Archive for the Political Focus Category

Even if a Ballot is Silenced, the Voice Behind it Cannot Be

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on June 17, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
The Persian Bay

Pirates for Iranian people! Yarrrr!

Hey all you posthuman pirates, insurgents, and revolutionaries, ready your canons, some folks in Iran need a hand. Here’s how you lend one.

So I thought I would have time for more hibernation and read more intensely those thick books on my shelf, but then it appears an interesting event has happened. So there was this Iranian election on the 12th, but I have been sitting around idly even as all the violence take place (I’ve never been the bleeding heart type, mind) — I thought it was nothing more than the usual protest, without conditions for an Event.

But as time passes it becomes more and more apparent that this is a revolution that has much significance. Heck, even the final boss of the Internet is joining the battle. Which means you can, too.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s line of thinking throughout their work is how today’s Empire can only be resisted from within — how? By none other by the multitude’s sheer power to act. First and foremost, the multitude needs to take hold of the facilities of communication and make it their own — free speech is the ultimate and perhaps only weapon against any kind of fascism in the broader sense.

It goes without saying that, whatever it takes, Iranian bloggers need to be protected at all costs. This is the dawn of a new age and we cannot by any means let the old ways of censorship and repression have their way. This world is free, after all — in masks (proxies or literal Guy Fawkes masks), every individual has nothing to lose but his chains.

So here I repost again from the link above how to make actual these virtualities of the multitude against restriction of free speech:

  1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.
  2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.
  3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
  4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
  5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind…

To do more action, find out more information, I would reccommend you once again to join the protest.

Even if a ballot is silenced, the voice behind it cannot be. This age does not belong to authorities. This age belongs to the legion that forgives nothing and forgets nothing.

G 20: A Romance of the Politics of Failure?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
Protestors photograph riot police outside a Lloyds Bank in London, on April 1, 2009. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

I should have jumped right into the foray and gave my thoughts on the G 20 protest in the beginning of this month. I take the blame and full responsibility for not doing so. Rest assured I have been following the news, including the tragic case of Ian Tomlison. I am going to comment on both.

First of all I would like to credit K-Punk (via The Kubrickian Gaze) for my title, a phrase he mentioned to conclude his excellent response on the G 20 protest. Indeed, in every protest, it is always a question of whether it is another impotent protest, a mere acting out only to “get owned by the police,” as Lenin put it, or whether it has the capability of merging into a larger protest, a new Left.

That in itself of course has no inherent answer — as a good Badiouvian I maintain that the nature of truth is always militant and never given. However, I have a question: how, exactly, can any protest merge into a larger, combustible one in this day and age? This is not skeptic cynicism but actual curiosity from my part. While we may be similar to the end of the 19th century in terms of cynicism and thinking that the world is over, we do have one major difference, which may either be a drawback or a potential: all protests today are always-already directly aimed at Empire.

In the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century we surely do not lack bloody protests everywhere. In those times, they resonate from one to the next — the commons in each new place witness the struggle in another place and appropriate the dreams as their own, then organize their own struggle, and off the chain went: Paris, Shanghai, New Delhi, Jakarta, Hanoi…

Today, we skip the appropriating part. Every struggle is always-already a struggle in the name of the global citizen. K-Punk mentioned how the environmentalist protests are meaningless, since it is a protest everyone can agree on. But is not every protest today like this? One only needs to see the placards in the G 20 protests:  Besides “Climate Emergency,” they have “Gaza: End the Blockade,” “Planet Before Profit,” “We Won’t Pay for Their Crisis,” “Jobs not Bombs”… When you get right down to it, who does not agree with those? Certain parties would come to mind, but really, are these not obvious demands already?

I think this is our real problem — that we know exactly what we want, we know exactly what is going on, but at the same time we know nothing about what we want — “of course that would be the ideal world, but we all know it’s impossible,” and so on — and we know nothing about what is going on — if we are asked why we are living in a world so far away from what we dream of, we either take it as given or blame a Bad Father. I often call today’s society “the society of perversion” not for nothing — it acknowledges and disavows castration at the same time.

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

It is as if the G 20 is expected to either deny the whole thing — we know they already know it but we know that they know that we know how our sufferings are inevitable — or to produce some sort of magical cure, that suddenly they prescribe a magical plan to cure all ailness. Curiously, this is exactly the same mental state a traditional patient has when visiting a psychotherapist of any kind — for them to either say that s/he is not sick or to shove them a magical pill that would cure the illness instantly.

Being a good Lacanian, K-Punk’s take comes off as excellent (except for the “grand philosophical system” part):

Time to withdraw from the feelgood simulation of politics. Time to give up the gratification of displaying wounds inflicted by the police as signs of grace, evidence that we are on the side of the Good. Time to relinquish the easy jouissance of impotent acting-out. Time to face the fact that organising marches isn’t the same as political organisation. […] It’s time to think, not in order to finesse some grand philosophical system, but with the goal of identifying what new forms of organisation can succeed in these conditions. Time to give up on the romance of a politics of failure and plan to win.

I mentioned I would comment on the case of Ian Tomlison. I feel really bad for Tomlison, not really because of the tragic case itself, but because his death has been turned into a spectacle to reassure the existence of the Bad Father — it is as if today we need more and more futile tragedies like this to reassure ourselves, often in vain, that those deaths mean something.

It is time to stand up and realize that the Big Other does not exist. For so long as it is taken for granted that it does, quoting Deleuze, “the people are missing“. More than anything today, we need a new figure of the analyst to, first of all, make the people appear for itself.

On The Idea of Communism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Hello hello, TPM readers! Thank you for being faithful even in these times where I am blogging much less than usual — two weeks of unexplained absence, without a drop in the reader count! Thank you for standing by! Well, I have been doing several projects, and am also writing my thesis, but here I am :-)

To start the month, why don’t we review a bit of what happened on March, an event that started on the appropriately dangerous Friday the 13th and ended on the following Sunday. I am talking, of course, about On The Idea of Communism conference, hosted by Slavoj Žižek at Birkbeck College, which included names like Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Judith Balso, Bruno Bosteels, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano and Gianni Vattimo. Jean-Luc Nancy I think was supposed to be there but could not attend due to Visa problems (which reminds me of my own case last year).

I would have loved it if I had actually attended and this were an actual report, but I didn’t, so for conference notes I would refer you to Andrew Osborne’s post here. I watched several videos on YouTube as well, one of which I linked above.

I want to just comment on this conference. First of all, it is a really exciting conference and perhaps could not have had better timing. We are living in times in which people have less and less faith in both world politics and economy. It is true that people in many places, including my own country, still irrationaly fear communism (the most popular response in my country being that communism is forbidden by religion — LOL?), but it nonetheless should be conceived as the perfect time to think. Žižek suggested us to take Lenin as an example: in the harsh times of 1915, he retreated to Switzerland to read Hegel.

About the times we are facing today, Alain Badiou puts it very nicely. I quote from Osborne’s blog:

Today we are nearer the 19th century than the 20th century  with the arrival of utterly cynical capitalism. We are witnessing the return of all sorts of 19th century phenomena such as pirate nationalisations, nihilistic despair and the servility of intellectuals.

Badiou then of course goes on in his usual manner mentions of the need for a strong subjectivity to change the coordinates of possibilities in order to create the Event, the rupture in existence to which we can militantly assert a new truth. This is important and stressed again by Žižek in the conclusion, that a change is not a change in actuality but a change in possibilities. Thus, our task is to think of the possibility of possibilities, to do the impossible — not the usual Kantian “we must, because we can,” but the Badiouvian “we must, because it is impossible.”

I also love what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have to say, although the ideas they mention are nothing new if you have read their work, Empire. How can I not love it when the entire notion is similar to the original theme of this blog (I say original, because lately it has become more and more Lacanian than Marxist, I know), that is, one that interrogates the notion of cognitive capital, digital property, and the commons in this day and age of biocybernetic reproduction. Copyright conflicts are the new terrain of the struggle of the commons — now you know why I love calling myself a pirate.

Antonio Negri stressed another importance of communism, one I tweeted in three tweets. It is an importance already mentioned by Tronti and Lenin, as @semioticmonkey corrected me. Indeed, communism is opposed to socialism, and in the same way that psychoanalysis is opposed to ego psychology. There is no equal State, as there is no healthy ego. Communists must organize the decline of State, as psychoanalysts must sustain the efficacy of the ego. Both communism and psychoanalysis must act with an ethics of the Real and acknowledge the redundancy of the agent.

But all in all, in the end, we still do have a question. Is communism a program, a movement to bring back politics and its efficiency that is faithful to a continuous revolution — do we need to organize a continuous decline of the State in order to change our possibilities, as Žižek would argue? Or is it merely a philosophical idea, and what we need now are militant communists, not communism per se, acting to the fullest extent the ethics of the tragic hero, the ethics of the Real, in order to produce an Event, as Badiou maintained?

Mumbai, Islamic Terrorism, and the Antagonism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Terrorism in India

Terrorism in India

The battle between the Muslim terrorists and the rest of the world is a strange thing. Even within this previous sentence, many would already disagree on how I put it (“Is it not rather the Muslim and the West, or even the West and the rest?” etc…). I live in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth. Many took to the streets in protest of the Danish caricatures of Mohammed back in 2006, and many hail suicide bombers as martyrs, even teaching grade school students to raise their fists and scream “Allah is the greatest” on the sites of their burials… Suffice it to say that I am very well positioned within the sphere of the current “war”.

A very curious thing for me is how each side view the war: on one side, this war is seen as a war between civilization and an uncivilized Other, a war of universal human rights versus those intent on disrupting it. Many Muslims take this side, claiming how the terrorists are not real Muslims, etc… For the other side, however, this is — to use their diction — a battle of ideologies. It surprises me how intent so many of the Muslim communities are that the entire notion of universal human rights, etc. is another “Western capitalist” way of oppressing Islam, and that the real war is that between capitalism and Muslim ideology.

I do not think, of course, that they are completely wrong. What should be taken into mind is rather this inherent split — a Real antagonism, as Žižek, but also Laclau and Mouffe, would have put it (“society doesn’t exist”, etc.). There is no neutral, “objective” position from which to see the war, since every position is already part of the struggle.

Thus, to fully grasp the Mumbai incidents and the ongoing 9/11 aftermath of the global war, we should first and foremost understand that this very war is in itself structured around a traumatic kernel, a Real qua impossible intersection between the dominant humanist Western paradigm and the Muslim one. Every attempt to shut down the war based on certain values is already violent and doomed to fail since its very utterance — there can be no agreement between the two point-of-views. The Habermasian ideal communication is in itself a fantasy.

How, then, do we confront and handle this war? As a good Lacanian, my political standard would be that of an ethical act — a politics that traverses the fantasy of any possible mediation between impossible points. The first thing we should realize before attempting any solution to this problem would be that there is no objective point of agreement. Will, then, a full-frontal war be more effective? I would claim that it would be in vain, since here, perhaps more than ever, we are dealing with specters: the more we annihilate the physical enemy, the more we become paranoid that they grow stronger, that there remains an impossible kernel we can never destroy (from, for one side: a worldwide capitalist conspiracies for the Muslims; up to, for the other side: clandestine Madrasahs that train endless suicide bomber recruits, etc.)…

Awareness as a Decaffeinated Political Act

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , on December 3, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
AIDS awareness

AIDS awareness

Within the past couple of years, the notion of what we can do to help society, of what a political act means, has changed significantly. Just a couple of days ago we had World AIDS Day, the international day of HIV awareness. One thing that interests me is how “awareness” has become elevated into one of the primary good things we can do, politically and socially. Campaigns today have to be marketed as made more to “raise awareness” than to, say, change real political acts. There is always a necessity today to let all people “take part” by doing very small things (“if you have one minute”, etc.) — perhaps to make us believe that we live in a democracy while keeping the violent kernels of real politics untouched and, often, unquestioned.

It is of course true that ignorance, lack of information, and plain stupid unawareness is a terrible thing, and I am by no means supportive of perpetrating such matters. But it is also crucial to be critical of these injunctions and question the horizons of understanding that underlie their motives. To put it shortly: what do we mean when we say that we are aware? Aware of what, exactly?

Of course, some awareness will lead to good, significant action: in the recent World AIDS Day, people who raise awareness of course hope that more people will visit the free HIV-testing centers, and so on. This kind of action needs a special day, and a special event to raise awareness. This disclaimer being said, I still claim that the standard protest that awareness is not enough, that we need more action, however, is out of place.

Let us take, for example, the problem of climate change. Do we really know how to handle it properly? What will raising awareness of climate change do? The nightmare is not for nobody to be not aware of anything, and then we suddenly plunge into a global disaster. The true nightmare for me is that everybody will be aware of it, stop using plastic bags, etc., and that the disaster still happens nonetheless — because the big players know nothing (or were not serious, due to corruption, “corporatism”, etc.) about how to handle it properly. The true nightmare of AIDS is not a nightmare of negligence (although, of course, it is always horrific to see people dying of AIDS just because they did not check early enough); it is when everybody is aware of it, there remains an entire continent with an epidemic we cannot cure, even with Bono’s RED, the ONE campaign, etc.

Is this not the same injunction we have behind all the Facebook Causes? We effectively join to let people (actually, the Lacanian big Other) aware that we are aware of a certain cause, while of course the implicit promise is that we do not have to do anything real. Awareness (and joining Facebook Causes) is a political act without real politics — we get the credit for it, but we don’t have to really do anything tiring, dangerous, dirty, etc. — a decaffeinated political act, as Žižek would put it.

So, how can we really help? Again a Žižekian thesis, perhaps the best way to change is not to take any action at all. Perhaps the best way to start a real change is to expose our true predicament: how everyone is already ambiently aware of all the problems in the world, but nonetheless we know nothing of what exactly are we to do. In World AIDS Day, despite all the pretty ribbons we are wearing, we still have all the elementary questions of whether stopping the AIDS epidemic in Africa is possible at all with our current state of rampant global capitalism.

We do not need more awareness — we need more questions that ask, “What are we actually aware of?” questions that force all of us to stop and think, and think hard, of the state of things. Perhaps, rather, the best thing to do is to stop all action and call for awareness and expose us to the sheer vacuity and cluelessness of our age, despite all the noisily marketed awareness and little local actions.

Welcome to a Posthuman Democracy!

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Obamas victory

Obama's victory

The start of this month has been a tense one. As the outcome of the 2008 US Election is finally announced, I am proud to say that I am happy for my American readers that they got a new, decent president in which they can all entrust their hopes. With all the tension relieved, The Posthuman Marxist will now resume its blogging with more critical articles for you to read! And what better way to celebrate the upcoming new administration than a critical analysis of what all this spectacular election had been?

What especially interests me in all this glorious spectacle of an election is how tech-savvy the Democrats had been in conducting their campaign. I have been following Mashable’s takes on this, which has been covering the issue from way back in February 2007, and here’s their quick recap. What we are having today in our politics, especially with Obama, is a head-on collision between the realm of high politics and direct online life. Needless to say, this is the first time such politics is conducted, and the interesting question would thus be: why has our politics evolved in such way?

This is obviously not such a hard question. Is it not only natural for politics to go towards the more popular, transparent, and democratic approach in its conduct? And does the internet not indeed provide such a platform? Furthermore, it is of course very much in line with the appeal of the Democrats to use media that are close to the hearts of the young generations, so all this has been natural. Then it is perhaps better to reformulate the question: why is technology seen as a more democratic means?

We have come a long way from our technophobic past. “Media brainwashing” is a phrase we no longer hear quite as often today as in the past. After all, we have Web 2.0, with all its connectedness and writeability. What is interesting, however, in this “digital democracy” (for lack of a better phrase), is how very much outsourced things are (obviously, Obama does not handle all those Web 2.0 profiles himself; and I very much doubt that it was he who personally clicked “follow” on my Twitter profile). It is not surprising, then, to hear all the buzz about wiki governance and Google transparency. Anderkoo has an excellent take on this matter, which is worth a serious read.

With Obama, the democratic decentralization of politics today, it seems, does not only involve the standard notions of giving power to the people. Already, we are seeing how the job is given to intelligent machines — albeit just in the form of computer codes that work on Web 2.0 platforms. This tech-savvy campaign is very well aware that the question today is not merely to decentralize power, but to decentralize cognition itself, i.e. to conduct better politics not only in terms of creating a more equal humanist society, but also in terms of creating a more intelligent posthumanist environment in which it will only be possible to conduct a better democracy.

Automated Web technology and machine intelligence is now a democratic means that we trust instead of a postmodern artifact of great anti-humanist suspicion, because, recalling the famous Haylesian argument, we have already become posthuman.

Regarding the development of our posthuman future, Obama, at least so far, is taking great steps. Will he continue this tech-savvy grassroots platform? We can only hope. And what will we make of this new conducts? Will it indeed bring better democracy? Will it bring about more trust in intelligent machines? What political subjects will our society turn out to be, when environment itself becomes politically aware in the near-future age of ambient intelligence?

For Whom is This Financial Crisis?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

For whom is this financial crisis? For us and everyone else in this world, definitely. During this meltdown, hardly any nation is left to flourish by itself, not impacted by the crisis. Then, why ask this question? Is it not already obvious?

Surely, people are losing their jobs, prices are rising, and so on. But what does it all mean? What does it mean, a “$700 billion bailout”? What is exactly $700 billion, do we even naively understand it? Does it not, instead, belong in the same realm of hermeneutics as the distance between stars or the age of the universe — numbers too great to integrate to our stupid daily existence? I am not only speaking for us, the idiotic common people having nothing to do with all the great economic system, but also for the very players of economy themselves — do they not able to understand these numbers, the prices of their stocks, government funding, etc, only through office desks, formal letters, and computer screens?

Such is precisely the point. Do we not, today, rather consider this entire financial crisis as a marvelous tragic spectacle happening before our very eyes? A fascinating common reaction today to this news is how we struggle to relate it to our daily lives: yes, we are suffering from this crisis, yes, prices are going up, yes, people are getting fired, so this must all be a real thing. This spectacle of financial crisis takes effort to relate to, especially because not many of us understand how the economy works. The crisis today is so big and marvelous that the only way to integrate it to our symbolic existence is to take it as an awesome spectacle. There is hardly any other hermeneutics. It feels like a war without a bad guy, a natural disaster without the embarrassing trees falling down. A virtual disaster, a disaster of numbers, a real-life interactive movie.

But what does this all mean?

So many people today talk about this crisis as the so-called “end of capitalism.” Indeed, the first thing we relate to when dealing with the notion of some global system of important numeric entries we never really understand is this vague blur called capitalism. We talk of its limits, as everybody today champions Keynes over Hayek and Friedman. But at the same time, we have of course all these discussions that all the while we have never really been a true free market capitalist, we have always been state-controlled (“military-imperialistic Keynesian”), etc.

We all know perfectly well that today’s global capitalism runs precisely on its self-distantiation — the you-can-only-get-rich-if-you-do-not-want-to ideology, the spiritualization of global capitalism so trendy even for the Left today. And what better way to strengthen such ideological workings than pretending it no longer works for us, that the system no longer exists, and all that is left to do is to work out a way to do a more humanitarian and spiritual economics? Let us have no illusions: capitalism is a system that thrives on its very crisis. It will emerge stronger than ever. And we know it will.

Yes, of course we do. Is that not why we blindly trust all the government, the big companies, and the banks? Is that not why we take this whole crisis as some kind of (pseudo-)natural disaster without being able to clearly blame people? Is that not why we do not question why the government suddenly has $700 billion to save capitalism, while all these years, as Alain Badiou put it, “at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn’t a cent”?

What is the economic system, really? What do we understand of it? It is a giant system of non-people, of desires turned objective numbers, and that is it. It is a system of no clear bad guys and no exact scientific tools. Even the best advice Naomi Klein — today’s possibly most popular icon of the Left — gives is for us to brace ourselves as disaster comes, to be able to resist exploitation. Alain Badiou calls for a politics of grassroots economics, while Mario Tronti suggests us to focus on the problem of worker exploitation. But what to do? Do we understand anything at all? For whom is this financial crisis? Because for those who suffer most, the crisis is not a financial one — it is, first and foremost, a crisis of true democracy, a lack of a system that truly engages.