23 December 2008

Niche markets and their genesis

The central point of the CM political model is that, while factory workers and office workers have fundamentally identical interests, they have fundamentally differing experiences of the work place. The essential reason for this is that the process of accumulating education / cultural capital that qualifies you for office work is also the process of cultural assimilation. In other words - to work in an office you have to be able to communicate with the boss and with your fellow workers in terms they can understand. You have to be pretty fluent in whatever the local lingua franca is, naturally, but you also have to "fit in" socially, so that people don't feel "uncomfortable" around you. Which assumes some commonality of social and cultural frames of reference with your employer. Which is not ideal for the dawning of class consciousness.

The essential upshot of this is that office workers are far less likely to see their interests as counterposed to that of the boss than factory workers - even though in reality they are. The exception to this is in large corporate firms, where "the boss" is generally ten flights of stairs up and might as well be on a different planet. But the nature of office work is that it's as efficient to carry it out in small sites than in big ones, especially in the Intarwebz age. When "the boss" is just across the hallway, when they pretty much "speak your language" in every significant sense, it is so much easier to feel an affinity with them than, say, the Bengali immigrant who's emptying your wastepaper basket.


Another aspect of the more equal relationship (on the surface) that pertains in the office environment is that it makes it far easier for the boss to exploit your intellectual capital - i.e. get you to come up with ideas to make your exploitation more efficient and not reward you. This whole question of "enclosure of the cultural commons" is one that exercises the autonomist-operaista wing of Marxism very much, in that you get exploited simply by having a brain and thinking, let alone actually producing any concrete surplus value. But it can also efficiently explain the emergence of niche markets - as well as explaining one of the most important social cohesion strategies of globalised capitalism.

Simply put - if there's a subculture, you can sell to it. So savvy operators find the most articulate and cogent exponents of a subculture - even if they're mouthing off politically radical memes - and offer them all manner of class privileges for turning these memes into commodities. Now this isn't a simple matter of selling out of an individual, because through this process, the cultural operators get an "in" to pick the collective brains of the entire community. To use an example, once you've noticed that Belfast Protestant hip-hop exists, and you've got some MC Red Hand or whatever making some money and getting some notoreity in the media economy, then everyone will try to get on the bandwagon, and the whole community becomes just another niche market, no threat to anyone or anything.

Here's an article about how they did it in the anarcho-hippie underground of Copenhagen. In fact, every anarchist or underground "community" on this planet has a small fringe of "entrepeneurs", getting a modest but real income off translating the bubbling cultural ferment of the "scene" into something that can be sold. So there is no real benefit in rebellion for the "community leaders" - and of course they get to distribute some bones from the table, sorry, "bring something back to the community". And the scene expands, as its cultural fringe is sold cheap to kids from the suburbs looking for some identity, anything.

Chaos Marxism firmly maintains that any "scene", "community" or "movement" that someone is making money off is not a revolutionary one.

09 December 2008

We salute you, Aunty Miriam

Ten years ago, I used to think Starhawk was so cool you could keep a side of organically-grown slaughtered-with-appropriate-ritual-and-respect meat in her for a month, and I still have a lot of respect for her. Here's a good article she wrote a few years back, when it really did look for a while like it was 1968 again (rather than 1929 again, but never mind). One important point she makes - and one which raises her above all the other hippies and New Agers out there - is extracted below:

In New Age circles, a common slogan is that "What you resist, persists." Truly spiritual people are never supposed to be confrontational or adversarial -- that would be perpetuating an unevolved, "us-them" dualism.

I don't know from what spiritual tradition the "what you resist, persists" slogan originated, but I often want to ask those who blithely repeat it, "What's your evidence?" When it is so patently obvious that what you don't resist persists like hell and spreads all over the place. In fact, good, strong, solid resistance may be the only thing that stands between us and hell. Hitler didn't persist because of the Resistance -- he succeeded in taking over Germany and murdering millions because not enough people resisted.

Good point there. I would hazard a guess that "what you resist, persists" isn't from a spiritual tradition at all, but from pop-psychology. Basically, it's all excellent advice for dealing with childhood bullies (or online trolls, for that matter) - basically, such people want to know that they've had an effect at all, and if you fly at them like a breezeblock of butthurt that's one of the many desired reactions. But of course the forces of the capitalist state aren't trying to troll us. They're trying to control us. Idiots looking to justify their own passivity suggest that confronting the state just gives them an "excuse" to beat the shit out of you. But... "excuse"?

Let's unpack the proposition here - that the state prefers to use brute force whereever it can. In a word, bullshit. If that were true they wouldn't have mass media, mass education and all the other handy means of brainwashing. Brute force is expensive, difficult, and tends to lead to disruptions in production. That old bastard Bobby Mugabe his own self would, I assume, much prefer to be winning elections fair and square than having to pay real non-inflated foreign money to keep his battalions of cops and soldiers happy, and when the state cracks out the brute force, it's a sign of desperation, not strength. (This is, BTW, exactly why Dubya Bush was not a fascist - because there was no need for fascism, with opposition to him not even being able to see their way to a clear and coherent strategy beyond lining up behind one corporate-backed Democrat or other.)

On the other hand, we must avoid the opposite trap of supporting violent confrontation with the forces of order for its own sake. That's not politics, that's leisure activities for the downwardly mobile middle class. Someone who gets involved in that kind of thing for the lulz is not thinking of liberating the world, they're thinking of liberating themselves - "Temporary Autonomous Zone", and all that deliberately-induced quasi-autism jazz. Now if you could think of some strategy to encourage Joe Sixpack to stop supporting Sarah Palin and join in the rioting, you might have something. Or some kind of unapproved social production, in any case.

And on the third hand, in some cases the state will use disproportionate force against a radical minority of protestors, just to terrify normal people away from their cause. This is a real aim. But sadly, the radical minority do a pretty good job of terrifying normal people at the best of times. We must learn to do memetic jiu-jitsu against the forces of order - use memetic science to combat their ideas with more appealing ones of our own, that will catch on of their own accord. To some degree, "the propaganda of the deed" (NOT assassinations, but showing what is possible by force of example) is required here.

That modern method of magick known as CBT suggests that the way to deal with negative mental images is not to ignore them, but to challenge them. Works for politics, too. All that is left to decide on now are the most effective strategies and tactics for doing so, she said using ironic understatement.

01 December 2008

Mumbai: the terrorist as troll

Mumbai could represent something rather different in the history of terrorism, and possibly something far more disturbing even than global jihad.

Perhaps we have come to the point where casually self-radicalised, sociopathic individuals can form a loose organisation, acquire sufficient weapons and equipment for a few thousand dollars, make a basic plan of action and indulge in a violent expression of their generalised disaffection and anomie.

It's an iron rule of behavioural science that providing incentives and means for a way of behaving will ensure that that way of behaving flourishes. Media-terrorism is of course the inevitable inverse of this great Society of the Spectacle. To quote Frank Zappa: "Do you love it? Do you hate it? There it is, the way you made it."