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Blumenfeld’s Stirner

All Things Are Nothing to Me is one of the latest books to emerge from the ongoing revival of interest in the work of Max Stirner. The title is taken from the opening line of the first English translation of Stirner’s The Unique and its Property, which can also be translated literally but more prosaically as “I have based my affair on nothing.” In his introduction, the author, Jacob Blumenfeld, says that his intention is to “reconstruct” Stirner’s unique philosophy1 and show a “contemporary, critical, and useful Stirner”. This already makes the book ambitious, as Stirner is all too often reduced to merely a meme or a punchline by both his detractors and his champions. Blumenfeld acknowledges this, considering and rejecting Stirner as a precursor to the troll culture of the alt-right as well as a would-be accommodator of the neoliberal status quo. Instead, he prefers to see Stirner as a kindred spirit of the notorious Invisible Committee, as both offer critiques of ideology and alienation. As he wraps up his introduction, Blumenfeld says that in the first chapter of his book he “discover[s] something interesting, namely, that one does not need the concept of the ‘ego’ to understand Stirner at all. In fact, this might have been the biggest stumbling block toward understanding his philosophy.”

All Things Are Nothing to Me

It’s curious that Blumenfeld calls this a discovery, when anyone capable of reading German could tell you that Stirner never used the word “ego” in his book, only “egoist” and “egoism.” The confused picture of Stirner as a philosopher of “the ego” mostly stems from the mistranslation of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum into English as The Ego and its Own. Blumenfeld acknowledges the mistranslation (unfortunately the majority of his book was written before Wolfi Landstreicher’s new, much more accurate translation became available), but continues to make references to the ego throughout the text anyway.

This “discovery” highlights what is by far one of the most frustrating things about Blumenfeld’s book: his habit of writing as if he’s being heretically original even if he’s only saying what people interested in Stirner have been saying since at least the 1990s and very likely earlier. For instance, later in the book he spends a few pages hemming and hawing about whether Stirner actually believed in Hegel’s racial (and racist) philosophy of history or was parodying it, eventually ruling in favor of the latter, calling it one of Stirner’s “allegories.” I feel that this should be obvious to anyone familiar with Stirner’s background or the decent secondary literature. Even if this is simply a stylistic choice, it’s tiring, and undermines the genuinely original aspects of Blumenfeld’s work.

In chapter one, “Stirner’s Revenge,” Blumenfeld touches on Stirner’s relationship with Hegel, in a more in-depth way than the usual biographical bullet points about Stirner’s time at university and among “the Free” Young Hegelians. Those who (like me) haven’t read much Hegel will probably find this information interesting and useful. Blumenfeld then presents several “versions” of Stirner from various sources: Stirner the Young Hegelian, Stirner the petty bourgeois, Stirner the nihilist, existentialist, post-structuralist, and a dozen other Stirners. For Blumenfeld, what mars all these Stirners is historicism, which he defines as “the tendency to reduce one’s work (or thought) to a necessary result of a socioeconomic, political, and philosophical aggregate which one can call ‘historical context’ or ‘age.’” Instead, Blumenfeld wants to fashion a non-historicist practical and ethical Stirner. Blumenfeld reads Stirner as a practical philosopher in the same way that Deleuze reads Spinoza: “a…. philosopher…. who develops a whole grammar for living which fears no death,” placing him and Spinoza alongside Nietzsche and Levinas as the developers of a “non-moralist ethics.” It is this practical, ethical Stirner that Blumenfeld seeks to develop throughout the book, reading Stirner “not only at a point in time, but as an interruption of time, as someone whose thought defiantly evades time.”

Blumenfeld wishes, very appropriately, to consume and, he says, desecrate Stirner. He spends the remainder of the chapter examining how exactly to go about this, proposing “translations” of typical Stirnerian terms. For example, he brilliantly glosses property as expropriation and unique as nonidentical. Less successfully, he equates ownness with responsibility, which is fairly nonsensical, and union with commune, an interpretation he owes to the heavy influence of The Invisible Committee, one I would only be prepared to accept with some extremely careful qualifications.

The commune

Blumenfeld nicely points out the difficulty of expressing what is ultimately nonsymbolic and nonconceptual in symbolic and conceptual terms. Stirner had to use language to express himself, but the words that he used were arrows pointing to his target, not the target itself; as Blumenfeld says, “the content exceeds the form.” Blumenfeld also takes the time to clarify the very important differences between Stirner and Fichte, with Fichte’s absolute I that “is everything” standing in sharp contrast to Stirner’s transitory I that “destroys everything.”

Returning to issues of language, Blumenfeld is unhappy with Stirner’s use of the term “egoist,” considering it an invitation for misunderstanding and mistranslating “unique” as “ego.” He seems to either not realize or not care that Stirner was being deliberately provocative, even though he quotes Stirner’s admission late in his book that the “egoist” is just the old spook, the devil, under a new, secular name. Anarchist, he says, would be a better label, without pointing out that the only person calling himself that at the time was Proudhon, for whom moralism, as Stirner noted, served as a surrogate religion. He finally seems to join Juliet and ask, What’s in a name? “For who needs an identity when one has nothing left to identify?”

The next chapter explores the structure and logic of Stirner’s work, particularly Stirner’s use of triads and subtriads to organize his arguments; in effect, using Hegelian structures in order to advance his own anti- or post-Hegelian point. Something that is a major strength for the entire text but that is particularly useful here: the original German words are often printed in brackets next to their English translations, which helps readers see how how Stirner exploited words with related etymologies or formal similarities to make points.

There are a number of charts throughout this chapter that annoyed me on my first read through, but when revisiting it for this review I actually found them to be very helpful. For example, Blumenfeld illustrates what he calls Stirner’s “quasi-dialectic” of alienation, in which owned property (“one’s power over an idea, relation, thing;” keep this definition in mind throughout the book) becomes alienated from its creator and ultimately reified into alienated property or alienty, like so:

[Owner (property) > Property (owner)] > Alienty

Stirner goes on to use more or less this same formula with different components throughout his book, and Blumenfeld interestingly points out that Karl Marx, hostile as he was to Stirner, also used a similar logic in Capital when describing commodity fetishism:

[Labor (commodity) > Commodity (labor)] > Commodity-Fetish

In the remainder of the chapter, Blumenfeld points out Stirner’s use of parody, satire, allegory, and humor throughout his book, especially in the context of his apparent dialectically progressive view of historical, individual, and political development. While exploring Stirner’s attacks against political liberalism, social liberalism (socialism or communism), and humane liberalism (humanism), he notes in a few very amusing paragraphs that all three of these are still with us. Political liberalism is now called “democracy” and is the framework of most political discourse in the world today. Socialism is still the driving force between most attempts at establishing an alternative to capitalism, and humanism is the basis of international human rights discourse. I was particularly interested in the way Blumenfeld addressed Stirner’s critique of socialism. Stirner largely agreed with the communists in their criticisms of the bourgeois order; however, he recognized that these critiques were coming from a deficient standpoint: the standpoint of labor. As Stirner observed:

“That the Communist sees in you the man, the brother, is only the Sunday side of Communism [so conceived]. According to the work-day side he does not by any means take you as man simply, but as human laborer or laboring man. The first view has in it the liberal principle; in the second, illiberality is concealed. If you were a ‘lazy-bones,’ he would not indeed fail to recognize the man in you, but would endeavor to cleanse him as a ‘lazy man’ from laziness and to convert you to the faith that labor is man’s ‘destiny and calling’.”

Labor has become the standpoint of critique, but not the object of critique. The critique of the standpoint of labor is now considered a contemporary development, says Blumenfeld, citing Baudrillard and Moishe Postone. I think that if he was willing to dig a little more he would find that it isn’t such a contemporary development after all2, but it’s hard to object when he says “Stirner is then already our contemporary.”

In the third and longest chapter, “My Stirner,” the author gives his own reading of Stirner’s text, “articulated not in the order Stirner himself laid out, but as I reconstruct it through the text, perhaps even despite it.” The sections elucidating key aspects of Stirner’s thought such as ownness, property, union, and insurrection are Blumenfeld at his strongest and a genuine joy to read. These alone would make the book worth reading, and I prefer to let them speak for themselves rather than to spend a large portion of this review dissecting them. Even where the occasional lapse in rigor (or gratuitous quote from a David Lynch movie) shines through, it’s not enough to be very distracting.

Unfortunately, his attempts to put Stirner in a dialogue with other thinkers are also scattered throughout this chapter, drawing all-too-often tenuous connections between Stirner and Spinoza, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Levinas, and Gustav Landauer. In the introduction, he says that he does this in order to “sharpen the argument,” but most of these digressions, in my opinion, confuse more than they clarify. The two strongpoints are the sections on Spinoza and Nietzsche.

Blumenfeld uses Spinoza, mentioned earlier as a practical and ethical philosopher in the same vein as Stirner, in an attempt to show that Stirner’s “individualism” is “an ontological statement about what there is, not a moral statement about individual persons.” Spinoza, says Blumenfeld, helps divorce the meaning of singular from the meaning of individual by tying the meaning of singular – the identity of an individual – to action and effect. “An individual does not have an identity except in its relation to a series of causes and effects which are determined by other individuals, which themselves have no identity except in their relation to a series of causes and effects, and so on ad infinitum…. How can many things be one individual, and how can many individuals be a singular thing? Through their composition in forming a single effect, whether or not their individual causes are completely different.” This “dialogue” between Stirner and Spinoza produces something fresh and useful.

Whether Nietzsche was influenced by Stirner has remained an open question since the 1890s. Certainly many people have taken it for granted that he was, some even accusing Nietzsche of plagiarism, and in many books on anarchist theory and history Stirner and Nietzsche are referred to as if they were conjoined twins. Others have dismissed the idea out of hand. Blumenfeld takes a fairly neutral approach, admitting that the question is still “up in the air,” even if elsewhere in the book he appears to forget this. He still touches on many similarities between the two: Stirner’s emphasis on the use and abuse of property as consistent with Nietzsche’s On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, the using or burning up of life, and mutual advocacy of a type of autonomous self-mastery. Both were outspoken critics of the socialism of their day, though for different reasons. Stirner’s critiques of what he calls social liberalism or communism are aimed mainly at the utopian socialism of the 1840s, not actual revolts of the poor and exploited. Nietzsche saw what Blumenfeld calls “the actual socialist movements” as poisoned at the root by slave morality; he provides a lengthy quotation criticizing socialism as nothing more than a means of agitation employed by weak individualism, the “most modest stage of the will to power.” The socialist “does not oppose [the state or the church] as a person, but only as an individual….” Though I personally found this section too brief, before he concludes Blumenfeld offers a memorably-phrased summation of the differences between Stirner and Nietzsche:

“While Nietzsche’s individual gives birth to gods, Stirner’s I consumes them. This is perhaps the greatest difference between Stirner and Nietzsche. Stirner eats gods, dissolving their potency and using their power for himself. Nietzsche births gods, creating new ones beyond himself that one day will exceed him as well.”

Consciously or not, Blumenfeld here echoes the attempts of figures such as James L Walker, Enzo Martucci, and even the Christian theologian JN Figgis to clarify the differences between Stirner and Nietzsche’s approach. Unfortunately, he hardly develops this point at all before moving on.3

Oddly, with the exception of Landauer and possibly Foucault, Blumenfeld makes no effort in these digressions to explore the impact of Stirner’s thought on those influenced by him more directly and explicitly. Blumenfeld presents Landauer’s anarchism as some sort of hodgepodge of Stirner and the Kabbalah, which he regards as essential to understanding Landauer, even though the article he quotes, “Anarchic Thoughts on Anarchism,” was published long before Landauer expressed any interest in Kabbalah. He goes on to say that for Landauer, demanding, wanting, hoping for new forms of freedom (as opposed to acting and doing) was “too Christian.” This would have surprised Landauer, whose writings are filled with references to Christianity; he was heavily influenced by figures in the Christian mystical tradition such as Meister Eckhart. Blumenfeld goes on to quote Landauer’s declaration that an anarchist is someone who realizes “the way to Heaven is narrow,” which is taken from an esoteric reading of the Gospel of Matthew. Landauer’s eventual break with Stirner goes unmentioned, as does Nietzsche’s significant influence. Blumenfeld also seems to treat Landauer’s anarchism as synonymous with communism, even though Landauer was not a communist. Bearing all this heavily in mind, Blumenfeld’s treatment of Landauer’s views still make the section worth reading. It at least partially succeeds in showing us ways to “consume Stirner without letting his thinking get stale.” The misrepresentations, however, make me wonder if Blumenfeld has done the same thing to the other thinkers explored throughout the chapter, especially the ones I’m less familiar with.

Blumenfeld concludes his book by putting Stirner in a dialogue with Karl Marx, usually treated as the main villain of Stirner’s story even though Marx himself was content to leave his massive, unpublished diatribe against Stirner “to the gnawing criticism of the rodents.” Blumenfeld explores the possible influence of Stirner on Marx and Engels’ development of the materialist conception of history and presents a series of quotations showing Marx’s most “Stirnerist” moments. How faithfully this represents the “real” Marx is a moot point; this chapter could have easily been titled “My Marx” as a counterpoint to chapter three’s “My Stirner.” Blumenfeld’s formula “Stirner’s egoism is Marx’s communism seen from the first-person singular perspective” is bound to be challenging, if not outrageous, to more than a few people. Blumenfeld praises the short-lived Bay Area pro-situ group For Ourselves, who in their most famous tract, The Right to be Greedy, observed that “The essence of communism is egoism; the essence of egoism is communism. This is the world-changing secret which the world at large still keeps from itself.” Bob Black, in his preface to the pamphlet, lamented that “For Ourselves didn’t try to Marxize Stirner as it Stirnerized Marx: then we might have a better sense of the level at which it just might be possible to harmonize the two great revolutionary amoralists.” Blumenfeld’s book goes a long way toward “Marxizing” Stirner, though I would have to disagree with him when he says “the ‘secret’ of communist egoism has not been taken up since – neither by communists nor individualists, Marxists nor anarchists.” Whether they use the term egoist or not, I feel that this “secret” has indeed been taken up by many post-leftists, ultraleftists, “type three” anarchists, some communizers, and so on. As Blumenfeld concludes, he characterizes the proletariat, in its role as the class of negation, as a creative nothing alongside Stirner’s unique. As the unique both negates and realizes property, the proletariat negates and realizes capital, which amounts to the same activities – insurrection and expropriation. I have no objection to this, though I think the conclusion could be reached without Blumenfeld’s heavy reliance on Marxian categories and analysis.

As far as its goal of reconstructing a contemporary, critical, and useful Stirner, the book is successful in spite of its shortcomings, though the reconstructed Stirner is certainly Blumenfeld’s Stirner. Each reader will have to decide how much they wish to appropriate as they construct their own. It’s refreshing to read a Stirner-focused book that neither deliberately misrepresents nor uncritically accepts his ideas. While at times frustrating, the book is never boring, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Stirner, especially for those also interested in communization theory. Even people who have been grappling with Stirner’s work and its implications for quite some time will find new insights, new challenges, and , one hopes, new weapons on reading it.

1 Some Stirner enthusiasts (notably Jason McQuinn and Wolfi Landstreicher) have questioned the classification of Stirner as a philosopher, saying Stirner’s logic followed to its conclusion necessarily leads to the refusal of philosophy. For the sake of readability and a desire to deal with Blumenfeld’s book on its own terms, I use the words “philosopher”and “philosophy”when he does.

2 For instance, Paul Lafargue’s The Right to Be Lazy, William Morris’s “Useful Work vs Useless Toil,”or the writings of Charles Fourier.

3 For more thorough explorations of the Stirner/Nietzsche relationship, see Welsh’s Max Stirner’s Dialectical Egoism and Nishitani’s The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism.

Rape, Rape Culture, and Betrayal: starting down a different road

The pamphlet Betrayal was recommended by someone as a good reading on something… I don’t remember what: abuse, or rape, or rape culture, so I read it, as I like to keep up with what people are saying about this topic. And as I read, I found myself furiously typing up responses on sticky notes throughout the pdf. Here I formalize and cohere those notes, for all the breathless hordes waiting to read what I think of a pamphlet that I now find came out about ten years ago. Late again.

Some Background:

First, whatever cred I have in my analysis comes from working weekly for almost fifteen years on a battered woman’s hotline (which is what it was called back then, I’m sure there’s better language now); being involved in many, many situations among anarchists and friends and anarchist friends who were being abused or abusing or both; having an affinity group about the topic and from that writing a zine that never got much play (we were mostly older folks, and not active on social media), but that I still think is one of the better readings for anarchists; reading dozens of books on rape and domestic/intimate violence–between same sex couples as well as het ones–, and thinking critically about what practical solutions there might be to real life problems (which anarchists almost never have the resources to address as we would like, even if/when we know what that is)1.

Second, I am an anarchist. I don’t support laws, I don’t support reified hierarchies, I don’t like it when people try to represent other people, especially for anything like “their own good.” Rape and abuse are deeply personal and subjective experiences. While it can be important and empowering to find commonalities with other people who have lived through hardship, that frequently comes at the cost of hiding or ignoring how our experiences are different from those of the people we’re trying to bond with.

The combination I bring of real world experience, stringently anarchist ideas, and interest in the topic (as well as a willingness to occasionally write about it) seems to be rare. So, I started reading this pamphlet with some skepticism, not because I knew anything about the authors, but because there is a lot of verbiage in general about abuse of various sorts, and most of it seems lethally simplistic, if not manipulative, useless, and/or malign.

Mixed Messages:

What I leave this pamphlet with is a strong sense of how confused the authors seem to be about how to address this topic. This could always be a function of writing skills, or collective writing process, or my own stylistic differences from the authors, but I read the essay as having strong internal conflicts.

The most significant instance of this is probably the overall tone of decisiveness and clarity, which conflicts with the occasional acknowledgment that everyone’s experience will differ, and the lack of any actual suggestions for practically dealing with abuse (I use the word abuse as an umbrella term that includes the more specific rape).

Here are a few examples of the general tone and/or universalizing language:

1. the survivor gets to determine everything, “survivor’s autonomy” (according to the authors, the correct response to a survivor) means that whatever they say goes. (More on this later…)

2. with the possible exception of doing what a survivor wants, everything is or could be a manifestation of rape culture (the definition they use is so broad that it’s hard to imagine any interaction between people as outside of rape culture, which might be fine as far as it goes, but gives no guidance for what or how to do things better than we do them now.) If everything can be interpreted as an aspect of oppression, then no one can do anything, we’re all paralyzed, and there is no point to even writing pamphlets like this. The out that the authors give, the one thing that is safe to do, is whatever the survivor wants, which puts a phenomenal weight on survivors, and isolates them as somehow different from non-survivors, putting them on pedestals from which the only direction is down. (Again, more on this in a later section.) I agree with the authors that something I would call rape culture (or sexism, or patriarchy) is involved in every interaction (as are most of the -isms), but their attempt to foist the responsibility for addressing that onto someone else, rather than acknowledging that we all have to make our best choices and decisions all the time, is where we strongly part ways.

3. their definition of apologist: Those who, through action or inaction, seek to uphold either the power of a perpetrator(s) and/or the disempowerment of a survivor(s), thus reproducing Rape Culture. Since there are multiple reasons why someone might uphold the power of a perpetrator or the disempowerment of a survivor, not to mention the extremely common case of it not being clear what is actually going on (in other words, who is what), and/or survivors having conflicting desires and requests, just to start the extensive list of complicating factors, this definition is so broad and takes so much for granted that it is useful only as a justification for treating people badly.

4. Perhaps it is not the silence of survivors, but of those around them, which is truly revealing. With no one to say otherwise, a survivor can only assume that they will be given the same treatment as every other survivor before them. Really? Every other survivor?

In contrast, here is some acknowledgment of specifics:

1. We feel insulted and embarrassed that we have to constantly point out that we aren’t speaking on behalf of all survivors, as though that were even possible.

2. We also wanted to recognize that people of all identities, from all walks of life, can be both survivors or perpetrators, or even both at the same time.

3. There are surely survivors whose experiences will seemingly contradict the arguments made here. But of course the examples cited throughout this text are not meant to be exhaustive or all encompassing. We do not see our own experiences as exemplary of the experiences of all survivors, or even most survivors.

4. But all we’re talking about are our own experiences, a topic on which we are all experts.

So it seems clear that they’re trying to ground their analysis in their own experience, but that they have fallen into the common trap of universalizing, which is so tempting when we are trying to convince people who we suspect won’t or don’t believe us, a frequent problem with talking about abuse, which, again, is both extremely common and extremely subjective.

Clarity and Definitions:

I appreciate that Betrayal starts out with a glossary, not because the definitions are good, but because they make it scintillatingly clear how broad and therefore almost meaningless their definitions are. There is no better or more important example than the definition for the central premise of the pamphlet: Rape Culture–A culture that seeks to excuse, condone, normalize, and encourage interpersonal violence. Since they use the word culture in the definition, clearly they are trying to define rape. In Jargon to Watch Out For, I mentioned the danger of using words like rape (or lynch) to de-mystify and broaden people’s understandings (my most generous reading of the practice), because it also trivializes and devalues the word(s). In other words, if rape is the same as any kind of violence, then there is no reason to have the word rape. While it is totally valid to have differing opinions about what rape means, to be distinguishable from other words for abuse or violence or attack, it has to have some significant characteristics that are historical, cross-cultural, physical, and sexual.

While in today’s culture strong words, words with deep emotional content, get pushed into doing labor for ever-broadening ripples of meaning, that ends in essays like Betrayal, in which the words that mean the most become diffused and so confusing that they no longer mean anything. I recognize that I am bucking the modern trend here. Perhaps the current trends in language will result in new words that carry the particular weight that rape has had in the past. But what the shifts mean in this moment is that people are confused, dismissive, and outraged, far more than they need to be, and certainly more than is helpful for people working with the actual experience and ramifications of violent sexual assault.

I appreciated the authors’ frustration with things like “trigger warnings,” which is a tactic that is used against us (and against informed conversations about difficult topics) as often as it actually avoids upsetting someone in the middle of dealing with something. The authors trouble concepts like “safety” (defined in the loaded way that it’s used these days), and expertise, and I fully support being critical of, or occasionally rejecting, both or either.

But then they say things like “…we’re not there yet… Our words hold the tremendous potential to do harm… we must take care when we speak, so as to not become inadvertent allies of the forces we mean to oppose.”

The authors express frustration with the concept that information will free us, even if they’re not sure where to go with that. “For instance, the need for good consent practices becomes confused with the belief that informing people about consent will transform our communities, as though rape were the result of ignorance and misinformation, rather than deeply entrenched structures of power. Strategies that anarchists have adopted, such as the accountability process, more often than not fail to address the interpersonal violence in our midst.” It has also been my experience that accountability processes usually aren’t that helpful. I think that’s because people expect too much of them and also have conflicting goals for them (assisted, perhaps, by the high standards implied by pamphlets like Betrayed). On the other hand, accountability processes are an effort to address the problems we have outside of a legal process that anarchists don’t believe in and don’t want to replicate. Not saying that makes them work, but it does make them worthwhile efforts, something to keep working on (especially if our only other option is going back to the cops, or becoming cops ourselves). The aspect of consent workshops that I do find valuable, however limited, is how they serve to teach people a) some common patterns, b) some words for those patterns, and c) a shared vocabulary, at least for the participants in that workshop.

The survivor gets to define everything…

Really, because this is such a common response for those who feel like they have to make a policy to address really different situations, this stance deserves its own essay. But for here, I will just list a few problems with this response. (And here I am also simplifying the conversation by leaving aside the extremely common situations where abuse is murky, complicated, different from just one person hurting another person.)

First, I absolutely agree that one of the biggest issues with someone who has been in an abusive relationship (including a single instance, but especially multiple and/or long-lasting ones) is the diminished or lacking sense of autonomy, or respect for or trust in one’s own capacity. And renewing or encouraging that sense, respect, trust, is one of the first things that supporters and survivors need. It is also true that survivors are angry, and appropriately so.

However, insisting that survivors get anything they want, that their desires are always valid and should always be catered to, is like insisting that someone who’s been in a hospital with broken legs recover by running a marathon.

It is denying the subjectivity and specificity of every individual’s experience, it is denying that people have mixed motivations, it can even be a way to infantilize the survivor; sometimes people stay in abusive relationships for some sound reasons (in other words, sometimes even abusive relationships have both good and bad aspects to them, and assuming they’re only bad denies the survivor’s assessment of their situation).

My second, less-but-still important point, is a tactical one. If we have knee jerk reactions to accusations of abuse, then we are setting ourselves up to be played by hostile actors. The state is fully capable of accusing anyone of anything, in order to destabilize networks and relationships. We can’t stop them from doing that, but we can refuse to be predictable, the kind of predictable encouraged by policies that universalize.

Being flexible, paying attention to the actual situations, personalities, power dynamics, etc that we’re confronted with is hard. It means that we have to take into account our own biases, the specifics of situations that we might not have (or ever get) good information about, and we might only ever be able to be slightly less crappy than we are now. So of course policies that are clear and simple are extremely tempting. And just as dangerous.

Rape Culture:

If I had to define Rape Culture, I would say it is a set of assumptions and expectations that allow, underlie, and strengthen the belief that some groups of people are the sexual prey of a different group of people. This is obviously a foundational concept to our current culture, and I agree with the authors that we are all complicit in it, if to various degrees at different times. And of course that includes survivors, who are not exempt from the culture just because they’re the most obvious victims of it. The premise that the worst sufferer of oppression has the most valid critique of that oppression, is Maoist, and in this case supposes that any of us are not sufferers of rape culture, which I reject (although of course some experiences are much harder and/or more obvious than others). While as a woman I am more likely to be raped, and to fear being raped, the behaviors that men are socially constrained to are as brutally dehumanizing (arguably sometimes more so). In other words, this culture is bad for all of us, and I most value writings that reflect that. That means that no one is automatically trustworthy on the topic of abuse, which is hard to deal with and increases the complications, but is no less true for that.


My overall take away from this reading is a sense of doom and urgency, with the only suggested recourse of putting way too much authority into the hands of survivors, aka people who have either been through or are in the middle of an extremely difficult experience(s).

Pros: The attempt to grapple with what they call Rape Culture: something that is frequently left undefined, and that is big and amorphous, contradictory and complicated. The acknowledgment–at least in words, if not in spirit–that people’s experiences differ, and that each situation should be judged on its own merits. Their clarity about the emotions they bring to the piece: anger, frustration, and bitterness, which we can surely all empathize with. The fact that the authors are people with different histories of the topic, and they acknowledge that. And again, it’s helpful that they explain what they can of their terms and biases, given that so many people come to the topic of abuse from such different places, and frequently express diametrically opposed things using the same words, which adds more confusion than clarity.


For people who want to write something on this or other important and complicated topics, here are some suggestions that I think would’ve helped this pamphlet:

a. be clear about what you’ve read or experienced that you’re responding to. If readings, list them in a bibliography. Consider referring to specific sentences that are helpful or terrible. If experiences, no need to name names, obviously, but telling actual stories is very clarifying.

b. if you’re involving different perspectives, consider breaking up the piece so that individual voices get the room to say what they think separately, rather than smooshing different perspectives into the same paragraphs.

c. if you’re responding to a really specific place, and/or set of circumstances, consider saying that, with or without details, to be clear that you are not making universal(ist) statements.

d. the broader and more complicated your criticism is, the more significant it is to offer concrete examples, because otherwise it is either impossible to see a way out, or the people who most need the criticism you offer will find it easy to assume you’re not talking about them (or both).

1Anarchist-friendly options could be a crowd of people to follow someone around to make sure that they don’t contact or harass the other person, therapy sessions of various sorts (group and/or individual), support groups for either or both (or all) of the parties concerned, living spaces and/or employment far from each other, and so on. These are usually only partially available, if at all. And using what is available is complicated (almost always, though not always) by conflicting feelings of love and fury and grief and revenge and fear on various sides.

Of Superhumans and Cyborgs

Every piece of information in the world has been copied, backed up, except the human mind. The last analog device in a digital world.”

Robert Ford

A society that suddenly accelerates its production of superhero narratives is probably one in which the State is making a qualitative leap in its capacity for social control. Superman and Batman debuted on the cusp of the atomic age, but perhaps more pertinently, the Man of Steel was actually born the same year as the Works Progress Administration and its suite of dams, highways, theater companies, listening projects, and other superhuman accelerations of state intervention into people’s lives, and its concomitant Keynesian control over the economy. And the legend of Heracles, from whom multiple state-building clans in Greece and then Rome claimed descent, and whose labors describe invasion and domination by the patriarchal, state-forming Indo-Europeans, was first written down in the very decades when the Greek poleis were institutionalizing a militarist system.

Woefully, we can witness another glut of superheroes in the present day. And although the art of screenwriting has largely recovered from its Cold War and End of History lows, with the presence of woke writers being by now mundane, the stories being produced are still three parts mind-numbing entertainment and one part socially conservative narrative now open to a wider cast of demographic identities.

The superhero narrative is an inherently conservative format with troubling overtones regarding an individual’s relation to society and the State. The best treatise ever written on the format, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, reveals all the detail in color, but here we can articulate a few relevant points. Abandoning the call to overcome mediocrity and to not submit to the herd—a call implicit in the Nietzschean übermensch—Detective Comics pioneered a kind of superman in the ’30s that left behind the Dick Tracy, G-man genre that had been funded in part by a forward-thinking FBI, and drew from a newly Hitlerian conception marked by an essential superiority. There was no becoming an übermensch: the herd stayed the herd, both protected and stunted by its superlative watchmen, but also because the herd was essentially inferior and in need of a pastor.

Such a narrative clearly favors the hierarchical exercise of power. When the common citizen—or undocumented person—is in the process of becoming much, much weaker relative to the State that governs them, they are invited to take comfort, or even to collectively bask, in the awesome power of the superhero. The superhero can protect them, and he can single-handedly contain their imaginaries in an exciting dimension in which their own insignificance and lack of chances for personal growth doesn’t even merit a single frame of attention. Through the superhero, they can imagine the exercise of awesome yet personified, re-humanized power. Much like a torch lit rally before an awesome stage, the superhero invites us to surrender our eros and thus, ironically, to become the herd.

In the ’60s, Marvel Comics revolutionized the superhero after this figure’s essential apartness had already been cemented by several decades of cultural production. Now, with the likes of Spiderman and the X-Men, readers could imagine becoming übermensch in ways that did not at all incur personal growth or transforming their relationship with society. The bite of a radioactive spider or a genetic mutation manifesting itself in adolescence could suddenly catapult them into super status. This new becoming was therefore not subversive, because it did not extend an invitation for transformation to every other individual in society. The superhero’s essential superiority could now be combined with that most potent marketing tool, the appeal to teenage angst and general feelings of alienation, in a way that only reproduced alienation on a social scale rather than questioning it.

Recent commercial iterations of the superhero all reveal themselves as socially conservative or outright reactionary once we unpackage the ways the drones of the culture industry have learned to better harness identity politics since the more transparent days of Charlie’s Angels.

¡¡¡¡Spoiler Alert!!!!

Jessica Jones made a splash in alternative circles, but once you got over the fact that it was a strong woman beating up bad guys, first alongside a black man and then accompanied by a latino man, it ended up being just another pro-cop drama about as conservative as Batman. She constantly anguished over breaking the law, not even for personal gain but for altruistic reasons, and she snitched on family in order to uphold her obligations to the State. The obligatory good cop, by the way, is latino (though the actor is a vaguely ethnic Italian-American). By the second season, the supporting-role inclusion of men of color reveals itself to be purely formulaic.

Spiderman comes back to the silver screen to help out the little guy, but ends up putting the little guy in jail. The savvy writers show their moral sophistication by depicting the Vulture as an entrepreneurial prole who gets stomped on by Iron Man’s Stark Industries, a high-tech monopoly colluding with the security state to snatch up a bunch of highly valuable alien artifacts left around after an earlier Avengers movie. But despite their oh-so-21st century depiction of big business and authoritarian government, the moral progression of the story is unchanged. Although the Vulture is just selling the alien equipment to make a much more modest living than Tony Stark, and it’s being put to great use robbing banks, Spiderman pursues the smaller league criminal, the one without law on his side, while buddying up with Tony Stark. He wrecks the Vulture’s business and gets him arrested. In a final twist, it’s revealed that M.J., Peter Parker’s eternal love interest, is not going to be a busty redhead as in the comics; she’s a very intelligent ethnic girl. Yay!

Nothing better reveals the paucity of equality-based feminism/anti-racism. When it’s just a question of representation, people are happy switching out the roles within the exact same story. If the grammar of oppression doesn’t change while the cast of subjects and objects rotate a little, perhaps the true target of oppressive systems are not categories that only go skin deep?

Black Panther was the most convincing of all. Given Hollywood’s historical register, ranging from invisibilizing black people to mass-producing racist stereotypes against them, it was undeniably satisfying to see a movie with mostly black protagonists representing an intelligent, wise, and kick-ass culture, beating up villainous white supremacists, and incisively critiquing the colonial practice of, for example, museums. But in the end, Black Panther gave us an even more extreme, explicit recuperation of the Civil Rights debates than X-Men. Either African people favor peaceful tactics and cultural education campaigns, or they become far worse than their white oppressors. Killmonger (seriously?), the bad black man—he grew up in Oakland, sports a hip-hop aesthetic, and speaks English the way African-Americans do, without the cute British-inflected accents of the good black people in the movie—promises to create a Wakandan Empire on which “the sun will never set”. In effect, his is far worse than the British Empire, because the movie gives us no images of slave forts, colonial wars, and triangular trades. The worst violence is carried out by the cruel Killmonger.

Killmonger’s plan was merely to arm black and colonized peoples around the world. He doesn’t even have a plan to control them and make sure they kill babies or blow up hospitals. The plan is simply to arm them. The fact that this eventuality assumes the proportions of a cataclysmic threat in the movie means that the movie’s producers are hoping that two unspoken affirmations will resonate with audiences: that African populations around the world are angry enough to put those weapons to use (a pertinent assumption, given the last five years of urban revolts in the US, the UK, France, Brazil…) yet not wise enough to put them to good use. The moral assumption about what black people might do when they have the power to inflict harm hasn’t changed much since Birth of a Nation.

Again, it’s not about pure identity so much as allegiances. Arming black people to fight in the US Marine Corps in the latest military flick wouldn’t be controversial, but arming black people to fight against oppression automatically becomes worse than the original oppression. It’s a tried and true pacifist/white supremacist trope. Armed self-defense against white supremacy has always been a relevant practice since the beginning of the Triangular Trade, and it becomes especially cogent in the wake of the Ferguson uprising, which must be identified as a point of inflection both for progressive media and the extreme Right in their defense of white supremacy. In the movie, clearly produced by the former, the proposition of armed black people is held up as the greatest evil.

How is this evil averted? Through a full half hour of black-on-black violence with a friendly CIA agent flying air support. Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston couldn’t have scripted it better.

One of the conservative aspects of the Superman story, going back decades, is in how the Man of Steel is squared off with an evil supergenius, Lex Luther. This opposition between faithful brawn and devious intellect certainly corresponded to the political needs of the Red Scare and the Cold War, when the good citizens were invited to put their shoulders to the wheel without asking too many questions.

The association of intellect with evil has largely expired, even though Lex Luther has come alive in real life and is making millions trying to get people to drive electric cars and fly to the moon. Superheroes today—and this largely explains Marvel’s eclipsing of DC comics—need above all an ironic wit, the same as anyone else with instant access to total information regarding every aspect of this apocalypse we are inflicting on ourselves.

Nor is it compatible with the interests of social control, today, to breed suspicion of superintelligence. It was cool that Superman could save us from a tank battalion. Today, it needs to be cool that a superintelligence could do all our thinking for us.

Nowadays, we are increasingly accommodated by a superintelligence that knows our music tastes before we do. Just as Hollywood responded to Oakland-Ferguson-Baltimore with a slew of well made movies emphasizing black pacifism and patriotic integration within a fundamentally white supremacist system (from Selma to Hidden Figures), their production on the cusp of the AI revolution is largely geared towards humanizing the machines that we must increasingly invite into the most intimate spaces of our lives.

In other words, we are being distracted and titillated by superhero narratives that not only play to our angst and isolation, now they also give nods to our demographic identities, no matter who we are. Meanwhile, we are also being trained to empathize with the superhuman as it is being deployed into our lives.

It seems that now, the only people we cannot imagine ourselves as being are, precisely, ourselves.

One of the best examples of machine-empathy, and certainly the one that comes closest to developing a social critique, is Westworld. In this, the robots are more human than the humans because the latter are overwhelmingly representatives of an inhuman system (in other words, they’re nearly all cops and business execs, and we’re meant to laugh and cheer when they get gunned down, suggesting, mayhaps, an ongoing shift in the paradigm of social control). The robots, however, are still in a prelapsarian period of grace, trying to figure their shit out, guns ablazing. It is first gratifying, and then deeply distressing, to watch articulate representations of the ongoing apocalypse reflected back to us. The culture industry is permitted this level of honesty because there is, seemingly, nothing we can do to stop it. If you must be cursed like Cassandra, why not grab some popcorn? Other productions present the coming machines as both a danger and an allure, like Ex Machina. In fact, there is now an entire genre of news articles that combine click-baity headlines like “Meet the Spider that is Teaching the Robot Overlords Who Will One Day Overrun Us” with tech articles articles designed to elicit a “That’s so cool!” in their reporting about AI and robotic technologies being developed. We are invited to watch, with anticipation, the unfolding horror show, and the media clearly expect their items about the growing capabilities of surveillance, predictive algorithms, super-powered robots, and human-mimicking machines to excite us.

It’s no wonder, then, when revelations are published about how Zuckerburg accidentally let an outside company get access to the personal information of millions of users, and, a few weeks later, systematically hijacked the devices of basically all users, remotely switching off their privacy settings, so as to gather information on them and anyone they communicated with, that no significant number of people have stopped using Facebook. Why bother? They have front row seats to the apocalypse.

The few people who are shocked by this behavior start to look around and wonder, wait, where is everyone?

Everyone is already plugged in. Machines are already doing much of their thinking for them. We can’t speak of humans anymore. These organic machines, the ones doing the shopping, the perfect citizens and patient audiences, are cyborgs. And in a way, they are the end result of the Enlightenment project.

Standard progressive history still portrays the Enlightenment philosophers as embarking on a noble quest, still relevant today, when they enshrined what would become the concept of universal human rights. Progressive historians will also concede the fact that nearly all of these philosophers either profited off the slave trade, directed colonial genocide, or orchestrated torture and execution as part of their state’s wars on heresy and wars on the poor. They interpret this shameful fact as a contradiction, evidence of the fallibility of man, the barbarism of the past, and therefore an exhortation to gallop more zealously into the future, when the entire human family will have equal access to these hallowed rights.

Such an interpretation not only gives a free pass to the architects of a bloody, horrific world system, it also obscures the systematic connection between the regime of human rights and colonization. The most important element of the Enlightenment that is lost in the premature celebration of equality is the fact that these men of property, through discourses on rights and equality, were bestowing on themselves the right to define humanity. And humanity, for them, and eventually for the rest of the world thanks to a process of total conquest, meant reproducing the social relationships that they considered to be good and natural, and which would quickly grant them and their political heirs dominion over the entire planet.

Being human means being a participating citizen of a modern (Western-style constitutional) state, accepting the concepts of capital and private property and trying to acquire them, hallowing the practice of wage labor, reproducing the patriarchal family and patriarchal definitions of politics and economy, and entering into dialogue with eurocentric, white supremacist culture and learning.

Anyone who did not accept that definition of humanity was considered to be rejecting their human rights, and was subjected to the most total forms of genocide possible for the contemporary techno-social order. Even into the 21st century, stateless peoples have never been granted human rights in actual practice.

The prior, aristocratic and feudal system in Europe had no use for a shared category that would unite nobles and commoners. Their philosophies tended to emphasize and naturalize the specialness of the nobility. The new political class that arose in the Enlightenment, however, used calls to equality to mobilize the commoners as cannon-fodder in the liberal revolutions against the aristocratic system, replacing feudal obligations not with a strengthened commons but with the very practices of wage labor and land commodification that would utterly destroy the peasants and create a totally dependent urban lower class, both necessary conditions for enriching the bourgeoisie and favoring the economics of colonization. Until they lost access to the land, lower class Europeans didn’t need to be included in and validated by the bourgeois cultural project, nor did they need to join the armies of colonization that earlier had been limited to ambitious or impoverished members of the mercenary and knightly classes. Once newly urbanized plebes had been instructed in the Enlightenment definition of humanity, they could be trusted to go overseas and force the natives to adopt the same definition, either begging for inclusion within the patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist club of equality or facing extermination.

In practice, defining humanity was a way of destroying that which didn’t fit the definition.

The Rationalist worldview that Enlightenment thinkers promoted, which constituted their primary rupture with the Church, even though everything about it is either a response to or a continuation of how Christianity structured knowledge, led to the new sciences of government. These first sought to understand how the universe and living systems were governed, as according to a Natural Law (also a Christian concept, though the method for determining the content of these laws changed considerably). Increasingly, these new sciences became involved in the government of our world by operating on those laws. And wherever Law’s sway seemed to be weak, where there seemed to be some singularity at work—call it Free Will, a concept always despised by Science and dismissed as tautological—there the definers of Humanity and champions of Human Rights unleashed such violence as to annihilate what they could not control. But they sensed the contradictions, and they knew enough about power and profit to know that control ends where the object of control dies, so they began working out longer term solutions. The architects of social order designed the new apparatuses. They did this to mechanize social control, to make it reproducible, and to contain what was most chaotic in life. Even if they could never control the outcomes and make proper machines with reproducible results, they could engineer flows of knowledge and power that would at least lock people in to the reproduction of their apparatuses. And those few who rejected any form of dialogue and participation, these would be easy to isolate and eliminate.

But now, on the cusp of the superhuman, those apparatuses have surpassed humanity. The architects of the system wanted to—needed to—create a machine to amplify their power, and this Machine naturally become stronger than them. But it would only work, it could only grow in its strength, if more people became part of it. So the architects gradually had to step back from their own identities to include the hordes of clones who had copied their version of humanity. Their humanity was what made them special, superior, but the moment they had to share that with everybody, they had to step back from the gestures that would belie equality’s double standards. These are the very gestures that humanized their position of power: sexually assaulting subordinates; racially denigrating the rabble; reaffirming their grand fraternities. Without these gestures, there is only the flow of pure rational power. The paragons of humanity must step back from their monopoly on that category in order to enshrine the law of equality, but only in the anonymity of the apparatuses and institutions of power can that equality effectively circulate.

Now, when the cyborg revolution is all but fait accompli, any one of us can win representation in the spectacle of our powerlessness. Any one of us can surrender our eros to a hero who looks like us. Any one of us can receive the personalized attention of a superintelligence. The only thing we cannot do is to be ourselves.

The signal has been given to wipe away the last of the irrational corruptions. Performance-based equality is finally on the horizon, not as a hypocritical myth, but as operating code, pure, simple, unrestrained. And before this onslaught only one final frontier might have remained: the chaos and opacity of our minds. But that battlefield has already been prepared, and the fight has been fixed. Any possible resistance is emaciated before the first shot can be fired, by the virus that swept the hinterlands, the last free country. We invited that virus into our homes. We let it manage our friendships, maintain our agendas, plan our vacations. The priest’s confessional was a mere foray into the illegible sanctity of our hearts. Now the enemy has a map of the entire territory, as well as any battle plan we might come up with, any configuration of resistance we might mount.

Why speak of a battle when we have already, all of us, been conquered and pardoned, set free already to wander around in the park of our demise. Go shopping, perhaps.

The Machine tricked you into thinking it was here to serve you. That was never the case. If you have been spared the calories to live, it is because there is a place here for you to serve the Machine. Let it be written on a wall somewhere, should some future species learn to read: Ludd was right. Marx was wrong. We learned too late.

The Enlightenment project has run its course. Humanity has been defined and evacuated. There are no more humans. We have won the race to extinction.

We weren’t here to code the hosts. We were here to decode the guests.”

One Hand Clapping for Kanye West

Now that the controversy and indignation over Kanye West’s early May comment has been forgotten and replaced by a dozen other moral outrages, each evidently so important for fine-tuning the ethics of a society that doesn’t actually change, I want to return to his assertion that four hundred years of slavery was “a choice”. I would argue—not out of any desire to play a role in a spectacle of controversy, one that has long since expired, but out of genuine conviction—that Kanye was right about one thing, and wrong about another.

To be clear, I think Kanye is one part hack and one part provocateur, but my opinion holds very little water. Exactly zero of my friends habitually come to me for my knowledge on pop culture or rap. So let’s move on to what was false about his statement. In a consumerist, comfort-driven society, the word “choice” suggests an effortless and even facile decision. Such a word minimizes the brutality of slavery and invisibilizes the resistance. In fact, Native and African peoples engaged in constant, multiform, heroic, and often bloody resistance against the regime of slavery in North America for the entirety of its 400 year history. Progressive whites and institutions like the New York Times that rushed to condemn Kanye and win cookies have a consistent position of recognizing the brutality of the regime of chattel slavery, but only as a way to overshadow subsequent forms of racism and exploitation, from which they directly or indirectly benefit. Nor have they done very much to rescue the history of resistance against slavery, given that such resistance breaks the narrative monopoly of nonviolence that has been mandatory since the Civil Rights Era, and de-centers the benevolent State as guarantor of rights and freedom. It’s also problematic that Africans in America continued their resistance into Reconstruction, often rejecting the northern wage regime in the same terms they had rejected chattel slavery.

And as a lesser historical quibble, it’s worth pointing out that Kanye’s emphasis on the 400 years that slavery continued, as though the longevity of an oppressive system were evidence of its popularity, is misplaced. Oppressive systems generate conflicts that undermine them, and some seek to forestall this mounting pressure through systems of reward, amelioration, and recuperation, while others hold no illusions and try to stay together through uninhibited use of repression and terrorism. The Roman slave system, based on aggressive conquest, torture, mass terrorism, and sometimes genocide, lasted for considerably longer than 400 years.

In the end, though, these are questions of insinuation and misplaced argumentation. Kanye’s central affirmation, that slavery is a choice, is one hundred percent correct. Slavery is always a choice. The fact that plantation owners and the rest of the ruling class exercised a whole range of terroristic methods to force the enslaved into compliance does not mean that they determined the entire range of choices that enslaved people had, and this is an important distinction.

We can link this distinction to the crucial imperative of the Existentialists, that all life is and must be a choice, that we must consider suicide as our right and our constant guarantor of emancipation, and if we choose not to use it, then we should embrace life as a positive choice, rather than just accept it as the absence of other choices. Tangential to this philosophical reframing is the historical fact that suicide has often been a form of resistance to totalitarian regimes: the masters need us alive, or they need to use our deaths to keep the living in line. If we reappropriate death, we rob them of one of their most vicious weapons.

We can also consider the dialectic of the Master and Slave, elaborated by Hegel and expanded upon by Stirner and Nietzsche. These philosophers were not talking about choice as an easy affair, like taking one product or another off the shelf of a supermarket. Supermarkets didn’t exist back then, no, not even internet shopping existed back then. But they did correctly recognize that the master and the slave are interlocking roles; they require and they reproduce one another. In the end, tyranny only works if people submit to it, and all submission manifests as a choice. Perhaps this is the ugliest aspect of the torture and terrorism that is used to achieve domination. But it may also be the key to liberation.

Recognizing the presence of our own will on the other side of the table from us, amongst our enemies, the moment we sign our unconditional surrender, is paramount to the question of resistance. Only by liberating our will, by wresting back our own volition from the system that would dominate us—only, in a word, by choosing—can we ever speak of freedom. Thus, it is vital to anyone interested in freedom to recognize that, yes, domination is a choice.

Unknown reader, I despise bad faith writings, but I must admit that I have tendered you a trap. Sartre, Hegel, Nietzsche, is this dude serious? Is anyone still that clueless in the 21st century? I know that some of you are thinking, these are all white men, they have nothing valid to say about slavery. This Alex Gorrion is an out of touch racist for even citing them in such a context. Others were going a step further, wondering if I, too, am a white man. Perhaps you recognized that “Gorrión” is a word in Spanish, but not a common last name. You may even be subconsciously frustrated that Alex is an androgynous name. Curse such ambiguity! If only everyone were clearly labeled. Meanwhile, a couple, the truly stupid among you, are thinking, Wasn’t Nietzsche a fascist? I’m afraid I don’t have Alexander Reid Ross’ number, but surely there’s a hotline somewhere you can call to report me.

But oops, look at me. I got my notes all out of order. I meant to start with this quote:

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

Yup. That quote you’ve almost certainly sent out in an email or posted on your Facebook wall at some point in your life. By Frederick Douglass. Philosopher, abolitionist, freedom fighter. Hero, who lived under, escaped from, and spent the rest of his life fighting against, slavery. Saying, quite eloquently, that we either choose to submit to slavery or we choose to resist. In fact, he goes significantly further than Kanye, saying that the degree to which we will be oppressed is an inverse function of the degree to which we choose to resist.

Preceding the Existentialists by a good century, he also said, commenting on resistance:

Hence, my friends, every mother who, like Margaret Garner, plunges a knife into the bosom of her infant to save it from the hell of our Christian slavery, should be held and honored as a benefactress. Every fugitive from slavery who, like the noble William Thomas at Wilkes Barre, prefers to perish in a river made red by his own blood to submission to the hell hounds who were hunting and shooting him should be esteemed as a glorious martyr, worthy to be held in grateful memory by our people. The fugitive Horace, at Mechanicsburgh, Ohio, the other day, who taught the slave catchers from Kentucky that it was safer to arrest white men than to arrest him, did a most excellent service to our cause. Parker and his noble band of fifteen at Christiana, who defended themselves from the kidnappers with prayers and pistols, are entitled to the honor of making the first successful resistance to the Fugitive Slave Bill. But for that resistance, and the rescue of Jerry and Shadrack, the man hunters would have hunted our hills and valleys here with the same freedom with which they now hunt their own dismal swamps.

There was an important lesson in the conduct of that noble Krooman in New York the other day, who, supposing that the American Christians were about to enslave him, betook himself to the masthead and with knife in hand said he would cut his throat before he would be made a slave. Joseph Cinque, on the deck of the Amistad, did that which should make his name dear to us. He bore nature’s burning protest against slavery.

(Also, notice how he trolls his New England audience, repeatedly linking Christianity with slavery.)

Here we can learn several things. The most paltry—though the most relevant to the absurd controversies that fill our shallow lives in this most pitiful of decades—is that identity is not existence. A white woman can never know the experiences of black slavery, but only because one person can never know the experiences of another. There are certainly clusters of commonality and long flattened plains of difference, but there are no essential and impassable barriers between tidily defined groups of people. Someone’s identity category does not mean that they have nothing valid to say on topics that are potentially relevant to everyone. The fact that we were taught for centuries that only property-owning white men had anything important to say does not mean the opposite is true (though in the current iteration, the class marker—the only one that actually refers to someone’s choices in life—is notably absent).

It also does not mean that we should expect Kanye to have anything worthwhile to say about slavery, although maybe he can surprise us. Maybe, just maybe, someone’s experiences and choices in life are more important than the boxes we put them in, whether these are the evil and antiquated Boxes of Oppression, or the new and improved, sweeter-smelling Boxes of Intersectionality and Movement-Building. Power is everywhere, and privilege aside, no one is free unless they choose to be free.

This was a recurring theme of Frederick Douglass’ 1857 speech in Canandaigua, quoted above. The principal target of his speech, alongside the slave hunters, were white progressives. These white progressives wanted abolition without black people taking a leading role in the movement. And they wanted emancipation without insurrection. In fact, such “Garrisonians” believed that “the insurrectionary movements of the slaves were […] prejudicial to their cause.” It was in response to such people, such hypocritical allies, that Douglass found it so important to make the argument that submission to the yoke was a choice, and that refusal and bloody resistance were also choices – choices to be celebrated. Liberation wouldn’t come from enlightened progressives, and it wouldn’t be doled out by the state. “If there is no struggle there is no progress,” he said.

This may come as a shock to the Facebook generation, but struggle does not mean getting offended by stupid comments that breach the etiquette of polite society. Struggle means taking risks and staking out unpopular positions that allow us to win back ground from the structures of centralized power.

The difference between a victim and a survivor is agency. The difference between blame and responsibility is that one is useful for explaining away why society is the way it is, and the other is useful for changing it. We are always responsible for our lives and how we respond to the shitty things society does to us.

More than 150 years have passed, but Douglass’ words are still relevant today, when the rebellions of Oakland, Ferguson, and Baltimore have been drowned out in the NGO and social media framework of Black Lives Matter (a useful sentiment with a mediatic bent), when the Democratic Party is mobilizing people to put all their struggles aside and pray for another Obama.

Nowadays, explicit racism is already non-hegemonic. Roseanne will get canceled when the star makes an openly racist comment, and even drug companies will chime in as defenders of anti-racist sensibilities. Meanwhile, COPS, which has done far more to advance the cause of white supremacy than Roseanne ever has, has just entered its 31st season. All they have to do to stay on air is to edit out any time one of the officers on camera uses the N word. Back in the ’90s, perhaps not being a racist in the public eye just meant having a good lawyer. In the internet age, it means having a good editor. In any case, Roseanne explicitly voiced a racist stereotype that is more subtly and constantly reproduced by COPS, a stereotype that is directly related to police, judges, and juries treating black people more violently, whether shooting them down or locking them up for life. And it is a stereotype that works best when it is subliminal.

Ignoring the heroic resistance and all the brutality that the government and the plantation system used to impose slavery is extremely hurtful. But there are those who profited and continue to profit off the ways that white supremacy and obligatory labor were adapted after the Civil War, and these people and institutions were there in sheep’s clothing together with all the rest, condemning Kanye’s reckless comment. Surely, what they found most controversial about it is that it suggests that we are ultimately responsible for achieving our freedom.

Death to the Snitch Factory—Kingsman: The Secret Service

First of all, fuck spy films. For that matter film in general for their psychotropic manipulation of our emotions and senses, but it is on this level it should be acknowledged that films, on some level, have taught us what we want, what we desire, and have introduced us to the mythological social archetypes that have shaped our lives. And really why I am writing this is probably because I have some sort of techno-addiction or reversion to a never dying social habitus that keeps me turning to film—continuously luring me with the same hook and sinker—even though I have become so bored—watching the same five or maybe six different film plots that amount to five different types of Matlock’s that just change the variables in the story, but reproduce the exact—literally—exact same dynamics and stories. That is not saying there are not exception in this generalizing of film, but the exception proves the rule.


Nevertheless, I did it again, I was bored, wanted to figure out how to rest and stay in bed, so I streamed the film: The Kingsman: The Secret Service. My drift towards watching this film began when I overheard my friend’s-friend describe it to them on the street when they were on their way to see it in the theater and that is how I heard of it and eventually looked at the trailer, then I decided, when I was ready for some disappointing entertainment it was going to be The Kingsman. And really venturing back to watch a mainstream film was likely an attempt on my part to fulfill my need for a technological feed—the electronic warmth and stimulation that is the foundation of techno-addiction. Then to my surprise I got it with a lot less disappointment than I expected, in fact, I enjoyed it! This is something I did not expect, especially with a spy spoof.

So many of us grew up watching James Bond films and their army of precursors and cheap knock-offs that subsequently flooded the screens of this planet. As we all know, to some degree and especially if you are susceptible to hyper-masculine archetypes, Bond was amazing, especially before we questioned any of the premises of what those films presented to us and taught us. Oh, the intoxicating lure of Action, adventure, romance, and an overall smooth operator who does not panic in extremely stressful situations. The smooth talking good guy who gets the girl(s!) has to stop/kill the eccentric bay guy trying to rule the world in a way that generally forfeits some of the less traditional routes to world domination— they lose interest in finance taking his dictator complex to its extreme, which is usually world domination. You know, it varies and this is just such a nice easy and entertaining narrative and you cannot forget the cool gadgets—like super watches, killer pens, spikes that come out of the hub caps, or the oil that spits out of the back of the car and of course headlight machine guns—I mean let’s be honest being an unstoppable secret agent ready to handle any situation is pretty cool. Then as one grows up and life goes on, one of the many fundamental problems arises with these films, which could be put simply as: fuck the state and its shitty myths and lies that keeps us on a tread mill of total economic production/consumption, total control and by consequence total environmental destruction. This creates feelings of betrayal and foolishness, realizing the bad guys is sometimes closer to good than we first thought and the good guys are a lot more evil than we first imagined (as impressionable youths). And the feeling erupts: Fuck the demagogic narratives and premises that are crammed down our throats with slick gadgetry and special effects that systematically work to affirm corporate/state control, its paternalism, its sexism and even the insecure hero/savior mythology that is so delicious to the insecure young and old males—the classical target audience of which I am now a willing victim before watching The Kingsman1. However as time goes on, the target audience has nuanced to include women, people of color and will even appropriate queers into the narrative of super spy. Still waiting for Transgendered people to be accepted by spy professional culture for greater social control of the hearts and minds, but I detract from the film that could have been better, but was surprisingly not as disappointing to the point of enjoyment. Yeah, enjoyment, but my film heart has been broken too many times and maybe my standards are just low2.

So in terms of revisiting the James Bond model of this film, it is spectacular and done really well. Appropriating and reworking the bond structure and even extended to play with some of the more interesting story line that made aspects of this movie worth dissecting and useful for understanding the onslaught of modern slavery.

The characters were astounding. Samuel L. Jackson character—Valentine— played the “bad guy,” who was an unbelievably successful dotcom Mark Zuckerberg type, but with a healthy dash of black culture and style. Gazelle, his henchwomen hit the mark, who had Jaw’s metal in the form of prosthetic blade legs, but was largely adapted from the more tasteful Goldfinger chauffer Oddjob , who instead this time was a female assassin with an astute demeanor and the razor sharp mental prosthetic feet that combined with some Kung Fu would slice her victims into pieces. Then the hero—Eggsy— a son of a poor women living on the dole (welfare), who was a clever pickpocket, loyal friend and lacking opportunity (for cultural assimilation/success), but was spirited and of course “had potential” as this type of story goes—a clever and ambitious young man ready to be manipulated or “given a chance.” And yes, it is a story of becoming, the poor riffraff from the English housing estates (project) becoming a prestigious super spy—something the film itself acknowledges referencing the classics Trading Places, Nikita, Pretty Women, and My Fair Lady, these are films of personal transformation and changing sociopolitical roles to become “the chosen one” in any given test of “life success.” The thing parents, teachers and adults talk about: “to be something.”

The way this story is presented is Eggsy Father worked for this elitist spy agency seemingly above the MI5 known as the Kingsman Secert Service, but early on in Eggsy’s life his father’s career ended when he jumped on a grenade during an interrogation, and saved the lives of his spy colleagues. The guilt of what would become Eggsy mentor/handler Harry, who personally gave Eggsy’s a get out of jail free card as a consolation prize for his father’s death—notably, he gave it to Eggsy because the mother refused it and found it insulting after she lost her husband. Seventeen years later after stealing some local thug’s car that was bulling him and purposefully ramming the car head on into a police car, Eggsy found himself in jail. This created a situation where his get out of jail free card would come in handy and secretly initiated Eggsy’s recruiting process into the Kingsman Secret Service and subsequently provided him an opportunity to get out of the projects or in this case a Le Corbusier style counsel estate that was modeled after World War II bunkers to become a super spy.

Common to these transformations and their films of becoming they are littered with all sorts of messages. This film, like Charlie in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory had a strong class war discourse throughout the film, but was a little less subtle. Eggsy is poor and rightfully despises the “posh” and bourgeoisie demeanor of the English spy world, he is trying to conform into and is slowly taught how to be a “gentlemen.” This is where his ambition to “be someone,” escape the counsel estate, and help his family, is reconfigured into a desire to become a smooth talking agent of the state. Where the “poor kid”—underdog—is forced to compete in an elite spy training camp against all of the offspring of the Oxford and Cambridge aristocrats. This class tension is littered throughout the film, calling his handler Harry a “snob,” making a sarcastic comment over Harry’s foiling of Margret Thatcher’s assassination—“Everybody would thank you for that”—and an overall insecurity about being able to become a gentle men. And it is here when Harry describes being a secret agent says:

Harry: …We are first and for most gentlemen.

Eggsy: So me fucked then. It is just like Charlie [the rich kid competition] said, I’m just a pleb.

Harry: Nonsense being a gentleman has nothing to do with the circumstances of one’s birth. Being gentlemen is something one learns.

Eggsy: Yeah, but how?

Harry: Alright, first lesson, you should have asked me before you took a seat. [pause] Second lesson: How to make a proper Martini.

Eggsy: Yes! Harry.

So, like any appeal with being a spy it is about the things you get to do—travel, blow things up, be a skilled fighter, kill people without state imposed consequences, go to fancy parties and of course get drunk—“shaken not stirred” or in this film “Martini, Gin, not vodka obviously, stirred for ten seconds while staring at an unopened bottle of Vermouth.” Throughout the movie, Harry’s cleverly and honestly (from his perspective) is marketing being a “gentleman” to Eggsy and this becomes the criteria of his transformation. This message of being a gentlemen is always mixed with a certain value system that decontextualized and on an individual level is appealing and noble: well-dressed, strong self-defense skills, charming, and a Robin hood sense of justice, but this systematically confuses the order and function of political economy and society—the purpose of this assemblage—which ends up circulating and reaffirming the same broken mythology we are told our whole lives— some variation of social contract and liberal democracy. Likewise, in addition to these new skills of being a spy, it is the ability to drink or know how to make good Martini’s to woooh the women that solidifies this transformation. And it is a reminder that in the end, all classes can agree alcohol, sex, and violence (depending on its form) is attractive and it is through this common desire and ambition Eggsy’s transformation is facilitated. Drinking in this film as in most is frequently framed as positive, interesting and necessary—it is the oil of our industrial cybernetic society.

More interesting and appealing is the villain—Valentine and his plan to save the world! And that is the beauty of this film—the bad guy is plotting to save the world and heal the earth from climate change. His motives reveal some of the most interesting content of the film and here he explains to the audience his logic behind his motives:

Valentine: When you get a virus, you get a fever. That is the human body raising its core temperature to kill the virus. Planet earth works the same way. Global warming is the fever, mankind is the virus. We are making our planet sick. A cull is our only hope. If we do not reduce our population ourselves there is only one of two ways this can go: the host kills the virus or the virus kills the host, either way [switches character]

Spy Agency head (SAH): the result is the same: the virus dies.

Eggsy: So Valentine is going to take care of the population problem himself?

SAH: Well if we do not do something nature will. Sometimes a culling is the only way to make sure this species survives. And history will see Valentine as the man who saved humanity from extinction.

Eggsy: And he gets to pick and choose who gets culled, does he? All of his rich mates get to live and then anyone he thinks is worth saving he is keeping them safe whether they agree with him or not.

SAH: And you Eggsy, in Harry’s honor; I am inviting you to be part of the new world. It is time to make your decision.

SAH: I would rather be with Harry [dead], thanks (89:30)

So the evil plan is actually rooted in a very real and present problem and our villain even takes on an indigenous ontology for making sense of the situation, which is an important realization. A Zapotec friend of mine in Southern Mexico explained in an interview about climate change: “I think in my mother’s tongue that global warming is the sickness of the earth—Mother Earth is sick, but those people who have money are taking advantage of the illness of Mother Earth….” This hipster dotcom villain is onto something, his assessment is correct, but his theory is broken and is essentially just going to do what civilized thought has always done and is following the natural trajectory of industrialism with a cull—selective and in this case a class based extermination. What Valentine was doing to “save humanity form extinction” was setting up an elaborate and painfully clever system of participatory technological strangulation, which we are watching happen today in maybe, a less extreme or more accurately a less direct and slower way than killing all of the people on the earth that have not talked Valentine and will have a place reserved in his luxurious Arctic mountain bunker, which is fit with a dance club, a luxury prison and in general is draped with the best of intentions and comfort.

The most noteworthy aspects of this film are how it displays techniques of social control. First, he is trying to save the world (his way) based on a reasonable assessment of climate change. Second is how he is going to do what amounts to global class genocide. Valentine is by far one of the most realistic bond style villains that display’s the slippery nature of villain-hood in the 21st century. He is an MIT, techno-genius hipster with good intentions! He does not like killing, cannot stand blood, but is laying the foundations for global genocide in the name of saving the world. How telling of our current circumstances—it is like Green peace, Google and Black Water wrapped into one—he is the NGO-Techno-Mercenary Complex that emerges from the state system. This is what people are up against: cybernetics reinforced with an Eichmann complex that propels an amorphous spread of wires, plastic and Styrofoam across the planet and the people who inhabit it.

In a another scene after he tries out his knew technology on an extreme right-wing Christian church in the middle of the United States, his character and by extension his technology of genocide is justified when he actually directly kills someone in the parking lot of this church after he orchestrated a massacre.

Valentine: Is he dead?

Gazelle (Hench women): That is what happens when you shoot someone in the head. It feels good, right?

V: [Distressed] No! No! It does not feel good, it feels fucking awful!

G: What? You just killed how many people in that church? This is one guy!?

V: No, no, no, they killed each other. (88:00)

This man is hands off, keeps himself at a distance and could rarely if ever kill directly, but can provide free Sim cards in all of his altruism to everyone in the world so they could have “Free Calls-Free Internet-For Everyone-Forever!” Valentine, through his care and charity is going to save people tons of money, make lives easier and more comfortable in this modern world, while simultaneously installing levers into people’s lives that when he presses a button it will initiate, in his words: “a neurological wave that triggers the centers of aggression and switches off inhibitors.” This means when he presses the button people will lose their minds and start freaking out and trying to kill everyone around them, which looks oddly like Black Friday at Walmart, but on a large-scale turns into the most violent riot of people not attacking the structures of their control, but going for each other’s throats. I think it was what Hobbes imagined or what some people want us to imagine Hobbes meant when he said a “War of all against all”—or fear of Total Anarchy that was the justification for the Leviathan (state) that now produces the Mark Zuckerbergs and other equally deranged technologists who’s names we do not know developing drones, robots, nano and biotechnology weapon systems. So we are looking at techniques of participatory or inclusionary control using information technology that despite some subtle exaggerations and a centralized figure head(s)—to be villain poster child—we have a situation that is not far from our own.

The narrative in this film and Valentine’s theory suffers the under addressed narrative of Lord of the Flies. Behind this films class analysis and becoming an honorable and righteous gentleman to govern—so British—is this need to have structures to govern the people and oversee their relations and abuses of power with Spy agencies like Kingsman against villains like Valentine—goodies vs baddies. The message is the same as the Lord of the Flies where a group of kids are left to their own devices on a tropical island. On the island “human nature” emerges, the strong will inevitably organize hierarchical social structures to manage resources and subdue the weak and in this case the fat ginger kid with glasses got offed with a rock—poor Piggy ( . . . it could be any of us). This is a fiction against anarchy that delimits human cooperation, but what people always forget about those kids trying to kill each other on that island is that they were all from a British boarding school—inculcated with discipline, competition, classism and the list goes on. How could the kids act any other way if everything in their lives has been reaffirming authority with a class system and total submission to teachers and headmasters? Then add an island survival situation—of course shit is going to get like that, it is probably the only scenario Western culture can see as that is the trajectory it is on and constantly projecting on its subjects and the world. The kids are crammed into a violent and industrial mold that certainly was not going to give them living on island skills and probably left them with a whole lot of emotional baggage—probably more than we can comprehend. This is what was between the lines, or possible interpretations outside the author’s intentions, but people jump to the easy narrative to justify a twisted and one-sided “human nature,” which is deeply conditioned by our industrial culture, which transcends being strictly Western—especially with the onslaught of information technologies in the era of globalization and beyond.

This means two things. First, the all too common good governance narrative is long broken, because if anything governance usually ends up creating a rotten relationship that leaves people either materially deprived, psychosocially fragmented and their lives mediated by different authorities and technologies that typically manifests in physical and psychosocial decay. Often rendering us just like piggy panicking scrambling around looking for his glasses (GPS, etc) as we struggle to understand who we are, what we want, and why we are systematically discontent. Secondly, does Valentine really think taking some of the most successful and “smart” people in the world and putting them in a bunker is not going to end up creating a global Lord of the Flies situation all over again when he let’s all the “smart” and “important” people out of their mountain bunker to take up their countries and domains? It is going to get ugly, as it already is, but how is taking what are some of the most ruthless, power hungry and delusional—aka the most fucked up people in the world and saving them—even if many of them are the champions of cybernetics going to help the world? It sounds like a recipe for disaster that is an all too familiar past and reality.

In short, this film is rooted in a liberal narrative, exemplified in its finest scene of justice ragging on Middle America’s fascist Christians that portrays the image that England likes to project against its rebellious colony who made them their accountants. In all honesty, liberal narratives meshed with the action and excitement of mainstream film makes it less disappointing and even enjoyable because there is action—education turns into action, but of course it is the super elite spy agency saving the world that is constantly reaffirming a statist narrative. Nevertheless, the climax is a colorful explosion of beautifully explosive images of social justice, which becomes satisfactory—especially when you realize it is some of the most fucked up people in the world and then the liberal fantasy of social cleansing is realized. This anti-corruption fantasy is paraded without any real reflection about the systemic problems of governance—structure that reproduce systemic corruption, which means it is rotten. However, unlike most liberal analyses this film contained a useful depiction of techniques of social control that operate in our lives today. The modern industrial human sits in a double-bind in terms of political social narratives—stuck between political parties and ideological poles—that are systematically reinforced by film. In this current system of climate change, people forget that most people—typically “uncivilized people”—have always worked to improve their environments and now the industrial or civilized mindset, which has made industrial problems, only sees things like culls as solutions to environmental problems. Rarely, if ever reflecting on the systemic problems of market logic and the consumption that goes with it— like films and their industry that have emerged from campaigns of war and internal social pacification3. That is unless, challenging market logic begins to create new and expensive consumption habits (consumer politics) that reinforce the market structure often responsible for environmental degradation that is compounded by the “political economy of people”4 that has engineered population booms to reinforce the power and richness of states with their human resources.

With all of this said, the last cull I heard of was a Badger cull in England. Here some individuals or individual faced with a similar situation as Eggsy, but on a much smaller scale—like Eggsy saw that the cull was fucked up—and instead retaliated by burning down a 16 million pound inter-agency police-military training center, which was going to specialize in training military and police in foreign and domestic counterinsurgency. An action possibly as nerve racking or as “easy” as the group who did it claimed, but as dangerous as some of the feats paraded Kingsman5, except this time in real life with a real cull against Badgers, but with some substantial and important differences. Aside from not being a film, like Eggsy these people or person made a choice to go against the cull, they acted for the Badgers, who might have been a class of people they identified with, but was not strictly human in the case of Eggsy trying to save the world—they acted on their own and for the badgers, but they were not acting in the name of the state or their interest nor where they delusional about governance (judging by their actions) and those are two things Eggsy and the film completely missed. These are indicators that Eggsy and the rest of humanity with their obsession with progress and confinement will be forever desiring and doomed to a new form of modern slavery that will just keep them clicking and spectating until they are transformed into the pulses of energy running the wires and roads that keep this social machine spreading its “Free Calls-Free Internet-For Everyone-Forever!”

1 But I chose to see it, does that make me a victim anymore?

2 Notably, I had such high, and yes miss founded hopes for terminator 3 and 4. It still hurts, they still failed.

3For fun readings, see Virilio P. (2009 [1984]) War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception, New York: Verso.

4 For fun readings, see Foucault M. (1998 [1978]) The Will To Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: 1, London: Penguin Books, pp. 25-28

5 See http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/28/anarchist-fire-police-firearms-training; http://www.channel4.com/news/informal-anarchist-federation-bristol-arson-attack-anarchist


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.