadership, the possibility of
cross-sectoral strikes and coordinated actions, even new perspectives on
media politics and tactical communications. The old bickering (for which
Madison, Wisconsin, lefties are famous) was put to rest by the fresh

With the piecemeal aggression of gentrification, a mass movement of
opposition is unlikely. Short hit-and-run disruptions like the vomiting
actions are fine, but also speak to the limits of protest in the context of
the relatively diffused power that reshapes a city economy; there is no
Scott Walker in the Bay. (Btw, if you want to discuss "evils," please
include our standard bearer from Dairyland; any of a million CEOs would make
similar decisions at Facebook or Google, betraying their final status as
functionaries, but there are many fewer purely power-hungry psychopaths in
the world.)

It's soooo passé, but when it comes to rent politics ($5/stop/day for the
Google buses?? Gimme a break, it should be $20/stop/day, at the very least!)
I don't think political office can be ignored. Which means electoral
politics can't be ignored. Not that many of us are fully ignoring it, but
very few are fighting for it, seeing it as a struggle worth investing in.
Partly because were a radical to actually win, once in office, any person is
bound to disappoint. Kshama Sawant is about to disappoint us all. But that's
only because now she holds a little bit of real power, under fresh
circumstances. The politics of disappointment: it's a different but now
necessary discussion, something outside of and more interesting than the
dead end question (for example) of Are corporations evil or not?

Dan w.


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