Werewolves in the City

A few weeks ago I posted a piece about The Royal Wedding and Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the ‘State of Exception’. This is something I have been researching for a while, so I’ve been wary of writing much on the topic, because when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

But fuck me if there isn’t a big, fat nail-shaped situation right here.

Far too much has been written on the motivations and causes of the riots. This isn’t my main focus here: I’m not a youth worker, poverty researcher, or can really say I know for sure. Like many I have more than an inkling that poverty, decades of terrible policing, and institutional racism are probably amongst the causes. But in the age where we must comment, we end up being ‘treated’ to the spectacle on Newsnight of two white, well-paid journalists who frequently get exposure in national media berating two men of BME origin for attempting to give some kind of meaning and understanding to a difficult situation. Alternately we get articles complaining bitterly about poverty (in its abstract and idealised sense) being the cause of the riots, from liberal-left writers who wouldn’t even dare to take the briefest of shortcuts through the areas that the rioters have been coming from, but are all to prepared to jump in and condemn rioting. As I said above, I can’t claim any unique experience either, so the best I can do is shut up about the causes outside of private debates and not add another pointless and irrelevant post.

However, what needs to be addressed is the institution of mechanisms of control, the deployment of various tools both in terms of political discourse and police action, that seek to suppress and control unrest, rather than understand it. This is because these mechanisms have a profound effect on the possibilities for making the changes that might address some of the various causes of this.

As was written earlier, the theory of the state of exception, according to Agamben, is crudely this: at a crisis point, political norms (which most frequently take the form of laws) are suspended, and sets of ’emergency powers’ are put in place which then become regular, replacing those pre-existing norms. The person or mechanism that makes the decision on whether such a state of emergency exists, is what Carl Schmitt terms the Sovereign. An easy way to think about this is to look at extreme examples; the ‘state of emergency’ that existed under Mubarak before the Egyptian uprising which lasted for decades is a useful one; as is Hitler’s use of the Reichstag fire to take power. However the exception takes varied, often subtle, and less specific forms; when a ‘dispersal order’ is placed on an area of town, when city centres are closed off for major sporting events and conferences, when students are kettled on Westminister bridge in suspension of habeas corpus. These are decisions taken not at the ‘top’ of society by an all-powerful ruler, but precision-targeted exceptions put in place by much smaller sovereigns.

The example for recent events is fairly clear; the (historically blind) calls by ‘experts’ to suspend PACE, Ed Miliband’s request from the prime minister in parliament that the police stay on the street beyond the weekend until trouble has gone away, the decision to bring more armaments onto the streets in the hands of police, the barriers going up around shopping centres, the rousing of vigilante militias, the proposed closing of phone networks, the suspicion that a DA-notice was served, David Cameron in rumoured talks with the Chinese government to introduce web filtering; all these can become regular features of the ‘new normal’. But the exception is not merely the establishment of new norms, it is also a structure built around inclusion and exclusion: it is the means by which a sovereign system excludes what it cannot incorporate, by including in the form of a suspended norm. The exception that has emerged is a collaborative and networked one; through a whole set of means and media, the entire population has been drawn into calls to suspend the norm and exclude: enter the ‘condemnathon’.

This takes a dangerous turn when it comes to the bodies of the excluded; it creates a surplus mass of humanity who cannot be included and therefore must be excluded.

The calls by many to ‘shoot a looter’, Westminister city council’s decision to evict looters from council homes (shifting housing from a right to a privilege in the process), making them homeless; these fit almost the exact model of Agamben’s notion of homo sacer– the person who can be killed without being sacrificed, or rather, killed on sight without any investigation or anyone caring. Looters; people who have no respect for private property, policing, law, due process or the state simply cannot be incorporated into liberal democracies and capitalism; a framework which is founded on these principles, and so it follows that they must be excluded. (1)

In a political system such as our own, in which politics is defined as the field of activity which separates humans from animals (an artificial divide, at best), when someone is wholly excluded from politics, from sovereign power, Agamben argues that they cease to be considered human, and come to be considered as animal- we can turn to the old Saxon word for people who held a similar status; wargus– wolf, or as we know it now, the werewolf. The comparison of looters to ‘rats’, ‘animals’, and as ‘feral’ youth, and the claim that the riots cleanup groups were ‘the REAL London’ and the rise of a stunted faux-communitarianism, can be explained using this approach. When so many were comparing the riots to a zombie movie, they drew precisely on this distinction; many responses have ended up like the protagonist of  the song ‘Werewolves in the City‘ (covered here by Viking Moses); a middle class cyclist demanding a distant policeman intervene and stop a seemingly savage and inhuamn enemy stalking the streets. Of course, this distinction is a fallacy from the start, and serves as a shield to discussion of the material and social causes of the unrest.

What can be done? Its difficult to say; however its noticeable that there is little in human rights legislation to actually prevent its own suspension, and what is more in many ways it merely exacerbates this division between human and animal life, and seeks reconciliation with a system that builds itself on a right to property. However it is also emerging that a vast surplus of human life is developing in our cities and prisons that is irreconcilable within the political and social system. As I said earlier, I do not have the solution to the riots, and this is only a speculative framework; but if it does fit, it is clear that a politics that challenges this exclusion must reposition itself in relation to surplus humanity to avoid replicating the same logic. Maybe its time more of those interested in social change took a step outside their comfort zones.

1. Agamben argues that when this dynamic is spatialised it adopts the form of the concentration camps; the call by Sir Peter Tapsell in the house of commons to round up looters into football stadiums (as was done in the US- also Chile under General Pinochet) appeared as I wrote this as if on cue, however if the concentration camp is the extreme end of this logic, the much more common form it takes is the treatment of youth centres and services as holding tanks for young people who have no place in modern Britain.
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Housed in the Margins of History: On The Stupidity of a Ban on Squatting

With the exception of a few well-argued articles such as this one by Alex Vasudevan on Comment is Free, the announcement by the Tory Government that a consultation process with a view to outlawing squatting is about to begin has slipped under the radar. The lack of fanfare is unsurprising- as can be shown the history of squatting in Britain leaves neither Conservatives nor Labour, neither markets or government, and neither church nor state, looking particularly good.

There’s long been a history of illusions and lies about squatters, who are, on the whole, a diverse and intangible group of people whose demography is formed by the needs and desires of the moment.

One particular myth is that squatters, by virtue of being squatters, commit offences already illegal under UK/English law, such as criminal damage, breaking and entering and aggravated trespass. That a squatting ban will somehow mitigate these behaviours is ludicrous. Squatting is legal largely due to there being nothing in England and Wales to legislate against it, and laws that protect homes in general from intrusion by the state (The famous ‘Section 6’ of the Criminal law Act); Scotland has a trespass law already in place. If anything the legal status of squatting gives incentive for squatters not to commit such acts as they would incur swifter evictions and a potential jail term/fine.

Another favourite myth is that squatters will somehow sneak into holidaymakers’ houses at high midsummer and hold raves. The more insidious racist kinds of argument about ‘travellers’ and ‘gypsies’ or ‘immigrants’, are even more idiotically bigoted. Both arguments point towards a certain kind of propertied fascism creeping into acceptability in our society. A more recent one has been the ‘liberal concern’ argument- abandoned buildings are dangerous, therefore we shouldn’t let the squatters use them. Instead they should be left to freeze on the streets, rather than suffer building problems (which groups like the Advisory Service For Squatters might show them how to identify, repair or have removed).

In short, many would like us to see all squatters as being somewhat like the Punks in this Australian documentary:

Putting all this aside, there is one, fairly ignorant, but very important assumption behind all of these myths: largely that squatting has never achieved anything good in British society, and moreover, that ‘squatters’, as the name suggests, are some sort of lumpen class, delaying the wheels of progress and simply parasitising what has already been made. The reality is that trespass and squatting have historically been productive and empowering forms of activity. In fact, many of the images of Britain that David Cameron might hold dear could not exist without squatting and trespassing.

A striking example which millions benefit from every weekend is the maintenance of Britain’s public footpaths. The Ramblers’ association makes the following claim:

“In legal theory most paths become rights of way because the owner “dedicates” them to public use. In fact very few paths have been formally dedicated, but the law assumes that if the public uses a path without interference for some period of time – set by statute at 20 years – then the owner had intended to dedicate it as a right of way”

Footpaths, in other words, largely enjoy their existence due to their continued use by countless numbers of people using and re-using them with a healthy disregard for private property. Of course, this is not to say that all footpaths are considerate to needs of agriculture and ecology, but even the richest rely on these pathways from time to time. Without them, the much-touted ‘local tourism industry’ simply would not function. Often direct action has been used to keep these pathways open, the most notable instance being the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932.

The idea that the Tory voter on holiday in Somerset, Derbyshire or Dorset might walk on a pathway won for them by an act of disobedience has a delicious irony to it; for a moment let us imagine this voter taking the country air.

Ty Hyll, A 'one-night' house in Wales, built as a squat, now housing the Snowdonia Society offices.

Perhaps our Tory might stop at a village to take in the pretty sights; the village green, the cottages. Yet, as Colin Ward observed in his excellent text, Cotters and Squatters, this image of the village simply could not exist were it not for the erection of temporary and permanent housing by squatters on empty, abandoned and common land; whilst many of these were cold, damp and poorly constructed, others have survived into the 20th century and inform the idealized image of the country village. These cottages, now desirable as second homes by those causing much of the problems of contemporary housing, were once the pain of the local landowner trying to assert his claim to the land. There are countless more examples; but what really matters in this situation is the sheer hypocrisy of the Conservative appeal to tradition, when contrasted with a policy that would outlaw squatting.

A recent project to map Nottingham’s caves has revealed the staggering and labyrinthine nature of what was once a system of makeshift housing and storage carved out by hand, much of it without any permission of Nottingham’s landowners; these came in for many uses including as shelter during the Battle of Britain. “If a man be destitute of a house” says one visitor from the 1630s quoted by Ward;

“it is but to go to Nottingham, and with a Mattock, a Shovell, a Crow of Iron, a Chizell and a Mallet, he may play the Mole, the Cunny, or the Pioner, and worke himselfe a hole, or a Burrow, for him and his family”

This would not be the first or last time that a city has been economically dependent upon illicit housing. But, quite literally beneath the apparent surface of a city that seems to be driven by commerce, trade, and property, was an underworld without which it could not have functioned. The ‘wartime spirit’ that Conservatives summon upon to get us to accept cuts to social housing could have been found in Nottingham’s cave system.

One wonders if the Conservatives see this same ‘wartime spirit’ amongst the families that occupied abandoned barracks after World War two? This was a crisis so substantial that Aneurin Bevan, then responsible for housing, tried to call a halt to it, but was ultimately forced to concede to the popular pressure from those occupying the camps. It is odd that someone we may think of as the great provider of his era was also opposed to a popular movement such as this, yet it happened- squatting is rarely in favour with political institutions. Camps such as those at Chalfont St. Giles (ironically, birthplace of Nick Clegg) were a convenient solution to overcrowding- as fascinating footage from the time shows, these were not crusties or ravers, just families looking for a home.

While, as Vasudevan rightly argues, squatting is a useful tool of protest, in particular to put pressure on the property owners to make use of their holdings, it is also the case that the nature and needs of squats has been a constantly evolving circumstance- while everyone is in need of housing, the actual social and cultural background of that person who needs or sees fit to squat can change drastically and radically; and, more importantly, they will leave behind structures and legacies that profoundly shape the nature of their society. Even the punks left behind a musical legacy. To attempt to remove this is retrograde in the extreme.

If there’s one final thing squatters should be noted for, it is that they nearly always disregard the imperatives of government and business in their work, often choosing to resist. As the A.S.S points out;

“Last time they threatened to criminalise squatting, in 1992, the result in 1995 was a new type of court case.”

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Consolation Grook

Losing one glove

is certainly painful,

but nothing

compared to the pain,

of losing one,

throwing away the other,

and finding

the first one again.

Piet Hein


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The Commons: A Tale of Two Tweets

At the moment of writing, thousands of Spanish citizens and their relations and supporters are massing in cities around the globe to claim back democracy from politicians and corporations as part of the ‘Democracy Real Ya!’ movement. The analysis and tools that this movement uses have drawn on the memetic possibilities of the ‘Arab Spring’ and whether it will be successful remains to be seen. What is undeniable is that it involves the substantial and largely decentralized mobilization of bodies into demanding their own re-engagement in politics. At the Spanish embassy in London, many local people and activists, from the student movement, trade unions, UK Uncut and other dedicated activists turned out to show support to the Spanish community gathering outside the building. They’re still there as this is being typed (photo h/t).

On the same day, roughly two miles away from the Embassy, and a stones’ throw from the site of many of the student occupations in the Bloomsbury area earlier in the year, the (Labour Party run) Progress Annual Conference took place. It could not have been more at odds with the actions by those at the Embassy and in the squares of Spain. While the democracy movement of Spain is about prying open access to power, to reconfigure it’s flows and instrumentality, the PAC featured Ed Miliband as a keynote speaker, and seems to have been, for all intents an purposes, aimed at finding means to placate such movements while preserving parliamentary-political privilege. Two successive tweets from the different events sum this up perfectly;

The first read: “good to see Ed not anti-Tesco. Supermarket-led regeneration can transform communities, would be a huge error to knock this #pac11”.

The second: “Spanish protesters call for end of “dictatorship of the markets”. With them in spirit. #solidarity”

There is a fundamental division in responses to a coaxial recession of politics and finance, then, and it extends beyond these events.

What makes this differ from previous years, in which an anti-capitalist left pitched itself against a neo-liberal left ‘New Labour’ position, is the general acceptance that capitalism has, at least in part, failed. When Miliband spoke at the PAC it was to promote the ‘building of a better capitalism’, building on his claim that he should “Make capitalism work for the people” in the Guardian. The central concept in Miliband’s discourse is that capitalism is the naughty child of the west and needs some time in a corner to make it know its place. Whereas the Spanish movement addresses capitalism as a violent and coercive force, Miliband addresses it as an equal, and thus the privilege of (capital-P) Politics is maintained.

Meanwhile Maurice Glasman, the new guru of ‘Blue Labour’, was present at the PAC along with his counterpart, Philip Blond of ‘Red Tory’ fame: It’s important that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that either of these men are party-loyal theorists each working their own little furrow of social activism that has some similarities. It is necessay to realise that they are part of a broader church of mercenary theory that politicians turn to in search of a ‘Third Way’ now that neo-liberalism can no longer provide. They are a tool for apolitical centrism. What these thinkers express, more so Glasman than Blond, is a curiously similar desire to that of those protesting in Spain, or Egypt, or even Student Occupiers. Namely, it is the desire to access or create the commons.

The common is the classic ‘third place’ or way between the State and the Private forms of ownership. It has been fought over for a very long time indeed; we can turn to the days of the English revolution for examples of battles over the enclosure of land previously held collectively by communities (see Christopher Hill’s work for the classic account of this struggle). This process of enclosure of land continues today in the places like India, were neoliberalism is increasing it’s reach. Land and physical goods are perhaps the clearest and most traditional example of the commons in action, and while the contemporary political actions are often urban and do far too little to address the issues of the countryside, they nonetheless draw on this tradition.

The uprisings, occupations and camps of the moment offer us a new perception of the commons. This understanding is closer to that of Hardt and Negri, who posit the commons as an ever-present category of human existence under global capitalism, which has accidentally created us a shared world, through new technologies places and experiences. This is a re-imagining of Marx’s internationalism of the worker, through what Foucault calls the use of “a certain manipulation of force, a rational and concerted intervention in those relations of force, either to develop them in some direction, or to stabilize and utilize them” (H&N Commonwealth 126). The aim is not so much to accept and be subsumed into this shared world, but to re-purpose it for a ‘multitude of the poor’.

The direction Glasman takes is the opposite to this, a retreat into “family, faith and the flag”, and institutions that often preserve, rather than mobilize and open up, social norms and currents:

“Football clubs are a form of magic and a form of belonging, of hope, of glory, but fans are just being exploited by venture capitalists from a thousand miles away. It offends against the sacred sense of belonging. Ideally I would like to see the Labour party taking very strong support for mutual ownership of football clubs. I would like to see the endowment of local banks so there is regional capital and regional economies.”

In Kōji Wakamatsu‘s documentary-drama about the Japanese Maoist group the United Red Army, a member of the army is put to death for ‘violating the sacred space of the Party’ by the URA’s political leadership. Is this just the extreme end of Glasman’s logic? Designating space as ‘sacred’ also creates the profane. Here Hardt and Negri brilliantly dissect Glasman’s position on the family, observing that those things that seem most community-building are often   those we will destroy others for:

“although the family pretends to extend desires and interests beyond the individual toward the community, it unleashes some of the most extreme forms of narcissim and individualism…When school decisions pose the good of their child against that of others or the community as a whole, for example, many parents launch the most ferociously antisocial arguments under a halo of virtue” (Commonwealth, 161)

Glasman’s understanding of the family is based upon an extension of the self, rather than a connection of the self to another through shared cause and capability. He fails to understand the potential for extreme and personal violence in the instituions he proffers. While Glasman doubtless believes in the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ model of society- the community bank, the loving family, the society where each individual is essential to their community, it is, at the very best, the farcical suburbanism of Mary Poppins’ Banks family.

Furthermore, isn’t the positioning of the ‘sacred sense of belonging’ in the football stadium in denial about its own similarities to neoliberal cyber-utopian understandings of the ‘singularity’, a unified technological consciousness that frees humanity from the self in its entirety? Offering us a transcendent community such as that which he sees in a football stadium, like Blond, Glasman’s position is a thin veneer for a false religiosity; an irony of today is that while the Spanish movement and Miliband’s speech seem like the most obvious possibilities for the Blue Labour/Red Tory positions to take, their true genetic inheritance is shared with with Harold Camping’s abortive rapture that didn’t take place at 6pm on the same day; some will invariably be left behind, the surplus flesh of an unwanted humanity.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy movement is already extending and reconsidering the kind of understandings that Hardt and Negri offer. They are establishing nodes to operates as centres of a new form of subjectivity, and creating new possibilities; many new ideas about the commons will be built on the backs of what we’ve seen today. These aren’t perfect movements, indeed they retain many of the worst traits of what Glasman valourizes, but they also insist on the key element of what is sorely missing from Glasman’s ideas; true, active, and productive control over the way power works: in short, democracy. Rather than sitting in conference halls, discussing what a political party might do in a few years time, they are questioning the necessity of the party itself.

A translation of the subsequent ‘Spanish Revolution’ manifesto is here

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Weaponized Monarchy: Policing the Royal Wedding

Yesterday, the 29th of April 2011, was a day unlike any other. In other words, it was a day like every other. It saw two key events unfold: the first was a wedding between two people towards whom I bear no personal ill will. However, as Royalty, they were immediately thronged upon and raised above us all.

The other was the punchup at the wedding reception. An as yet unknown quantity of activists, though numbers are clearly into double if not triple figures, were rounded up and arrested under spurious ‘pre-emptive’ circumstances. Anti-monarchist protests were hounded and one individual was even seemingly arrested for singing about a ‘police state’ in public. Squats and houses were, and continue to be, raided. In addition, several, maybe 50, profiles, events and groups came under attack on facebook (though the facts of this are still contestable and some argue perhaps point to weaknesses of planning rather than orchestrated repression in cyberspace).

What connects these two events has a fairly obvious face-value reading. This is basically that police were ordered to clamp down on any and all forms of potential dissent to the Royal Wedding in order to make sure the day went smoothly. Sod the IPCC and court cases for wrongful arrest that might arise: its worth it to make the big day go without a glitch.

This isn’t in and of itself wrong. Its probably likely that theres an element of truth in here. However, its also possible to stretch the case a bit further; that this contributes to the normalization of a paradigm of policing of major pubic events, especially patriotic ones that are matters of ‘national pride’ (eg. the 2012 Olympics, Queens Diamond Jubilee, and maybe even international trade summits). Usually at major public events, we see massive security and restrictions on movement in a city like London. However, it is rare that visual and performative, but non-direct, protest is denied outright. Usually it is quite literally chanelled into a safe zone such as Hyde Park, Whitehall, or Trafalgar. Not so yesterday- individuals, groups, and organizations found themselves pre-emptively attacked for saying even the most benign of anti-monarchist statement. This is what political philosopher Giorgio Agamben might call a ‘state of exception’-a moment of transgression is established by the ‘sovereign’ in which ‘normal’ rules are suspended because of some dire emergency or unusual circumstance. Think about the use of the recession to dismantle much-loved public services.

Exceptions are built upon pre-existing exceptions, rather than simply invoked against a standard norm. The exception, rather than going away, then becomes the norm. In this context, pre-emptive arrest upon suspicion of protest, but without conviction, might become the norm- policing may increasingly become the punishment in and of itself- like a softer form of the system in 2000AD’s Judge Dredd, where judgement and punishment are decided on the spot. A night in the cells, or at least a forcible removal from the area, seems to be the prescribed punishment for anyone who decideds to protest.

Yet, what is a wedding if not a form of exception? Surely marriage is the codification of an exception concerning two individuals by the state? Of course, marriage is also to do with a certain kind of love, but then the specific legal distinction is different to merely being recognized as sharing a unique relationship in front of a community. In short, the Royal Wedding, unlike a games competition or a trade summit, was a moment prone to exceptionalism right from the start. This isnt to argue that the love between two people I find fairly boring and irrelevant to my own life is not legitimate or alternately somehow fundamentally authoritarian. But what is important is a shift of the role of Monarchy in relation to sovereignty and the police. Rather than being that which is protected by the state through the police, the monarchy is instead weaponized  by it as a tool for controlling and supressing dissent. Like a chess piece or playing card, the monarchy has become a tool of politics and policing, rather than its goal.

This isn't quite what I mean.

This is not likely to be some flash-in-the-pan but rather a model for future policing of protest at national events. Of course, this will not prevent protest. But it will make the forms of protest people use more likely to endanger the public and less democratic as underground organization becomes a necessity, rather than than an extremity, of organizing even the most simple and benign of protests at major events. Which should concern anyone actually concerned about ‘public safety’.

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The Music Of Cameron’s Britain

I was talking with some friends in the pub last night, and the following query emerged: We all know what the music of the Thatcher Era was. You can probably even guess what this archetypal example is without clicking the link (it isn’t Rick Astley). We can also recognise early-era Blair (Oasis) and late-era Blair (late-era Oasis). These are the artists whose appearance couldnt have happened at any other time and are linked in an ideological way (either knowingly or unknowingly) to the detail of ideologies in government and their desires.

What then, is the sound of Cameron’s ideology?

We can’t treat bands as monoliths, or necessarily as holding the ideology they reflect in a song. But equally if a song is able to be mobilized to back an ideology, something is fundamentally lacking. So I offer 4 songs. If they annoy/upset you to the point of pain there is a panic button to purge your ears here:


OK, on with the sh*tshow.

Mumford and Sons. Mumford. and. Sons. Actually found on  David Cameron’s PR ipod, alongside, erm Modest Mouse. Utterly compromised ‘nu-folk’ with no heart to it. A false collective experience, that draws on the aesthetic of artists such as Viking Moses and Jeffrey Lewis, with a bit of diluted 16 Horsepower and Beirut to make for a smoother tone. Unlike Horsepower’s venegeful apocalyptics, Mumford practices the smiley, creepy form of evangelism. As The Quietus points out, the lyrics are full of religious references that seem thoroughly dull and without meaning. A false collectivity driven by crap evangelism and corporate interest? Mumford and Sons, you are the Big Society.

Florence and The Machine are probably the ‘safest’ act to exist right now. Florence is obviously a reasonably talented singer, and its not really something that would embarass most if it was found in their record collection. It’s also bland. There also been well known instances of homage/possible plagiarism involved in the writing of songs- Kiss With a Fist sounds a bit too much like The White Stripes, Rabbit Heart got into hot water about borrowing from Gang Gang Dance- a perfect metaphor for the ideas process in Cameron’s Whitehall- this could be theft, or merely a stultification into a very similar set of forms as previous tunes. There’s also another issue in this particular track: “Leave all your loving, your loving behind/You cant carry it with you if you want to survive”- this is a song about austerity- yets its expressed in the most utterly gaudy and unnecesary wrapping. Florence and The Machine is Cameron’s cuts: someone disgustingly extravagant telling you off for your own extravagance in caring.

Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is a woman trained by a member of the upper class to speak their language. Today’s Doolittle serves the inverse function of disguising a middle class in the dress and garb of a fantasy ‘common’ culture. The purchase of this kind of music by the middle class under Cameron is  the spirit of Pulp’s Common People made into a consumer choice. The fact remains: it just isn’t cool  to have lots of money or be a Tory. What is cool is having no money, but being happy, or being middle class and depressed. Thus when Cameron’s Britain listens to happy music, it invariably has to come from a place of chirpy, cheeky, poor people, a music hall nudge-nudge wink-wink sexuality, and pickpocket ragamuffins. In other words, it comes from a place that can and never will truly exist: its the world of musicals; Oliver Twist, and the adaptation of Shaw’s play, My Fair Lady. It’s notable that the track singled out here is not a bad pop song in itself,  but Pack Up seems to have been played on TV every time anyone, shall we say, ‘of African descent’ appears in a reality show. This is belittling and tokenist hug-a-hoodie Cameron at his most intolerable.

What is Cameron if not the same thing again, only worse?

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Crowded With Hippies: Saul Alinsky

Tonight I am watching this 2-part NFB documentary about Saul Alinsky. I read Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals 2 years ago and I’m still coming to terms with what he had to say. I suspect most of the Anglo-American Left has been doing the same since it was written. Alinsky’s left-Machiavellian approach is deeply unsettling, but also his greatest insight. Frankly I started watching this expecting it to be another long set of discussions about largely irrelevant debates only of interest to historians (as many NFB archival interviews are). Yet, as this timely article has noticed, Alinsky’s ideas still have a relevance for today.

The first part of the films is Alinsky debating with a Canadian youth radical group trying to test out Alinsky’s ideas. What it reveals is that Alinsky was something of an asshole at times when he deemed it necessary, alongside having an abrasive character. Its arguable that by this point in his life Alinsky got over-confident, but his confrontational attitude clearly has a motive and a reason to its rhyme. The discussion continues to be relevant: Alinsky debates culture, progress and other ideas. Theres a moment at which some of the arguments, and the critical theory-informed politics about notions of challenging the logic of ‘climing the mountain of progress’ clash with Alinsky’s approach. He argues against alternative institutions and communities, using this fantastic argument:

“The desert was so damn crowded with hippies back in the early days of Christianity people went up to the mountains to hide”

If anything, the second part is even more controversial. Alinsky debates with First Nations activists about whether they should ‘crawl in the white gutter’. This kind of debate would just be unacceptable now given the influence of postcolonial theory and the struggle of the very groups he’s debating with, certainly a lot of what Alinsky says is dubious. But he also has a refreshing frankness, and its obvious he means what he says out of compassion and a care for humanity.

Final Point: There’s a short comparison between Paulo Freire and Alinsky online. I disagree with a lot of what it says about the compatability of the two but its worth a look.

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