Psycho-Climate Communique #1

Beak Street, London, England: 11th June 2013 and two camps cut the capital in two. The heavy black figures,clad in stab-proof vests, weighed down by shining tools of their trade, some seemingly bioluminescent bodies reflecting the dull city lights, form soft, permeable walls of flesh and industrial fibres. Across the tarmac expanse, its broken and uneven surface silent in the summer heat, the masked and black hooded figures of the gathered protesters; their black outfits mirroring their enemy but their bodies more languid and faces more tense, raising an obsidian flag, slashed in half by a diagonal block of fresh blood red. The clash of the police and the protesters at the Carnival Against Capitalism played itself out dramatically: a man seemingly attempting to jump from a roof (or is he fleeing his pursuers?), his body crumpled and crushed beneath the care and security of those of the Met; reports of the laissez-faire use of tasers and rapid Twitter denials; the usual, almost boring when it splashes lurid across the evening news (packaged in easy to digest narratives, troubling no passive constitutions); the press release announcing the number of arrests read out over images of property destruction and hooligans with strange, hyperbolic demands. Days later, the echoes of violence still ringing like some brutal tinnitus, the new logic of urban policing and its attendant open secrets still reverberate in my ears. Again, I see the city of my self-imposed exile convulse with the spectacular rituals of struggle and the accelerated militarisation of the City that forms a central node in the cold global network of finance.

Such scenes are nothing new: we are so exposed to images of protest and police brutality that it is easy to forget that we are not watching some endless dystopian film. The anger as we watch the stream and read the first hand reports is somehow ambivalent- almost as much an automatism as the algorithms of digital trade. It isn’t that the anger isn’t genuine or real but it feels like a cold mathematical rage; almost like that of a cortisol come down, my own anger traces a familiar affective circuit that ingrains itself so deeply into my neurology that it functions almost autonomic. Today, anger and the anxiety that follows it have become affective default settings.

What is new is the level and openness of the police response to a completely legitimate form of democratic protest. As the protesters, assembled anarchists, Marxists and the generally fucked off, opened up a cleavages in the management of public space, and as they disrupted the becalmed tranquillity of the social, those hired hands of the state and of capitalism, the perverse henchmen of Capital (remunerated for protecting the mechanisms of their own exploitation), stepped into perform a sudden, brutal, and unanaesthetised surgery in order to close the wounds in consensuality. What is opened must be shut down; what ever operates without permission must be made permissive; and in the ritualised forms that these clashes take, boredom is a dangerous mood.

Ordinarily the police must justify themselves. Ordinarily, the police respond to a crime. Ordinarily, they must wait for civil disorder before operating as active guardians of that order. On June 11, this logic was abandoned. Riot police are not a new phenomena in London’s streets. What was new was the pre-ordering of London’s iconic red double deckers, a symbol of jolly old London, of tea and scones or the good ol’ Eastender of the BBC and Sherlock Holmes, in order to have bulk mobile containers for those they expected to arrest. Before confrontation the confrontation had already taken place: resistance had been modelled, planned for and effectively co-opted before booted feet had touched the asphalt and the gum-encrusted paving stones.Of course, the precedent of the militarisation of the City was set long ago when, as a response to terror threats, we suddenly saw armed police roaming the Embassy areas, the airports, and now routinely see tasers throughout the UK; the Olympic Games, managed by G4S, were a paramount exercise in the new society of control that functions through a military operating system. Now, protest is treated as anti-social behaviour or terror

What I find most disturbing about this is the way in which it symbolises the wedding of two form of rationality. The site of London buses used to carve up space and to house arrestees is not just a chilling perversion of a brand image, although that is frightening enough when we consider the lack of response to this (as if the public transport network and its materials were obviously always already technologies of repression). More than this, what disturbs me is the way in which the police response, obviously directed by a higher authority, establishes the total normalisation the social as a military space- wherein any contestation, any democratic expression, any identification of wrong, is a priori an act of sedition that the “public” is happy to see put down. Even more than this, it is the marriage of the logic of the pre-emptive strike with the logistical reason of Auschwitz. Let me be clear, I don’t mean that on the existential, political or social registers that the police response to the Carnival Against Capitalism was in any way on the scale   of the Holocaust: what I mean is, that the image of the buses and the rationality that conducted such a scheme clearly resonates with those of the Eichmann run train lines. And all this is taken as normal.

I have read reports that suggest this kind of police action is a response to previous unrest like the London riots of 2011: a vast libidinal discharge that set sections of the city ablaze in a genuine eruption of rage that was no less exhilarating than it was terrifying. What is the new psychology that is taking shape in a city like London and all those other city’s like it across the world? What new psychic co-ordinates are coming into focus after the utter brutality of the Turkish government’s reaction to Occupy Gezi? Is this the emergence of the militarisation of the protester’s consciousness? Surely, given that even those equipped with a theory of class struggle and biopolitical power can’t immunise themselves from the world that they describe. If the city is being militarised then so to are the consciousnesses and bodies that inhabit and are inhabited by it. But in truth, this is merely the city sloughing off its new clothes as cultural centres of commodity exchange. The earliest cities were enclosed by walls and protected by turrets: we might be seeing the return of these siege cities and of siege subjectivities. To speak the language of psychiatry, the city of London is displaying more and more of the signs of a paranoid delusional disorder. Exodus, for the majority, is neither desirable nor affordable. This is an endogenous siege that recalls the schizo-urbanism of China Meiville’s The City and The City: and when the two cities begin to bleed into one another in that novel, the only evidence is a corpse.

6 responses to “Psycho-Climate Communique #1

  1. “Ordinarily the police must justify themselves. Ordinarily, the police respond to a crime. Ordinarily, they must wait for civil disorder before operating as active guardians of that order. On June 11, this logic was abandoned.”

    Yea, feels a lot like we’ve entered the twilight zone of Germany circa 1920 or so… dang if fascism doesn’t rear its beastly head over and over…

    • “Basically, fascism was associated with the economic and political unification of Capital, a tendency which has become general since 1914. Fascism was a particular way of realizing this goal in certain countries – Italy and Germany – where the State proved itself incapable of establishing order (as it is understood by the bourgeoisie), even though the revolution had been crushed. Fascism has the following characteristics: 1) it is born in the street; 2) it stirs up disorder while preaching order; 3) it is a movement of obsolete middle classes ending in their more or less violent destruction; and 4) it regenerates from outside the traditional State which is incapable of resolving the capitalist crisis”.- Jean Barrot [aka Giles Dauve].

      Certainly, our time meets these conditions.

  2. Great post Arran. Thank you for this. I’m going to read again and comment more when I get a chance.

    Noir, the problem with ‘fascism’ is that the utility of power is universal. Those who have the means use it to perpetuate the order of things that benefit them most. Simple as that. Guns, police, armies are effective and so they persist. This is the logic of power. If it works (at least initially) it continues. As long as we allow/legitimize fellow citizens (cops) to use violence against us to protect the interests of state-sponsored elite we remain sheep and they wolves.

    This, incidentally, is what attracts a materialist like Nick Land to neo-fascism. Power as intensive force operates below (but also at) the level of ideology. All posturing aside what matters is how stuff works on other stuff: structuring affects and effects. The machinic ‘logic’ of power shows how flesh can be operated on and configured/disfigured in so many different ways – most directly via violence, and more subtly through a pulsating or droning attack on our nervous systems via media and such, crippling our ability to generate rational cognitions, make sapient choices and express prosocial behaviors.

    The dynamics or ecologicality of machinic power must be understood and accepted prior to politics of egos and phastastical imaging if we are to become more intelligent in shaping how matter-energy and biotic and technic life evolves.

  3. Yep, fascism has its fair share of disciplinary procedures. More importantly though, and this is a crucial aspect of fascism, is the presence of extreme racism. Violence and traumatisation are visited primarily upon the object of the racist function. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that in the UK (I won’t speak to situations I don’t know as well) capitalist media and political discourse has become thoroughly racist. This violence is also double, even without considering much of the economic violence that is now irradiating everyone but the plutocratic class: first, there is the scapegoating of the racial other and then there is the internalisation of that scapegoating in the operations of power. Of course, this is all to be expected- it’s no news to say that the state requires an Enemy to work. So here we have the image of a colonisation from without but also a colonisation from within: the protesters who protect democracy and seek to go beyond capitalism are no good dirty traitors. I would image in a lot of people’s eyes the racial othering is applicable to these protestors: “they’re all the same”.

    In the UK we have a resurgent racist popular right- on the streets (EDL) and in the mainstream (UKIP leader Nigel Farage recently won some by-elections and is on the premier political programme Question Time tonight, joining the ranks of BNP leader Nick Griffin). We’ve had recent racial assaults against Muslims (I am thinking esp. of the stabbing of a 83 year old baker) and attacks of Mosques. It is at times like this that I wonder whether protecting liberal democracy isn’t the wrong tack as it is liberal democracy that is capturing and marshalling these sentiments; and of course, it was a democractic regime that allowed National Socialism to flourish. People are afraid of their economic position, afraid of their housing situation, afraid of images of people being beheaded (as happened in south London a few months ago), and there are those who present them with the easy choices: stick with your rage! You’re angry at the Muslim- well, there is no time to think about it, there is no need to think (!) about it: just trust your rage… a rage that will be fanned.

    Is it possible to speak of a just rage and an unjust one? I don’t think so. We have to be more careful, those of us on the left, those who would be anti-fascists. Seneca said that an soldier that is overcome with rage is unable to fight. So another question: do we require another kind of discipline? A discipline against power.

  4. My only problem with Sloterdijk is that like most philosophers he sees the void, but skims over it. The real world is run by a bunch of Machiavellians who seem more bent on attaining every last shred of resources on this planet, and they’ll do everything in their power to attain that end even if that means using subterfuge, ideological myths, mystification, are any and all possible forms of political persuasion, or the force of arms, to accomplish that task. China, Europe, Asia, the U.S. etc. are all at war in one form or another even now. More and more civil-war is breaking out in the streets of every major nation. Peter Sloterdijk in his Rage and Time sees the dark alliance in the East and West of Nietzsche’s sense of the spirit of resentment at the heart of our last two hundred years: the key being the search for collective justice in an unjust world. Whether through the Christian dogmas of the Right or the Atheist dogmas of the Left. As he states it:

    “It is because of their efforts that the highly unlikely phenomenon of “criticism” came into existence in Western civilization-insofar as we understand “criticism” to mean the spirit that has been fueled by ingenious resentment of submission to mere facts, in particular facts of injustice.” Our heritage in Kantian ‘critique’ spurs the very energy of rage within both camps he seems to say. An axiom he would nail on the post of every nation:

    “…under conditions of globalization no politics of balancing suffering on the large scale is possible that is built on holding past injustices against someone, no matter if it is codified by redemptive, social-messianic, or democratic-messianic ideologies.” In other words the idea of holding some person, group, or collective responsible for all our troubles, and requiring some grand tribunal to wreak justice in a dramatic way (i.e., Nuremberg, etc.) only stews the resentments deeper forcing affects into the bottomless abyss where sooner are later they will emerge like a many headed hydra to wreak havoc across the whole planet.

    “Great politics proceeds only by balancing acts. To stay in balance means not evading any necessary fights and not provoking unnecessary ones. It also means not giving up on the course of the world with its entropic processes, primarily the destruction of the environment and the demoralization of human relationships. Part of this means learning to see oneself always through the eyes of others.”

    Peter Sloterdijk. Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation (p. 229).

    He sounds more like some old moral crackpot in that last paragraph, as if the pragmatic world of politics could be balanced through legislation and learning. As he says: “Time is required to solve these tasks-but not the historical time of the epic and tragedy. Essential time needs to be determined as the time of civilizational learning. Those who only want to make “history” remain below this definition.”

    Civilizational learning? War? Globalization? So now we have a new Paideia? Some master plan or strategy, some program to teach the world? Is this a reversion to the oldest tactic in the world: the making of a new ideological creed? What else is there but “history”? Utopia? Some third realm beyond the halls of struggle? In a multipolar world who becomes the teacher of civilization?

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