New year

01 Jan 2017

It’s a new year.

I’d meant to keep writing of the agonising days, then weeks, then months after the onset of the illness that struck, but I’m still not out of the woods (and perhaps never will be), and writing about it hurts — my mind is not ready to go back to the worst of it.

Despite how much “worse” my day-to-day life is for the sickness, there has been a prominent silver lining: priorities. This past year has shown me what’s important; what I can’t live without, and what brings me more pain than happiness. So I’m thankful for that.

What does the new year bring?

Global warming is promising truly catastrophic things for our planet.

Australia has created hell on earth in the form of refugee camps.

Beautiful Aleppo has been razed to the ground, Russia providing the necessary firepower to Assad.

Israel continues to destabilise Palestine while refusing to heed UN resolutions.

Trump. Ugh. Who knows if we’ll face a third world war in our lifetime, but the probability has risen significantly.

It’s hard to know how to be hopeful. It looks like the global right is growing in power and trying to cement their position. The steady rise of fascism becomes harder and harder to ignore, and the fascists themselves become ever more bold and accepted.

I don’t know how to fix this, but I do know caring is important. Caring takes energy — it hurts — but it’s the least we can do as humans. If we keep caring about the people around us, about our siblings in humanity wherever and whoever they are, at the very least we’ll have the necessary precursors to taking action.

I’m still a baby when it comes to politics; I’m quite convinced in anarchism, in class being the real political driver of society, in left materialism and the useless of identity politics (which comes up a lot, being trans, queer and such), but my ability to argue is still lacking. This doesn’t mean I just give up on being politically active — it means I need to better myself, to participate even more, to read more.

I hold hope, knowing that there are others out there who care, others who have thought (much) more than I have about the problems we face today, and others who (like me) want to learn more, knowing there are no easy answers.

Here are some of the most politically influential things I’ve read this year; things that have brought me around from being someone who thought radical left ideas were great, but never believed they were possible, to being someone who believes that there is no alternative; that we must make them possible if we want to avoid the collapse of society under capitalism.

  • Get mad and get even — written by the superlative Eleanor Robertson, this was one of the strongest turn-offs to modern (neoliberal) feminism I’ve ever read. I cannot recommend this essay enough; it really started me off in earnest.

    A simple follow-the-money approach is enough to call this lazy embrace of commodity fetishism into serious question: who benefits when a television show is perfectly diverse and responds to the psychological needs of its audience, Tolentino’s ‘extremely woke 12-year-olds’? Ultimately it’s the industry itself, which has now gained the institutional knowledge necessary to extract more profit by appealing to the sensibilities of consumers. This is not just an absence of material politics, but its negation: twenty-first-century feminism’s primary medium, the diversity critique, has as its functional terminus the ‘freedom’ of consumers to purchase a picture of a utopia from a company whose interests lie in preventing any of those utopias from occurring.

  • Suey Park and the Afterlife of Twitter — Yasmin Nair wrote about the online performance of Twitter celebrities. I somehow thought this wouldn’t necessarily be that interesting or relevant, because who cares about celebrities? looooool. I guess it makes sense that celebrities are pretty necessarily bound up with the function of capitalism, huh?

    The point here is is not to be critical of people like Suey Park and Arthur Chu for making money off Twitter but to consider their money-making as part of a neoliberal framework that fetishises their entrepreneurship, and to consider Twitter as part of that neoliberal framework.

    Twitter is mistaken as a form of political action, and the fact that tweeting has the appearance of unmediated immediacy gives it the legitimacy of authenticity, a hallmark of the neoliberal entrepreneurial self.

  • The internet has made defensive writers of us all — I found this at the very start of the year. Talking online can be hard; your intention may not be well-understood by others, nuance is difficult to convey, yada yada. But I can really relate to this bit:

    The defensive writing style also encourages another sort of ugliness, which is that “avoiding saying something wrong” becomes a primary focus of the writing, rather than communicating or exploring ideas which the author might himself be unsure of. It encourages a tendency to be attached to ideas and defend them against attackers, rather than letting ideas exist separate from ourselves as they should.

    My brain automatically responds to a paragraph like this with “but what about the classists/racists/sexists/ableists/homophobes/transphobes/[…] who would exploit this”, but that seems to further reinforce the point: it’s extremely difficult to write about difficult or nuanced topics online in an exploratory fashion without either (i) hedging every statement made to make it absolutely clear you’ve thought of every possible misinterpretation or negative follow-on effect, or (ii) getting absolutely dunked on by the commentariat.

    The extent to which one ends up internalising the former really does end up becoming thought-limiting — especially when spending lots of time in circles where idpol is the defining common interest.

  • There Is Such a Thing As Society and Talking Cure — by George Monbiot. As neoliberalism tears us apart, humanity itself begins to collapse. We don’t have to accept this — but it is necessary to accept what the source of the problem is in order to fix it. These essays helped further the notion for me that a modern capitalistic society wants to atomise the individuals within it, whatever the casualties.

    Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

  • Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why — a lengthy and worthwhile essay by Adolph Reed, Jr. on the depictions of slavery in film. I’m severely underdeveloped politically in this area (being a white Australian, living in colonised Australia!), and there was a lot to get from this. Having not seen either film, I read the plot summaries on Wikipedia for context.

    Effacement of historicity and the social in favor of the timeless—that is, presentist—narrative of individual Overcoming is the deep politics and social commentary propounded in these products of the mass entertainment industry. They differ from other such products only because they ostensibly apply the standard formulae to socially important topics. They don’t, however. They do exactly the reverse; they revise historically and politically significant moments to fit within the formula. In doing so they are nodes in the constitution of neoliberalism’s ideological hegemony.

    And the extent of that hegemony is attested by claims from the likes of Lawrence Bobo, Jon Wiener and others who should know better than to think that a film like Django Unchained somehow captures the essential truth of American slavery. That truth is apparently, as Bobo condenses it, “brutality, inescapable violence and absolutely thorough moral degradation.” But those features were neither essential nor exclusive to slavery; they were behavioral artifacts enabled by the institution because it conferred, with support of law and custom, a property right—absolute control of life and livelihood—of some individuals over others. That property right was the essential evil and injustice that defined slavery, not the extremes of brutality and degradation it could encourage and abet.

    A part earlier on particularly spoke to me:

    The deeper message of these films, insofar as they deny the integrity of the past, is that there is no thinkable alternative to the ideological order under which we live. This message is reproduced throughout the mass entertainment industry; it shapes the normative reality even of the fantasy worlds that masquerade as escapism.

    Half of the problem with modern neoliberalist schmucks is their insistence that their politics is actually no politics at all — their politics are actually the Natural and Correct way to be, they way things have always and should always be, and that any other political “idea” is therefore nothing more than an idea; a city-scale revolution here or there, perhaps, but never anything that could change the world.

    When I find myself subconsciously accepting some facet of neoliberalism as timeless or inevitable, Ursula K. Le Guin serves as a strong antidote:

    We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings.

  • Why I am a communist — Eleanor Robertson again, succinctly stating her own case for communism, focussing on the power dynamics inherent in oppression. As ever, the anti-liberal message really spoke to me, as no doubt the me of a few years ago would identify as a “liberal” today.

    One of the biggest problems with liberal or reformist approaches to oppression is that they ignore the arbitrariness of this process, and instead fixate on an imagined inherent quality of particular instances of target selection. This causes a perception that particular oppressions are discrete phenomena which can be ameliorated by breaking down the irrational prejudices that justify and sustain the persecution; the solution to anti-black racism must be focused on dispelling myths and stereotypes about black people, sexism can be ameliorated only by cultural changes in the treatment and depiction of women, etc.

    This puts the cart before the horse: these stereotypes, and the ways they find their material expression, are overdetermined by the necessity of persecution itself. Any hope we have of putting a stop to prejudice must address its underlying mechanisms as well as its specific expressions. Bigotry can only be halted by addressing oppression as a general social phenomenon produced by imbalances of power, without a pre-determined object.

  • No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously — we’re all going to die. Really. That’s all there is to it. There’s no presently conceivable future where we don’t render the earth utterly uninhabitable in the short term future, on a human scale. I’m not a climate scientist, so I can’t speak to any particular numbers, but things look to get bad within decades. There’s no way we’re going to hit the 2 degree mark (do you see any large countries immediately stopping all new investment in fossil fuels?), so I think I have to apologise to my children already.

    This is included here not just because the right wing has a tendency to overlap with global warming denial, but also because it highlights the urgency of our cause: we probably don’t have that much more time to organise.

    The third option is to allow temperatures to rise 3 or even 4 degrees, which Anderson has called “incompatible with an organized global community.” Such temperatures would bring suffering to hundreds of millions of people and substantially raise the probability of runaway global warming that can’t be stopped no matter what humans do. Runaway warming would, over the course of a century or so, serve to render the planet uninhabitable. Quite a legacy.

I hope some of this reading proved interesting, but I hope more it might be motivational. We don’t have to accept the state of things (which is terrible). A better world is possible; the first thing is to believe that it is possible, and then find others who share that view, learn from them, and grow our collective effort.

Again, I’m very much a baby at all this, so I may have been way off the mark in more than one place. Comments and discussion are super-appreciated (@kivikakk).