== Summary == Universal recycling symbol outli...
Image via Wikipedia

On the bus into to downtown this morning I was reading from the Chaloupka book and I came across what I consider to be the kernel of the book: a description of his prescribed politics and a brief theorization of why it works.

The interpretation – the “spin,” to use the Reagan-era term – I want to consider goes like this.  Not presuming to enter into the realm of force-counterforce (and all the other economies of force surrounding military and nuclear matters), the “lifestyle” argument simply intervenes. this intervention produces consequences that are more ironic than representational, more disruptive than analytic.  The lifestyle position works by rubbing against a nuclearist discourse that has tried hard to exclude challenges to its logic.  In its partial, deconstructive mode, that opposition has worked, putting its own “dumbness,” its forced inarticulateness, against the forced coherence of foreign policy discourse.  Arrayed against a thoroughly coded way of speaking, the opposition stripped its own utterances down to a naked minimum – not escaping code (how could anyone presume that?), but forcing the dominant discourse to handle the weight of the codes and substitutions all by itself.

My reading works, then, on language-and-politics turf captured by Foucault.  I am postulating a specific kind of intervention – one that politicizes by noting how language works, wihtout forfeiting the next political response.  Foucault claims this odd and important double move with a distinctive two-part challenge to power.  Starting with the crisis of representation and character of language that sets that crisis off – shifting and turning away from either the self who uses it or the phenomenon it tries to capture – Foucault moved on to a description of rules and the ways those rules constitute a generally unrecognized realm of power in contemporary society.  The two moves resonate, one exacerbating the other until legitimacy is drawn into the whirl of contested territory.  Foucault’s conception of language is what funds the possibility of political response, making it possible that such response is neither an arbitrary imposition, as has been charged, nor a promise of meaning and representation that cannot be fulfilled.  Instead, the political response finds its form exactly at the point where old models of language break down. (94).

The reduction of this intevention Chalouka advocates is to move from persuasion into a realm of Affect.  Leaving aside the debate about who first theorizes affect, Foucault, Spinoza, etc…, I will simply say that I find Affect compelling.  Sometimes.  How Affect works to mobilize mass audiences seems lacking, not only in theory but also in historical examples.  I may learn to value recycling because my mother or friends do it, and those learnings replicate outwards until they collide with someone whose mother or friends did not recycle.  The better example is something I lived through this morning.  I rode the bus.  I never rode a bus until  I moved to the east coast a few years ago and now I am a fan.  Even though I am now a convert I know that if I were to return to Texas I would not ride the bus.  Economics would prevail.  Affect is thus limited as a tool for change.  Why then did I learn to ride the bus.  Economics had some role in it, but so too did seeing people, many people, especially people I looked up to, riding the bus.

I do not feel up to the task of measuring Chaloupka’s claim that Affect removes the communication from the same grid that houses the crisis of representation (that task can wait and will require some long nights of academic sleep-deprivation, see this guy.)  That seems to be the critical portion of Affect’s value.  However, this argument does seem, on first glance, to be cheating:  “if the crisis of representation did not exist then we would not communicate in ways that replicate that crisis.  All we need to do is wish it away.”  Sure.  I’ll get right on that.

At the moment I am in the downtown Panera trying to drink some tea, my preferred caffeine delivery vehicle, that is way too hot.  The man next to me has long wiry gray hair pulled into a ponytail. He has a backpack and a camouflage jacket on.  He strikes me as either homeless or someone practicing the lifestyle politics Chaloupka discusses.  Except this man has a laptop and is looking at what seems to be Russian mail-order brides.  He then switched over to Google Finance and looked at a particular chart, manipulating the graphs and then made a phone call where I heard him order someone to buy.  How does this man intersect with Chaloupka?  He is clearly living a less-than-ordinary life.  My ability to categorize that life, however, is the crisis of representation at work no matter how ‘cool’ I may find him for being less-than-ordinary.  And he is cool: stock broker answering a call at 6:50 AM, looking at Russian mail-order brides and looking like Ian, Tom Robbins’ character, in High Fidelity.  He may seem resistant to his friends or people on the street, but his computer work betrays his actual greasing of the system.

Chaloupka, William.  (1992).  Knowing Nukes.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

In competitive policy debate we have an argument called E-Prime, that we ought not use “to be” and its conjugations because the verb implies a solid static meaning when such rigidity is rarely accurate.  The famous example is, “The runner is a woman,” when discussing some of the former Olympic champions that were revealed to be cheating and/or hermaphroditic.

This argument is not particularly persuasive and is used mainly when there is not a sophisticated negative strategy available.  However, as I age I am come more and more to believe in a variant of the argument.  I tend to dismiss declarative statements as statements of fact and instead see them more as wish-fulfillment.  This is easily seen when people talk among themselves.  I cannot help but cringe a little when someone says, “I have a high threshold for pain” or the classic “Homey don’t play that.”  Homey does play it and wishes he didn’t, hence his enthusiasm for the distancing move.

So when I encounter Che’s famous statement about the revolutionary being “guided by great feelings of love” I have to snort-laugh a little.  Che wants the revolutionary to be guided by love.  Revolutionaries want to be guided by love.  In my experience though, they are not.  Meeting many of the activists that partook in the Battle for St. Paul I believed that many of them were rather disaffected artsy kids that were angry for whatever reason.  This is not to say that those kids are impartial to the sufferings they rallied in support of, but to attribute that concern as the guiding principle is wish fulfillment.  Che’s declaration also serves the classic us/them trope of rhetoric.  If ‘we’ are the ones guided by love then ‘they’ are by definition not guided by love.  Regardless of accuracy this move is moralizing and hence more affective.

Elbaum (89) gives another example of this happening.  When discussing why 1960s radicals were drawn to the communist regimes despite the human rights abuses Elbaum says the evidence of abuses were not considered credible because the sources dismissing the abuses were also the strongest critics of US imperialism.  Much scholarly research is still concerned with the power/failures of persuasion (and evidence) and why people continue to believe something in the face of clear evidence (I contend this is the question central to Marx’ opus).  To me the answer seems obvious: persuasion only works on the choir, affect is what matters most.  The continued neglect of this is an act of wish fulfillment: scholars wish it weren’t so, they wish people could be persuaded.

The failure of debate is probably best treated by popular pundits than by academics.  Arianna Huffington’s most recent book (Right is Wrong) is about this very breakdown in society.  The August recess and the town halls aptly demonstrate this lack as people were vocal about Obama being the next Hitler.  Barney Frank dismissed one of his constituents aptly and appropriately when he said arguing with her would be like debating a kitchen table.  Sadly Frank was only partly correct: debating with anyone and not just her.  I suspect most of us in this community are either atheists or not moved by religious appeals, but there is a certain genius to the “What Would Jesus Do?” slogan.  If Obama had couched reform as the right thing to do instead of being about containing costs (a proposition open for debate, obfuscation and fear tactics) then we would be seeing a very different public dialogue right now.  Obama has a good story.  He defeated Hillary and McCain on the back of that story.  But that story has since disappeared and now he is President Wonk.  Even The Shrub understood this.

With this approach to persuasion one then has to ask, one being fond of theory and nuance, “what then of theory and nuance?”  After all, why do distinctions matter if the crowd merely follows the cool kid?  This question also comes into the easy criticism of my theory: what constitutes “cool” and how does it exist beyond the grid of intelligibility?  Clearly, coolness is not exogenous and independent of rhetoric.  Being able to talk about theory, after all, is cool to come people.  I will own this blindspot as this balancing act I am not yet able to account for.  Ultimately though, my question is about how to organize and recruit.

Theory and those discussions are important, but only after someone has been recruited into the choir.  Until then we, as organizers, ought to be concerned with being model  people (not necessarily the same thing as role models).  We need to be people our targets want to be, want to be around, and accepted by.  Once that level of affection is achieved then the theory is important.  So, trying to explain why capitalism is predatory and it is not just a problem of predatory lenders is important but only affection is achieved.  This model leaves many ambiguities and does not help close many of the difficulties of the organizers, after all, when has affection been achieved?  Is this person more receptive and hence more affected by an ability to cite authors?  In short, what motivates this person? The traditional persuasion model is still applicable, but how applicable?  My answer is to listen, not to what she says she wants but how she describes others.  The magic is in the audience’s observations not the audience’s pronouncements.

Elbaum, Max.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. London: Verso Books.

Dinkytown
Image via Wikipedia

To-day’s short story is from the same anthology as yesterday’s, M. Szereto’s Getting even: Revenge stories.  Tony Fennelly has a funny story about killing an Aries (“How to kill an Aries”) using his self-centeredness and recklessness against him.  It’s funny if only because I know people like this (I wonder when they were born as I have some curiosity in astrology even though I do not [want to] believe.)

My main issue with this story and much contemporary fiction in general is that authors tend to neglect buyer’s remorse (the mechanics of desire.)  Plans are put into place and they come to fruition.  Sometimes there are unintended consequences but these effects are about the contingent and precarious nature of living and acting socially.  While these questions are valuable, an even more valuable question is the remorse people feel when they actually get what they want.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “the best way to convince someone they are wrong is to let them have their way.”

The main character in this story is happy when her plan comes to fruition.  She just killed her husband and while her life will be better off for it, she should, while still in the hospital, be struck with a sense of loss and “what now?”

I am reminded of one of my first assignments as a Beltway Boy.  Once a year in Morgantown there is a block party near the university, not unlike the one recently held here in Minneapolis, and the police decided this particular year to break up the party even though there had not been a single complaint.  Not unlike last week’s Dinkytown “riot”, we need to notice the increased deployment of this term by the police, the police were overly hostile and caused more damage than there would have been by allowing the party to party itself out.

The police had overstepped their bounds and a lesson needed to be taught.  Soriano has a friend who played football as a Mountaineer, and this friend’s sister was married to brute of an ass who was also one of the very cops that over-reacted, laughing as he shot drunk college students with rubber bullets.  He was the obvious choice for a lesson.  ‘Metaphoric condensation’ is how George referred to it.  I was surprised that George, a terse bowtie wearing famous pundit, read Zizek.

We broke into the house late one night as they slept and using chloroform we put Nikesha into a deep sleep.  Soriano and I pulled Elliott, bound and gagged, onto the porch.  We sat him down and George talked to him.

“Do you know who I am?”  Elliott shook his head affirmatively.  “Good.  Then you know that I am conservative and the last person to think these kids ought to have the run of the place.  When police officers act stupidly the way you did you make it harder for all of us.  You embolden the liberals.”  George always over-enunciated and even his attempts to use the vernacular still sounded prissy and over-educated.  “Now you can tell people we were here, but nobody will believe you.  You may end up receiving a Section Eight.”  Elliott sighed and looked down in what appeared to be acquiescence.  “Good.  Here is how you should have handled the student riot.  You should have brought in a fire truck and sprayed cold water over the top of the crowd.  It was cold that night and they were drunk.  Drunk people like to fight but they hate to be cold.  That would have been the humane thing to do.  You will remember that, will you not?”  Elliott nodded.  “You need to also be nicer to your wife or we shall return.  Do you understand?”  Elliott nodded.  We left him on the porch, bound and gagged for the neighborhood’s amusement as Nikesha was still been asleep well after sunrise.

The plan went off without a hitch and yet I felt guilt and a complete lack of satisfaction.  Eventually we had to pay Elliott another visit, before the next year’s block party so the effectiveness our plan was never tested.  However, the Morgantown PD have never rioted before while responding to the block party and yet that potential sign of success does not squash my sense of buyer’s remorse.  Sadly the Minneapolis PD now has some answering to do for their over-reaction last week.  What is even more sad though is the Star Tribune’s purchase of the PD’s spin of necessity and restraint.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
The Discomfort Zone
Image via Wikipedia

I am constantly awed by the strange places I will come across an engagement or a novel argument.  When I lived in Vegas back in 1996-97 I once had Mormon missionaries knock on my door.  I invited them in for a chat.  They were nice enough and I gave them a good run for their money.  Enough so, that they then asked if they could return the next night with an elder(?).  Of course.  So I made dinner for the next night, for the three of them, myself, the girlfriend and the GF’s father and stepmother (the two of them went to the same church(?) as the missionaries and had heard about this meeting.)  Dinner ended and the GF’s stepmother excused herself and my GF (I guess good LDS practice is to let the men do the serious intellectual lifting.)  And it began.

“Do you believe in God?”  “No.”  And they were done.  They had not done any training about how to handle an atheist, after all, who in Vegas admits to not believing?  They were skilled to the initial concession and then working away at their prey’s underthought belief system.  It was a short conversation with the usual gambits: better-safe-than-sorry, isn’t-it-depressing-to-just-die, and the oh so persuasive relativism-is-anarchaic.  I didn’t budge, having easily worked through these problems well in advance of the meeting.  We all left on good terms and they even learned that non-believers can be caring and compassionate and even live as and appear to good believers.

There are times in my prostelizations that I feel like those missionaries.  Once someone concedes that she has an obligation to help others out then I can work through their underthought politics to get them to my politics.  Libertarians are to me what the careful atheist is to a Mormon.  Libertarians do not rush into the initial concession most do and they put up a fight about the very premise of an obligation to an-other.  I think I can win this debate based on a preferred worldly outcome, but as an obligation?  That’s a more difficult engagement, precisely because of my atheism.

In any case it is odd to come across an anti-libertarian argument in a fiction writer’s essay about his mother’s death (or is it really about Katrina and New Orleans?)  Jonathan Franzen, of The Corections fame, makes the following argument in The Discomfort Zone:  “When private donations replaced federal spending, you had no idea who was freeloading and who was pulling twice their weight.” (8)  The rant is that libertarians contend private parties replace governmental charities in the face of a vacuum, but there is no clearinghouse for who is charitable and who is not.  An interesting argument, but not a persuasive one.

First, it still begs the question of obligation.  Maybe it is true that people do not replace the governmental charities, but the Libertarian says the argument still assumes one is obliged to be charitable. Second, the accountability question is obviated by the Libertarian argument that people become more charitable when they are not required to be so.  Franzen’s argument only gains traction once the Libertarian claim has been studied empirically and found to be inaccurate at which point the Libertarian has already lost the fight.  The truly moot argument is Franzen’s.

Yes it was a novel argument, but that’s possibly because it is a non-winning argument. Nonetheless, it was an unexpected turn and moves me closer to embracing Franzen as a writer and thinker (I did enjoy The Corrections but after a couple of years I am unable to think of a thing about the book except that it involves parents aging and dementia.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

I was thinking about what to write this week and I keep coming back to the persuasion/affect debate that has been raging in my head for years.  Here’s the crux:  less and less I see the value of persuasion.  Even advertising is turning from ‘why my product is superior’ to more ads based on ‘look at this cool shit, brought to you by my product’.

The problem may be interpretation.  My major professor told me in graduate school that whomever you first read will forever mark you.  How oddly that he was speaking of traces and interpretation when the first person I really read was Derrida.  In any case, I am a sucker for discussions of interpretation and maybe I see the relegation of persuasion precisely because I myself see less of its importance in my daily life.  Here’s the kicker: I coach debate.  I live in persuasion and techniques and research.  My job is to teach kids how to persuade and yet I think persuasion is dying?  I like to think it is that very contradiction which makes me credible.  But it may be the opposite.

Zizek and others claim that the true capitalist is a nihilist because she believes in the value of all products, which is also the same as believing in no-value for all products.  Am I the analogical proof of that claim?  Am I so immersed in all the arguments for and against the Kyoto Protocol that I no longer see value to persuading someone to support or oppose it?  Is it instead about finding someone cool and agreeing with her views on the treaty?

This morning I tackled Greene 2007 and his article contains markers of this split.  Money/Speech is a category devised by the Supreme Court to allow campaign contributions under the aegis of the First Amendment’s protections.  The thinking is that if a politician supports X and someone (remembering that corporations are given legal entitlements like a person) likes X then that person’s contributions to said politician are nearly equivalent to speech supporting that person.

This is not persuasion, as persuasion is regulated by the criminal justice system looking for a quid pro quo among the donor and the politician.  Money/Speech is instead about affect.  It is about associating and identifying with a politician and the politician with certain donors.  This analysis is even before studies of political advertisements and the aforementioned shift towards affect from persuasion.  Living in Minnesota this past election cycle made it easy to see this at work as I was forced to repeatedly look at Al Franken’s evil grin.  Norm Coleman’s campaign was able to find some awful pictures of the opponent.

But then I read Judith Butler’s recent piece where she makes the opposite claim.  Obama was able to win precisely because people put aside their affective stances and instead voted along lines of persuasion: he may be black, but he is better for the economy.  She argues that Palin was brought in to shore up the moral vote and it failed in face of the policy vote.

Maybe my theory can be resuscitated by showing that the moral/policy vote is not congruous with the affective/persuasion models.  I will think about this some.

As always, comments are appreciated.  Check back for revisions.

Greene, Ronald Walter.  (2007).  Rhetorical capital: Communicative labor, money/speech, and neo-liberal governance.  Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 4(3), 327-31.