The reprehensible murder of 50 people and the wounding of 53 at Orlando’s LGBT nightclub The Pulse affects us immediately in a way that is becoming all too familiar from other similar kinds of events. In each case there is shock, the assessment of facts, the grieving of the loss of loved ones, vigils and calls for unity. These are accompanied by statements by political leaders as to the significance of these events. Because they happen too often we are also now often told to restrain ourselves from making such political statements – to not overly rapidly politicize while we are mourning. The day of 9/11 I told friends that my worry would be that the right wing in the U.S. would seek to capitalize on the event to further its imperialist aims and somehow yesterday’s mass shooting in Orlando is a continuation of that very spiral of reaction, the war against Iraq, the now almost permanent occupation of Afghanistan, drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, and the U.S. government’s collusion with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Syria, Lybia and elsewhere. There are aspects of the massacre that are incidental: the type of rifle that was used and its easy accessibility, the fact that this is the 175th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2016, the hate-based discriminatory aspect of the crime, the shooter’s stated allegiance to ISIS and his possible ties to a man who moved from Florida to fight for an Islamist militia in the U.S.-backed war for regime change in Syria. All of these circumstantial aspects of the massacre, however, immediately overlap with core social values and because of this we should not hesitate work through on our political response. The rhetoric of politicians like Obama, Clinton and Trump that America needs to defend itself is a correct one but it is not ISIS that the American establishment fears. What they genuinely fear is democratic and radical politicization in response their military and plutocratic agenda at home and abroad. The social policies that are being put forward by the Bernie Sanders campaign will soon be sidelined by reactionary appeals that are designed to disorient and frighten the American people. It is in the spirit of struggle and anger that we mourn our brothers and sisters who died yesterday and not in acquiescence to the imperialist neoliberal order.
A few passages from Slavoj Žižek’s recent book are worth quoting here.
THE DEFENCE OF ONE'S WAY OF LIFE DOES NOT EXCLUDE ETHICAL UNIVERSALISM
“[T]he obviously tolerant solution (mutual respect of each other’s sensitivities) … obviously doesn’t work. If Muslims find it impossible to bear our blasphemous images and reckless humour (which we consider a part of our freedom), Western liberals also find it impossible to bear many practices (such as the subordination of women) that are part of the Muslim life-world. In short, situations explode when members of a religious community experience as blasphemous injury and a danger to their way of life not a direct attack on their religion, but the very way of life of another community: this was the case with attacks on gays and lesbians by Muslim fundamentalists in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, and with those Frenchmen and women who see a woman covered by a burka as an attack on their French identity, which is why they also find it ‘impossible to remain silent’ when they encounter such a woman in their midst. One has therefore to do two things: first, formulate a minimum set of norms that are obligatory for everyone, without fear that they will appear ‘Eurocentric’: religious freedoms, the protection of individual freedom against group pressure, rights of women, and so on; and second, within these limits, unconditionally insist on the toleration of different ways of life. And what if norms and communication don’t work? Then the force of law should be applied in all its forms.”
UNIVERSALITY OF STRUGGLES
“If all sides do not share or respect the same civility, then multiculturalism turns into a form of legally regulated mutual ignorance or hatred. The conflict about multiculturalism is already a conflict about universal common culture: it is not a conflict between [two or more different] cultures, but a conflict between different versions of how different cultures can and should co-exist; about the rules and practices these cultures have to share if they are to co-exist. Since our problems today are common, propose and fight for a positive universal project shared by all. Our axiom should be that the struggle against Western neocolonialism as well as the struggle against fundamentalism, the struggle of Wikileaks and Snowden as well as the struggle of Pussy Riot, the struggle against anti-Semitism as well as the struggle against Zionism, are parts of one and the same universal struggle.”
BRING BACK THE CLASS STRUGGLE AND INSIST ON GLOBAL SOLIDARITY
“During the first half of 2015, Europe was preoccupied by radical emancipatory movements (Syriza, Podemos), while in the second half the attention had shifted to the ‘humanitarian’ topic of the refugees: a shift in which class struggle was literally repressed and replaced by liberal-cultural notions of tolerance and solidarity. With the Paris terror killings in November, however, even these ideas are now eclipsed by the simple opposition of all democratic forces caught in a merciless war with forces of terror – and it is easy to imagine what will follow: the paranoiac search for ISIS agents among the refugees, and so on. The greatest victims of the Paris terror attacks will be refugees themselves, and the true winners, concealed behind the platitudes in the style of je suis Paris, will be simply the partisans of total war on both sides. This is how we should really condemn the Paris killings: not by engaging in pathetic shows of anti-terrorist solidarity but by insisting on asking one simple question: cui bono? And there should be no ‘deeper understanding’ of the ISIS terrorists (in the sense of ‘their deplorable acts are nonetheless reactions to brutal European interventions’): they should be characterized as what they are, as the Islamo-Fascist obverse of the anti-immigrant racists – the two are two sides of the same coin. So let’s bring back the class struggle – and the only way to do it is to insist on the global solidarity of the exploited and oppressed. Without this global view, the pathetic solidarity with Paris victims is a pseudo-ethical obscenity. Maybe such global solidarity is a utopia. But if we don’t engage in it, then we are really lost.”
Panel (c) of Richard Hamilton, Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu – a painting in three parts, also known by the artist as Untitled and Balzac (a) + (b) + (c), 2011. Epson inkjet on Hewlett-Packard RHesolution canvas, 3 panel triptych, 112 x 176 cm each. The image makes use of an 1855 photograph by Louis-Camille d’Olivier of a female nude with a model’s foot added from a separate photo. The Richard Hamilton Estate.
In March 2016 I published an article on the website Culture Matters in which I argued against Michel Foucault’s assertion from his 1966 book The Order of Things, that the humanist conception of man would soon be understood to be nothing more than an effect of discourse and would disappear from human knowledge like a face at the edge of the sea. (See http://culturematters.org.uk/culture-hub/item/2270-ecce-homo-occupy-god.html.) With reference to Lacanian psychoanalysis and the excellent book by Heiko Feldner and Fabio Vighi, Žižek Beyond Foucault (2007), I wrote: “My take on individualism is that we should be collective while also being human. This to me is definitional of leftist class struggle. It means ridding ourselves of the idea of creating a positive unconscious of knowledge that could be located either in social structures or in the persons of individual subjects.” The implications of Foucault’s work seem to me to underscore the totalizing aspects of social constructionism. Even if Foucauldian discourse theory resembles Marxism in its effort to show how “socially constructed” phenomena become naturalized (i.e. as ideology), social constructionism is inherently a method of deconstruction and has by and large abandoned the terrain of revolutionary consciousness.
I wrote the article because I believe that contemporary leftist social movements – such as the alterglobal “movement of the squares,” the students strikes against tuition hikes, the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, the climate justice movement or the Nuit Debout movement against the new French labour law – are attempting to move beyond the pessimism of postmodern theory but lack the resources to rethink dialectical materialism in this post-postmodern epoch of neoliberalism. There are many intellectuals whose ideas could be helpful in this context but it is my view that foremost among these are Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. It is very difficult to displace an intellectual framework like Foucault’s because of its exceptional sophistication. To my mind the only people working today who have achieved this level of complexity are Badiou and Žižek. I am aware that although the names of Badiou and Žižek are well-known, their ideas are not very well understood, let alone accepted, as was demonstrated recently at the May 2016 Left Forum, at which Taryn Fivek and a group of Žižek critics interrupted his presentation and gave members of the participating audience handouts that denounce Žižek on the basis of his critique of liberal political correctness.
As it happens, I was invited in early April to collaborate with the Montreal-based arts and humanities magazine Spirale on a planned 2017 special issue whose theme would be Foucault’s opening discussion in The Order of Things of Diego Velásquez’s Las Meninas (1656). With this example Foucault introduces his notion of episteme, the more or less unconscious patterns of thought according to which different disciplines and fields of knowledge operate. For Foucault, there is an important epistemological shift between the classical period and the modern period that begins in the early the nineteenth century. Foucault himself hesitated to say that his work was contributing to a new postmodern episteme. The editors of the magazine are interested in knowing if we today are on the cusp of just such a new episteme and so proposed that contributors to the special issue select an artwork that like Las Meninas might help us to reflect on the current state of knowledge. Such images, they argue, could help us to fathom the current condition of the post-human, the emergence of the biopolitical subject, the representation of the undecidable, or the end of meta-narratives. I agreed to participate but I did so with the awareness that I have no special investment in these themes from 1980s postmodern academia. After I sent my text to the guest editor to see if it was acceptable for translation, he asked me to remove all of the references to what happens to be leftist thinkers. After I refused to do so, the article was turned down because it was assumed that the magazine editors would find it too long or too complicated for non-academic readers. It does seem odd that a theme issue that invites articles from “erudite and vivacious spirits” and that wishes to think about how Marxism is dead and we’re all neoliberal cyborgs now, should be frightened by a little bit of intellectual discussion. So much for a culture magazine being able to reflect critically on the conditions of possibility of a sector now known as the knowledge industry. My choice of artist was the late Richard Hamilton, a self-defined communist and one of the last great postmodern artists. My short text is available here (http://culturematters.org.uk/arts-hub/visual-art/item/2317-unknown-knowledge-what-the-hell-is-going-on-here.html). Thanks to Mike Quille and Culture Matters for publishing the article.
IN THE USA, THE RICHEST 1/10TH OF THE WEALTHIEST 1% OWN AS MUCH WEALTH AS THE POOREST 90% - THE 20 WEALTHIEST PEOPLE IN THE US OWN MORE WEALTH THE THE POOREST 150 MILLION AMERICANS - ONE FAMILY, THE WALTON FAMILY, OWNS MORE WEALTH THAN THE POOREST 40% OF AMERICANS - MANY WAL$MART EMPLOYEES ARE ON FOOD STAMPS AND MEDICAID - DEMAND A LIVING WAGE - $15 MINIMUM - WOMEN WANT THE WHOLE DAMN DOLLAR IN PAY EQUITY - THE ECONOMY IS RIGGED - CONTROL RENTS - SENATORS WANT TO CUT SOCIAL SECURITY - BERNIE DEFENDS AND WANTS TO EXPAND SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS BY TAXING THOSE WHO MAKE $250,000 AND ABOVE - HELP THE ELDERLY AND THE VULNERABLE - HILLARY DOES NOT DEFEND SOCIAL SECURITY - END STUDENT DEBT AND UNEQUAL ACCESS TO EDUCATION - BERNIE WANTS FREE TUITION FOR PUBLIC COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES PAID FOR BY IMPOSING A SPECULATION TAX ON WALL STREET - BERNIE CONSIDERS HEALTH CARE A RIGHT AND NOT A PRIVILEGE - THE AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE ACT LEAVES 29 MILLION AMERICANS WITHOUT HEALTH CARE - END PHARMACEUTICAL GREED ON PRESCRIPTION DRUGS - BERNIE CALLS FOR CHILD CARE, FAMILY LEAVE, PARENTAL LEAVE - FORWARD TO A SINGLE PAYER MEDICARE PROGRAM - GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL AND RUINING EVERYTHING - IMPROVE EFFICIENT PUBLIC TRANSIT - REBUILD MASS TRANSIT, AIRPORTS, LEVVIES, DAMS - BERNIE WANTS TO REBUILD INFRASTRUCTURE AND CREATE JOBS BY TAXING CORPORATIONS THAT STASH THEIR $100 BILLION ANNUAL IN PROFITS IN TAX HAVENS - BERNIE WANTS TO STOP FRAKKING IN THE US AND THE WORLD, WANTS A NATIONAL BAN ON FRAKKING - AS SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY PUSHED FRAKKING ALL OVER THE WORLD - CONVERT TO GREEN ENERGY - DIVEST - FOSSIL FUEL PROFITS ARE NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE FUTURE OF THE ENVIRONMENT - SHIFT TO ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND SUSTAINABLE ENERGY - NO TO US IMPERIALISM - NO TO ISRAELI POLICY OF ETHNIC CLEANSING - NO TO WAR WITH RUSSIA, CHINA, IRAN - BERNIE VOTED AGAINST THE WAR IN IRAQ - HILLARY VOTED FOR THE DISASTROUS TRILLION DOLLARS IRAQ WAR - NO TO DRONE POLICY AND KILL LISTS - CLOSE GUANTANAMO - STOP SUPPORTING DICTATORS AND OLIGARCHIES - NO TO THE PRISON-MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX - FIX THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM - THE US HAS 2.2 MILLION AMERICANS IN JAIL - REDUCE THE PRISON POPULATION - BERNIE WANTS POLICE DEPARTMENT REFORM THROUGH ACCOUNTABILITY FOR POLICE MISCONDUCT - DEMILITARIZE LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS AND END PRIVATE CORPORATE OWNERSHIP OF PRISONS AND DETENTION CENTERS - RETHINK THE WAR ON DRUGS AND DECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA - TREAT ADDICTION AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE AS A HEALTH ISSUE - HELP KIDS FIND WORK AND GET EDUCATION - REBUILD THE INNER CITIES OF AMERICA - PROVIDE MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT FOR THOSE IN NEED - BERNIE WANTS TO GIVE A PATH TO CITIZENSHIP TO THE 11 MILLION UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS IN THE US VIA COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM - NO TO SURVEILLANCE AND REPRESSION OF JOURNALISTS AND WHISTLEBLOWERS - STOP FRISKING AND KILLING PEOPLE - GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS - BERNIE WANTS VOTING RIGHTS AFFIRMED SO ANYONE 18 AND OVER CAN VOTE - BERNIE WANTS TO OVERTURN CITIZENS UNITED CAMPAIGN FINANCING - BERNIE HAS NO SUPER PACS AND DOES NOT WANT THE MONEY OF CORPORATE AMERICA - BILLIONNAIRES SHOULD NOT BE BUYING ELECTIONS - STOP INEQUALITY - NO TO CORPORATE TRADE POLICIES (WHICH HILLARY SUPPORTS) - BERNIE HAS MORE INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS THAN ANY CANDIDATE IN US HISTORY - HIS AVERAGE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION IS $27 - HILLARY HAS $25 MILLION IN SUPERPAC MONEY, INCLUDING $15 MILLION FROM WALL STREET DONATIONS - SINCE 2001 THE CLINTONS HAVE MADE $150 MILLION FROM 730 SPEECHES TO WALL STREET (GOLDMAN SACHS, BANK OF AMERICA, DEUTSCHE BANK, CITIGROUP, UBS) - THESE ARE THE BANKS THAT CLINTON AS US SENATOR BAILED OUT FOR $700 BILLION AND WITH NO CONSEQUENCES - HILLARY GIVES WALL STREET SPEECHES BEHIND CLOSED DOORS - HER SPEECHES TO PEOPLE LIKE GOLDMAN SACHS FETCH UP TO $250,000 BUT SHE WON'T RELEASE THE TRANSCRIPTS - NO TO ESTABLISHMENT POLITICS AND ECONOMICS - HILLARY WILL NOT STAND UP TO SPECIAL INTERESTS AND WEALTHY CAMPAIGN DONORS - FORGET IDENTITY POLITICS, HILLARY REPRESENTS THE 1% - NATIONAL POLLS SHOW BERNIE DEFEATING TRUMP BY DOUBLE DIGITS - JOIN THE REVOLUTION - VOTE FOR BERNIE