The New Yorker‘s reigning liberal, George Packer, on the Charlie Hebdo attacks (emphasis added):
The murders today in Paris are not a result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies. They’re not about French military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East, or the American invasion of Iraq before that. They’re not part of some general wave of nihilistic violence in the economically depressed, socially atomized, morally hollow West—the Paris version of Newtown or Oslo. Least of all should they be “understood” as reactions to disrespect for religion on the part of irresponsible cartoonists.
They are only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades.
Packer on “why” ISIS killed Kenji Goto:
The Islamic State doesn’t leave thousands of corpses in its wake as a means to an end. Slaughter is its goal—slaughter in the name of higher purification. Mass executions are proof of the Islamic State’s profound commitment to its vision.
Also, don’t even try to sort ISIS out…
We want to understand the Islamic State’s thinking, to anticipate its next moves, to assess its relative strength. But ISIS keeps on defying ordinary questions. The Islamic State doesn’t behave according to recognizable cost-benefit analyses.
Oh wait, by the way, why did Jared Lee Loughner shoot up Gaby Gifford’s office in 2011?
The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point. Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.
Must be nice to be The New Yorker’s Chief Correspondent of: “Whatever, bro. Violence.”
New states are usually the product of catastrophe. Violence is the air they breathe. – T.J. Clark.
By terror thereof. To forme the wills of all. And whoever calls this into question proposes an end to what we know of politics as such. — Hobbes
Why does the collective “we” focus so intensely on the Islamic beliefs of the attackers in Paris, but not on the attackers’ beliefs, no different from “ours,” in founding a state?
If it is true, as is being reported, that the Paris attackers are linked to IS, then we must ask ourselves:
¿Where does all the insistence in repeating the religious cause come from? ¿Why do we refuse to discuss the problem of the state and the violence that all states originate from?
The will to reduce the attackers to barbarians and savages —different from “us”— extracts these battles from, one, their political origins, and two, their inherently spectacular modernity. Even some of the best writing from an anti-racist perspective misses this. Teju Cole wrote a brilliant short essay for The New Yorker. Cole masterfully identifies the liberal problem of relating with certain victims of violence and not others. But what Cole misses is the essential quality of violence in state formation and protection.
Furthermore, even in the lefty renunciation of Charlie Hebdo as a racist publication (myself included), the usual condemnation of the attacks on the basis of “freedom of the press” gets muddled with how purportedly unimaginable the attacks were, since the press is thought of as sacred. But established states wage warfare on the press all the time. Obama recently unplugged North Korea’s internet, for example. Israel, the United States, and NATO routinely bomb media targets. The list is endless.
Attacks that spread fear and strategically situate sensational violence in the news stream serve to augment recruitment, increase radicalization, and continue to draw causes for war. France already declared it. The discourse of hitting at religious fundamentalism without discussion of state fundamentalism reproduces the demagoguery of people like Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and the rest who insist on persecuting Islam.
In effect, a categorization of violence against the media as Hobbesian ‘terror’ is an extension of state politics as we know them. To be clear, violence against the media is horrible, but it is absolutely normal in the condition of our present. Further, the media conditions and greatly monopolizes the conditions that create an experience of the present, making media itself a strategic military target within the logics of state formation.
To “be” Charlie Hebdo as a paragon of press freedom is an affective identification with what the Retort collective called an “afflicted power” almost ten years ago, post-9/11. To paraphrase a friend’s hilariously biting comment on Facebook, none of us is a magazine, and even having to declare that one isn’t one looks suspiciously like the people who claim to “be” Charlie. Perhaps one only needs to stipulate that one is not Charlie within a certain logic of state formations based upon these types of mediatized, distant, affective identifications.
The 2015 attacks in Paris are a form of state violence also. Basic history would convey that, much like European conquerors did not come to the Americas to convert indians, the point of the Paris attacks is not Sharia law in and of itself. The inherent cruelty of these attacks, and their media function, is inseparable from the same political foundations of all modern states.
I. It’s surprising to have to spell out these notions, but here goes…
One can condemn violence and at the same time sustain a critical stance against Charlie Hebdo.
One can condemn the “asymmetric warfare” of masked gunmen and also reject racism, tyranny, and hate.
One can denounce cold-blooded massacres while also unsubscribe from the horrible, orientalist titillation of Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the mental passivity of liberalism.
II. It is imperative, at this frightening intersection, to resist the coercive call to stand behind a vacuous, hypocritical, shallow slogan about “free speech.” The response to the horrible tragedy in Paris already seems to become folded into the same previous mode of thinking that enabled the magazine to exist and thrive. It is a mode in which there is no deliberation of better or worse ideas; just a liberal “freedom” excuse to embrace hate (albeit hate selectively applied, despite liberal disclaimers otherwise).
Western culture is arbitrary in its principles; it is arrogant, self-centered, and self-deluded about its respect and care for the weak and oppressed. A glance at statistics about drone strikes tells the story. Ebola tells the story. Palestine tells the story. The migrant labor building imperial stadia for futbol and Olympics tell the story. The fact that a hashtag like #BlackLivesMatter exists. The deportations of millions and deaths on the high seas…
This is a frightening moment — a moment charged with reactionary simplifications and reductions. These reductionisms serve a purpose. Among other things, the point is to ignore the very complex circulations through which the killers were likely trained, funded, armed, and recruited. If we explored these circulations, more than the usual suspects that might be rounded up in the coming hours or days would be implicated.
Instead, political doctrinaires murmur slogans about an ancient religious cause behind the killings. They equate vast social processes with merely “terror,” nothing more; and none of it has anything to do with the actual, mediatized and quite modern ways in which the operation came about. These dimensions must remain unthought and unimagined.
Who identifies with “#JeSuisCharlieHebdo,” and who does not? It is exactly at these points where one should resist and explore ideas more critically and openly and generously, but this is politically dangerous for the neoliberal parties.
III. The cartoonists and reporters killed earlier cannot speak now, obviously. The voicelessness of death never dies. It lives on in martyrdom. We thus create Western martyrs, ventriloquizing with their corpses. Sadly, the victims themselves are appropriated. The dead suddenly appear solemn. They are actually being used as blunt tools against dissenting thought and radical ideas. The morbid fascination with the dead falsely assures the living that life isn’t meaningless. But ironically, it has been Charlie Hebdo and many more who have been complicit with precisely such a cheapening of life. The response pathetically shows exactly how we live in such terrible times; in societies of alienation. I would post the images of the covers, but it is not worth it to continue giving them more views.
To work in collective and common ways against alienation requires critical thought and analysis. But huge forces exist to force closure, such as #JeSuisCharlieHebdo. The massive public spectacles in plazas are smoothly incorporated into these forces.
To make matters worse, our Western governments and corporations have operated in the spaces of totalitarianism: they’ve spied, bombed, tortured, and killed in (semi-)secrecy.
What can be said or done to counter the outpouring of craven solidarity with nothing but an abstract notion of “free speech”? This outpouring insults real people who have differences and needs, but seek to live together. It also closes down a discussion that builds on a true public knowledge, exposing all that is done in our names. #JeSuisCharlieHebdo is patently antithetical to collective and common life, alienating entire groups of people who never saw their lives represented in this rag. And it is therefore contradictory to abdicate power, as happens at these moments, to the states which have proven time and again to be incapable of facilitating this shared life.
Pete Brook recently posted a report about a prison experiment in Oregon where inmates in solitary confinement are exposed to images from National Geographic in a space called “The Blue Room.” The experiment seeks to “calm the IMU’s prisoners and make its tiers safer for corrections officers,” according to another report in The Oregonian.
Let’s just pause and consider what is happening here. Let’s consider the carceral logic and policies from which the Blue Room has emerged.
The state has decided to isolate prisoners in bare cells, with only artificial light, in a state of near total sensory deprivation, for 23 in every 24 hours. Let’s not speculate why prisoners are isolated; I’m less interested in what behaviours land a prisoner in the harshest custody conditions, and more interested in if and how those custody conditions improve or exacerbate existing problems and/or create new problems.
There’s so much to take away and digest here, I’m not even sure where to start, and haven’t been able to approach it dispassionately. The images that Beth Nakamura presents are intriguing in their own right. There’s something eerie about an experiment that promises soothing scenes of nature, but instead has the clinical feel of the most dreary classroom and its myriad projector glitches (channeling some Foucault here). But I’m more troubled by the experiment itself and the role of academics. The person who came up with the idea (of course, there are many precedents, as Brook points out, of penal management tests) is a biologist called Nalini Nadkarni at the University of Utah. Maybe the best is to begin with a list:
• Velocity: From (what else?) a TED talk to inside solitary, i.e. the startling fact that an experimental hypothesis that can have serious repercussions makes its way from TED talk to corrections officers, bypassing all manner of serious academic debates on the ethics of this test.
• Sedatives: Why is it necessary to sedate prisoners with images? Is the core issue here the danger the prisoners pose to themselves, or is to about the penal guards, and why is it the academic’s role to protect the carceral system above all? Allegedly, the images prevent self-harm, but it is unavoidable to bring up the issue of who manages life in all of this bleak scenario. Does the inmate have any agency over how and where to live or not live? One might ask how this relates to force-feedings at military prisons, a practice that is considered to be torture by almost everyone except the US military. If imposing food on hunger strikers is torture, then what light does that shed on this experiment?
• Time: How do academics spend and justify their time to themselves and their peers? One might sympathize with the biologist’s impulse to mitigate the harm of solitary confinement (another form of torture), but unfortunately the time spent developing a visual palliative is also time that becomes instrumentalized by the carceral system to extend, justify, prolong, and cement the administrative practices of solitary confinement. (And it is also time NOT spent on dismantling prisons). Examine the writing of the Oregonian’s reporter, Bryan Denson, and it is clear that the very act of investing time in developing a sedative technology (be it a pharmaceutical or an image montage) is time that underscores the notion of the inmate’s “incorrigibility,” thus implicitly justifying the unjustifiable practice of solitary confinement.
• Authorship: Who takes images of nature and for what? How do images go from National Geographic’s possession and become part of the carceral system? Did the photographers consent to this usage? (I’m reminded of bands who object to the use of their music in war). [N.B.: says Brook: “Nadkarni, along with National Geographic documentary-maker Tierney Thys sourced nature videos. Many came from the NatGeo archives: Big Sur, New Zealand, Costa Rica, mountains, rivers, forest, tropical beaches, underwater reefs, roaring fires and a couple dozen other videos.”]
• Media architectures: A lot has been said in the recent years about a campaign to ask architects to boycott the design of the worst forms of incarceration — namely execution chambers, solitary confinement, and supermax. The campaign against prison architecture is noble, but unfortunately too few people in architecture take it seriously. When it does get discussed in public or in print, it is often a way to bring “both sides” —the carceral designers and the boycotters— into a visible debate. I’ve had a lot of issues with this “both sides” framing because the result is a version of titillation viewing, i.e. a “serious” version of Montel Williams that entertains but ultimately gives legitimacy to torturers. What the Blue Room begins to suggest is that audiovisual projected media is now also becoming a part of that same architecture business of incarceration, with many of the same overlaps of making incarceration more “humane”. Perhaps one way to approach The Blue Room is through the platform of the prison boycott and relate the usage of images back to many more forms of architectural and spatial control that perpetuate torture.
• Death: Someone sent me a clip from Soylent Green that bears disturbing similarities to the Blue Room,
Presumably the message with Soylent Green is that making solitary (somehow) less cruel is merely a way to extend the pace and temporality of death itself inside prison, or in the words of this friend, “euthanasia theatre lite.”
I’ll leave it at that for now…
As a former faculty who was a part of working w/ the SEIU, I am jotting a quick note to voice a few concerns I have wrt emails bouncing around from the admin and some adjucts at the California College of the Arts.
1. When the president and the provost take a position of “wait and see” and “not yet” about the SEIU vote, they are meddling in a decision that is none of their business, and their meddling is a sign of disregard toward faculty. They might adopt a cautiously neutral tone, or not directly endorse those positions (just put them out there as “ideas”), but their position is not neutral.
Union representation is not and never would be in their interest. We form unions precisely because of *our* interests, not theirs and the trustees’. Don’t ask them what they think.
2. The admin will bring attention to meager improvements or to how slightly better CCA is over other schools. Great! All that and more. Is a couple hundred bucks enough to appease you when the president makes about half a million? The point of being unionized is to have bargaining rights and better teaching conditions (ultimately, indeed, a better environment for students). They might make it sound like they can do everything unionization promises w/o actually having a union, but they can’t give you collective rights. You create those outside of the admin.
3. Do you think the union is brusque or aggressive? Have you ever met the labor attorneys your bosses hire? IOW, *any* union… AFT, UAW, etc will be tough if they have managed to survive this far. Don’t expect a cocktail hour at the bargaining table.
4. Again, as I have written elsewhere, the SEIU is an establishment union; it is actually quite mainstream and conciliatory with business, at the end of the day. *They donate $$ to the Democrats, after all!* If you are going to vote against the SEIU, do it in order to form something *better* than SEIU, not worse. Are you prepared to volunteer to form a more radical, independent union (amongst dispersed adjuncts)? If you are not committed to work for something more radical, then I humbly urge you to stick with the SEIU.
5. Admin and faculty senators are fond of pointing out that the SEIU represents janitors. This is a classist discourse. What difference does it make? I respect janitorial staff enormously and janitors have worked tirelessly for their rights. I’d be proud to be in a union w/ them.
6. There is also a common refrain that the SEIU is not experienced with academia. But what gets negotiated in a contract rides on the faculty which the faculty body elects as part of the negotiation team. The union can also get high on its power — if faculty sit back and let them run the show.
7. Words like “collegial” and “open” will also be deployed like stealth weapons to dissuade faculty from acting to demand their rights.
8. Admin will be against unions because they are worried that all their workers will follow. The security guards, the bus drivers, the janitors, the computer staff, and so on. Let them worry and fret and deliberate on *their own time* and not meddle with *your rights* to unionize. Also…Stop letting the admin waste your unpaid time on meetings that have zero decision-making power riding on them.
9. Artists and art workers have a long history of labor insurgency. The great work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles is a testament to this, not to mention her affinity with the workers who do the unwanted, messy maintenance work of garbage and cleaning. (This is something I learned from teaching with David Gissen in the lecture halls of CCA). It’s frankly time to reclaim that history and this connection to the struggles against structural oppression. Neither yes or no is a clear path to retaking that fight. Faculty have many more oppositional and creative tools at their disposal than what admin or union bosses would have them think. All paths lead to more struggle and more work. But my plea here –as someone who started going to meetings with the SEIU back in January (we’ve had plenty of time, btw)– is to make the decision based on organizing and on engaging deeper with that struggle, rather than on the reasons espoused by the voices for “civility” and milquetoast “cooperation” and “collegiality.” If it were my vote, I’d vote yes.