Maybe in the early days of blogging the medium seemed poised to open new dimensions of creative expression, where all sorts of people could express anything from themselves to other stuff. In reality, human creativity is rarely marketable as such beyond the scope of individuals and small groups. It probably has to do with being a human myself, but from the proverbial birds-eye view people and their actions look less like unique liberated snowflakes and more like snow.
Now we know there is a finite number of genres available to the entry level blogger. What is less often acknowledged is that just like corporate news, each of these genres carry with them their own structural logic of representation, which manifests as their own built-in ‘slant.’
To stay objective, we’ll avoid immediate issues (like health care) and pick some old news. Here‘s a topical AP piece from last month:
UNITED NATIONS — Out of genocides past and Africa’s tumult a controversial but seldom-used diplomatic tool is emerging: The concept that the world has a “responsibility to protect” civilians against their own brutal governments.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pushed Tuesday for more intervention for the sake of protection.
“The question before us is not whether, but how,” Ban told the assembly, recalling two visits since 2006 to Kigali, Rwanda. The genocide memorial he saw there marks 100 days of horror in which more than half a million members of the Tutsi ethnic minority and moderates from the Hutu majority were slaughtered.
“It is high time to turn the promise of the ‘responsibility to protect’ into practice,” Ban said.
How does the blogosphere respond? I limit myself to blogs of the ‘left-of-center’ persuasion — whatever differences in ideology they may have are also differences in style. That, at least, is my working hypothesis.
Unhappy Monday links:
– Think we’re out of the recession? Doug Henwood says think again.
– ‘Expert warns against advent of ‘Terminator’-style military robots.’ If you’re unemployed, don’t sell your Playstation — there may be hope for you yet:
The US currently has 200 Predators and 30 Reapers and next year alone will be spending US$5.5bn (€3.84bn) on unmanned combat vehicles.
At present these weapons are still operated remotely by humans sitting in front of computer screens. RAF pilots on secondment were among the more experienced controllers used by the US military, while others only had six weeks training, said Prof Sharkey. “If you’re good at computer games, you’re in,” he added.
Ender’s Game, here we come.
– In foreign policy news, the “responsibility to protect” doctrine has been getting more and more airtime. According to President Obama, there are “exceptional circumstances in which I think the need for international intervention becomes a moral imperative, the most obvious example being in a situation like Rwanda where genocide has occurred.”
As an on-again off-again pacifist, I’m deeply skeptical about any use of military force (particularly U.S.-led), but must confess not knowing nearly enough about the situation in Rwanda to make a sound judgment on that score.
– To compensate for your worries of U.N.-backed robot takeover, say hello to TOFU, “the ponderously eyebrowed robot fuzz owl with OLED eyes and some seriously rhythmic body jams.” Via (who else?) BoingBoing Gadgets.
I know we tend to stick to domestic politics around here, but if the Afghanistan/Iraq debacles have taught us anything, it’s that in this country we can’t afford to treat foreign and domestic policy as completely separate issues. The corporate media try to make it easy by chronically underreporting anything they can get away with, but this conditioned state of ignorance is unsustainable. The state of one affects the state of the other.
In the field of international relations, the issues of sovereignty and the right of other nations to intervene is a highly vexed issue. How do we legitimate ‘good’ uses of force, like Kosovo and Haiti, while preventing ‘bad’ ones, like Iraq? How do we reliably prevent acts of genocide, as in Rwanda or (arguably) Darfur, without risking the misuse of the same rhetoric for neo-imperialist purposes?
An increasingly important potential solution is emerging, known as ‘responsibility to protect,’ or R2P.
[here follow about 1,500 words of analysis of policy documents with links to the original pdfs)
In conclusion, a renewed liberal international order is our only hope. There is a real difference between a liberal, internationalist hegemony and an imperial, nationalist one; in fact it’s all the difference in the world. And we have the power to push our nation’s policy and culture toward the one and away from the other. Not just the power, I would argue, but the duty: religious fundamentalism and the Bush White House’s excessive response to it have shown us that universalism without tolerance is a recipe for global catastrophe.
I know I can’t speak for all of you on this one. It’s something that as liberals we need to discuss, and I urge you to get the ball rolling in the comments below. Keep it respectful, y’all.
The professional ‘expert’ as editorialist — or someone who blogs under the assumption that their (usually well-respected) professional specialty gives them unique insight into events that often have little or nothing to do with that specialty:
…in my book, Twitsturbation Nation: How the Internet Generates Community, I made the argument that traditionalist notions of autocratic sovereignty would be the first major casualty of the Internet’s production of society from below, one narcissistic avatar at a time. Today, even the biggest figures in international leadership are keenly aware that Web access is changing the way politics works at all levels, from policy to advocacy, from elections to revolution. “You cannot have Rwanda again,” Gordon Brown said last month, “because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken. Foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites.”
I don’t say this simply to brag about my foresight, but to make an important point about how attitudes change. Not long ago, the U.N. held a conference on the ‘responsibility to protect,’ a new doctrine that would set new standards for humanitarian intervention. In the past, even to attempt such a thing would have been immediately (and wrongheadedly) denounced as ‘imperialism’ by most liberals, and, post-Somalia, as sheer folly by realists. But we live in a different age. Life on the Internet is changing the way we think about the responsibility we have to one another, regardless of race, nationality, gender, or religious differences. How else could a stolen election in Iran generate such spontaneous support among the youth of its national enemy, the U.S.? It’s true that many suffering people don’t have access to the Internet, much less platforms like Twitter. But our imaginations have expanded to include them, and aid programs are not far behind. If this talk of responsibility sounds terribly old-fashioned, perhaps one should draw comfort from another ancient adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The ‘literary’ editorialist — or the blogger who, motivated by a frustrated ambition to be a novelist (successful novelists don’t have time for ‘real’ blogging, see below), attempts a form of online commentary that is literature in its own right :
“May you live in interesting times.” So goes the ancient Chinese proverb which is not a blessing, but a curse. And yet, even after the amused Western reader recognizes this, that ‘interesting’ retains its double edge. For we must admit that most suffering is not interesting whatsoever, even to the sufferers themselves. Suffering is common. Suffering is boring.
So it is almost surprising to the typical U.S.-ian solipsist (yours truly) to read about occasions like this, when serious policy thinkers debate in serious policy language the future of ‘humanitarian intervention,’ justifying the refocusing of the war machine with shocked, shocked descriptions of brutal, nay, genocidal violence still going on in darkest Africa. As if its persistence were in violation of some cosmic ordinance and not just the willfully impoverished cant of Empire, the Beast that rapes the already pillaged; as if the history of suffering had not already been printed in history books, academic journals, even (cough!) newspapers.
Though this is perhaps not so surprising: because politics is boring too.
And I, I struggle once again for inspiration, and the nerve (the blessed, unholy nerve) to write once again the already written.
Another day, another insult to sanity:
[Ban Ki-Moon] advised limiting U.N. action under the ‘responsibility to protect’ concept to safeguarding civilians against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. He acknowledged the possibility of some nations “misusing these principles” as excuses to intervene unnecessarily, but said the challenge before the U.N. is to show that “sovereignty and responsibility are mutually reinforcing principles.”
This is the same old messianic language of imperial violence, rephrased to appeal to latte-sipping Hardt-Negrian shills. All states are on the verge of ‘failure,’ and can only be evaluated by external criteria. Never mind the totally negligible and contingent fact that some states are ‘too big to fail.’ People are suffering, dammit!
Far from a universal degradation of sovereignty, what this amounts to is the invisible justification of a few ueber-powerful states, based on two mutually defining concepts of ‘failure.’ Under this proposed division of governmental labor, a country like the U.S. has a ‘responsibility’ (entirely unrelated to its ‘excesses’) to ‘supply’ military force to nations that, whether because sanctioned by the U.S. or on the wrong end of the international ‘free’ market, are unable or unwilling to prevent human rights abuses. ‘Success’ means either a) all nations magically achieve the status of liberal capitalist states with their militaries outsourced to the U.S./U.N. or b) the U.S./U.N. ‘intervenes’ and punishes the evildoers.
I’d go into more depth, but Lenin’s Tomb has beaten me to the punch — make sure you check out these two typically awesome and well-researched posts.
One last thing: good to see folks getting disillusioned with Obama’s domestic politics, but his ideological misreading of Rwanda and tacit support for ‘R2P’ once again reinforces the obvious: that he’s just as firm a supporter of imperialist intervention as Bush, despite his pragmatic reservations.
Let’s keep fighting, y’all.
The Critical Theorist:
The following video clip illustrates a salient point I want to make about ‘the call’ to humanitarian intervention (periodically resurrected in mainstream political discourse despite frequent criticisms; for an example see the increasing popularity in policy circles of the odious ‘new’ doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’) as a standard ideological gesture, in Jameson’s terminology an ideologeme, “the smallest intelligible unit of the essentially antagonistic collective discourses of social classes.”
The sublime moment comes when we are told that “This is Reality” precisely because “We Have The Power To Change It.” The shift involved is purely anamorphotic, a shift internal to our own perspective: we cease to be the moral subject negatively threatened with a loss of reality in relation to the significance of its categorical claims and become this subject of transformative Power in relation to this (subsequent) representation of (the True) Reality alongside essentially Sublime objects. But this sudden shift in the phenomenological value of the image content becomes one of utopian positivity when and since it prominently features an anonymous, well-funded team of caring ‘peace core types.’ To follow Zizek’s reading of ideologically sublime objects, the paradox is hence that “pure difference” between the form of our moral subjectivity with its impossible categorical mandates and the real conditions of objective violence which underlie it as revealed by the ad’s negative perception, become the point of their greatest Truth, of their sublime Identity with ‘Reality’ through the supplement-object as the representation of the other ‘subject supposed to care.’ The starving African children become the Real of moral tragedy not because of the descriptive content their images are supposed to represent (that they are in fact in Africa which is in fact plagued by readily observable and structurally necessary economic and political instability) but precisely because they signify the point at which our categorical moral claims become meaningless, because Africa is the place in which ‘inalienable human rights’ become inapplicable in the face of the objective historical necessity of incomplete ‘development,’ and the ostensibly ‘supplementary’ fiction of the ‘NGOther’ becomes essential.
This is the paradoxical moment of the Kantian sublime, in which “a[n enjoyable] representation arises where we would least expect it” of the Truth beneath our avowed categorical moral claims, at the point of the very impossibility of fully realizing our formal categorical moral subjectivization within the symbolic order. Following Lacan’s famous reading of Kant via Sade, we can say that this reveals the truly Sadean dimension of the Kantian moral law. Just as the Sadean fantasy imposes upon the subject the impossible pathological injunction to enjoy his victim’s sublime body without any regard for the limitations imposed upon it by real mortality, the Kantian categorical moral law is “the Real of an unconditional imperative which takes no regard for the limitations imposed upon us by reality—it is [a formally equivalent] impossible injunction.” Hence the subject is ‘freed’ from burden of its impossible demands through the presentation of this very impossibility, by submitting to the ad’s ‘irrational’ categorical imperative, and thus it only fully assumes this identity in a disavowed, ‘properly distanced’ manner, through the moral object supposed to care, the transcendentally ‘free’ subject of transformative Power whose ‘gear’ begins to fill the screen. In this sense the sublime experience is, following Zizek, strictly one of false inter-activity: as our traumatic kernel of real-life impotence/passivity is transcended by the little other(qua imaginary subject supposed to care)’s enacted desire, our real-life activity becomes structurally equivocal with the enactment of this desire in the gaze of an impersonal, unconsciously assumed big Other.
The act of donation is hence properly a phenomenon of surplus jouissance, literally the enjoyment of sense, of the (material and hence significant) making of sense: ‘joui-sense’ is precisely this sublime experience of a signification who’s meaning is only truly known by the Other object-supplement (its imaginary referent) but is formally assumed by the subject as its ‘efficient’ cause. But from the very beginning of the ad we are already ‘sublimely’ subject to the obscene injunction to enjoy ‘our’ own subjective position precisely as a barred subject, as the contingent content of the enunciation of a categorical ‘You’ that perhaps also enjoys what has now come to be the simulacral myth of Michael Jackson-type innocence: one that survives despite being foreclosed from the formal Law as such. The realized injunction to donate is hence not only a ‘truly sincere’ investiture in the sublime meaning produced, but the assumption of this impossible-real objective presentation as a subjectively necessary condition for this ‘meaning’ to exist as the retroactively attributed Truth to ‘Your’ ‘real’ activity. Is this not the perfect analogue to injunctions of ‘international law’ and their justifications? The point is to realize that both ‘support’ for any given ersatz ‘law’ devised in the interests of global capitalism’s elite oligarchs and individual donations to humanitarian NGOs are made effectively real for the subject only by passively making what is, in fact, a ‘purely symbolic’ gesture for the gaze of an assumed big Other, and that the sublime enjoyment we gather from our fundamentally passive ‘participation’ is that of producing a signification of this Other’s desire, of assuming the subjective role of an object-cause for this Other’s active enjoyment.
The hipster editorialist:
Yall. Starting to get annoyed seeing sOO many blogs and ‘articles’ about celebrities trying 2 ‘make a difference’ by applying their personal brands to ‘3rd world shitholes’ (i.e. Hotel Rwanda). I feel like ‘activism’ oriented vaycays have prior brand identity as what MSTRMers and meaningfulcore bros do in college over the summer to ‘find themselves.’ Feels ‘unfair’ for celebrities with private jets to make 10x of a difference in 1 weekend than u and me ever could in our entire lives.
It’s kinda weird how ur supposed to go somewhere where ppl are ‘less fortunate than u’ at some point in ur life. Whether it is Africa, New Orleans, Detroit, or rural Missouri, there are people who are less fortunate than ‘us’ every where. Just want to appreciate my family + personal social networks on the internet more than ever when I see people who are ’suffering’, ‘uneducated’, ‘hungry’, and ‘0% self-aware.’
Sort of feel bad that I dont ‘get’ ‘what the big deal is’ about Africa. Not sure why I’m supposed to care about ‘millions’ of ‘lil negroes’ who don’t add value to my lifestyle/product lines. It’s hard 2 integrate ‘giving a shit about the world’ with my post-chillwave personal brand. But there comes a time when every entity with a ‘public voice’ has to use their voice 4 good. I don’t know what cause I’m going to rally around, but it will probably be something tangible/meaningful in my ‘personal life.’
How bout yall?
Do yall feel like Africa should be ‘first on the agenda’ for 2k10?
Does ‘the West’ (via Barry Obama) have a ‘responsibility 2 protect’ ‘troubled regions’?
Any ideas 4 how 2 spread chill values like ‘human rights’ and access to sweet social networks to places where ‘folks can’t read’ and/or vote?
Should ppl just ‘mind their own damn business’?
The self-promoter – all blogs are fundamentally tools for self-promotion. But some bloggers are of such elite status that they don’t have time for anything else. This status can’t be gained purely through blogging, only by taking advantage of the blog’s effect on one’s career. The struggling novelist publishes with Harper Collins. The professional editorialist begins to appear on TV. Etc. While sometimes difficult to tell apart from the linkblog, the promoter”s slightly higher ratio of self-disclosure (treating the blog literally as an ‘online journal’) is one sign that they are in fact of two distinct species — celebrities and normals. It is at any rate the final stage of evolution for all blogs:
This morning I woke up to this outside my window. Ah, Brazil. How I loathe to leave thee.
– Launch party for the new book next Friday at the Hive. Open bar after my reading. I’ll see you there.
– Interview up at DesignBlog.
– My good friends Ted Brand and Sylvie are performing tonight at the Pinhook. Mp3s available here. I (obviously) can’t make it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Show some love!
– Thanks to Kamau for bringing this link to my attention: some interesting debates going on in the U.N. about international responsibility post-Rwanda. Speaking of which, donate money to this site.