Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I can do better

Critics of reform tend to suppose that the one advocating for reform hasn't thought about the ends in play. Post-structuralism and nihilism suppose that the end is present already; that everything visible is just waiting to be recuperated according to the machinations of state-nihilism. Reformists disagree, supposing that the end is (or could be) in no ones' hands--that history is yet unwritten; that sometimes--it seems anyway--one can beat back the state, as though the state could regress, as though it were possible to force it to give ground--as though it didn't have a number of cards up its sleeves, willing bargaining chips... And on and on it goes.

I've mentioned before that there is something curious about the logic of better and best; both are structured according to The Good; and the claim here is that better is (or could be) on the way to the best, because, evidently, the things that we anarchists want, are non-repugnant with a future world that we could stomach, presumably, minimally, No State, No Marxists, No Anarchist Leaders; in short, the death of all collective hierarchy. So then while it is obvious that getting trans washrooms installed, or, even more curious, the replacement of gender biased washrooms for gender neutral washrooms, seems ridiculously reformist--because in no way is the state giving ground here that would make its functioning impossible--such a reality links up what we envision in the world to come, namely, a consequentialist world in which individuality is abandoned to flourish because everyone is abandoned by everyone else. Many of us have already abandoned the projects of the collectivists to be left alone to make ourselves abandoned, to make ourselves invisible, in stark contrast to the militant visible milieu. 

The best demands that we do better. It is therefore problematic to suppose that the better is the best. We can never then say, pragmatically, that we have done enough. But what is this collective pipe-dream of the best? The world in which all individualities are abandoned? What of the many that cannot imagine a world without commodity? Or a world without the state? Or a world without the possibility of trading work for further excrement? The many cannot abandon the shit show that we live in, and would die defending it against us--those that would see it destroyed.

If then there is no best because it is unlikely, because anarchists shouldn't (pragmatically) be utopian dreamers, if we are deflationary about revolutionary hope, then it would seem that all there is, is the better. But what is better? What is this reformism? More exacting language is required here.

In the first place, the act of destruction, while not itself recuperable, often leads to further repression, unless the act can be ignored by leviathan. But if the act of destruction leads to repression, then what of the idea that one has merely provided an opportunity for the state to reform itself? Isn't one then a reformer? Here it should be objected that one is ignoring the fact that the term reform means more than mere re-form, or, a reiteration of a form to matter. But that is precisely what re-form comes to! If democracy is just diluted fascism, it would seem that there is a whole host of virtual possibilities that only bolster the power of the state--which just means the possibility of its destruction to be pushed further and further away. The difference here that is of value, of course, is that in the moment that leviathan becomes ugly, becomes fascist, such a hidden face, revealed, goes against its posturing of peaceful reform. Following tightened measures, comes the peace that merely waits to unleash ugliness for (ultimately) "beautiful" one-dimensionality.

I said above that the act of destruction and the act of reform are like two differences that end the same; this is ultimately because we are too weak to produce The Conditions for Permanent Revolt, for Continuous Visible Individual Insurrection. But if we drop the sense of best, that attenuates better, we might focus on what is better, what we mean by re-forming ourselves in abandonment to the Re-forms of the state and its anarchist allies.

Friday, May 6, 2016

On Margarine Words

 Reflections on Anarchist linguistic Practise.

[A] nihilist [may also]… knowingly point[] to the unknowable, to the background… stating more or less what everyone knows, but will not admit” (A de A, The Impossible Patience, 266)

Alejandro De Acosta has diagnosed the anarchist scene as one that is essentially sided by way of an “Anarchist identity machine”, an apparatus that sorts bodies this way or that. This identity involves a morality of a pernicious kind, one that develops sides, while, perhaps tongue in cheek, claiming to be antiauthoritarian. In “To Acid Words”, A de. A has approximated this sorting by way of a term, picked up from Barthes, called “margarine words”. The meaning of this term is complex. Clearly, we can say that:

1] Margarine words may be slogans or they may be oily words (138)

so that while,

2] Slogans are “phrases whose function is to circulate, not to mean”, and
3] oily words “slip from mouth to ear, person to machine situation to scene,

these terms

4] are repetitive: “functioning as code words or pass words, their appropriateness assumed, never shown” (138)

In this rendering, A de A. has proposed that anarchists simply function as sloganeers, throwing around terms all the while, more likely that not, marshalling a morality behind the words. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that margarine words can also be coded negatively (139). These variants do not simply pass as code words, that is, as “a gentle reminder of shared morals” (138), but rather, signify a type whom one mustn’t be. One is one of us (good); or one isn’t one of us (bad), and in both cases margarine words slick the activists language into appropriate behaviours, coding good bodies and bad bodies according to the anarchist identity machine.

On the topic of the assumption at (4), one might stipulate that Anarchists use/interpret words with “vague agreement”. And while this ambiguity is part of the story (166), the terms are not intended as ambiguous; rather, what is presupposed behind the spoken word is an unambiguous morality. Therefore, we say the term itself passes without analysis; passes in the sense that it merely functions to index a background morality. Of course, analysis may be where the limits of the margarine word apparatus go into hyper-meta-mode; for if one were to inquire about this indirect sign, one might be labeled a trouble maker, or an intellectual, a rhetorical sign that closes down the conversation with a reiteration. And even if this is supposed to be an unthinking auto mechanistic response, it is still possible that it stems from self-defensive thought; for one may have thought the matter through, in fact returning to polite conversation with a critiquing strategy. A. de A.’s response here is that this is because one is primarily afraid of the opposite: “Margarine words mobilize fear” (167). Consider the term privilege: What could it mean to deny that this term has traction in any specific case constituted as such by the liberal “privilege" churning machine? Most importantly: Who wants to be that guy? In fact, a whole host of negative pejorative terms come to the defence of the original morality. If you ask about whether shit is so simplistic, in a conversation about patriarchy with a feminist or even a queer, you might be labeled a manarchist. Anarchists are stuck in binary thinking, a stupid form of thinking that stems from dialectics.

In order to clarify what’s at stake here, consider the margarine word: nihilist. Coded negatively and under its best denigration, this term is meant to exclude from possible anarchist behaviour the mutilated being of a hopeless nihilist. One mustn’t disfavour action, no matter how foolish; one must either be an activist, always doing “something”, or an actionist, always looking for action (147). To round out the thought, the active nihilist might then name the one that is beyond the meaning of actionist as activist, for active nihilism seems open to differences towards which the mere actionist is closed. Without morality, active nihilists are without a moral agenda.

Such is how melting the (negatively coded) margarine word “nihilist” functions, a denial of the presumption that a nihilist identity were so simple and obviously undesirable. We could melt pretty much any other margarine word, or—that is, if the metaphor has lost its saltiness—uncover its meaning, slowing matters a bunch, and demand from the users of these slippery terms that simply pass around without thought, the meaning of what they are trying to say.

What would it mean to speak with the intention of being understood, while not wishing to be sorted according to an anarchist identity machine?
Why bother?

According to one theory of propaganda, the most important thing for dissolving power-over would be to permit ones intentions to be present; to take off the mask; to aggressively undermine any implication that one might be trying to manipulate an audience; that unpacking a meaning is always participatory. Bakunin used the term rational persuasion to index this definiendum; and this suggestion seems opposed to A de A’s meaning of acid words-- which isn’t an issue, of course. But let us start from the beginning.

Nihilists have their own margarine words. After all, what do we intend to mean when we use our own margarine word, say “liberal”, denoting those that practise dialectic politics, politics, and certainly not anti-politics, those that we find boring as fuck? All progressivist positions antecedently presuppose some sort of morality; to criticize comes from a better place, surely. But how this position occurs is not as clear: are these nihilists looking for other accomplices to join in the game? or are they simply desirous of not feeling compelled to argue that there is neither point nor future? A de A. often speaks of a studied silence (which still cannot avoid the implication that one is in a better position). And so, perhaps we cannot kick away the ladder as Wittgenstein discerned, since we are situated in language games (of morality); or perhaps, such is a problem of interpretation, as though we cannot help but be roped into a morality even if we intend to avoid it. Surely, however, nihilists use margarine words. So then if so, what does the attendant morality look like? A de A. has also gestured at two other options: acid words and mana words. And here the point above is made clear(er). The orality of mutant speech discloses an opacity of morality; anarchists can’t be sure which side they are on because they do not understand what is going on. This result shouldn't surprise; for militancy was always a matter of secrecy.

Perhaps the game is a straddling, then; perhaps we don't want to come off as predictable, so that the burden is on us to take off and replace masks as we please. Perhaps, that is, we don’t want to be perceived as immoralists; but rather, mask wearers, those that would have morality (or ethics), when it suits, rather than those that would be had by it, those that suit Morality. But perhaps, then, this is why A. de A. has articulated mana words moving towards acid words, words that fail to provide meaning because, while the words themselves are certainly opaque, so too are even the background assumptions.


Seeking revenge is an anarchist principle; a principled ethics of doing wrong to those that have done wrong to us. The taste (and completion) of revenge is like honey; and if one does nothing to remove it, the injustice persists. In general, principles can move us; and, in particular, emotions may carry us to qualitative avenues, forestalling ontological pessimism, possessed mutilation, or passive nihilism. By this family of resemblances, I mean the sense that one need not do anything, or worse, that there is nothing worth doing, given some weird argument for efficient action. In other words, getting angry is one way to overcome an over-all sense of indifference—the sense in which one has been rendered indifferent. But why does one have to become angry? This is precisely where revenge fits. Given that revenge could suffice to auto-move us to anger, revenge is a plausible candidate for clarifying genuine against-ness, genuine “active indifference” that completely bypasses the problem of getting or becoming angry because one is not yet so.  A good candidate for distinguishing when one is angry versus when one isn’t really so, seems to be revenge.

But this point is merely on the way to another point that we wish to explain. We think solidarity is premised on a false sense of against-ness. We hope that we might explain why allyship (disingenuous against-ness) fails, by setting out the boundaries of being angry, or <seeking revenge>. For it is our guiding hypothesis that most anarchists do not act from revenge, but attempt to piggyback on another’s revenge.

We mean to argue that friendship is structured artificially in activist circles because this piggybacking is in part determined by a narrative of pity and guilt. But what if we jumpstart our hearts in another way? What if instead of trying to structure friendship from ideology, we turn the matter around and grow with our friends? What if instead of trying to find people we feel obligated to agree with, we start by acting with those that we like?

2. Nietzsche theorized equality in terms of pity: One is made to feel as though equality across the board is Just, even though, evidently, one doesn’t see others necessarily as ones’ equals (con-sentiment). The problem of making a claim on someone else (justice) is that it has to first meet a sense in the other that is correct, or proper fitting; or else one has become so self-sacrificial that anyone to come might open them to charity. If we see that Justice is ambiguous, we have warrant to purge the last qualification below:

“<anger> as a longing, accompanied by pain, for a real or apparent revenge, for a real or apparent slight, affecting a [persyn] or one of [their] friends, when such a slight is undeserved.” (Aristotle, 1378a)

Under this reading, anger is qualified as appropriate given just cause, that X has had something undeserved done to them. Yet the idea of being undeserved implies that all the dudes could get together and agree, as though principles are intuitive. Is Aristotle suggesting here that one might only feel the need for revenge in the context of an undeserved slight? Well, then, imagine the situation in which two persyns are talking, the one cautioning the other to not act because they deserved it. Clearly these two could not be said to be sharing the feeling because they disagree on the justice of the matter. What I want to talk about is this concept of shared feeling, and how we go about trying to create it, given that, as Aristotle gestures, we can feel it already with our friends, and, as I would add, even if not everyone would necessarily agree with how we see it.

3. If friends feel our pain already, as Aristotle notes, isn’t it because they identify with us, in the sense of having a kind of being that is identical? And if so, might we say that this is not a matter of crossing a distance? But then doesn’t this spell out a precise issue with identity politics given that this is so often a matter of relating, identifying, so often a matter of crossing vast differences in solidarity?

Friends are those that we love not because they are such and such. Giorgio Agamben says that friendship is neither a quality nor a property of a subject (What is an Apparatus, 31): “Calling someone friend is not the same as calling them, ‘white’, ‘Italian’ or ‘hot’” (ibid.,) That is to say: friendship is not just a relationship between two separate individuals, joined together by common natures, but is an expansion of the self into the other, and vice versa, so that pain, happiness, or whatever, felt by one, is already felt by the other. Con-sentiment is precisely shared feeling from below, a question of transcendental immanence, a question of beings living, fighting and dying together; not an abstract similarity, or a subsequent division of beings imposed from above (ibid., 34). This links back to Aristotle’s definition of anger: Our friends are those that really share our feelings and really want what’s best. So because both obligation and pity seem to implicate a distance to be crossed, a not yet identification, a rupture in con-sentiment, we ask, as our down-going starting point for friendship, exactly this: When is motivation neither obligation nor pity? For when there isn’t real friendship, guilt or pity is required to cross the distance, or close the gap, between (I can relate to that) and (I’m already laying plans). But surely this distance never genuinely contracts. As Aristotle says: “The persons men (sic.) pity are those whom they know, provided they are not too close connected with them; for if they are, they feel the same as if they themselves were likely to suffer.” (1386a12ff)

4. An appeal to pity is seen as unjustified in some contexts because it derails rational self-interest. Victimization tends towards an analogous derailment. For it nearly goes without saying that those structured without victimization (by a domesticating apparatus) are guilted into acting for those that identify with their own victimhood. The standard critique here is that one should be able to act for themselves, that, if they have the capacity to manipulate with ressentiment, one should be able to muster up enough strength; for victimization is hardly liberating given that its product is a species of codependency.

But there are legitimate moments of pity, or at least moments not caused deliberately by one that is trying to capitalize on their structured victimization. However, the identity apparatus, even after it has been qualified with intersectionality, necessarily produces the conditions for pity by reifying conditions for victimization. The problem here is that all are made un-free via a domesticating morality, while only some—those with a stake in the design of the mechanism—get to define liberatory politics for everyone.

Perhaps it would be here objected that we are just as obligated by the friend. Am I compelled to act for my friends, as I am compelled to act for those that would manipulate me with pity and guilt?
Here we sense that a friend might have become a property of an other, in the sense of an expectancy—what are friends for?—but in this, Obligation does its darkest work. For we think it is a sign of disingenuous friendship that one expects something from their “friends”. The important point is that friends permit options to each other because they care about one another. We do not possess our friends; our friends possess us and we possess them. And we hold space for our friends precisely because we do not wish to put them in a box of obligation, precisely because we care. This requires a denial of complete self-interest in all parties involved, an endlessness, a growth in power-with. Allyship, on the other hand, is a giving away of most self-interest in oneself to the complete interests of another. Rather than doing the hard indeterminate and consequentialist work of an ethics of power-with, it is an end to individual interest, and an entering into an asymmetrical power network that merely inverts perceived (socially constructed) power-to, in a new morality for the world some want to create. The best pragmatic ethical programme is to let individual bodies be to find their own desires and those that let them get away with whatever; or, at least, this seems more liberatory than a morality that would seek a domesticated behavior for all, a morality, that cannot define the free aspect of free association. (For us, free association only means something if one can dissociate without consequent punishment; it means the freedom to be left alone; yet, with the effort of mass movement building being under the surface in most activist moralities, freedom is a fucking joke.)

A friend, if you’ll recall, is one that we love not because they are such and such, but because we share something beyond a project or ideas: because we share a form of life, an already-existence, not justified by similar essences. Allies are not friends; for allies are those that we relate to because they are such and such. The ally is the seeming friend that “claims” your help with the cunning strength of Obligation, and the hidden implication of Pity or Guilt. Allyship, then, is at best that attempt to generate a paper-thin feeling of friendliness in another that is not obviously a friend.

5. The ruminating thought here is that we either have hearts that are in it because the principled act is for our friends, or we do not have hearts that are in it. And if we do not have hearts that are in it, must we ask how we might grow larger hearts? For whom? Prima facie, it’s down right foolish to love the other that would just as quickly manipulate us to love them if we do not respond adequately. And perhaps the real reason, after all this, is that the one that would force us to love them, the one that would guilt us to care, is our enemy.

In the least, if one has wronged us or one of our friends, Aristotle points us to a shared feeling between friends (con-sentiment) that is different in kind from those that we pity, those with whom we are not close. The other that we can empathize with is not the friend, because we have to go about orienting ourselves to their needs, pitying them. And to do this, we have to replace our lack of knowledge about them as individuals, as potential friends, relying solely on how they occur—or more factually—how we take them to be, essentially, under the activist apparatus of imposed identities. This other might boost our anger, if we are open to them, if they do not put us off with obligation; but we might not be moved.—And not because we are never moved; but rather because it takes resilience—and courage!—to discover things that genuinely move us!

Above we indexed what we mean by con-sentiment by noting that in the network of friendship one has to relinquish complete self-interest. And we used this articulation to trouble the notion of ally-politics, noting, almost trivially, that such is a denial of complete self-interest. Derrida’s “My Friends, there are no friends” suggests that perhaps the friendship model only produces lone wolves that desire revenge. But perhaps not. Perhaps. And so, we say revenge (or genuine against-ness) is strongest, in the sense of life-affirming growth, when it is exacted for friends, and with friends, or, when it is exacted for, and by, oneself. And we affirm that revenge is weakest when it is within the framing of allyship, when the relation between bodies is structured as a distance that requires closing to carry out the trick of feeling. This closing as “bad faith”—whereby essence displaces con-sentiment (shared existence)—can be noticed best in the hidden, but attendant, rhetoric of pity, and its contrary, but functionally redoubling consequence: guilt.

White Ally

1. Morality is sometimes distinguished from ethics—perhaps fruitfully. Typically the distinction intended is the one indexing the difference between happiness as a function of the rule of association, and Morality as a come what may rule. Duty based ethics, often referred to as Kantian in essence, here takes the name Morality; and by this distinction even utilitarian ethics might pick up the tip. Given that anarchism is essentially anti-authoritarian, the best of anarchists mitigate the lacuna about back pocket morality with a healthy dose of irony, while the rest attempt to differentiate their versions of power-over as collectively constituted. It is no wonder then that Alessandro de Acosta has resurrected the difference between ethics (eudaimonia (the good life) or ataraxia (freedom from suffering)) and morality, as one that earmarks a rupturing of anarchist morality. Therefore, while it is not necessarily the case that morality and ethics must be distinguished, it is useful to see them as distinct, even if the original terms that clarify the difference aren't so. We follow De Acosta and reject Morality, choosing ethics; and what this means is that our project for living is not a priori—prior to experience—but is, rather, a muddling through without foregoing agency, a power-with; a growth of voluntary participation, so long as we find it works, which is our right to association—which doesn’t fail to include disassociation. Given this, what does it mean to reject the morality of white ally?—Obviously it is we who accept this will to morality especially if we ironically play the game of privilege. But if we adopt the principle of being performatively white, we watch ourselves domesticate ourselves in a matrix of power-with.

2. Given that the distribution of privilege is a function of a morality that divides, a margarine word in the writings of de Acosta, for the nihilist, the produced position of the one with power-to is always problematic in the network of power-with. To say nothing of rigidity, this word-machine fixes discourse—without style. Objectively speaking it is simple to say that X has an advantage over Y, given, say, various abilities; but the potential attribution of fitting into the way things are, which is the language of passing in society, is far from clear at two levels. The first point is the assumption of experience—that if you are white, you just get privilege—; the second point that is often left unaddressed, is whether one ought to desire to pass, a move that completely ignores the question whether one should. Following the problematizing here it it proposed that certain individuals just have potencies—unactualized actualities—that set them at an advantage. The principle of white ally as a Moral essence, ends in the one necessarily with power-to yielding to those without power-to so that power-with becomes a revolution-machine in which the white ally is a special and boxed in instantiation of white-performativity. I propose that just as the passing transgendered person is left unmarked and invisible in the gaze, what is meant by being white is that one passes as such. I can always make myself invisible by passing easily and without effort; but it’s tough to want to be perceived as fitting in, unless, of course, such is to my advantage. This is how we pragmatically have ethics, over and against being had by Morality: my power-to is mine, to do with what I will; it cannot be yours, unless I gift it.

3. The assumption of Moral essences ought to be replaced with the answer of ethical passing. But if the language of passing here is permissible, we can say that performativity is a matter of fit. Given that my body has a white cover to it, it is often assumed by other bodies that I fit into their project of success, or better, that I could more readily. But there is nothing normative about whiteness per se unless a morality is added: How one is white, and how one ought to be white. And only after this question is settled can we begin to discuss how one fits or fails to fit. “It’s easy to spot the white person”, you might say: “It’s skin tone, after all”. With the language of ethical passing, we might say, with a tone of jealously if we do not share the pertinent quality, that it’s easier for a white person to become invisible. But is it really so impossible to play society for the fool? To fit in as a civilized human? Its simple: just go to work, buy things, be normal, play the game, at whatever level of poverty you find yourself. Irony requires performative disguises; and it’s easy to neutralize yourself as a subject—which is what the state is trying to do anyways. The difficulty here is not that there is some quality that you possess to the exception of anyone else that stands in the way of being neutralized. The problem is that the whole fucking thing feels fucking gross. To be courageous enough to attack the state has nothing to do with determinations that follow from bodily constitution. This requires a choice and techniques of invisibility—even if you have a white cover. After all, the liberal term “terrorist” is colourblind.

4. For those of us that have our physical constitution covered in a colourless cover, are we supposed to perform whiteness? or are we to destroy the performance? Surely we are not going to try to mutilate our bodies. So, it is argued that if we perform as white, rendering ourselves invisible because of the passing power-to that a white substance carries, we can necessarily receive privilege that can be utilized in a power-with matrix. If we accept white-ally performativity and we adopt the principle of moral essence with its ends gestated in the belly of prefigurative politics, we filter our power-to into a form of power with. (From the consequences of adopting this moral principle, I think we can say: we pass for being white whether or not we are invisible; that if we fail to preform whiteness, we can still pass; and that if we destroy our performance, we become very visible, but never strictly outside the morality generated by privilege.—Importantly, it seems irrelevant if privilege politics fails to address this last difference given that the state hates back really well.) But being performatively white, is split according to ends and means, which casts a dark shadow on the possibility of prefigurative politics. Whitey is urged to performatively follow the conditioned means of the state, but to filter ends differently, for the revolution. One is urged to pass, and pass well, visibly; neither invisibly, nor visibly as a failure. Obviously these dictated behaviours only resemble an anti-authoritarian power-with if one sips the Kool-Aid. The important thing to remember is that power-over has many forms; and it may be the case that according to Uri Gordon, power-to is always the fixed gear, forever fighting power-over like a nihilist in a network of means without end. Such is where we start.

5. One might say, “different outputs, different principles; there cannot be an analogy between the state and the activist.” On the contrary, the liberal stands at the end of the just state, and in both cases, the state and the activist, a morality is given. In the case of the state, the given morality is a solidarity mechanism that occludes class difference by eroding its sense. In the other, in the case of the inverting activist, it is a prescription of performative whiteness as virtually wealthy, and therefore, as having a greater capacity to rise the ranks of privilege; to be a contributing sort in building power-with, in the broadest (and therefore most useless category). Becoming uncivilized, going against the grain of privilege is a starting point for a deepening into freedom; it is most certainly not a trajectory from whence one starts on the way to becoming moral and civilized. Instead, reject moralities, and opt for ethics. And so, we say that our possibilities, too, are away from the cities; and that, as such, privilege isn’t well defined.

Because the term freedom is more fundamental to our sense of life than collective self-sacrifice, we see privilege, in the reformist sense, to be civilized through and through, and that becoming uncivilized, becoming monstrous individualities, achieving qualitative success, is what it means to determine revolution. The inversion, rev-for-us, is something that anarchists accept because some of us are too weak to reject it and aim for our own liberated desires. We think there are better ways to orient oneself with respect to this inversion, precisely because the term ‘freedom’ is up for grabs. Being white is to maintain the way things are; and if one wants to see civilization razed to the ground, one is not only a bad whitey, given the state’s morality, but also a bad whitey given activist morality. The inversion that precedes us, our anarchist utopia—given to us by manufacturers of revolution—would delineate being a good whitey. The state may want this too. Since we neither have an idea how to define what we mean by revolution, nor wish to, to say that there are options plays rather well with the notion of living your life. Only a morality can say that one is failing the rev-for-us, whatever that means. This nihilist ruptures all of it by rejecting morality. And the reasoning might be that one doesn’t want to be a recuperable, reformed, assimilated. Being bad whitey, however the activist looks at it, could be a goal, if one cares enough to take a position. If, after all that, that were advantageous.