Link to an article by Joshua Sperber:
Link to an article by Joshua Sperber:
Julian Assange has been arrested. See the following articles:
The smears keep piling on, including even multiple comedy bits on Saturday Night Live calling him an “Internet troll” and suggesting that he was stealing passwords and snooping on ordinary people (rather than what he actually did: publish the secret, anti-democratic machinations of the powerful). But even many of Assange’s supporters make numerous distortions.
First (as implied by Pilger, for instance) is to call his situation a roll-back of press freedoms and a new attack on journalism. Aside from the deeply chauvinistic aspect of these claims (which constitute journalists talking about how important journalists are), they present a false history. Specially, they act as if (in the USA), the law protected disclosure of truthful information that government officials wish to keep secret. While this is one possible interpretation of a constitutional provision, it has never been officially adopted or enforced. Hence the prosecution of Assange is not a deviation but consistent with a pattern. What these supporters tend to do, specifically, is distort the Pentagon Papers incident from the 1970s involving Daniel Ellsberg, Beacon Press and the New York Times. The reason Ellsberg, Beacon Press and the New York Times were not ultimately held legally accountable (though there were legal proceedings initiated against each and every one of them) was because then Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record, and legislators are given immunity from prosecution for actions (and statements) on the legislative floor (though Senate rules were subsequently changed to try to prohibit this from happening again). Once the “cat was out of the bag” with Gravel’s actions, the legal cases against the leakers/publishers were dropped or lost — but only because the information was in the public record by that point (judges do not necessarily honestly describe this in their written opinions). There was no grand defense of press freedoms established by the courts though. People who claim otherwise are distorting the historical record and claiming a false victory in order to push a myth about “press freedoms” that obscures the need to actively work to establish those press freedoms for the first time. Yet Glenn Greenwald has carefully explained how the criminal charges against Assange are still different and more expansive than those levied against those associated with the Pentagon Papers publications. Though aside from these judicial niceties, as Jim Kavanagh notes, all this may well have a social impact on the attitudes of journalists.
Second, when Jonathan Cook describes Wikileaks as “a digital platform that for the first time in history gave ordinary people a glimpse into the darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep States” he is only correct is the most semantic sense by saying Wikileaks is “digital”. Really the difference was the speed and volume at which Wikileaks published these things in a “digital” environment. Of course, there was other precedent for ordinary people getting a glimpse into the “darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep State”: the publication of the secret allied treaties in the Bolshevik paper Pravda during WWI. This is still a major reason for anti-Russian sentiment a full century later! Cook not so surprisingly avoids mentioning this because to do so would open the door for suggesting that communist politics present a systemic break from the false universalism of liberal “freedoms”.
Agamben has it right here. He echoes this older sentiment about Assange: “he is not spying on the people for those in power, he is spying on those in power for the people.” (“Assange Works for the People – Now We Need to Save Him”). (See also “Jónasson: The Icelandic Minister Who Refused Cooperation With the FBI”). Notice how the SNL skit claims the exact opposite, blaming Assange for the sort of conduct that Facebook, Alphabet/Google, the NSA, the FBI, and countless other organizations do on a daily basis (which, ironically, Assange has helped expose!)?
Link to an article by Victor Pickard:
Link to an interview with Robert Pfaller:
In this brief interview Pfaller does understate the problem of discrimination, in that even in a situation of complete economic equality, there can be inequalities in terms of access, prestige, or other forms of capital — Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed even has a plot point to this effect where a stupid physicist tries to distort and suppress the work of another in order to maintain and enhance his own prestige and power (even though the two are economically equal). Still, Pfaller’s analysis is remarkably astute for being so direct and easy to understand!
Selected quote: “To the extent that it overturns reactionary narratives and underscores the radical potential of the American past, Chernow’s Grant should be commended as a gain for truth. But his stress on the importance of political rights without discussion of how the market renders those political rights vulnerable (or even futile) is the primary shortcoming of liberal accounts of the Reconstruction era — and of liberal politics today.”
Walter Benn Michaels – The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (Metropolitan Books 2006)
Michael’s 2006 book The Trouble With Diversity landed quite a few jabs at the politics underlying “multiculturalism” and “diversity” initiatives. In short, his argument is that “diversity” is really a cultural project that is fundamentally about depoliticizing economic issues. This project is waged mostly by center-right liberals (who present themselves as the political “left”), but is endorsed in most respects by the reactionary right as well. Michaels’ complaint, therefore, is primarily that diversity initiatives are used to silence the political left, in a era in which the concept of genetic “races” has been scientifically disproved and — let us not forget — in the post-Soviet era of the so-called “end of history” in which the actual political left is supposedly defeated and irrelevant. Michaels took much criticism (and praise too) for this book, which angered what he later came to term the “neoliberal left” — in reference to those who are part of the neoliberal center-right conservative block but don’t realize it (others call them “progressive neoliberals” or the “pseudo-left”).
The book is aimed at a general audience. As such, Michaels mostly argues through analogy and example — Frantz Fanon‘s Black Skin, White Masks is a reasonable reference point. He often explains basic/elementary concepts at length, and moves quickly through the statistics and science that support his major premises. Though his tone is cynical and somewhat condescending, the thing is it is hard to disagree with most of his points. I, for one, was convinced by his argument against reparations. I had long supported reparations, but Michaels has convinced me that reparations are basically reactionary as being mere restitution in a situation where more far-reaching solutions are needed — my only (entirely petty) complaint being that he could have illustrated his point better with reference the seventh season episode of The Simpsons “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish,'” in which artwork stolen during WWII is returned to an arrogant and smug German aristocrat who is completely unsympathetic in the context of restitution.
While Michaels succeeds in destroying the depoliticized strategies of the neoliberals (what others refer to as “university discourse”), critics are right to point out that he doesn’t suggest much in the way of alternatives. At least, his consistently negative tone might be off-putting to some, because he never arrives at a negation of his negation. For those readers, I heartily suggest reading Alain Badiou‘s (with Nicolas Truong) In Praise of Love [Elogie de l’amour]. Badiou explains in more positive terms what a society premised on universalist difference rather than identity would promote.
Another useful supplement (and corrective) to The Trouble With Diversity is Domenico Losurdo‘s Liberalism: A Counter-History, and its companion volume War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century (and perhaps Giorgio Agamben‘s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life). While Michaels essentially argues that liberals are hypocritical, Losurdo elaborates on this point further, concluding that Liberalism has always been a politics of exclusion. Liberals (including the currently hegemonic neoliberal order) simply engage in tactical debates over where the line of exclusion is drawn. Michaels and Losurdo seem to be in agreement, but Losurdo’s highly academic book naturally offers a much deeper and theoretical argument than is in found in Michaels’ mass-market book.
Michaels has actually given some interesting interviews since the book was first published that are well worth reading. They include “Walter Benn Michaels on How Liberals Still Love Diversity and Ignore Inequality” and “Let Them Eat Diversity.” He has responded to his critics and stood his ground. Adolph Reed, Jr. has helped Michaels carry these sorts of arguments too, and Reed’s various writings and interviews are also worth investigating for the curious.
My only lasting complaint about Michaels’ book is that his politics seem confused. He describes himself as a socialist, yet he explicitly makes the effort to state his disagreement with some very foundational principles of the “communism hypothesis”, like equality of outcome (as in “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”). In a way, he may claim to be a socialist critiquing neoliberalism from outside it, but he still seems to occasionally rely on liberalism to make his arguments. If the book spent more time explaining better alternatives to neoliberal “diversity” initiatives perhaps this confusion could have been resolved. He also takes a very reductionist view of “class”, giving short shrift to theories about social hierarchies that take into account multiple forms of “capital”, like those of Pierre Bourdieu.
I do wish Michaels would write a sequel book, taking on things like “implicit bias” and other tactics of neoliberalism to individualize the structural/institutional problems of exploitation and reinforce market-based frameworks in the corporate world, the judicial system, and elsewhere. Though perhaps someone else has already written that book. Even though The Trouble With Diversity was published more than a decade ago, it seems as relevant as ever — many have noted how Michaels’ argument explains much about the rise of Donald Trump as a politician and the mass support for a social democratic opposition candidate like Bernie Sanders in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
Selected links to materials critiquing the morally dubious and exploitative nature of the business models of “online” software companies from places like Silicon Valley, as well as a few relevant quotes. While the latest buzz in the mass media is about privacy, that is really only one relatively small part of a larger set of issues about exploitative conduct.
“Facebook’s Latest Data Breach Reveals Silicon Valley’s Fortunes Are Built on Pilfering Privacy” (see also “Facebook Must Face Class Action Over Facial Recognition, Judge Rules” and “74 Percent of Facebook Users Don’t Realize the Site Collects Their Interests to Target Ads, Pew Survey Says”)
“Addiction and Microtargeting: How ‘Social’ Networks Expose us to Manipulation” and “The Binge Breaker” and Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked and “Advertising and Academia Are Controlling Our Thoughts. Didn’t You Know?”
“In communicative capitalism, capitalist productivity derives from its expropriation and exploitation of communicative processes.
“If we are honest, we have to admit that there is actually no such thing as social media. Digital media is class media. Networked communication does not eliminate hierarchy, as we believed, in entrenches it as it uses our own choices against us.
“Dispossession, rather than happening all at once, is an ongoing process. No one will deny the ongoingness of data dispossession. Sometimes it is blatant: the announcement that our call will be monitored for quality assurance, the injunctions to approve Apple’s privacy changes again or the necessity of renewing passwords and credit card information. Sometimes the ongoingness is more subtle; in maps, GPS signals, video surveillance, and the RFID tags on and in items we purchase. And sometimes the ongoingness is completely beyond our grasp, as when datasets are combined and mined so as to give states and corporations actionable data for producing products, patterns, and policies based on knowing things about our interrelations one to another that we do not know ourselves. Here the currents of lives as they are lived are frozen into infinitely separable, countable, and combinatory data-points.
“Approached in terms of class struggle, big data looks like further escalation of capital’s war against labor.”
“[Adapting a statement of Lenin regarding central banks,] can we also say that ‘without the World Wide Web socialism would be impossible . . . . Our task is here merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive?” (p. 293)
“However, does capitalism really provide the ‘natural’ frame of relations of production for the digital universe? Is there not also, in the World Wide Web, an explosive potential for capitalism itself? Is not the lesson of the Microsoft monopoly precisely the Leninist one: instead of fighting this monopoly through the state apparatus (remember the court-ordered splitting up of the Microsoft Corporation), would it not be more ‘logical’ simply to nationalize it, making it freely accessible? So today, I am thus tempted to paraphrase Lenin’s well-known slogan ‘Socialism = electrification + the power of the soviets’: ‘Socialism = free access to the Internet + the power of the soviets.’ (The second element is crucial, since it specifies the only social organization within which the Internet can realize its liberating potential; without it, we would have a new version of crude technological determinism.” (p. 294).
Link to an article by Joan Roelofs: