A continuation of “For the Love of God”

Elaborating an idea that was left mentioned but unexplored in the previous essay, we wish to outline some central arguments of our belief that Western science or Enlightenment rationalism constitutes a mythical worldview, a state religion, and a productive modality, which is to say, a worldshaper. While it is true that all religions are worldshapers, since understanding is one of the first forms of shaping, by being integrally connected to capitalism Western science is the most powerful worldshaper to date; far from neutral, it is a most potent machine. Not only do we argue the religious nature of science, we also assert that it is a direct ideological descendant of Christianity, and while the ascendance of Enlightenment rationalism constituted a rupture with Church power and doctrine, we would qualify this as an evolutionary rupture, incurring no more breakage or damage to Church structures and thinking than was strictly necessary for Science to gain its independence and make a qualitative leap as the hegemonic worldshaper, as the butterfly must break the chrysalis.


Mere Empiricism

From the outset we find it necessary to make a crucial distinction between Enlightenment rationalism, a category that contains nearly all the attributes people wish to communicate when they refer to “science,” and the empirical method, which rationalism’s coreligionists would have us believe is the pure essence and extent of real science, a method unencumbered by worldview.

In rejecting Science we do not reject the empirical method, which we consider a useful but severely limited way of gaining knowledge; rather we reject all of Western science’s dark matter, all the elements it claims not to possess. We can use the empirical method without believing in Science just like we can appreciate a cathedral without being Catholic or use fire or wheels without being animists (as were the probable inventors of those tools). In fact, the comparison is faulty, given that Enlightenment thinkers were not the sole nor the first inventors of empiricism, just as Johannes Gutenberg was not the sole nor the first inventor of the printing press. Experimentation is widespread in human history, and in many cultures it has taken on methodical forms.

Because scientists from the “hard” branches have studied neither discourse, nor symbols, nor logic, they tend to be unaware when they are speaking metaphorically, and often confuse fact with fiction (to be fair I should point out that this problem, which I had grasped but could not articulate, was first elucidated to me by a PhD candidate of the humanities). Believers in Science will generally assert that Science itself is nothing more than empiricism. This is balderdash. We enumerate below a whole host of religious elements of the rationalist worldview and characteristics that the Enlightenment uncritically inherited from Christianity. But first, it would be good to point out a chief limitation of empiricism itself. This element can be summed up as the following non-falsifiable article of faith: “believe only what you can see.” Such a belief is wholly ignorant of the fact, now empirically proven, that observation changes what is being observed, and it also predisposes us to a knowledge of aliens rather than a knowledge of self, relationships, or fields.

Leaving behind positivism and the faith in one kind of knowledge alone, we would state that “only what can be observed and tested counts as empirical knowledge.” The implication is that there are many other kinds of knowledge, a recognition unknown to men of “Science,” who have chosen to name their doctrine, simply and presumptuously, “Knowledge”—in Latin of course, suggesting an entire other train of baggage coming along on tracks clearly laid down by the Catholic church.


While we can appreciate a limited but significant validity in empiricism, we must attack objectivity wholeheartedly as a philosophically and empirically preposterous idea, as well as a morally disturbed way of looking at the world. Nevermind the insistence that contradiction or paradox constitutes a logical fallacy (which in some cultures would be viewed as a sign of a simplistic immaturity), the belief that there exists a complete, internally aligned, finite set of facts to describe every situation implies a worldview screaming for an absent god. All facts are processed knowledge resulting from personal involvement in a situation, guided by a specific cultural and historical framing as well as individual motivations. Regardless of whether a falling tree makes noise in an empty forest, how someone understands a forest and what features of it they decide to, or are even able to, measure, are all subjectively determined factors. There are no facts without personhood, and the tendency to try to alienate the facts from the producers of those facts not only trains people in a non-ecstatic disembodied view of their own lives, it also suggests dishonesty as well as an extreme discomfort with one’s place in the world. In a world not ruled by Science, psychologists would be speaking about “objectivity neurosis” rather than “oppositional defiance disorder.”

Empirically and philosophically speaking, objectivity is a concept that has been thoroughly problematized, if not to say discredited; nonetheless it continues to make the rounds and play a central role in shaping people’s worldview (a dynamic that we will see pop up a number of times throughout this essay). It is now a well produced and difficult to deny fact that observation always changes that which is observed.

This holds true across the disciplines, from the thermometer slightly changing the temperature of the matter it is inserted into, to the velocity of one object being relative to the velocity of the object from which it is being observed, to people changing their behavior, even pandering to the scientist’s expectations, when being observed by an anthropologist or sociologist. This boils down to a truism that should, at least philosophically, hold great weight: it is impossible to know the world without us.

In terms of physics, it is hard to talk about objective velocity and position because space is not a neutral, static field of fixed coordinates against which objects can be measured; in fact on a number of levels even the firm distinction between object and space is illusory, stemming from a human (or at least Western) preference for seeing things and not seeing the field that contains them.

And in terms of knowledge production focusing on other humans, we can take a moment to mock medical studies (the medical industry, ahem, profession, will be a favorite whipping boy of this article). The supposedly passive subjects in medical studies are engaged in the study for specific reasons opaque to the researchers who are ostensibly in control; they know how to give the researchers what they want, and even to play them. In many cases, they are more able professionals than the researchers themselves. And if we are to believe that an uncontrolled “placebo effect,” purely psychological in terms of Science’s mind-body dualism, can corrupt the results of a study, what about the psychological effects of living for several days inside a research facility, under artificial lights, an altered diet and daily routine, and constant observation, not to mention the tapping of bodily fluids? The objectivity and “control” in a medical study is a convenient lie, an industry convention designed to produce credibility, which is nothing other than an appearance.

As for statistics, the ultimate in objective information, anyone who cares to knows how easily statistics can be cooked and manipulated, at the moment of presentation, of analysis, or even at the moment of data intake. Which is not to say, relativistically, that all statistics are meaningless or equally valid; only that they can never be honestly used as anything more than one of many forms of knowledge, nor do they convey that chimera, objective truth.

And though scientists are not always directly involved in the production of the following discourse, the pedantic idea of objectivity that is a cornerstone of the news media only functions in a society that holds Science as sacred. The journalistic hoax that allows an infinity of perspectives to be silenced so as to present “both sides” of a story, and their refusal to educate viewers about the invisibilized questions of framing, can only fly for a public that still believes that objective information exists. It would probably not be exaggerated to view this hoax as a cover-up. If people realized that the best that can be hoped for (and not even in a pessimistic sense) is multi-subjective knowledge, they would not constantly have to devalue and suppress their own subjective knowledge, which is to say their life experiences, in the search for a superior yet unattainable objective knowledge. And someone who suppresses their own viewpoint is easier to control.


Additionally, before we enumerate rationalism’s myths and religious features, it would also do to touch on a middle area: knowledge that is validated by the empirical method, but marginalized or obscured by the acting priests of Science. We can refer to this field as heresy, an exploration conducted within the terminology and cosmology of the faith, rather than external to it, but one that contradicts the interests of those who hold power over the faith.

To validate our terminological comparison to heresy within the Christian paradigm, we can consider the Anabaptists. As with all heretics of their era, they were also true Christians. They used the objective material and tools of the Church, namely the reading of Scripture, to subvert the unspoken goal of the Church institution, which was Power, the accumulation of which its heir Science has realized to a far greater extent and in a more dissimulated, innocent fashion. And just as the Anabaptists were marginalized once their ability to contest the Church exercise of power was violently eliminated, so too are heretical forms of Science marginalized, though the mechanisms of marginalization are quite different, owing in part to modern media technologies and the universalization of literacy, and in part to the functioning of research grants.

Gaia theory, the Kropotkinian view of evolution, and Reclusian theorizations in geography are three examples of heresy in the rationalist paradigm. Articulated by trained scientists with a scientific terminology, compatible with systems theory and other contemporary theories that are given more credence, modifiable in the face of empirical testing so as to separate them from pseudo-science; nonetheless they all have been effectively marginalized. The latter two, theorized by anarchists who won great praise in their day, have been largely erased from the history books, only starting to make a reappearance today, whereas the former has been marginalized primarily through derision. Rather than being subjected to scrutiny, it is affixed with an aura of mysticism (granted, the name helps) enough to keep away research funders and scientists concerned about their careers. Simultaneously, the police on multiple continents wage a fierce and bloody war, under the rubric of antiterrorism, against anyone who would attach the Gaia theory worldview to a social force (in other words, radical environmentalists who see life as a planetary quality, and the earth as a living system that can only be protected holistically). As much as the skeptics would insist that these two maneuvers in the current war on heresy are separate—the derision and the repression—we must not forget that the police today, like most other professions, conduct themselves scientifically, and that they generally do not attack social groups granted legitimacy by other powerful institutions.

A fact published by Silvia Federici illustrates the link between the enthusiastic explorations of science and of the police; Francis Bacon, the father of empiricism, was also the Attorney General for the British Crown. He conducted political repression for the State, becoming involved in the interrogation and torture of subjects, an activity that perhaps expanded his understanding of the methodical acquisition of knowledge. And even though today, given centuries of complexification, the ecologist and the police investigator, both scientifically trained, are not the same person, it is hard to ignore the community of interests they work for. One is employed by Exxon to carry out investigations that will either raise doubts about global warming or open up new product lines for “clean energy,” and the other has a “domestic terrorism” assignment that was created after political lobbying by Exxon in the face of a direct action campaign against a pipeline. Or perhaps his job post was indirectly created by Weyerhauser, or Monsanto, or Huntingdon Life Sciences, but in that case one only need go a level higher, to find that both companies use the same bank.

Mythical Inheritance

One of the prime hand-me-downs that is pervasive in Enlightenment rationalism is the tension between the material and the ideal, which is perhaps the definitional tension of Western civilization, apparent in Plato, apparent in Christianity, and apparent in Science. Although each of these paradigms has seized on somewhat different resolutions to the tension, the dichotomy itself is peculiar, arbitrary in the way that all cultural values are arbitrary.

Science pretends to resolve the tension by producing a dead universe (a philosophical projection that Science as a worldshaper may be close to achieving). The ideal or the spirit has been abolished, assumed to be a fiction of the material world, which in rationalist terms is the only world (almost an inversion of Manichaeism, which is curious given the fury with which the medieval Church attacked the followers of Mani). Scientists still are not any closer to furnishing ultimate explanations of consciousness, life, or creation—though their “I don’t know” has gotten fascinatingly more detailed—and they continuously have to return to their relationship with religion, their explanations of the power of the mind, the placebo effect, reports of altered consciousness among people who experienced temporary death, and so on. This wouldn’t be a problem if Science did not pretend to be an absolute system of knowledge. As far as answers are concerned, Science is much better at cobbling them together than most other systems of knowledge, but the weight of its pretension to absoluteness causes it to stumble painfully over these few details, again and again, that it still cannot smooth down.

It is worth noting that, even though today, pre-Enlightenment Christianity is portrayed (in anachronistic terms) as fanciful and mystical, in fact Christianity took many important steps towards the dead universe of Enlightenment rationalism. Notably, Christianity succeeded in enclosing the sacred, which had once been a commons. The heresies that the Church attacked most violently were precisely those heresies that claimed that everyone could talk to God without priests as an intermediary. The Church was founded on the erection of barriers between common people and the sacred. What’s more, Christianity was a notably skeptical religion for its day, discussing doctrine and evidence with a high premium on logic, method, and objectivity. The chief difference is that the primary materials they operated on in their theoretical laboratories were not observations of the world around them, but Scripture; nonetheless Church scholars regularly debated with vigour what stories, traditions, and documents were fraudulent rather than accepting any tall tale placed before them.

True, the Catholic Church certified a great many miracles in order to canonize their saints, but their actions must be compared with what came before them, not what came after. Catholicism constituted a much less miraculous universe than the pagan one that had preceded it, a universe in which miracles could not be commonly experienced and proclaimed, but had to be granted institutional recognition. Moreover, the honoring of sainthood was a necessary Catholic concession to the paganism it worked hard to supplant. Much of the opprobrium reserved by Protestantism and then rationalism for the Catholic Church was directed at its worldly compromises with a decentralized spiritual practice that, by the 17th century, had already been stamped out. It is no coincidence that the countries where the witch burnings were most thorough and the bloodiest forms of Protestantism most active would also be the cradles of scientific rationalism.

Nor is it a coincidence that many of the early men of science were monks or trained ecclesiasts, such as Copernicus, Mendel, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Georges Lemaitre, Nicolas Steno, and many more, while others like Linnaeus were educated for the priesthood before branching off into other fields of study.

Science has gone one further, abolishing the sacred sphere that the Church had enclosed and placed beyond easy access. Nonetheless, it not only suffers this absence, it continues to produce a world ruled by abstraction, often to a neurotic degree. Far from solved, the tension between matter and spirit it inherited from Christianity remains alive in Science.

We can also fault Science for its proliferation of simplified myths. Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, articulates perfectly how our scientific society is based on anthropocentric myths about evolution. Ask anyone to explain the evolution of life, and they will tell you a story that starts with single-celled organisms and ends with humankind, the pinnacle of progress. Scientists have an easy out, for they can always claim that this is not really a factually rigorous or “objective” explanation of evolution, and they can’t be blamed for other people’s ignorance. What they can’t explain is why that myth has always been reproduced at a far greater frequency than any empirically accurate rendition of the evolution tale, and often issues from the mouths of trained scientists themselves.

In fact, practitioners of Science are far more guilty of this simplification process than their predecessors. With the Christians, the simplified myths tend to involve simply glossing over contradictions. It is my impression that most Christians don’t know that the Bible is actually full of contradictions, or that, for example, Genesis actually contains multiple creation stories that differ on important details. With Science, however, the mythical simplifications tend to be far more crass, often flying in the face of empirical evidence in order to articulate a myth that is calming or convenient to the social order. Examples abound, from the already cited evolution myth that depicts a hierarchical progression culminating in homo sapiens, to apologia for nuclear energy, to essentialist justifications for traditional gender relations. Frustratingly, such myths are hard to challenge, because scientists are not usually instructed in the nuances of symbolic communication, and thus do not recognize a myth if it slaps them in the face (on the contrary, they tend to operate in the Christian realm of truth, taking their own narratives as objective, and those of other religions as preposterous absurdities). If effectively confronted, any of these myths can be conveniently jettisoned as pseudo-science, but an explanation is never offered as to why such myths are so often produced by scientists themselves, and why opportunities are systematically generated for their distribution.

Because Science is operating in a much more complicated textual terrain than Scripture, and because of the attendant professionalism, no scientist has a global picture, the way an erudite Biblical scholar might have a global picture of his respective textual terrain. In other words, scientists inevitably have to address aspects of empirical knowledge that are outside their field of expertise. Their vision of other fields is often fed to them by the same mass media that take the fall for being the propagators of pseudo-science. But what we are dealing with is something systematic. In a knowledge system that is far too complex for any one mind to appreciate all of it, or even a tenth of it, the mechanisms by which knowledge is simplified for the non-specialists, and by which a global portrayal of the knowledge is produced, must be analyzed as a structural part of that knowledge system. Western science, however, dodges the bullet on this one by avoiding holistic analysis of its methodology. Against such a laughably broad claim as “Science produces a mythical view of evolution,” the institutional body need only trot out an expert on, say, the evolution of color-perception among insects, to give a suitably detailed description of evolutionary processes and thus deny responsibility for the inaccuracies of pop science. But the pop science and the mechanisms that produce it are an integral part of Science itself.

In the most charitable analysis, individual scientists or scientific institutions (because of course it is inappropriate to speak of them as a cabal, the recognition of individual differences and distances being important, especially if it can prevent outsiders from developing a systemic analysis) would do well to analyze this enduring failure to communicate. Why are so many inaccurate narratives and so much misinformation distributed and reproduced, long after the advent of the Age of Reason? No doubt, politicians or television can be blamed, but any sincere skeptic cannot help but to see the way these mythical narratives are structurally reinforced, and the way they are beneficial to power-holders in a hierarchical society.

The structural component is important, and reveals other forms of Christian heritage. Similar to the medieval church, the advancement of Western science is accomplished by professionals who are patronized by financial and territorial powers, free to research and debate within the informal but very real boundaries established by patronage, while bringing no empowerment or enlightenment to the masses, only instructions. After all, the average citizen of a modern, scientific country gains no real tools for understanding or influencing the world around them. On the contrary, they are consigned to believing their doctor or the scientists who quality control the products they consume (a frequently foolish and sometimes even fatal mistake), and gleaning simplified versions of larger truths from copies of National Geographic or a productive half-hour spent watching the Discovery Channel.

Like the Church hierarchy, the hierarchy of scientific tenures is not a meritocracy as they would like to believe. One encounters an endless number of nincompoops with PhDs. And while we may find academic, peer-reviewed journals to be an invaluable resource for research, as well as a useful vehicle for the production and evaluation of empirical knowledge (this is of course a meek understatement), it is not infrequently that one comes across authors in such journals who are total hacks incapable of marshaling facts or analyzing their own data; and the only reason they were published is because they boasted a fancy piece of paper and a prestigious post.

And while that nebulous network we can ironically refer to as Science is not as nepotistic as the one that, with more precision, we can refer to metonymically as the Church—although tell that to the Harvard Admissions Board—entry into the club and ascendance in its ranks is determined at least as much by class considerations, dexterousness at university politics, alignment with other power structures, and success in publishing and receiving funding (which means selling to a market) as it is by merit or ability. We personally know of an intelligent scientist and excellent professor who was prevented from getting tenure in her department simply because her politics differed from those of the department chair.

Such personal anecdotes are hardly scientific and can’t be taken as solid proof of anything, of course, but the day the professionals publish an empirical study revealing once and for all how many of their colleagues are total idiots, perhaps we can give up on our rude, country mouse ways and stick to The Facts rather than bewildering readers with romantic little jaunts through Storyland. In fact, this absence of data reveals an important point: scientific institutions will not produce knowledge that is not useful to the exercise of power. They would only conduct and publish a study revealing how many accredited scientists were airheads if there were some institutional pressure to reform admissions processes; in the meantime, such studies are useless because they would serve to discredit the institutions.

Science, like Christianity in the Middle Ages, is the custodian of collective memory. Whereas before it was only clerics who recorded the history of society, now nearly all primary research is conducted by trained scientists (social and other). Subsequently, the masses may do with this data what we will, but the questions of what forgotten epochs or aspects of history will be opened up to us and from what angle they will be mined are decided entirely by professional researchers.

Another artifact of Christian inheritance is the progressive, unilinear view of time that rationalism has strongly favored. This was the dominant Christian temporality once the Gnostics were defeated around the 5th century and while since Einstein it no longer holds water in physics and has been challenged in recent decades in many of the social sciences, the myth of progress is still firmly entrenched. Examples include the evolution myth already discussed, in which humans follow chimpanzees, or the long dominant and still taught anthropological framework that has states following chiefdoms following tribes following bands, another story with no basis in fact. In his excellent research, Stephen Jay Gould documents a number of scientific blunders among linguists and others who assumed that the simple must be followed by the complex, as well as an abundance of examples from the natural and social sciences demonstrating the non-progressive multilineality of evolution.

Another prejudice Enlightenment rationalism inherited from Christianity is the belief in a unitary cause. Just as Thomas Aquinas based his proof for the existence of God on the non-falsifiable assumption that existence needed a unitary, original cause, quantum physicists continue to perfect Grand Unified Theories in order to come closer to a “theory of everything.” And in other fields, scientists cleave to Ockham’s Razor, a prejudice towards the simplest explanation (developed by a Franciscan friar no less). And while Ockham’s Razor is clearly useful, and a necessary complement to falsifiability, it can also accustom thinkers to blind themselves to complexity, or to see causation and change occurring in unilinear chains rather than as dynamic equilibria shifting across a field.

Enlightenment rationalism directly inherited Christianity’s zeal for speaking in the name of nature; in fact as it reached maturation Science directly contested the ability of the Church to speak for the natural world, usurping that throne for itself. Just as Christianity in certain moments declared homosexuality, sex out of wedlock, working on Sunday, or going naked unnatural, Enlightenment rationalism began to justify its own social values through a particular characterization of the natural world. This new world they produced, both discursively and to an increasing extent socio-economically, is a mechanical and hierarchical world. Natural patterns were described as “laws,” originally assumed to have been drafted by a clockmaker God. This latter figure, embarrassing for later scientists, quietly disappeared, but His clocklike universe and laws remain. Living bodies continue to be characterized as machines, and with their typical obtuseness the proponents of this view generally do not know if they are speaking literally or metaphorically.

Perhaps the most important element shared by Christianity and Science is their pathologically immature fear of death. A large part of scientific production is designed to seek everlasting life for individuals (those who can afford the treatments, of course) and for the species. Nevermind that scientists claim to speak for the natural world and in nature species die out; humanity must survive. Does Science, therefore, think to change the productive processes it has given rise to, since they are the greatest current threat to human survival? Of course not. These processes must be accelerated so that humankind can colonize Mars before we destroy the biosphere, colonize other solar systems before our sun dies, and in the meantime set up a planetary defense system should any asteroids come too close. Scientists evidently cannot get over themselves and accept that everybody dies.

Why is our species more important than all the others, and more important than the inorganic processes of the universe? The only possible justification for getting ourselves, at the cost of all others, off the planet is, “because we can.” If that is the ultimate ethic of our civilization, it is only fair that it be applied not only to scientists but also to their opponents. We can hope the luddites and primitivists take note. Anything that can be done, must be done. Any scientist that can be killed, should be. Why not? It’s not like there’s anything, in the grand scheme of things, to lose.

Therefore, any supporter of Western science and in particular the project to send human life out into the stars should recognize that Ted Kaczynski and more recently ITS in Mexico were absolutely right in assassinating scientists. They had the power to do it, therefore it was right. But if, perhaps, they feel reluctant to place their lives in the hands of such a mercenary ethos, maybe, just maybe, it’s because their only real morality is the belief that everything they do is right. Not so different from the Christians in the end, are they?

Partial Knowledge

As we have stated earlier, Western science constitutes a knowledge system. The knowledge it produces is frequently valid, up until the point it claims to be absolute. Since it is very difficult to think outside of a paradigm, it might be useful to review the kinds of knowledge that Science is predisposed to produce. This will further reveal the mythical, religious nature of rationalism. And in case our position is unclear, we must insist that there is absolutely nothing wrong with myths—on the contrary humans cannot live without myths—unless they are myths that claim to be objective truths. Rationalism, like any other cosmovision, is spiritual at its core, but on this point we will take sides to argue that the spirituality of Enlightenment rationalism is fundamentally sick, corrupted, alienated, authoritarian, ecocidal, patriarchal, and sociopathic.

Given its background in Christianity and platonic philosophy, Science is predisposed to produce the following types of knowledge:

–The charting of ahistorical genealogies (as in the classification of species not according to their role or relation with other species, to name one of many possible organizational schema, but according to their presumed genetic descendance; perhaps it is not unreasonable to see in this a marked Old Testament influence);

–An awareness of alienated units (swallowing—until recently uncritically—the Enlightenment concept of the individual, along with other sovereigns like the nation, scientists have overwhelmingly favored an analysis of discrete bodies rather than of fields, fluxes, or interconnections, which is akin to analyzing the ocean as a large collection of waves);

–The development of mathematics as the language of nature (revealing something approaching a kabbalist mysticism, rather than simply understanding numerical relations as one of multiple ways to describe the world, examples abound of scientists and mathematicians talking about numerical relations comprising a secret language behind the façade of the physical world, even as a sort of key to decoding existence; fractals enthusiasts promote this thinking with particular frequency);

–The articulation of mechanical relationships (as opposed to reciprocal or dynamic relationships: what is overwhelmingly interesting for Science is not to discover how to maintain or effect states of balance that foster well-being, but how to achieve reproducibility and control, isolating operative factors so that a certain input will always produce the desired output);

–Discoveries resulting from divisionism, or the search for pure elements that cannot be divided or cut (in the popular parlance, the search for the “building blocks” of life, matter, the universe, etc., which belies a rather simplistic view of how things are constructed, as well as a zeal to identify component elements so that reality can be reconfigured).

What other kinds of knowledge are there, and what is wrong with the types of knowledge enumerated above? After all, as of the 20th century Science can also boast a knowledge of field dynamics, dynamic equilibrium, and chaotic systems. Give them enough time, and our boys in labcoats will discover it all, right?

Naturally it is hard to talk about what we don’t know or haven’t been able to discover, and perhaps even harder to reveal the presence of a lens when our whole lives we have been trained to look only at the object, and from the same perspective no less. Objectivity is an extremely pervasive, subtle philosophy specifically because it trains its adepts to believe that the only meaningful differences are, well, objective. If they are aware of the existence of, for example, ecosystems, they are unlikely to recognize that another culture understands ecosystems better or possesses knowledge that the rationalists do not, especially if that other culture has no quantitative studies to demonstrate their knowledge. It will be hard for them to grasp how much perspective, emphasis, and mythical framing can affect knowledge. If both knowledge systems perceive the same objective facts, that wolves eat deer and deer eat plants and plants feed off the soil and the sun, then in objective terms a food chain as a theoretical heuristic lacks nothing that another knowledge system might contain, even though it puts all the attention on discrete agents rather than the living field constituted by the dynamic relationships between them, and therefore leads to a number of disastrous misunderstandings about ecosystems (remember the Cane Toad!).

Nonetheless, we will try our best to reveal what is lacking, similar to how astronomers must discover black holes by looking at the things around them.

Quantum physics and Cartesian geometry may be a good place to start. Just as Cartesian dualism remains embedded in Enlightenment rationalism, the Cartesian geometry of flat planes and right angles remains integral to the scientific worldview, even though it has been invalidated by the principle of relativity (whereas the determinism of classical science up to and including general relativity has been contradicted by the uncertainty of quantum mechanics). If space itself is not a neutral, static phenomenon, something as stable and happy as a square or a triangle can be nothing but an illusion or a convenient lie. (This is a part of Science’s mythical simplification, elements of the worldview that it cannot actually defend, but that it nonetheless perpetuates, through mechanisms that will be dishonestly chalked up to “pop science” if ever called to account.)

Nonetheless, it is useful to train people to think in terms of Cartesian geometry, because the discipline has been extremely active in enclosing and dividing land or rationally governing construction through blueprints (as Deleuze and Guattari have written, blueprints are not required even for the construction of complex buildings, unless the construction process needs to be subordinated to an external and rational authority).

It would be easy to say that this whole line of argument is flawed, since it was scientists themselves (Einstein and the like) who discovered relativity and revealed the shortcomings of Cartesian geometry. However, well over a thousand years earlier, Daoists and Buddhists were already promoting a worldview that clashed with Cartesian geometry but was largely compatible with the discoveries of quantum physics. We reference Einstein because it is the only way to get the faithful to listen; believers in Science refuse to recognize outside sources. Quoting the Dao De Jing to back up a certain worldview would be about as effective as quoting the Quran to convince a Christian that a part of their doctrine is flawed.

But the empirical method, one might argue, should not be abandoned. Scientists cannot go chasing down every last traditional spirituality as the basis for its worldview. Scientists had to pass through the fallacies of Cartesian geometry in order to arrive at relativity, because they could not have discovered quantum physics or field dynamics without prior discoveries, adequate microscopes, and so forth. Is this credible? Maybe not. The concept of atoms comes from the ancient Greeks, who lacked microscopes. Yet the concept fit with their worldview. Were they really intuitive, or is it just a coincidence? Or is it possible that atoms do not objectively exist, that they are just one of multiple ways of understanding the composition of things? But I have seen atoms, some readers will no doubt react, referring to the drawings and diagrams in any high school physics textbook, just as students a century earlier were treated to pictorial renditions of the Garden of Eden (and how perfect, in the end, that objectivity comes to us in a series of representations that we forget, from one moment to the next, are representations). What is objectively true is that what we call atoms are not atoms, or otherwise the category of “sub-atomic” would be meaningless (see: a-tom, etymology). And it turns out that at the subatomic level, according to current research, the division between particles and waves, matter and energy, breaks down.

On the one hand, it is only reasonable that the schematics placed on a subject become more nuanced as the study of that subject progresses—in other words it would be unfair to fault scientists if earlier models proved insufficient, when we should be congratulating them for their honesty. On the other hand, we should also consider that these schema—particles, matter, even circles and squares—that are sold to us as objective representations (this phrase is a hilarious oxymoron, though we doubt anyone who has only studied hard sciences is capable of getting it) are not the fruit of testing and experimentation, as the mythology of empiricism would have us believe, but are rather cultural, spiritual constructs born of a specific worldview that are imposed by the scientist on the object of study (revealing at a deeper level what in superficial, quantitative terms has already been accepted as scientific fact, that all observation changes what is observed, another of these new discoveries that other cultures have known for a long time). In other words, atoms, squares, and the dualism between matter and energy were not discovered; they already existed in the Western imaginary and were used as symbolic tools, imposed on the inchoate knowledge that was gradually being produced in order to simplify and organize it.

Consider another example. Referring to a case of heresy in Milan in 1028, a Church chronicler writes about the heterodoxy as a disease that needs to be eradicated before it can “contaminate” the rest of Italy. Is it a mere coincidence that the scientific understanding of disease that would arise centuries later (now with the aid of microscopes) would promote this exact same vision of a neutral field invaded by impure agents that spread through contact? They did not know about germs and bacteria, but they already spoke of unclean agents that caused contamination. Could it be that scientists utilized a pre-existing logic to simplify and describe the complex reality of sickness? Yet we all know that germs are an objective reality. There is no other valid theory of disease, right? On the contrary, a worldview based on fields and relationships would have us overlook the germs and focus on the diet, the body, the weather, the community—all the things that Western medicine ignores or at least minimizes. And without a doubt, this latter theory would have a much better track record at dealing with disease, because rather than doing essentially nothing until antibiotics could be invented, it would have encouraged people to question food monocultures, urban crowding, air quality, poverty, and more.

To speak more concretely, we could state that saying germs cause sickness is like saying air causes fire. At least with many common sicknesses, the germs are always, or often, present in any human community, but people don’t get sick as long as their immune systems are working well. Likewise, air is always present (on the planet’s surface, anyway), but fuel and a spark are needed before you get fire.

To draw another example related to health, since in this field (along with ecology), the ignorance and blundering of Science has been most apparent (and, come to think of it, the health of our bodies and the health of the environment are basically the two most important things one might study), we can consider acupuncture. In our own lifetimes, acupuncture has gone from a treatment that was ignored or ridiculed in the West, to one that has been confirmed as effective by scientific studies. This reaction belies the hypocrisy and also the implicit racism of empiricist mythology, as acupuncture is based on thousands of years of observation and testing, only it wasn’t bearded white men who were in charge, so it clearly doesn’t count. And despite its proven effectiveness, acupuncture is still belittled or dismissed, providing more evidence of the cultural supremacy (an important component of any religion) implicit in Science.

Part of the reason that scientists cannot easily promote acupuncture is that they have no idea how it works. People trained in Chinese medicine know how acupuncture works, but their explanations are completely useless for believers in Science, since they rely on concepts like energy meridians, yin and yang, that are meaningless within the worldview of Enlightenment rationalism. To fully accept acupuncture or any other component of Chinese medicine would be to acknowledge that Science is partial rather than absolute, that it is only one knowledge system of many, and that would be unacceptable.

Let’s compare their treatment of Chinese medicine with their adventures in psychiatry. True to their preference for mechanistic and divisionist forms of knowledge, as mentioned above, they have “isolated” (a truly spiritual term that accurately reflects their depraved philosophy) the components of the brain that produce the chemicals connected to certain emotions. Once you know what chemicals need to be blocked and what chemicals need to be produced in greater quantity, you’ve got the emotions all figured out. Simple, right? (Hopefully, readers read those last two lines in a Mickey Mouse voice, or at least with the voice of Joey from Friends).

The result of this kind of brilliant thinking are antidepressants that cause higher rates of suicide, as well as other forms of intimately disturbing unpleasantness. Some highly civilized people might not believe that extreme stupidity is just cause for execution. Nonetheless, we are confident that many who have been at the mercy of psychiatrists (for they, along with other scientists, do nothing if not exercise power over people) would agree with us that certain of these experts should be dragged out into the streets and shot. But, since the shoe is on the other foot, we can at least start with a bit of well earned mockery.

A Worldshaper

Science has perfected a knowledge of aliens. An alien is an Other, but not an autonomous Other necessary for the understanding of the self; the alien helps the scientific self promote its alibi of non-selfhood or objectivity, that it is not a being intervening in the world and producing specific kinds of knowledge but a simple, non-interfering gaze that could belong to any subject, simply observing already existing facts that lie scattered across the terrain. An alien, of necessity, is violently uprooted from its surroundings, and it is the very process of observation, categorization, and analysis, as part of greater socio-economic processes, that achieves its alienation. Science, upon knowing an alien, has already fucked it thoroughly and irrevocably, yet it pretends that the alien already existed as an alien before the intervention of the scientific gaze.

Rationalism has perfected a number of apparatuses ostensibly intended to display knowledge. In practice, these apparatuses are factories of alienation that train us to understand things as dismembered bodies whose relationships and histories are as invisible as they are extraneous. These apparatuses are the encyclopedia, the museum, the zoo. In order to appear in a zoo or a museum, a body must already have undergone a process of colonization, uprooting, kidnapping, trauma, muting, and domination. For Science to claim (and to do so without speaking, to naturalize the idea) that a zebra in a zoo is the same thing as a zebra in its herd in the Serengeti, or that a ceremonial mask stored with reverence and used to bring the rains in Borneo is the same as a mask sitting in a display case in London, it must engage in a very powerful and evil kind of magic. It is a transformation of the most pernicious kind. In one kind of transformative magic, a person can be made a fish or a bird, and discover the interconnectedness of all things, and the mobility of the spirit. In rationalism’s transformation, two beings that are completely unlike—one free and the other imprisoned—are made into the same being, teaching us the sameness of all things and the transferability of objects.

Picking up after their idols, the Greeks (though there is no direct intellectual continuity from the Greeks of antiquity to Enlightenment rationalism, contrary to scientific mythology; in fact it was primarily the medieval Arabs who kept the previous intellectual traditions alive, whereas the early Christians who would create the socio-political and intellectual structures that would eventually give rise to the Enlightenment were great burners of libraries, a tradition the European colonizers would carry on in modified form across the globe), scientists have continued in their search for the atom, that which cannot be cut, and which is therefore, supposedly, pure or more real. But what is cut in every atom, a priori, is its relationship with its surroundings.

The principles of the alien and the atom indicate that Science is not merely a method, nor even a producer of knowledge, but a worldshaper, a Weltanschauung that, through its connection to a complex of productive forces, codifies a modality with which to approach the world, inscribes a specific understanding of what the world actually is so that all its operations may unfold on a complementary terrain, and ends up reproducing the type of world that it believed in from the beginning, at increasing intensities and extremes of scale.

Cartesian geometry was flawed, but no matter; in the hands of surveyors, architects, and landlords it made for a more Cartesian world. Early physiologists had nothing other than muddled metaphor to support their claims that living bodies were organic machines. Nowadays, biochemists can use genetic manipulation to turn living cells into chemical factories and nanotechnicians can create robots out of artificial chemical compounds. Trigonometry can be taught as a pure math, but historically it changed the world as a mathematics of projectile warfare. Rocket science, the 20th century’s symbol of pure genius (as in, “He’s no rocket scientist”), likewise put the eggheads of the day at the service of a military restructuring of reality.

Leaving all the alibis aside, Science as it exists is inconceivable without its unbroken institutional, philosophical, and economic connections with policing, warfare, and industrialization. Its medical knowledge of bodies corresponds to the State’s need to discipline, exploit, and torture those bodies; its funding and the areas of its advancement, its “discoveries,” correspond to the need of states to wage warfare against their neighbors and the need of capitalists to get an edge on their competitors and their laborers. It is not merely a complex of academic institutions that has advanced alongside, and been corrupted by, the institutions of the modern nation-state and of capital investment. On the contrary, at no point is Science autonomous within and endogenous to those academic institutions. It has always been a primary motor for the expansion—material and spiritual, to borrow the tired dichotomy—of the present world system that has colonized the entire globe, put all forms of life to work, reengineered the landscape to favor production and social control, and that is now busy rewriting the very matrix in which life and existence unfold; therefore its development has not been an exclusively academic affair but a chief concern of all the institutions of power with which it is coterminous.

Capitalism and therefore present-day ecocide do not exist without Science, neither technologically nor philosophically, and no amount of excuses about the individuality of scientists or the mutual independence of investors and inventors can change that fact. Just as feudal society is inconceivable without the clergy, even though the feudal relationship is typically simplified as one between serf and secular lord or vassal and liege lord, the scientific class are the lynchpin of capitalist society, despite not properly belonging to the bourgeoisie or proletariat. Scientific investigation is a major sector of production in its own right; scientists constitute a privileged caste indispensable to the self-evaluation, reproduction, expansion, and social legitimation of state and private entities; and the scientific worldview, with its popular and professional forms, is crucial to uniting ruler and ruled in the present day and explaining existence in a way that is compatible with the interests of domination.

An unwritten rule of the scientific philosophy that is, nonetheless, abundantly evident, is the non-limitation of invention and discovery. Anything that can be invented, should be. Knowledge should never be forsworn; it must always be used for the accumulation of more knowledge. A professional class that could invent nuclear weapons plainly follows such an imperative. Curiously, power within the scientific regime operates in a way that is remarkably similar to capital—there is no bad money, and all money must be invested or lost.

As we have tried to indicate in the first essay of this series, Science, not only as a producer of technologies but also as a worldview and spirituality, is indispensable in the production of golem, who are the citizens of the world system, composed of the dust of obliterated worlds, alienated from their histories and their surroundings, held together only by the false commons of the apparatuses produced to sustain them.


We predict that many believers in Science, especially the academically initiated, will reject this critique as uselessly broad, if they do not dismiss it outright. This is worth analyzing. First of all, someone in a position of power, someone with an accredited brain, a priest with a position in the hierarchy, need not respond to a non-professional writer, a layperson, unless the critique begins to be so widely distributed it constitutes a threat. The overwhelming silence this article will be met with, except from other laypersons, suggests that indeed there is a hierarchy at stake, rather than a free and equal community of ideas. After all, the Catholic Church did not begin to execute heretics among the laiety until subversive heresies that challenged church hierarchies were widespread and began connecting with other social fault lines between upper and lower classes (principally cleaving to the new mobile urban class of weavers) a situation that attained in the 12th century.

Secondly, and more substantially, we have noticed a certain pattern. The academically trained will always insist that the scientific community is highly self-critical, yet at the same time they always (as far as we have seen) reject criticisms that come from outside of academia as “overgeneralized” or unfounded. We would argue that this is a structurally systematic response.

An institution with hegemonic aspirations, or one that has already achieved dominance, must never allow itself to be fit into a globalizing theory (for what we are offering here, to be honest, is not a critique, it is a theoretical explanation of where Science fits within an anarchist view of the world). Anticolonial movements have already criticized postmodernism for how theorizing other people’s identities and histories constitutes an exercise of power over those peoples. More broadly, Science cannot accept any external theorization of its role, because it is busy trying to place everything and everyone else within a theoretical system of its own making. At this juncture, we are not trying to offer criticism or feedback that might be useful to specific scientists, and which accordingly, must be particular, balanced, and fair. We are trying to theorize about a system of knowledge that pretends to be objective and all-encompassing, and a cabal (in the Biblical rather than paranoid conspiratorial sense) that claims not to exist, not to have agency, and not to have systematic patterns of behavior and ways of shaping the world.

In other words, what we are dealing with is precisely the lack of a theoretical generalization about Science as a complex of institutions with dynamic agency and an extremely important role within capitalism. Lacking this, it does not escape our attention that the only serious critiques of scientists that will be permitted are those that originate from other scientists and are published and disseminated by the structures that Science has sanctioned for its internal communications; and secondarily critiques originating from the laity that follow the rules of good form, addressing only particular scientists and particular errors, and thus never capable of contributing towards a theoretical framework that addresses Science globally. To avoid unfair generalization, we are meant to wait until the official producers of knowledge themselves conceive of and find funding for a study that could objectively demonstrate in what percentage of the cases these criticisms are founded. Pie in the sky.

Remaining cautious of the potential for demagoguery or logical manipulation that comparisons present, let us again take the example of the Catholic Church in the centuries before the Enlightenment. In serious conversation today, it is perfectly viable to speak of the Church as an institution designed to accumulate power, effect social control, mobilize myths and superstitions, and repress heresy. Are particularities lost in this widely accepted theoretical view of the Church? Of course (and ironically, when it comes to outright misrepresentation, and not just the smoothing that accompanies generalization, the scientific proponents of the Enlightenment are largely to blame, in their zealousness to differentiate themselves from their supposedly irrational predecessors). Debate was in fact encouraged in the Church in the Middle Ages. Heresy could only be punished after formal processes in which the accused usually had the opportunity to defend themselves. As for superstitions, the Church also dealt in a wealth of historical fact, they often displayed intellectual vigor in their studies, and there were many efforts to challenge and discredit fraudulent documents and data (then as now, any “fact” that wasn’t politically necessary could be comfortably disputed). And regarding the accumulation of power, there are even examples of clergy who fought for the Church to give up its temporal power.

Do all these details mean that the summarized theorization of the Church’s social role, articulated above, is invalid? Of course not. Now what if we imagine a priest in the 12th century responding to the wave of popular dissent, deflecting a generalized critique of the Church by enumerating the following points, all of which are factually correct: the Church isn’t a unified institution, there are many internal differences and no one person or body controls everything that happens in the Church; what priests are you referring to? because there are good ones and bad ones; laypeople might be ignorant of this, but the Church is very self-critical—aside from constant debates that occur via letters that bounce back and forth across Western Europe, the popes also organize ecclesiastical conferences every few years to discuss and update dogma; are you talking about deacons, priests, bishops, abbots, archbishops, or cardinals? because the clergy function really differently depending on the level you look at.

Particularization at such a juncture is nothing but filibustering.

We don’t doubt that Science has its own mechanisms for self-criticism and accountability. In this day and age, what institutional complex doesn’t? The point is, these mechanisms are not adequate for the rest of us. It can be claimed that Science is not a cohesive body nor a religion, but we can see that sufficient coordination exists for scientists to be trained with enough homogeneity that they can be compatible and communicative internationally, and that these scientists are consistently useful in the maintenance and expansion of capitalism. True, capitalism can harness anything, even the games of children, but there really is no comparison, as scientific methodologies, the products of scientific knowledge, and trained scientists themselves play an irreplaceable role at the highest levels of global capitalism and on all the frontiers of capitalist expansion.

For the Love of God

a continuation of “Golem in the Catacombs”

When living beings are separated from their own expressions, gestures, tools, and traditions, they are reduced to golem, mere bodies, and every influence that these things, once a part of their being and now expropriated by the category of “apparatus”, exercise over them is now read as a form of corruption or control. This postmodern trope of the fragility of liberty—all influence is coercion; therefore liberty is a utopian concept—derives from the unconscious assumption that every factor external to a golem has in fact been designed to mold it and guide it through the apparatuses where its miserable life plays out.

The defeated communards of 1871 who had taken refuge in the Paris catacombs suffered a particularly gruesome fate. The victorious Versailles troops, who had received tacit support—in a stirring example of elite internationalism—from Bismarck’s Prussians, dynamited the catacomb tunnels where the refugees huddled, killing thousands. We can only wonder how many survived the initial blast, the earth itself falling in on their heads (the World Turned Upside Down falling back into place?), and wandered the catacombs, emptied of their utopia, in search of some subsistence.

Later, the Sacré Cœur was built on the butte of Montmarte, the proletarian neighborhood where the insurrection began and where one of the key battles took place in the suppression of the Commune. The extravagant penance, now a major tourist attraction, prevents us from returning to the site of our loss. Long before the science of urban architecture as social control, the Church knew construction as an act of war designed to finish off a defeated enemy, for le Sacre Couer was one of the last of a long lineage. The famous monastery at Mont-Saint-Michel was built atop the most important gathering place of the Gallic druids; unwitting lines of tourists pay it homage today with cameras in hand. Throughout South America, the oldest churches are to be found atop the waka of the Aymara or the sacred sites of other colonized peoples.

In literature, another kind of Church was built atop an earlier revolutionary defeat. Victor Hugo’s monumental Les Miserables is set against the June Rebellion of 1832 (though it must also be read as a fruit of Hugo’s troubled relationship with the revolution of 1848). And although Hugo, a leftist, is sympathetic with the revolutionaries, his is above all a tale of redemption. Marius and Cosette may marry and find happiness and security (in the tale’s ethical grammar the latter is implicitly proferred as a precondition for the former) with Marius’s upper-class family (and, in the original novel, Jean Valjean’s factory money), their youthful flirtation with insurrection overlooked. A questioned God smiles on them, revealing in the end His undoubtable munificence, with the Happy Ending serving as proof of transformative forgiveness. In an earlier age, kings and tsars had to exercise general pardons—the Jubilee—to appear godlike. This new God need only save one soul—like the lottery winner or the pop star that rises alone out of crowds of miserable millions—to redeem Himself for the spectating masses.

Les Miserables‘ long run tells a sort of story about the rise and fall of modernity. The original novel sets the archetypes into play. Love conquers all and heroes find happy endings. Hugo, after all, needed to tack into a new wind after the massacres of ’48. He was part of a generation of writers who flirted with revolutionary ideas, only to abandon them when they were put into practice and used as weapons against the old order by “the wretched of the earth”. A republican who tended towards pacifism, Hugo spoke out vehemently for the cause of equality and fraternity and even consorted with anarchists, yet he also helped to suppress the 1848 insurrection in Paris. Later, old Victor was not as active as many of his colleagues who would lend their pens to justify the repression of proles and pétroleuses after the Paris Commune. He nonetheless found the utility in a tactful separation between art and life, and class-climbing lovers would provide the perfect protagonists for the modern storyline.

Les Miserables the musical struck the perfect note for a new generation of sell-out artists and failed revolutionaries, remassified and forced to consume their own defeat. The most poignant song in Schönberg and Boublil’s musical, opening in Paris and London before becoming a Broadway hit, is “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” In the lines,

Here they talked of revolution.
Here it was they lit the flame.
Here they sang about tomorrow
And tomorrow never came.

Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will sing no more

one can almost imagine a recent university graduate, newly thrust into the real world, surveying in his mind the halls in the Sorbonne where the students debated, or the meeting room in Chicago where SDS had their 1969 congress that would launch the Maoist faction as an armed vanguard, back before the hammer fell.

It is the song of one who has participated in something transcendental, something real for the first time in his life, only to lose it because the community it was born in has been swept away, the other communards either shot down (as in 1832) or robbed by the Spectacle and the prisons (as were the Weathermen and their less mediatic contemporaries). The singer knows not how to find his way back and, enslaved again by a cruel purgatory, can only blame the foolishness of his braver comrades for having tried to storm heaven.

Finally, the Hollywood remake with Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman proving—at times painfully—that today’s actors can still sing and dance, closes the cycle. Passing through the crass cultural cannibalism of the last years, with which every narrative that ever enjoyed an ounce of success is retailored for the silver screen in a desperate bid to continue producing without creating anything original, Les Miserables‘ love story—at a time when the romantic narrative must arm itself with witty cynicism or worldly nuance to rise above its festering limitations, comes off as antiquatedly trite. It must hide behind a grandiose production and the outsider antics of Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter because it is simply too weak to carry the plot, though in the original musical it is clearly identified as the principal narrative thread, all of Hugo’s other subplots and digressions abandoned without hesitation.

The excitement of the insurrection is far more moving than the romance, and here we find another important theme. Of necessity the Spectacle presents us with increasingly numerous renditions of revolution, from Fight Club to Robin Hood. To serve as operations of recuperation, some of these revolutions defeat themselves through extremism, providing a cautionary moral tale against putting ideals into practice. Others attack one aspect of power, say the banks, while reinforcing another, like patriarchy, and others still succeed by piercing the conspiracy, revealing the truth, and allowing the peaceful masses or the good institutions to make everything right, leaving the actual transformation to play out off camera. How is the rebellion of 1832 recuperated?

This question is difficult to answer, just as today’s spectators might have a hard time placing the story’s defeated revolution in the genealogy of their current liberty. William Wallace fights against an evil king—the bad kind of authority—and the voiceover in the final scenes assures us that the Scots eventually won their freedom, a fact that their recent opportunity to vote on independence can only confirm. In one of Mel Gibson’s many remakes of Braveheart, Patriot—the one set during the American Revolution—the relation between the heroic struggle portrayed and the audience’s consequent lack of need to struggle is even more obvious. But what about an attempted political revolution in 19th century constitutional France? On the one hand, the dissidents’ decision to take up arms is an admirable flaw, when they really all should have just married well and joined high society. On the other hand, their rebellion is presented as an idealistic spirit—most purely embodied by Gavroche, the fearless child—that we are meant to believe eventually triumphed, though it can be carried on just as easily by the final scene’s marching masses as by armed insurgents.

What makes up for the story’s ambiguity with regards to revolution is the parallel plot of redemption. The State is redeemed in Javert’s mercy, the Church is redeemed in Bishop Myriel, and the bourgeoisie are redeemed as the guarantors of Marius and Cosette’s eventual happiness (suggesting a curious window on the American Founding Fathers’ replacement of Locke’s “property” with “the pursuit of happiness”).

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

The Christian moral—wait, pray, and all will be well—comes through in the final song. And the presence of that moral in the three generations of the telling, at the adolescence, decadence, and twilight of modernity, suggests a continuity that is both obvious and inadmissable.

I don’t know how the tale was received by its original audience, but by the third telling, the love that holds up the contradictions in the narrative structure of Les Miserables is not the cupidic escapism of its young paramours, but the love of God that provides transcendental weight to the promise of redemption, overwhelming the failed, forgotten revolution’s promises of transcendence.

We can argue, and with good reason, that during the Enlightenment science replaced Christianity as the religion of the State. We should not, however, forget Christianity’s paradoxical persistence. It is a key force in nationalist movements from Ukraine to Venezuela, and an important tool for turning exploited populations against revolution, winning obedience to state authorities, extending capitalist property relations around the world. In South America and Africa in particular, Christian missionaries serve in many ways as advance scouts for logging and mining companies. And Christianity’s close cousin, Islam, is effectively building states throughout Africa and Asia in places where European colonialism failed to do so.

Anarchists in this century do not talk as much about religion as an animating force for the apparatuses of control, and if we do, we tend to understand it as a force in the lives of people who have not progressed as far in their civilizational development, whether the backwater under the microscope is South Carolina or Kenya.

We might speak of two distinct figures that represent the exploited during the Christian and then the scientific phases of capitalist accumulation; the zombie who is enchanted and set to work and the golem who is constructed by its master, made of broken material, simple dust. Christianity simply robs the soul to create workers, counfounding its slaves or holding them captive to metaphysical blackmail, while scientific power gives the masters an architectural control over the environment and reproduction of their subjects, not merely enslaving them but creating them out of whole cloth.

But this progression of distinct phases owes too much to the fundamental eschatology that Christianity and Western science share. In practice, the two modalities of power operate simultaneously. In a platonic world where body and spirit have been alienated, in a Christian world where the body has been shamed and the spirit captivated, in a capitalist world where the body has been enslaved and the spirit has been banished, and in a scientific world where the body has been mechanized and the spirit disproven, the apparatuses of control lack an animus.

They (by which I suppose I mean the conduits of apparatuses that exist to evaluate other apparatuses) can measure the power that flows between the conduits and captives of a given apparatus, binding and differentiating them. But they are also aware of the limits of a captive’s identification with their apparatus, a certain melancholy among conduits that acts like friction, decreasing their conductivity and even halting production. And they have seen cases of a grim nihilism that arises from time to time, causing captives to act like barbarians and handle their apparatus with brute violence and against its design, or one that spreads more invisibly to conduit and captive alike, causing them to blur and desert their roles.

Even in a well designed apparatus, the flow of power is not enough to motivate the conduits or bind the captives to their role. The threat of punishment is also a necessary element, but too honest to be left in the open for long without delivering diminishing returns and augmenting risks. The people need to be animated through an affective allegiance with an entity that cannot disappoint them by changing the terms of the contract, as any institution of power will eventually do when it capitalizes on whatever trust has been deposited in it. That entity is their own longing, the first glimpse of transcendence, the very substance the State has always worked to control or destroy.

If in its first millennium the Church aimed to keep the spirit out of the commoners’ grasp, effectively creating a less spiritual world by enclosing it in Latin scripture and in the Holy See and stamping out one of the most frequent heresies—that the Holy Ghost spoke to everyone who listened—now it is one of several institutions whose purpose is to divert the miserable and the wretched from a nihilistic confrontation with a dead, scientific society by dangling in front of them a new spirituality, controlled as the old one was but not so tightly, for the new permissible spirit is accessible, on sale, and adaptable to consumer demand.

While traveling recently in South America, I got to see this aggressive marketing firsthand. The evangelists are at the forefront, but is it overly paranoid to assume that one pope was recalled and another was elected to jumpstart a new Catholic evangelism in South America? From one country to the next, billboards announced mega-revivals by visiting evangelists from the US, each eager to expand their fief. And the growth of evangelism goes hand in hand with popular support for snitching, mining, policing, the eradication of indigenous cultures, and development in general. I also came face to face with a revived Christianity’s effectiveness at dealing with potentially destabilizing mental illness and subversive cynicism, when I got to know two truck drivers. The first was batshit crazy, and the second was a jaded ex-revolutionary who had been imprisoned during the dictatorship and evidently was not impressed by what the socialists had accomplished in power (a disenchantment that for some people leads to radicalization, but that has driven entire, forgotten generations into the arms of God).

The first driver told about a girl in Brazil who was dead for a week and then got resuscitated. While dead, St. Peter took her to visit heaven and hell so she could tell everyone about it. In hell she came across the Pope, hung upside down for being a Catholic, and Celia Cruz for her lascivious lyrics. She also spied Michael Jackson.

“For molesting children?” I asked.

“For dancing backwards, contrary to the spirit of God,” the driver told me with a straight face. He went on to explain that the King of Pop was surrounded by moonwalking demons, tormenting him to eternity for his linear perverseness.

Like I said, batshit crazy, the kind of person who would undermine any rational discourse of social control, if the Church hadn’t given them a ready made set of fantasies and bugaboos to fixate on.

I thought I would like the second truck driver more, because I learned off the bat that he had been a political prisoner. During the first hours of our shared drive, we spoke about the dictatorship, the current government, and the struggle by indigenous people in the region. Then the sun set, he turned off the radio, looked over at me, and asked if I believed in God. The following hours were Hell, as he aggressively tried to convince me that people were evil, and that quinoa was God’s way of letting the natives know about Jesus, since the Bible didn’t arrive until much later.

When he stopped to help a stranded driver replace a spare tire, I told him, “See, you’re a good person!”

“I am not good!” he shrieked, tears forming in his eyes.

A slow learner, I finally decided it was a mistake to try to have a reasonable conversation with him. I will never know what happened to that truck driver in prison, why he hated himself, and to what extent the corruption of his socialist former comrades affected him, but it seemed clear that Christianity mediated it for him. Love of God as hatred of self and hatred of society, but also an opportunity to do good in a safe, non-projectual way that requires no emotional risk, since the end is already written. Without that, I doubt he would have been able to function as a productive member of society.

Who can doubt that Christianity today is both innovative and on the cutting edge of social control, when they consider the great currency that Christianity has among the mad and insane? While the pills that are meant to regulate the emotional unreliability of the golem remain imperfect, the opiate of religion succeeds in redeeming millions of depressives and psychotics, casualties of capitalism who would otherwise turn to a destabilizing lunacy, as socially useful subjects. After all, good Christians may play out their paranoid persecution fantasies while faithfully serving as snitches, taxpayers, workers, and soldiers. Faith can be the release for their madness, a belief in human evil as the non-heretical expression of a manichean nihilism, and they never need to see the inside of an asylum.

The simultaneity of a Christian modality of power with the modality of scientific social control is also evident in the affective allegiance that can only exist for the subjects of a totalitarian state. Even in this age of scientific rationalism, people can experience a transformative rapture when they surrender themselves to the absolute power of a bureaucratic institution.

In the abstract this hypothesis, or any other that could ascribe such passion to a bureaucracy, seems doubtful. But imagine what it was like for the arrestees of the Greenscare, locked up in the dungeons of the State, their entire future in the hands of the FBI. When they broke and agreed to become snitches, did they feel the warm rush of clemency, like the kiss of the papal ring? Giving themselves over to the advances of the long-shunned State, did they suddenly find themselves in the presence of God, as Winston Smith finally found Big Brother?

With the invention of the golem, spiritual matters should have been put to rest. The living world has been utterly destroyed, ground to dust, and our new bodies—our new selves—are made from that dust, constructed in arrangements that suit the needs of power and set to play in a Garden of Eden that is really just one big factory. How could cyborgs dream? Yet dream we do, and become depressed, and sometimes go off the deep end and paint the canvass of our misery with a red more real than acryllic tones can simulate (guns will be blamed, though fortunately in the last few years the disarmed nations have increasingly belied this allegation with enthusiastic uses of knives and automobiles).

I know very little about the old Buddhist states, but I can imagine that if they had grown to install a world system metaphysically organized atop the opposite pole in a similar mind/matter dichotomy, with a capitalism that measured accumulations of peace and duty rather than trade and production, eventually the body—that misleading shadow of the false physical world—would reassert itself and require more archaic institutions of state authority to coddle and distract its longings, always in a sphere that did not intersect with matters of the spirit.

So it is today. The golem still dream and cry—but if they are fabricated beings made of the dust of the old world, perhaps Democritus went awry in looking for the atom in the too-small-to-see, for if even dust contains dreamings the atom must be the universe itself—and they must be given something great and out of reach to love and to fear. The subjects of state power are no longer living beings, and there is a cathedral built atop each of our past defeats. To pay homage we are told we must walk in through the doors. On arrival we’re not sure it’s what we were looking for but we mouth along with the rite to assuage our doubts, just as the last grandiose song in a bad musical tries to divert our dissatisfaction.

But the body cannot walk to the spirit any more than the spirit can wish itself a body.

Work continues, disappointments stack up, hairs go grey and bellies flab, the tables and chairs where we sat in our passionate debates empty out, the street that was a bonfire is an apparatus again and the memory no longer seems worthy of passing on because of the inarticulate confusion it provokes in us. Yet the sense of something greater, immediate and unreachable, something that gives us courage, that could wrap us in the strongest of embraces and protect us through death or defeat, mocks us from all directions.

Golem in the Catacombs

The harmony of the seasons mocks me. I spend hours watching the sky, the lake, the enormous sea. This world. I feel that if I could understand it I might then begin to understand the creatures who inhabit it. But I do not understand it. I find the world always odd, but odder still, I suppose, is the fact that I find it so, for what are the eternal verities by which I measure these temporal aberrations?”

John Banville, Birchwood

It’s getting colder here. People shuffle by in hats and scarves. Fur-lined hoods appear in improbable quantities. Licensed vendors, unpacked in pleasant arrays, marshalled forth by the city in its brave quest to claim a new pedestrian shopping zone, are the first and only line of battle against the cold. They rub mittens and hunch puffy jackets against it, smile as only ascendant shopkeepers can, and roast chestnuts, slice baked goods, fetch glittery necklaces from crowded displays, and conquer what would have been a winterbarren street.


I used to be a partisan of winter, back when the seasons still promised an untamed difference. Now I too huddle against it, my fire gone, protected by an old leather jacket I found, waiting in just the right size, in a freestore near here. My friends made jokes about it, a throwback to the ’80s, evidently. When their jokes continued from time to time, I gathered they were actually made uncomfortable by my wearing of the jacket and its extinguished aesthetic.

The commodity demands its homage, even from those who must steal it. And my friends, anticapitalists to a one, go about in those sporty jackets made from materials far more polysyllabic than leather. Again the old question. Is it better to blend in, or to signal our defiance of the national religion? For myself, I just can’t turn down a jacket that still works, and my brain won’t accept that the dull brown thing actually draws attention from the citizens sunk in layers of equally mundane garb, hiding away from temperatures that still have not passed freezing.

This is a frigid race, with few defenses against even a lackluster winter. Nonetheless, this year there are fewer gloves in evidence. More people are keeping their fingers free to tap on little screens, their faces awash in blue glow, as they scuttle blindly down the streets.

The new device is finally triumphing in this economically holdout nation. Could anyone ever have doubted it? What sorts of homogeneization is something so flimsy as “culture” able to hold back? This is the difference between a hula hoop and an iPhone. One is a product that may catch on or not. The other is an army that must be quartered.

The entire citizenry has revealed their vapidity. They are mere bodies stripped of all their limbs and plugged into a vast matrix of domination, perpetually vacated to serve as conduit for the flux of power. Lost creatures who fumble around in smug devices looking for love or distraction. They are children who have never learned to read maps or ask for directions, children whose intimate haunts that they never needed to impose on paper in order to navigate have now been thoroughly mapped by the devices they carry with them. The impoverished oral culture that remains has been forced through this new apparatus. There is no more face-to-face communication; all of it is legible now to the authorities.

The cellphone that shares my room sometimes like an evil stranger heralds the arrival of a new message with a cheerful arrangement of beeps. After a time I pick it up, already seeing the number of the one person I wish most to hear from. But there are only five digits on the screen. An automatic message from the phone company, wishing me a happy birthday—did I put down this day, of all days, as my birthday?—and offering me a present, a free gift, which I only have to claim by logging on to their website. I unplug the broken thing and, batteryless, it dies. Every device should be equally crippled. I turn back to the article I am writing.

In a parallel universe where justice reigns, all those cretins who claimed the internet would bring us closer together and Twitter would make the revolution are being lined up against the wall in an old park and shot. Not out of vindictiveness or vengeance. The purpose of the executions is educational.

“Don’t worry,” each of the condemned is told as blindfolds are affixed. “It’s all okay: we’ll update your Facebook.”


But parallel lines never intersect, and as ours progresses, the parks and squares empty out. Only wraiths pass by, absent to themselves, linked in a psychic death pact to another wraith staring somewhere at the same glowing screen. Only a few are still resentfully here, temporarily anchored by domesticated dogs for whom no application yet exists to take on walks. But even the housepets appear more neurotic as they pull against a leash that connects only to dead weight. They stare frantically at nothing, like inmates too long interned.

I think of a resolution to make on New Years. From now on, whenever I encounter a cyborg, I will speak only to the device, the brain, and ignore the flesh-head that still pretends to be in charge. Someone should start killing cyborgs, smashing the devices and liberating the golem they hold in thrall.

A year ago a wave of graffiti appeared in a park near my house. It was the first sign of life to have appeared there in some time. The occasion, I gathered, was the premature death of a member of a circle of young people who sometimes gathered on the stairs. “Alex,” the inked etchings inscribed, “We will remember you.” “Alex, brother, we won’t forget.” “Alex, you were my first love.” The wall stood almost always alone. The kids I associated with it appeared less and less often. Had I only dreamt them? The graffiti, as such, seemed like its own tribe. When the wall was washed clean, the writing appeared again, as if by magic. Now there is nothing there. I wonder if I am the only one who remembers that unknown boy. What has become of his friends?

And what superb instinct leads us to scratch away at the indelible façade of our world right at that moment when one of us snuffs out their meaningless life? As if the excess of agony standing like stale water that no apparatus yet designed can wash away pushes us Borf-like to attempt the impermissible, the inscription of our experiences in the metallic flanks of our prison. In moments like these it seems that everyone is aware that amnesia is included in the bylaws of Order; and therefore, to not forget, we must break the law. The only walls we are allowed to transform are on Facebook, mapping for the enemy.

Today, true grieving demands we resort to graffiti. In a time not far off—already arrived in some parts—it will demand terrorism.

Such a tragedy that suicide loses its enchantment with age. Precisely as we have nothing left to lose, we lose the resolve to go out with dignity in that ultimate, irrecuperable subversion. As though we were genetically programmed to weaken just in those years when we can claim empirical proof that, no, things will not get better, it seems the onset of a hormonal listlessness, the liquification of a certain moral fiber running through our core, enlists us to plod along with the whole of our society, look away or grimace as we might, but ever onwards, in furtherance of whatever harebrained course the species has set.

The political consequences of this resulting lack of elderly suicide bombers are immense. Social stability may lay thanks for its prosperity on the doorstep of that biological cowardice with which failures cling to failure and rebels, at their very best, cling to those same gestures that have long since failed them.

Even the engineers of each new apparatus are feeling lonely. How many start-up geeks marketing the latest Twitter spin-off or networking app sincerely believe that their invention might bring people closer? Convince a prisoner that freedom is made of walls, and they will build new cells all on their own. The guards have put down their guns but they can’t hand out bricks fast enough. The general population scouts out the new galleries and wings. Is this what we’ve been looking for?

We often tell of Baron Hausmann of Paris, the rightwing architect who redesigned the city just in time for the Commune, widening avenues and intersections, enclosing common spaces, to take the defensive advantage away from a population in revolt and allow an invading army easy access, changing the very terrain to favor a new kind of war.

We should speak more of Ildefons Cerdà, the utopian socialist architect who redesigned Barcelona in the 1860s. He sought to use architecture to bring about social justice and defuse class conflict by bringing rich and poor together in harmony. The modifications he left behind were nearly the same as those that had been imposed on Paris.

This is not new, but it is getting more common. Nowadays, hip CEOs debate whether technology will overcome alienation and powerlessness or whether civilization needs to be destroyed. One pole in this debate labors all the faster to develop new technologies, hoping to find the one that will really save us, and the other promotes conscious business and donates profits to NGOs.

Those who do not take sides in the social war and commit themselves to a path of negation maintain an affective allegiance to power, and the only way for them to reconcile this allegiance with whatever residual feelings of being human still trouble them in their new cyborg physiology is to decorate these allegiances, to pour even more affective attention into the “improvement” of the rites of power. The fact that what we are seeing is not an initiative of the traditional ruling class is evident in the selection of rites for decoration. Elections, military parades, leader cults, and similar processes are not the objects of adoration. In fact, the enthusiastic campaigns of civic improvement have tended to destabilize, delegitimize, or eclipse the rites that have traditionally been predominant in the sanctification of power. Neither have the initiatives come from the upper strata of the owning class; on the contrary, the most influential production to result in the decoration and intensification of the affective allegiances that tie people to power has been initiated by individuals from the computer-literate section of what would be defined as the working class, who in their astronomic ascent have founded companies that upset the preexisting capitalist hierarchy and now rank among the largest.

A large part of what economists might see as growth in the last few decades is an exponential explosion in the frenetically doomed activity of alienated people constructing new apparatuses to mediate alienation, with the unintended but inevitable consequence of spreading it to new heights and moments of life.

State planners and capitalists, while not the initiators of what has become an October 12, a Columbus-moment, in the field of social control, have responded in perfect form; the former by pursuing an aggressive institutional advance into the network of new and momentarily underregulated apparatuses that have been formed, and by integrating new technics into a revamped Cold War security apparatus; the latter by handing out bricks on low-interest loan, making sure that the supply never runs low and that no good deed goes unexploited.

Yet one has the feeling that they are not merely profiting off a plebian circus, that even the most powerful engineers are now moved by a quest to mediate alienation. As a historical rule, up until now it seems clear that no matter how universal alienation has been, the exercise of power acted as a drug to allow a certain class of people to find fulfillment in the midst of misery. This affective marker of the ruling class as distinct holders of power is what made Foucault’s theory of the immanence and diffusion of power an overstated argument and, if our present musings have set their teeth to marrow and not air, an argument that was ahead of its time.

Increasingly, a new measure of class (post-defeat class, as ladder and not as warfare) is how fully one can organize their lives in the space of the new virtual apparatuses.

Could it be that the charm of winning the class war has worn out? A power-holder must hold it against someone. Once the class war is won is the moment our prison guard realizes that he too is in a prison. He is no longer a heroic protagonist wielding his power against the savage masses, but a conduit through which power moves to maintain the good order of the apparatus. The emergency is past. Power no longer needs his creativity and dedication as protagonist to triumph. Put another way, power has risen out of the class of protagonists who heroically generated and organized it so as to organize itself at a higher level. Today, affective dedication and creativity are required of all those desolate souls who must inhabit a prison, regardless of their level of relative privilege.

The forerunner of this dynamic, now repeated at a greater intensity, is the patriarchal system of bribery that allowed any expendable proletarian or peasant man to play at being tyrant, and taste a small dose of the drug that made misery enjoyable.

Games of power-against played out at a continental scale color the early history of the State. Power-as-drug constituted an affective wage that roped people in to building State power. However, power-fiending protagonists do not always make decisions in the interests of stability or accumulation. The new apparatuses, organized on a logic of power-as-flux, mark a tighter arrangement whereby people are conduits of power and they pay to be played. They dedicate their affective energies to the improvement of their prison, independent of any wages, because to not do so would be spiritual suicide. While capitalism has always relied on unwaged labor, until now that labor has been provided by patriarchy or colonialism. In the Wikipedia age, the voluntary character of unwaged production is largely different.

The new apparatuses of social networking also begin to quantify informal power (the very informal power that has always held primary importance, even and especially in the institutions of formal power, which could not work without it) in “likes”, “friends”, and “followers”. But this version of informal power is not the kind created by protagonists, it is the kind produced by a mill wheel set spinning by a hundred chained bodies each chasing after their own loneliness.

There are some who attempt to pirate power at the level of property, using unregulated spaces in the new apparatuses to steal and share the digital commodities that make up such a large part of the global economy. But alienation extends so far beyond property, they can only hope to be privateers. The free circulation of the product they have liberated brings no benefit to the major concentrations of capital, whose spokespersons tell of tremendous economic losses. Surely, such crimes will not go unpunished, and in the future, prevented, as the State cannot abide unregulated space. But at a level much more dear to the world-machine than that of paltry capital accumulation, these would-be pirates are doing important work, thus they are allowed a certain license (though it is a license the most powerful nations will not recognize, just as the privateers were legally commissioned criminals in a polyarchic global system).

The service they render is to maintain and even expand the project of social control. They are the next chapter in the dilemma of the workers who occupy their factory and keep on producing. To name a common example, they have liberated music—what could be more beautiful? But this is not a pirate casette, taped off the radio and shared among friends on a boombox in the park. This is a digital file that will be added to an inhumanly extensive library, linked in to the web for the collection of metadata, and fed directly into the ears of the golem, who will continue to slide like oil over the surface of the muted landscape, blind and limbless, doing whatever it takes to avoid wondering how they got there.

Such music is the pinnacle of our civilization. What beautiful sounds we invent, to play while the ship sinks, the weight of its spite bringing the whole sea down with it.

A gust of tepid wind blows past me. I have finished my circle and found nothing to keep me. An alcoholic sits on a bench, howling at the empty streets. Young people drift by, ears plugged to the world, bobbing their heads to unheard tunes. A dog barks. A motorcycle idles. When someone passes close enough, I hear a faint, electric rendition of song.

Mind the Dash

The somewhat recent (2012) translation of Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl published by Semiotext(e) seems to be stimulating more conversation than the previous, less achieved, version. (Or at least the discussion is more above-ground and visible, likely due to Ariana Reines’ new translation as well as the wider sweep of Semiotext(e)’s distribution.) At the same time, it feels as though the conversation has barely begun—at least in a written form. It occurred to me to intervene when this piece by Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern appeared in The New Inquiry and was circulated with the customary rapidity by its proponents. Jaleh Mansoor responded to Weigel and Ahern in The Claudius App, in a vein of greater familiarity with Tiqqun, with a decidedly more marxist, perhaps communist, take on the questions they raised. It is a strong piece, and I will acknowledge it in what follows, along with Nina Power’s review in Radical Philosophy, which falls somewhere between the two in its usefulness. Unlike Mansoor, I do not think it is in their oversights that Weigel and Ahern deserve a rejoinder. From an anarchist perspective, at least for those of us who read Tiqqun with tremendous interest (without entirely aligning ourselves with some more or less imagined Tiqqunist position), what is striking about them is just how symptomatic their response is—how much it tells without setting out to be much more than a dismissal, a nice excuse not to read, or not to think about what you didn’t really read. (The dismissal is, it’s true, followed by a weak exhortation. But the exhortation feels tacked on and is unlikely to be the reason their piece made the rounds.)  Weigel and Ahern’s reading of Tiqqun reveals to us their political presuppositions and shortcomings; it also pushes us to make our investment in certain positions consonant with Tiqqun’s more explicit. Anarchist conversations can be different if anarchists are willing to read everything more symptomatically—Weigel and Ahern and Tiqqun, yes, but also our own bodies, our own lives. What follows, then, is not an attempt to defend Tiqqun, much less to show the right way to read them, and more of an outline of what I would like to discuss—a sketch of a conversation some of us are learning to have.

Optical illusion maskOptical illusion mask

To begin, a summary of what is at stake in Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (PM). First, it was included in the first issue of the Tiqqun journal (1999) and then published separately by Mille et une Nuits (2001). Second, there is a clear conceptual linkage between the Theory of Bloom (published in the same issue, and also republished separately) and these Preliminary Materials. Bloom and Young-Girl are figures that appear in both texts (as well as here and there in Tiqqun’s other writings). To enter into this topic I’ll cite an appraisal of Tiqqun for antagonist projects from the recent collection Impasses:

In Theory of Bloom and Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl the critical work proceeds through figures. Bloom and Young-Girl are figures. They are not concepts … they are not demographic designators. They figure social phenomena that emerge in the twentieth century. These social phenomena have to do with forms of experience and subjectivity. When we talk about these in the U.S. way, we usually use the impoverished lexicon of identity politics.

Bloom and Young-Girl are part of what Tiqqun attempted in this journal—to borrow the quaint title of another piece in that issue, a “phenomenology of everyday life.” The aim is to see what is learned if we can describe some aspects of what manifests (what is made to appear) in societies like ours as Bloom, or as Young-Girl. That is what they mean when they write that Young-Girl is a “vision machine” constructed with the aim of “making the [social] battlefield manifest.” The theory of Bloom is developed in a mostly philosophical mode; the materials for the theory of the Young-Girl are gathered as fragments and presented as preliminaries, as if work remains to be done—or must be left incomplete out of some unnamed necessity. I will return to this below. Third, Young-Girl “is obviously not a gendered concept.” I repeat this because it merits repeating; it merits repeating because it has not been understood. Young-Girl, as a figure, allows us to map out and detect ways in which apparatuses of power produce, grasp and model the libidinal sphere in every sense, including those desires which so naturally or culturally seem to cleave into the two-and-then-some of sexual difference or the immediate manyness of genders. Put differently, though the figure is not intended to render gender visible, it does model something about how gender has come to operate, insofar as gender is a crucial aspect of certain forms-of-life well integrated into societies like ours. Our good liberals and bad radicals enjoy saying that once a sexual or gender identity has been claimed or reclaimed by someone, it is, at least to some extent, free of power relations, of domination. We counter that the model (explicit for the liberals, implicit for some radicals) for the value of this recognition is and always has been recognition by the state and the granting of legal and moral rights, of new forms of personhood; that, when it is not the legal model, it is the model of creative consumption, in which I believe I am discovering and expressing my true self as I navigate commodity-space; and concurrently that to expand the field of the normal (i.e. more rights, commodities tailored to what I think are my needs) will never amount to the kind of disruptive liberation we anarchists are after. I will return to this matter as well. Fourth, Bloom and Young-Girl are in a complicated relation of partial resonance with a third text published in Tiqqun 2, Sonogram of a Potential. This piece argues for an “ecstatic feminism” along lines I find congruent with my reading of the Bloom/Young-Girl dyad. I will make passing reference to Sonogram, though I do not mean to absorb it entirely into the theoretical space of the first two. Sonogram deserves its own discussion.

Weigel and Ahern make several symptomatic mistakes, or force several misreadings, concerning the least ambiguous aspects of Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl. The first is that, after an initial reference, they refer to the book as Theory of the Young-Girl. But the book is not The, or ATheory of the Young-Girl. To treat a text that presents itself as preliminaries, outlines, notes, “trash theory”, as a finished product, is to ignore the first and clearest sign its author or authors could give as to how to approach it. This is telling considering the amount of space they devote to inveighing against a supposed irony in PM. It does not seem to me that PM communicates in any single tone, and, if it does, it would be something less ambivalent, such as “hate [of] the Spectacle.” Second mistake: they repeatedly state (and base part of their criticism on the claim) that Tiqqun wrote anonymously. But obviously, Tiqqun did not write anonymously; they wrote in and as Tiqqun. (Inability to distinguish between true anonymity and the use of pseudonyms, heteronyms, shared names such as Tiqqun, and multiple-use names (e.g. Luther Blissett) suggests, again, willful ignorance of the most obvious clues to interpretation.) Weigel and Ahern not only assimilate pseudonymous to anonymous writing, but more strikingly claim that here such practices “abet sexism” (note legalistic language). Mansoor responds appropriately on this point, arguing that pseudonymity and non-attribution of sources are in fact “an attack on the politics of textual propriety, the law of the copyright and of the father.” To which an anarchist might add that it is no surprise that our academics insist on identification of authors and citation of sources, and that we like to write, read, and discuss writing that refuses that insistence.

Weigel and Ahern get one thing quite right: Young-Girl is a figure. But they immediately botch their response by assimilating the figural to the real, as if Young-Girl were an idea, a concept, of actually existing young girls. They are like those who read Anti-Oedipus and get confused or offended when they “realize” that Deleuze and Guattari think psychotics should be shuffled into the place of the revolutionary subject. Or like those who read Nietzsche on the overman and think it is an argument for a genetic homo superior. (To someone who responds to PM  by asking “Wait a minute, how has all the concreteness of the world taken refuge in my ass?”, one might well answer: “Wait a minute, why are you so comfortably identifying with a figure of hyperconsumption?”) What does it mean, then, that Weigel and Ahern fail to mind the dash and so miss what is figural about the figure? It means that they are able to read obtusely, “ontically”, as Nina Power puts it, whenever they need to make the claim that there is sexism or misogyny afoot in PM. The figure loses all of its diagnostic and critical power when it is grasped so crudely. It is not a theory of young girls we are talking about here, so why read it all as though it is about girls or women? It is a satire, in some sense, but not a satire of or about women or girls. It is a satire, or really a détournement with dark satirical effects, about gender and power, about how power works through gender (not just as sexism), about how we cling to gender and so to the power that works through gender. Ariana Reines wrote a fascinating set of notes on her work on PM. Her opinion:

I’d like to point out for the Anglophone reader that although the introduction asserts that the “Young-Girl is evidently not a gendered concept,” and that the term is applicable to young people, gays, and immigrants, French is a gendered language; and that, moreover, the genderedness of French is not the only way to account for the fact that this book, as it accumulates, does become—in some sections more than others—a book about women. With everything biological and constructed the term women signifies. A book about us. It contains passages rife with heterosexist ressentiment and, occasionally, whiffs of (what seemed to me to be) female intellectual rage against the more vapid and conformist members of our sex.

Reines puts her finger on the risk that PM runs, the risk, precisely, of a response like Weigel and Ahern’s: the accusation of garden-variety sexism, or, worse, extreme misogyny. No, it is not a side effect of the French language; it had to run this risk to make its point. No, the possible “female intellectual” did not have to out and name herself to keep the text safe from such accusations; it would have botched precisely what makes it work. (“Tiqqun claims it has lady members…” write Weigel and Ahern. Identify yourselves for proper textual/political evaluation.)

A remark about what makes it work: the reason, I would suggest, that the book is called Preliminary Materials is that so much of it is a collection of détourned texts. (Reines: “You should know that when a passage in the text sounds like a women’s magazine, that’s because it comes from a women’s magazine”). Now, the  practice of détournement was conceived by the Situationists out of desperation, as they were seeking to abolish (among other things) art as a separated sphere of life. Their analysis was that any new creation  (painting, film) would either prefigure, or simply work as raw material for, future commodification—if it did not already and inescapably bear the commodity form. As a response they attempted creations composed of repurposed images or fragments, whose contrast and conflict would not just represent but enact the negativity they felt towards the world. “This combination of parody and seriousness reflects the contradictions of an era in which we find ourselves confronted with both the urgent necessity and the near impossibility of initiating and carrying out a totally innovative collective action” (Situationist International #3, 1959). That is why Weigel and Ahern are wrong to simply describe this part (most) of PM as “Situationist-ish collage.” A collage suggests a fanciful assemblage of images that go well together, like a grade school assignment to make a poster showing what you want to be when you grow up, which assumes the images of your prospective adulthood are already there, waiting for you to shop among them and creatively recombine them. Détournement, however, is primarily negative—it concerns what cannot be said, shown, or felt except by glaring, sometimes violent contrast of text and image. It shows or says that what you want to show or say can’t be shown or said—its negativity arises from the feeling that life is impossible, that you have no way of being who or what you want to be.

So if and to whatever extent this book seems to be about girls or women, those girls or women are to be understood, I would say, along the lines of such a negativity. A future theory of the Young-Girl must pass through the negative reference to woman, girl, femininity, femaleness, all of that, because it follows the articulations and investments of power apparatuses in societies like ours. “The ‘youth’ and ‘femininity’ of the Young-Girl, in fact her youthitude and femininitude, are that through which the control of appearances extends to the discipline of bodies” (PM). Reines’ other main point: sustained work with the text produced in her a disturbing somatization. “I mean it gave me migraines, made me puke; I couldn’t sleep at night, regressed into totally out-of-character sexual behavior.” I imagine this is because it produces its effects precisely by rubbing the most disgusting aspects of our culture of consumption and recuperation in your face—not just citations of sexism or misogyny but terrible evidence of your participation in them, the way that you are capable of embodying the Young-Girl. (Reines’ nausea as a symptom of the unnamed necessity that leaves the materials in a preliminary form.) That is the darkness of its satirical effects, the negativity at work in its détournement.

That said, one could go too far in thinking that the reference to girls or women is all there is to the figure. Does this not also become a book about young people? Yes, because the apparatuses also invest the “youth” of the young, the citizens and consumers of the future, and the unlucky faces of every perverse desire of the now. Why do Weigel and Ahern not discuss the Young- component of Young-Girl? The short answer is that they have a target in mind: the Man-Child (note that, since man-child is hyphenated in ordinary use, this expression elides whether or not it is a figure, the Man-Child, or just man-children here and there who are under discussion—precisely their confusion about the figure of the Young-Girl). To make their point, they must treat PM as an off-balance, sexist critique that requires its balancing answer. Mansour detects the imaginary of equality at work here, and aptly intervenes:

[They] rely on a brand of feminism that takes symmetry for “fairness,” “equity” for “equality,” as though those were not already part of the metrics on which our contemporary social relations are founded. … We are supposed to find our place, as good citizens, in the immense system of equivalence posing as equality. […]

What we need is not a program, especially one of equality when equality in the face of the uneven history, of women under patriarchy and capitalism, has served to subjugate us ever more under false promises of wealth and legal juridical recognition.

Here we could also listen to Sonogram:

There is no equality possible between men and women, nor between men and men or women and women. The smooth surface of abstract arithmetic that forms the basis for the illusion of democracy constantly cracks under the obvious weight of irreducible ethical differences, under the arbitrary nature of elective affinities, under the suspicion that the circulation of power is a question of qualities that become incarnate, that power passes through bodies.

All of which is to say that, while Weigel and Ahern state that Tiqqun’s theory “is at the tail end of a radical tradition that has largely exhausted its usefulness,” we might notice that Tiqqun, in PM and especially Sonogram, set out from an exhaustion or impasse within feminism. The latter text strongly modifies the term with the adjective ecstatic in view of that impasse, while the former bluntly states: “The triumph of the Young-Girl originates in the failure of feminism.”  According to Tiqqun, the more liberal forms of feminism were easily absorbed into social institutions whose basic coercive function was not altered, whereas the more autonomist and radical forms faced the same sociocultural counteroffensive as the entirety of the revolutionary Left (in this sense it is instructive to read Tiqqun’s two histories of the Italian 70s, This is Not a Program and Sonogram, side by side). I’ll briefly add that the attention-grabbing complement to Weigel and Ahern’s (as Mansoor rightly puts it) brand of feminism, the conceit of the Man-Child, is, as a joke, a dud; as criticism, it is limited to the narrow range of dudes in humanities graduate programs (who may well be neurotic and annoying, but aren’t especially the locus of power in a society like ours). What is worst about this preconceived target, and the sloppy reading of PM that Weigel and Ahern seem to need to pass through to get there, is that “his” irony allows them to misconstrue the practice of détournement in PM, which would otherwise have been an obstacle to their literal, ontic reading. And it is in this reading and its easily “actionable” object (the desideratum of “fairness” feminism, which always knows how to act once it finds the inequality to be equalized) that the mild popularity of Weigel and Ahern’s piece lies. Who cares what some obscure group had to say about capitalism and identity? It is complicated and difficult reading. It is easier to denounce man-children—who, let me be perfectly clear, I have no intention of defending.

But some of us anarchists would rather understand what the obscure group had to say about capitalism and processes of identification, even and especially if it troubles such moral and political commonplaces as fairness and equality; even and especially if it risks the thought of the failure of feminism so as to learn a different kind of lesson from its history. Back to the figural, then. The anonymous commentator in Impasses underlines that Bloom and Young-Girl have a mutual source. “For the Young-Girl as for all other Blooms, the craving for entertainment is rooted in anguish” (PM). But Blooms sometimes resist, and part of that resistance may be to write their own theory (said theory is still “of Bloom” in the other sense of the genitive); Young-Girls, by comparison, do not resist; they consume and express themselves, they seduce and are seduced, and so their theory never comes together. For example, Bloom figures a crisis of sexuation, and Young-Girl figures the hypersexuality that is offered as the resolution to that crisis. Asexuals versus the pornosphere… It is in this sense that the figure of the Young-Girl is a diagnostic and critical tool. Its aim is not to represent or replicate a reality whose banalities (including the banality of everyday misogyny) some of us know all too well. Its aim is to allow us to understand the deployment of a particular kind of apparatus that invests the seemingly natural or culturally familiar categories of age and gender as counter-measures to the potential for social disavowal named Bloom. “Young-Girls constitute the most lethal commando THEY have ever maneuvered against heterogeneity, against every hint of desertion” (PM). We begin by cleaving society, along psycho-political lines, into those that resist, flee, or are at least capable of it, and those that do not. We note that the former can become part of the latter; and we note that the categories of age and gender are deployed selectively, qualitatively, as part of that operation.

Two provisional conclusions. First: to discuss the figure of Young-Girl as Weigel and Ahern do—not only ontically, but also apart from its relation to Bloom—is to miss precisely what an antagonist might find useful in it. The writer in Impasses observes that Bloom is a figure of anomie, of anyone’s disinvestment in society and social norms and bonds. This happens first as a seeming alienation, an implosion of the self’s reality:

… Bloom correspond[s] to a sense of being unreal without trusting the path offered back to the real. A first approach to the Young-Girl is to grasp that it is the figure of someone who abandons that sense of unreality in favor of what THEY offer as the path back to the real. Overall this is to be understood as an effect of power, a re-binding to the social real.

This is the Young-Girl as “offensive neutralization apparatus,” according to PM. It is aimed not at everyone, but specifically at Blooms, at what is Bloom in anyone and everyone. “If Bloom’s desire reveals no ultimate truths about oppression or freedom, it does on the other hand permit or prohibit desubjectivation; it increases or diminishes collective potential” (Sonogram). If Bloom is the refusal, sometimes the impossibility of work, look in what company the Young-Girl appears, according to This is Not a Program:

… work also has a more directly militaristic function, which is to subsidize a whole series of forms-of-life-managers, security guards, cops, professors, hipsters, Young-Girls, etc.—all of which are, to say the least, anti­-ecstatic if not anti-insurrectional.

The anon in Impasses comments:

With the figure of Young-Girl we name the two principal contemporary forms of reintegration: identity and consumption as lifestyle. In their closely connected functioning, as identification with the Spectacle, the fundamental ambiguity of Bloom is betrayed, and the plans for exit are botched. The Young-Girl, Tiqqun say, is a model citizen; here citizenship is redefined as an explicit response to the threat of Bloom’s indifference to society.

The apparatus produces the phenomena that are found and figured as Young-Girl. Both aspects, Young- and -Girl, are vectors of commodification and reintegration, working together to generate permanent instability. Gender is part of the operation, but not gender alone. Age may undermine gender, and gender may undermine age. By this I mean that Young-Girl indicates the spurious empowerment of (some) women and (some) youth in societies like ours (the Spectacle’s “praise of femininity” (PM)), and at the same time the way that no position or identity thusly empowered is ever safe or stable. The paths to reintegration may almost always be described as modes of consumption: for young people, to consume what will make them pass as belonging to a world to which they are not yet fully adjusted (making them either mock adults or participants in subcultural pseudo/practice worlds); for women, to consume what will show their proper integration into society (as either an “equal” to men or belonging to a recognizable and recognized political protest ideology or grouping). “Blending into a fatal and complacent intimacy with things has become the mass activity for fetish-compatible Blooms” (Sonogram). The most criminalized, the most persecuted, the most vulnerable in all these games of power are precisely those who do not or can not be reintegrated, because they do not or can not participate in the necessary kind of consumption. Though we may have to fake it for the sake of survival.

Second provisional conclusion: to clearly distinguish between a moralistic, rights-and-recognition based, pro-identification politics and our anti-political alternative would be to rearticulate what is on the lips of so many people, especially young people, these days: that it is not only for seeming to belong to the wrong group that one is put down, shut out, yelled at, chased, beaten, and murdered, but especially for not seeming to belong to any group at all. So say those who today call themselves genderqueer or gender-nonconforming or other phrases that denote not identities but gaps between identities. So say those who for one reason or another are considered less than citizens of the Nation and bad subjects of (normal or other than normal) Sexuality. So say those for whom life in public and in private is lived as an interminable series of sex tests, gender tests, pleasure tests, body tests. One position would ask those of us who feel this way to answer the test questions, to settle on an identity, a name, a social zone, a project of seeking recognition and rights, and to wait for the crumbs to be handed out. Our anti-politics asks what there is left to do to live however we can and however we like, pushing aside every attempt to commodify the way we wear our outsiderness…

The tension is clear. Bloom is the figure of those who escape from identification—their potential rebelliousness, fragility, insanity, dangerousness, and so on. Young-Girl is the figure of those recaptured by identification in a process that makes identification seem liberatory insofar as it appears as their own and not imposed on them. “Reappropriating difference, which meanwhile has become biopower’s primary management tool, is obviously a lost cause” (Sonogram). And if age and gender are at work in this apparatus then what is at stake for us is, indeed, the question of gender. It is also what is glossed over by Weigel and Ahern: the question of youth. Like Mansoor, we are stridently anticapitalist and thus we respond differently to Tiqqun’s critique of social life in societies like ours than Weigel and Ahern. Far from a project of seeking equality or rights, we are driven to observe that almost any affirmation of gender—as natural, as socially constructed, as culturally specific, etc.—may be absorbed by the Young-Girl operation. That does not mean that any given one is or has been; but we are brought to admit that we need ethical criteria where none are to be found. Which is why some of us have been trying to elaborate more clearly (which may simply mean: practically) what the abolition of gender means. And though no one is speaking about the abolition of age, there is also an implicit negativity in our conversations towards the very path of life as it is set out for us. People used to, perhaps still do, talk about the liberation of youth. Some of that is relevant here; but really the issue is that the age category itself makes increasingly less sense to those who have no discernible path to a stable adulthood, and those for whom adulthood can only be envisioned as a “comfortable” slow-motion implosion, for all of us torn from any acquaintance with a biological progression in our own bodies that is not also an awareness of the movement, pulse, gestures of power.

None of this is to say that what are clearly marked as Preliminary Materials for a Theory that, almost fifteen years later, has yet to appear, are sacrosanct or sufficient for an understanding of this tension, this terrain, this power. But it is to say that those who set out to criticize Tiqqun’s text without acknowledging such matters, or chalking them up to the rhetorical hyperbole of radical theory, are assuming precisely the normalcies and normativities that anarchists of our Tiqqun-reading stripe are out to destroy. “Because the only honorable departure from a minority status is not the achievement of recognition by the dominating majority or a change in force relations, but the deconstruction of the whole mechanism of recognition itself and of the idea of victory” (Sonogram). “A communization of bodies is to be expected” (PM).

Anarchy in World Systems

A review of Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long 20th Century (1994, 2nd Edition 2010)


Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long 20th Century is a history of capitalism, and a diachronic contexutalization of the distinguishing features of US dominance in the 20th century. Building on Wallerstein and especially Braudel, Arrighi revises both Marx and world systems theory to define four stages of capitalism, each marked by a systemic cycle of accumulation. Each cycle begins with the rise of a new leading state and form of institutionalized planning that organizes a global accumulation of capital, subtly interrupted by a signal crisis that heralds the switch from industrial to financial expansion, experienced as a golden age that marches inevitably to the terminal crisis when the bubble bursts and a new state (or group of states) must take up the lead in the reorganization of global capital.


Arrighi reaches all the way back to the northern Italian city-states in the epoch just after the Crusades to describe the prefiguration of the “four main features” of the “modern interstate system”. It was the loser, or in any case the weakest, of the most important of these city-states, Genoa, that was pushed out of the trade routes to West Asia, and that turned—unable to rely on its own agrarian ruling class for military backing in its ventures—to Ferdinand and Isabella of Castille to create new opportunities for investment and commerce. The alliance between the merchants of Genoa and the military power of the Spanish state organized and impelled the first global cycle of capital accumulation. The next cycle was led by the new Dutch nation-state, the architect of the interstate system or the “Westphalia system” of territorial nation-states linked in a global economy that in essence remains valid today. The third, or British, cycle of accumulation saw the mechanization of industry and the extension of the world system to every last corner of the globe through aggressive colonization. And the fourth, American cycle of accumulation saw the intensification of accumulation throughout the map laid down by the British, and the creation of the global financial and political institutions that exercise power today.


Rather than making arbitrary characterizations of putatively different stages of history as the basis for analysis, as so many historiographers do, Arrighi relies on historical analysis of competing power structures and on economic data regarding profit margins, liquidity, and the relative prominence of industrial expansion to financial speculation to trace with a convincing precision his schema of a full systemic cycle of accumulation, starting with a long period of material expansion, tipped into financial expansion by a signal crisis, and after a relatively short period of financial expansion, a terminal crisis which marks the end of the cycle, with political and economic power shifting to a new state that has already begun the material expansion that will form the basis for the next cycle. So far, the power of the leading state and the intensity of accumulation have surpassed that of the preceding cycle exponentially, while each cycle comes to fruition in a shorter amount of time (220 years between the signal crises that bracket the first cycle, 180 years for the second cycle, 130 for the third, and 100 years between the signal crisis of the British cycle—the Great Depression of 1873-1896—and the signal crisis of the American cycle, which Arrighi argues was the “oil shock” of 1973). Each transition has also been marked by a war in which the old power’s inability to govern the world system is made manifest, and new ascendant powers compete to assert their hegemony: the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Second World War. And although Arrighi does not make this point explicit, each transition has also been preceded by a war in which the dominant state is defeated by what will become, many years later, the next dominant state, as in the Dutch rebellion against Spanish rule, the Anglo-Dutch wars, and the American Revolution. Although these wars often appeared to be of secondary importance in their time, their real significance was that the upset allowed a state power to open up and govern a sphere of economic and political autonomy that would eventually serve as a platform from which to launch their own bid for global hegemony.


Arrighi and the theorists he builds on successfully demystify the nature of economic crises and the speculative activities of high finance, which an abundance of commentators today claim to be a new and irresponsible feature of capitalism that bears the blame for the crisis of 2008. They also take apart the narrow view of capitalism that only begins with the industrial revolution and in accordance with free market dogma is distinct from the “protectionist” phase of mercantilism. As regards the history of early capitalism, Arrighi fills in at the macro level what Federici, Rediker, and Linebaugh have been describing at an intermediate level.


Paramount to this revision is Arrighi’s identification, drawing heavily on Braudel, of capitalism as a dichotomous fusion of state and capital. In this view, the State is far more important than a mere “organizing committee” for the bourgeoisie, as Marx and Engels, covetous of a state of their own, would have it.


Contrary to the dominant view, capital as a social force, merchants as its agent, and markets as a place-of-flows in which capital operated, much the same way it does today, all already existed hundreds and even thousands of years ago. This fact:

has troubled world system studies right from the start. Nicole Bousquet (1979: 503) considered it “embarrassing” that price logistics long pre-dated 1500. For the same reason, Albert Bergesen (1983: 78) wondered whether price logistics “represent the dynamics of feudalism, or capitalism, or both.” Even Imperial China seems to have experienced wave-like phenomena of the same kind as Europe” (p.8).


The conventional view in the social sciences, in political discourse, and in the mass media is that capitalism and the market economy are more or less the same thing and that state power is antithetical to both. Braudel, in contrast, sees capitalism as being absolutely dependent for its emergence and expansion on state power and as constituting the antithesis of the market economy” (p.10).


Given the historical and geographic extension of merchant networks, price logistics, and market dynamics well beyond the European beginnings of capitalism (whether in the 18th century or the 15th),

the really important transition that needs to be elucidated is not that from feudalism to capitalism but from scattered to concentrated capitalist power. And the most important aspect of this much neglected transition is the unique fusion of state and capital, which was realized nowhere more favorably for capitalism than in Europe” (p.12).


In essence, merchants who had long been playing a particular game amongst themselves, with exponentially mounting stakes, began to invest their profits in state-making and war-making, not merely as another industry, but as a way to produce an expansion of the field in which their accumulation took place, and to produce the instruments to organize and regulate that field. Simultaneously, ruling elites began to extend their territorialist strategies for the control of the space-of-places in which state competition traditionally took place (the conquering of territory, cities, resources) into the space-of-flows in which the merchants operated (the capturing of markets, trade routes) as a way to fuel the engine of state growth.


Capitalism as an interstate system rests on a dichotomous structure that balances, in ever changing measures, territorialist and capitalist strategies for global power and organization, operating simultaneously in a space-of-places and a space-of-flows. The former strategy uses a territorial power base to capture a greater economic command that is utilized to control more territory, whereas the latter uses an economic command to win territorial resources that serve “the acquisition of additional means of payment”.


Although Arrighi’s analysis and ability to synthesize are indeed razor sharp, if all of this seems like a complex version of something insistently familiar, there’s a reason for that. Arrighi’s model of capitalism and its relationship to the State, although expressed and developed with a frequently Marxist analysis, is nothing if not a precise reiteration of the anti-Marxist thesis that Bakunin put forward (and that history later vindicated) in the 1870s, 120 years before Arrighi went to press. And it doesn’t end there. The proposition that capitalism is antithetical to the market sounds suspiciously reminiscent of Proudhon. And Arrighi’s dialectical model of capitalist powers that tend towards alternating territorialist and then capitalist strategies of accumulation bears a lot in common with Fredy Perlman’s model of Leviathan that constitutes itself now as a worm, now as an octopus. In simpler terms and admittedly less sophistication, and without supporting statistics, Perlman provides (eleven years earlier) a similar analysis. Against Leviathan, however, is much more sweeping than The Long 20th Century, as Perlman recounts the development of civilization going back thousands of years, and despite some factual flaws comes much closer to capturing the spirit of power and accurately describing how it functions, a task at which Arrighi with all his statistics falls woefully short.


Not one of these writers is mentioned in Arrighi’s extensive bibliography. On the whole body of anarchist thought, which in many instances, especially his revisions of Marx, he mimics, Arrighi remains suspiciously silent. In the academic world, some might refer to this as inethical research or even plagiarism. Anarchists would generally respect it as another manifestation of the collective nature of knowledge, except that Arrighi engages in a low blow against anarchist theory even as he obscures its contributions.


Despite hiding it as a theoretical concept, Arrighi gives anarchy an important place in his development of world system studies. He is good enough to differentiate it from “sytemic chaos,” which is the interregnum period in the schema in which one cycle of accumulation has reached its terminal crisis, and though the next cycle of accumulation has already begun, the state power that will organize and direct it has not yet achieved hegemony; it is therefore not clear where power in the world system will be concentrated, nor what set of common rules govern the system.


Arrighi puts anarchy in the corner with more subtle means, making the term essentially meaningless by applying it to both feudalism and the modern interstate system on the grounds that “ “Anarchy” designates “absence of central rule.” ” We all know that Arrighi was bright enough to be aware that “anarchy” in fact designates “the absence of rule”. By not using the linguistically appropriate “polyarchy” to describe a system of multiple, competing, and sometimes overlapping loci of power, Arrighi makes true anarchy inexpressible and therefore semantically impossible within his theoretical framework, at the same time as he erases it as a theoretical body. Conveniently, the only form of resistance or conflict he discusses concern state attempts to forge new configurations of hegemonic power. Arrighi abandons the long discredited materialist superdetermination of historical events, but he reserves all agency in the world system for state actors. The rest of us can only watch and wait.


Since we have brought up the ideological tension between Marxism and anarchism, it seems an appropriate moment to turn to the latest round of misguided predictions about the future.


Arrighi, first publishing in 1994, observed that the cycle of accumulation led by the United States had already experienced the signal crisis that marked a shift to financial expansion and the beginning of the end of its dominance. Noting Japan’s celebrated economic growth, Arrighi predicted that the next global cycle of accumulation would be Japanese.


Here he betrays his Marxian heritage by misunderstanding the nature of power, an unfortunate oversight since such an understanding is implicit in his revisionism and well supported by his data. But he makes capitalists, or even capital, the main protagonists, and states the dependent spouses of this marriage. Another, and somewhat more accurate, way to understand the bilateral relationship he describes from the self-important vantage of capital, is that since the 16th century the State, which has always based its power in the exploitation of a territory—up until then usually a geographic territory and an exploitation that was agricultural and extractive—shifted its activity to a virtual territory, the space-of-flows of the productive economy. The State experienced a great shift from a primarily parasitic existence to a productive one, and the productive logic came to subsume and transform the geographical territory within the system, although always with the backing, and often with the initiative, of the State itself. Neither the market nor capitalists were ever independent pioneers in this movement. The former was never even an actor, simply a space that has been subordinated by an array of apparatuses to capitalist relations. The latter, for their part, often undertook adventures that forced the State’s hand or extended the horizon of State intervention, but they have never been able to maintain virtual territory over time without the subsidization, institutionalization, and policing provided by the State.


How this relates to Japan should be immediately evident. Japan was coming to control a growing share of global capital, moving from its status as an attractive site for international investment to a major investor in its own right, instigating and capturing processes of capital accumulation in southeast Asia and even in the United States. But it lacked every other guarantor to accumulation, not least of all the military capacity to wrest away from the US the ability to dominate global territory and organize the world economy. In real terms not directly measurable by capital flows, Japanese economic growth was predicated on a major US military subsidy (along with export privileges and other more measurable and more documented factors). When push came to shove, the US pulled the plug and the Japanese economy collapsed. With it, Arrighi’s predictions.


Arrighi’s failings—though they do betray the statist bias of leftist thinkers who since Marx have tried to discredit the anarchist idea with underhanded minimizations or naturalizations of the role of the State—are not a sign of sloppy thinking. Arrighi’s synthesis is breathtakingly lucid, immediately useful to explore and apply to the world around us. But we might call on an almost dogmatic anarchist heterodoxy to reject the quest for that holy grail, the unified theory. No theoretical lens can account for every factor at play in a chaotic universe. For example, race and culture find no expression in Arrighi’s model, yet the reluctance of capitalists—a great many of them white—to allow Japan to become the next superpower certainly played a role in that country’s instability. It is a factor of consummate importance that current powerholders would much rather the European Union, for example, to dominate the next cycle of accumulation than an Asian nation (and if it must be an Asian nation, they would probably prefer it to be an ex-colony, a good student like India, then a country like Japan or China that has blazed an independent trail to imperial power).


And though the European Union does currently host a disproportionate number of the world’s largest banks—more than the US, including the number one slot—such a large proportion of capital accumulation is centered on China that Arrighi changed his prediction for the 2004 edition of the book and placed his bets on Beijing.


Within the framework that Arrighi offers, his second prediction remains unconvincing. His reasoning, once again, is based almost exclusively on data regarding investment and capital flows, which unambiguously announce China and southeast Asia as their prefered stomping grounds. Yet he ignores all the state and cultural factors that so often disappoint materialist forecasts (“mere superstructure!”).


China lacks the military capacity to defeat the US, even in its own backyard, southeast Asia. And while the Chinese military is quickly developing the capability to destroy a US fleet in the Pacific, it has no practical chance of doing so while also protecting its home territory. If it can’t even reach Taiwan, how is China supposed to organize the entire world system in the next cycle of accumulation? The only feasible chance that China has of achieving global military superiority in the forseeable future is if a decades long economic crisis eroded the US military (similar to what happened in Russia) without interrupting Chinese economic growth—an unlikely prospect indeed.


Then there are racial and cultural factors. Europeans and Euro-Americans currently control a huge volume of international capital and exert hegemony over the institutions that organize the global economy. Even the most progressive of them would be loath to let power slip away from the good old boys’ club. There is also the fact that Chinese state culture runs roughshod over the liberal sensibilities that the current planners of the world system adhere to. Put simply, the Chinese state has no respect for democracy, human rights, due process, and other bizarre tropes of the Western ruling class, and in very real ways this makes them the class pariah, even though their enviable economic activity grants them the status of popular kid.


To exert hegemony, a state power needs to make itself admired, even if it is also hated, and it needs to train all the other major players to speak its language. And as hypocritical and hollow as it is, the ongoing crusade for democracy is infinitely more convincing than the provincial strongarming of the Communist Party. Even though the US is already fast losing its place as hegemon, it currently faces no rival on the military or cultural level, and therefore, no contender to advance a new set of ruling institutions.


And yet, only a few years remain for a new hegemonic power to arise and inaugurate the next cycle of systemic accumulation and enjoy a couple decades of material expansion before its signal crisis. After that, Arrighi’s beautiful model will have broken down, its patterns no longer valid, only useful in hindsight.


However, there are some facts that Arrighi missed out on that do indicate a way for China to at least be centrally involved in the organization of the next cycle of accumulation. First of all, we have a war between China and the United States that is analogous to the American Revolution or the Anglo-Dutch wars: the Korean War. Although it would not make most historians’ lists of the three most important wars of the 20th century, China’s ability to fight the US to a standstill on the Korean Peninsula marked the beginning of that state’s right to an autonomous sphere of economic and political influence from which to develop its own bid for power.


Another pattern in Arrighi’s model suggests the terrain of material expansion for the next cycle of accumulation, and it isn’t southeast Asia. The Dutch took over the network of accumulation opened up by the Porgtuguese in the East Indies, and they intensified the exploitation thereof. The British subsequently expanded the map of global accumulation. The Americans after them operated within essentially the same map as the British, but they applied new methods of accumulation that allowed for more intense exploitation and a greater concentration of power. Where on earth could capitalism possibly spread to next to allow for a new material expansion? The answer is nowhere.


The next cycle of accumulation, if it is to happen in any way similar to past cycles, will have to expand into outer space. A robotic workforce (resistance free) carrying out mining on asteroids and the moon, and the chemistructural development (pre- or sub-infrastrucutre, the organic basis already existent on earth that makes infrastructure meaningful) of Mars. (A subsequent cycle of accumulation, feasibly, would be based on colonization). Meanwhile, on an earth with new possibilities for green management (statist environmentalism has only ever come at the expense of externalizing impact, and what could be more external to the biosphere?), an expanding consumer society in an ever more capricious service sector and a highly paid design sector (with the private cities of Google and the NSA, perhaps, as the dichotomous model).


This past weekend, China landed a rover on the moon. Anyone who mistakes this for an extremely tardy attempt to keep up with the Jones’ is missing its significance. China has guaranteed itself access to processes of capital accumulation in space. With a space program far cheaper than the US government’s, they have become, last year, the first country to match the US for new satellites in space, and they have also developed killer satellites and other anti-satellite weapons that could destroy all of the expensive little orbiters on which global communications, and the US capacity to deploy military force around the world, across the Pacific for example, depend. With no need to overcome US superiority head-on, just as the Dutch navy and American colonial army often used guerrilla tactics or evasion to confound a superior force, the Chinese have the potential to make US military might meaningless, and the liquid capital to give themselves the advantage in outer space investment.


As higher levels (in this case perhaps literally) of competition require higher levels of collaboration, it is unlikely that terrestrial states, at least in their present form, will find themselves adequately equipped to the task of organizing capital accumulation beyond planet earth. Power structures like Google may prove vital in organizing the new material expansion and also linking the power of terrestrial states to achieve the cultural unification necessary for the regulation and organization of capitalism. After all, the totalitarianism that liberal freedom most requires is not the secret police nor the torture chambers of the Communist Party (although these will never go away, neither in China nor in the US), it is the panopticon society, the apparatuses of communication, the instantaneous imposition of legibility on oral culture, and immediate enclosure of any new commons, that the likes of Google and Apple have already achieved.


If these changes come to pass—and they will to the extent that we allow them to—there will no doubt appear another wave of leftists who claim that it was all an economic operation, that the State has now expired, that capitalism is self-regulating, that the decentralized forms of production that are coming to the fore are the new reality. They willfully forget how much state power continues to concentrate, how the new decentralized industries only function in relation to unprecendented phenomena of concentration, that without drones raining missiles from the sky, there are no iPhones, that without nuclear submarines, there are no satellites, and without the State, whatever its form, there is no capitalism.


The state and capital have joined their destinies, but they are not the only players. Because anarchy is not just another way power organizes itself within a world system, it is an externality inside of that which has no outside, it is a dreamed and immanent reality that promises the destruction of this system. Anarchy is here, with those who reject the models of power, even if we choose to study them. Because above all it comprises the will to make time stop, it is necessarily meaningless to those who are content to chart the quantifiable manifestations of power, while it means everything to those who are dedicated to fighting power in all its forms.

Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism


Men have been so mad as to believe that God is pleased by harmony



Some of us have read Desert, and opted to reprint it, to promote its discussion, maybe to promulgate (at least repeat) some of what is said in it.  Despite our efforts, I still feel it has not had the uptake it deserves. I am beginning to think that the issue is less about our limited ability to distribute texts and discuss ideas, and more about the limits of the milieu itself.  As to the reception Desert did get, the most one can say is that a few literate anarchists quickly processed it, either absorbing it into their position or rejecting it. This scanning-followed-by-yes-or-no operation pretty much sums up what many anarchists consider reading to be.  One sort of rejection was documented in the egoist newspapers The Sovereign Self and My Own (and responded to in The Anvil): it concerned the idea that the anonymous author of Desert was engaging in a pessimistic rhetoric for dramatic effect while concealing their ultimate clinging to hope, perhaps like those who endlessly criticize love, only to be revealed as the most perfectionist of romantics in the last instance. That exchange on Desert tells much more about the readers—what they expected, what they are looking for—than the booklet itself. As does the other, sloppier, sort of rejection of the writing, which has for obvious reasons not appeared in print. More than one person has been overheard to say something to the tune of: “Oh, Desert? I hated it! It was so depressing!” And that is it. No discussion, no engagement, just stating in a fairly direct manner that, if the writing did not further the agenda of hope or reinforce the belief that mass movements can improve the global climate situation, then it is not relevant to a discussion of green issues (which are therefore redefined as setting out from that agenda and belief). In the background of both exchanges is a kind of obtuseness characteristic of the anarchist milieu: our propensity to be as ready to pick up the new thing as to dismiss it either immediately after consumption or soon after another consumes it. This customary speed, which we share with many with whom we share little else, is what necessitates the yes-or-no operation. Whatever the response is, it has to happen quickly. (We are the best of Young-Girls when it comes to the commodities we ourselves produce.) To do something else than mechanically phagocyte Desert (or anything else worth reading) and absorb it or excrete it back out onto the bookshelf/literature table/shitpile, some of us will need to take up a far less practical, far less pragmatic attitude towards the best of what circulates in our little space of reading. In short, it is to intervene in the smooth functioning of the anarchist-identity machine, our own homegrown apparatus, which reproduces the milieu, ingesting unmarked ideas, expelling anarchist ideas. Of course all those online rants, our many little zines, our few books—the ones we write and make, and the ones that we adopt now and then—are only part of this set-up, which also includes living arrangements, political practices, anti-political projects, and so on. All together, from a few crowded metropoles to the archipelago of outward- or inward-looking towns, that array could be called the machine that makes anarchist identity, one of those awful hybrids of anachronism and ultramodernity that clutter our times. But, trivial though the role of Desert may be in the reproduction of the milieu, its small role in that reproduction is especially remarkable given that it directly addresses the limits of that reproduction, and, indirectly, of the milieu itself. Its reception is a kind of diagnostic test, a demonstration of our special obtuseness. If I am right about even some of the preceding, then the increasingly speculative nature of what follows ought to prove interesting to a few, and repulsive to the rest.

* * * *

I intend the or in the title to be destabilizing. It does not indicate a choice to be made between two already somewhat fictitious positions. (Quotation marks for each would not have been strong enough. To say this or that position is fictitious may seem to be belied by the advance, here or there, of those who present themselves as the representatives of positions. This is where we need to make our case most forcefully, arguing back that to take on a position as an identity simply eludes the what of position altogether, making it rest on a different, more familiar kind of fiction.) By placing the or between them I mean to mark a slippage, which I consider to be a movement of involuntary thought. Not being properly yoked to action, to what is considered voluntary, it is the kind of thought most have little time for. It has to do with passing imperceptibly from one state to another, and what may be learned in that shift. It is a terrible kind of thought at first, and, for some, will perhaps always be so, all the more so inasmuch as we are not its brave protagonists… Compare these passages:

The tide of Western authority will recede from much, though by no means all, of the planet. A writhing mess of social flotsam and jetsam will be left in its wake. Some will be patches of lived anarchy, some of horrible conflicts, some empires, some freedoms, and, of course, unimaginable weirdness. 


The world is increasingly unthinkable—a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction. In spite of our daily concerns, wants, and desires, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part. To confront this idea is to confront an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all.

The first passage is from Desert, an anonymous pamphlet on the meaning of the irreversibility of climate change for anarchist practice. The second is from Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet<, a collection of essays that leads from philosophy to horror, or rather leads philosophy to horror. I bring them together here because they seem to me to coincide in a relatively unthought theoretical zone. As Desert invokes the present and coming anarchy and chaos, it admits the weirdness of the future (for our inherited thought patterns and political maps, at least); when Dust of this Planet gestures to the weirdness and unthinkability of the world, it invokes the current and coming biological, geological, and climatological chaos of the planet. They should be read together; the thought that is possible in that stereoscopic reading is what my or intends. (I mean to gesture towards the passage from one perspective to the other, and perhaps back.) If Desert sets out from the knowability of the world—as the object of science, principally—it has the rare merit of spelling out its increasing unknowability as an object for our political projects, our predictions and plans. Dust of this Planet allows us to push this thought father in an eminently troubling direction, revealing a wilderness more wild than the wild nature invoked by the critics of capitalism and civilization: the unthinkable Planet behind the inhabitable Earth. As we slip in this direction (which is also past the point of distinguishing the voluntary from the involuntary), all our positions, those little compressed bundles of opinion and analysis, practice and experience, crumble—as positions. No doubt many will find this disconcerting. But something of what we tried to do by thinking up, debating, adopting and abandoning, positions, is left—something lives on, survives—maybe just the primal thrust that begins with a question or profound need and collapses in a profession of faith or identity. That would be the path back to the perspective of Desert (now irreparably transformed). What is left, the afterlife of our first outward movements, might be something for each to witness alone, in a solitude far from the gregarious comfort of recognizable positions, of politics. To say nothing of community.

* * * *

All our maneuvering, all our petty excuses for not studying it aside, there is still much to be said about this wonderful, challenging booklet, Desert. To wit, that it is the first written elaboration of sentiments some of us admit to and others feel without confessing to them. And, moreover, that it hints repeatedly at an even broader and more troubling set of perspectives about the limits to what we can do, and maybe of what we are altogether. If the milieu’s demand were accepted and these feelings and ideas were narrowed down to a position, it could indeed be called green nihilism. In this naming of a position the second word indicates one familiar political, or rather anti-political, sense of nihilism—the position that views action, or inaction, from the perspective that nothing can be done to save the world. That no single event, or series of events clumsily apprehended as a single Event, can be posited as the object of political or moral optimism, except by the faithful and the deluded. Moreover, that the injunction to think of the future, to hope in a certain naive way, is itself pernicious, and often a tool of our enemies. As to green—well, those who have read Desert will be familiar with the story it tells. Irreversible global climate change, meshing in an increasingly confusing way with a global geopolitical system that intensifies control in resource-rich areas while loosening or perhaps losing its grips in the hinterlands, the growing desert… It is the story, then, of literal deserts, and also of zones deserted by authority or that those who desert the terrain of authority inhabit. But let’s be clear about this: Desert does not name its own position. It is less a book that proposes a certain strategy or set of practices and more a book about material conditions that are likely to affect any strategy, any practices whatsoever. What is best about Desert is not just the unflinching sobriety with which its author piles up evidence and insights for such a near future, without drifting too far into speculation; it is the way they do not abandon the idea of surviving in such a decomposing world. It is neither optimism nor pessimism in the usual sense; it is another way to grasp anarchy. That is why I write that much remains to be said about it. One way to begin thinking through Desert is to concentrate less on what position it supposedly takes (is there a green nihilism? for or against hope?) and to consider how to push its perspective farther. This means both asking more questions about how it allows us to redefine survival and taking up the possibilities for thought that it mostly hints at. For example, to say the future is unknowable is a pleasant banality, which can just as well be invoked by optimists as pessimists; but to concentrate on what is unknowable in a way that projects it into past and present as well is to think beyond the dull conversation about hope, or utopia and dystopia, for that matter. Here is one example of how such thinking might unfold: Desert seems to offer a novel perspective on chaos. There have probably been two anarchist takes on chaos so far: the traditional one, summed up in the motto, anarchy is not chaos, but order; and Hakim Bey’s discussions of chaos, which may be summed up in his poetic phrase Chaos never died. The former is clear enough: like many leftist analyses, it identifies social chaos with a badly managed society and opposes to it a harmonious anarchic order (which, it was later specified, could exist in harmony with a nature itself conceived as harmonious). This conception of chaos, which is still quite prevalent today, does not even merit its name. It is a way of morally condemning capitalism, the State, society, or what you will; it is basically name-calling. Any worthwhile conception of chaos should begin from a non-moral position, admitting that the formlessness of chaos is not for us to judge. That much Hakim Bey did amit. What, in retrospect especially, is curious about his little missive “Chaos” are the various references to “agents of chaos,” “avatars of chaos”, even a “prophethood of chaos.” It is a lovely letter from its time and perhaps some other times as well;  I have no intention to criticize it. It is a marked improvement on any version of anarchy is order, and yet… and yet. It comes too close, or reading it some came too close, to simply opting for chaos, as though order and chaos were sides and it were a matter of choosing sides. The inversion of a moral statement is still a moral statement, after all. What is left to say about chaos, then? The explicit references to chaos in Desert are all references to social disorder. But a thoughtful reader might, upon reading through for the third or fourth time, start to sense that another, more ancient sense of chaos is being invoked: less of an extreme of disorder and more of a primordial nothingness, a “yawning gap”, as the preferred gloss of some philologists has it. The repeated reference to a probable global archipelago of “large islands of chaos” is directly connected to the destabilization of the global climate. And this is the terrible thought that Desert constructs for us and will not save us from: that from now on we survive in a world where the global climate is irreversibly destabilized, and that such a survival is something other than life or politics as we have so far dreamt them. The meager discussion we’ve seen so far on Desert revolves around questions such as: is this true? and, since most who bother thinking it through will take it to be true, does the “no hope”/”no future” perspective (the supposed nihilism) which Desert to some extent adopts, and others to some extent impute to it, help or hinder an overall anarchist position? A less obvious discussion revolves around two very different sorts of questions: what myths does exposing this reality shatter? and, if we are brave enough to think ourselves into this demythologized space that has eclipsed the mythical future, is an anarchist position still a coherent or relevant response to survival there? The myth that is shattered here is first and foremost that wonderful old story about the Earth:

Earth, our bright home…


There are two main versions of this story. In the religious version, a god intends for us to live here and creates the Earth for us, or, to a lesser extent, creates us for the Earth. In either case our apparent fit into the Earth, our presumed kinship with it, usually expressed in the thought of Nature or the natural, has a transcendent guarantee. In the second version, which is usually of a rational or scientific sort, we have evolved to live on the Earth and can expect it to be responsive to our needs. Here the guarantee is immanent and rational. It is true that this second story, in the version of evolutionary theory, also taught us that we could have easily not come to be here, and that we may not always be here. That is why Freud classed Darwin’s theory as the second of three wounds to human narcissism (the first being the Copernican theory, which displaced the Earth from the center of the cosmos, and the third being Freud’s own theory, which displaced conscious thought from prominence in mental life). But a certain common sense, or what could be called the most obtuse rationalism, seems to have reintroduced the religious content of the first version into the second, and concluded that it is good or right or proper for us to be here. Natural, in short. In any case, the lesson here is that the psychic wound can be open and humanity, whoever that is, may limp on, wounded, thinking whatever it prefers to think about itself. What Desert draws attention to is a congeries of events that could increasingly trouble our collective ability to go on with this story of a natural place for (some) humans. Irreversible climate change is both something that can be understood (in scientific and derivative, common-sense ways) and something that, properly considered, suggests a vast panorama of unknowns. It is true that Desert makes much of its case by citing scientists and scientific statistics. But the real question here is about the status of these invocations of science. This is where a subtler reading shows its superiority. If the entire argumentative thrust of Desert relied on science, the pamphlet would be fairly disposable. Desert invokes science to put before the hopeful and the apathetic images of a terrible and sublime sort. We could say that its explicit argument is based on science, plus a certain kind of anti-political reasoning. But its overall effect is to dislodge us from our background assumption of a knowable and predictable world into a less predictable, less knowable awareness. After all, it would be just as easy to develop a similar narrative in the discourse of a pessimistic political science, emphasizing massive population growth and social chaos: an irruptive and ungovernable human biology beyond sociality. Let’s try it. From a red anarchist perspective, this could mean more opportunities for mutual aid, for setting the example of anarchy as order; chaos would be a kind of forced clean slate, a time to show that we are better and more efficient than the forces of the state. From an insurrectionary perspective, the chaos would be an inhuman element making possible the generalization of conflict. General social chaos would be the macrocosm corresponding to the microcosm of the riot. For them chaos would also be an opportunity, in this case to hasten and amplify anomic irruptions. In sum, one could make the same argument about the biological mass of humanity as about the Earth—that its coming chaos is an opportunity for anarchists because it is a materially forced anarchy. This does not mean that we are inherently aggressive or whatever you want to associate with social chaos, but rather ungovernable in the long run (or at least governed by forces and aims other than the ones accounted for in political reasoning). It does mean, however, that the idea we are ungovernable in the long run, the affirmation of which is more or less synonymous with the confidence with which the anarchists take their position, is now closely linked with another idea, that in the last instance the Earth is not our natural home. It may have been our home for some time, for a time that we call prehistory. Indeed, Fredy Perlman marks the transition from prehistory to His-Story, or Civilization, as the prolongation of an event of ecological imbalance, a prolongation whose overall effect is destructive, even as the short-term or narrowly focused results along the way are to make the Earth more and more of a welcoming and natural place for humans to be. And now our parting of ways with Hakim Bey may be clarified, for, even if he did not simply take the side of chaos, he did write: 

remember, only in Classical Physics does Chaos have anything to do with entropy, heat-death, or decay. In our physics (Chaos Theory), Chaos identifies with tao, beyond both yin-as-entropy & yang-as-energy, more a principle of continual creation than of any nihil, void in the sense of potentia, not exhaustion. (Chaos as the “sum of all orders.”) 

He was making an argument about what is stupid about death-glorifying art which, parenthetically, still seems relevant. But I simply don’t see why chaos (or tao, for that matter) is somehow better understood as creation than as destruction, or why it is preferable to invoke potentia and not exhaustion. In the name of what? “Ontological” anarchism? Life? And the sum of all orders… is this a figure of something at all knowable? And if not, why the preceding taking of sides? The chaos that Desert summons is not ontological. No new theory of being is claimed here. The effect is first of all psychological: stating what more or less everyone knows, but will not admit. If Desert deserves the label nihilist, it is really in this sense, that it knowingly points to the unknowable, to the background of all three narcissistic wounds. (This is my way of admitting that talking or writing about nihilism does not clarify much of anything. If it was worth doing, it is not because I wanted to share a way of believing-in-nothing. I see now that I was going somewhere else. The analysis of nihilism is the object of psychology… it being understood that this psychology is also that of the cosmos, wrote Deleuze.)

* * * *

In the Dust of This Planet introduces a tripartite distinction between World, Earth, and Planet. Thacker states that the human world, our sociocultural horizon of understanding, is what is usually meant by world. This is the world as it is invoked in politics, in statements that begin: what the world needs…, and of course any and all appeals to save or change the world. It is the single world of globalism (and of global revolution) but also the many little worlds of multiculturalism, nationalism, and regionalism. But one could argue that our experience (and the gaps in our experience) also unfold in another world, the enveloping site of natural processes, from climate to chemical and physical processes, of course including our own biology. This is the Earth that we are often invited to save in ecological politics or activism. A third version of what is meant by world is what Thacker calls the Planet. If the world as human World is the world-for-us, and the Earth as natural world is a world-for-itself, the Planet is the world-without-us. Visions of the World and the Earth correspond roughly to subjective and objective perspectives; but what these are visions of, the Planet, is not reducible to either, however optimistic our philosophy, theory, or science may be. In terms perhaps more familiar to some green anarchists, the World corresponds to the material and mental processes of civilization, and the Earth to Nature as constructed by civilization. Civilization, so it would seem, produces nature as its knowable byproduct as it encloses the wild, leaving fields, parks, and gardens, along with domesticated and corralled wild animals, including, of course, our species. Does the wildness or wilderness of the green anarchists then correspond to the Planet, as world-without-us? Only if we can grasp that the wild, like, or as, chaos, is ultimately unknowable—not because of some defect in our faculties but because it includes their limits and undoing. When green anarchists and others invoke the wild, we must always be sure to ask if they mean an especially unruly bit of nature, nature that is not yet fully processed by the civilized, or something that civilization will never domesticate or conquer. Planet is an odd category, in that it seems to correspond both to the putative and impossible object of science (a science without an observer) and an inexplicable and strange image emergent from out of the recesses of the unconscious (which itself raises a troubling question as to what an unconscious is at all if it can be said to issue images that exclude us). I think about this third category in terms of Desert as I read this passage from Thacker:

When the world as such cataclysmically manifests itself in the form of a disaster, how do we interpret or give meaning to the world? There are precedents in Western culture for this kind of thinking. In classical Greece the interpretation is primarily mythological—Greek tragedy, for instance, not only deals with the questions of fate and destiny, but in so doing it also evokes a world at once familiar and unfamiliar, a world within our control or a world as a plaything of the gods. By contrast, the response of Medieval and early modern Christianity is primarily theological—the long tradition of apocalyptic literature, as well as the Scholastic commentaries on the nature of evil, cast the non-human world within a moral framework of salvation. In modernity, in the intersection of scientific hegemony, industrial capitalism, and what Nietzsche famously prophesied as the death of God, the non-human world gains a different value. In modernity, the response is primarily existential—a questioning of the role of human individuals and human groups in light of modern science, high technology, industrial and post-industrial capitalism, and world wars. 

In the light of the ongoing and growing disaster called irreversible climate change, Desert clearly exposes the theological-existential roots (the modern roots, that is to say) of anarchist politics, not particularly different, as far as this issue goes, from the panorama of Left or radical positions. What matters to me is the opportunity to strike out beyond these positions, elaborating an anti-politics thought through in reference to a point of view Thacker calls cosmological. Could such a cosmological view, he writes, be understood not simply as the view from interstellar space, but as the view of the world-without-us, the Planetary view? Desert might be one of the first signs of the paradoxical draw of this view, which, it should be clear by now, is something other than a position to be adopted. But for those who like the convenience names lend to things, consider the version Thacker elaborates (in a discussion of the meaning of black in black metal, of all things). He calls it cosmic pessimism:

The view of Cosmic Pessimism is a strange mysticism of the world-without-us, a hermeticism of the abyss, a noumenal occultism. It is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman, and indifferent to the hopes, desires, and struggles of human individuals and groups. Its limit-thought is the idea of absolute nothingness, unconsciously represented in the many popular media images of nuclear war, natural disasters, global pandemics, and the cataclysmic effects of climate change. Certainly these are the images, or the specters, of Cosmic Pessimism, and different from the scientific, economic, and political realities and underlie them; but they are images deeply embedded in our psyche nonetheless. Beyond these specters there is the impossible thought of extinction, with not even a single human being to think the absence of all human beings, with no thought to think the negation of all thought. 

Now the intention of my or will be clear for some (from the psyche to the cosmos…). In Dust Thacker does not draw many connections between his ideas and politics, so it is worthwhile to examine one of the places where he illustrates the paradox his view of the Planet opens up in that space. He cites Carl Schmitt’s suggestion, in Political Theology:

the very possibility of imagining or re-imagining the political is dependent on a view of the world as revealed, as knowable, and as accessible to us as human beings living in a human world. But the way in which that analogy [from theology to politics] is manifest may change over time … 

Thacker notes:

the 17th and 18th centuries were dominated by the theological analogy of the transcendence of God in relation to the world, which correlates to the political idea of the transcendence of the sovereign ruler in relation to the state. By contrast, in the 19th century a shift occurs towards the theological notion of immanence… which likewise correlates to “the democratic thesis of the identity of the ruler and the ruled.” In these and other instances, we see theological concepts being mobilized in political concepts, forming a kind of direct, tabular comparison between cosmology and politics (God and sovereign ruler; the cosmos and the state; transcendence and absolutism; immanence and democracy). 

The closed loop of politics:

The republic is the only cure for the ills of the monarchy, and the monarchy is the only cure for the ills of the republic.


Thacker’s question follows: what happens to this analogy, which structures both political theory and ordinary thinking about politics to some extent, if one posits a world that is not, and will never be, entirely revealed and knowable? The closed loop is opened, and the analogy breaks down. What happens when we as human beings confront a world that is radically unhuman, impersonal, and even indifferent to the human? What happens to the concept of politics… It seems to me that a question of this sort is lurking in the background of Desert as well.

* * * *

The desert may be, or sometimes seem to be, what is left after a catastrophic event, but it has also always been with us, as image and reality.

In what passes for a moon
On the galactic periphery,
Here is an austere beauty,
Barren, uncompromising,
Like that which must have been 
Experienced by men
On the ice-caps and deserts 
As they once existed on earth
Before their urbanization
Harsh and unambiguous…

John Cotton

World-desert: the desert grows…

Earth-deserts: they are growing, too.

Cosmic deserts: on the galactic periphery… In a response to François Laruelle’s Du noir univers, Thacker elaborates on the various senses of the desert motif, suggesting both that it is the inevitable image and experience of the Planet, as a slice of the Cosmos, or what Laruelle calls the black Universe, and that it is a mirage, that there is no real desert to escape to. Hermits keep escaping to the desert, but their solitude is temporary; others gather nearby. The escape from forced community develops spontaneous forms of community. But for being spontaneous, such community does not cease to develop, sooner or later, the traits of the first, escaped, community. The issue for me is double: first, that to the two senses invoked in Desert (the literal ecological sense, and the sense of desertion) we may now add the third corresponding to the Planetary or Cosmic view, the desert as the impossible, as nothingness. Second, the ethical, psychological, or at least practical insight that some keep deserting society, civilization, or what have you in the direction of the desert and, as stated, sooner or later populating it, inhabiting it, somehow living or at least surviving in it. Even if these deserters headed towards the desert in the first sense, they were motivated or animated by the impossible target of the desert in the third sense. Now, this apparently closed-loop operation could be the inevitable repetition of some ancient anthropogenic trauma. Or it could be (we just can’t know here and now) the sane, wild reaction to Civilization: desperate attempt to return to the Earth (our bright home) via the dark indifference of the Planet or Cosmos. Of this return pessimism says: you will need to do it again and again. Is the pessimism about a condition we can escape, or one we can’t? Is it the anti-civilization pessimism of the most radical ecology, or is it despair, no less trivial for being a psychological insight, before the morbid obtuseness of humans? We just can’t know here and now. Masciandaro, Thacker’s fellow commentator on Laruelle, aptly terms this “the positivity and priority of opacity”—the opacity of the Planet and the Cosmos, Laruelle’s black universe.

O the dark, the deep hard dark
Of these galactic nights!
Even the planets have set
Leaving it slab and impenetrable,
As dark and directionless
As those long nights of the soul
The ancient mystics spoke of.
Beyond there is nothing,
Nothing we have known or experienced.

John Cotton

* * * *

In Desert we read:

Nature’s incredible power to re-grow and flourish following disasters is evident both from previous mass extinctions and from its ability to heal many lands scarred by civilisation. Its true power is rarely considered within the sealed, anthropocentric thinking of those who would profit from the present or attempt to plan the future. Yet the functioning of the Earth System is destructive as well as bountiful and it is not a conscious god with an interest in preserving us or its present arrangement—something we may find out if the Earth is now moving to a new much hotter state.

For his part, Thacker concludes his book by discussing a mysticism of the unhuman, what he calls a climatological mysticism. It is a way of thinking, and paradoxical knowing, modeled on religious mysticism rather than scientific knowledge. But it is not reducible to the former. He writes,

there is no being-on-the-side-of the world, much less nature or the weather. […] the world is indifferent to us as human beings. Indeed, the core problematic of the climate change issue is the extent to which human beings are at issue at all. On the one hand we as human beings are the problem; on the other hand at the planetary level of the Earth’s deep time, nothing could be more insignificant than the human. This is where mysticism again becomes relevant. 

This attitude of nonknowledge, as Bataille would have put it, informs life even as it decenters it. That the Earth is our place, but the planet does not care about us and the cosmos is not our home, is a thought of the ways in which we might survive here. Some will remember Vaneigem’s repeated contrast between vie and survie, life and survival. For him it was a matter of inverting the accepted, and to a large extent enforced, view in which one must survive first and live second. Some of this view seems to have been taken into the perspective that identifies life and nature, where the latter is understood as what we are or should be—that is, that there is something normative about life or nature that we can refer to. The perspective I am developing here suggests that we have no way of knowing what we are or should be, and that the wild is better conceived as that no-way, as the conditions that push back against our best effort to define ourselves, identify our selves, or know our world. Similarly, what is wild in us can only be conceived (though it is not really conceivable in the long run) as what resists, what pushes back, against any established order. But this might be closer to survival than to life. Survival has a positive value in that it is itself an activity, a set of nontrivial practices that refer back to life insofar as we know it. We survive as we can, not confident that we are living. It is this aspect of Desert that some insurrectionaries seem to have disagreed with, in that it often talks of plans for survival where they would have preferred to see plans for action, or at least calls to action. We can read there of

An Anarchism with plenty of adjectives, but one that also sets and achieves objectives, can have a wonderful present and still have a future; even when fundamentally out of the step with the world around it. There is so much we can do, achieve, defend and be; even here, where unfortunately civilisation probably still has a future. 

It is passages like this one, towards the end of the pamphlet, that probably left some with the impression that its author is still attached to hope, and left others with the sense of a form of survival that still somehow resembled activism more than attack. As for the former impression, that would be to confuse the climate pessimism of Desert with a kind of overarching and mandatory mood, as though those who had this view were of necessity personally depressed or despondent. There is no evidence for such a conclusion. As for the latter, it is a little more complicated. Yes, the author of Desert often sounds like someone addressing activists; and, yes, Desert explicitly rejects the cause of Revolution in several places. One could say this adds up to a kind of political retreat. One could also say, however, that some are too used to reading political texts that always end on a loud and vindictive note! No, this is where the question of rethinking survival from an anti-political perspective inflected by something like Thacker’s cosmic pessimism or reinvented mysticism is critical. We make survival primary, not so much inverting Vaneigem’s inversion of the norm in societies like ours, but rather by noticing what in our conception of life has always been a kind of religion or morality of life, easy adjustment to a familiar nature. Whatever its faults, Desert was written to say that such a conception is no longer useful, and that one useful meaning of anarchist is someone who admits as much. Can that meaning fit with the subcultures that most of today’s anarchists compose? Probably not. The subcultures exist as pockets of resistance, of course; but survival in them is indelibly tied to reproducing the anarchist as persona, as identity, as an answer to the question of what life is or is for. To make sense or have meaning this answer presupposes the workings of our homegrown identity-machine, our collective, repeated minimal task of discerning about actions whether they are anarchist or not, and, by extension, whether the person carrying them out is anarchist. It is our way of bringing the community into the desert. Announcement of one’s intentions to overcome the limits of subculture and reach out to others, or inspire them with our actions, is not different than, but rather a crucial part of, this operation. Survival, in the sense Desert suggests it to me, is something completely different, for in it any social group or kin network, as it attempts to live on, cannot draw significant lines of difference (of identification, therefore) between itself and others. It melts into a humanity collectively resisting death. Needless to say this is something entirely different than the revolutionary process as it has been imagined and attempted. There is no future to plan for, only a present to survive in, and that is the implosion of politics as we have known it.

To survive, not to live, or, not living, to maintain oneself, without life, in a state of pure supplement, movement of substitution for life, but rather to arrest dying…


… deserting life.


* * * *

A desert and not a garden: one remarkable aspect of the contemporary anarchist space is an open contradiction between two perspectives on what struggle is, or is for, that might be summed up in the phrases we have enemies and we did this to ourselves. There are countless versions of this contradiction, which at a deeper level is really not about political struggle at all, but about the essence of resistance. One version is the condemnation of the notion of enemy as a moral notion, and another is its silent return in the emphasis on friendship and affinity; there is also what a book called Enemies of Society may be taken to suggest from its title on. The contradiction surfaces most clearly in discussions influenced by primitivist positions or ones hostile to civilization, likely because of the tremendous temporal compression they require to make their case. In such talk, we zoom out from lifetimes and generations to a scale of tens of thousands of years. The enemy appears within the course of history, but the fact of the appearance of the enemy, the split in humanity, summons the second we, because of the need to presuppose a whole species in some natural state (balance, etc.) that, in the event or events that open up the panorama of civilization and history, cleaves itself into groups or at least roles. The positions we know better tend to revolve around trivialized versions of these perspectives, never really experiencing the tension between them. It is only in the play of the anarchist space as a whole (and precisely because it is not a single place, in which all involved would have to put up with each other for a few hours, let alone live together) that the contradiction unfolds. Some form of we have enemies is the great rallying for a wide array of active agents, from the remains of the Left to advocates of social war. And some form of we did this to ourselves is in the background of all sorts of moralizing approaches to oppression and interpersonal damage, but also the more misanthropic strains of primitivism. I would also argue that a modified form of it informs the deep background of egoism and some forms of individualism (splitting the forced we from the atomic ourselves). My question is, what happens if we zoom out farther? Here the virtue of invoking science as Desert does may be visible. For what is beyond history (the time of the World) and prehistory is geologic time, the time of the Planet, which leads us to cosmic time. There is a difference between invoking science and practicing or praising it. The latter simply produce more science. The former may be a way to encounter what our still humanist politics ignore. From the perspective of cosmic time, the contradiction does not dissolve (at least not for me); but its moral or political character seems to unravel. Something less centered on us emerges. Perhaps both stories—the story about enemies and the story about ourselves—ignore something much more disturbing than mere accidental guilt or immorality, something that disturbs us precisely because it is the disturbing of humanity.  (“It is not man who colonizes the planet, but the planet and the cosmos who transgress the lonely threshold of man”—does this odd sentence of Laruelle’s express the thought here, I wonder?) It makes sense for Thacker to invoke mysticism when he considers the cosmos or the Planet, because its otherness has most often been referred to as divine, and related to as a god. Now, that need have nothing to do with religion, especially if we identify religion with revelation; but mysticism is a good enough approximation to the attitude one takes towards a now decentered life. I call that attitude a thoughtful kind of survival. This is closely connected to a conversation one often overhears in the company of anarchists. Someone is discussing something they prefer or are inclined to do, and doing so in increasingly positive terms. Another person points out (functioning of the anarchist identity machine) that there is nothing specifically anti-capitalist or radical about the stated activity or preferred object, reducing it verbally to another form of consumption. Anxious hours are passed this way. About such inclinations I prefer to say that we do not know if they come from above or below; we know our own resistance, and not much more. That resistance manifests in unknowable ways, obeying no conscious plan. It could well be a particularly fancy kind of neurosis; but survival means just this, that we do not know the way out of the situation and we must live here with the idea of anarchy. Another way to put this is that if our rejection of society and state is as complete as we like to say it is, our project is not to create alternative micro-societies (scenes, milieus) that people can belong to, but something along the lines of becoming monsters. It is probable that anarchy has always had something to do with becoming monstrous. The monster, writes Thacker in another of his books, is unlawful life, or what cannot be controlled. It seems to me the only way to do this, as opposed to saying one is doing it and being satisfied with that, would be to unflinchingly contemplate the thing we are without trying to be, the thing we can never try to be or claim we are: the nameless thing, or unthinkable life. Which is also the solitary thing, or the lonely one. The egoist or individualist positions are like dull echoes of the inexpressible sentiment that I might be that nameless thing, translated into a common parlance for the benefit of a (resistant, yes) relation to the social mass. That the cosmos is not our natural home is a thought outside the ways in which we might survive here. To say we survive instead of living is in part to say that we have no idea what living is or ought to be (that there is probably no ought-to about living). But also that we resist any ideal of life, including our own. Becoming monstrous is therefore the goal of dismantling the milieu as anarchist identity machine. Being witness to the nameless thing, to the unthinkable life or Planet or Cosmos, is not a goal. It is not a criterion of anything, either. It is more like a state, a mystical, poetic state (though in this state I am the poem). It is the climatological mysticism Thacker describes and Desert hints at for an anarchist audience, both deriving in their own way from the weird insight that the Planet is indifferent to us. So read Desert again as an allegory of the self-destruction of the milieu, of any community that, as it runs from its norms, places new, unstated norms ahead of itself. Such is the slippage from green nihilism to cosmic pessimism, which gives us occasion to continue speaking of chaos. Well, one might say that I have merely imported some alien theory into an otherwise familiar (if not easy) discussion. Of course I have. My aim, however, was not to apply it, but to show in what sense one play that is often acted out in our spaces may be anti-politically theorized, which is to say cosmically psychoanalyzed. Our place is not to apply the theory of cosmic pessimism (or any other theory; that is not what theory is, or is for); our place is to think, to continue speaking of chaos, not being stupid enough to think we can take its side. There are no sides. We might come to realize that we, too, in our attempts to gather, organize, act, change life, and so on, were playing in the world, ignorant of the Planet, its unimaginable weirdness. 


If the earth must perish, then astronomy is our only consolation



Post scriptum. I mentioned community in passing. Most anarchists I converse with regularly treat the word delicately or dismissively, either ignoring it altogether, putting it in quotation marks, or virtually crossing it out. I suppose that crossed-out sense of community is another name for the milieu. As crappy as it is most of the time, I will admit that the milieu is a space-time (really a series of places-moments, some of them taking place ever so briefly) where one can register, to some extent, what ideas have traction in our lives. Desert‘s explicit statements are certainly more pedestrian than Thacker’s theory; but the downside to Thacker’s exciting flights of intellectual fancy, at least from where I am writing, is that it is hard to know who he is speaking to, or about, much of the time. One imagines that people do gather to hear what he has to say, or read his books in concert. I do wonder to what extent they consider themselves to be a community, a potential community, a crossed-out community.

Post scriptum bis. I mentioned solitude. It would also be worthwhile to think about friendship along these lines.




Desert. LBC Books. 2011.

Laruelle, François. “Theorems on the Good News.” 

—. “On the Black Universe.” In Dark Nights of the Universe, [NAME], 2013.

Masciandaro, Nicola. “Comments on Eugene Thacker’s ‘Cosmic Pessimism’.” continent. 2.2, 2012.

—. “Secret” In Dark Nights of the Universe, [NAME], 2013.

Snyder, Gary. “The Etiquette of Freedom.” In The Practice of the Wild, North Point Press, 1990.

Thacker, Eugene. After Life. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

—. In the Dust of this Planet. Zero Books. 2010.

—. “Cosmic Pessimism.” continent. 2.2 (2012).

—. “Remote: The Forgetting of the World.” In Dark Nights of the Universe, [NAME], 2013.



On Why Dr John Drury Is A Collaborationist Asshole: A Review of Cop-Out: The Significance of Aufhebengate

On many levels it seems almost pointless to write yet another text on Aufhebengate, especially a review about a book on the scandal and the controversies and collaboration-sympathizing that occurred in the vain, and inexplicable, attempt to defend John Drury from his own actions. Usually interpersonal issues point more to the poverty of the militancy and viability of certain circles of so-called “radical scenes” than anything of consequence. In these cases I would usually not waste my time writing a critique of a second-rate academic who writes for a generally obscure, though in the past sometimes interesting, journal. However, the case of Aufhebengate raises issues, both of the stakes and risks of insurgency and the tactics of writing, specifically writing on operations theory, that absolutely need to be addressed; and, on a separate note, there is absolutely no such thing as calling out a collaborationist too often. But, before getting into the critiques of Drury, his betrayal and the numerous tactical and political problems involved in this controversy, it is probably important to first explain, for those that have not been a part of this discussion already, some of the events that have occurred and some of the players involved.


In January 2011 a small Greek radical group, TPTG, discovered that Dr John Drury, an editor with Aufheben, a supposedly militant left-communist journal, had been a part of a team of researchers that were publishing articles in police journals, and giving presentations at police conferences, centered on police crowd control tactics and possible ways that these can be improved through de-escalation and proto-counterinsurgency tactics. For obvious reasons, the group found this information to be disturbing, to say the least, and decided to contact people in England, where Aufheben is based, with an open letter discussing what they found and presenting some of this information. Many of us would think that the response should be relatively straight forward at this point, Drury should have been outed and prevented from coming into anarchist spaces, but then we would be mistaken. Rather than identify a clear case of collaboration as such, the “left-communist” milieu in England, specifically the rest of Aufheben and the admins at Libcom, began an increasingly absurd campaign to attempt to rationalize these actions, going as far as to censor discussion on Libcom to prevent the information from spreading. After receiving little response from others in England TPTG decided, along with the help of some others, to post the open letter, and accompanying information, onto the Libcom discussion forum. After the initial post was censored by Libcom another, more detailed, piece titled “ The Strange Case of Dr Johnny and Mr Drury” was posted on Libcom, and sent personally to some others active in the left-communist/anarchist scenes in England, setting off a firestorm of attempts to incriminate and discredit the authors of the piece and the claims that they were making. Through a series of confrontations, and a series of rewrites, this text became Cop-Out, which has now been republished and distributed by Little Black Cart.

The importance of Aufhebengate is not just that John Drury is a collaborator, or that there even needs to be another text espousing this position, which seems clear to many. Rather, in the process of this scandal becoming public, and widening in scope, a series of other, more fundamental, problems with the practices of some segments of the radical milieu have become clear. This is not a question of social drama or political affinity, rather, this incident comes to illustrate an almost complete inability on the part of some so-called “radicals” to understand the stakes and risks involved in insurgency, and a seeming inability to even think of themselves in this light, choosing, seemingly, to regress back into the roll of activists1. This points to an almost complete unwillingness to understand what we are in the midst of as warfare, as something that is immediate and tactical, and something in which tactical imperative trumps personal affinity and social nicety. We also cannot think this as a problem confined to the horrendous decaying corpse of British left-communism, these problems persist in the States as well2. The purpose of the discussion around this controversy is not just to write another critique for the sake of critique, but rather, it is to be able to discuss the failures that occurred, the reasons for some of these failures and illuminate ways beyond this seemingly irrational impasse.

In the text Cop-Out: The Significance of Aufhebengate, Sam FantoSamotnaf, departs from the point in this saga after the attempts by Libcom to censor the discussion of the collaborationist tendencies of someone that they consider a “friend”, and focuses largely on the resonance of these discussions and the illustrative role that they can play. On many levels the text is thorough, and engages with a series of important discussions linked to the overall situational framework that is being discussed. But, this winding discussion never becomes a coherent, linear, critique of Drury and his practices, largely existing as a series of vignettes about differing questions raised through the existence of Drury within academia and the failure of the politics of Aufheben and Libcom, with the controversy around Drury serving as the point of departure for divergent narratives and critiques. This structure creates a text that both reinforces, and at sometimes, undercuts its own narrative. In the non-linearity of the text, and in the ways that the narratives depart from a central point of reference, the narratives, at points, become disconnected from one another, while at the same time allowing the author to cover a lot more ground and approach the situation from a variety of angles. Of these vignettes some are much more well argued than others, some seem to cover old ground, such as a critique of Leninism, and some are structured around the attempt to speak about Drury’s internal motivations, deriving from a structural critique of academia and the positionality of the academic, which is not necessarily the relevant question here. But, at most other points, this text begins the process of moving beyond the recriminations and accusations, and into a critique that can actually point to the conditions that created this sort of collaboration, as well as ways beyond this impasse and recurring problem. In the structure of the text itself the author avoids the attempt to write a linear critique focused on Drury himself, which would be a useless, though tempting, endeavor. This is not to say that a thorough critique could not be written about Drury and his collaboration with policing, but this would almost be too easy, and would completely miss the point3. In centering a critique on Drury one would fail to set the stage to move beyond Aufhebengate and point to the parameters and shape of an insurgent tactical discourse, which can only exist as the inverse of Drury’s work. At its best Cop-Out accomplishes this through some well placed, well aimed, critique, while at its worst, there is a tendency within the text to collapse the argument into interpersonal irrelevancies, at least irrelevant for those outside of England, and minute theoretical criticisms. However, it is this structure of the text, for as inconsistent as it is at points, that can allow for these shortcomings, while at the same time highlighting the importance of the underlying critique.

The relevant question here is not about Drury’s motivations, or about his class position or something like this; rather the primary question raised here must center on positioning Drury’s work in reference to various dynamics of conflict in order to build a critique that can begin to identify a practice and discourse of radical intervention and tactical analysis that can avoid being of use to the “enemy”, and specifically avoids intentionally aiding the “enemy”. The fault in Drury’s work is not that he decided to write about police operations and operational theory, this is a needed discourse in the midst of insurgency. The absolute, total, failure of Drury’s work lies in failing to situate this work tactically in itself, as something that has effects in a material terrain of struggle. Central to the discussion around Drury’s collaboration is the question of the positionality of the writer and the act of writing, and publishing in itself, which becomes specifically important in the attempt to write on operational theory and tactics analysis, which if not done intentionally, with a direct political and tactical objective, can come to betray its own intent easily. In the most powerful points in the text this discourse rises to prominence, critiquing Drury’s collaboration and pointing to the discursive possibility of a discourse on the immediate dynamics of conflict that situates itself tactically, as an uncompromising site of struggle in itself, while also attempting to amplify the dynamics of that conflict. Throughout this text, and this review of this text, the focus is placed on this question of the positionality of the writer, specifically the tactics analyst, and the role, and possible pitfalls, of this discourse. As such, we will be working around some of the more interpersonal content and conceptual critiques of “left-communism” that appears in the text, and much of the controversy around the defense of Drury by Libcom and Aufheben4, while focusing on the aspects of the text relevant to the opening up of a space for a secure, intentional, insurgent discourse on tactics and operations. It is only by highlighting, and focusing on, the deficiencies in Drury’s writing practice and conceptual categories that we can move beyond the question of whether Libcom and Aufheben are supporting collaboration (they are) and into a discourse that can point our way to developing a more coherent, secure, intentional practice of insurgent tactical analysis and operations theory.

As such, we will be focusing here on two primary elements of the critique deployed in Cop-Out that are relevant to the attempt to develop an insurgent tactical discourse, the critique of Drury’s work on a conceptual level and the critique of the writing and publishing practice involved in this scandal. The background of Drury’s work goes back to research that he carried out on crowd psychology, as a faculty member at Sussex, with a team of researchers led by Clifford Stott, a well known British crowd analyst and police consultant. This research led to a series of papers published in Jane’s Police Review, among other journals, primary among these is a text titled Chaos Theory5, as well as presentations at police conferences and invitations to train police intervention teams to decelerate conflict at demonstrations. Their research focuses on two aspects of current police tactics, the theoretical basis in crowd psychology and the tactics that derive from this, with a specific focus on British police, and particularly the often-used tactic of kettling6. The primary claim in their literature is that police tactics, as they exist today, are based in a flawed concept of the crowd as unitary and dangerous, and therefore a body that must be dealt with antagonistically. Rather, Stott and Drury argue that crowds really have a series of factions within them, some more confrontational than others, and these factions of the crowd can be identified through the use of a police liaison team, which infiltrates the crowd in full uniform and attempts to identify the non-reconcilable elements within the crowd, then develops a strategy to contain and eliminate these elements while reducing confrontation with the remainder of the crowd. The goal of this operational set is to attempt to build trust within a crowd, segment off elements of the crowd that may erode this trust, and begin to foster an environment in which the crowd begins to police itself.

Though Drury’s defenders attempt to pass this off as a more or less paternalistic attempt to engage in a liberal mythology of policing as potentially nonconfrontational, this attempt points to the inadequacies latent in much of radical tactics discourse, specifically when addressing questions of police and policing, which tend to be viewed as unitary conceptual objects framed through the inscription of qualitative indictments, such as police brutality and police racism. This language of nonconfrontational policing, or policing that does not attempt to confront inert and harmless elements, directly mimics the language that many liberals use when attempting to defend community policing or counterinsurgency. This defense derives from the language in Drury’s work itself, which directly mirrors the language of counterinsurgency doctrine, specifically in Chaos Theory. To understand the relevance of this linguistic affinity it is necessary to understand the role that increased projection of force and the deceleration of conflict play in policing logistics. First, I should specify, all policing is an attempt to operate a certain sort of counterinsurgency; all policing is the attempt to operate a logistics of force in the attempt to impossibly define particular moments, and as such, only functions to the degree that it operates across the entirety of time and space, in all moments, as occupation. Here, though, the term counterinsurgency will be used in reference, specifically, to modern forms of counterinsurgency doctrine developed in the early 2000s within the US military, primarily through the work of David Petraeus, and its influences in the post-World War II world. Rather than an institutional reading of policing, which requires us to obscure actual police operations in the attempt to portray police as a legible conceptual object, policing only functions to the degree that it is deployed as a logistics of force in time and space, and therefore, must be analyzed through the lens of warfare, or a direct, immediate, material dynamic of conflict in time and space7. In thinking the police through the lens of more or less brutality we reduce policing to an ethical question, which of course has to assume a policing that can be ethical. As such, the problem, at the minimum, in Drury’s work here, and its attempted rationalization, is not that Drury may have been acting in a paternalistic way, but, rather, in engaging in the discourse of more or less brutal policing, his analysis necessarily departs from a framework based in the continued existence of, and therefore non-rupture, of police logistics, reducing police operations to an ethical question of more or less brutal police operations.

As we see in insurgencies, and counterinsurgency literature, there is always this discourse of the speed and multiplication of conflict in time and space. This discourse departs from a series of sources, primary among these are Clausewitz and Mao, but also military theorists like Galula and Petraeus. In On War8 Clausewitz directly positions warfare within time and space, as something that occurs, and therefore, as something that is completely uncertain. When we think the terrain of a demonstration, riot or armed confrontation, we are not just thinking the physical space or the numerical collision of magnitudes of force; rather this entails thinking these elements, but also the actual actions that occurred, to the degree that these can be mapped, the movements of force through space and the dynamics of collision itself. As such, the discussion of terrain has to not only center on physical space, in the sense of mapping, but also the ways in which this terrain is constructed through the dynamics of antagonistic actions in conflict and the effects of these actions. Tactical terrain, at this point, only becomes relevant to the degree that there is actual conflict in space, and there is necessarily a certain concentration of conflict in all space in all moments, and marks a point of unpredictable uncertainty, that becomes more so to the degree that the terrain becomes a site of concentrated conflict. This conflictual terrain becomes difficult to predict movement through, requiring higher concentrations of force and limiting projection. This is what we see often in street conflicts in the US, where the police tend to move in large groups, using heavy concentrations of force, while attempting to limit the amount of space that they have to cover.

There are two elements here that are of primary importance when thinking of Drury’s work in relation to insurgency and policing, the speed of conflict and the projection of policing. As Mao9 and Galula10 argue, insurgent conflict can be mobilized at any point to the degree that insurgents can maintain the ability to move, and can do so invisibly. This generates an absolute multiplication of the terrain of conflict, in the sense that, all of a sudden, the occupiers have to begin to take a defensive posture in all movement through all space; uncertainty generates a terrain of almost total potential conflict. As such, the primary task of occupiers is to both segment off movement through space, through policing, while also projecting their operational capacity into space11, through the use of informants, surveillance and “self-policing”. In Iraq, the first large-scale counterinsurgency operation of the 2000s, this involved a series of attempts; primary among these was the establishment of a network of sympathizers who received benefits for collaboration, the identification of irreconcilable elements, and the separation of these elements from the space being secured. This same mentality also appears in post-1968 negotiated management police tactics utilized in the US, aptly described by Kristian Williams in Our Enemies in Blue12. In negotiated management operations police attempt to identify sympathetic elements and begin to work directly with these elements, allowing them space to take action if the terms are negotiated directly with the police, while repressing elements that refuse to collaborate. We saw this play itself out during Occupy, where police collaborators in many cities were giving the police information on possible actions, without anyone else being aware of their activities, in exchange for the ability to “prevent repression’, which of course came anyway; in Pittsburgh we learned that a person named Carmen Elliot was giving information to the police about anarchists in order to guarantee that he would be able to have a march for universal healthcare, information that was then used to brutally repress anarchist actions throughout the winter of 2011 and into the summer of 2012.

Counterinsurgency is based on attempting to limit the speed of conflict while maximizing the projection of policing through space. In attempting to police space, police logistics have to function in all time and space, but this quickly collides with a dual impossibility13. The first, and primary, of these impossibilities is purely numerical; there are not ever enough police to cover terrain completely. Take a city like New York, which has tens of thousands of police; this number is not nearly enough to actually cover all space simultaneously. As such, police logistics are largely based on the attempt to project throughout space. This, historically, has been achieved through the combination of four different technologies in modern police operations; transportation, communications, weapons and surveillance. Through the use of the combustion engine police were all of a sudden able to move through space quickly, and disperse across space widely. This ability to project the body through space at speed was amplified through the addition of the prosthetic weapon, allowing the force of the police to project outside of the reach of the arm to, with the advent of the conoidal bullet and the bullet cartridge, project force almost directly correlated to line of sight. Police dispersal became organized through the addition of radios in patrol vehicles, allowing police to disperse further while also coordinating response autonomous from dispatch, making response quicker and more forceful. Finally, with the addition of surveillance, and by surveillance I mean signals intelligence, human intelligence and visual surveillance, the vision of the police is able to increase and become more and more comprehensive, being limited primarily by the capacity to process information, rather than the ability to collect it. But, even at this point, policing still is unable to cover all space at all moments, necessarily leaving gaps in coverage, gaps which are amplified to the degree that the terrain is increasingly resistant to police movement and operations. In this attempt to project through space policing necessarily generates conflict; it is comprised of a series of more or less coordinated actions that occur in time and space, and thus have effects which change the terrain of operation. As such, primary to police tactical operations is the attempt to maximize projection while limiting conflict, which generates increasingly resistant spaces. We can see this interaction in every riot, and even on the streets of most major cities on a constant basis; the movements of police generate conflict, this conflict generates a more resistant terrain, forcing the police to concentrate force, in the form of saturation policing and SWAT for example, which has the potential to generate more conflict and so on.

The textbook example of this occurred in Mosul, after the invasion of Iraq, where David Petraeus was in charge of operations for the 101st Airborne14. At the beginning of the operations troops walked around in a non-defensive posture, attempting to identify reconcilable elements to support. But, the mere presence of troops caused friction, which eventually ended in a demonstration where Iraqi police shot 18 demonstrators, setting off a spiral of conflict. As conflict became apparent, and attacks on American troops began, troops had to move into a defensive posture, approaching every street as a possible site of conflict. This not only largely ended the attempt to find collaborators, but began to generate increased tension as house raids increased and people were stopped and searched at the checkpoints that began to sprout all over the town. This trajectory of conflict resulted in the attempt to separate insurgents from the “populace”15 through the construction of a wall around the town. A similar trajectory of events occurred during David Galula’s first experiments in counterinsurgency during the French attempt to suppress the uprising in Algeria; an operation that began by building schools quickly turned into an apprehension, information gathering and torture program.

This tendency for counterinsurgency operations to generate overwhelming security saturations and armed occupation is somehow forgotten in the assumption of the maintenance of policing within Drury’s work and the defense of this work by his sympathizers. The state is an impossible attempt to make moments defined, and thus inert, to generate peace, which only occur to the degree that all conflict, and thus all action ends. The suggestions given by the Stott/Drury team are specifically centered around the deceleration of action, the containing of conflict and the prevention of antagonistic elements from having any escalatory presence in a terrain of conflict. On this level, we can say that not only does Drury’s work assume the perpetuation of the police, we can also say that the entire framework of de-escalation, whether being written by police sympathizers or pacifists, is necessary to the attempt to perpetuate the functioning of the police. In assuming the perpetuation of policing, even if this perpetuation is meant to occur through a more humanistic lens, there is always a primary imperative to maintain police operational capacity in a space. Somehow, this attempt to generate a more gentle form of crowd control is separated by the hierarchy of force that this attempt exists within. Drury’s work exists completely within an attempt to amplify the projection of the police into conflictual terrain, an odd attempt for someone that supposedly exists to antagonize conflict, through both the gathering of intelligence by encouraging the police to be in direct proximity to actions, while also suggesting ways to eliminate antagonistic influences within conflictual terrains. But, the net result of this attempt is not only to provide the police insight into ways that projection can be increased, but also ways in which conflict can be de-escalated, by deploying a low-level of force at the beginning of this hierarchy of security and force.

If we follow Clausewitz and Schmitt on this point, all conflict involves an immediate and material differentiation of friends and enemies, and in assisting the police in the attempt to make police operations more effective and efficient16, Drury has made it clear what side of this antagonistic chasm he has decided to exist within. But this should come as no surprise, the very perspective of his work with the Stott team betrays this affinity for police operations through the very perspective through which his texts are written, from a cop’s-eye view, both on the level of the categories used and the spatial/visual perspective of the analysis itself. These texts are purported to be texts on police crowd control, and they are in a certain sense, they are written from the perspective of the police. If one reads Chaos Theory, the most infamous of the Drury texts, not only will one find that the language mimics the language one finds in police journals, which is not problematic in itself necessarily, but also does this through a mimicking of the categories of analysis that the police use, specifically the use of the anonymous unitary crowd. Now, there is a minor nuance added into this concept of crowd psychology, unlike in Canetti, where one is able to speak about factions within a crowd, but we have to be careful in thinking through these categories and understand that the only division between the reconcilable elements of a crowd and the irreconcilable elements in the crowd is the posture that certain particular people may take toward the police. As such, Drury’s work begins to construct a paradox; simultaneously obscuring the actual dynamics of tactical terrain through the unitary definition of the “crowd”, while at the same time operating within a framework structured around the immediate identification of friends and enemies in conflict, then assuming the operations of the police within this immediacy, betraying a sense in which the police are the sole point of reference in Drury’s analysis. This is an important clarification, as we can see, in this characterization of the crowd, as well as the perspective of the pieces, these texts operate only to the degree that police and policing are the sole reference point and point of departure.

Ironically, this discourse on the tactics of the police completely obscures actual tactics. If we follow Clausewitz17 here, tactics are the immediate and material dynamics of conflict in time and space, and therefore, tactics are unable to be spoken about in a unitary way. In this sense there are a series of aspects of Stott/Drury’s work that become specifically absurd, including but not limited to the attempt to project tactics from one space, and one series of dynamics, into a completely different situation; in this specific case attempting to project police tactics used against soccer fas in Portugal into British G20 police tactical analysis. The tendency in this work to project one set of operations, in one time and space, into another terrain indicates the development of modeling, or an approach to tactical analysis in which one essentializes tactical dynamics within set models and then attempts to impose models in other times and spaces. This is not just to point to a problem in conceptual framework, this sort of imposition of model is fundamental to police tactics and the deployments of police operations into space. Policing functions to the degree that two aspects of operations are in place, content and logistics. The content of policing is simply the aesthetic content of the state transferred into operational plans. We can see this before any trade summit demonstration, the police plan operations long before anyone is even on the ground, based on past actions and their analysis of past actions, the demands of the security apparatus on a national level and localized objectives. This also occurs through crimeostats and other forms of predictive policing, where arrest numbers begin to dictate patrol patterns and force allocation in space. But, outside of the operations of these concepts, or the attempted operation of these concepts, they mean absolutely nothing. The second aspect of this operational modeling is always the actual operation itself, which is nothing other than the mobilization of a logistics of force to attempt to define moments. In the case of Drury, his work begins to develop a framework through which policing operational models could be understood but, this only matters to the degree that these models are imposed on space, or that these models are operated through actual policing, which they have, and that this operational theory only speaks in reductionistic modeling, rather than actual tactical dynamics.

To construct the “crowd” as a conceptual object that theory can be built around implies that the “crowd” is an inert object that is predictable, definable and policable, and completely ignores the fundamental aspect of tactical analysis, at least in an insurgent operations theory, the particular dynamics of action in time and space, of which nothing essential or general can be said about. This particularity can never be made sense of in any total way. As Clausewitz, and later Schmitt, argue the particularity of actions are a dynamic that exist completely outside of theory; if all concepts are comparative, and moments are particular, meaning that they have never occurred before and will never occur again, then there is a necessary gap between concepts and moments. This infinite distance marks the very possibility of insurgency and the impossibility of actual policing, the impossibility of defining moments; but I guess it is pretty hard to get grants from police based organizations to do research around this premise. Drury’s work is suspect here, not only because of the form of publication and the uses of the work, but also because of the perspective of the texts, which are all written from behind the police and through the lens o the definable, predictable “crowd” as inert object. By “behind the police” I do not merely mean that the pieces have a politics that is framed in order to support the police, this is clear in the venues of publication, but also that the texts are literally written from behind police lines, from a perspective which is fundamentally grounded in a certain state-vision18, a perspective of oversight that mediates all action through the point of reference of the police, policing, and the continued logistical operation of policing. This contrasts, dramatically, from an insurgent’s-eye view, or a view from the other side of the police line, from a positionality of conflict and the amplification of conflict, and from a positionality grounded in the logistical rupture of policing, which must exist contrary to the concept of the unitary inert “crowd”, or any assumptions of mass at all19. In this form of operational theory20, one departs from the immediacy of conflict, the crisis presented by action, and the impossibility of policing projecting across the entirety of time and space and, rather than the attempt to foster de-escalation in Drury’s work, the attempt is to escalate, amplify crisis and multiply the terrains of conflict. This view can be seen in Che’s war journals, or Guillen’s Philosophy of the Urban Guerilla, in which the immediacy of struggle and the political intention is clear, and the posture toward policing is undeniable. The cop’s-eye view within Drury’s work is a result of a paradox within the claims in the text, in which the analysis of “crowds” is remarkably simplistic, but the insights into police tactics is relatively astute, almost by accident seemingly. If we should regard Drury’s work as relevant at all, it may be that these pieces are the theoretical backing of what police in England will begin to do in crowd control scenarios. This is an important point; even though it is clear that Drury is a collaborator, that does not make his work completely irrelevant, in operational theory research and tactical analysis material often comes from the “other side”. As Deleuze and Guattari claim, warfare always exists outside of the state apparatus, and is appropriated by the state apparatus, but always at the risk of the logistical capacity of the state to continue to function21; the trick is to figure out what material can be extracted and appropriated to more effectively understand what we are facing in conflict, and ways that this can be combated. We should view Drury’s work from this point forward as an inside view into the operational frameworks utilized by certain police, and through the lens that these pieces were obviously written, as a police sympathizer writing about the police.

Drury’s defenders attempt to portray this intentional collaboration22 through a paradoxical understanding of academia, one which the author does a great job of pointing out. On the one hand his defenders, as Cop-Out discusses, are claiming that his work is an attempt to make policing less brutal, but that would require that police read his work and that it is relevant. But, on the other hand, they also dismiss this work as pointless academia that no one pays attention to, which is both a contradiction with the initial claim, and, if he is being invited to police conferences, obviously not the case. The author addresses this in a long discussion about the role of academics within the university, the absurdity of the claim of academic neutrality and the role of academics in producing “knowledge” for the state, all of which are apt critiques. But, in much of the language about the class position of the academic a series of important dynamics involved in this story are obscured, specifically the positionality of the university as mode of production, and therefore, the position of the academic as potential saboteur. While the author is correct to note that academia is still wage labor, and therefore not a uniquely radical site of possible engagement with modes of production, the discussion about class position,which is constructed in order to be able to support the argument that Drury is a bourgeois academic, is problematic. If we follow Marx’s argument in Capital23 the “working class” are those with proximity to, and control over the operation of, the means of production, in this case the university functions as a primary site of production in the late-capitalist economy, a site in which degrees, research and credentials are produced. Academia, if nothing else, is a means of production that, like all others, is operated through labor, in this case largely underpaid adjunct and graduate student labor, and can, through the assertion of this control over the means of production, also serve as a site of resistance. This is not to engage in some semantic game over the meaning of “workers”, rather, this is fundamentally important to understand in order to grasp the non-neutrality of academia, and thus the scale of Drury’s betrayal. It is not that we can think academia as a disinterested site in which discursive possibilities open up. Rather, the university is a means of production, and much of its dynamics correspond to the economic and political imperative of funders. Like the non-profit industrial complex, the university functions on grant funding, tuition and public funds, and as such, has increasingly become, especially in the age of austerity, framed around a quantity of production; the production of prominence, the production of degrees, the production of “useful” research, the production of journal papers and so on. It is not that Drury can claim neutrality in the process of doing this sort of work, specifically when grant funding is involved. Rather, like in all moments, the university involves conflict and a dynamic of conflict, and is largely formed through this; the only question is what one’s positionality in relation to that conflict is, whether one attempts to perpetuate this means of production, or whether one attempts to sabotage it. In choosing to sell out his politics in favor of his academic position, Drury chose a side.

It is not that Drury is writing disinterested articles for disinterested journals, or that one can even claim that he was just incredibly oblivious to what purpose his work served. It is difficult to be published in academic journals, it is difficult to get grant funding and end up on a research team with any prominence, and the Stott team is prominent; these require intentional attempts on the part of an academic, the signing of contracts and the framing of grant proposals, none of these are passive processes. Drury, clearly, is attempting to hide behind arguments of “academic neutrality”, while these works are being targeted toward certain audiences, cops, and are actual writings with actual effects. The question of the university is never a question of the university as-such, if it were then Drury is just a symptom, someone doing a job. Rather, the question of the university, and the academic within the university, must center on the particular work of the particular academic and the tactical dynamics generated by a university which functions as a mode of production, both of skilled workers and research, as well as a site shaped by the inflows of capital generated by political and economic imperative, and funneled to those within the university that further this interest. Drury is able to maintain his position within the university, and even gain a modest level of prominence, go on research trips and publish in “respected” journals to the degree that he is not only not disruptive to the university as mode of production, but also to the degree that his work advances the operations of funders and readers, in this case the police.

This raises a fundamental question about writing itself, and the relationship of writing to our political investments. As Sorel24 argues, the act of discursive production, in his case the production of the myth of the general strike, is still an action, and thus something that generates an immediate and material effect, as with all other actions. As such, we cannot remove the discussion of writing, in this case academic writing, from the question of the tactical effects of writing; writing is still immediate and material. In the case of Drury this effect becomes amplified in two ways. Firstly, the writing he is doing has, and had, potentially negative effects on the dynamics of insurgency, and the relationship of insurgency to policing. At a time where the police in England have been attempting to contain a rising tide of discontent that is increasingly pouring onto the streets, in the form of massive riots and direct actions, the effect of writing about these dynamics must be done with a specific sort of care. As something that is material, and something that has effects, we have to acknowledge that writing has the potential to dramatically alter the tactical terrain that we are engaging in as insurgents. Therefore, the act of writing, and specifically the act of the distribution of writing, has to take the dynamics of the terrain into account. Secondly, this sort of writing, writing about police operations, carries with it a specific sort of risk, the risk of providing a potential tactical insight to the “enemy”. All conflict functions along the lines of differentiation and schism, a fundamental material dynamic of antagonism between bodies and identities, in this case between “friends” and “enemies”, with both sides defining the dynamic between the two in conflict itself. These are not conceptual designations, or identity in the sense of the transcendental identities posited by identity politics, but merely function as a positionality in and toward conflict, a posture in struggle. These investments become all the more acute when the writing is being carried out in an intentional attempt to logistically disrupt the operations of those that one considers the enemy. This should be simple, but then again I think security culture should be simple, and it seems to be misunderstood constantly; one should not give relevant information to the “enemy”. On both counts Drury failed horribly, not only was this work directly intended to aid the “enemy”, but the venues of publication were directly chosen for this purpose, let alone the even more egregious participation in a training conference for the police on the methods Drury’s team developed. It is not that we can ever take solace in just assuming that Drury is tactically incompetent, naïve and completely devoid of any sort of insurgent discipline; rather, these works were intentionally published in these venues and written for a specific purpose, which necessitates a form of intentionality, and could never be the result of oversight. Beyond this point, the motivations for doing so are irrelevant, all that matters is that Drury chose a side, and it is not our side.

This complete and utter failure on Drury’s part is not just borne from a poor framework of analysis that completely obscures tactics and operates from a cop’s-eye perspective, it is not just about a failure to understand the place of the academic within the means of production or about publication choices, which are dubious at best. Rather, what Drury, and his defenders, seem to fail to understand is that, in the attempt to write about police operations and tactical dynamics, it is specifically necessary to take into account the underlying material struggle that lies at the center of this work, and how, as a material struggle, this necessarily implies a delineation between friends and enemies in the immediacy of that struggle. This involves being extra sensitive to writing, and its resonances, and the need to think this action as one would think through the tactical implications of any other action. When writing about operations theory and doing tactical analysis it is essential to take both security and political trajectory into account. In other words, we have to assume that they are going to read our shit25. The point is to, therefore, maximize the antagonistic effect of the writing while limiting the ability of the enemy to derive beneficial insights from the work; this means being sensitive to how something is written, what information is being given out, what perspective and vision the piece is written from and what venue the work will appear. When writing about operational theory or tactics analysis , I will argue that it is alright to write about a series of things including the projection of possible police security operations in upcoming terrains of conflict from an analytic, and not prescriptive, perspective, theoretical pieces about “policing”, the development of weapons and the relationship of attempted police logistical coherence and terrains of conflict, historical pieces tracing the trajectory of the development of police tactics, analysis of actions that have already occurred and especially analyses of local tactical terrains26, of course all with an extreme eye toward security and possible readership. Notice how I will never veer into prescriptive discussions of possible actions one could take, and this is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there are legal and tactical implications of suggestive tactical writing that I am not comfortable with, there are potential legal risks and telegraphing actions is just bad tactics; don’t do their intelligence work for them. Secondly, it is completely impossible to project the effects of, and terrain of, antagonistic actions which, to the degree that they are effective, serve to do nothing but generate contingency and disrupt police logistics. Specifically one (ahem…John Drury) does not write pieces for academic journals read largely by police on how police can be more effective in decelerating and containing conflict.

It is important, when writing about operational theory, to write this from a particular perspective and posture toward conflict, emphasizing certain elements of the text, in a blatant attempt to antagonize conflict and amplify crisis. This sort of writing, in both tone and content, makes its political form clear; the analysis always comes from facing the police, from a clear position on the question of friends and enemies. This is not a call for rhetorical excess, we all know that there has been way to much of this in anarchist writing as of late, merely a subtle undercurrent in the perspective of analysis which shapes the tone, content and venue through which one writes. If we were to accept Drury/Aufheben/Libcom’s arguments we would, literally, have to believe that during the day John Drury is a harmless academic, doing nothing more serious than collaborating in the formation of future police strategy, while at night he magically transforms into a generally militant left-communist who writes for a far-left wing political journal, which has been good at times. As the author of Cop-Out argued in a previous intervention into this scandal27, Jekyll and Hyde indeed.

Following the author, and his attribution of similar sentiments to TPTG, there does need to be a space for an insurgent discourse on operational theory and police operations, but it has to be done in the completely inverse way from the model presented by Drury, both on the level of conceptual framework and political investments. This work can be touchy, and has to be written and distributed with care, both for the security of the writers and analysts themselves, but also to prevent this analysis from being useful to the “enemy”, the police, state functionaries and their various lackeys. Most importantly, it is important to carry on this sort of work within the immediacy of struggle and the materiality of conflict, outside of this context all we are doing is pursuing an intellectual fascination. As such, this writing has to be intentional, targeted, positioned within the dynamics of struggle that we experience and politically uncompromising. This becomes much easier within an environment of mutual support and discursive engagement, and this discourse is absolutely necessary. Over are the days in which we can pretend that we can fight and “win”, for whatever that means, simply on the strength of convictions and feelings of self-righteousness, gone are the days where we rush from one campaign and action to another simply for reasons founded in political passion. An insurgent discourse on operational theory is useless outside of a materially intentional struggle, and the dynamics of that sort of concentrated conflict are cold, dispassionate and tactical. Our only relevance, as strategists and operational theorists, is to engage in a more or less effective discourse on the materiality of struggle and the dynamics of this conflict within immediate moments, if we obscure this then, at worst, we are writing from a perspective that ignores conflict, and at best, we are engaging in a discourse which in itself is nothing but academic nicety. To engage in material struggle, insurgency itself, means grounding analysis in the struggle itself, something that is absolutely necessary if we are going to leave the role of activist irrelevance and engage in insurgency. To transcend the politics of complaint and enter into material struggle requires nothing short of this.

Works Cited

Schmitt, Carl, trans. Kennedy, Ellen (1988). Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. MIT Press, Cambridge

Sorel, Georges, trans. Hulme, TE and Roth, J (2004). Reflections on Violence. Dover Publications, Mineola

Clausewitz, Carl von, trans. Unknown (1968). On War. Penguin Classics, London

Williams, Kristian (2007). Our Enemies in Blue. South End Press. Boston

Galula, David (1964). Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. Praeger Security International, London

Kaplan, Fred (2013). The Insurgents: David Petraues and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. Simon and Schuster, New York

Weizman, Eyal (2007). Hollowland. Verso Press. London

Marx, Karl, trans. Fowkes, Ben (1976). Capital: Volume 1. Vintage Books. New York

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, trans. Massumi, Brian (1986). Nomadology and the War Machine. Semiotext(e). New York

Tse-Tung, Mao, trans. Griffith, Samuel (1961). Guerrilla Warfare. Praeger Publishers. New York

Scott, James (1999). Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. New Haven

FantoSamotnaf, Sam (2011). The Strange Case of Dr Johnny and Mr Drury. <>. <Accessed on 5/2/2013>

Stott, Clifford, Drury, John, et al (2009). Chaos Theory. Jane’s Police Review. 117. 6026

1Those that carry out actions for the sake of acting, in a calculation separated from the tactical effectiveness of engagement on any given terrain. Activist mentalities and approaches to action are primarily based in acting from a position of passion and conceptual philosophical imperative, rather than from a point of departure in the immediacy of tactical dynamics.

2Some so-called anarchists in Pittsburgh still support Chris Boetie, who snitched people out to a federal grand jury in Washington DC, simply because he is a “friend” and a generally “good person”.

3Critique is useless in itself, outside of some attempt to hierarchically rank thought based in some problematic concept of “truth-value”; rather, it can only be useful to the degree that it can be appropriated in effective ways within a discourse or conflictual dynamic.

4It is sufficient, at this point in the controversy, to just characterize the actions of Libcom and Aufheben as sympathizing with collaborators.

5Stott, Drury, et al, 2009; The article itself has been pulled from the Jane’s Police Review website ( in the last couple months, but links to the article can still be found online.

6Kettling, for those that are not familiar, is a strategy in which the police attempt to demobilize and contain a crowd by creating a wide perimeter around the crowd, and slowly closing it in to prevent the crowd from moving. The theory is that, through the deceleration of action and conflict, the energy of the crowd will be disrupted.

7Schmitt, 1985; In On The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy Schmitt argues that the plane of engagement within the formal limits of the state is the attempt to functionally end conflict through the political process, which always maintains a conceptual unity that is materially impossible. Therefore, we have to create a separation between the rationalism of the conceptual unity of the political process and the attempt to actually operate the declarations of politicians, laws, as operational across time and space through policing, which is a material, immediate and particular dynamic, thus irrational. Note, irrationality is not being used in a pejorative way in this argument, and is only used terminologically to mark the space outside of the conceptual unity of the state, which can never function materially.

8Clausewitz, 1968

9Mao, 1961

10Galula, 1964

11This is the importance of checkpoints, which serve as ways to limit and control movement through space while also providing a logistical base to launch further incursions into space. We can see the importance checkpoints play in the Syrian uprising, where regime troops can only maintain control over some roads, and only through the use of checkpoints, which become frequent targets for attack.

12Williams, 2007

13Clausewitz, 1968

14Kaplan, 2013

15Of course within the assumption that “insurgents” and the “populace” were different.

16The term “attempt to” is the operative term here; I am not convinced, contrary to the author, that counterinsurgency tactics are overwhelmingly effective, or present much of a threat to us in conflict, to the degree that we move away from the seemingly pathological attachment many anarchists have to mass actions and concentrated numbers. As occupiers engage in counterinsurgency their footprint has to widen, and force has to be concentrated, limiting projection. There are two important aspects of this. First, it highlights the importance of asymmetric conflict in increasing uncertainty in terrain, preventing the movement of police, or at least forcing them to concentrate numbers in that movement. Secondly, counterinsurgency is remarkably fragile, a single attack, a single contingency, and the entire force posture has to shift into a defensive posture, which creates distance between the police and the terrain, in the sense that police operations become separated from the dynamics of terrain in their attempt to preserve their own functioning as a primary objective.

17Clausewitz, 1968

18Scott, 1999

19In this sense, mass organizing can be a tactic, but the weaknesses of this tactic, on the streets, must be recognized. In the concentration of force one also limits the dispersal of force through space, making one legible and easily containable. Anyone that has followed the tactical trajectory of IMF demonstrations in DC between 2005 and 2011 can see both the problems of concentrated numbers and the advantages of dispersal, especially when coupled with disinformation and communications.

20Tactics theory is impossible if one cannot speak of the particularity of the dynamics of moments, and strategic thought obscures the particularity of material action. Therefore, following the Operational Theory Research Institute, an IDF based think tank, there is only the possibility of operations theory, or an analysis of action that departs from the immediacy of action, while consequently acknowledging that it can never speak of this, and focusing, as a result, on the external effects of, and interactions between action within a tactical terrain.

21Deleuze and Guattari, 1986

22From experience, it is completely impossible to have a piece in an academic journal and not know about it; there are copyright waivers that have to be signed by each author, peer-review processes and editorial feedback that all have to be dealt with by each author on a piece. Unless Drury is signing contracts in his sleep, there is no way he did not know where these texts were being published.

23Marx, 1976; Volume 1, New Left Review version

24Sorel, 2004

25As Eyal Wiezman notes in Hollowland, the reason that the work that came out of the IDF’s Operational Training Research Institute is so interesting is that they attempted to understand space as a fluid dynamic of conflict, and to do so worked primarily through anarchist texts, situationist writing, Deleuze and Guattari and writing by Mao and Che.

26For example, analysis of the local police annual report, comparisons of police force saturation and arrest levels, patterns in the allocation of force, and even things like local political structures and so on.

27The Strange Case of Dr Johnny and Mr Drury

Žižek’s Gamble, and Ours



I have little patience for Žižek. To some he might be a critical provocateur, but he is really more of a philosophy-themed stand-up comic (whose verborrhea overflows into the writing of too many books). It is to be expected that the mainstream press, when they pick up on him, write silly things. It is also to be expected that more learned readers will respond with subtler interpretations. None of this really matters to most anarchists; it certainly matters very little to me. But, considering a recent piece of his and its repercussions, I was afforded an insight, a new way to say what some of us already know…


In a 2012 article in The Los Angeles Review of Books Adam Kotsko described Žižek’s interventions (at least the more visible ones such as the one I am about to discuss) as strategic overidentifications:

One of Žižek’s primary tactics for shifting the frame of reference is overidentification. This strategy grows out of his experience under the Communist regime in Yugoslavia. Observing his country’s political life, Žižek came to a paradoxical realization: the fact that no one “really” bought into the official socialist ideology was not an obstacle for the rulers — cynical distance was part of their strategy for maintaining control. In this situation, Žižek proposed, the best way to resist was to take the ruling ideology at its word, naïvely demanding that the leaders fulfill the promise of their ideals.

Kotsko recently invoked this overidentification strategy as a counter to the claim that Žižek is a fascist. This claim has surely surfaced many times (along with more predictable ones such as Stalinist, crypto-conservative, etc.), but it did so most recently in connection with a recent piece in The New Statesman (which Wikipedia describes as a center-left publication) about Margaret Thatcher. In the article, Žižek claims that the Left needs a Thatcher. That is, a Master:

…after the specialists (economic and military analysts, psychologists, meteorologists) propose their analysis, somebody must assume the simple and for that very reason most difficult act of transposing this complex multitude into a simple “Yes” or “No”. We shall attack, we continue to wait… This gesture, which can never be fully grounded in reasons, is that of a Master. It is for the experts to present the situation in its complexity, and it is for the Master to simplify it into a point of decision. The Master is needed especially in situations of deep crisis. The function of a Master is to enact an authentic division – a division between those who want to drag on within the old parameters and those who are aware of the necessary change. Such a division, not the opportunistic compromises, is the only path to true unity.

I won’t go into the argument as to why Thatcher was a great leader, a Master. I imagine it concerns you as little as it concerns me. But I will cite Žižek one more time and at some length, here concerning democracy and decision-making. Žižek has been discussing leftist objections to economic policies under Thatcher. He then adds:

The other aspect of Thatcher’s legacy targeted by her leftist critics was her “authoritarian” form of leadership, her lack of the sense for democratic coordination. Here, however, things are more complex than it may appear. The ongoing popular protests around Europe converge in a series of demands which, in their very spontaneity and obviousness, form a kind of “epistemological obstacle” to the proper confrontation with the ongoing crisis of our political system. These effectively read as a popularised version of Deleuzian politics: people know what they want, they are able to discover and formulate this, but only through their own continuous engagement and activity. So we need active participatory democracy, not just representative democracy with its electoral ritual which every four years interrupts the voters’ passivity; we need the self-organisation of the multitude, not a centralised Leninist Party with the Leader, et cetera. It is this myth of non-representative direct self-organisation which is the last trap, the deepest illusion that should fall, that is most difficult to renounce. Yes, there are in every revolutionary process ecstatic moments of group solidarity when thousands, hundreds of thousands, together occupy a public place, like on Tahrir square two years ago. Yes, there are moments of intense collective participation where local communities debate and decide, when people live in a kind of permanent emergency state, taking things into their own hands, with no Leader guiding them. But such states don’t last, and “tiredness” is here not a simple psychological fact, it is a category of social ontology. The large majority – me included – wants to be passive and rely on an efficient state apparatus to guarantee the smooth running of the entire social edifice, so that I can pursue my work in peace.

Obviously anarchists will object to what I have just cited. But we will do so in more than one way. Leftist, pro-democracy, pro-consensus anarchists will simply rehearse their arguments in favor of direct democracy and whatever our version is of “the self-organization of the multitude” (some may agree with Hardt and Negri enough not to require their own version). Those of us who are not leftists and do not fight for democracy, however, will have a different objection, and have perhaps more to gain than the leftists when we engage with an argument such as the one presented here by Žižek.

The self-appointed activist leaders of the Left gesture towards consensus and collectivities, but in more or less public meetings they decide just as the military master decides in Žižek’s example (which comes from Winston Churchill). On the other hand, though I hardly agree that “people know what they want, they are able to discover and formulate this,” the truly damaging effects of ignorance and self-deception happen when they are integrated into massive political units. This is why it is so vital for us to sever our anarchy from the political project of democracy. And we accept the risk of incoherence in the eyes of many when we express ourselves along these lines. Consider the apparent contradiction in our response to a view such as Žižek’s: with the leftists, we are against the Master, against her authority. But, though we are sometimes very excited about group solidarity, sometimes we are incredibly suspicious of it. Then we are with Žižek against “the myth of non-representative self-organization,”if that is identified with a generic faith in the virtues of the Mass, grassroots populism, or democracy.

But even in this partial agreement, are we really with Žižek? It is easy enough to call Žižek a fascist given the tone of his call for strong leadership and true unity. But it is also simplistic, and Kotsko is probably right: any piece as mainstream as this one is more about the critique it makes possible than the apparent position it defends. In any case, that is Žižek’s gamble. Or if not, it is at least his job, which, as he writes, he wants to pursue in peace.

Given that Žižek’s strategy combines the negativity of critique with a psychological tactic, it might also be called propaganda. I don’t write that to dismiss it, but to be clear. And I also know that I can only be clear in this way here because I have some sense of who will read me, and am addressing myself to them. I know I am not with Žižek because he does not speak for me, and there is nothing I would publish in The New Statesman instead… our tactic has to be different.



What is the anarchist gamble? If Žižek’s tactic is overidentification, ours is obviously non-identification. If the specific risk that Žižek runs is that his joking Stalinism, fascistic posturing, etc. becomes more than a routine, then our specific risk is that we do not differentiate our positions and practices sufficiently from what Kotsko calls “cynical distance.” Our position might be lost in irrelevance or incommunicability—even incoherence.

I can describe the difference we need to communicate easily enough. Reading through Žižek’s article, it is expected and transparent that what is under discussion are forms of government. Shall the government be strong and authoritarian?  Shall it be participatory and democratic? What is the right form, and what is the right path to that form? And so on. Žižek aptly suggests, at the end of the last bit I quoted, that most people want to be left in peace (he includes himself to avoid accusations of elitism). Indeed. But why call this passivity? Why determine that the fatigue most feel after too much participation in deliberation and meetings is a justification for the authority of a government that works on its own? The true anarchist response, it seems to me, is that such fatigue is a healthy reaction to meetings and expected or required participation of any sort. For someone who continues to assume the necessity of government, the experience of such fatigue points either to the need to offload decision-making onto a Decider, or to the need for More Hard Work, more self-sacrifice, and so on. But for those of us detached from such a necessity, fatigue is one of many symptoms indicating that we should be considering our lives on other terms. To whatever degree we can act on this idea and communicate it, we are differentiating ourselves from “cynical distance” without falling into the mania for activism and participation that always eventually reintegrates us into governmental forms.

From there, I can move to describe the anarchist position that emerges in response to Žižek as follows. First, the Right-Left continuum as it is usually discussed:

—Right: authoritarian traditions
—Left: participatory/popular traditions
Then, on a perpendicular axis, another continuum, from government to non-government: On one extreme we get a kind of absolute politics:
—State communism, fascism, whatever Žižek seems to want.
On the other extreme, we get anti-politics:
—Non-government: communism, anarchy.

Interestingly, the absolute politics extreme might be described as containing the most exaggerated hybrids of the Left and Right traditions. It would be the monstrous composite of the historical trajectories of the political tradition as such. The anti-political position begins when the historical content of the Left as well as the Right is abandoned. This is true in the realm of ideas as well as the realm of action.

How do we communicate our abandonment, our abandon? Let me repeat Žižek: “The ongoing popular protests around Europe converge in a series of demands which, in their very spontaneity and obviousness, form a kind of ‘epistemological obstacle’ to the proper confrontation with the ongoing crisis of our political system.” While I am not entirely sure what counts for him as a protest, what he considers to be a demand, and especially what he means by an epistemological obstacle in this context, I will simply note that abandoning the terrain of politics as we knew it must mean ceasing to be concerned with the “proper confrontation” with the crisis of politics (of states, of their economic systems, of their official cultural forms, etc.). For us, demands in the traditional sense are useless, and usually contradictory to our very ways of life. In practice this might mean one or more of the following: no demands, impossible demands, ridiculous demands, and vague, useless demands.[1] Indeed, any of these other sorts of demands or non-demands can and should form something like an “epistemological obstacle” from the point of view of the State and statist politics. The only confrontation we will participate in is one that the State (and States in waiting) will judge improper.

Whether any of us knows how to live out our position without succumbing to incoherence or irrelevance in the long term is another matter. That the position is currently weak is only an argument against it in terms of conventional politics. It is our gamble to exit those terms.

An afterthought:  provisionally, in terms of our current situation, it occurs to me that the only way to approach the mainstream press would not be to place propaganda there (be it of the traditional or clownish Žižekian sort), but simply to fill any space we can occupy with detourned text and images. Beyond that, supposing increasing autonomy and momentum, we can either aim to withdraw completely from the medium, or to neutralize it, doing whatever it takes to remove it completely from our sphere.

[1] Such as the ones from Tiananmen Square Agamben refers to in the final section of The Coming Community: “what was most striking about the demonstrations of the Chinese May was the relative absence of determinate contents in their demands.”

Notes on the Context and Positions of Hello

In its look, organization, and some of its concerns, the recently published pamphlet Hello could be a distant echo of the Call, which is now ten years old. From this we might surmise that there is an intention on the part of its author to update the Call, to modify its position, or at least to echo its rhetorical force and its anonymous spread. I do not think Hello can be reduced to a repetition of or response to the Call; but the connection allows for some context for Hello.


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One way to discern the positions at work in Hello would be to consider how it might be connected to the texts gathered in the 2011 collection Communization and its Discontents. I will not be the first to note that the Call, Tiqqun, and especially anyone moved or excited by reading them appear as the proximate enemy in the pieces in the first part of that collection, especially the prominently placed “What are we to do?” by Endnotes. There is probably but one text in the rest of the collection that presents any of the above-mentioned in a positive light. There, are, of course, details and debates as to how the various writers involved and invoked in the collection conceive communization, but, at a macro-level, the first lesson of the “communization debate” as framed here seems to boil down to grasping that it is Call/Tiqqun/their fans vs. everyone else. Once that distinction is made, the debate may proceed with due seriousness. The entire collection may perhaps be seen as a corrective that attempts to respond to enthusiasm for the Call and Tiqqun’s writings, as they gain increasing prominence in the US (and perhaps the Anglosphere generally).

Due to its family resemblance to the Call, Hello will be perceived as being on the “Tiqqun side” of the communization debate (considered in its macro form). Its writer may have taken this into account, since Hello will frustrate those who share the position elaborated most prominently by Endnotes in Communization and its Discontents.

Call and Hello both set out from an analysis of the situation: not the constructed situation, but what can be known in one’s everyday life. Though Hello does not use this term, it discusses the communicative (or usually non-communicative) situations of everyday life from the title on. Their skepticism is first of all a skepticism about communication and connections with others. Beginning from the situation, the Call advances to organization, to communes; Hello proposes, after its relentless questioning of all social and political life, including friendship, moralism, organization, and representation, what it calls “commitment to commitment.” This phrase seems to refer to a moment anterior to forming a position; it is something more on the order of a criterion concerning positions. That said, one can discern positions in Hello despite the lack of familiar jargon. And in these positions we might locate, not so much a new contribution to the “communization debate” as a strange response to or intervention into it.

First, Hello has an individualist/egoist streak that is illegible in terms of the positions set out in Communization and its Discontents as well as the Call. Hello evidences this in its concern with moralism as well as in its reiteration of the classic egoist’s troublemaking stance that one is free to leave a project at any time. One is reminded of the way Debord dismisses individualist anarchism out of hand in Society of the Spectacle, even though the individualist/egoist practice of joining and leaving groups more or less at will (announced as far back as Stirner) provides a glaring contrast with and problematization of the problems of all the groups and parties Debord criticizes in the long fourth chapter of his book, but also, pre-emptively, of the workers’ councils themselves, well before Théorie Communiste or anyone else pointed out that they retained the form of capitalist management, merely swapping out the managers.

Second, Hello also has an even more prominent nihilist position, evident first of all in its silence concerning organization and utter skepticism towards representation and all political forms, parliamentary or extraparliamentary. Not to speak of the business about everything and Everything! This nihilism appears somewhat more subtly in its “corrosive” skepticism about historical justifications and explanations (though Hello contradictorily indulges in some of that in first proposition and elsewhere): this includes the sorts of periodizations all marxists and most communists engage in. Conversely, what is more certain in Hello, namely, the communicative situation or its impossibility, their immediate surroundings and personal relations, will seem trivial for Endnotes and company. For Endnotes such evidences amount to “the self-affirmation of a self-identifying radical milieu.”[1] On the other hand, given the fact that it is so critical of everything from the individual’s comfort in belonging (to a couple, for example), to crews or groups, to subcultures and, yes, milieus, could one not say that Hello has absorbed this critique, and opted for a highly skeptical relation to the milieu rather than its infinitely more vague alternatives?

This last issue is perhaps the crux of the “debate” from the point of view of Hello. The pamphlet does seem to advocate some version of friendship and perhaps, as “commitment to commitment,” some version of adherence to the milieu (though it never uses this term positively). This as opposed to… the mysterious mass deployment of communizing measures by the soon-not-to-be proletariat. But it will be difficult to associate Hello entirely with Endnotes’ real or imagined antagonists, because it does not advocate sharing, withdrawal, or making communes in any way. Hello is openly anti-political, and there is nothing of what Endnotes refers to as “alternativism” in it. (“Alternativism” is defined as “practices which aim to establish liberated areas outside of capitalist domination.”)

For Endnotes, the Call falls into the trap of not naming capitalism in favor of “an ill-defined generic nobodaddy (capitalism, civilization, empire etc.) that is to be undone by —at the worst points of Call—the Authentic Ones who have forged ‘intense’ friendships, and who still really feel despite the badness of the world,” and not discussing a praxis at the level of the totality. The same criticism could be leveled at Hello, with its playful opposition to everything/Everything—but this leads to the oddest thing about it. It begins in agreement about the second point, deeply questioning friendship and communication, and then precariously reconstructs them at the end. This could be because more than capitalism is at stake. Could this be the third and most subtle position at work in Hello, an unstated but influential green or anti-civilization perspective?[2] From this point of view Hello might be suggesting that something greater than what any history or periodization could name is at stake. Perhaps for them nothing is comprehensible at the level of the totality; Everything is by definition ill-defined. (From this point of view one could even interpret the references to an Outside and especially the conclusion of Hello as mysticism.)

Hello is, in the realm of manifestos, minimalistic: it only calls out what its author says they have done, and greets others from that situation. Its apparent positions are ways to maneuver towards that greeting. Its attractiveness, its potential success, is that it requires less belief (and, incidentally, less study) than the positions of Endnotes and company to be entertained. But is the author totally skeptical about mass action, or do they just see what they are doing as so separate from such events that they prefer not to comment on them?[3] One might say the Hello position is one so skeptical that it is not disposed to talk about mass anything. It remains concerned with the communicative situation itself, and how we are bound or unbound in it (the entire matter might be described as a bifurcation between two uses of the prefix com-; one might instructively consult the respective etymologies of commune and commit).



[1] One wonders if all of the spite directed at such a milieu or milieus on their part has to do with 1) nostalgia, however well hidden or repressed, for the vanguard 2) resentment, however well hidden or repressed, about the non-dissolution of the focused radical acts of such milieus into a mass scale (“the level of the totality”).

[2] The title Communization and its Discontents echoes the well-known title given by James Strachey to his English translation of Freud’s pessimistic Civilization and its Discontents. The German title of the latter might more literally be rendered The Uneasiness in Culture. This uneasiness, Unbehagen, manifests sometimes as a guilty conscience, sometimes as inexplicable anxiety, and is, Freud proposes, something like the price one pays for belonging to Kultur, civilization. Well, Hello seems concerned precisely with that feeling of uneasiness, guilt, or anxiety; its anti-politics perhaps begins there, perhaps, in a refusal to carry on as though that feeling were not there.

[3] The same question could be asked of the non-connection between communization theory and communizing measures, at least according to the usual predictions on who might undertake the latter.

The Savage Fruit of Alienation

Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford, Verso (2011).

Architecture, for all its aspirations, is usually far too dated. Even for the untrained eye, it is easy to spot when most buildings were designed. And yet, after the luster of newness fades, architecture still casts its long shadow on the future. It is on each side of this phenomenology of time and structure that the Situationists and their inheritors lie. The Situationists, enraptured by rapid mid-century urbanization, tore up cobblestones to find the beach beneath the streets. But after all that work, the beach was not paradise but a desert, and so they turned their rage on a deserving target: the police. Yet today, the life of the Situationists is not on the streets, but has been ossified into wooden art objects and thick academic tomes.


Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah, an anthology of the ‘zine that the Londoner published from 2005-2009, runs Situationism in reverse. It is like that dumb joke about what happens when you listen to a country music backwards – the cowboy gets his pickup, dog, and wife back. By the end of Savage Messiah, the utopian impulse of Situationist urbanism returns while the city is smashed, and even the police seem to fade into mere afterthought. The legacy of Situationism is obvious in Savage Messiah, as Ford explicitly names her project a dérive, the Situationist’s psychological exploration of the subjective experience of urbanism, and passages from situationist-related writers, theorists, and urbanists (Baudelaire, Bataille, Benjamin, Simmel, Ballard, Deleuze, Negri) are peppered throughout the text. But even more generally, the book offers a picture-perfect rendering of Situationist psychogeography because it presents a journey through a city that is too full of discontinuous times, spaces, and images to ever fit on a map.

Savage Messiah begins where the original Situationist International fell apart; the cover depicts riot cops emptying out whatever space might still exist outside dilapidated 60’s estates. This is disorienting at first, as the zig-zag history of architecture that structures the narrative hardly provides a stable set of reference points. Yet one needs not be from London to get the book. And perhaps it would even be best to never have been there at all. This book is better for swimming in than reading. Once the reader crosses the thick black edges that define the book’s own private world, Ford’s images, thoughts, and language remain only partially penetrable. Cut up and pasted side-by-side are many hand-drawn portraits, lists of punk shows attended or d’n’b songs overheard, occasional histories of revolt, stories of quick trips to a bar or flat, photos of empty hallways, recollections of strong smells, cleverly detourned graft slogans, shots of towering buildings, and many tales of being kissed by a new acquaintance. Despite the richness of the world presented, however, it would be a mistake to look for the numerous strands of the book to form a totality.

Rather than providing a fully-knowable totalizing perspective, the seemingly disconnected pieces of Savage Messiah make up an immersive environment that expresses the subjective experience of the city: alienation. The ideal reader is then an outsider. Replicating the experience of walking down the street, the book recalls times and places you have not experienced and never will. Its many people are strangers that you will never meet. Yet being alienated from this nowhere that is populated by nobodies does not produce a non-experience, but in fact, it presents the exact form of experience that dominates modern life. Run-ins and strange connections still occur during encounters with other alienated beings that drift through an environment beyond their control, but these unions are always temporary and feel more like an ongoing series of accidents than cosmic fate.

Yet the alienation of living in a shitty flat or being stuck in the rundown part of town is not something that the book laments. However, it is not something that the book celebrates or protects either, as Ford heaps out disdain for both yuppies lording it and encroaching Olympics 2012 development. Rather, the alienation that comes with city life is presented as fact, though that fact also bears an accompanying range of feelings and urges. Boredom, aimlessness, excitement, frustration, and rage become creativity, exploration, pursuit, destruction, and violence. And this potent mixture is neither more natural nor more inauthentic than mixes found elsewhere, whether it be in the heat of the factory or in wild country air. Rather, these feelings are simply how it is and the question question is only how to put them to use.

Savage Messiah is not without its commentators and critics. And in this regard, Ford’s work suffers a fate similar to the Situationists. On the one hand, the book gets accused of failing at dull stale leftist tasks. But it would be idiotic to read it as a field guide with organizational schemes (for it has none), or worse yet, to vulgarly reduce its richness to a rhetorical screed against gentrification. And on the other, the book gets reduced to art object or documentary archive that simply preserves forgotten or marginal aspects of the city for display. What both these interpretations miss is the purpose of Ford’s text: to fashion crumbling architecture into missiles and barricades. London is not to be saved from the developers but transformed into a punk war machine that screams “Estate Agents! Up against the South facing wall!” as it steamrolls through fascists.

It takes time in Ford’s boozed voyages past various people and places to build up a clear notion of what she finds beneath the city streets. But as the book begins to close, Savage Messiah is clearly set on its warpath. After an exhilarating description of riots, the book ends with a photo of Ford and her crew that is followed by a long coda of pitch black pages. In the final picture, a man casually stands over an upended monitor in triumph over The Spectacle, another two pick up a sofa as if moving it the barricades, and Ford poses in the foreground with a molotov cocktail in hand. The message of the image is clear. But what do the fully-saturated pages at the end suggest? A future too dark to depict? A future more rich than images? Or a future yet to be written?