GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

June 6, 2016


Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:01 am

The alt-right presents itself as a nationalist revolt against globalism; its most direct target, meanwhile, are the SJWs, or the victimocracy. We can square these claims by replacing “globalism” with “imperialism,” and acknowledging that “victimocracy” refers not to rule by the victims but in the name of victims. Rule by whom, in that case? The empire. I am using the terms empire in the very simple way I have used it in many previous posts: the reduction of all individuals to their relation to a single center. This allows for a very flexible understanding of empire: there can be small empires (any highly centralized institution is to that extent “imperial”) and a social order can be more or less imperial (more or less ruthlessly and comprehensively extirpating all centrifugal relationships), or transitioning one way or the other. The furthest extent of imperial ratcheting would be a one world government (tendencies towards and ambitions for which obviously exist), which the singular God of the ancient Hebrews warns us against by similarly but radically differently aligning us all in relation to a universal center. The victimocracy, ruling in the name of victims, is the most efficient empire-building mechanism yet invented. The more local relationships can be defined as “oppressive,” the more the mediation of the center is required in more and more “capillaries” of the social order; to put it another way, to grasp the tautological ratchet effect, the more local relationships are shown to violate the equality of all in relation to the center the more the center intervenes to remedy the violation—and thereby lay the groundwork for new ones. The traditional method of empire, to maintain a mediatory relation between different ethnic and national groups and thereby make itself indispensable, is turned into a design principle through the victimocracy: the need to mediate doesn’t just remain a background possibility, but an everyday necessity.

The nation itself is a mini-empire, orienting all towards the state “representing” the nation. There is always a tension between nation and state—nations were brought into being through monarchies that transcended all the tribes preceding national formation, but were properly “born” through the “patriation” of or revolt against those monarchies. States will always revert to imperial strategies, against which nations will always revolt. One such strategy is the favoring of one region over others, or elevating a minority to a privileged position—that region or minority can always be sacrificed in the event of a revolt. Nations will always have regional differences and minorities, and if they don’t they will invent them—it’s hard today to understand the longstanding antagonism towards Catholics in the apparently ethnically homogeneous Great Britain (all political disabilities were not lifted, I believe, until the 19th century), but such differences and resentments are constitutive, not parasitic, and plausible reasons will always be found (the machinations of Rome, etc.). The need to expel or oppress such groups is a sign of national weakness; a stronger nation deploys its minorities, more or less deliberately, as a source of insights and creations more available to those on the margin than those at the center. These must ultimately be insights and creations suited to inhabit the national “archive.”

The anti-discrimination regime, which in turn led to the opening of borders, along with the opening of the world to trade from the 1980s on created unprecedented opportunities for imperial actors to liberate themselves from the nations they originated in. How could one blame corporations for preferring the entire world, rather than just a single country, as a source of workers and consumers? Now that resistance to these imperial projects is underway, it is helpful to consider the magnitude of that project—destroying the SJWs is a necessary, but ultimately only small part. Indeed, the problem is to take on the most immediate problem—the SJW wars—with an eye toward the larger ones. We can talk about ending free trade, negotiating tougher trade deals, instituting tariffs, devising methods for encouraging or compelling corporations to keep or increase operations here, and so on—at the very least, these would be fresh conversations—but in the end the only solution is for enough Americans to become the kind of people who wouldn’t have allowed this to happen to them in the first place.

The empire answers an imperative—order by classifying, categorizing, enumerating—and in turn issues imperatives to imagine ourselves and others and always already classifiable, categorizable and enumerated. These imperatives must be refused, and the imperatives to reverse normalizing hierarchies is only one layer of them. The simplest (and, as we will see, ultimately the only) means of resisting one imperative is to transfer allegiance to another imperative, but the most complete resistance takes declarative form. The declarative resists the imperative by informing the imperator that the object to be produced is unavailable. In this case, what is unavailable are the classifiable, categorizable and enumerated selves demanded. Making such “objects” unavailable seems rather difficult, given that data peels off us and is gathered with virtually every act we carry out: if the invention of writing and the creation of a class of scribes and bureaucrats made the early empires possible, the new information technology seems to make ever more monstrous empires not only possible but irresistible. The human is the simulacral.

The simulacral is also the singular, though. Let’s say I shop on I buy 10 things, and then Amazon can extrapolate from those 10 purchases enough of a pattern to suggest to me 50 other things I might like. I buy 10 of those 50, and now Amazon offers me a more refined set of recommendations. Soon, I just look at what Amazon recommends to decide what I “want.” They seem to know me, in my social being, better than I know myself, after all—maybe I really do need that appliance I never heard of before. But, of course, this representation of myself is also a representation made to me, and one I can therefore distinguish myself from. The data Amazon gathers from my searches and purchases might seem trivial, but we all know by now that such data is unprotected and ultimately available to other companies, the government, perhaps potential employers, or, via the evil works of some hacker, everyone. And there’s no way of anticipating all the uses that data might be put to. The only way to counter this is to become a producer of selves, to create new patterns by involving possible observers into one’s own patterns of activities. Each one of us, in order to survive in digital civilization, will have to be able to convert those who notice and say something about us into those we notice and say things about. We could even use Amazon (not to mention Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to spy, in a speculative manner, on those who might spy on us—at any rate, we can acquire the habit of extracting data from our encounters with others. Deliberately making an imprint in the digital world not only provides one with a distributed self capable of asymmetrical cultural warfare, but is also the best way of resisting the paranoia that comes from simply imagining all the possible ways the data you are emitting can be used against you.

This kind of digital resistance has been anticipated for a long time—Glenn Reynolds wrote a book called An Army of Davids on this very theme back in 2007, and David Brin’s The Transparent Society, anticipating many of these developments, came out in 1999. But the idea never gained much traction within the libertarian frame both Reynolds (leaning right) and Brin (leaning left) assumed. Neither factored in the SJW war, or thought in terms of organized political conflict. Now, we can say that the nationalizing struggle against imperial ratcheting, the collective form the digital resistance might take is the ongoing singularization of data; in ways that are only possible in more or less informal collaboration and solidarity with others, one must make one’s “profile” “anti-fragile”—that is, not only “tough,” but built so as to transform attacks against it into weapons, viruses into antibodies. The nation is, as the Marxist linguist Voloshinov once said of the sign, “the site and stake of struggle”: the empire seeks to extract an ever more minimal, ultimately only nominal, to be delivered unto the transnational, nationality, from each; nationalizing seeks to maximize nationality by enacting, rehearsing, discovering, iterating, the transcendence and preservation of every kind of difference within the nation and between nations. Attacks on oneself as racist, sexist, transphobic, etc., then simply become means of defining the richness of the nation with the unwitting assistance of those who hate it.

We will never be able to eschew the imperial altogether, as the imperial is reproduced by differences between more and less civilized and disciplined nations (and groups within nations). The naïve nationalism of the alt-right advocates for a world of tribes/nations all leaving each other alone—if we’re all nationalists, presumably, there is no need to fear imperial ambitions. But one, weaker, rasher, nation, attacks another, is defeated, and punitive and restitutive measures are imposed as a result. The measures must be enforced, administrators must be imported into the conquered country; settlers follow (merchants, workers, first of all serving the administrators), and a class of foreign oriented natives emerges (perhaps from some persecuted minority, which can be conveniently used against the majority). Already our world of nations is a bit more complicated. Moreover, are all peoples capable of nationhood? The Arab world seems to be dissolving into tribal and sectarian groupings—maybe this is a result of the US invasion of Iraq, which, in rare bipartisan fashion, has come to be blamed for all the problems of the world; but, maybe, the only thing holding the Arab states together in the first place was the exigencies of Cold War rivalries and then American imperial oversight. What if there are simply no nations in that part of the world? Either they will be artificially imposed, as was done in the past, or we will accept the world of nations sharing the world with other, incommensurable political forms. The existence of the permanent threat of terrorists and pirates, raiders originating in uncivilized regions, complicates the ethics of nationalism as well. Even nationalists might have to tip towards the imperial to keep some shipping lanes clear. The point of nationalizing is to civilize, and the civilizing project easily becomes an imperial one (it’s safer, when possible, to turn one’s defeated enemies into civilized partners rather than letting them remain recalcitrant “natives”).

Nationalizing compels us to speak openly of all these complications, whereas civilizing would have us do so more generously. For the foreseeable future, the openness (parrhesia) will be far more important than the generosity. Still, that openness can only benefit from the reminder that we hope to be more generous at some point, and will even be so now when possible. Sustaining and inhabiting these dialectics is what will make for anti-fragiity. The imperial demand is that we become increasingly fragile, and thereby dependent upon state solicitude. We make the “object” of that demand unavailable by heeding a more originary demand, to represent more of the present, denser networks of things calling for our attention.

The problem of inequality is the problem of the Big Man, the Alpha, producer’s desire. Civilization has diversified this figure (e.g., the tyrannical “genius” film director), but nothing can eliminate him—we can just commit atrocities and cause catastrophes in the attempt. The problem is not that the guy in the cubicle next to me makes 10G more—the “inequality” that causes resentment is only secondarily about distribution—it is primarily about flows of wealth and power to and from a central figure who, whatever his merits, can never completely deserve that position. Of course he can’t deserve it—the entire notion of “desert” is an expression of resentment of the BM, who is where he is simply because there need to be centers, and he, somewhat but not completely tautologically, was more central than anyone else. Demanding more of the BM—more distribution, more accountability—or seeking to disperse or depersonalize him (the rule of law, not men, etc.) merely entrenches him all the more. These attempts are the cause of empire building: Betas, “seconds,” “marketers” who come along and regularize the Alpha, first, BM, by recognizing, allocating and designating positions along the margins. Modernity is predicated upon the fantasy of having managed the BM once and for all, while our states and interstate institutions grow uncontrollably and we sprout billionaire magnates with cultural revolutionary aspirations like mushrooms (and, in fact, have done so, in somewhat less grotesque versions, for the past couple of centuries). The market economy opens up new center-margin flows, it doesn’t eliminate or even mitigate center-margin relations. The more furiously activists revile the latest incarnation of the BM the more they entrench imperial rule, contribute to the imperial ratchet. The alternative, what would be truly as reactionary as revolutionary, is to claim and spread producer’s desire as widely and wildly as possible, thereby laying the groundwork for a new “nomos,” or land/power division, among what will essentially be neo-tribal leaders. The initial gesture of producer’s desire today: turning bait for you into your baiting of the baiters, thereby creating new centers of value. What is disruptive in a consumer is inventive in a producer. Revise whatever narrative you are placed in into a narrative of the renaissance of producer’s desire: examined closely, victimary narratives of the pillaging of the oppressed by the privileged actually tell of the collapse and imminent restoration of that desperately needed “privilege.” Treat the “constructed” as evidence of the natural, and in the process you will make the natural the source of new differentiations, new center-margin flows. Take Gertrude Stein’s advice, “act so that there is no use in a center,” i.e., allow for the possibility that any object in sight might be a worthy object of attention, and you will generate, paradoxically, new centers and new uses for them.

To follow up, once again, on Eric Gans’s latest Chronicle, perhaps reality TV, especially in its more “game-like” forms, provides a model for the producer’s imagination. “Reality” is currently imposed by imperial diktats, in which one seeks to position oneself more favorably within the prevailing center-margin flows. If we treat “reality” more explicitly as a game, with each of us as contestant, along with an audience of potential contestants, we can think in terms of remaking the rules by exploiting its anomalies. We are always asked to represent ourselves in specific ways, for employees, potential mates, possible partners in enterprises, conversations, and so on—the “Alpha” approach to such demands is to include the request within the rules governing the request by representing oneself as the kind of person that the figure making the request/demand would, if it knew what it was about, would want. Establishing such frames, making explicit the rules, initiating discovery procedures aimed at providing feedback all liberates us from the scripted play of resentments and counter-resentments, which all appeal to an implicit center. In this way the rules are denaturalized in order to be renaturalized, insofar as all rules can ever do is establish tributary networks, which means they establish the terms on which one gets closer to the center of the flow. And exploiting the rules for getting closer (for becoming an actual provider) always requires some form of value outside of the rules, a form of value one can practice and make into a discipline.

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