Grafton Tanner on the ghosts in our mausoleum culture

Our limitless nostalgia, our willingness to subscribe to an ideology that scrambles our codes of meaning in exchange for material pleasure, our addiction to information, and our distracted, regressive tendencies form the base of a greater societal crisis — a general failure of the future. The ghosts of the past, with their optimistic vision of the future, are welcome guests in our mausoleum culture, in which we enslave them … in order to revisit a time before now.

— Grafton Tanner. Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts. Zero Books, 2016. p. 69

Slavoj Žižek on ideology & the misrecognition of the illusion

[W]e have established a new way to read the Marxian formula ‘they do not know it, but they are doing it’: illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what the people are doing. What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic inversion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but still they are doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called the ideological fantasy.

The fundamental level of ideology … is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself … even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them.

— Slavoj Žižek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso Books, 1989. p. 32-33.

Gilles Deleuze on the modulation of ‘dividuals’

The different internments or spaces of enclosure through which the individual passes are independent variables: each time one is supposed to start from zero, and although a common language for all these places exists, it is analogical. On the other hand, the different control mechanisms are inseparable variations, forming a system of variable geometry the language of which is numerical (which doesn’t necessarily mean binary). Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.

In the societies of control… what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand the disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.”

— GIlles Deleuze. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October, Vol. 59. (Winter, 1992). pp. 3-7.

Alfie Brown on distraction

Moments where we feel distracted now have another purpose, that of implying that there is, outside our distraction, a coherent reality which we can and should tap back into as and when we please or feel obliged … In other words, it is self-evident that we don’t truly desire to play Candy Crush but unfortunately have to work, but rather that we feel the need for distraction only when we are working, to re-enforce the sense (increasingly lost) that our work has coherent order and value compared to these activities.

Fragmented and distracting enjoyment can often serve to affirm the idea that ouside of these moments of nonsensical and mindless distraction is a stable working life and identity to which we can and should return.

— Alfie Brown. “2. Unproductive Enjoyment: ‘A Culture of Distraction’” from Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism. Zero Books, 2015. p. 30-31.

Paulo Freire on revolutionary leadership

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is commonly read as a text for progressively-minded teachers, but less so as a text for aspiring revolutionaries. However, scattered throughout the text is a recurring concern for the correct methods of revolutionary leadership, specifically as it relates to building relationships of solidarity with the oppressed.

This flows from the fact that the role of critical pedagogy is not simply to reveal structures of oppression — but also to empower and humanize those who have an interest in overthrowing it.

Below is an except from Chapter 1 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed where Freire comments on the difference between treating the oppressed as subjects rather than objects, and underscores the need to work for liberation with the oppressed rather than on their behalf. After all, Marx famously said that “the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself.

The correct method for a revolutionary leadership to employ in the task of liberation is, thus, not “libertarian propaganda.” Nor can the leadership merely “implant” in the oppressed a belief in freedom, thus thinking to win their trust. The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscentizacao [critical consciousness].

The revolutionary leaders must realize that their own conviction of the necessity for struggle (an indispensable dimension of revolutionary wisdom) was not given to them by anyone else — if it is authentic. This conviction cannot be packaged and sold; it is the leaders’ own involvement in reality, within an historical situation, led them to criticize this situation and to wish to change it.

Likewise, the oppressed (who do not commit themselves to the struggle unless they are convinced, and who, if they do not make such a commitment, withhold the indispensable conditions for this struggle) must reach this conviction as Subjects, not as objects. They must also intervene critically in the situation which surrounds them and whose mark they bear; propaganda cannot achieve this. While the conviction of the necessity for struggle (without which the struggle is unfeasible) is indispensable to the revolutionary leadership (indeed, it was this conviction which constituted that leadership), it is also necessary for the oppressed. It is necessary, that is, unless one intends to carry out the transformation for the oppressed rather than with them.

— Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1993. p. 49.

A Note on Basic Income and Capitalist Labour Markets

Basic Income

Much of the existing debate in Ontario surrounding Basic Income (or Guaranteed Annual Income, or “Mincome”) has remained at the level of hypotheticals. The entry-point for the social democratic left has been to answer the following question in the affirmative: if implemented properly, wouldn’t such a policy have a transformative impact on the lives of working people?

And undoubtedly, it would. But it has fallen to socialists and anti-poverty activists to inject the reality that this policy is being crafted and proposed by a neoliberal austerity government, which has a proven track record of overseeing cruel and humiliating “reforms” to their existing social assistance programs. To skip over and/or bracket the question of its implementation and debate the merits of Basic Income as if it is being proposed in a vacuum is to play into the hands of those who are looking to launch this project in the interests of capital.

Moreover, as socialists, we are acutely aware that capitalism is a system with laws and limits, and our task is to provide a clear understanding of the role social policy plays in reinforcing the coercive structure of capitalist labour markets.  Grasping the historic function and present character of social assistance programs and EI is also going to be a vital in preparing our allies for the BI debate — that is, grasping that these programs have not been designed to to make life decent for workers, but have been instead designed to push workers back into the labour market as soon as possible.

This isn’t to suggest that social policy isn’t reformable, or that it’s impossible to fight for policies that improve the lives of working people. It is reformable, and it is possible, but we have to have a clear analysis of the structural limits inherent in the system itself.

Thom Workman and Geoffrey McCormick’s important work Servant State sets the terms very succinctly, and I’d highly recommend everyone read their book:

From the standpoint of capitalism, the coercive mechanics of capitalist labour markets cannot be loosened to the point where a pool of recalcitrant and unwilling workers would swell. Such dynamics would quickly lead to labour shortages and snuff out opportunities for profitable investment. The fact that workers — even those who are fond of their jobs — sell their labour power to employers out of necessity is the bottom-line reality that must be preserved through social policy. The cultivation of genuine alternatives for working people, perhaps in the form of alternative communities tied to the land (history abounds with such experiments) or in the form of legislation guaranteeing annual incomes which permit families to live modestly but with greater dignity, would have the effect of undermining capitalism by undermining its coercive labour supply.

It is not the seesaw of class struggle that determined the outcome of the battle for social policy over the last century. The capitalist state could never afford to be too generous without undermining one of the essential dynamics of capitalist social formations. It is one of the continuities of capitalist states that they must preserve the coercive integrity of labour markets, that the need to insure a constant supply of workers for the ever-growing capitalist economies forms a sort of delimiting condition that frames all social and economic policy.

— Geoffrey McCormick and Thom Workman, The Servant State: Overseeing Capital Accumulation in Canada (Fernwood 2015), p. 117-118