Brian Holmes on Wed, 2 Jan 2019 01:57:44 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Foundations for "Anthropocene Socialist" Movement

What matters is the remaking of social form. It's not just about inventing a concept or revealing a contradiction. It's about contributing to shift in what everyone shares: the built and instituted norm. Vince has challenged the global norm of neoliberalism with a with a resolute and detailed vision of a Green New Deal culminating in a hitherto unknown variety of ecosocialism. His intervention is provocative to say the least, because it starts simultaneously with the individual *and* with society. Self-fashioning meets economic restructuring. One begins to sense a change in the patterns of change: one begins to imagine a new way of living.

What's needed is something like an Ecosocialist Party to prefigure and guide this metamorphosis. Otherwise it stands no chance of occurring. We can all imagine a near future in which privileged nations and wealthy urban enclaves are defended against the consequences of infrastructural collapse - because that future is already happening at urban scale, with gated communities, and at continental scale, with the armoring of US and EU borders. What's far more difficult is tracing and walking the pathway toward a democratic and egalitarian future. That requires concerted aspiration, thought and action: head, heart and hands on the machines.

To make the vita nova tangible in advance, Vince says, "we must convene and draw up some pictures." Of course I support and actively practice that artistic proposal, but still I'd go a little further. We must participate in deliberately constructed transnational networks that can open up to multiple professions and interest groups, and that can also focus on particular material conditions, shaped most commonly by national laws and economic structures. Change in a complex society occurs when technocratic management is disrupted and reshaped from positions outside the dominant interest groups. Ultimately it has to coalesce into a party thing - which doesn't mean it can't also be artistic, philosophical, religious, etc.

Vince evokes the meeting hall as the most concrete focus-point, where bodies meet bodies to transform a community of fate. But this closeness is either a possible future of ecosocialism fulfilled, or it's yet another illusion of immediacy (and of that chimerical solidarity Keith Hart protests against). In fact, it seems to me that we already convened and drew up pictures, that was the Occupy moment: a process of emergence that reached and recognized the limits of immediatism. What's happening on the US left right now, in the wake of Occupy, is that scattered constituencies are beginning to come together around the idea of a Green New Deal, which would be a job-creating collective investment program aimed at transforming the energy system to halt CO2 emissions and overcome technological unemployment. I think that a real closeness, a possible coexistence of individuals and groups on the scale of a continent, has to involve something as thorough-going as the remaking of an energy grid, with all the potential for literal empowerment that things like community solar, distributed manufacturing and massive climate retrofitting can offer. I also think that ecological restoration and an engagement with rural food and resource producers can coexist very well with that approach.

This is a program that directly addresses the issue of scale, because it's calling for a new figure of the continental-scale innovation system that was activated in the US during WWII. It's a powerful synthesis that responds to the political challenges of the nationalist right by promising new kinds of industrial jobs and profit motives in a mixed economy, steered but not dominated by state investment. It also contains an implicit internationalist dimension, because it would create a new form of economic growth whose production processes could be extended towards distressed regions. But all of that can only be done on the basis of a political consensus that currently does not exist, leaving the political economy prone to resentment and the authoritarian turn. If remaking social form is the question of the left right now, then the answer must involve aligning a large number of different interest groups, classes and subject-positions around this kind of scalable program. Such an alignment is currently proceeding by way of existing institutional structures and professional codes, and not just against them (contemporary scientific activism is the prime but not the only example). Because of that, I don't think the collectivist nightmare that Lucia recoils from will actually materialize. However, I do think that social form is inherently subjective and psychic. So a change of technology requires a change of heart, which is the really new thing that Vince has been putting forward.

Matters of heart are also matters of class. Neoliberalism, whose primary production processes are founded on computerized telecommunications, has given rise to a planetary petty bourgeoisie: a broad middle class of symbolic analysts engaged in the invention, deployment, management and culturalization of those self-same production processes. This is not an elite group, it's huge amounts of people involved not only in information processing but also services, government, entertainment etc. Because of the toolkits they habitually use, members of this class are able to perceive the global-scale phenomenon of climate change, and even to recognize it as a threat generated at least partially by themselves and their own activity. However, they, or rather we, have not yet developed any kind of party-form to reorient that activity. Instead, the right has organized a highly ideologized alliance between industrialist fractions of global capital (especially fossil-fuel interests) and nationally oriented manufacturing and extraction workers. The latter see the humanitarian and ecological demands of the technocratic petty bourgeoisie as the real threat. That's the core of the political conflict that Felix has analyzed. It's definitely not a US thing, it's a global phenomenon. The upcoming years will be dominated by one overarching political question: Can our class generate political organizations able to orchestrate collective investment? Can we help mediate the new questions of regional, racial and ecological injustice, between local, national and global scales? Can we move "offline" to help produce a new energy system - and then deploy it, manage it, culturalize it? Can we create a new world, while changing ourselves along the way? Or does the heartbeat of political aspiration just fade into the cacophonies of disaster?

Gilbert Simondon long ago pointed out that individuation is a collective process. This means we continually reshape the institutional/technological nexus from which our own potentials and proclivities emerge. As a youth, I witnessed and participated in the transition from one social form, Keynesian Fordism, to another, Neoliberal Informationalism, which is the society I really know. Though it involves changing old intellectual clothes and some more intimate habits of the heart, still I long to participate in a new transition toward Democratic Ecosocialism. The vehicle is probably not a traditional political party, and surely not the kind of weakly interactive platform-party that Paulo Gerbaudo recently described. However it does need the effective discipline of a party and the outreach capacities of an electronic platform, with whole new influxes of intellectual and artistic content that can reveal fresh existential stakes for planetary populations. We can only get there by sounding out the desires of many different groups, considering many different technologies and organizational forms, and then bringing the two together in a political synthesis with positive outcomes for all participants. That's a tremendous challenge and an urgent need. But social form can be remade. That's the central issue of the present. Contrary to the ambient depression, I find it's pretty amazing to be alive these days.

best for the new year, Brian

On Mon, Dec 31, 2018 at 9:20 AM Vincent Gaulin <> wrote:

If I could pick a central aspect of future life we should be aiming for it would be this: 

Information and resources (material and time) growing closer and closer together, while spreading more evenly across the globe. 

The great irony of internet life, of course, is that while "know-how" has become greatly more accessible, the means of activating it remains walled off by private pay walls and state-enforced property rights. Without power, access to information becomes an overly abstracted noise (perhaps an instantaneously more "meaningful" distraction from chores than say social media, but a distraction no less). As I say to my dad while he watches NOVA, "what are you going to do with all this knowledge?"

The closeness of information and material goes a long way in explaining my fascination with "camps". I mean, what would it take to turn a public university or a corporate manufacturing plant into a camp? To me, the provisional connotation of encampment calls to mind the de-abstracting effect that claiming one's autonomy would have on the economy. The brutal stigma of camps points to the imperative we as "makers of a compelling alternative" have to address: If we have a less abstract (more direct) structure of economic relations two (potentially troubling) things happen--1) on the personal scale we take more responsibility for advantages and mistakes we get involved in, therefore the merit of our work is more stark--and 2) on the global scale, our relation to ecology strikes us with more instantaneous force, where day-to-day circumstances like weather conditions bear on our immediate quality of life (this is already the circumstance of the global poor). In the new order, how does this more direct kind of responsibility not crush us? Our grappling for alternatives should not shy away from countering the individual stakes (whoa, sacrifices!) involved in greater ecological responsibility. 

Brian, I don't share your pessimism that responses to climate change will be inevitably stalled. The main barrier to action is not recognition and desire to change, but rather "the cost" as defined by the status quo powers. Felix, here I am collapsing your four groups into three, those that have a large stake in the current power structure, those who have the means to analyze power (for better or worse), and those who want to fit in somehow. The vast majority that make up the latter conformists are subject to a tipping point, wherein a cohesive mass of attention (≥30%) from trusted media channels motions in the direction of a new order and change follows. I agree with Brian that going for power through civic engagement makes a lot of since here, but to take it further (on the Gramsci tip?) I think our movement requires images of this updated "good life" as a necessary catalytic device. And rather than authoritarian or corporatist propaganda, these images must be held to a democratic process, which to me looks like a networked series of physical conventions. To fully answer your question of what this more pleasant future looks like, Brian, we must convene and draw up some pictures.

That brings me to Prem's emphasis on the physical spaces required for "emergence". His point that [democratic?] process itself creates alternatives couldn't be more true, but how do we claim these spaces? Brian, this goes back to your point a few months ago about Marx's formations, meeting with knowledgeable others in real space within that artisan guild fraternity. Where are the guild-halls for today's technologies? Private tradeshows? Aspen-esque festivals? Academic conferences? Specialty book publishers? Online forums such as ours? 

To ask Felix's question another way, how do we defragment these stray channels of know-how? Is it a parasitic model like Chomsky advocates, cleverly stealing from the powerful to sustain the insurgency? Should we set a goal of commandeering the increasingly crowdfunded campaign funds of the Democratic Party? Should we be busy rebooting an "occupy" movement that goes beyond arresting our troubled institutions, but immediately repurposing them into meeting halls for both democracy and the logistics of info-material redistribution?

By invoking the meeting hall we take the leap of actually imaging people in a room. Here, Lucia's concerns about the unequal stresses put on certain individuals due to common personality dynamics come roaring to the fore. My wife is a mental health therapist (and also an introvert). Her work constantly makes me aware of the social strain that people with personality disorders and other mental health concerns put on those around them. These aggressions often flow from damaging experiences in childhood, creating cycles of abuse, social ignorance or neglect. Pathways to self-awareness and "treatment" are hardly straightforward. Nevertheless, I do believe there are structural solutions for what seem like individualized traumas. Indeed, a movement that doesn't respond to the most damning forces on the interpersonal level offer us little hope if we want a massive alternative, attracting the many who are presently sore from continued societal breakdown. 

When I ask my wife why she dearly needs time at home to recharge, her most common response is that the demands put on her during working hours have already depleted the energies she might use for socializing once "free time" begins after 5:00 or at the start of the weekend. Holding up autonomy and minority rights above the policing of obligations at work would be helpful in mitigating the unequal costs required of different personalities, and also the democratic renovation of workplace hierarchies would obviously do some good to that end. But would that be enough? Haven't the trade unions already fallen prey to the group dynamics that introverts fear? All this is to say, provisions for interior labor and fortitude are essential aspects of a more just social formation. And an alternative system of justice has to respond even to interpersonal  aggressions in a way that is reconciliatory especially to victims, but also perpetrators.

As Lucia also points out, no one should be expected to conform to the same demands (social or otherwise) all the time. Beyond taking greater responsibility for destructive personalities, I would propose that an attractive vision of the future must return to seasonal schedules of labor. How might a reprieve or change in work throughout the year satiate what isn't attended to by varieties in a daily or weekly routine? The heavy walls of industry have disastrously insulated society from responsibility to the seasons (and ecological responsibility in general) and bent us toward relentless spans of repetition, holed off from other disciplines and stations of work. Wouldn't variegating the calendar with different matter and locations for work (and rest!) have tremendous psychic and ecological benefits? An economic reordering on this magnitude has to describe this system in technical terms that convincingly counter the present myths of economic "reality", e.g. "there isn't enough money" to make our compelling dreams a reality. 

Returning to Felix's assertion that the movements on the ground are missing points of connection and also related to Morlock's concerns about scale, how do we break out of the fragmented individualist (boycott, consumerist politics) and moderately size ("intentional communities" and alternative platforms) to something on a scale that can effectively counter global corporations and transnational agreements? Can this be accomplished beyond the power of the state but in such a way that doesn't fall into the trap of ethnocentric nationalism? Will there be a "green book" with a directory of meeting halls and work stations for the journeywoman worker and her family? What would happen to those who wish to obstruct the socialist network after the rank coercion of the punitive, carceral state is abolished? 

We must contemplate the terms of familiarity will garnish this emergent, evolving, network of seasonal and ecologically responsible labors, because familiarity is a more resilient bond than trust. To this end, I think the dual traditions of modernism and vernacularism are excellent traditions to cross-pollinate. Much like the big boxes and retail chains have come to define suburban comforts, how do the physical and programatic architectures of the coming socialism face the public in ways that promote mobility and transmission of "credits" from one labor form/region/discipline/tradition/technology to another? 

How do we not get lost across such vast geographical and disciplinary subsections? On the largest scale, what form of governance would we validate with our duty even if it leads us (occasionally? seasonally?) to stations outside of our own intentions? Here again, we on the left have to confront something head-on that has an enormous stigma. In the face of the dominate corporate structures that redirect us all the time, would ANY alternative movement, political process, or governance structure earn in us a similar right to conscription? If we aren't going to shrink from all institutional forms (anarchism), when does an organization or institution get to decide for us? I ask this because I am unable to imagine a massive organization of societal change built on a simple volunteer basis, mainly because I believe that if given a choice, most people would (and do!) simply walk away from the basic day-to-day demands of socialization (ask those who bear the brunt of social reproduction!). This is why capitalist notions of individualism are such a powerful tool for coercion--people would rather go with the flow so long as they get a pass to ignore their neighbors' interests. Even if advantages slow to a trickle, satisfaction in violence goes a long way in making up the wage. 

The most radical claim of modernity is mass-socialization itself, which in it's day-to-day exercises, sustains as a non-superlative and largely thankless set of tasks. To avoid mass-aceticism which will never garner a popular base, I believe the institutions that promote cooperation must plan on the award of some "superstructural" status to those who "answer the call" of socialization, so to speak. Even in the absence of meaningful hierarchy, superlative status is a powerful motivator. Conservative institutions are masters at this, but to violent and disastrous ends. In our discipline to avoid injustice, the Left often shrinks from action on the massive scale (I agree with Morlock on this), ceding the reigns to corporate sharks, sellout legislators, and authoritarian hucksters. 

With lots of work ahead, 
see you at the next meeting,

On Sun, Dec 30, 2018 at 7:54 AM Keith Hart <> wrote:
Dear Felix,

>But to break out of the mold of neoliberal hyper-individuality and the
cult of "weak ties", to formulate something like a left perspective,
there needs to be a realization of a common fate, of a problem that
cannot be solved individually, but demands a collective response. From
this, a practice of solidarity can be built. <

I have learned a lot from living in Paris for over two decades, especially from the recent renaissance of economic sociology and institutional economics here. I have hung out with European and Latin American activists who drew me into the alter-globalization movement launched in Porto Alegre in 2001. I met you and likewise gained greatly from our civilized interaction and friendship, as I have from Brian, Alex and others on nettime and in person. But -- there has to be a but -- I believe that there is one crippling intellectual impediment above all others that undermines political initiatives generated in this network. It is the belief that more solidarity can fix excessive individualism.

When I grew up in Manchester after the war, solidarity was a powerful weapon against privacy, the cult of being exclusive. We could  not close our house doors since neighbors should be free to come and go as they please. When the men took their morning crap in the outside loos, they left the door open to converse across the low backyard walls. After sanitation was modernized, you could still  accidentally run into a old lady in the bathroom who couldn't bring herself to close the door. All bedroom doors were left open. The corner pub was our living room. When the gas company started work with their machines outside too early, half a dozen women would assail them on behalf of   "our street". They shut down the machines. When United scored a goal, the combined shouts of 50,000 men cowed the women and children left behind like a hundred bull roarers in a New Guinea village.

By the 90s, having lived mainly in Britain, North America, West Africa and the Caribbean, I was convinced that solidarity in that form of concrete class solidarity was now gone forever. To my joy, living in Paris proved that I was wrong. The republican tradition of manifestation, of street protests, was alive and well. It was not for nothing that France gave us society and solidarity, England economic individualism, Germany philosophy and history, and America democratic revolution. But scratch the surface and it gets more complicated -- the English are profoundly conformist, the Americans even more so and I have never come across a people as individualistic as the French. Look at their intersections jammed at rush hour, the way they bust into queues, their behavior at supermarket checkouts.

All this is preamble, a phantasmagoria in Benjamin's terms. To get serious, I have to go back to Durkheim and Mauss. French social thinkers around 1900 blamed it all on Herbert Spencer. Market economy was an English invention (with some help from Adam Smith) and incurably individualistic, a premise taken to evolutionist extremes by Spencer's social Darwinism. When Talcott Parsons wrote The structure of social action (1937), he began by asking who killed Herbert Spencer and how? His answer was Durkheim, Weber, Pareto and Alfred Marshall (yes, the synthesizer of marginalist economics and Keynes'teacher).

Emile Durkheim, in The Division of Labor in Society (1893) and his nephew Marcel Mauss in The Gift (1925) and extensive political writings insisted that markets were social (the non-contractual element in the individual contract) and that humanity is homo duplex --both individual and social (or democracy must reconcile freedom and equality according to Tocqueville). Bourgeois ideology everywhere contrasts individualism and society, as Spencer did. In this the left as usual reproduces the dogma of its capitalist opponents. Mauss was a cooperative socialist, active in the French Section of the International Workers party (SFIO) and a close friend of Sidney and Beatrice Webb who, with Marshall and others, led the Fabian wing of the Labour Party. They aimed for consumer democracy building on the solidarity and individualism of existing capitalist societies, through coops, unions and mutual insurance.

Fair trade isn't just helping poor foreign farmers. It offers feel good shopping for bobos. If neoliberalism promotes "hyper-individuality" and "weak ties", it does so by doping the masses with the academic social sciences as a smokescreen for its own strategy for carving up the world as a plutocracy. Ensuring that capital flows freely everywhere is a coordinated social strategy. Why else would the US have 25 % of the world's prisoners, most of the world's weapons and the internet corporations who sabotage our ability to make society? When the corporations claim to be people like you and me in order to benefit from human rights laws, while unlike us retaining limited liability for debt, they combine individualism and global power in ways that are hidden from most and hardly revealed by setting up little clubby institutions that deny the legitimacy of their members' individuality and desire for freedom as for belonging to others as equals.

Europe is politically a mess and Latin America no better. This strategy of fixing individualistic markets with social clubs is bad politics because it's bad anthropology. Trump and Brexit may be bringing the Anglos to their knees -- or not. But it is time for the Latin tendency to recognize that the British and American empires are no longer what they were and that opposing individuals to society was always self-defeating. The Cold War pitted free enterprise against communism and both were a trfavesty of the forces driving the American and Soviet empires. We need to bring social and liberal democracy together somehow. We need realism, courage and some heavy hitters along the way.


On Sat, Dec 29, 2018 at 10:54 PM Felix Stalder <> wrote:

On 27.12.18 20:11, Brian Holmes wrote:
> So what's to be done is to generate new aspirations, new ideas of the
> good life, and initial models for putting them into practice at local or
> regional scale. 

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G. Vincent Gaulin

211 Keese St.
Pendleton, SC
m. 864-247-8207
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