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Archive for July, 2010

Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual

Representations of the Intellectual contains 6 essays, originally delivered  as the BBC’s Reith Lectures, on the role of the intellectual in society. Below are some thematic quotes, and a few of my thoughts.

Universals: “Freedom of expression can not be sought indiviously in one territory and ignored in another.” (89)

There need to be universals otherwise everyone would do what they think is right. [“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (90) This sounds very unappealing and distopian to me.] Chomsky’s writing is a great example of this, because he holds all sides to account, where other so-called intellectuals decry the trampling of freedoms in other countries, but defend the USA’s own imperialist actions (e.g. Michael Ignatieff). (more…)

Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell “Neoliberalizing Space” (Antipode, 2002)

This article is in a similar vein with Brenner & Theodore’s, emphasizing the mutability of neoliberalism, and its ‘creative destruction’. The unique aspects of the article that stand out to me are: the question of neoliberalism as a regulatory regime; and the focus on extra- and inter-local rule systems.

So, the first question, is neoliberalism a system of social and economic regulation in the way that Keynesian-Fordist policies were, mediating and structuring relations between different classes and interests? Taking a historical perspective, the neoliberalism of Thatcher and Reagan was destructive and based on a ‘roll-back’ of prevailing policies, rather than being an alternative per se. Into the 90s, economic crises forced neoliberal policy makers to become more creative and to ‘roll-out’ policies designed to moderate and/or discipline social resistances to the system [e.g. Mike Harris’ policies like workfare: an alternative to, not just a destruction of, previous welfare policies].

Contemporary politics revolve
around axes the very essences of which have been neoliberalized.
As such, neoliberalism is qualitatively different from “competing”
regulatory projects and experiments: it shapes the environments,
contexts, and frameworks within which political-economic and socio-
institutional restructuring takes place. Thus, neoliberal rule systems
are perplexingly elusive; they operate between as well as within
specific sites of incorporation and reproduction, such as national
and local states.

But describing the characteristics of the institutions of neoliberalism is difficult. In the Keynesian era there were various institutions like, for example, labour relations boards, policing services, hospitals, etc. Peck and Tickell propose that these sorts of institutions could be seen as ‘hardware’ and that, at least initially, neoliberalization changed the ‘software’, the rules that determine the functioning of these institutions. “Neoliberalism was playing a decisive role in constructing the “rules” of interlocal competition by shaping the very metrics by which regional competitiveness, public policy, corporate performance, or social productivity are measured—value for money, the bottom line, flexibility, shareholder value, performance rating, social capital, and so on. Neoliberalism therefore represented a form of regulation of sorts, but not a form commensurate with, say, the Keynesian-welfarism that preceded it in many (though not all) cases.” (387)  But eventually, more recently, the hardware is changing too, as neoliberalism becomes entrenched and the ‘software’ becomes normalized. Ideas like, for example, ‘fiscal responsibility’are no longer debated, they are just assumed, and so whole new institutions can be created [e.g. department of homeland security, the G8 (vs. UN), others?] and destroyed or attacked [e.g. Canadian Wheat Board, others?].

The ultimate thrust of Peck and Tickell’s argument, and, I think, their answer to the question of whether or how neoliberalism regulates is that it regulates the spaces between. One thing about neoliberalism is that, like Brenner and Theodore’s ‘path-dependency’, neoliberalization manifests itself in different ways in every different location. Peck and Tickell call this ‘local neoliberalisms’. Neoliberalism gains its strength, its robustness, in controlling and ordering the rules that govern and create competition between these local neoliberalisms. Here’s an example that I think relates; the current obsession with insurance. Small-scale organizations, from community centres to public elementary schools, are worried sick about not being liable in the case that someone gets seriously injured on their property, and so they go to serious and bizarre ends to counter this, demanding waiver forms, limiting access, destroying/replacing perfectly good playgrounds, etc. How did this culture of paranoia develop? Perhaps it comes out of neoliberalism regulating not directly regulating these local organizations, but by existing in the space between these organizations in the creation of a the culture of fear and competition or at least isolation between these organizations as individual units, rather than part of a collective that gains strength from being mutually supportive–a community centre would not be so concerned about liability if all community groups were strong as a collective, besides which, more importantly, the risk of someone cracking their head open and also suing are very low but neoliberalism exaggerates this fear by valorizing financial liquidity and individual responsibility while at the same time removing support systems that would dissuade fears. I’m not sure that that ended up being a very coherent example. Here is what Peck and Tickell say about neoliberalism shaping contexts:

Contemporary politics revolve around axes the very essences of which have been neoliberalized. As such, neoliberalism is qualitatively different from “competing” regulatory projects and experiments: it shapes the environments, contexts, and frameworks within which political-economic and socio- institutional restructuring takes place. Thus, neoliberal rule systems are perplexingly elusive; they operate between as well as within specific sites of incorporation and reproduction, such as national and local states. (400)

If this is true about neoliberalism, that its rule systems are elusive because they shape environments, contexts, and frameworks, then resistance to neoliberalization must be properly focused not just on creating alternatives to manifestations of local neoliberalisms and their rule-structuring effects:

This is not to say that the hegemony of neoliberalism must necessarily remain completely impervious to targeted campaigns of disruption and “regime competition” from progressive alternatives, but rather to argue that the effectiveness of such counterstrategies will continue to be muted, absent a phase-shift in the constitution of extralocal relations. This means that the strategic objectives for opponents of neoliberalism must include the reform of macroinstitutional priorities and the remaking of extralocal rule systems in fields like trade, finance, environmental, antipoverty, education, and labor policy. These may lack the radical edge of more direct forms of resistance, but as intermediate and facilitative objectives they would certainly help to tip the macroenvironment in favor of progressive possibilities. In this context, the defeat (or failure) of local neoliberalisms—even strategically important ones—will not be enough to topple what we are still perhaps justified in calling “the system. (401)

Tommy Douglas quote

“Fascism begins the moment a ruling class,
fearing the people may use their political
democracy to gain economic democracy,
begins to destroy political democracy in order
to retain its power of exploitation and special
privilege.”
Tommy Douglas, 1942

“Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege.”

-Tommy Douglas, 1942

on ‘diversity of tactics’

After what happened in Toronto last weekend with the G20 meeting, I’ve been trying to figure out what I think of black bloc tactics. At a general level I suppose a good place to start is to consider the place of anarchism within the (global) movement for social justice. Anarchists1, very generally, believe that capitalism must be overcome in order to rid the world of great social injustices, like racism, poverty, homophobia, colonialism, and inequality in general. Also fundamental, is opposition to all forms of heirarchy and external control; this means opposition to all supra-local government, and support for local autonomous communities. As David McNally says in this interesting interview on the CBC last week, many anarchists are prominent and active community activists, starting and leading local activities that contribute to vibrant and strong communities. There are some anarchist that embrace ‘black bloc tactics’ which seek to radicalize people by provoking displays of violent force by the state, violence which is perpetrated in different less visible forms all the time (e.g. cutting support for the poor and unemployed, racial profiling (e.g. Maher Arar), breaking unions (e.g. USW in Sudbury)). Their tactic for provoking this display of violence by the state is often to the destroy property of the state and complicit corporations.

Leading up to the G20 protests, I had a sense that the organizers of the large protests that were to take place had managed to create a broad coalition of labour, socialist, and anarchist groups that respected each other’s ‘diversity of tactics’.2 At the big ‘Shout Out For Global Justice’ event on Friday night organized by the Council of Canadians, there was a, I thought, a noticeable tension between the labour speakers and the anti-poverty, indigenous rights, social justice speakers (e.g. difference b/w Leo Gerard, United Steel Workers president,and Naomi Klein). But I was hopeful that these differences were being broached by a shared commitment to justice and ending capitalism.

Regardless of the amount of destruction committed by police agents provocateurs, some anarchists embrace black block tactics, and it is worth thinking about whether their actions are helpful and strategically useful, or if they are individualistic and strategically poor.

I was going to write/think about this more, but this article called “In the Aftermath of the G20: Reflections on Strategy, Tactics and Militancy” does a better job.

  1. here’s an interesting article on anarchism by Noam Chomsky; qt: “The problem of ‘freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement’ remains the problem of our time. As long as this is so, the doctrines and the revolutionary practice of libertarian socialism [aka anarchism] will serve as an inspiration and guide.” []
  2. Toronto chief of police Bill Blair (shame!) at a press conference recently said “They embraced a euphemism they call the diversity of tactics. That is their diversity of tactics,” and pointed to a display of captured implements of destruction. []