October 09, 2009

Towards a new orthodoxy


Reading Jodi Dean's excellent book on democracy and communicative capitalism, I was put in mind of Momus's recent remarks about blogging (as cited by Simon here). "Sure," Momus wrote, "Click Opera has been a sort of karate course, and its comment facility has taught me to be more dialectical and -- above all -- the skill set of prolepsis, of anticipating reader objections. But is a more moderate, accessible and dialectical me really what the world needs? Doesn't the world need an immoderate, outrageous and concentrated me, just laying out things that only I could think, no matter how wrong they may be?" For me, the answer is clear - I certainly don't want writers who "respond to criticisms", who patiently deal with "feedback", no matter how hostile and uncomprehending. I want writers who have the courage to pursue their own lines. What's interesting, I suppose, is the libidinal impulses at work in those who don't want that - who would rather have a writer spending their time on discussion boards and in comments boxes defending themselves, nuancing their position into innocuous irrelevance, or effectively abandoning it altogether in the name of some vacuous commitment to "debate".

Nothing illustrates the debilitating fit between "democracy" and "communicative capitalism" that Jodi analyses so well than this demand. Jodi's claim is that there is a necessary, not merely contingent, connection between the communicative landscape of Web 2.0 and the neocon and neoliberal right. (Note how grey vampires and trolls willl automatically appeal to the democtratic "right to be heard" the moment they feel that attention will be snatched away from; note how they will always describe those who are no longer paying them attention as totalitarians.) Jodi identifies an assymetry in the right and left approaches to democracy in the era of web 2.0: the right uses democratic openness to advance clear, divisive positions; the left appeals to the openness first, so that it becomes identified with openness as such rather than a set of determinate policies. Incidentally, what I liked about Nick's presentation at Militant Dysphoria, which met with a certain amount of British can't-do-ism, a good introduction to the UK for Nick I guess, was the crispness and clarity of its tactical suggestions - there's a punkish demystification at work here, as well as the echoes of management consultancy that Dominic heard: here's how things have changed, now let's change things ourselves.

Instead of skulking in the margins, celebrating "disruption", "diversity" and the instability of meaning (poststructuralist habits that the left finds it hard to kick), what the left needs now is the confidence and courage to plan, to impose a new orthodoxy in the way that the right did. I'm sympathetic to the argument that one can't completely transpose the methods that capital and neoliberalism used onto leftist struggle, because capital had resources and vested interests on its side which are not at the disposal of the left now. But one can overstate this: ultimately, Nick Land's view that capital is an "artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources" is closer to the mark than the view that capital had everything stacked in its favour from the start. Capitalism's agents were a revolutionary class which had to dismantle feudalism, undermine the authority of the Church, and challenge pratically every vested interest before they could succeed. Two important things that come out of reading Andy Beckett's book on the 70s are (1) how much was against neoliberalism then and (2) how hard the neoliberals had to plan and work in order to get their vision realised (with the Grunwick strikebreaking campaign a foretaste of everything that would be thrown at the miners). The left should leave behind "spontaneity" along with all the other relics of 68, which weigh so heavily on the brains of would-be militants. The alternative is not Stalinism, even if it might involve elements of conspiratorialism (how could any effective political strategy not involve some element of this?); and it will certainly entail a disciplined withdrawal from particular communicative circuits. What is certain is that it is imperative to escape the binaries that "democratic" communicative capitalism has imposed on our thinking.

Posted by mark at October 9, 2009 06:16 PM | TrackBack