sebastian on Wed, 1 Feb 2017 23:34:55 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> 10 Preliminary Theses on Trump + 10 Preliminary Theses on

When I saw the "10 Preliminary Theses on Trump", what made me feel uneasy was, 
mostly, a matter of form: that the "10 Theses" format seemed strangely 
anachronistic, inadequate for a phenomenon like Trump, and that of all the 
attributes one could have possibly picked, "preliminary" looked like the least 
appropriate choice for something written in late January 2017. The most famous 
(and most famously wrong) "N Preliminary Theses on Trump" text, Nate Silver's 
"Donald Trump's Six Stages of Doom" (1), was published in August 2015, and that 
was the time when it was still possible -- reasonable, as Nate Silver would 
argue -- to think that "preliminary" might do. That has changed.

Reading the "10 Preliminary Theses on Resistance", I'm sure that each of them 
is built around a kernel of truth, but I found it hard to get through the 
coating. To me, they sound overly romantic in the best case, and ring like pure 
kitsch in the worst. Romanticism may have its place in political critique, but 
here, it seems to come at the cost of making actual observations, at the 
expense of material reality, and how stuff in it actually works.

So short of making 10 anti-theses (which would be a *real* waste of time), let 
me point out just the most glaring examples:

Re 1: Resistance against Trump has already become manifest, not as radical acts 
of negation, but as diffuse articulations of discontent. The resistance is in 
the streets already, attracted not by pure negativity, but by Facebook events. 
That's the "gasoline for the fires to come" (and can we update that metaphor 
for the 21st century, please?).

Re 3: There is an inflationary tendency at work here: "an infinite number of 
other techniques" is already too many, and as "an infinite number of other 
techniques known and unknown", they become entirely meaningless. Even an appeal 
to all particles in the Universe, known and unknown, to resonate with the 
resistance against Trump, would have a finite number of addressees.

Re 4: I'm vaguely aware of how historians and philosophers have, in the latter 
half of the 20th century, attempted to locate the notion and frame the question 
of "power". It's always good to try something new, but here, the use of that 
concept seems more like a regression. I always thought statements like "power 
is most intimately known by those who have lived their lives beneath it" were 
no longer possible, and that "those who have historically been most affected by 
power" no longer populate our fantasies.

Re 5: "As lines of riot police and make-shift barricades cut the world into a 
billion different sides", I have difficulties tracing the very geometry of that 
phenomenon. "Which one will you stand on?" Statistically speaking: nowhere near 
any of the edges, and most likely alone. And when "ultimately", we wipe the 
board clean, and a single "line will be drawn between those who currently (or 
seek to) govern, and those who desire to be and insist upon being 
ungovernable", then can we please also drill a hole for those who insist that 
becoming ungovernable contradicts the very notion of drawing such a line?

Re 9: I don't think anyone doubts that "the crisis has already arrived", and 
that it arrived around the same time when the idea that there is "no 
possibility of rolling back time" was elevated from wild guess to scientific 
fact, or when the observation that "the sheer entropy of the present means that 
there is little to hold on to" was reformulated as the Second Law of 
Thermodynamics. The crisis is old news, really. What worries me more, however, 
is that the above is then immediately followed by the prediction that "watching 
the world around us rise and fall at an accelerating rate, those who prevail 
will be those who grasp the risks worth taking", because I can't shake off the 
feeling that I have read that before, even though I cannot remember where. Is 
this still Kevin Kelly, or already Peter Thiel?

And so on. The good news is that none of the above matters much, since there is 
and will be resistance, and it must succeed. It may lose some time, trying to 
define "success" and "failure" and mapping the vast space that lies in between, 
but at some point soon, it will have to define a number of practical goals, and 
do all it can to achieve them. If it disregards the "10 Theses", that's fine, 
but even if works out exactly, word-by-word like these theses propose, then 
tant mieux.

One more thing though. I don't personally know very many people who have been 
in an actual resistance movement, but I have a few friends in Cairo, and they 
did it: not only sustained the resistance against its many adversaries, but 
actually brought down their government, which is what we usually call a 
revolution. (And yes, today we have the privilege of knowing how it played 
out.) I used to listen to them a lot, and not only heard a few things about 
streets and movement and tanks and projectiles and rape and sharpshooters and 
night vision and food supplies, but was also reminded of what I think the "10 
Theses" attempt to allude to, which is the life-changing experience of taking 
part in a protest: how a small series of minor events can be sufficient to gain 
the offensive over the state (its police or army or hired goons), and what 
happens when the full force of what is normally not leaks into that vacuum, how 
the "other worlds that are possible" immediately realize themselves in the 
capillaries of the social. For those who have lived it, this is usually a point 
of no return, and even though from all I can tell, you're still more likely to 
die from a gunshot, or depression a few years later, than to sustain such a 
liberated social for long, this experience is an essential part of how you 
become ungovernable for good. "Theoreticians who examine the history of this 
movement from a divinely omniscient viewpoint (like that found in classical 
novels) can easily prove that the Commune was objectively doomed to failure and 
could not have been successfully consummated. They forget that for those who 
really lived it, the consummation was already there." (2)

But since then, 2011, I have made it a rule to not write anything about 
resistance or revolution that any of these Cairo friends -- and they're not 
fighters or revolutionaries, they're just friends -- might take as an insult 
(extended to include everything that might make me look stupid). It's a good 
rule. And even if you don't know anyone in Syria or Bahrain or Kashmir, you 
know that these people exist, you can imagine them being your friends or your 
readers, you can pretend to be in a conversation with them. Think of them when 
you write.


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