You may learn in time that “activism” and militancy is the highest stage of alienation.
Do you really think it matters whether you “oppose” imperialism or not. Your yelling and “loud” opposition is utterly ineffectual and impotent.
She’s a bit too “enthusiastic“. I think she’s slightly over-estimating her self-importance and that of those she associates with.
What is a troll? Accused of anonymity and distasteful disagreement, a troll is a nobody. Nobodies inhabit the earth in billions, just numbers on a census, silenced from debate and discourse. A troll is a nobody who goes against what good nobodies are supposed to be doing: acquiescing, marching behind somebodies, those unique souls imbued with a sense of authority by the powers that be. This class of somebodies include tenured professors, experts, pundits, image-conscious journalists, celebrities and politicians.
I laughed when Professor Rechtenwald left the above paternalist comments on my recent essay on the urgent necessity of anti-imperialism. I currently pay for a shared studio with vermin on a street where people are murdered, I make $15 an hour as a temp in New York; no one has to tell me I’m alienated. I do not disagree that militancy and activism are results of alienation. Word on the street is that this is how revolutionaries live: cut off from all sorts of things, certainly from the teat of NYU positions. But his comments got me thinking about unimportant nobodies versus very important somebodies, and I’d like to make some comments about nobody politics.
As much as anyone wants to beat up on Stalin and Mao for “cults of personality”, we have a strange blind spot towards our utterly bizarre celebrity culture.
Celebrity is a gorgeous date for neoliberalism. The cult of the individual manifests itself as worshiping the individual traits of those we have never met or spoken with. We need to see cellulite, we need to read interviews, we need to breathlessly pour over family photos of intimate gatherings on their timelines. This cult of celebrity is encouraged by and exists for the purposes of capitalism. Celebrities mean celebrity endorsements, of course, but they also foster a sense of individual worship. The difference between Stalin and an American celebrity is that Stalin was seen as the embodiment of the Soviet Union and its values, while we love our celebrity because of her individual qualities, namely her saucy attitude, sizzling hot fashion sense, and her performances for us – be they on stage or on Instagram. Stalin never posed for centerfolds, he never gave out fashion tips or spoke about his family and personal relationships at length. He was a portrait, a ghost of an actual individual, an iconic face that meant nothing to most of us on an individual scale.
For sure, our present ruler in the United States indulges in this celebrity, playing to memes or appearing on ironic hipster webisodes. But mainly, we eat up our information from the New York Times op-ed pages. We are told how to think about things by columnists that indoctrinate us with capitalism’s smokescreens and lies, revealing just as much about themselves in the process. These are important people. This pundit class that gets asked to speak and sign autographs are very important people. Their opinions are considered authoritative and valid. They must be smarter, more hardworking than all of us. They must have access to different, better information. After all, they are there for a reason, no?
Much of the authority bestowed on us by capitalism correlates to our socio-economic status and relationship to the means of production. Law makers, politicians, professors, millionaires – by and large these actors come from a certain class, and are generally white and male. What then, of the other voices we see represented – who are they meant to appeal to? Like the indigene begging for NATO intervention, feminists incessantly speaking about sex work, the person of color arguing that we are in a post-racial society: celebrity pundits must also appeal to power.
I wrote on this about a year back. I wrote about American radicalism and the sacrifices that had to be offered to count yourself among the likes of Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, John Brown, Bill Haywood, and others. I wrote that the person embraced and encouraged along by the imperialist machine would be suspect, because being an actual radical can be fatal. There are dead workers buried all over this country from crushed strikes that are testimony, among others in unmarked graves. But now there are radicals who promote Pussy Riot, who cheer on the bombing of Libya, who hustle hard for imperialism, who endorse products. Radicals who make lots of money on the stock market and buy brownstones (oh, maybe they give some of their money away, but probably not to the Naxalites). These people also happen to be Somebodies. They are pulled in towards the heart of Empire and so are rewarded not just with wealth and power, but also a platform to speak from. This is somebody politics.
But let’s talk about nobody politics. On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who are hungry, those who are poor and frustrated. These are nobodies. These are the alienated. They are the ones who die under NATO bombs. They are the ones vaccinated without giving informed consent, their signatures forged. These are the youth, the people of color, the poor. They are nobodies. Their voices are seen as insignificant. Their opposition to imperialism and capitalism is, as Professor Rechtenwald tells me, meaningless, utterly ineffectual and impotent. The militant activists are alienated, not important. Nobody politics are for nobodies. Somebody politics are for somebodies. So, if you’re a nobody, why not try shilling somebody politics for a change? It may even result in a respite from the alienation, may help one bootstrap their way into a book deal or high-paying job.
Or not. As the numbers tell us, opportunity for youth, people of color, and other oppressed communities is nonexistent compared to the exciting lives of our favorite celebrities. They jet around the world on company money, endorse products for easy cash, and spend an awful lot of time reinforcing to us how empire is blameless and there’s really no other way that things could be. You get the freelance journalists hustling for a staff position. You get the academics hustling for a book deal. You get a lot of hustle from lawmakers, artists – in fact let’s just call then “somebodies” – for just straight-up payoffs and bribes.
Meanwhile, the nobodies hustle for rent, debt, and hospital bills. In fact, the more of a nobody they are, the more they owe, the more they “hustle”. The nobodies hate capitalism. The nobodies hate imperialism. The nobodies hate racism, the nobodies hate sexism. The nobodies hate poverty. They hate hustling. Nobodies want free housing, education, healthcare, food and guaranteed employment. They hide their faces or don’t speak up because they know what they want goes against what those in power want for them. If they are too loud with their discontent, there is a crackdown, minute pressure points in society the people in power can press, releasing spurts of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and mass incarceration. The somebodies know how to shut nobodies like me up – that’s how they stay in power.
So I laughed when Professor Rechtenwald tried to do me a favor and remind me how unimportant I am. Yes, professor: I have bed bugs, rats, a low-paying temp job, tens of thousands in debt, and unstable access to healthcare. Everything in my life serves to remind me of my unimportance, my alienation. I get it. I’m a nobody. And I live on a street in a neighborhood full of nobodies. A city and country, a world full of nobodies. I write under a pseudonym and I hide my face, among other reasons, because there really is nothing so special about me. I’m not important. Not much unique. I’m just one of many gunning for your class, gender, sexual, and racial privilege with my politics, which I have decided to speak up about. I’m not a celebrity, not quirky and sexy and talented and nodding along with empire, I’m a nobody. Now, move along. We’re talking nobody politics with other nobodies.
No, you misunderstood my criticism as suggesting that you are a nobody. My point is that the ruing class doesn’t care what you, I or anyone says about their imperialism. My point was not to denigrate you or anyone like you. My point was to emphasize the fact that loudness and marching are meaningless to the ruling class. Tens of millions of people marched against the Iraqi War. This had not the slightest effect on the war. You can scream your head off. The only change it will make will be a loss of your voice. This approach — activism, militancy — these do not work. That’s what I’m saying — not that *you* don’t matter. This was a critique of your strategy and tactics, not of your personage. I know that you’d like to turn it into something else, because that ‘sells’ more clicks, but it just wouldn’t be true.
Incidentally, my last comment was not about your imperialism piece, but rather about the one in which you suggest that government agents were behind the Jacobin scandal. That’s just ascribing too much importance to the Jacobin. Ten million anti-war marchers meant nothing. Surely one million readers of a Jacobin anti-imperialism article is not a real threat the ruling class. They wouldn’t bother with sending agents to screw up the left. The left does a good job of this all by itself.
Could you show any evidence for your claim that “ten million anti-war marchers meant nothing”? Because that doesn’t seem to make any sense in a historical context whatsoever.
If I could hazard a response: the objective of an anti-war movement should be to either prevent a war from taking place or to end a war that’s going on. Leading up to the Iraq War, there were some of the biggest antiwar protests in history around the world. They were coordinated, fairly widely covered, and unanimous in their rejection of the “Bush doctrine” of preemptive strikes. Yet this did nothing to stop the United States, Britain, and its bought “coalition of the willing” from invading the country.
I shouldn’t have said that they *meant* nothing. I should have said that they had meaning to the protesters, but no effect in deterring the wars. Likewise, their meaning was one of failure, not nothing at all.
From what source would you call evidence? Any Google search will bring up thousands of variations of writing illustrating the failure of the anti-war movement. The “left” actually agrees wholeheartedly on this fact. Can you find any “left” based evidence that it succeeded? Outside of that, anyone who participated in the movement would know that it was a failure. I would think that the US based hundreds of thousands (and internationally based tens of millions) of us all agreeing it was a failure is how historical context is constructed. Half the left co-signed Obama and the vestiges of the movement vaporized after his election. What part of the elephant are you touching?
I know this discussion is about politics, but is politics disconnected from the person? IMO certainly not.
I agree with nearly 100% of what you said, but what Michael Rectenwald said that
“…loudness and marching are meaningless to the ruling class…”
makes some sense too.
My point is, who exactly created this “reality” (bad dream)? Aren’t *we* (the nobodies) as “guilt” as the somebodies about the reality we share with them?
Isn’t the components of human collective “character”, like greed, selfishness, lack of empathy and compassion, shared by nobodies as well as by somebodies?
Of course, there is also love, respect, compassion and selflessness, but are “we” really so different from “them”?
IMO, their power doesn’t come from their extraordinary smartness, or any kind of accident of history, or the fact the “Nature” protects the strongest: it comes from our spiritual weaknesses.
In this respect they have in fact no power, what we see in our reality is only a manifestation of our collective primitiveness.
BTW, you have a great site here, thank you for helping us to reflect about these things! 🙂
Hello! Thank you for your feedback.
I would argue that first, the loudness and marching does have an impact on the ruling class. You can see this in the way that the government has legislated against such marches since then in the United States. Now we also see an ever-increasing amount of police militarization, as evidenced in the Occupy crackdowns and entrapment schemes. We can also gauge its effectiveness in the fear of the ruling class, who now publish their fears of class war quite openly in the pages of this nation’s propaganda machines. But I would encourage you to separate the anti-war camp from the anti-imperialist camp. They can walk in tandem sometimes, and often do, but anti-imperialists are certainly not pacifists. Arguing against one war or the other is one thing – you are often coming hat in hand, begging the powers that be to release you from war. Demanding that the imperialists be overthrown is quite another thing.
I do not think that the people suffering under this repressive regime are responsible for this current state of affairs. And there is no use in trying to assign blame to them for their inaction either – the US and many other places are ruled by a propaganda machine that exists not only in the newspapers but also in our more general culture, the machine that exalts the individual celebrity and cherishes the “unique” qualities of the individual over the health of the masses. Scabism, entrepreneurship, etc, these are all weapons wielded against the people. This is a process of atomization (see my About page), and it serves to disarm the people at a micro-level. It is something I hope this blog can struggle against. There is no use looking back except to learn from our mistakes and hold people accountable for their actions. The stakes are currently too high.
Last, I must admit I do not see the world as you do. I do not believe that selfishness, greed, lack of empathy and compassion are inherent to the human condition. They are the results of a mode of production. However, on the individual level, for sure we are very little different from one another. But we can’t ignore the larger point and machine that threatens our possibilities, which is that there are classes of oppression – POC are oppressed by whites, the ruling class oppresses the working people and the poor, and the global imperialist core exploits the people worldwide. This isn’t a situation of individuals oppressing other individuals, this is a situation where classes are exploiting other classes. I wish it were so easy to just fix our spiritual weaknesses. In reality, we have a hard battle to fight against the imperialists.
Thank you for your reply!
I agree that global imperialism and capitalism are essential parts of the de- humanization of society, despite the fact that they’re created by humans to control other humans.
On the other hand, I believe you’ll agree with me that these “ideas” do not exist by themselves, they were created and exist to serve a clear purpose which is the domination of the largest possible part of society by a restricted ruling class.
I believe that’s what you call “global imperialism”, which is a “good name”/good description IMO, but those who control it exert their control as a result of their distorted perception of life in general, and in particular human life, as a “power” that should serve them exclusively, or at least more than serve others.
Therefore, they seek domination.
If you now consider that a bunch of people cannot control the world, they *need* the cooperation of others, who, despite not being so powerful, are also fond of power and domination.
These “second rank” imperialists will also do whatever it takes to be part of the system of domination and are easily co-opted into cooperation by the ruling class, etc.
You see, there is a chain of corruption behind this imperialistic social structure and those who are easier to corrupt will be the most eligible “new friends” of the global imperialism.
This kind of co-opting of corruption has existed in our “western civilization” for many centuries, probably since the Roman empire, possibly before them.
I see it as the essential cause of the “global imperialism” and, in this case, it’s a spiritual sickness more than anything else.
To Ale, I think the evidence is pretty obvious when you look at how the US has continued not only its military presence in afghanistan but also increased its activities in the form of drone strikes in pakistan and yemen for example. The anti-war movement failed, it didn’t matter that its protests were large and loud.
It’s pretty clear he’s specifically talking about how the ‘ruling class’ treated the anti-war movement. And it is abundantly clear that the anti-war movement has been the target of mass surveillance, repression and entrapment. Whether or not they were successful is as relevant as whether or not the scores of muslim youth who were entrapped by the FBI would’ve ever carried out a terrorist attack, and it misses the point: you don’t need to be ‘successful’ in your aims to suffer repression.
Repression aside, doesn’t it make sense before undertaking an action to gauge its probable chance of success? I mean, if the goal of the action is the action itself, then I guess people can walk away from a protest or demonstration happy that they accomplished what they set out to. But if it’s more than that, the action should measurably or tangibly contribute to its accomplishment, or else it’s not worth undertaking.
Right, but that has zero to do with the original contention: that anti-imperialist printed on the Jacobin “meant nothing” like millions of anti-war demonstrators on the street. The point is that there is no evidence to suggest that these anti-war demonstrations “meant nothing” to the ruling class, since they were the target of mass surveillance and continue being the target of organized repression, just like disorganized, alienated muslim youth.
The question of successful tactics is a different question entirely, and it’s clear that the equivocation of anti-imperialists with the anti-war movement in general (and repression of Jacobin with the repression of the anti-war protests in the lead up to the Second Gulf war in particular) has little factual basis, and is more the case of scoring political points via received (and faulty) wisdom. This Platypus-level impotent posturing is really pathetic.
I agree with Ross. If the effect desired is merely one of protesters’ self-conscious satisfaction at having “done something” by protesting the wars, or if they have had the intended effect of attracting state repression, then they have been “successful.” But if the intended effect was to actually deter the wars themselves, then they failed. That’s rather clear. Thus, it’s time to reconsider such “activism.”
Lots of sadistic commentary here, especially by Michael Rectenwald, whose petty imprecations concerning lack of success are obviously informed by a guilty conscience concerning betrayal of class struggle. Nobodies are the class subject, one gains this assignation by living within or steadfastly witnessing the circumstances which not only instruct one that total overthrow of the free market is required, they promise it: and this promise, unlike so many others, is absolutely 100% dead on. Being successful and effectual in this historic epoch are forms of capitulation. Consider partisanship, it functions in politics the same way that consent does with adults and sex. A position of total negation is a partisan position. An adult withholding consent from a rapist is not less raped for the unsuccessfulness of their non-consent position. To recharacterize partisan negation as anything other than absolutely vital to revolution is to apologize for these dominance systems, the same way misogynists and prison apologists apologize for or entirely ignore prevalent or systemic sexual assault and predation. As for being successful or effectual in one’s protests, if you abandon the position of negation you are still brutalized, you’ve just sacrificed a politic that bears witness to your material conditions. Maybe you just want to escape and forget about them, or you never lived in those that promise you what I mentioned above.
It’s excellent to see you dealing with this condescending prick in such a thorough manner. He couldn’t have damned himself more thoroughly than his comments here.