attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: capital

Fragment on the spectacle

Question: Is the spectacle still integrated- was it ever integrated? Do China/BRICS and aspects of Russian Federation repression indicate that integration was always partial? If we follow Agamben then the integrated spectacle is ‘the becoming-image’ of capital. One way to read this is to think of the image-as-dream: the spectacle is the dream that capital is dreaming. It is thus the dream of integration, a groping wish-fulfilment, a fantasy of fullness. Today we are repeating the situationists- the detournment of the material of the dream.


Pharmaco-centric capitalism: a reply to Will Self.

Psychiatry is undoubtedly experiencing something of a crisis. It is a clean and currently self-contained crisis, one that rarely troubles national headlines or makes it into the everyday conversations of workers in the office or the clothes shop floor, but it is a crisis nonetheless. Whilst the so-called anti-psychiatry movement of the 60s had a libertarian and experimental edge to it that courted controversy and political radicals, the “rational anti-psychiatry” or “critical psychiatry” of today is a lot less exuberant, more level headed and nuanced but, perhaps because of that, grips the imagination of the mass of people much less. This is weird. Its weird because when mental health issues do hit the headlines it is to warn us of epidemics of depression, anxiety and dementia; or to warn us of the terrible lunatics that roam the streets whenever “a schizophrenic” kills someone in the street or “psychopath” stalks playgrounds, gunning down children and teachers alike. Even with the publication of the new DSM-V it has only been the readerly classes and the commentariat who have raised furrowed brows and waded into the murky waters of psychiatry’s history. The quiet crisis of psychiatry is weird because 1 in 4 people are supposed to be affected by “psychiatric illness”, although this must be a conservative figure when we include the toll taken on carers, families and friends.

One member of the commentariat, the author and self proclaimed psychogeographer Will Self, has waded in to try to ask the question of whether the current epidemic of depression and hyperactivity has been caused by psychiatry and big pharma themselves. In an online column  published last Saturday, Self recounts an anecdote of his own time being treated for heroin addiction under the supervision of an unnamed psychiatrist, before going on to provide a brief synopsis of the noxious collaboration between psychiatry and big pharma. On first read, Self’s is a decent survey of this potent combination of science and industry.

In his view, psychiatry has increasingly tended to attempt to colonise everyday misery and suffering in order to expand its influence and power. As he puts it, the problem lies with ‘psychiatry’s search for new worlds to conquer, an expedition that has been financed at every step by big pharma’. This partakes of at least two types of narrative that have become incredibly popular. On the one hand, we have the narrative of the pathologisation of everyday life, and on the other hand, clasping the first tightly, is the narrative of imperialism. This story is one that should be familiar to anyone concerned with psychiatry and the experience of mental distress but will be especially familiar to those of us who have trained and work within the psy-disciplines, no less than for those of us who engage with critical theory and radical politics. There is nothing wrong with these stories in and of themselves, but presenting them in such a way as to suppose that this is an inevitable or teleological development of psychiatry would be misleading.

Psychiatry has had a number of minoritatian aspects in its history which have been more or less radical and which could have led to the establishment of a different psychiatry. To list all such missed opportunities would take too long but we could briefly include on such an account RD Laing’s attempt to create new therapies at Kingsley Hall, Felix Guattari’s work at the highly experimental La Borde clinic in France, and Loren Mosher’s similarly radical Soteria Project, the latter of which has demonstrated better efficacy than standard psychiatry in a number of studies in the treatment of psychosis (for instance, see here). We could also include the current work of Romme and Escher with Intervoice and its growth into the Hearing Voices Network, based on the psychiatrist and journalist team’s seminal findings that far more people experience voice hearing than ever receive psychiatric treatment. All of these projects were initiated, led and analysed by psychiatrists and psychiatric survivors against the tendency of biopsychiatry to pathologise distressing or divergent experience and to treat it with neuroleptic medications via coercion or legal compulsion. These projects either failed or remain in suppressed as “alternative” not because psychiatry has some immanent imperialistic drive toward the colonisation of our minds but for historical and material reasons. Some elements of these projects have been filtered into the current trend for person-centred care and use of the recovery model, but people involved in the founding of the recovery model (such as Ron Coleman), and some of those involved in its incorporation into mental health services (like Philip Barker and Poppy Buchanan- Barker, whose essay on “pharmaco-centrism” can be found here) see nothing tokenism destroying a potentially liberatory approach to working with people experiencing distress.

In fairness, Self doesn’t actually ascribe to a narrative of psychiatric imperialism for its own sake but suggests that the drive towards transforming everyday human misery into pathological disorders comes from biopsychiatry’s failure to cure the psychoses. As he puts it

unable to effect anything like a cure in the severe mental pathologies, at an entirely unconscious and weirdly collective level psychiatry turned its attention to less marked psychic distress as a means of continuing to secure what sociologists term “professional closure”.

As an explanation for why a group of people who ascribe to the hegemonic “medical model” of psychiatric research and practice would attempt to make the sorrow of grief or the tantrums of a toddler into morbid biochemical or behavioural dysfunctions the invocation of a professional collective unconscious does indeed seem weird. It seems weird because it imports an unnecessary combination of Freudian psychological and ontological presupposition onto a turn that can be much more easily explained. To suggest that psychiatrists are attempting to make the misery of unemployment into a brain disorder treatable with antidepressants because it failed to find a cure for psychotic illness is a stretch at the very least. At most it implies the existence of a symbolic order that only a subset of psychiatrists exist inside of that has structured their desire in such a way as to force them to treat all problems in living as if they were the same a severe and enduring psychotic disorder. While at first it might seem fair to say that feeling wounded by their failure biopsychiatrists expanded their attention to include more “conditions”, it is ludicrous to suppose that this was because the psychiatric unconscious made them do it. Even if Self doesn’t intend to invoke a psychiatric unconscious it remains remarkable that the unconscious drives of the majority of psychiatric researchers and practitioners (recall the two don’t always overlap) across the globe were effected in such a way as to synchronise them into coalescing around a singular trajectory.

Self does note that psychiatry may have wanted to secure its ‘professional closure‘ after it’s legitimacy as a medical science had been called into question by the failure of its curative ambitions. This seems a reasonable suggestion and is probably closer to the truth, but it does not require an invocation of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts to explain. If psychiatry’s legitimacy as a science was challenged this would also obviously constitute a threat to the status of psychiatry as a medical profession awarded with high status and high salaries. It is thus more likely that psychiatry’s desire to maintain the demarcation of its professional boundaries was driven by directly material and cultural capital concerns. In short, if psychiatry wasn’t a medical profession, if it was nothing but pseudo-science, then consultant psychiatrists would lose their money, their gravitas, their status (recall, in the 1950s psychiatrists were glamorous) and their power as agents of the state. As Self also notes, in the United States insurance companies require that a medical condition be present in order to payout on psychiatric treatment. It is commonly asserted that the DSM-III, published in 1980, was largely produced because of the increase in insurance companies refusing to payout  for such claims during the 1970s. In that same period the American NIMH slashed its funding for psychiatric services by 5% in 1976 on the assertion that such funding could not be afforded when mental illness was so vaguely defined and unmeasurable (largely a response to the prior dominance of psychoanalysis in American psychiatry). In the same moment, clinical psychology was just beginning to find its feet and was looking to launch an offensive on the hegemony of psychiatry in the care and treatment of the “mentally ill”, whilst survivor groups were launching offensives on the inclusion of homosexuality in a diagnostic manual of mental diseases. Threatened from all corners, psychiatry renounced psychoanalysis and renewed its original basis as a biomedical enterprise. There was nothing unconscious about this move, and the collective movement towards rekindling biopsychiarty was far from unanimous. Simply, threatened with the accusation of being a “pseudo-science” that lacked diagnostic validity and reliability, lacking evidence of outcomes for treatment and accountability, psychiatrists had to take measures to protect their relationship with medical cognitive authority and ensure its practitioners private wealth.

Simultaneously with all this, psychiatry also had to be defended as the sole means of dealing with “the mad” because it proved to proved itself as a powerful means of social control. The techniques and drugs employed by biopsychiatry in its past, resurgence and in the present day remain attached to the processes of discipline and normalisation that Michel Foucault elaborated on in a number of texts. As a series of dispotifs aligned to the management of bodies and their conduct psychiatry plays a pivotal role in regulating the distribution of the sensible. What can and can’t be said, what can and can’t be done, what can and can’t be seen or heard, on what is and isn’t to be considered “normal” are part of the preserve of psychiatric institutions. This role is especially important when life under late capital proves itself to be anxiogenic and depressing.

It is on the role that psychiatry plays in the medicalisation of everyday misery as the medicalisation of the destructive effects of post-Fordist capitalism that Will Self’s article veers firmly away from. In the analysis of psychologists like David Smail and political theorists like Mark Fisher, the production of distress is seen to be accelerated by the effects of capitalist recomposition. As the psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff puts it giving someone a psychiatric diagnosis ‘allows behavioural control to be presented as treatment and it sanctions the release of state funds for support that may not be desirable’. Since Richard Warner’s Recovery from schizophrenia: psychiatry and political economy, psychiatry has been aware that long term unemployment and a precarious/casualised labour market produces all the signs and symptoms of depression, and I have written time and again on how life under capitalism produces anxiety, panic, and other “new symptoms”, such as self-harm and eating disorders. I have no doubt that depression and anxiety are on the increase, and that hyperactivity is increasingly being diagnosed, but to suggest that this is the fault of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry is to confuse a cause with a symptom and means of managing disastrous psychological effects. That people work shit jobs at low pay, that are increasingly precarious, and that there appears on the temporal horizon a choice between more of the same or some catastrophic moment (ecological, industrial, whatever) within austerity conditions, the corrosion of public services and support networks such as the NHS, unemployment and disability welfare, under increasingly totalitarian state power means that everyday life is increasingly leading to mental distress. People feel impotent and unable to control their lives. They are taunted with empty consumerist visions of a happiness that is denied to them. As Self points out, their traditional coping networks are fragmented and, as Smail and Fisher both point out, their suffering is rendered as a personal failure or a biological disorder.

Why would psychiatry need to pathologise depression and hyperactivity? Its obvious why dubious diagnoses like borderline or anti-social personality disorder exist, but less so why unhappiness should become depression? Self openly states that ‘I don’t think it helps anyone to see the current imbroglio as simply a function of late capitalism’, and yet this would help immensely. The pharmaceutical industry (not “big pharma”) is an industry, which is to say no more or less than that it is a section of capital. For pharmaceutical capitalism to continue accumulating profit it must have an audience to sell its products to and it has that in the form of psychiatry, itself a wing of state power that has a captive market who can be legally compelled to take their medication. Psychopharmacology and psychiatry have been entwined since psychiatry’s birth, and even in the heydays of psychoanalytic psychiatry in the USA benzodiazapines were still regularly prescribed.

What is new in recent years is the transition from a Fordist to a post-Fordist economy, and to the revolution in social life that this has entailed. David Healey, a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist, has discusses how SSRIs were marketed through pathologisation (ie. transforming unhappiness into a market). Its worth noting that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors have nothing “selective” about them, and that the RCTs that prove their effectiveness are- as Self notes- funded by pharmaceutical companies. SSRIs were marketed precisely at the time when the possibility of collective response to capitalism broke down and when capitalism entered a faze in which everything was submitted to economic reason, including human emotions and affectivity. Thus, capital effects a double stroke: a new market and a chemically constrained population. This chemically constrained labour force, who might otherwise slide into despair given the new reality in which real subsumption appears to have swallowed everyone and everything whole, individualises the causes of its distress, never looking to the conditions of its subjectification, and never being capable of summoning the energy to fight back. Of course, this is capitalism’s dream, rather than an accomplished fact. Yet even those people who riot or refuse to work, those who enact a kind of psychic withdrawal from the harshness, uncertainty and emptiness of the work-consume world, can now be medically treated to ensure no further loss of working hours. Economically, the biopower of psychiatry ensures that labour-power can be regulated more or less efficiently whilst as Moncrieff suggests,

concealing the political nature of the responses to the situations that are labelled as ‘mental illness’, psychiatric diagnosis prevents these responses from being questioned and scrutinized. It allows the state to delegate a difficult area of social policy to supposed technical experts, and thus to remove it from the political and democratic arena.

In separating actually existing psychiatry from “big pharma”, and in separating “big pharma” from capitalism and the interests of a particular class protected by state power, Will Self’s analysis effectively decouples his critique from any economic or political implications. What we are left with is a weak moralism that he himself even calls ‘ lily-livered liberal’, that also misrepresents certain aspects of the history of the two disciplines. This moralism is born out in Self’s comparison of psychiatrists as “drug-pushers” where it is clear that we’re supposed to read “drug-pusher” as a good go-to caricature of a bad person. This moralism of the psychiatrist as unscrupulous bastard getting kids hooked on downers is conjoined to the weak assertion that ‘we are all to blame’. Our responsibility, according to Self, comes from the fact that we are

‘absolutely bloody miserable, we can’t get up in the morning, we are dirty and unkempt, and we go along to our GP and are prescribed an antidepressant and lo and behold we recover.

For Self, the bad dealer-man gives us misery guts a pill and we feel better and therefore “we” are to blame for having been miserable and/or for the ‘chemical repression of the psychotic’ (it isn’t clear which). This complete obliteration of a perspective willing to recognise, analyse and critique the structural causes and consequences of psychopharmacological psychiatric treatment completely mirrors the prevailing ideology under which that structure justified itself (the same problem is found in the second half of Soderbergh’s recent film, Side Effects). Presumably this morality also extends to the parents of children, or the children themselves, who are desperate to find some way to ameliorate the incredibly stressful situation that hyperactivity can cause. It is also telling that people who experience psychotic phenomena are given only fleeting mentions in the article, as if concern over psychiatric power is really only important when it concerns the middle class readership of the Guardian. People diagnosed with psychotic illness tend to be either live in poverty at onset or to drift into poverty as a result and Self only real reflection on economic position seems is his correct reference to ‘socio-medical discrimination: no sick note – and no social benefits’, although he leaves out any reference to the fact that today many people who should not be working are having their welfare revoked and forced back to work.
Self does include reference to ‘autonomously organised self-help groups’, suggesting that these might provide adequate compensation for the loss of traditional family networks. While this might be true, Self’s example is the 12 step program that is used in alcohol and substance misuse, groups that require members swap a pathological identity (“ill”) for a deviant one (“addict”). While 12 step programs might prove useful to some people they do not challenge the causes of people’s problems but further privatise them as individual failures- “My name is Arran and I am an alcoholic”, as the well-known admission of responsibility goes. I have no qualms with self-help groups. They are shown to be efficacious, to foster recovery, to aid in the production of destigmatising communities of support, and may even lead to the ability for people to become politically active. I don’t want to suggest that the answer for all mental distress- as one insurrectionary anarchist text has it- is ‘revolt, not therapy’, but therapy without an understanding of the material conditions in which distress develops often does more harm than good. Examples like the Hearing Voices Network and the Soteria Project are far closer to how I understand the term ‘autonomously organised  self-help groups’. In time, members of such groups might even drop the “self-help” reference, and engage in the organisation of autonomy.

I like Will Self’s novels and short-stories. They are full of a dark humour and Ballardian insights. If I am critiquing his understanding of psychiatry, psychopharmacology and the pharmaceutical industry it is not because he is part some nefarious cabal attempting to mystify us but because his view is symptomatic of a mystification that is already in place. Self’s brief overview partakes of a fiction that he didn’t write, but when he write that ‘I don’t think it helps anyone to see the current imbroglio as simply a function of late capitalism’ he becomes a supporting character inside of it. After all, what else but capitalism is helped by refusing to see capitalism’s role in the production of “mental illness”, and accusations that psychiatry is a is precisely what lead to resurgent bio psychiatry.

Insurrectionary Times

A: I don’t think that we will be able to win a fight against financial capitalism by demonstrating in the street. Destroying banks isn’t useful if we are seeking emancipation from financial dictatorship. Financial power does not exist in the banks; it is embedded in software, in the techno-linguistic automatisms that govern daily life and the psychic automatisms of consumerism, competition and fear. Nevertheless we are in the midst of a process – a movement – that will deploy itself over the course of the next decade, maybe longer, and we have to start from where we are and what we know. What we have today is the memory of past forms that our movements have taken, including occupations, strikes and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent. All of these are part of the legacy of 20th century social movements. Recently, we have tried to resurrect some of these old forms of struggle – these old forms of expression – but this hasn’t worked particularly well. Established forms of peaceful demonstration have absolutely no possibility of changing the politics of financial capitalism. They don’t work when democracy is dead – and it is totally dead, the European experience is demonstrating that clearly. But on the other hand, violent riots or bank bombings are also useless because they don’t challenge the sites of real power. Real power is in the cybersphere, in the algorithms of financial control, in the quantitative analyses that undergird trading, and so on.

We continue to use old forms of action but we will have to begin to imagine new forms that are capable of actually struggling against financial dictatorship. In my opinion, the first task – which we have begun to experience over the last year – is the reactivation of the social body that I have already described. But as I have said, this will not be enough. We will also have to begin to learn to create new forms of autonomy from financial control and so on. For instance, in Italy we have been talking increasingly of “insolvency.” Of course, insolvency means the inability to pay a debt but we don’t think of it strictly in monetary terms. There is also a symbolic debt that is always implied in power relationships. Imagination might mean the ability to create the possibility of insolvency – to create the right to be insolvent, the right not to pay a debt – at a semiotic and a symbolic level. We need to imagine forms of social relationships that escape monetary exchange or invent new forms of exchange, like time banks, new forms of currency, community currency and so on. Do you see what I am trying to say? The process of imagination begins with the reactivation of the social body but next this body has to create new levels of social interaction. Escaping financial dictatorship, in other words, means imagining new forms of social exchange. I don’t know what form emancipation will take in the coming years. I can only propose this little methodological starting point from what we already know.
– Franco Berardi, Here.

New content of any substance might be a while in coming to this blog. I am currently concentrating on an essay for the new group effort I’m involved with alongside Michael of ArchiveFire and dmf of ANTHEM fame. Watch this space.

New approach to homelessness is old approach to homelessness

We decided to create an employment academy offering training schemes, which will be integrated into a not-for-profit members’ club opening in autumn 2013. The club will provide opportunities for work experience in a dynamic environment and first-rate commercial hospitality training. The club, charity and employment academy will be part of the beautiful and historic building at 1 Greek Street, Soho, offering a new vision for members’ clubs, one with the drive for social change at its heart.


The full story of this club-cum-training academy is available on the Guardian’s website. After only a quick assay of the story it seems undeniable that this is an exercise that partakes of precisely the same logic that ATOS and the Workfare Program operate by. That is, take people who are in a position of desperation and get them to work for nothing. Of course, they aren’t working for nothing at all. This is a training program for future employment in the hospitality industry. Yet aside from vague hopes that it will provide a means to ‘reintegrate those devastated by homelessness into sustained employment’ there is no discussion of exactly what positive impact this will have on homeless people.

In fact, the article, written by one of the projects architects, is more aimed at cooing a liberal, media-savvy, and probably media employed (it’s in Soho after all), audience. They identify their hoped for clientele as: ‘architects of social change, the interested and interesting and the incurably curious’. The first group is vague enough to catch pretty much anyone with a social conscience, the second anyone vain or voyeur enough, and the last- I don’t know…the incurably curious? This sounds like scientists or explorers. The upshot is that it sounds like an advert for an “ethically sound” private members club that allows the liberal elite, and whoever it wants to bring along, to indulge in feeling good about helping, whilst rubberneck at, the homeless who parade around as unpaid chefs, barstaff and waiters with no ultimate guarantee of employment. How many business meetings will be conducted over a nice salad and glass of white?


There is also a basic problem with one of the core assumptions of this model: it operates as if a lot of these homeless people won’t already have skills. They will. They may even (shock horror) be highly skilled! They might have, until recently, been in employment but, thanks to the structural recomposition of capital, and the demand that capitalism be saved at all costs, they may have been made redundant after having lost most of their savings in the banking crash or in some exorbitant mortgage. Or perhaps, as is common on the streets of London, they will include people who have fled from abusive, traumatic conditions and have found themselves, with any support or without the prerequisite requirement of a fixed abode (that isn’t a homeless shelter), unable to find work…even in a bars! 

But no, they should of course feel thankful and obliged for this olive branch, this latest extension of charity from these good people. Such good people that they manage to include in their list of ‘architects of social change’ presumably include those who are helping to finance this project. These include such luminaries of the radical world as Virgin Media and benguo

This leads us to consider the charitable capitalist aspect of this project. In one fell swoop it accomplishes two things on behalf of the more affluent members of society. Firstly, it allows them to feel as though they are “contributing” something to the homeless, a good ego boost, and lets them situate themselves as the modern day equivalent of 19th century philanthropists (without the £millions, and more into going along to see Brian Cox talk about physics, or listen to the radio-approved guitar music Slow Club…actually I’m tempted to go just because Ekow Eshun will be chairing a discussion and I’ve always enjoyed hating him). 

This philanthropic function, clearly what interests a monolith like Virgin Media, is the function not just of easing consciences but also of presenting what we regularly hear called “capitalism with a friendly face”, thereby providing the illusion that capitalism can be a humane, non-exploitative, love-fest of mutual empowerment. Except that that isn’t the case and homelessness is one of the most visible reminders that the structure of capitalism means that that isn’t the case. Except that one side benefit of this project is that there will be a hell of a lot less homeless visibility, even if there won’t be any reduction in homeless itself. A neat trick! Come and look at/help out the homeless by helping to make them disappear.

While we are at it, let’s not ask any of those nasty structural questions that people are beginning to ask. Obviously there are bad capitalists but look at Virgin Media, they are the good capitalists (let’s ignore their history of outsourcing jobs to more easily exploited labour forces, tax avoidance, what sounds a lot like centralised employee surveillance, and that they are a very large territorialisation of financial capital). Let’s also not ask about our own situation, our own involvement in, as reproductive elements (exploited and exploiting) of a global economic system. This is the second function, the function of ignorance and of beautiful souls. The ethical consumer gets to point to herself as someone outside of those systems of exploitation and violence and identify the evil of the fallness of the world as elsewhere. As Zizek puts it, ‘when you buy something, your anti-consumerist duty to do something for others…is already included into it’. These two moments of generalised philanthropy generate an almost identical mirage that expropriator and expropriated can both identify with. The problem of homelessness, which is properly a symptom of capitalism, is thus maintained. Indeed, what do we see in this project? What we see is the inclusion of the homeless population into considerations of a reserve army of labour. On this I am being strictly Marxist and echoing Marx’s claim that ‘capitalistic accumulation itself… constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of workers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the valorisation of capital, and therefore a surplus-population’. 

With all this said, let’s not be so foolish as to think that there won’t be homeless people who do welcome this intiative, and for whom it makes absolute sense to welcome this initiative. These are not idiots or victims of some false consciousness. We can also applaud the motivation of those at House of St. Barnabas for what it is they think they hope they accomplish. Who exactly though is going to benefit from a private club that talks about providing a space for ‘entrepreneurial exchange’ at an annual cost that ranges between £300-£5000, with additional annual fee, 50% of which go towards charitable work. I am not suggesting that these are evil capitalists trying to hoodwink idiot liberals into exploiting the innocent homeless. Such would be to trade in caricatures. What I am saying is that this doesn’t look like a model that really wants or can effect structural politico-economic problem of homelessness. 

Hijack, Reclaim, Occupy!

Introducing the Emergent Service Workers Party

“When we demanded an end to wage labour, we didn’t just mean the wages!”

From people being forced to stack shelves in Poundland for free, through to office workers pushing their hours later and later, our wages no longer reflect our work.

The casino banks are being bailed out with our money, the corporations dodge their tax, our services are cut and we’re forced to work even more for even less.

Emergent service workers of the world unite!

The Haymarket martyrs died demanding an 8 hour paid working day. When was the last time any of us managed that?

When we’re not being blackmailed into slave labour for Homebase or Poundland, we’re burning the midnight oil working after hours for free. Every waking hour we check our emails, quickly responding to that memo from HR, or finishing off that report before the morning meeting.

Google and their ilk blur our work into our free time, we’re on call 24 hours a day, but no more!

Demand that the corporate internet is shut down at 6pm!
Unplug corporate gmail, spam filter that shite till the morning!
While we’re at it, demand that google pay some bloody tax too!

The eSWP will be launching this mayday.
A political party in the truest sense of the word!

Watch this space and join us to down tools at 6pm, Wed May 1st
The official mayday after party

Please forward this link to your friends and family.
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The spacejackers can be found here.

A comment on urban struggle and recomposition

‘The first mass influx will begin over the next few months as an estimated 40,000 families affected by the Benefit Cap will be forced to seek housing outside the capital. This is only likely to be the beginning however as soaring rents and shrinking benefits could mean soon almost all private sector tenants on benefits will be priced out of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of claimants could soon be making a move to Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Berkshire and Kent over the next few years’. (Jonny Void. Here.

Not only does this exo-urban migratory flow seem to be entirely in keeping with the inner city’s gentrification, although these two operations are probably not coupled by intentional design, a strategic operation emerges on the part of capital and the neoliberal state that seeks to recompose it. This neoliberal recomposition of capital is being met with a recomposition of urban space by an attack on the working class. This is to say, echoing Murray Bookchinm, David Harvey and Paul Virilio, that the city is a sight of class struggle (whether that struggle articulates itself in those terms or not). The ‘right to the city’ is the right to space, to this space, and it is a demand that provides a kind of linking-up (I’m thinking about workers, unemployed, disabled claimants, but also about the homeless who, in cities like Edinburgh, are under attack simply of existing in the wrong space). On the issue of homelessness, is there any kind of homeless union? At the same time, again in agreement with David Harvey, this shows a poverty of thought in relation to those strands of anticapitalism that make calls for dropping out of the city (cf. Tiqqun, in a certain sense Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi as well- the city doesn’t ‘slow down’, although it might have “decelerative zones”) play directly into the hands of the plutocratic-oligarchic class. The material contestation of space might involve an intensification of the Occupy movement’s strategy. If you are threatened with eviction, that is if your spatial vulnerability is exposed and attacked, then what do you have to lose exactly? The Occupy movement might become another form of squat movement:

What squatters seek, and have always sought, is security of tenure, and indeed personal security. However, there has been a marked deterioration in the public mood which enabled local authorities in the 1940s and again in the 1960s and 1970s to make creative deals with squatters, but in the 1990s led central government, relying for support on what it saw as the self-protective instincts of a property-owning democracy, to adopt policies which have had the effect of criminalising them’.

(Colin Ward, 2004. The hidden history of housing. Here.).

Ward says that squatting can be ideological and/or pragmatic. Clearly in the Occupy movement as a Squatting movement is would be both simultaneously, and it would exceed the demand for security of tenancy but would also call for the security of the ability to occupy certain spaces as such. A city like London is built on the historical labour of workers, in terms of wealth and in the sense that so much of it’s materiality is the dead labour of workers, and (“the city is not itself”- Virilio) continues to be exist in a phase space produced by the ongoing labour of construction workers and cognitive workers (architects and so on). A city like London, my home city, a city that I hate and miss in often equal measure, could be the perfect place for a wave of squat actions. Now that we are revealed as the precarious class (“the 99%”) I would think that the public would be less inclined to see squatters as parasites and crusties.

A step too far to consider at the moment, but why not: the exodus of claimants and the homeless (who are really one figure, right? one is just latent while the other is manifest), have another member of their chain that naturally calls out to them. I am writing about the travelers who are still, even in the current episode of the crisis, scapegoated and seen as a illegitimate, a menace, an mobile ecological disaster (and yet urban planning has produced the primary agent of mobility not as bodies, not public transportation networks, but the car; indeed, cities still thrive on the road networks that connect them together as material-logistical veins of the flow of material goods, so perhaps even more than the car or the 4×4 it is the articulated lorry that is the principle object of the inter-urban infrastructure).

In pointing to the traveler community I am not pointing to an ally, and ally who at the moment still appears as an enemy to the sedentary populace. To be clear, I am not wanting to suggest a tactic of urban nomadism, which would only be a way of living open to a small number of people without jobs or dependents and thus might amount to little more than adventurism. In the end, the tactic of urban nomadism is atactical because it all too often appears as a lifestyle choice or out of necessity; it is either an experiment in living that is not open to all latent homeless people or it is a reactive coping mechanism that capital impels people to take up. We can list the modalities that urban nomadism takes: car living, couch surfing, temporary homes, sleeping rough, and, in a city like London, the kind of accomodation supplied by the towering Center Point. Couch surfing is an intriguing phenomena because it is a sort of dual-urbanism of the megapolis, the urbanism of the multi-nodal network of cities connected by road, flight paths and airports, sealines, ferries, tankers, and ports: a whole material-logistical ontocartography of a city beyond any particular territorialisation (a city more of movement and speed than stasis and sedation). Of course, the accusation of adventurism shouldn’t be extended to travelers.

Indeed, this points even further to those who are involved in the urban regime of spatiality, those cognitive workers who are active in the production of urban space. Take for example the Spatial Agency project that speak in:

Bruno Latour’s terms, critical attention is shifted from architecture as a matter of fact to architecture as a matter of concern. As matters of fact, buildings can be subjected to rules and methods, and they can be treated as objects on their own terms. As matters of concern, they enter into socially embedded networks, in which the consequences of architecture are of much more significance than the objects of architecture.

and which wants to move

away from the figure of the architect as individual hero, and replaces it with a much more collaborative approach in which agents act with, and on behalf of, others.

So here there is another potential ally. The Spatial Agency project is a fantastic resource, one that more people should know about and which we could benefit from some time reading.

Perhaps this sounds like a call for an insurrectional movement in the sense that Saul Newman, taking the word from Max Stirner, gives it:

What was striking in Occupy was the absence of the usual modes of communication and representation. There were no demands, no programs, and no revolutionary blueprints, just the coming together of singularities without anything in common apart from a desire to create new relations and subjectivities. The mode of communication, on the contrary, was completely innovative, decentralized, and gestural. Lastly, there was no party, no centralized leadership, no form of representatives, no Lenin waiting in the wings to take over state power. Those times are over. The vanguard has fallen from its privileged place in revolutionary politics. It’s completely defunct. This is the time not of revolution, but of insurrection, the creation of autonomous spaces and relations and new collective intensities. Occupy gives a glimpse of the possibilities of the insurrection today. Here.

Yet this is collection of singularities is precisely a liberal formation of pre-existent individuals that have come together as a in Stirner’s union of egoists. It is a collectivity rather than a community. This is to say that it is the mirror of the capitalism that it seeks to resist (did it dare think it could overcome it?). Regardless of this philosophical point, there is the practical one that- and against Newman’s later comment from the same text about the lack of a ‘Lenin waiting in the wings to take over state power’, there was reportedly no real organisation either. The self-organised form of the Occupy movement would have proved inadequate to the task of building anything out of the wreckage of the crisis of capitalism. Let’s be clear on this if on nothing else: the focus on urbanism implies that we do require some kind of Lenin, if not Leninism, because this is a huge undertaking. We can’t think about organising in the style of bolo’bolo, the totally impractical idea of radical localism. It isn’t enough that singularities ‘with nothing in common’, which is itself a piece of neoliberal propaganda (indeed, it is how the logic of scapegoating travelers works), is the kind of thinking we need to do away with. Newman calls Occupy a “post-identity politics” and then seeks to lump class warfare into “identity politics”, when the point of the proletariat is precisely its radical dissolution of identitarian and substantialist models of political thinking. Why is he making this argument now, as class division begins to emerge once again as the all too obvious structural partition of the distribution of the sensible? In part because his career as a postanarchist means that he is committed to an abandonment of the desire for (rather than tabooing of the term) of revolution and to the kind of radical individualism that Max Stirner inaugurates as an idealist form of freedom. Actual freedom is defined by Stirner in precisely liberal terms, and he is looks upon it with indifference and even disdain. Not even the Stoics, with their emphasis on equanimity, jettisoned the political in the same way that Stirner did. It is this thought that there is nothing in common- and why not, following Lingis, ask if this isn’t exactly what we have in common- that has prevented us from developing beyond spectacular protest. This is precisely what is shifting. There are calls for the inaugeration of a new party of socialism, a reinvigorated anarcho-syndicalist movement, and the return to openly talking in terms of communism and anarchism. The prefix of “post-” is precisely what needs to be abandoned. As Chris Cutrone puts it in his Platypus article, ‘The relevance of Lenin today’

the people—the demos—seem resigned to their political powerlessness. Indeed, forming a political party aiming at radical democracy, let alone socialism—a “Jacobin” party—would itself be a revolutionary act.

Saul Newman represents what has variously been post-anarchism, neoanarchism, ‘the new anarchists’, and the anarchist ethics of infinite responsibility. Slavoj Zizek has called it hypertical protest, and others (more and more myself included) are coming to see it as a form of liberalism that has to be exceeded within the problematic of communist organisation. The idea that insurrection is opposed to revolution, or that we are living in an age beyond revolution is already to buy into a very specific discourse on what revolution means, and who carries it out. In fact, it is to speak in the language of what would once have been called counter-revolutionary terms. Similarly, Simon Critchley has stated that

Politics is perhaps no longer, as it was in the so-called anti-globalization movement, a struggle for and with visibility. Resistance is about the cultivation of invisibility, opacity, anonymity, and resonance.

The struggle for visibility remains vitally important to the homeless of cities like Edinburgh, as it does for a great many people. Occupy itself is about cultivating a form of urban visibility and about the visibility of the nature of space and the identification of real live people and institutions in space-time-matter. That much is obvious from the fact that Occupy is not simply the occupation of anywhere but of named places; Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sussex, and so on. In the conditions today we are forced to accept a tactical openness, I believe the conditions we find ourselves in demand such a stance, but it does demand a stance nonetheless. Pure mobility and absolute withdrawal are, in actuality, the image of recession to the private sphere that liberalism has long been held to; we will gather publicly, but we are isolated and private individuals. Against this, Occupy involved the production of publics that, could they cohere and become ‘a city within the city’ (in Richard Seymour’s formula), would have also formed municipalities:

There is every reason to believe that the word anarchism, with its historic commitment to the confederation of municipalities — the famous “Commune of communes” — is in [the hyterical liberals] eyes completely “utopian” and that she merely hijacks the word to add color and pedigree to her simplistic [protest movement] — a world that, by her own admission to me, she personally knows little about. (Murray Bookchin, A meditation on the ethics of anarchism. Here.

What was Occupy and what are the continued occupations (Sussex University) if they aren’t a conflict of regimes of time-space-matter? Bodies organised in space, tied to it, holding it, producing it as a public and political space, and thereby returning an embodied gaze on the disembodied gaze of the financial infosphere. The demand of the international citizenry is that those responsible take responsibility. This means locating them in space and thereby contesting spatiality. To use the internet, the mobile phone, the screen in order to do so is merely to weaponise the technologies of the illuminationism attempts to abolish publicity and politics. The tactic of occupation remains open and might well be accelerated. Could there even be cross-occupations? Mass occupations? This is crucial, it is the crucial move, but it is also the beginning that be radicalised. To risk dialectical language, it must be sublated in a movement of aufheben. The urban struggle, the struggle in, with, and for the city is an ancient one. It is what was at stake in the demos of Greece, and it is what is at stake again in a renewal of class struggle and communism. Quite against a certain thought, a thought that the militarisation of urban space is anything new, we should recall that the city has its history in military thought. That is to say, we have always been, in a shifting manner and under different contexts and for different reasons, been sunk in a military space. Class war is not simply rhetoric. Today it is more visible than it has been for a long time. It demands that we stop singing hymns to the power of powerlessness, to parody, to irony, to hysteria, that we rediscover the potency of the organisation of bodies and the articulation of demands.

Rehabilitation revolution

Prison call centre plans revealed
Ministry of Justice planning to run call centres from inside prisons as marketing email boasts of a ‘rehabilitation revolution’

The Ministry of Justice is planning to set up call centres inside jails as part of its work programme for prisoners, according to documents promoting the scheme.

Details of the plans have emerged after marketing material from an MoJ- supported company, which described the call centre scheme as a “rehabilitation revolution”, were passed to the Guardian.

The MoJ stressed that the company, UrbanData Ltd, was no longer involved in the programme as it had filed for liquidation this month but the department confirmed they are still interested in setting up call centres from inside the prison estate as part of their programme for expanding ONE3ONE Solutions, formerly known as the Prison Industries Unit.

In a leaflet sent out to various organisations late last year, UrbanData said it could offer “lower costs and overheads” if businesses signed up.

“The opportunity for your organisation is a higher corporate responsibility profile by engaging in a high-profile initiative supported by the Ministry of Justice, lower costs and overheads for trained contract centre agents, flexible resources that can deal with overflow calls and specific projects, all dedicated to growing and supporting your business,” the leaflet read.

Advertising the scheme as a “fantastic rehabilitation revolution” the flyer added that prison-run call centres could offer trained operators “with British Regional [sic] accents as an effective alternative to off shoring operations”. A marketing email sent with the flyer confirmed the plans to get prisoners to work manning phones were backed by the government.

“Working in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, we are establishing call centres inside prisons,” it said.

“We are training prisoners to become qualified contact centre operators. This gives them employment during their prison term and also prepares them for a more productive life when they return home,” the email said.

The Prison Industries Unit which was rebranded as ONE3ONE Solutions after the 131 prisons in the prison estate, has used inmates to make uniforms and office and garden furniture or package headphones for companies such as DHL and Virgin.

However putting call centres inside prisons would be one of the first instances of prisoners serving lengthy sentences coming into direct commercial contact with the public. The idea is already established in the US.

It follows revelations that prisoners from open jails in Wales were being paid just £3 a day to work in private call centres outside of prison walls.

It is unclear how much prisoners would be paid at call centres inside prisons but under current rules prisoners on “work experience” are paid £3 a day, with no set maximum to the work experience period.

The MoJ said there were varying levels of pay for those working inside prisons with the lowest being around £3 a day.

In a ONE3ONE prospectus, David Cameron urged businesses to take advantage of the opportunity working prisoners offered. “Prisoners working productively towards their own rehabilitation will contribute to the UK economy and make reparation to society,” he wrote.

“Many businesses, large and small, already make use of prison workshops to produce high quality goods and services and do so profitably. They are not only investing in prisons but in the future of their companies and the country as a whole. I urge others to follow their lead and seize the opportunity that working prisons offer.”

Sandra Busby from the Welsh Contact Centre Forum said she did not think such a scheme would undermine her members’ interests but was worried about them complying with data protection and Ofcom legislation. “There’s a lot of legislation you’ve got to be very, very careful about,” she said.

An MoJ spokesperson said, “Prisoners who learn the habit of real work inside prison are less likely to commit further crime when they are released. For that reason the Prisons Service is looking at a number of potential schemes to increase work opportunities in prisons.

“All contracts with outside employers must comply with a strict code of practice which sets out that prisoners cannot be used to replace existing jobs in the community. Prisoner wages, for those in closed prisons, are set by prison governors and companies have no control over the level of payment.”

– The Guardian. Here.

The very blood in our veins had been replaced.”  Even though the shift into so-called “cognitive” labour has been overstated – just because work involves talking doesn’t make it “cognitive”; the labour of a call centre worker mechanically repeating the same rote phrases all day is no more “cognitive” than that of someone on a production line – Antonio Negri is right that the liberation from repetitive industrial labour remains a victory. Yet, as Christian Marazzi has argued, workers have been like the Old Testament Jews: led out of the bondage of the Fordist factory, they are now marooned in the desert. As Franco Berardi has shown, precarious work brings with it new kinds of misery: the always-on pressure made possible by mobile telecommunications technology means that there is no longer any end to the working day. An always-on population lives in a state of insomniac depression, unable to ever switch off.

– Mark Fisher, The future is still ours. Here.

Allometric engineering of desire

You cannot train yourself to successfully and sustainedly unsee and unhear — you do them all the time, but they also fail, repeatedly, and you cheat, repeatedly, in all sorts of small ways. The book mentions that several times. It is absolutely about absolute fidelity to those particular urban protocols, exaggerations or extrapolations of the ones that I think are all around us all the time in the real world; but it’s also about cheating them, and failing them, and playing a little fast and loose, which I think is an inextricable part of such norms.

– China Mieville

The brand exclusion zone legitimises a certain morphology of desire whilst disavowing that which it considers illegitimate. Yet prostitution continues.

The BBC’s own Caesar Flickerman (the interviewer who extracts maximum sentimental affect from the Hunger Games contestants before they face their deaths in the arena) is the creepily tactile trackside interviewer Phil Jones. Jones’s “interviews” with exhausted athletes, are surely as ritualised as any Chinese state broadcast. Emote. Emote again. Emote differently. Praise the crowd.

-Mark Fisher, The London Hunger Games. Here.