Blake Stimson on Tue, 20 Feb 2018 18:35:56 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> How do we govern ourselves? (was: Mechanical Turkish)

Dear Brian and Felix,

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I know Brian is ready to wind up this discussion but allow me to conclude my part with just one final thought. I take us to agree on every point except one: that we need new models for politics. It is a fully understandable desire to imagine another world, another system, another politics---this, after all, was the heroic dream of democracy, socialism and communism. However the same dream has also been the lure of many horrorshows---a recent version, silly and scary in equal parts, is the blockchain derived Puertopia. The reason I think we do not want new models is not that they can cut either way, however, but instead that the promise of new political form is itself particularly ideological in our neoliberalized epoch. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, in the wake of the cultural turn and despite our best intentions and insights, such an entrepreneurial desire for new political form is the primary way we have contributed to the massive redistribution of wealth and political power that has in turn led to the renewal of populist authoritarianism. By turning to the new we almost always give up the power of what is already there. Instead of retreating back to our laboratories to develop such new models, in other words, we need to fight for the democratization and socialization of the forms we have. To add one footnote in support, I take Fredric Jameson to be making a related argument when he makes his case for Walmart and the military as models for a future utopia.

With thanks and best wishes,


On Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 8:54 AM, Brian Holmes <> wrote:
On 02/17/2018 07:44 AM, Blake Stimson wrote:

I do not put much stock in the Bourdieuian category of “cultural capital” and instead do indeed believe that power lies solely in the possession of money or the capacity for violence. Politics, as I use the term, is simply the state.
 Put more simply, the state is a battle between the capacity for public or disinterested regulation which creates freedom and its corruption by private interests.

Now here we fudamentally disagree. Since at least sometime around the Wars of Religion, European societies, and subsequently their emancipated colonies, have taken on board the fundamental, resistant difference of individual and community belief - defined precisely by its distance from (yet not necessarily by its antagonism to) the state. The whole dynamic of these societies, up to and beyond the end of absolutism and the emergence of the bourgeois democracies, has been shaped by that difference, in its ever more complex combinations with the bureaucratic state and capitalist production. And there are very practical reasons for this. To see like a state is good: it means you can take on the responsibility of participating in the governing process. To identify with the state, when you are not part of its apparatus, is devastatingly bad: it means you abandon both the capacity for critique that defines being a citizen, and the reserve of intimate conviction that defines being an individual.

Such a society fully identified with the state does conform to the ideal currently promoted by the Chinese Communist Party, which many theorists, including occasionally myself, are tempted to admire for the degree of agency it can wield. However the absence of critique has resulted in an embrace of US-style imperialial oligopolistic state-capitalist industrial production on a scale that appears destined to foreclose the existence of human civilization and untold millions of other species on the earth through the release of greenhouse gases. A state that is not subject to critique becomes hypertrophic, as the US did when it instituted zones of publically sanctioned secrecy around nuclear weapons production during WWII. This was not only done because of nasty market actors confronting a good social-democratic Rooseveltian state. Rather, it was done at the dark heart of that state-form. The struggle against the military imperial state is as much of the essence, and remains just as timely, as the struggle for a social-democratic state able to overcome inequalities and address the ecological consequences of reckless industrialization.

That said, I continue to agree with you that the single emphasis on resistance is a dead end. I just don't think you can theorize any sort of future development without taking on board the elements listed above.

I take us to agree when you say “What interests ... are the social mediations that cause a really existing state to see in particular ways”—-but only insofar as we agree that we ourselves are part and parcel of those social mediations.

Indeed, the caveat was intended as part of the argument. To be an active part of those mediations is to act politically, whether as an artist or a knowledge producer or an organizer or a career functionary (Hegelian please!) or a judge. All of which, by the way, are at one remove from money and the capacity to exercise violence.

This is true even if that mediating is limited to the position of refusal my students identify when they say “I’m trash.” This, after all, is just a popular version of arty academic trends such as the so-called new materialisms of Latour et al and we could point to myriad historical examples of the same sort of refusal throughout the romantic tradition from Schiller to Foucault and beyond.

Someday soon I am going to read "Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene." This came out of a group working on "multispecies dumps" - literally, life in the trash. When I contemplate the general framing of that project, I cannot help thinking, like yourself, Blake, that here are entitled citizens giving up the politics game rather too soon. Climate change tends to make people think that if it's already the end of the world, we may as well imagine a different one. Myself, I imagine in great detail the barbarous descent into ethnostate authoritarianism that the denial of and reaction to climate change is already bringing, and it gives me totally different ideas! The very ones we are discussing here. Some other day I will analyze what I find in that book, the pros as well as the cons; however I am going to spare you that whole discussion right now. You have been very gracious for accepting to go down into the weeds of political theory, this was the best exchange because we actually got to what we are talking about, thanks for that.

In our waning liberal modernity, good art, like good politics, is that realism which enhances our capacity to think our own individual being institutionally or, in other words, to see like a (democratic-cum-socialist) state.
I'm with Felix on this one: your last clause cuts out way too many institutions. The social-democratic-cum-socialist state, which does not presently exist, is only a figure of speech or intellectual shorthand for imagining the combinations of state, capital and critical civil society that would be required to overcome the present crisis. In the US, that more complex state of society was envisaged in the Sixties by many people (it's fascinating to read certain strands of SDS on this, but they're far from the only ones). Then, indeed, the gestures of the more romantic and less complex actors (the Weathermen, etc) were seized upon to fuel the development of the new conservatism that has burgeoned ever since then. Our discussion has an air of the antique about it, because it was already the discussion of that time: How to govern ourselves? How to achieve a democratic socialism in the face of globalizing capitalism?

Blake, I reckon we've had our words on this subject, for the time being. You're eminently free to respond, but for my part I would invite anyone else who finds it important, to take up that last question in fully contemporary terms.

all the best, and really, my gratitude for bothering to go a little deeper,


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