Assange Arrested

Julian Assange has been arrested.  See the following articles:

“Avoiding Assange”

“Uncle Tom’s Empire”

“The Assange Arrest Is a Warning from History”

“The 7 Years of Lies About Assange Won’t Stop Now”

“Punishing the Past, Impeding the Future: the Arrest of Assange”

“The Ordeal of Julian Assange”

“Extradition of Julian Assange Threatens Us All”

“Why Is the Democratic Socialists of America Silent on the Persecution of Julian Assange?”

“Swedish Sex Pistol Aimed at Assange”

“Corporate Media Have Second Thoughts About Exiling Julian Assange From Journalism”

 

 

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!)?

Robert Pfaller – The Ideology of Postmodernism is to Present All Existing Injustice as an Effect of Discrimination

Link to an interview with Robert Pfaller:

“The Ideology of Postmodernism is to Present All Existing Injustice as an Effect of Discrimination”

 

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!

Bonus links: The Trouble with Diversity and “The Politics of Identity” and “Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not”

Matthew Stanley – Ulysses S. Grant: American Giant

Link to a review of Ron Chernow‘s book Grant (2017) by Matthew Stanley:

“Ulysses S. Grant: American Giant”

 

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.”

 

Bonus links: Democracy in America? and Golden Rule and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt and Review of Lenin

Walter Benn Michaels – The Trouble With Diversity

The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality

Walter Benn MichaelsThe 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 (see also Slavoj Žižek’s “Multiculturalism, or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism”).  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.

Some Critiques of Silicon Valley User Exploitation

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.

 

“They Didn’t Even Need to Hack Facebook”

“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”)

“The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie”

“‘The Gig Economy’ Is the New Term for Serfdom”

“Cambridge Analytica Didn’t Abuse the Happiness Industry – It Was Used Exactly How It Was Intended to Be” (and “Assange Works for the People – Now We Need to Save Him”)

“What Would Marx Have Said About Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?” and Anti-Social Media: The Impact on Journalism and Society

“Can We Be Saved From Facebook?” (note the casual deployment of “horseshoe theory” and “cognitivism”/”scientism” here)

“Imagine Having So Much Money You Can Spend It on Instagram ‘Influencers’”

“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?”

“Goodbye Facebook, and Screw You Too”

“Facebook CEO Presents Plans for Mass Censorship at Senate Hearing”

“F-Word: What if Ida B. Wells Depended on Facebook?”

“RYM Shitheads”

“Surveillance Capitalism: Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age”

“How Surveillance Capitalism Became the Pre-eminent Business Model of Silicon Valley”

“Microsoft Holds Firm on Sharing Your Conversations, Changing Its Privacy Policy”

“Personal Data – The Skyscraper of Data You Knew Nothing About”

“The Self-Serving Myths of Silicon Valley”

“For Owners of Amazon’s Ring Security Cameras, Strangers May Have Been Watching Too”

“High Score, Low Pay”

“USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech”

The People’s Platform

“Delete Your Account: On the Theory of Platform Capitalism”

Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet

“Google Tracks Your Movements, Like It or Not”

“Google and Apple’s Systems to Track you in Person: What the Media Isn’t Telling You”

“Cloud Computing Is a Trap, Warns GNU Founder Richard Stallman”

“The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism”

“The Massive Monopolies of Google, Facebook and Amazon, and Their Role in Destroying Privacy, Producing Inequality and Undermining Democracy”

Jodi Dean, “Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle”:

“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.”

 

Slavoj Žižek, Revolution at the Gates:

“[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).

See also  “We Need to Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon. Here’s Why”

For more watered-down, less practical alternatives to nationalization, see “Facebook: A Cooperative Transformation” and “Socialized Media” and “To Break Google’s Monopoly on Search, Make Its Index Public”

Karl Marx Quote

“the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”

Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League (1850)

 

Bonus links: “The Rifle on the Wall: A Left Argument for Gun Rights (Reprise)” (“The political principle at stake is simple: to deny the state the monopoly of armed force, and, obversely, to empower the citizenry, to distribute the power of armed force among the people.”), April Theses (“Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy . . . to be replaced by the arming of the whole people.”),  Chairman Mao Quote (“political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”), Painting & Guns Quote (“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”), “Draft Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (“XXII. But any act against liberty, against the security or against the property of a man, exercised by anyone, even in the name of the law, except in the cases determined by it, and the forms which they prescribe, is arbitrary and void; the very respect of the law forbids us to submit to it, and if we wish to execute it by violence; it is permissible to repel it by force.”) and “Violence” and Links to books about black armed resistance in freedom movements and “Things That Can and Cannot Be Said” (“And I thought, fuck this. My question is, if, let’s say, there are people who live in villages deep in the forest, four days walk from anywhere, and a thousand soldiers arrive and burn their villages and kill and rape people to scare them off their land because mining companies want it—what brand of non-violence would the stalwarts of the establishment recommend? Non-violence is radical political theatre. *** And who can pull in an audience? You need some capital, some stars, right? Gandhi was a superstar. The people in the forest don’t have that capital, that drawing power. So they have no audience. Non-violence should be a tactic—not an ideology preached from the sidelines to victims of massive violence…. With me, it’s been an evolution of seeing through these things.”) and Barrett Brown on kids’ march for gun rights (“If all these hundreds of thousands of kids had brought guns with them they could have seized control of the capitol and enacted whatever anti-gun legislation they wanted. Catch-22!”) and Battlefield America: The War On The American People.  And for anarchist perspectives, see “School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks” and “How Nonviolence Protects the State”