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I have thought long and hard whether I should tweet about politics here, because nothing good ever seems to come out of it. But since I have friends who may care, here it goes.

Protests and the space launch, a thread.

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I am not going to talk directly about the US protests. Instead, I will briefly note the role of the State in them, both as cause—promoting institutional racism—and as a continuing instigator. But aren't the protests for justice, which supposedly needs to come from the State?

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But the government is clearly not interested in justice. So we have on one side the people, on the other side the State. But it didn't have to be this way by definition: it's _this_ particular state that's the problem. And this makes me think of Peter Thiel.

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Peter Thiel has said, in no uncertain terms, that he does not believe in democracy and ultimately wants the destruction of any form of State. That's what he went up on stage in the elections for. That's what the alt-right stands for. This is not a crisis, this is an ongoing plan.

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Historians will look at this as a multi-decade process, with the early 1980s under Reagan and Thatcher as the first inflection point, and the last few years with the alt-right, Trump and Brexit as the second one.

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The first stage, neoliberalism, was about crippling the state in order to declare it inefficient and privatize it. In the 90s in particular this was sped up in practice and played down in discourse, but early on this was the stated goal:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starve_t

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Now at the second stage, it is no longer about crippling government institutions. It is about crippling the concept of government itself: get the incompetent to power, so that the supposed flaws of the democratic model become evident. Then offer something else.

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Of course, the trickery there is that invariably the incompetent were led to power in various places by apparently legal but effectively criminal means: mass propaganda done in breach of campaign funding laws, voter supression, buying congress.

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So now we're at the stage where there's a useful minority of radicalized fascists ensuring we get the worst possible government, and a mass of average people whose heroes are billionaires, ranging from your monopolist-turned-philantropist to your tweeting-techbro bigot.

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It may seem contradictory that the forces that are ultimately destroying the notion of nation-state ostensibly employ the discourse of nationalism. But if you pay attention, they are priming their base on adapting to the upcoming state of things.

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This pandemic is the first time in history when we see a national crisis being addressed by the government by giving a press release and giving names of _companies_ who are going to be doing this and that to deal with the issue. This was very, very startling to see.

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The notion that is up for companies and not the state to organize society is being normalized. America is at the forefront of this process, and has been for a long time. Other places still have things like functioning health and educational systems, but the pressure exists.

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In that sense, the landmark space launch — once a matter of national pride, now privatized into another triumph of business over country — led by Thiel's associate Musk, is not at all disconnected from the ongoing events. They are deeply, closely connected.

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Thiel's company Palantir — named after the all-seeing eye in LOTR, another techbro favorite — provides machinery for mass surveillance in the the US. The surveillance people worldwide are under is already managed by a private company.

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When you think of Russia and its oligarchs, or the growing number of billionaires in China's parliament — why lobby the middleman, just buy a Congress seat for yourself — we see that the increasingly direct control of superpowers by businessmen is not a US-only phenomenon.

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It might be that the façade of a state will stick around for long, as a useful device as people cling to their flags and anthems, but I feel the foundations of the modern nation-state slowly crumble into dust under my feet, and I do not like what's taking its place.

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Zygmunt Bauman saw it back in the 1990s: in a world of companies, we're no longer citizens, only consumers. And the rippling effects of this are much worse than they initially sound, but this is a conversation for another time.

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(just saw this passing through the timeline, too good of an illustration to pass)

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@hisham_hm

Provoking thoughts indeed, but (without being a sinologist) I think China doesn't follow the same path...
It's a very old state (the older in the world I think?) that aspires to its former glory, and AFAIK the billionaires do not control much there, the state is developing a symbiotic relation with them, which is different.

@LienRag Agree, the story in every place is different. But the very fact that we're talking about a class of billionaire industrialists there who are moving ever closer to direct power as part of the CCP seems to me indicative of the general trend, adapted to the local flavor.

@LienRag After all, different places also had their own different versions of the ages of feudalism and kingdoms. But the similarities were also there. It might be that different places develop vaguely similar systems of power and oppression according to the technology of the era.

@hisham_hm

There's an important article from Paul Pascon on how using "feudalism" to describe North Africa is a historical mistake that prevents from being able to make good sociological or political analysis of these societies.

Also Jean-François Bayart works on historicity of the state, though it permeates through his work, there's no book of him that adresses the concept in itself. I love his work on countries I know or topics I'm interested in, I don't know if you'd find his books of interest to you.

@LienRag I was thinking not about North Africa but China itself, which to the best of my super-limited knowledge did have feudal-like periods, no?

I hope you're right and we're having different trajectories in the world! That is a source of hope.

I'm not familiar with this author, thanks for the pointer, I'll look him up!

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@hisham_hm

I think I still disagre about that, but I'm not a sinologist so I can't really prove my point. My opinion is that China, on this topic, is on a different trajectory.

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