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CastleVainia: On a divisive consensus in favour of hating identity politics

Non-Reflection

“What is a herring?”
“It is a whale that survived into communism.”
— Soviet joke

For some time now, online and in print, Mark Fisher has devoted his trenchant intellectual powers to one of the most confounding, acrimonious, depressing and pressing problems of our moment: the problem of Left-wing immobilization. In his key work, Capitalist Realism, Fisher undertakes an intervention into the recent history of the radical cognitive mapping of capitalism, particularly with regards to the work of Frederic Jameson, to which Fisher’s book aims to be both inheritor and interlocutor. Seeking to redirect the heavy apparatus of critique away from simply accounting for capital’s astonishing contemporary power – usually through the form of lengthy expositions upon the micro-political and bio-political machinations of a presiding ideological miasma dubbed neoliberalism – Fisher instead wishes to attend to the conspiracy of silence amongst critique’s practitioners with regard to the fruitlessness of the critique of capital itself, its socially-scripted destiny not to matter. To insist that such critique is kettled by capital is not new, of course, and it is not purely a product of a radical sobriety about the contemporary situation. As the abiding liberal anti-communism of one of its most influential contemporary advocates, Bruno Latour, overtly illustrates, it is most regularly directly looped to the defense of the (capitalist) politician, which stands, again and again, at the horizon of its notions of the possible.

Yet, if capitalist realism can be understood as requiring exactly this type of enlightened false consciousness about the outmodedness of critique from its house intellectuals, if its alternative model of change functions like a Mandelbrot set exactly because it is grounded axiomatically in the sheer fatality of the status quo, the problem of the critique of capital’s actual social irrelevance nonetheless remains. Enter here an enduring hyper-Left meta-critique of the inefficacy of contemporary critique, which looks for that irrelevance in the institutional infrastructure and class relations of the Left itself, especially with regard to the academy. In this hyper-Left (or, in Fisher’s parlance, neo-anarchist) analytic*, the function of the Left intellectual strata is not so much to purvey bourgeois ideology in any overt or covert way whatsoever – for the manifest ideological commitments of academics will range from avowedly and sincerely radical democratic (meaning, if not programmatically anti-capitalist, then unapologetically anti-inequality) to coherently and committedly Marxist. On the contrary, the systemic task of this strata is, rather, to philologise the political in a manner which riddles it stupid not only with disciplinarily silo-ed intellectual illiterates and narrowly well-read canonical ideological recalcitrants, endlessly squabbling with one another over this or that theoretical hitch, but which also sees it as its cardinal intellectual duty to itself to keep the hypothetical meaningfulness of such squabbles next to entirely inaccessible within the terms of social life, which, today, has nothing remotely approaching the pratiki which so defined the classical transformative interface between the Left intelligentsia and workers’ movements. At the same time, the hyper-Left critique points out that this intellectual strata, through its absorption into liberal-democratic socialization procedures, has also emptied out the academy itself as a zone which can incubate the sort of laudable fanaticism which allowed the student politics of the New Left to evolve into a movement which could combine with other social forces and set off, if often fecklessly with regard to its ultimate ends, a roiling transformation of the cultural stability of the relationship between liberalism and radicalism — a legacy with which we continue to live today. Because so much of what passes for radicalism in the Left and in academy today amounts to variously more or less sophisticated calls for the re-establishment of some new variant of an old “entente” between liberalism and the Left, especially under the rubric of “fronts”, the Left-academic complex participates in the constant re-recommendation of a formula for political progressiveness which can no longer apply. This, in sum, is its real social function in the present for the hyper-Left, and nothing but stasis can be expected from it. Any prospective resurgence of a real revolutionary movement, dim in prospect though it seems, will therefore have to arise away from, and even militantly against, the Left-academic complex, not out of anti-intellectualism, or in revolt against the pursuit of communism through complicated theory, but precisely out of the defense of revolutionary intellectual acuity against the annexation of conceptual difficulty to the administrationism of liberal-democracy – in what Pierre Rosanvallon (advocating it) finds to be its new triad of legitimacies – “impartiality, reflexivity, proximity” – and out of recognition of the colonization of consciousness that comes with the class curricula of the education process, through which one has to become versed enough in the syntax of contemporary political philology to competently critique it, without caricature, one’s self.

However, it is at exactly at this point that the hyper-Left critique runs into an integral dilemma which inheres in the fact it, too, practices its meta-critique in conditions under which the critique of capital, even as meta-critque, does not function. The enduring bind of this variant of critical consciousness about Left-wing social stasis, then, is that it reifies, time and again, the act of elucidating the hypocrisies of Left-wing intellectuals through reducing those hypocrisies to what it takes to be their real social functions. In this, it is engaging not so much in old-style positivist economism exactly as in a form of class-oriented ideological fatalism about real social functions themselves – a fatalism, passed off as realist analysis, which, basically, sums up capitalist realism in a phrase. From this standpoint, what stands out above all in regards to the Left is a presiding degeneracy, solipsism, and cupidity, all the more poisonous for the lettered, persuasive, radical-theoretical educational lacquering of its quackery and hackery – but there’s almost no way to quarantine the charge from extending through to the hyper-Left itself, of locating a like determinism in their own real social function. The very capacity of the hyper-Left to conduct a meta-critique of the Left as an intellectual strata but not to be able to do better than it thus effectively reimposes the conspiracy of silence about the fruitlessness of the critique of capital with regards to this meta-critique’s own enlightenedness. For the hyper-Left is no more on the cusp of overturning the socially scripted destiny to which capitalist realism has apparently consigned it than the Left itself. And given that it, too, recuses itself from responsibility for actually problem-solving ideological questions, rather than aggravating them; and given that it insists, on principle, that it has no obligation to devise new models and practical but consciously revolutionary-minded vehicles for possible collective action suited to this epoch, the hyper-Left, alongside the Left intellectual strata, squanders the socially-won resources, now rapidly fading, which have lent to the Left intelligentsia the degree of freedom that it has had to practice radical intellectual research on behalf of the logic of revolution.

It is here that we come back to Capitalist Realism for what made Fisher, anything but a ‘neo-anarchist’, markedly different in his attention to the fruitlessness of the critique of capital was that he was not particularly interested in critiquing the practice of emancipatory critique itself, of devising a theory of complicity in which the Left, as an intellectual strata, is constitutionally unable, due to the tautological fact of it being the Left intelligentsia, to alter social relations for the better. Rather, for Fisher, the Left is only as real in its social position as the wider ideological and institutional context that has overwhelmed its standing antagonism with the real state of society. Put another way, the very reason the Left can continue to practice critique incisively, if ineffectually, is due to the fact that it isn’t simply tethered in any way to structural control protocols for capitalist democracy at the level of its ideas, but conducts its thought from a space in which, to put it bluntly, it is safe so long as ideas are all it has to offer. Indeed, even though the hyper-Left critique of the Left largely rejects the idea that the Left is, in fact, by and large, incisive in its critiques, this doesn’t prevent the same point being applied to “neo-anarchism” itself, as the hyper-Left critique cannot but presume that incisiveness still remains possible within respects to itself, begging the question about how it can be so incisive, about what special relation to social reality it possesses which situates it, in its real social position, in a fundamentally different quadrant, with more capacity for emancipatory clarity, than the Left it critiques. Regardless of where one locates the intellectual acuity of the Left, or whether one, locating it not on the Left strata at all, locates it in one’s own hyper-Left position, the point is that the acuity, wherever it resides, simply won’t register on the social field. This, therefore, requires not postulating that the Left is interchangeable or innately commensurable with the social field that currently exists, but trying to elucidate the apparent imperviousness of the social field itself to Left-wing ideology of any authentic sort, no matter how strategically moderate or reformist or anti-elite and radical. This is the task that Capitalist Realism takes up.

It isn’t my purpose to review and explicate Fisher’s book here, to articulate what I think is indispensable about it and what I find off-base. Of immediate importance to this post is simply to argue that the social field is the main focus of the book, even as its main subject, though largely off-stage, is the problem of the powerlessness of Left critique. In deploying the charismatic and highly mimetic phrase of “capitalist realism”, Fisher endeavours to show the ontologization of capitalist politics as integrated not only to certain organizational structures and forms, which he elucidates mainly through a tour of their manifestations – market bureaucratic protocols, culturally contrarian precorporation of the radical contrary, psycho-pharmacological triage, and so on – but also as bound up with an elaborate regime of emancipatory communicative aesthetics that both are capitalism’s reality, what it really gives to people, as well as entirely fictive, indicative of what it never actually supplies. For Fisher, the situation of capitalist production within these aesthetics, as well as the invitation of social actors into accounting for their identities and desires in these terms, has confounded the dynamics which have historically situated the Left, clearly and transparently, against social conservatism. It is not so much that the Left is seen as politically or ideologically conservative – on the contrary, it is not even a sure thing that political conservatism in itself is viewed as undesirable in this context where capital stands aesthetically on the side of emancipation, as the very production of capitalism in this spirit of a life-subsuming aesthetic freedom has moved in tandem with the transition of neoconservative political doctrines into the space of social support and stability – but that the Left is understood to be committed to a politics of socioeconomic restriction in its confrontation with capitalism, which means, even when its ideologies coincide with the views of a majority, it appears not to represent their desires. Into this context then, we must insert Fisher’s most recent thought piece, which is, first and foremost, an impassioned intervention on the failure of the Left intelligentsia’s communicative aesthetics. To be sure, this is exactly why Russell Brand forms the pivot point he does for Fisher. It is in the capacity Brand demonstrated in his interview with Jeremy Paxman to communicate clearly the desires of the proletariat as both emancipatory and irreconcilably proletarian, as libidinally deregulated but also as conditioned by, and unfulfillable, by capital, which, for Fisher, is exactly what the Left intelligentsia cannot – or, moreover, does not want or ever intend to – do.

The trouble is, however, in levelling what I take to be a quite apposite j’accuse, Fisher’s article also opens out into a denunciation of the Left as an intellectual strata, the very kind of denunciation he so deftly sidestepped in Capitalist Realism by turning his attention to the generic state of immobilization which inflicts the social field itself. To be clear, the problem that arises is not so much that Fisher has decided to reverse gears and to denounce the Left intelligentsia as engaged in a peculiarly antagonistic class project to labour politics after all. To this extent, I agree. Unfortunately, a reckoning with the Left intelligentsia (in which I count, of course) on account of its class investments is not able to be avoided, if we really intend to get anywhere with regards to the absence, in post-70s capital, of any meaningful social force of labour. Where Fisher errs, however, is in his decision to pin the antithetical class content he now perceives back to “identitarianism”, as though this were in any way an apostatical move, in the process actually avoiding accurately and exhaustively elucidating the dynamics of what he (with an eye, as always, to this issue of the communicative aesthetic) perspicaciously identifies as the Vampire’s Castle. Perhaps it’s no great surprise that an article which doesn’t take many pains to delimit its equation of identity politics with class privilege – nor believes that it ought to – will be read as a reactionary turn on Fisher’s part. And I do believe that the way it wrestles with the real dilemma presented by bigotries in popular leaderships or figures of aesthetic traction which emerge in the mainstream is wholly inadequate, a point best encapsulated by the barbed, mordant point made by nothingiseverlost at Cautiously Pessimistic that it is not really in the ambit of those concerned with Russell Brand’s gender politics “to pop round to Russell Brand’s house for lunch and quiz him on his understanding of feminism” so as to refrain from offering a faultline in solidarity in public. Indeed, even if we took Fisher on his own terms here, we have little sense of what exactly this quiet questioning is meant to achieve should it find that an admired articulator of Left-wing ideas actually wishes to be a political racist, a political sexist, a political transphobe, or able-ist, or heterosexist, simultaneously? Fisher’s means of circumnavigating this problem is by accrediting it purely to a drive to essentialize on the part of the VC. “Notice the tactics,” he writes. “X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip.” Leaving aside the issue that it’s not at all the case that persons criticized are criticized for a lone remark or slip, but an ongoing behavioural structure or set of political beliefs (as was the case with, say, George Galloway or Julian Assange), the real problem here is the incapacity to really accept that an instance of sexism occurring simultaneously with an moment of stirring appeals to proletarian class consciousness might legitimately impair or even deaden the relevance for many who would otherwise be its audience, i.e. women with enough gender consciousness to see from the start they’re being directed to the pretty ladies’ line, regardless of whether it’s done in the form of a charming, self-deprecating compliment about desire and politics. Is the angst about identity politics, then, perhaps that it forces straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men to experience something of the ubiquitous double-mindedness and the constant broad perspective that women, queers, trans* persons, people of colour, and the disabled seem to have to constantly exert in the presence of figures which ostensibly denote class solidarity? Likewise, does the support for anti-identity-political figures who are women, queers, trans* persons, people of colour, and the disabled involve a deliberate disarticulation of their interests in the name of the fully compensatory emancipation they are assured is offered by class? These questions go wholly unanswered. Nor do they even need to be asked once it’s determined in advance that identity politics serves nothing other than the reproduction of the class superiority of its practitioners.

For all this, however, the barrage of criticisms of Fisher’s article have resoundingly failed to engage the region of truth in the concerns which drive it. Wittingly or not, they are trying to bury a provocation which I would argue we need to linger on: namely, the prospect that there is actually more continuity than divergence between the denigrating, shaming, micro-aggressive, contrarian, sectionally chauvinistic subjectivity of the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male and the culture of calling out of this subjectivity, and that this commonality, in which vexatious behavior structures constellate, has everything to do with class content. In his article, Fisher rightly gestures at the strange absence of class privilege from discussion of all manner of other privileges which occurs in what we might call, for the sake of a shorthand, call-out discourse. The subjectivity at its centre is only rarely precisely and properly placed in class terms. To a good degree, that’s because identity-based oppression appears to traverse the class antagonism: “whiteness”, for example, denotes an internally differentiated but nonetheless unitary identity position which bonds working-class and ruling class. But in this very disappearance of class from the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male subjective-structure (hereafter, S.A.W.C.M.), the problem of having a shared class with this subjectivity is, with troubling tenacity, simply not extended to encompass the position from which it is being addressed by its female, non-white, queer, trans* and disabled critics.

I should say, for clarity’s sake, that we are talking here strictly about a particular cultural enactment of radical, difference-based political speech, agendas, and analyses, in terms which act to erase class as a point of routine reference, and not the radical literature of difference itself, nor the full spectrum of its political activities. If anyone, for instance, really believes that intersectional analysis, in and of itself, simply suppresses class from its conceptual trajectory, they’ve not grappled sufficiently with the literature. Any good faith, non-obfuscatory criticism of intersectionalism’s readings of class would need to begin by accounting for the fact it actually has one, an intricate and compelling one, at that, and not by ignorantly declaring it void of any thought on the subject. Too, though it may seem unfathomable to many of the defenders of class that “identitarians” themselves could have conducted seriously illuminating critiques of intersectional literature, one would also need to read through the comprehensive replies and re-conceptualizations they have produced on the subject, particularly with respects to the relationship between class, women, and minorities, as well as the responses these, in turn, have received.* Exasperating as it no doubt is to be sent to the library when one wants simply not to like a thing, it bears reminding fellow Marxists in particular that their own propensity to do exactly the same goddamn thing when it comes to general illiteracy on political economy makes them especially obligated to abide by their own recommendations when it comes to the theoretical work conducted on subjects such as these, upon which they are, by and large, not experts. Allowing for this distinction, then, the erasure of class in the cultural production of call-out discourse should be understood to be about culture and not about unveiling the retrograde ideological truth of difference-based academic paradigms. Fisher’s article fails to make this clear enough – since he does, indeed, attribute the erasure of class to a category, “identitarianism”, amorphous enough to encompass radical scholarship and political organization around the structure and oppression of difference. But a generous reading of his piece can presume that a hatchet job on feminist or critical race or queer, trans, and disability theorist scholarship and organization is not his intent, and that he is, instead, trying to name a specific cathexis of abuse he sees at work in the stuntedness of the Left’s communicative aesthetic as a part of public culture more broadly, particularly when it comes to the subject of difference, an issue separate from the validity of struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and able-ism.

To my mind, it’s for this very reason that Fisher errs so badly when his typological breakdown of the Vampire’s Castle conflates the Left and the academy with a structure of academic cultural capital that belongs to a discourse of calling-out as a type of administration of cultural reach, a discourse that has more purpose and traction in the “progressive” middle-class public sphere than it ever does within the critical dialogues within the academia itself. Call-out discourse often mobilizes academic authority for its actions, and almost certainly involves persons who have had a university education overwhelmingly. But what it is, above all, is a structure of intellectual mediation, a product of communication networks crowding out the progressive public sphere as a site for the commensuration of proletarian and subaltern interests (otherwise known as the development of solidarity), in a system Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. Perhaps the most curious thing about the call-out discourse is that it switches the fruitlessness of the critique of capital into hyperdrive. Claiming to attend conscientiously to all the formations of inter- and intra-class distinction, to struggle to remind us of the crucial negentropy of race, gender, sexuality, body sex, and ability for capital in the capture of social revolutionary forces, the call-out discourse nevertheless asks for a mindfulness it simultaneously seems to know cannot be structurally effected. As C. Derick Varn observes at one point in his wide-ranging response to Fisher, “The recognition of privilege puts the agency in the hands of the oppressing factor and demands of them to acknowledge their failings, despite the fact that privilege is claimed to be a systemic benefit. What does acknowledging privilege even mean in a systemic context? It changes very little other than attitudes.” Indeed. In fact, in terms of the call-out discourse (which I’d distinguish from privilege as a theoretical concept)*, I’d contend it rarely changes even that, for the elaborate systems of psychosocial defense thrown up against this discourse mean that, far from fellow Leftists, let alone people generally, really absorbing the prospect of possessing privilege in any prolonged and tortuous way, they quickly get down to calling out the call-out culture (and thus participating in it, of which more below). All that is, perhaps, ever really made manifest to them by the call-out discourse, then, is a sort of empty méconnaissance of the frustratingly stubborn presence of a set of minoritarian Others, who are then thought to be using their own particularly egregious privilege to self-interestedly denounce privilege.*

The call-out discourse thrives on the myopic logic of the breaking news item, on the regressive structure of the stirred-up scandal. It isn’t fond of contextualizing called-out actions in a way which elicits analytical generosity, but it is quick to demand its own errors and insensitivities be contextualized in such a manner. Its main expressive range is an obnoxious blend of didactic and tabloidy, high-minded hortative homiletics blurring almost seamlessly with a sort of sickened and burnt-out (yet compulsively inexhaustible) sense of prurient “social responsibility”, just-so stories leavened by a beatification of abolitionist moral anger, scot free of any sense of the creative nullification of power possible in the real movement. In its ambit, micro-aggressions – an absolutely indispensable concept through which to understand the fine-grained, capillary depth of oppression (in a way the S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure furiously refuses to acknowledge, time and time again) – lose all contextual proportion, becoming cooked evidence of sweeping endorsements, by those who inflicted them, of the most egregious structures of heterosexist, racial, sexist, cissexist, able-ist persecution and pillage (while the calling-out of the call-out discourse itself depends on exaggerating this in order to refute the entire legitimacy of attending to micro-aggressions altogether). Incoherence, muddle-headedness, stubbornness, in relation to one’s remarks, or a disappointing indifference toward their impact, are not named as such, nor explained for what they are – namely, forms of intellectual imprisonment, which do injustice to the full relevance of critical paradigms – like Marxism – which don’t actually need to be at loggerheads with pedagogies of difference at all. Instead, they are metastasized into egregious indications of a liberation from care, which misappropriates and mangles the intersectional meaning of “privilege” as referring to the insulation from care such imprisonment proffers to the S.A.W.C.M., not its innate structural liberation from relating, the incapacity for care. The language of ineradicable suffering that is the currency of the penological state, the proliferating categorizations of dysfunction and deviancy which belong to contemporary therapy, the responsibilization of the subject that is part and parcel of the privatization of social problems, the social justice entrepreneurialism so necessary to moving products on the market: all of these, and more, form the moral architecture of call-out discourse. Most curious, however, for a discourse which situates itself so emphatically on the Left, is how little class privilege features as a standard basis upon which to be called out (or, more precisely, it is not a standard basis upon which to call people out, at least, for “identitarians”; not so for “anti-identitarian” socialists, who never stop calling out the “divisive identity politics” of the call-out culture on this count and are, in this respect, themselves are a part of that culture, of which, again, I shall add more momentarily). Thus, the ascription of “white” and “male”, in particular, to an oppressive subjective-structure which organizes society around itself is far more common than the assignation of, say, “middle-class”, for “identitarians”. Why, exactly, is the middle-class subjectivity – surely one of the most socially oppressive and economically false subjective-structures at work today – not subject to the same casual nomination practices in call-out culture? If it’s not knowable in the same way as ‘white’ and ‘male’, how come? It isn’t hard to deduce that it’s because any middle-class subjective-structure posited in the same terms as that of “white” and “male” would have to encompass the real social position of the interlocutors of the S.A.W.C.M. themselves.

This, then, is the basic point to Fisher’s article. Between a call-out culture which does not push back on class privilege in the same manner as it does subjective-structures like whiteness and maleness, and a socialist Left which he feels has failed in its duty to interrogate the class privilege of the call-out culture itself, there has arisen a yawning chasm in attending culturally to the way in which class structures subjectivity from the Left, such that (a) class politics has become the almost exclusive province of the populist reactionary muck-raking of the Right, and (b) it appears as though real straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men and the marginal opponents of the hegemonic S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure share nothing in common, that their alliances can only be coalitional, never amalgamated or enduringly integrated in any dimension, for to do so would automatically re-smother difference. These seem to me legitimate, serious and urgent criticisms. But Fisher’s manner of accounting for this impasse threatens to reduplicate it, enmeshed as it remains in the communicative aesthetic of emancipatory disavowal which underwrites the media structure of call-out culture, as an activity which allures exactly by offering the pleasure, in line with elaborate public enactments of one’s supposedly advanced understanding of privilege, of never having to count one’s self in. Thus, exactly to the extent that he truncates the problem of the reproduction of class privilege on the Left to the practice of “identitarianism”, Fisher misses how it is not so much identity politics, at all, but the denunciation of identity politics that is something like the core hidden curriculum of the Left’s class privilege. In this respect, what has been so instructive about the replies to this article has been the way in which exactly none of them that I have so far read have actually come to a principled defense of identitarianism in itself. Notice that this response from Angela Mitropoulos damns Fisher exactly by insisting that he, too, bowdlerizes class down to a mere identity politics and so traffics in all that’s awful about identitarianism. Or, in other words, identitarianism remains the enemy here. On Facebook, a different variation on this theme played out when a friend of mine came to a qualified defense of Fisher’s article. He dissented from it, in insisting that identity has to be understood as the internal differentiation produced by the capitalist social totality (a point with which I’d agree actually) – thus, acknowledging its intrinsic necessity to a Marxist account of capitalism – only then to argue that the article actually articulates class as a social relation of exploitation, which meant, for this person, that Fisher’s claims that identity political consciousness suppressed class solidarity in and of itself held up because class is a “structure” which supersedes and orders social relations of oppression, while identity is a structured differentiation inside that structure. But identity politics is always already a politics of structure which extends to through to the status of class as that which encapsulates the total logic of the oppressions, not in order to necessarily insist that capitalism, as the mode of production, isn’t singularly stationed with respect to the social totality but, rather granting capitalism is at the center of it, to say that the violent total reproduction of the mode of production is nonetheless not the same thing as the last-instance exploitation of the working class primarily. Exploitation can only function through the displacement of the universality of the working-class via the work of gendering, racializing, sexualizing, sexing, abilitizing, which is what the global division of labour (and its crossing-through of the domestic) is all about. In this way, why Fisher’s article is, indeed, identity political with regards to class is because it actually exposes, both wittingly and unwittingly, through its drawing attention to the matter of class privilege, how deeply the labour question is an identity question, no matter how much we desire to take class out of that equation, situating it purely above the fray of internal differentiations, as that unity toward which all our sections must transcend.

Most bizarrely, though, yet perhaps most tellingly, to the list of those who refuse the mantle of identity politics can also be added those who actually are said to “practice” identity politics: the people who call out racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, cissexism. After all, don’t they do so precisely by insisting that it is the naturalized identity political interests of the white, straight, cis, able-bodied male which impels this type of political activity structurally upon them? Isn’t it the case that the philosophies of matrical difference which inform the intersectional have, nearly a decade ago now, been subject to immanent criticism about their identitarianism from within the philosophies of difference, with an emphasis placed on thinking the intersectional as a queer assemblage? In just this way, “identitarians” are, by and large, insistently anti-identitarian too, in the sense that they perceive “identity politics” to actually be the practice of normal politics, toward which their struggle for real solidarity is an effort to expunge the structuring identity which divides social relations into so many splinters. Ending the subjective-structure of locked identification is the purpose of the other-mindedness of intersectionality and its legatees, but, as often, it comes accompanied with a locked identification in regard to being the opponent of the subjective-structure of locked identification. In short: no one really actually thinks of themselves as the identity politician. That abject practice always lies elsewhere. And because Fisher, unpolemically, doesn’t want to be seen as the identity politician either, he loses what’s provocative in his critique: the very unabashedness with which he forces class into the matrix of call out culture – that is, not by counterpoising class to identitarianism but, rather, by using the terms of identitarianism to insist that complicity in class oppression be considered as a completely legitimate charge which could be leveled against every one of these interlocutory positions in the call-out discourse. Thus, Fisher’s article can be summed up with the axiom that call-out culture is, by necessity and by intention, classist, a term which only makes sense within the realms of identity political claims. The communicative aesthetic of the call-out culture shames those who, though white, though male, though cis, though straight, though able-bodied, having come from working-class backgrounds, struggle to give word to voice when one is told one already has a voice that gets represented all the time, who battle to feel intellectually adequate amid the better (or simply privately) educated who seem not to need to know much about your background because, identity-wise, they already do, who fail to integrate the wounds of class into their assumed status on the Left as the social norm of non-oppressed experience. To be painfully clear, what Fisher is getting at is the very sense in which the above pleas will predictably come over as a familiar pretext for the S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure to be re-centralized. This incapacity for them to register any other way is exactly the sense in which the class division in this subjective-structure is silenced by its interlocutors in the call-out discourse. The more disquieting realisation, then, when one factors in class as a matter of identity political concern, is that the interlocutors of the S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure often share a fundamental interior unity with that which they reject: this selfsame white, straight, cis, able-bodied, male subject. For, in reality, this oppressor subject is also a classed subject, and, though its class nature doesn’t coincide with the proletariat in any number of respects, it is a subject which the call-out culture has allowed to monopolize the representation of class, only objecting to what it leaves out, not objecting to – and linking the battles against sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, and transphobia to – the very classism of seeing the working class which happens to be white, straight, cis, able-bodied, and male as participating without any necessary qualification on class grounds in the privilege of the white, straight, cis, able-bodied male oppressor subjective-structure.

Hence, the need by call-out culture – when called out internally by some other member of a marginal position within the oppression matrix itself: a feminist called out by a queer activist, a male race theorist called out by a white feminist, a white feminist called out by a black feminist or vice versa, and so on and so on, through all the permutations – to dismiss their arguments, through more or less trolling or recondite means, as being proxies of the white, straight, cis, able-bodied, capitalist male subjectivity. With the first appearance of capitalism here, in the denunciation of other criticisms which arise internally, from within the oppression matrix, we encounter just about the only time that class rates mention in the call-out discourse, and find that it is only in order to establish how the S.A.W.C.M. and one’s black, or gay, or female, critic can share interests which should otherwise, by the logic of that discourse, be structurally incommensurable. With this exit-strategy, the “critique” that the call out discourse thus embodies theoretically never has to extend into self-interrogation of one’s own structural class position. But the exit-strategy is also yet another closed loop in the system, for clearly, by this logic, anyone can be subject to this claim that their interests tie back to the S.A.W.C.M. at some vector; any ideological prism on oppression politics – including one’s own Correct and Absolutely Accurate Views – has to be acknowledged as potentially subject to being denounced as secretly invested in the status quo, with no way of you knowing if this charge is correct. There is, effectively, no way to insulate one’s self from the accusation that one is working against the identity interests one claims to represent. Is it so astonishing in such conditions of deranged critical exchange that there presides an incapacity to think through the sincere motives, sound logics, and accurate data of arguments that one doesn’t agree with, and then to actually address them with better arguments? When incommensurable identity claims are fed through the call-out discourse, there’s no responsibility to actually be accountable in devising a new measure of commensuration – in other words, an emancipatory communicative aesthetic. Faced with impasses in solidarity, there’s no sense of an obligation to have to actually solve them. After all, why would one want to solve anything with a racist, a sexist, a transphobe, a heterosexist, an able-ist? Their very intellect is the problem. It’s not a far step then, once this dynamic comes to encompass every expression of prejudice, every stupidity, every recalcitrance and incapacity to change, every insulation from care, as social media and the hyper-archive of the internet enables, to come to the conclusion that nothing simply can be solved. The reasoning becomes inescapable: if perhaps more well-intentioned overall, the Left – beyond one’s own cluster of like-minded comrades, who give one strength – is simply as reactionary as the rest of the social field.

Of course, this isn’t to try and smuggle in any kind of injunction to work for mere compromise, to paper over ideological distinctions under a rubric of “the greater cause”, but rather to say there is little feeling in the Left intelligentsia, by and large, that one’s politics entails a trust to actually participate in intellectually traversing antagonisms, not merely to reproduce them. To say, “let’s not waste time and energy detonating and obstructing other projects on the Left, as though there were so little space in society that a racist or ableist or sexist or homophobic or cissexist Leftist figure or project becoming popular can’t receive our tolerance, or even selective, strategic support of a simultaneously critical order, depending on the depth of its bigotry”, is, under current conditions set by the call-out culture, to engage in the cardinal sin of subjugation-through-prioritization. And, by this, I don’t mean that one is thereby obliged to join the ranks of such a project or refrain from publicising its bigotries loudly and effusively or to give it aid in any concrete way, even on points of agreement, but just perhaps to retain enough overall contextualization in doing so not to treat it as interchangeable with the opposite side of politics, with right-wing Reaction itself, to act in light of its contradictory complexity as a Left phenomenon, to not only think of it as wrong because it is an exclusionary class project but to adjudicate the importance of its class positions against the systematicity of its exclusions (are these exclusions policies? mere expressions? personal practices of exploitation by leaders? abuses and cover-ups in a party? what?), calibrating toleration of its viability and legitimacy to that extent, and only to that extent. After all, can any of us seriously doubt that this dismissal of all structurally privileged, intellectually incoherent or stubbornly oppression-deaf Left politics as simply co-extensive with the interests of capitalism doesn’t factor into the ease with which the capitalist class disperses any viable fragment of class politics that does emerge, or why the capitalist class is so eager to appeal to “conscience” through reification of – and viral deployment of call-outs through – the oppression matrix (that is, to ruthlessly use race (or racism), gender (or sexism), sexuality (or heterosexism), ability (or ableism), and cissexuality (or cissexism) as the ever-ready basis for class political derailment)?

Therefore, what Fisher is trying to do in gifting name to the Vampire’s Castle, I believe, is to hold a mirror to the too often reflectionless intelligence of oppression politics once it is sucked out of the realm of scholarship or ground-level political organization and pumped in to the NGO-mentality-infused, social media-structured, lifestylist-based, advocationism of the call-out culture, where, annexing to itself the imprimatur of that scholarship and that organizing, such politics is able to translate any suggestion there’s a problem with this specific practice of them into yet more confirmation of the shamelessness of the S.A.W.C.M. oppressor subjectivity. The point is simple, and not at all Fisher’s alone: that the oppressor subjectivity, whether oppression political advocates of the call-out discourse like it or not, is no longer going to be only white, only straight, only cis, only able-bodied, and only male from here on in (though nor is it going to be not beholden to that subjective-structure simultaneously). What has happened is that this subjectivity has actually formally democratized – and it is behind this democratic pluralism, in which charismatic representatives and very real interests of minorities can be incorporated, that the S.A.W.C.M. now exerts its presiding and persistent control. Therefore, as identity oppression becomes more and more broken up and divided by class precisely through its incorporation into the terms of formal equality, the refusal to traverse antagonisms which has become so ubiquitous on the Left will increasingly enact moral subjectivities in place of the automatic political subjectivities once possessed by non-working class persons who share oppressed identities. The lingering question, one hopefully not to be combated with an immediate negative reply but pondered over, even if ultimately to be totally abjured, is this: if oppression political Leftists – the ones who practice the politics of difference beyond the call-out culture – care about class politics one iota, what are they going to do about the way the call-out discourse expropriates their communicative aesthetic? Because, as of now, the way in which their concerns are made manifest is dismally failing the production of a society-wide working-class movement which is necessary not most urgently for the white, straight, cis, able-bodied, male, but the majority of each of their own identity constituencies – which reside in that self-same working-class, in a collective body which is classed – bound together with subaltern straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men – alongside being raced, abilitized, sexualized, sexed, gendered. Whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, cissexuality, ability: whatever degree of countermeasure to exploitation they supply, none of these are ever remedies for class inequality. This qualification is intrinsic to capitalism. But it is not something which is much mentioned by the non-thinkers of capital which populate so much of the call-out discourse, claiming, as they do, to really understand the literature on difference that they draw on as their authority, even as they suppress its keen-eyed appreciation for the weaponization of minority difference by capitalist polity.

Where Fisher’s critique goes right off the rails, though, is when it feels free to contradict itself and implicitly postulate that class struggle does, indeed, provided a remedy to identity inequality if one is in the upper class. That’s to say, it evinces the assumption that the possession of class power actually can effectively compensate for the structure of oppression, if historically oppressed people rise into its upper echelons. In this, it recollects the (quite varying) projects of Adolph Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, for whom also the structural violence of identity differentiation along lines of race, gender, sexuality, body sex, and ability, seems, in different ways in each of their accounts, to somehow lose structure, become a merely performative identity of residual, if real, prejudice (the relation to structure of which is never really delineated), once it rises above the working-class line. From this view, a structural reimbursement enters into action upon one’s joining the bourgeoisie, petit or haute, as the exploitational dimensions of racial, gendered, sexual, body sex, or disability oppression within the capitalist totality are only able to operate on the proletariat (the pressure of proletarianization is not looked upon as a principle which relates to the entire logic of capital in its totality for this literature), and this reimbursement is what enables domestic elites and the contemporary, global, ruling class to exercise unity across a growing number of different identity interests. Minorities and women in the upper classes can’t be viewed as engaging in any level of authentic representation of ongoing structural violence against them which would be urgently meaningful for a socialist, precisely due to this speculated neutralization of oppression with respects to them as their identity group’s upper-class representatives. Thus, their class privilege converts their victim claims, no matter how sincere they may well seem to the persons in question, into propaganda for the elite to pursue class war under the rubric of human rights for minorities and general inclusive progressiveness. Most importantly, that war is waged against women and the members of these minorities in the lower class above all. Lest it seem as though I’m suggesting that being situated in the upper classes doesn’t fundamentally affect the relationship of women and minorities to the structure of their oppression, then let me make clear that I am not. But the basic contention – without which this view cannot sustain itself – such that this structure is effectively subdued in all serious exploitative dimensions by such incorporation, is bogus, and, in effect, does not accept, whatever it professes, that the structuration of identity is, indeed, structural, that it holds in place across the social totality. To assume that class privilege and the straightforward alleviation of oppression go together betrays, for starters, a startling lack of contemplation about what the history of anti-Semitism has to tell us. And, indeed, I think it’s no coincidence that it is women especially – who perhaps experience this paradox the most intensely – who are routinely denigrated as “liberal” for continuing to articulate grievances of gender despite their possession of class privilege.

For those, then, who might be quick to take away from the negative feminist reactions to this piece a simple reconfirmation that all such reactions signify is the VC, ever the expropriator of feminism, up to its usual nefarious work, it might be worth considering that there might be something else going on here than the shameless imperative to protect a class identity by a bunch of posh, bought-off women (if not for the wince-inducing nature of that thought itself, then at least because there’s no reason to assume that “identitarian” feminists come only, perhaps even mainly, whatever their educational history, from middle class backgrounds). Rather, I feel as though the lopsided gender reaction to this piece is precisely because the article fails to include anti-identitarian socialists within the Vampire’s Castle, where they, too, squarely belong. Here, Fisher’s article reproduces the antagonism whereby Marxists feel free to simply issue declarations of refusal to wrestle with class consciousness as necessarily entailing a structured identity in consciousness – disingenuously insisting that the working class as theorized through the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men of the intelligentsia naturally coincides with the interests of the oppressed, especially those of the oppressed in the working class, even, as, of course, the same doesn’t hold for the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and able-ism and their intellectual advocates. And thus, it’s also no surprise to observe two things: that, of those who have flocked to this article, out of sincere care about the hypocrisy of the repression of class identity in call-out culture, including myself, most would identify themselves as socialists, even as the majority of these self-same endorsers have also been straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men, who, by all reactions I’ve so far seen, don’t have any intention or desire to think through their own class politics as part and parcel of their own particularly insidious role within this call-out culture: namely, the self-appointed duty, reserved to themselves, to call-out calling-out and thus preserve their special monopoly, against “identity politics”, over being leaders of the class.

To insist that Marxists, as leaders of the class, need to be ‘tribunes of the oppressed’ is fine enough, so far as it goes, and better than being told the oppressed can simply be represented by the interests of the class, without differentiation. However, the implication of the Leninist motto, in addition to arrogating the status of class tribune to Marxists exclusively, also cannot but carry the inference that the oppressed are not acting as their own tribunes properly if (a) they are not Marxists, or (b) they are not exempting class from the field of oppression and arguing that it belongs solely and exclusively to the realm of exploitation, which defines the entire field. The lack of autonomy this ultimately admits to oppression divisions – as well as the way it refuses to consider that what makes class distinct may be that it features twice, once, as classism, at the oppression level, in suppressing and asserting the political identity of labour, then again, as the intrinsically class nature of all the oppressions, including this lower level of class identity, at the totality defined by exploitation, in producing value and reproducing the capitalist character of the social as a whole – means that it annexes class, time and again, to a particular subjective profile of a predictable sort. The foreseeability of this is exasperating, and it largely has to do with the refusal for non-oppressed identity groups to adopt the self-awareness of understanding themselves as structurally practicing identity groups when they practice politics, whether they like it or not. It is exactly for this reason that it is simply not good enough to be inclusive through recognizing minorities in the power structures of struggle yet not cede the majority of the apparatus of leadership to oppressed identity groups. It is precisely why it is not good enough to claim familiarity with the literature of difference while displaying ongoing citational ignorance of that literature and an absence of an evolving relation to it. It is absolutely why it is not good enough to emphasize and re-emphasize comradeship without detailed, simultaneous dialogues on how to circumvent the inequality of egalitarianism that will deterministically undergird this solidarity in practice. And again and again, all rhetoric of the first order comes with none of the commitment to the painstaking labour of the second. Is it any shock that many women and minorities would look away?

Yet, again, to stop at this point, with this deconstruction of what goes so wildly wrong about Fisher’s piece, would be to end by placing the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male back in the Vampire’s Castle and restoring it to the unfalsifiable status of its self-certified slayers in the call-out discourse. It would be to implicitly re-endorse the also exasperating refusal of identity political tribunes of oppressed groups to possess the self-awareness of understanding themselves as perfectly able to practice the oppression of the general capacity to form a much-needed labour identity (otherwise known as “the working-class subject”). Finding a way out from the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male subjective-structure’s stranglehold and moving beyond the acid bath of its infinite, irresolvable interrogation through the call-out discourse doesn’t have to mean turning away from identitarianism, as Fisher thinks (thus, in the last instance, revalorizing the S.A.W.C.M. and blunting his critique). More than that: it can’t throw out identity in this way. Identitarianism is fundamental to the fact that class identity is deeply anchored in a non-inclusive politics of identity itself, and it will exist as long as that politics exists. But it does mean the call-out culture (and the metadiscourse of calling-out calling-out which is at the heart of that culture) does need to be attacked more ruthlessly and meticulously in its mediating-manifestation for the class project it is, thinking it and the S.A.W.C.M. together, in a manner which reveals their shared class interests, even when they are in utter antagonism on all the other identity vectors. This is especially applicable when the call-out culture tries to insulate itself from critique of its behavior as an artifact of class privilege by making out that only it can articulate the real total interests of its sector of oppressed minorities in the lower classes, due to shared identity — as if class to race, to gender, to sexuality, to sex, to ability (like race, like gender, like sexuality, like sex, like ability, to class itself) were not a Heisenberg principle which interfered with the accuracy of the identification through the very medium of its measurement. Simply stated, there is a single structure which underlies both the “anti-identitarian socialist” and the “classless identitarian” positions in call-out discourse, no matter how antithetical they appear to one another. Perhaps situating this culture materially, as a structure of the media and of intellectual mediation, at an intersection of class and advocacy, as a practice of academic capital not at all necessarily coincident with either Marxism or the pedagogies of difference produced by the Left intelligentsia but only with their bracketing, will enable us to begin to disentangle ourselves from the production of inertia and internal blame this call-out culture induces, without, at the same time, mistaking the embrace of libidinal affirmationism as necessary for revolutionary-minded progress, a logic, as some of Sara Ahmed’s most recent work so wisely shows, which has always been structured against the unhappy tidings and willful relations of the feminist killjoy. If a refusal to identify with the class similarity across identity positions is intrinsic to the shared class identity of the Left intelligentsia involved in the call-out discourse, then the answer is not to declare war on that intelligentsia, as satisfying as that may be, but to begin to think about the specific structures, not overwhelmingly ontological, which culturally endorse, for their own purposes, such intellectual irreconcilability between “identitarianism” and ye olde “class struggle”. It is such a set of structures, neither reducible to the interests of the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male subjective-structure alone nor for one second separate from those interests, such structures of class, which, in their own right, alongside the structures of race, of gender, of sexuality, of cissexuality, and of ability, must be struggled back against collectively. And which a good many “identitarians”, still waiting for their anti-identitarian counterparts to come join them, stand ready and willing to do.


* The phrase “hyper-Left” is used specifically to connote an underlying unity between it and the Left that it criticizes, a qualitative difference in pitch and trajectory, but not ultimately in kind. This is because, like the Left, it too wishes to assert a positive Left-wing identity in the form of an emancipatory social majority. What separates it, however, from the Left as such, is its presiding concern for anti-authoritarianism. Closely associated with the academic authority of Deleuze in Anglo-European intellectual milieus, but as deeply evident in strands as diverse as horizontalidad, continental Maoism, Third Worldist delinking theory, and decoloniality literatures, what defines the hyper-Left most clearly is a radicalization and intensification of the principle of abolitionist opposition to the arche in revolutionary theory and praxis. Most anarchism thus falls within its perimeters, but by no means all, just as not all who practice it would consider themselves anarchists (indeed, may even be highly hostile to anarchism as a political project). Nonetheless, it is primarily a social anarchist-influenced and oriented critique of the Left (against a Left which is understood as social democratic, evolutionary socialist, or revolutionary Leninist Marxist in the main) which is being addressed in this post. It ought not to be confused with the left communist – or ultra-Left – critique of the Left, which is a very different beast, and not covered here.

* Perhaps the most important, recent interrogation of the uses of “intersectionality” as a means to truncate, rather than engage, the breadth of work of “identitarians” can be found in Sharon Holland’s absolutely excellent book, The Erotic Life of Racism. Most interestingly, for the purposes of this context, is precisely that Holland’s focus, when discussing intersectionality, is explicitly on how queer, feminist, and anti-racist theory – the dread castle keep of “identity” – has itself, through its own internal criticisms of “identity”, displaced, and not dispelled, its presence, through displanting it on to the abjectly “moralistic” and supposedly ever critically “delayed” figure of the black.female.queer. In the process, it has worked to reproduce the relations through which the black.female.queer is rendered “vestibular to culture” (in Hortense Spillers’ phrase). As Holland writes, in a way which this anti-identitarian socialist criticism would consider impossible, “The prohibition against calling out the disenfranchised (especially the black disenfranchised)…is still fully ingrained in neoliberal thought.” She adds, however: “Nevertheless,… it is clear from the faculty meeting to the blog entry that white subjects have been more inclined to critique black subjects, even though such critiques are usually salted with the same kinds of bad analogy, historical sedimentation and outright racist invective that I have critiqued elsewhere in this project.” (70) Despite a quite severe post-70s capitalist prohibition against criticism of the pedagogies of difference, evolving out of a “progressive” liberal class shibboleth in respects to maintaining the integrity of the new “inclusive” capitalism’s theater of identity-mindedness, the inclination to criticize, dispel, and suppress the intrusive thoughts of the black.female.queer as such has not diminished much at all within the radical, anti-capitalist Left intelligentsia. Rather, now mobilizing the prohibition it purportedly criticizes in order to help avoid familiarizing itself with the actual plurality of positions that “identitarians” hold, that inclination has derived renewed legitimacy from the critique of “identitarianism” itself, which, falsely, again and again, situates on its opposite side the identity politics which it and the prohibition together reinscribe upon “identitarians”, exactly in order to critique the disenfranchised safely – by marking them as actually-not-really disenfranchised, as “liberals” simply on account of being “identitarians” – and to accomplish this through the supposedly “risky” gesture of critiquing “identity” itself. In this way, “anti-identitarianism”, especially of the socialist universalist kind, re-enacts the very racialization, gendering, sexualization, cisgendering, ablitization, that it insists is neither its manifest purpose nor its unconscious desire. This, in other words, is exactly how the oppression of difference works as a social structure which continues to encompass the Left intelligentsia. To fold the internally intersectionally riven pedagogies of difference into the logic of “identitarianism” is thus a move which reifies them in regards to the distribution of a possession of a marginal identity across any number of disagreeing subjectivities already within it who, entirely compatibly with their antagonistic political philosophies, nonetheless continue to identify with it as a salient method of understanding their historical condition. Put another way, an identification with “blackness” or “feminism” or “queerness” is not progressive in and of itself (certainly not anymore), but a socialism which comes at the expense of such an identification with the subjectivization of difference is reactionary in a way which makes even non-progressive identifications with “blackness” or “feminism” or “queerness” seem progressive. Worse, the denunciation of identifications which run afoul of one’s own critical paradigm as, ipso facto, on side with capitalism is a move unfortunately common to “anti-identitarian” socialists and identitarian critics of “intersectionalists” alike, itself exposing a structurally shared petit-bourgeois-ideological class project of intellectual mediation that is parsed out between them (a project that is synonymous with its raced, gendered, sexed, sexualized, and able-ized biases). The assiduous adjudication of conflicting bodies of evidence about systems of oppression, the complex integration of a previously excluded consideration as to what constitutes a marginalized group’s interests into analysis, the breakthrough discovery of a lost basis for commensuration of seemingly collidingly opposed identity interests or the bedeviling interjection of a new or forgotten incommensurability between differences that has been – in the interests of unity – socially, institutionally, and intellectually repressed: these discrete, difficult, and crucial acts of pedagogy, which are necessarily part of an ongoing process of intellection that derives from and must be used to inform the real movement, are derailed, over and over, by the arrogated claim, made by “identitarians” and anti-identitarian socialists both, to have in their possession a simply more authentic intellectual representation of the oppressed object in its totality. Occurring as this does across the identity/solidarity antagonism, it reduplicates the bind it alleges that it wishes to be rid of, in the form of the hidden assurance that it can ultimately answer all its critics by leveling the (at times accurate, at times inaccurate) charge that they are engaged in “racism”, “sexism”, “heterosexism”, “cissexism”, “ableism” – that is, the programmatic, political reproduction of oppression privilege – or, on the other hand, that their intellectual project is manifestly “bourgeois” – that is, engaged in the programmatic, political reproduction of capital. In this, we can spy a silent harmony between the defence of universalism and the practice of universalism’s critique, for both require, prior to determining the truth of any of their adversaries’ statements, either the structuring idea of the innate non-universalizablity (“idealism”) of their “identitarian” opponents, or the intrinsic non-de-universalizability (“materialism”) of their own “anti-universal” thought. Because of this, the critique of “identitarianism” by radicals, like the critique by liberals of Marxism itself as something which intrinsically suppresses pedagogies of difference, rests at a juncture of epistemologically self-satisfied refusal, a shared juncture, where to know one critique disciplinarily demands incapacity to know the other. Given the way in which the Marxist critique of political economy is constantly subjected to the most howling misrepresentations by persons with the highest degree of educational qualification, one would think that there would be a greater degree of intellectual sensitivity to ensuring that other paradigms were dealt with as though they were the product, collectively, of people who can think, that entire fields which devote themselves explicitly to the critique of inequality, inclusive of class, were not reduced to the straightforward status of schilling for capital. Here, the problem of the Left intelligentsia’s incapacity to communicate meaningfully with itself does, indeed, rest on the kind of intellectual subjectivity that the disciplinarity of the university as an arm of the bourgeois state (inclusive of the merely enhanced disciplinarity of so-called “interdisciplinarity”) produces. The maintenance of privilege – inclusive of class privilege – at the level of the Left intelligentsia is also the maintenance of a non-collaborative intellectual praxis, a monopoly over the right to position one’s self at the leading edge of radicalism in its totality, to not just be a piece of the revolutionary puzzle, learning from and mindful of the indispensable intellect of structurally displaced others, whatever calls for “inclusion” are formally introduced as a means to be ‘representative’. And in such a context of institutionally trained irresponsibility toward cultivating comprehensive, solidary thinking in trust of the integrity of differently-minded comrades; in the shadow of a dominant critical space where “Marxism” becomes a totem for the subsumption of all thought under its special claim to be able to think the totality alone and on its own, and where “difference” becomes a totem of the refusal of any totality whatsoever to be thought upon, it’s perhaps no grounds for astonishment, as a historian once wrote about the intellectual climate of the 1930s, that dogma would be rampant while certainty is elusive.

* I’d disagree with Derick that the emphasis on recognition in privilege theory itself has no effect on anything but attitudes. For the point of acknowledging privilege in a systemic context is about more than attitudes, it is about seeing the system. In short: it is not about mindfulness but consciousness. It seems strange to assume that recognition of privilege requires any other reaction than acting in acknowledgement that one has been directed to see something, even if only to look at it and offer reasons in response – not argued over the pointing out of privilege, but in engagement with it – as to why one feels there is an error at work in the ascription of something to a state of white, or male, or gender, or cissexual, or able-bodied, privilege, when it doesn’t seem, on rational grounds, to belong to that order. That penitence and shame are simply presumed to be the desired response to this activity, simply because this is the response which “anti-identitarians” project is wanted out of them, is especially instructive in this light, as it says far more about the psychological intimacy of systemic privilege, experienced personally, by those who find themselves, haplessly, possessing it than it does about the agenda of those who, pointing it out, except that they expect that they are speaking to comrades who can acknowledge it, and maybe try to ameliorate it, without it following on that their potential incapacity to do so indicates some kind of betrayal of their political principle. Reaction sets in at the point where the wall of privilege is not opened for discussion in its difficulty to remove, but walled off again in a realm of suppressed silence, passive-aggressive persistence, proud reclamation of it as a “right” (which, when we get some working-class victories under our belt again, will finally be democratized and extended to you). The doubts I have (along with those of many other “identitarians”, not only anti-identitarian socialists) about the discursive act of pointing out privilege follow Derick’s in wondering whether it is really sufficiently radical in even being able to force enough basic consciousness of its sheer immensity as a structure, let alone overcoming that structure through its nominations, but the ease with which this would serve as an only too eagerly welcomed opportunity to dismiss the critical investigation of privilege under the sign of its uselessness suspiciously mirrors the logic which finds that the critique of capital must be discontinued because it is, purportedly, a fruitless practice today, even at the level of ideas. Thus, too often, what we’re effectively told is: in order to overcome capitalist realism, and restart its critique, we must embrace oppression realism, and close down its critique! If I were to warrant a guess at what affect on the personal level is ideally looked for in the unpacking of privilege, however, it would not be self-stigmatization at all, but a sense, possibly unpleasant, of feeling the remove of an insulation from care – so, a self-estrangement – combined with a heuristic (not a law) of self-sensitization, for future situations, in line with the anarchist ethic: “Whenever you are given power, disperse it.”

* The sheer egregiousness assigned to the particular displays of privilege associated with “identitarianism” slots into a familiar history for women and queers, and reveals something crucial about the difference-based inequality at work in the possession of privilege itself. As Sara Ahmed notes in relation to her upcoming book, Willful Subjects: “One specific thing I am noticing again and again is how some individuals become accused of self-advancement (that they work on identity x because they want to advance their own cause). The point that is missed is the point that we are making: social/institutional/inherited privilege is a way of not having to advance your own cause, become your cause is already the general cause. You don’t have to assert yourself to exist. This is why historically feminists and queers are often described as selfish, self-promotional, willful, etc.” This doesn’t alleviate the questioning of that privilege as privilege. But it absolutely demands a context in which it is thought with the requisite degree of acuity about the norm against which it – yes, even today, especially today – works, and, against its will, as it is made to cease in its willfulness, comes to work for.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Insupportable Life: A Short Thought on the Death of Osama bin Laden

“To conclude is not merely erroneous, but ugly.”
Nick Land

Watching revelers crowd out into the streets of New York and Washington – not the Midwest or the deep South but those most stereotypically liberal bastions of America – to cheer the death of Osama bin Laden, I can’t help but recall the scenes of celebration in Middle Eastern streets that were drilled into our skulls directly after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Although there are any number of obvious differences between 9/11 and the death of bin Laden, not least the fact that the former was a mass slaughter of civilians while the latter is a targeted execution of a murderous reprobate, I feel, nonetheless, that there is something oddly symmetrical about the two moments. What made those images of Arab euphoria feel so cold-blooded and anti-American – why they were so deliberately fetishised by the Western media as the “true nature” of our new enemy, to the almost complete exclusion of the more obvious, general, stunned, grim, mournful and shared disorientation in the Middle East over what this disaster would mean for the world, over what would happen now that the United States had been forced out into a globalisation based upon a terrific violence which the American Empire itself had largely administered from behind a wall of self-possessed untouchability we were beginning to believe could never be breached, what it meant to watch America join the world in trauma – and why it was, then, that those scenes were so understandably painful to Americans – could be found precisely in the fact that they displayed a wide cross-section of ordinary Arab people championing a ruthless atrocity as though it were a sterling blow for justice, as if justice could claim this act in its name. Truth be told, today, as before 9/11, and despite all the Western misinformation that has presented him as an Islamic folk hero, there has been next to no love for bin Laden in the Arab world, even among his fellow jihadis, for just in terms of the body count alone – both direct and indirect – that he has incurred through his actions, we should recall he has been a pitiless killer of Arabs before anything else. So it is, no doubt, that the Arab world, moving off on its own track in recent revolution and seditious revolt, will also feel relief to find this necropolitical presence has finally been obliterated from the world scene. And yet, though there is, surely, a common feeling around the globe that bin Laden’s death is no sorry event, a sentiment not limited merely to New York and Washington, I can’t help but wonder how all this celebration on our part must look to a Middle Easterner recalling the epithets we flung at the Arab world after seeing their cheering crowds, our slanderous insistence that it showed beyond all question how the Arab street was fanatical, irrational, bloodthirsty and fueled only by hate. I can’t help but think that this Arab street – which, to put it drily, has been forced down a steep learning curve during the last ten years by our military intensification of the art of discipline – must be asking itself now whether we have learned anything at all from the disaster which befell America on that day in September, ten long years ago. For, in the end, is not President Obama’s insistence that the death of bin Laden signals a blow for justice a sign in itself that we continue to reserve the right to validate our own acts of bloody retribution as morally righteous? It is not the case that we, just like the Arab crowds that day, have come out to celebrate the conflation of the two things and, what’s more, to claim the right to celebrate like this in the name of justice itself? What are we to make of military murder being presented not as an act of revenge, but praised as a great accomplishment, a new chapter in the annals of universal peace and rectification of wrongs, an authentic mission accomplished?

Allow me to clarify myself a little. What I am not trying to assert is that murdering bin Laden was wrong by definition – that is, to condemn it from the standpoint of an absolute pacifism, or an absolute opposition to the sin of murder, or from the alibi of an absolute humanism that would sentimentally, though insincerely, hold all human life – even the worst kind of human life – to possess intrinsic and equal value to me. On the contrary, I am more than happy to say that Osama bin Laden’s death marks, in my eyes, a rare tick upward in the quality of the world we live in. Moreover, if bin Laden was killed by a unilateral and summary military action – an action that may be, in a word, quite criminal from the position of civil laws – I likewise don’t feel the unilateral or summary nature of that action makes it automatically immoral – not, that is, if bin Laden was to be understood as a lawful combatant, subject to the rules of engagement in war, of which I’ll have more to add in a moment. Finally, despite the military-analytical insistence from the commentariat that bin Laden has, for some time now, been a non-issue in terms of the strategic aims of the war of terror, there is actually a strong strategic gain in his death not in terms of the war on terror but against the coherence of that war itself. Indeed, although progressively marginalized as a threat by our authorities, and, indeed, not nearly as powerful as he ever was presented, Bin Laden has nevertheless remained quite vital, symbolically speaking, to both terrorist and counter-terrorist crusading, through the ideological unity his absent presence has provided to the otherwise floating signifer of “al-Qaedaism”. His “brand”, as it were, has served as a means of integration for fractious, isolated Islamist fundamentlist terrorist acts, making them into a holistic cause with an integrative appeal both for would-be terrorists and will-be counter-terrorists. In a sense, it flattened the detachment of one act of terror from another in logistical and political terms, the lack, that is to say, of any sustained interagential intimacy between the teacher and the acolyte, between the agenda-setters and their agents, that defines such terror networks – in perhaps a defining instance of what Geert Lovink has called the “uncanny networks” of late capital – and acted as cynosure for the idea of an ultimate orchestration or goal-driven ensemble of terrorist acts. Therefore, while he has largely been off stage and underground ever since he vanished from the image in the aftermath of the opening stages of the Afghanistan war, the figural coherence of bin Laden as the ghost in the machine has remained quite at hand, forefronted, most of all, in the way we in the West have largely fabricated the disorganized plurality of regional, domestic, international or intracultural terrorist groups and actions into a catch phrase caricature, a singular unit, “al-Qaeda”, a slippery beast which, like the classic octopus of propaganda posters, works precisely so as to smooth the ideological factionalism and specific, unamenable aims of fundamentalist terrorist groups into an automated blanket menace arrowed not at their own fantastic outcomes but always directly at us. In this way, the death of bin Laden as the Master Signifier will likely bring with it a sharp decline in symbolic efficiency around the idea of al-Qaeda as a meaningful explanatory entity for terrorist acts, a consequence the ever-cynical Bush administration signalled it knew all too well in its incurious whateverness toward bin Laden’s whereabouts or fate, but which Obama, with his professed anti-Iraq war interest in winding the war on terror back down to its origins, rather than ubiquitously extending its ambit, could not, it seems, despite the powerful dividends of ignorance, prevent himself from needing to know.

Even taking all of this into account, however, if it is one thing to say that the murder of bin Laden can be understood as a kind of good and to accept that it is not a crime from the perspective of the waging of war, nor a war crime insofar as it has not involved the torture of combatants or the mass murder of civilians (although one innocent woman died, as if always to tether such “clinical” strikes to the minimum wage of noncombatant bloodshed, the criminal immanence, that should make them only ever extraordinary tactics), it is absolutely another thing altogether to argue that such an act of enemy elimination is, by consequence, just. For this act of military murder – no, the apparatus of military murder generally, and its shifting borders of atrocity, of which we have seen yet another greusome and garish example just recently in Afghanistan – only finds itself vindicated due to the fact, ten years on, there is still no proper system of justice set up that could have coherently dealt with bin Laden in any more scrupulous way than simply killing him. While it remains to be seen whether bin Laden was murdered in the course of an honest effort to apprehend him, or whether he was actively and deliberately executed in custody (which would, of course, constiutute a war crime), I’d suggest, either way, that the whole logic of the war on terror has functioned on the presumption that his death or his disappearance is preferable to his live capture or his presentation to the courts. And to understand why this might be so, all we need do is simply consider what would have followed if he had, indeed, been taken alive. Most certainly, as with all the other ‘unlawful combatants’ scooped up by the hand of justice before him, bin Laden would first have vanished into the CIA’s secret prison system or been sequestered in Guantánamo, there to fester not only as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks but as the definitive symbol of the lack of any effort on our own part to follow the system of due process, to respect the most basic rules of habeas corpus, and, at bare minimum, to construct a series of independent military tribunals that would bring to the war on terror something other than the utterly arbitrary punishments which now apply everywhere in it. Can we picture, then, the running sore of attention and political drama bin Laden’s presence in the extralegal prisons of the United States would have brought to bear on the unconscionable contradictions of that extralegal space itself? Can we imagine how his incarceration would have raised intense questions about the ongoing need for those prisons, as well as made blatant the fact they aren’t doing the job of bringing the evil-doers to justice – since justice, by definition, can’t and isn’t meant to reach them in Guantánamo? This interdicted prospective scenario matters, because we can be quite sure that an apprehended bin Laden would have triggered a great public demand for him to face a proper trial, either in a civilian court, or the Hague, or in a Nuremburg style military inquest. There would, I believe, have been a widespread unwillingness to accept indefinite detention as a sufficient outcome in bin Laden’s case, either in terms of adequate closure or a just resolution to his crimes, especially given the way he has been turned into the very antithesis of all that the free world’s lawfulness ostensibly represents. However, if Obama had decided to bring bin Laden to trial in such a court, the whole logic behind Guantánamo’s state of exception would have erupted into general crisis – since what grounds could exist for inflicting the higher, unadjudicated punishment of infinite detention on those incarcerated who are, axiomatically, lower down the chain of command than bin Laden? Are these lesser detainees to remain detained even as their notional leader is being delivered over to face the fineries of a legal prosecution? Think, too, of the problems attendant upon subjecting someone so obviously and demonstrably guilty as bin Laden to the kangaroo court proceedings of the current system of “military commissions”, with their unabashed tendency to dispose of even the basics of constitutionally guaranteed provisions of legal and evidentary representation in their deliberations. These special commissions don’t merely skirt the edges but thoroughly junk the the very notion of justice that a trial against bin Laden would have to invoke, unavoidably, in subjecting him to the deliberations of a court that would aim to convict him. Paradoxically, the absolute guilt of the guilty renders a show trial insupportably obscene.

The post-9/11 maw of sovereign lawlessness is, consequently, not a seperate issue from bin Laden’s death but exactly what cannot be seperated out from this lovely little execution, a killing which, we must acknowledge, assumes its full meaning in the context of a fundamental immunity of counterterrorist punishment to be held to any consistent application of law – an immunity established at the moment Bush deemed the adversary to be neither criminal nor combatant, but both and none, coupled together with an autoimmunity simultaneously established in the same moment that has amalgamated the police and the military functions together, and fuelled the flat refusal to apply any standard of rule-bound justice to the war on terror, or to cede power to the justice of any rule-bound standard. There is an unseemly premeditation to the fact bin Laden is dead, then, in that his death crowns the rejection, from the very first, of developing a just way to convict him. As such, even if his fate is all too richly deserved, to brand this blatant act of murder a thing of justice is to beatify a counterterrorist politics that has, in fact, worked furiously to close off every road to justice before it, not least in its insistence on turning law-inscribed adversaries into pre-emptively insupportable life. It is one thing to feel a sense of gratification at the destruction of a destroyer. That is understandable, even acceptable. But let us not be tricked into raising mere comeuppance to the level and stature of a spurned, still-absent justice.

Filed under: anti-imperialism, anti-militarism, Catastrophization, justice, law, militancy without militarism, Reactionary Ecology, Terrorism

Deprivatizing Secrecy: a cable on Wikileaks

Does a democratic government have a right to its secrets? According to all officials of note in the West and the East – a curious universal chorus of dictators, democrats, business leaders, diplomats and the large bulk of the international media – the answer is an emphatic absolutely. In fact, even those institutions which applaud (or speculate upon the inherent news interest of) the recent cable dump also proceed to quickly caution us against the dangerous lack of realism inherent in total disclosure. As Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time, remarks in a recent editorial:

For Julian Assange, when it comes to government and diplomacy, there are no good secrets. To him, all transactions between nations and leaders should be transparent. In my conversation with him on Nov. 30 via Skype, I asked him whether he thought all secrets were harmful and unnecessary. He replied that he believed in the necessity of keeping his own sources secret and took great pains to do so. Now, there is some hypocrisy in defending secrecy in order to attack it, but there is more naiveté and even danger in suggesting that the world is a safer place without any secrets at all.

Ah, accusations of hypocrisy and naiveté: the first and final refuge of capitalist realists! But let us come back to the question of whether Assange really does think all secrets are harmful and unnecessary in a moment. For now, simply note how Assange is figured not only as an idealist but also as a fanatic of honesty – fanaticism, as Alberto Toscano has shown, always being the deadly drive liberal democracy divines in every one of its designated enemies – while the cooler-heads of well-paid institutional news soberely acknowledge the righteousness of the correction this leak provisions against an unsettling bloat in government secrecy only then to cluck over the reckless vandalism of a good deed taken too far. Lest we be confused, however, Stengel assures us that Time is well within its rights to publish the cables. It is not acting hypocritically or naively, of course: only loyally. For while government “opposes the publication of any classified material,” the authors of the U.S. Constitution – that ultimate unaccountable authority – “understood that letting the government rather than the press choose what to publish was a very bad idea in a democracy”. Yet, one might point out that for all this rhetoric of honouring democracy and the Constitution, Time does not seem overly concerned to honour a less lofty duty of the press, a duty the media has junked as thoroughly as frank and fearless journalism: namely, the imperative to protect your source. Thus, having abandoned the government for the Constitution ever so briefly, Stengel hastily signs himself back up as the humble subject of the power of the day when he writes: “It seems inarguable that the release of 251,287 documents via WikiLeaks harms American national security and that Assange meant to do so. Whether he is guilty under the U.S. Espionage Act is unclear, but the right of news organizations to publish those documents has historically been protected by the First Amendment.” In an astonishingly mendacious covering of one’s own arse, the dissemination and coverage of the leaks is therefore not to be taken as criminal even though the initial dissemination and publication of the leaks may well be. With an obscene lack of solidarity, Time – here only too representative of mainstream media organizations worldwide – does not mobilise in an effort to agitate and defend its media source but airily abandons that source to the vengeful machinations of the market-state. No wonder news outlets have recently decided to stop calling Wikileaks a ‘whiste-blower’: through that lens, the implications of this craven desertion are much too obvious and unseemly.

But this returns us to the matter posed above: does a democratic goverment have a right to its secrets? Moreover, can we, indeed, call Assange a whistle-blower if he does in fact believe that all secrets are harmful and unncessary? Does the apparent comprehensiveness of the leak – covering the most routine of internal governmental transactions – undo his claim to be crusading against human rights violations, abuses and misinformation? In a classic piece of obfuscation also run by Time, Fareed Zakaria has argued that the Wikileak cables should be taken not as a scandal but, rather, a relief from worry, a load off our minds! Implicitly framing the leaks against the mass manipulation of intelligence we know went on in the Bush years, Zakaria argues that the cables show a democratic government in good health: a U.S. diplomatic core engaged in very little deception – nothing at all like the Ellsberg Papers, he insists – and quite strong on analysis, populated by “clever minds”, “pursuing privately pretty much the policies it [the state] has articulated publicly.” Never mind the fact that the cables have displayed a gob-smackeningly obvious and twistedly profound hatred of democracy – to use Chomsky’s entirely warranted phrase: spying on the UN leadership, pressuring the Spanish attorney-general to obstruct that nation’s probe into CIA rendition and Guantánamo, taking what can only be called an unofficial tithe from allies, covering up bombing another nation’s territory in complicity with that nation’s government, colluding with Britain to defy a cluster bomb ban on its territory, to name just a few examples. Moreover, it is not only the US that is implicated in this hatred: indeed, what makes this dump so remarkable is that U.S. intelligence, as we might expect, acts as a mass clearing house of information on endemic manipulation of the public trust across the globe – for instance, Berlusconi profiting from secret deals with Putin, the Saudi regime, even as it retains official links to the funding of al-Qaeda, agitating for an invasion of Iran amid an antagonism between power elites that certainly rivals that sclerotic regime for obsessiveness, cynicism and fundamentalism, and the free Afghanistan we are supposedly fighting the good fight for finally revealed for that which we have long known it to be: “a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest official is a distinct outlier.” Thus, the seemingly valid point Zakaria makes – that these cables do not display a secret of the homocidal magnitude of American war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – deliberately overlooks the fact that it is not the sheer explosive revelatory nature of these cables that makes them so shocking but the total acceptance everywhere in them of the wisdom of habitual and quotidian corruption, a sort of sardonic running commentary or ‘strong analysis’ on the ‘poetic enlightenment’ that comes from manuevring around the rules at every loophole or in the face of any minor inconvenience they should pose. And it should be remembered that these cables are only material from the lowest levels of classification, accessible to someone as minor as a first class private, unlike the Ellsberg papers.

If we were to accept, then, with Zakaria, with Stengel, with all our political talking heads, that such corruption is simply the way the world works, the unavoidable operation of government in a global realm of deceptive, hostile structures and actors, then we would indeed be led to conclude that such a mass release of sensitive information can only be harmful – even as we somewhat contradictorily play off the idea of anything of consequence in the leak and stonewall against any notion that there are any really disreputable dimensions to the cables which would warrant a serious public reckoning. As such, when we argue that a government has a right to its secrets, we should have the courage to acknowledge that what we are also necessarily saying is that we believe that the state has the right to conspire. At this point, we can turn back to Assange. In the interview with Time referenced by Stengel in his op-ed above, Assange does not say that the world is a safer place without any secrets in it at all. Secrecy, he explains, has its place, but it should not be used to cover up abuses. In releasing such a comprehensive archive of documentation, of course, the counterargument advanced by the ‘responsible’ media has been that Assange is simply contradicting himself and, by his actions, reveals his true, certainly misguided, possibly even terroristic intention: that is, not to expose abuses but to sabotage the very channels of government secrecy themselves. Yet, this slight of hand steals away the real point like a thief in the night. For if Wikileaks is, indeed, sabotaging the channels of government secrecy, this is precisely because it is presenting to the public, via this sabotage, what is perhaps the greatest single abuse that the organization has exposed to date: namely, the fact that the channels of government secrecy are thoroughly corrupt as a system. While even Assange acknowledges that governments may need to deliberate in secret, this document dump points to a key question about this secrecy that states worldwide increasingly work to repress: in a word, should secrecy be conceived as a right of government? Or are secrets, rather, a responsibility of the state? Allow me to be clear. By responsibility, I do not mean here the unavoidable burden of having to conceal from the people the truth of an international domain grounded on lies and sneaky interests, the pressing weight of world issues those oh-so-selfless realists we elect are forced by fate and money to bravely bear on our behalf. In other words, I do not refer to the great responsibility our politicians love to tell us comes with great power, these Peter Parkers one and all. Rather, I mean the responsibility for secrecy the state ought to assume, in which secrets would be understood as that operation of governance which government should not just rely on but, rather, in order to be honest, should be required to govern within itself. Far from a legitimate tool of government, in this sense, secrets should actually be seen as extra-governmental powers, insofar as they are matters which are withheld from the deliberation of the democratic public sphere. If they are indeed a structural requirement of governance, it does not follow that they are the natural right of government, but precisely a state of exception in which a government takes definitive leave of responsiveness to democracy and so must be scrupulously open to measures which, in turn, make it all the more responsible for the secrets it keeps to itself. Conceptualized in this way, to act responsibly toward secrecy in government would be to design what Reid Kane has called a counter-institutional politics that establishes independent oversight, like a people’s judiciary, and defends the democratic state from the manipulation of secrecy itself.

Surely one of the most disturbing (but not exactly surprising) aspects of this whole thing has been the way in which the governments of the West have treated these leaks as though they were a violation of privacy. This underlying idea that a state secret is a private right – the very ground zero of the aggreived claim that what Assange has done simply must be ‘illegal’ – is so dangerous it hardly has bounds. All those on the side of democracy in any meaningful sense must assert now and together this dictum: a government secret is not its private property. And it is the general consensus among our elites to the contrary that is, more than anything, the conspiracy that Wikileaks is seeking to turn against itself: this universal convergence that unites dictators and democrats upon the privatization of the commons of state secrecy in a nexus of business-government rights to them as their exclusive property. To put it another way, for a confidential public interest to be truly public and not just secretive, it must be able to function as if any one of the public which it ostensibly represents could be taken into its confidence – even if a general revelation of that secret to everyone everywhere would be damaging to its integrity. This definitive alienation of democratic governmental secrecy from its inherently public nature, even when it is a classified secret – its transformation into the unaccountable privilege of the private market-state – is nothing else then but the enshrinement of the right to conspire, to plot, to profiteer, to dodge knowledgeability, to do dirty deals, always in the name of national security and the best interests of the people for whom such secrecy is privatized. In that sense, Wikileaks has been so comprehensive in its document dumping, I suspect, not because it aims to destroy the ability of government to keep any information secret, or even the possibility of secrecy per se, but rather because it aims to destroy the immunity of the private-property-relation that government (and business) rely upon to assert their unchallengable prerogative over the public and democratic representativeness of a secret’s confidentiality. It has not been good enough, in short, to expose only lies and misinformation. The leaks have had to anull the very structure of privacy – as opposed to public secrecy – that has fed into this right to conspire, that fuels the deliberate blur between the ‘legitimate’ secrets of our democratic governments and the ‘necessity’ of their dirty deals, the very deals that make us want to keep their secrets at arm’s length from ourselves, so that their bad actions can remain their property and not, as it ought to be, ours. If we oppose Wikileaks, therefore, we do so only out of this brand of bad faith, not legitimate concern for our own interests and safety. And in so doing, we are giving away much more than our right to know. We are conferring upon the market-state the right to own as its sole property the sovereign decision over just what exactly it is that we, as the citizens it no longer serves but secures, can be free to understand about our world.

Filed under: Counter-institutions, Property, Resistance, Secrecy