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Posts Tagged ‘governance’

prelude

Escape is the oldest story of freedom, and it is among the simplest.[1]

Half a century ago, an anarchist scholar decided to write a heroic story of peasants.When bodies started piling up in Vietnam, he was intrigued that people actually cared about peasants for once. Even then, his task was not easy, given that peasants usually serve as the stage upon which more dramatic disputes between nationalists and colonizers are performed. However, in the archives he uncovered books and records that he wielded against those who had dismissed his humble peasants.

The heroic peasants were a good start for the scholar. While national liberation struggles claimed that the heart of the nation beat within the peasant, the scholar focused an even more elusive class of people: hill peoples, those who buck authorities with a run to the hills. Through diligent scholarship, he was able to bring together an impressive array of theories and terms to describe why certain peoples are poor materials for state-making.

What the scholar loved most about the hill people was their slash-and-burn culture. Dismissed by others as hillbilly backwardness, he knew that their whole way of life was an elaborate trick that they used to be left alone. But everything is different now, he reluctantly admitted; it had all changed after World War II. Most States developed technologies, both mechanical and human, that eliminated their ‘dark twins’ hiding in the mountains. Space was spanned and the hill sanctuaries were found, he said. The few peoples still in the hills were the last ones to escape; but even they are on the verge on disappearing, he lamented.

Not far away, a similar discovery was made.

A young college student was tired of the usual posturing of campus activism. The daily barrage of manufactured urgency and its politics of guilt did not interest him. What he did have was a plan to fight Reagan’s imperialist interventions in Latin America. So after gaining a little know-how in engineering with a focus on alternative energy, he headed south to make a real contribution to ‘the people who could use help.’

But the student felt out of place after he got there and was nagged by the feeling that this struggle was not his. The projects he worked on were practical, no doubt – computer donations from the States were not hurting the people of El Salvador – but they were not really helping that much either. When he looked for guidance, the El Salvadorians were kind but blunt. Their war torn country did not need engineering solutions to political problems, they said. So the student went back home to ponder.

Look, just go to the mountains, a comrade said while visiting the student. The student shot back an incredulous glance. Look, you have mountains here. Just go to the mountains. That’s what we do. Get some guns, go to the mountains, and wage a revolution. The student responded thoughtfully, agreeing that, yes, there were mountains in Seattle, but he was not sure about the rest of the suggestion. A few moments later, with an embarrassed grin, he admitted that it simply did not correspond to his reality at all.

Though quite different, the two stories agree on a basic point: today, there is no sense in running to the hills. The hills may have previously been a non-place, a u-topia, where a people existed without a history. And while it is said that the history of people is the history of class struggle, it would be at least as truthful to say that the history of the peoples without history is the history of those who escape. But with the great latticework of surveillance and control that now spans most of the developed world, the veil of spatial isolation has been pierced. So today, the hills cannot help make class struggle or freedom a reality.

Even with hill peoples now under State control, however, is it not obvious that escape still does and always will exist? Of course it all depends on context – but there is a political danger in the desire to always want more context. The greatest risk is that providing context becomes a purely academic exercise that defers judgment or action. This deferral is an expression of postmodern relativism, most commonly voiced as the desire for complexity (“well, it’s complicated…” or “let me complicate this a bit first…”). Such an incessant demand for context is to be expected, however, as protesting simplicity is a critical move in today’s dominant ideology.[2] So I will begin there. Yet it is my ultimate aim to demonstrate how a reworked concept of escape is essential to understanding contemporary power. Therefore, after I finish examining the demolition of the distinction between the valley and the hill or the town and the country, I shift to the new paths of escape that have opened up under the towering figure of the Metropolis. Because to escape today, one does not run to the hills but burrows deeper into the dark underside of the Metropolis. (more…)

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mod-st8The Modern State
The machine emitted strange buzzing, whirring, and clicking sounds. The noises unsettled casual observers, but to the technician, it made beautiful music. She had listened to its movements so many times that she did not have to look at the monitor to pick out the slow set of clicks that marked the beginning of each cycle. Tck… Tck… Tck… Tck…

The machines had been a triumph over the archaic technology that came before it. It took the dreams of stargazers and a few steady hands to crank out the first prototypes. Even the wildly imperfect geometry of the early models still hypnotized onlookers.

She was charged with maintaining a machine from a newer line. The introduction of this version of the machines had ushered in a new era. In her land, authorities were crushed under the feet of rebelling peasants. As nobles bickered with the monarchy, a new class claiming to “represent the people” had seized power. But instead of quelling the waters, wars became more bloody. And there are still dissident factions trying to destroy the machines through sabotage or even cruder methods.

It is her task to keep the machine running. The rules are clear. Polarize the field. Alternate poles. Keep everything in orbit. She had been trained in basic geometric correction, which usually entailed resetting the aperture but sometimes required redacting elements. While no one told her how to control for the creeping tide of noise, she had come up with some makeshift bypasses. But if a long-term solution was eluding her, her fellow technicians were probably in just as much trouble…

Forging a Strange Complementarity
The political power of sovereignty goes through cycles. Imperial hymns sing of terrible kings’ conquests as well as the reigns of the great kings that follow. But let there be no mistake, terrible kings are only as stupid, brutish, ineffective, or disliked as good kings are inept, violent, and unpopular. That is because those labels merely indicate which of the two poles of sovereignty each ruler personifies. Horrible sovereigns are terrorizing magician-kings, and benevolent ones are jurist-priests. Much as the diplomat gets his way by switching between the carrot and the stick, sovereignty alternates between the two poles to maximize power. “Thus two kings in succession, by different methods, the one by war, the other by peace, aggrandized the state. Romulus reigned thirty-seven years, Numa forty-three: the state was both strong and well versed in the arts of war and peace” (Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 27). But the opposite is also true. A-cephalous societies evince a similar two-headed structure to ward off rather than reinforce State power. In the Americas, for instance, some groups had two chiefs, a war chief and a peace chief, whereby only one ruled at a time. Whenever one leader became too zealous, the people would mock him and follow the other leader. Especially in combination with the generalization of the ‘powerless’ titular king and the ritualization of war to disperse power rather than annihilate or enslave an opponent, these societies exemplify how the oscillations of sovereignty can be used against an accumulation of forces (Clastres, Society Against the State; Clastres, Archaeology of Violence).

Given the contrasting examples above, we can generalize by saying that the two poles of sovereignty form a complementarity. But the form and effects of that complementarity differ. Fortunately, the rhythm of the alternating poles produces a signature: the expression of the world that stands as the backdrop behind each State.[1] A Roman ritual produces the clear signatures of the Priestly and Archaic States by repeating the practice of only allowing a single pole of sovereignty to rule at any given time: once a year, the flamen-dialis priest turns a blind eye for a day so that the naked Luperci can run wild and belt women with leather straps in a reenactment of the conquest of the Sabine women (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 27-30; 96-97). Obversely, the two poles can maintain independent signatures while remaining mutually reinforcing; for example, Varuna and Mitra nearly always exist as a pair in Vedic hymns. While the two gods are contemporaneous, or even co-present, they are still distinct and separate. So “Mitra may fasten you by the food,” but if a cow were bound without any special formula, “then she would be a thing of Varuna” because “the rope assuredly belongs to Varuna” (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 97; Satapatha Brahmana III 2, 4, 18). Yet the complementarities formed when the poles turn a blind eye, exist contemporaneously, or are a mixture of the two express a basic structure that can be easily extrapolated by elaborating on the Archaic and Priestly States. Other complementarities, however, produce State forms that do more than combine the poles: they pursue different effects by transforming the poles themselves. (more…)

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metropolis
Unlike the mythic State, governance today is no longer a question of divinity or even mastery. Empire is instead the force of prevention. What Empire prevents is the future, which it claims is only full of horror, chaos, and disappointment – where apocalyptic monsters or dystopian nightmares come true. The present, we are told, is in crisis. Paradoxically, Empire’s solution is to deepen the crisis in order to save the present. The experience of this drawn-out present is a combination of the profusion of difference paired with the vague notion that nothing is really changing. To achieve this confusing state – where the more that things change, the more they stay the same – Empire undertakes two abstract processes: circulation and management. These two processes are its essential modes of operation. (more…)

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metroLeaning back as I took another puff on my cigarette, things went in and out of focus as the whiskey worked its way through my body. Still unable to shake a lingering desire for clarity, I jotted down some notes while playing it back in my head like a movie reel.

Disorientation. Most people’s initial experience of the Metropolis is disorientation. When you first hit the streets, you settle into the strangeness of it as if it was all just a dream. And while you are trapped in its dreamlike embrace, the Metropolis slowly reveals its erotic and morally ambiguous nature, a tempting but repulsive allure set against a background of violence.

Most of the smart ones leave. I hope they’re happy back on the farm. Others try to be good Samaritans. I gave up being a white knight a long time ago. There are some tall tales that shovel the regular bullshit about good detectives. But I’ve never seen one. And if I did, I’d probably hate their guts. Asking someone to get their hands dirty doesn’t work when they think they’re already helping. I don’t want to be a role model, I want to win. “By any means necessary.”

“Step one: ditch the false piety of doing good and start using your feet.”

A lot of red herrings had been thrown my way. The Metropolis makes it hard to trust anyone or anything. There are no longer any good guys, only con men looking for dupes unable to see through their whole nice-guy act. Everyone here has the potential to do bad, and more importantly, everyone has an angle. Nobody is innocent. Neutrality is the sure sign that someone is either playing it close to the chest or too clueless to figure out whose bidding they are unwittingly doing.

The last people to have faith in are the authorities. They lost control of the streets a long time ago. And whatever power they still exercise always plays into the hands of some higher power. Yet knowing the phone numbers of a few bureaucrats and cops is never a bad idea, as long as you don’t get too close – mistaking them for a friend or a confidant makes you worse than a singing jailbird. Information is their greatest weapon; it gives them leverage. It therefore isn’t wise to feed them even a breadcrumb because that’s how people like you and me end up in trouble to begin with. The bottom line: authorities are to be used, never trusted.

“Step two: track down the leads before the trail goes cold.”

The spoils of my stakeout were lying out on my desk like stolen loot. The killer had left a path of dead bodies in his wake. And in my search to find out whodunnit, I had uncovered every one of them. It all started when I stumbled across what remained of the once-terrifying king of the Archaic State after some of his slaves had gotten to him. My hunt continued when I spotted His Benevolence of the Priestly State after his blackmail and extortion racket went south. The Police and Publicity gave away the Modern State next, but the threads only started to unravel. I knew I was close when I spotted what remained of the Social State, broken and half-crazy, having fallen into a crowd of marginals, undesirables, and illegalists.

Just when I thought the trail went cold, I got the call. The anonymous caller told me to meet at an abandoned lot in a rather seedy part of downtown. But when I got there, I was too late. The killer had struck again. This time, however, I knew that the body would give me all I needed to know. But this operation would have to be a full-blown autopsy, for the answer was stuck deep in the veins of the Metropolis.

“Step three: disembowel the Metropolis.”


The Metropolis is the ground on which Empire operates. It exists on its own accord as a material reality, although it is improbable that the Metropolis would last long without Empire to govern it. Despite its material existence, the Metropolis is more a process, the process of composition that brings together material according to a specific set of rules. In particular, the Metropolis operates according to inclusive disjunction.[1] Inclusive disjunction allows the Metropolis to connect otherwise incommensurate subjects, flows, temporalities, and visibilities without suppressing their differences. In assembling them, the Metropolis does not leave those incommensurate things unperturbed. Rather, Empire introduces things into the Metropolis by producing a plane of positivities that unfolds secured elements, exposes them to risk, and eliminates their futurity. (more…)

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visibilities

This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.

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This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.

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This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.

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When I spoke of the coupling carried out in the eighteenth century between a regime of truth and a new governmental reason, and the connection of this with political economy, in no way did I mean that there was the formation of a scientific and theoretical discourse of political economy on one side, and then, on the other, those who governed who were either seduced by this political economy, or forced to take it into account by the pressure of this or that social group. What I meant was that the market-which had been the privileged object of governmental practice for a very long time and continued to be in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the regime of raison d’etat and a mercantilism which precisely made commerce one of the major instruments of the state’s power-was now constituted as a site of veridiction. And this is not simply or so much because we have entered the age of a market economy-this is at once true, and. says nothing exactly-and it is not because people wanted to produce the rational theory of the marlcet-which is what they did, but it was not sufficient. In fact, in order to reach an understanding of how the market, in its reality, became a site of veridiction for governmental practice, we would have to establish what I would call a polygonal or polyhedral relationship between: the particular monetary situation ofthe eighteenth century, with a new influx of gold on the one hand, and a relative consistency of currencies on the other; a continuous economic and demographic growth in the same period; intensification of agricultural production;the access to governmental practice of a number of technicians who brought with them both methods and instruments of reflection; and finally a number of economic problems being given a theoretical form.

(more…)

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