Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Men of all the quarters of the globe, who have perished over the ages, you have not lived solely to manure the earth with your ashes, so that at the end of time your posterity should be made happy by European culture. The very thought of a superior European culture is a blatant insult to the majesty of Nature.” - Johann Gottfried Herder

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Beyond a price tag, the market in fine art is a method of knitting together the elite of the global ruling class around an alternate reserve currency that only the most privileged, a supreme clientele of billionaires, may access.

"Globalized and financialized capitalism has brought the ruckus to firms and sovereign currencies alike, and so a highly mobile, ultra-wealthy class seeks to park its profits in vehicles independent of corporation or nation-state. Today, the most stable store of value is that which is defined by its lack of functional use: art. While wealthy art patrons of the past often donated or loaned their collections to prestigious museums, today’s billionaires are walling off their works, enclosing the cultural record within private galleries. This is both a social milieu and a bulletproof wallet, an economy insulated from crisis.

"The most valuable work of art is the one never seen; the most expensive record is the one no one can hear. The most valuable corporations don’t own assets or directly employ workers. Value, pulled through the wringer of haute bourgeois social relations, is not only severed from use, but begins to seem hostile to it." - Gavin Mueller

Monday, November 9, 2015

"We can agree with pick-up artists that men and women exhibit some behavioral differences. But the PUA framework places their sources in evolution instead of the sexual and social division of labor. In her essay 'A Marxist Theory of Women’s Nature,' philosopher Nancy Holmstrom argues that women’s lives are less free than men’s under capitalism 'both because they are dependent on men and because they have children dependent on them.' Therefore, 'traditional sexual values constrain women more than they do men,' and women 'are less able to act to realize their own desires' and must be 'more passive and oriented to other people’s wishes than men.'

"But in societies with a less marked sexual division of labor, those sexualized generalizations dissipate. Marginalized women who need male spouses to flourish might, indeed, find pick-up artists alluring. But women in countries that have gender-equalizing policies supported by an anti-individualist culture may not." - Katie J.M. Baker, "Cockblocked by Redistribution"


"It is true that under the heading of human nature there often reside what one might call projects of deification; attempts precisely to unshackle humanity from nature, to liberate human beings from, or elevate them above, their own biology and indeed the corruption of materiality itself, by recourse to free will, the soul, notions of pure creativity, the spark of divinity within each person, and so on. Yet it cannot be an appropriate materialist response here simply to assert that, on account of man's social and historical formation, there is no human nature. On the contrary, this risks being but a covert form of the very idealism it purports to challenge. By setting up an absolute distinction between society/history and nature, it divorces humanity from the natural world - in particular from other species, which for their part are never denied to possess an intrinsic nature - and functions in this respect exactly like the theological conceptions just mentioned. Against these, any genuine materialism must insist rather that human beings, for all that is distinctive about them as a species, and for all of their traits, activities and relationships which can only be explained by specificities of society and history, are nevertheless, like all other species, material and natural beings; 'irredeemably' rooted in a given biological constitution; absolutely continuous with the rest of the natural world." - Norman Geras, Marx and Human Nature

Listen, Philosopher!

"Nothing is more requisite for a true philosopher, than to restrain the intemperate desire of searching into causes, and having establish'd any doctrine upon a sufficient number of experiments, rest contented with that, when he sees a farther examination would lead him into obscure and uncertain speculations." - David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Friday, November 6, 2015

One divides into two

"It’s no surprise that until we came on to the scene, there was no polarisation – because there weren’t two poles." - Kshama Sawant

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"The deepest significance of a relatively unchanging biological human condition is probably to be found in some of the basic material processes of the making of art: in the significance of rhythms in music and dance and language, or of shapes and colours in sculpture and painting. Because art is always made, there can of course be no reduction of works of this kind to biological conditions. But equally, where these fundamental physical conditions and processes are in question, there can be no reduction either to simple social and historical circumstances. What matters here—and it is a very significant amendment of orthodox Marxist thinking about art—is that art work is itself, before everything, a material process; and that, although differentially, the material process of the production of art includes certain biological processes, especially those relating to body movements and to the voice, which are not a mere substratum but are at times the most powerful elements of the work." - Raymond Williams, "Problems of Materialism"

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Timpanaro's Crystal Ball

"It appears [...] that post-structuralism - with only a few partial exceptions - is destined for the time being to remain in that closed circle of various alternating forms of idealism in which, for a number of decades now, western culture has been revolving and from which only a new socio-political situation can release it." - Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism

Friday, September 25, 2015

"No doubt, it is relatively easy to identify those modes of contemporary information technology whose stupefying, anti-social consequences render worthy of abolition. But there are other technologies that are perhaps not so easily abolished. Consider antivirals. Every aspect of their development is implicated in capitalist institutions and enveloped by its social forms. Does this mean antivirals are intrinsically capitalist and hence ought to play no role in a post-capitalist society? A negative response recommends itself here: while technological function is socially mediated and enveloped by the value form, this need not be a saturated mediation: it need not exhaust the functional potentialities of the technology in question. Some might retort that talk of repurposing is a distraction at best, an alibi for reformism at worst, because the development of antivirals (like every other contemporary technology) is necessarily linked to that of capitalist social relations, the proliferation of lethal viruses being a direct consequence of industrialised livestock production and globalisation. Were it not for these two factors, the objection goes, we would not be so susceptible to increasing varieties of pathogens and human welfare would not be mortgaged to the development of antivirals. The dismantling of capitalism, according to this line of argument, would radically diminish if not wholly eliminate our increasing dependence on antivirals as well as other technological artefacts.

"Now, it is undoubtedly true that there is a direct correlation between the proliferation of life-threatening viruses and the conditions of globalised capitalist society. It may also be true that dismantling the latter is the surest means of eradicating the former. And there is no doubt that the redistribution of antivirals on the basis of need rather than wealth is a more pressing political concern than speculating on their role in post-capitalist society. Nevertheless, the urgency of the former does not obviate the importance of the latter. The absolute or indeterminate negation of capitalist society and all its works would eradicate the pathologies generated by capitalism only at the cost of cancelling the emancipatory potentials latent in technologies whose functioning is currently subordinated to capital. The abstract negation of functional context is also the negation of emancipatory possibilities whose release depends upon the re-contextualisation of function. Such abstraction in-determines instead of determining the fusion of cognitive and practical orientation required for the realisation of communism. It abolishes the capitalist present at the cost of cancelling the post-capitalist future locked up within it. Foreclosing the future, blinkered negation cannot but wish to re-instate the past. It becomes the longing for a previous state of things: ‘If only we hadn’t domesticated animals and started down the road to industrialised agriculture; if only we didn’t live in a massively interconnected global society...’ And ultimately: ‘If only capitalism hadn’t happened.'

"But Marx’s starting point is the acknowledgement that capitalism has happened, and given this premise, his fundamental question is: how can we move beyond capitalism without regressing to pre-capitalist social formations, such as agrarian feudalism? The problem of repurposing cannot be circumvented by wishing capitalism had never happened. History suggests that there are things worse than the value form. A suitably abstract conception of function will allow for its transplantation, and where necessary, repurposing, across social contexts. It goes without saying that this should only be envisaged as a consequence of overcoming the capital relation, not a substitute for this overcoming. More generally, determination is not constitution. We have to find a way to articulate theoretical and social abstraction that does not involve the complete or indiscriminate relinquishment of the achievements of capitalist modernity en bloc." - Ray Brassier, "Wandering Abstraction"

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"[A]ccording to the arguments advanced in the Ethics, the world of readers, like the world of philosophy itself, cannot be divided into opposing camps as Plato imagined in the Sophist, fixed and stable in their opposition: the camp of enlightenment versus the camp of superstition, or the camp of reason versus the camp of unreason. If it remains possible to speak of camps, it is necessary to observe that the same man may at one moment belong to the camp of reason and at another to the camp of superstition; the same man may even belong, to the extent that he is animated by conflicting desires and beliefs, to both camps simultaneously. For given the fact that, as Spinoza puts it elsewhere in the Ethics, 'all men are liable to superstition', the opposing tendencies in philosophy do not so much set one man against another, one group against another, as every man against himself. Superstition, moreover, can dominate the mind of a man, even the most rational, that is, even Spinoza himself (in the face of external causes of overwhelming power), without his knowledge or acquiescence. In short, to invert Hegel, superstition does not always take a superstitious form, while rationality is always temporary and reversible, its domination of a man's mind, dependent on an equilibrium of internal and external forces, all too easily upset, necessarily precarious." - Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"The biological world is a continuum. The eliminate biochemical mechanisms by which we tick are very similar to those in most other organisms. If they weren't, even the food we eat would poison us. Many human diseases and disorders are found in other mammals - which is why we can learn how to treat them by research on animals. Sure, there are differences, as the thalidomide case so tragically demonstrated. But given the choice between testing the toxicity of a new product on animals and not testing, there is no doubt which would be safer.

"Of course, we may ask whether so many new drugs, cosmetics or other products are necessary at all, or whether such proliferation is merely the consequence of the restless innovatory needs of capitalist production. But that is not how the animal activists argue. Instead, they claim that there are alternatives to the use of animals. In some cases this is possible, and research to extend the range of such tests should have a high priority. But for many human diseases, understanding and treatment has demanded the use of animals and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There is no way, for instance that the biochemical causes of the lethal disease diabetes, or its treatment with insulin, could have been discovered, without experiments on mammals. And we can't use tissue cultures, or bacteria, or plants, to develop and test the treatments needed to alleviate epilepsy, Parkinsonism or manic depression. Anyone who claims otherwise is either dishonest or ignorant.

"Equally, however, no biologist can or should deny the sentience of other large-brained animals. The Cartesian myth - that non-human animals are mere mechanisms, pieces of clockwork whose expressions of pain or suffering are no more than the squeak of a rusty cog - is just that, a myth. It was necessary to the generations of Christian philosophers who, following Descartes, wished to preserve the spiritual uniqueness of 'Man' whilst accepting the hegemony of physics and biology over the rest of nature. And it was convenient to some 19th-century physiologists in absolving them from responsibility for the consequences of their experiments. But if I believed for one moment that my chicks were mere clockwork, I might as well stop working with them at all, and go play with computers instead.

"Unless, of course, I experimented on humans. And this, the privileging of humans, is the nub of the question. Just because we are humans, any discussion of rights must begin with human rights. How far are those rights to be extended - does it even make sense to talk of extending them - to the 'animal kingdom'? The animal kingdom isn't composed only of cats and dogs, mice and monkeys. It includes slugs and lice, wasps and mosquitoes. How far can the concept of right be extended - to not swatting a mosquito that is sucking your blood? To prevent your cat from hunting and killing a rat? Does an ant have as many rights as a gorilla? [...]

"[T]he term speciesism [...] was coined to make the claim that the issue of animal rights is on a par with the struggles for women's rights, or black people's rights, or civil rights. But these human struggles are those in which the oppressed themselves rise up to demand justice and equality, to insist that they are not the objects but the subjects of history.

"Non-human animals cannot conceive or make such a claim, and to insist the terms are parallel is profoundly offensive, the lazy thinking of a privileged group.

"Indeed, it is sometimes hard to avoid the impression that, for some among the animal rights movement, non-human animals take precedence over humans. The movement's absolutism and its seeming openness to members of extreme right-wing groups, reinforce the view that, for many of its activists, there is no automatic relationship between a concern for animal rights and one for human rights. Among others, there is an air of sanctimonious hypocrisy. They may, if they wish, refuse insulin if they are diabetic, L-dopa if they have Parkinsonism, antibiotics or surgical procedures that have been validated on animals before being used with humans - but I deny them any right to impose their personal morality on the rest of suffering humanity.

"Nonetheless, it is essential to listen to the message that the movement carries. Its strength, despite its inchoate ideology, is, I believe, in part a response to the arrogant claim to the domination of nature that western scientific culture drew from its scriptural roots. The animal rights movement is part of widespread romantic reaction to the seemingly cold irrationality of science. Scientists who ignore the strength of this reaction do so at their peril [...]

"The argument about how non-human animals should be treated is at root about how we as humans should behave. It is here that the biological discontinuities between humans and other animals become important. Our concern about how we treat other species springs out of our very humanness, as biologically and socially constructed creatures. We do not expect cats to debate the rights of mice. The issue is not really about animal rights at all, but about the duties that we have just because we are human.

"And I am sure that we do have such duties, to behave kindly to other animals, with the minimum of violence and cruelty, not to damage or take their lives insofar as it can be avoided, just as we have duties to the planet's ecology in general. But those duties are limited by an overriding duty to other humans. I have a much-loved and exceedingly beautiful cat. But if I had to choose between saving her life and that of any human child, I would unhesitatingly choose the child. But I would save my cat at the expense of a fish. And so would the vast majority of people. That is species loyalty - speciesism if you like - and I am proud to be a speciesist." - Steven Rose, "Proud to Be a Speciesist"

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"[F]or years you’ve been able to somewhat underhandedly espouse your racist, misogynist or homophobic behaviour within metal circles without ever being called out on it or asked to explain your views, and now that people are challenging you on them, you’re not at all happy about it. You don’t actually care about metal being a place in which anything can be expressed, or you wouldn’t be immediately trying to shut down any discussions that threaten to expose your ignorant, self-centred world view for what it really is. 'Anything goes,' so as long as you’re a white, heterosexual guy who wants to continue doing whatever you damn well please, right?"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"We can do better than serve up these sad little cliches from the 1970s like the one that says that natural characteristics are involuntary, cultural ones a matter of choice." - Paisley Currah

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Equality of opportunity is key here. In its minimal form, it requires an end to all forms of discrimination – racism, sexism, heterosexism etc. More robustly, it would also require that people not be victimised because of their class. Legally, of course, only race matters, which is what the Fieldses mean when they say that ‘once racecraft takes over the imagination, it shrinks well-founded criticism of inequality to fit crabbed moral limits, leaving the social grievances of white Americans without a language in which to frame them.’ Thus, even though the poor are by far the most under-represented group in American four-year colleges and universities, when Jennifer Gratz (the lower-middle-class daughter of a man who never went to college) won her case against the University of Michigan in 2003, her complaint was of discrimination against white people. Abigail Fisher, the upper-middle-class daughter of a man who attended the very college that refused to admit her, and who thus belongs to a group that has no problem getting access to good colleges, has lodged exactly the same complaint, and her case is currently before the Supreme Court. In Racecraft’s terms, what we have is a situation in which poor white people can assert what is really a grievance against rich white people only by fighting a policy designed to benefit a few black people. And rich white people, by turn, can assert their class privilege over poor white people by fighting that same policy. The policy meanwhile is of no help to the black poor: ‘On highly selective campuses,’ according Richard Kahlenberg, a prominent proponent of class-based affirmative action, ‘86 per cent of African American students are middle or upper class.’ So while the true injustice of American higher education has been its increasing stratification by wealth, the debate about class that ought to have taken place has been almost entirely effaced by the debate about race." - Walter Benn Michaels, "Believing in Unicorns"

Monday, June 15, 2015

a notion of social justice that hinges on claims to entitlement based on extra-societal, ascriptive identities is neoliberalism’s critical self-consciousness

"The fundamental contradiction that has impelled the debate and required the flight into often idiotic sophistry is that racial identitarians assume, even if they give catechistic lip service – a requirement of being taken seriously outside Charles Murray’s world – to the catchphrase that 'race is a social construction,' that race is a thing, an essence that lives within us. If pushed, they will offer any of a range of more or less mystical, formulaic, breezy, or neo-Lamarckian faux explanations of how it can be both an essential ground of our being and a social construct, and most people are willing not to pay close attention to the justificatory patter. Nevertheless, for identitarians, to paraphrase Michaels, we aren’t, for instance, black because we do black things; that seems to have been Dolezal’s mistaken wish. We do black things because we are black. Doing black things does not make us black; being black makes us do black things. That is how it’s possible to talk about having lost or needing to retrieve one’s culture or define 'cultural appropriation' as the equivalent, if not the prosaic reality, of a property crime. That, indeed, is also the essence of essentialism." - Adolph Reed, Jr. "From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"There is a funny way that groups are reified as individuals and that individuals who are held to embody group classifications can stand in for a group. All of the folderol over what Obama’s being the first black president means is, I think, embedded in vague and internally contradictory ideology. That is to say, the success of a putatively representative individual can be taken through synecdoche, basically, as a triumph for an entire group. That works only if the understanding of the group is such that it’s reduced to one characteristic, which is its group-ness...

"The phrase ['have a conversation' about race] betrays a couple of things: one of them is this facile notion that the group-ness of these totally artificial groups confers a discrete consciousness and perspective onto any one of the members. The other is that it’s only the really smart people, who go off to Martha’s Vineyard or wherever, who get to have a sustained conversation about what to do with the rest of us. I think those are the only frameworks in which the conversation idea makes sense; that or some dumb stuff you see on television.

"I think the notion has absolutely no coherent or clear meaning … I’ve been baffled over what it is about the phrase that seems to give so many people a sense of meaning and significance when there’s clearly nothing there. I think there’s a discursive tendency that seems almost militantly focused on establishing and policing public discussions about inequality to keep them away from notions of economic justice and to funnel them into these essentialized groupist discourses. [...]

"I often compare the inflation of the notion of politics to the inflation of the Deutschmark in the Weimar Republic. If it can be everything, it’s not anything, right? It doesn’t give you purchase on anything.The notion of collective action has just vanished; the notion of politics as a strategic activity directed towards influencing power has vanished; the lines between self-expression and purposive action in and on the world has just vanished." - Adolph Reed, Jr.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Interview w/ Jacques Rancière

Three months ago France took to the streets in the name of freedom of expression and coexistence. The recent local elections saw a fresh breakthrough for the Front National. What is your analysis of the quick succession of these two apparently contradictory developments?
I wouldn’t be so sure that there’s any contradiction. Obviously everyone agrees in condemning the January attacks, and everyone was pleased by the popular response that followed. But the unanimity we were meant to show in defending ‘freedom of expression’ fed a kind of confusion. In fact, freedom of expression is a principle regulating the relations between individuals and the state, forbidding the state from preventing dissenting views being expressed. But the 7 January attack on Charlie Hebdo besmirched a quite different principle: namely, that you shouldn’t shoot someone because you don’t like what they have to say. And this is the principle that sets the terms of how individuals can live together and learn to respect each other.
But we’ve overlooked this question, choosing instead to pose the whole thing in terms of polarized views on freedom of expression. In so doing we’ve added another chapter to the campaign that for many years has used great universal values for the purposes of delegitimising part of the population, counterposing ‘good Frenchmen’ – the partisans of the Republic, laïcité [French state secularism] and freedom of expression – to immigrants seen as inevitably communalist, Islamist, intolerant, sexist and backward. We often invoke universalism as a common principle for our lives, but universalism has itself been appropriated and manipulated. Transformed into the distinctive trait of a particular group, it serves as a charge against a specific community – notably through the frenetic campaigns against the veil. And 11 January [the ‘Republican marches’] could not overcome this derailing of universalism. The demonstrations rallied without distinction people who stood for common values and those who were expressing their own xenophobic sentiments.

Are you saying that those who defend the republican-laïque model are contributing, despite themselves, to preparing the way for the Front National?
We are told that the Front National has been dédiabolisé [‘de-demonised’]. What does that mean? That the party has cast aside those of its members who were too overtly racist?  Yes. But above all that the difference between the FN’s ideas and the ideas that are considered respectable and part of the republican inheritance has itself evaporated. Across two decades a number of supposed ‘Left’ intellectuals have been the source of arguments that serve xenophobia and racism. The Front National no longer has to say that immigrants want our jobs or that they are thugs. It suffices to proclaim that they are not laïques, that they do not share our values, that they are communalist…
The great universalist values – laïcité, common rules for everyone, equality among men and women – have become the instrument of a distinction between ‘us’ (we who adhere to these values) and ‘them’, who do not. The FN can keep its powder dry, as xenophobic arguments are in any case being provided by the ‘republicans’ of the host honourable pretensions.

If I follow, you’re saying that the very meaning of laïcité has been perverted. So what does it mean, for you?
In the nineteenth century, laïcité was the political tool that allowed republicans to free schools from the grip exerted by the Catholic Church (in particular after the 1850 Falloux bill). The notion of laïcité thus referred to the specific set of measures that were taken in order to break this stranglehold. From the 1980s we chose to make it into some great universal principle: but laïcité had been conceived as a means of regulating the state’s relations with the Catholic Church.
The great manipulation, here, was in the fact that laïcité was transformed into a rule that every individual had to obey. It was now up to them to be laïque, and not the state. And how can you tell if someone is breaking the principle of laïcité? By what they’re wearing on their head… When I was a child, on the day of solemn communions we’d go to school to meet our non-Catholic friends, wearing our communicants’ armbands and handing out pictures. No-one thought that this was a threat to laïcité. At that time, laïcité was a question of funding: public funding for state schools, private funding for private schools. This laïcité centred on the relations between state and private schools has, however, been buried, losing its place to another laïcité that seeks to govern individual behaviour and which is used to stigmatise part of the population on account of their physical appearance. Some have taken this delirium as far as demanding a law that bans the veil being worn in the presence of a child.

But where does this desire to stigmatise people come from?
It has various causes, some of them linked to the Palestinian question and the forms of mutual intolerance that it has fed in this country. But there is also the ‘great resentment on the Left’, born of the great hopes of the 1960s-70s and the destruction of these hopes by the so-called ‘Socialist’ party when it came to power. All republican, socialist, revolutionary and progressive ideals have been turned back against themselves. They have become the opposite of what they were meant to be – no longer weapons in the battle for equality, but arms for discrimination, distrust and contempt directed against a supposedly ‘brutish’ or ‘backward’ people. Unable to fight the growth of inequality, we legitimise inequalities by delegitimising the people who suffer their effects.
We could think of the way in which Marxist critique has been subverted, becoming a justification for denouncing the democratic individual and the all-powerful consumer – that is, a denunciation that attacks those who have the least means with which to consume… The subversion of republican universalism, converted into a reactionary outlook stigmatizing the poorest, speaks to the same logic.

Isn’t it legitimate enough, though, to fight the veil, which is far from obviously a mark of women’s liberation?
The question is whether state schools’ mission is to liberate women. If that were so, should it not also be liberating the workers and all the other dominated groups in French society? We have all kinds of subjection – from the social to the sexual or racial. The principle of a reactive ideology is to target one particular form of submission, better to keep the others in place. The same people who once accused feminism of ‘sectionalism’ have now discovered their own ‘feminism’ in order to justify the anti-veil laws. The status of women in the Muslim world is problematic, certainly, but it’s the women concerned who first have to decide what they consider oppressive. And, in general, the people who suffer oppression have to fight against their own submission – you can’t liberate people on their behalf.

Let’s turn back to the Front National. You have criticized the idea that ‘the people’ is naturally racist. In your view, immigrants are less the victims of a racism that comes ‘from below’ than a racism ‘from above’: racial profiling, being cast out to peripheral suburbs, or the difficulty people have finding work or housing if they have foreign-sounding surnames. But when 25% of the voters support a party that wants a freeze on mosque construction, doesn’t it show that despite any other considerations xenophobic drives really are at work among the French population?
Firstly, I would say that this surge of xenophobia goes well beyond the ranks of far-Right voters. What is the difference between a Front National mayor who changes the name of the Rue du 19 Mars 1962 [Robert Ménard the FN aligned mayor of Béziers renamed the town’s street that marked the Evian accord according Algerian independence, replacing this with the name of « Hélie Denoix de Saint-Marc», a member of the French Resistance who had been deported to Buchenwald but who later became a supporter of the reactionary, anti-independence Algérie française campaign and participated in the generals’ putsch of April 1961, for which he was condemned to prison], UMP [centre-right] MPs who demand that we teach the positive aspects of colonialism, Nicolas Sarkozy opposing pork-free menus in school canteens, or so-called ‘republican’ intellectuals who want to exclude veiled teenagers from university? In any case, it is too reductionist to say the FN vote is an expression of racist or xenophobic ideas. More than a means of expressing popular sentiment, the Front National is a structural effect of French political life such as it has been organised according to the constitution of the Fifth Republic. In allowing a small minority to govern in the name of the population, this system has relentlessly opened up space for a political tendency that says ‘We’re not part of their game’. The Front National has occupied that space since the decomposition of the Communists and the far Left. As for the masses’ ‘deep-seated feelings’ – well, what’s the measure of that? I will only note that in France we have no equivalent of the German xenophobic movement PEGIDA. And I don’t believe that this situation bears any comparison to the 1930s, and there is nothing in France today that looks anything like the huge far-Right militias of the interwar period.

It seems you don’t think there’s any need to fight the Front National…
We have to fight against the system that produces the Front National, and thus also against the tactic of using denunciation of the FN as a means of masking the rapid rightward drift of government élites and the intellectual class.

Are you not worried that it will come to power?
Since I consider the Front National to be the fruit of the imbalance in our institutions’ own logic, I think it more likely that it will be integrated into the system. There are already a lot of similarities between the FN and the existing systemic forces.

If the FN came to power that would have very concrete consequences for the weakest in French society – immigrants – no?
Probably yes. But I don’t see the FN organising huge expulsions, with hundreds of thousands or millions of people being ‘sent back where they came from’. The Front National is not a matter of poor whites against immigrants; its electorate spans all sectors of society, even including immigrants. So of course there might be symbolic measures, but I don’t believe that a UMP-FN government would be all that different from a UMP one.

Before the first round of the elections Manuel Valls criticised French intellectuals for ‘having fallen asleep’: ‘Where are the intellectuals, where is this country’s great conscience, the men and woman who also have to be on the front line – where is the Left?’, he asked. Do you feel concerned by that?
So the Socialists ask us ‘Where is the Left’? There’s a simple answer: it’s where they’ve led it, into the abyss. The Parti Socialiste’s historical role has been to kill the Left. Mission accomplished. Manuel Valls asks what intellectuals are doing… Frankly, I can’t see what a man like him can criticise them for. He attacks their silence but the fact is that for decades a number of intellectuals have been taking an awful lot. They have been made into stars, saints even. They have made a major contribution to the hate-filled campaigns around the veil and laïcité. They have been all too outspoken. I would add that an appeal to intellectuals is an appeal to people who are such cretins that they’ll agree to play the role of spokesmen for intelligence.  You can only accept such a role, of course, in defining yourself against a people presented as being made up of the brutish and backward. Which ultimately goes back to the counterposition of those ‘who know’ and those ‘who don’t know’, which is precisely what we need to smash apart if we want to fight against the disdainful society of which the Front National is only one particular expression.

There are however intellectuals, including yourself, who fight this rightward drift in French thought. Don’t you believe in the force of an intellectual’s words?

You can’t place your hopes in a few individuals unblocking the situation. That can only happen by way of mass, democratic movements, and they’ll not draw their legitimacy from an intellectual’s privileges.

In your philosophical work you show that ever since Plato political thought has tended to divide the individuals ‘who know’ from those ‘who don’t know’. On the one hand is the educated, reasonable, competent class called on to rule; on the other hand, the ignorant popular classes who are the victims of their own base impulses, and are fated to being ruled over. So is that your way of analysing the present situation?
For a long time rulers have justified their authority by dressing themselves up in the supposed virtues of the enlightened class, like prudence, moderation, wisdom… Today’s governments speak in terms of a science – economics – and claim to be doing nothing but applying its allegedly objective, inevitable laws (which just so happen to suit the interests of the ruling classes). But we have seen the economic disasters and the geopolitical chaos that the old ruling wisdom and the new economic science have produced over the last forty years. This demonstration of the incompetence of the supposedly competent has merely awakened the contempt of the governed for those who so contemptuously govern them. The positive demonstration of the democratic competence of the supposedly incompetent is, however, quite another thing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


"Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

"Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

"And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was 'shocked.'

"Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police. [...]

"The city’s settlement agreements contain a clause that prohibits injured residents from making any public statement — or talking to the news media — about the incidents. And when settlements are placed on the agenda at public meetings involving the mayor and other top officials, the cases are described using excerpts from police reports, with allegations of brutality routinely omitted. State law also helps to shield the details, by barring city officials from discussing internal disciplinary actions against the officers — even when a court has found them at fault. [...]

"Since 2011, the city has been involved in 102 court judgments and settlements related to allegations of civil rights and constitutional violations such as assault, false arrest and false imprisonment, making payouts that ranged up to $500,000. (The statutory cap can be exceeded when there are multiple claims in a lawsuit, and if there is malice the cap may not apply.) In 43 of the lawsuits, taxpayers paid $30,000 or more. In such settlements, the city and the officers involved do not acknowledge any wrongdoing. [...]

"Department officials said some officers were exonerated in internal force investigations, even though jurors and the city awarded thousands of dollars to battered residents in those incidents.

"For years, leaders in Baltimore’s Police Department, the nation’s eighth-largest, didn’t track or monitor the number of lawsuits filed against each officer. As a result, city officials were unaware that some officers were the target of as many as five lawsuits.

"The Sun’s findings include only lawsuits that have been settled or decided in court; dozens of similar cases are still pending. The city has faced 317 lawsuits over police conduct since 2011 — and recently budgeted an additional $4.2 million for legal fees, judgments and lawsuits, a $2.5 million increase from fiscal 2014. [...]

"A clause in the city’s agreements prohibits any public statement about the incident that triggered the lawsuit. Limitations on 'public statements shall include a prohibition in discussing any facts or allegations … with the news media' except to say the lawsuit has been settled, it states.

"The penalty for talking? City lawyers could sue to get back as much as half or more of the settlement. [...]

"According to city policy, officials are bound to defend officers as long as they follow departmental guidelines when using force to make arrests. An agreement between the city and police union guarantees that taxpayers will pay court damages in such cases.

"Although police officials declined to release individual personnel records, they did discuss the issue in broad terms, saying that from 2012 through July, the department received 3,048 misconduct complaints against officers. Of those, officials sustained 1,203 complaints — 39 percent — meaning investigators could prove the claims were true.

"That led to 61 resignations and discipline for more than 850 officers, measures ranging from written reprimands to suspensions.

"But in some cases that resulted in settlements or judgments, officers were not disciplined even after they were found liable in court."

Non serviam

"Finally, the media found, the protesters were behaving according to the script — the one that casts black communities in America as powder kegs that can be contained only by the cops. Never mind that chucking hot dog buns and condiments at police and smashing up police vehicles and store windows is inherently less destructive, at least in terms of human life, than fatally severing a person’s spinal cord or shooting an unarmed man multiple times in the back. The latter two operations were performed under the sanction of U.S. law enforcement, whose behavior, no matter how outrageous, is still defended from public outrage by media and politicians alike. [...]

"The Gray family’s lawyer has described the motive for Gray’s arrest on April 12 as 'running while black.' According to reports, he ran from police unprovoked and was arrested and placed in a police van. Somewhere along the way, his spine was compromised, and he ended up in a coma, dying a week later. A pocketknife of legal size was found on his person.

"Although running from police hardly constitutes probable cause, the Supreme Court has ruled that such an act can nonetheless merit detention by cops when it takes place in a 'high-crime area' — a conveniently ambiguous denomination. [...]

"Baltimore-born pastor the Rev. Graylan Hagler also spoke about law enforcement’s long tradition of dehumanizing blacks and cited ongoing advancements in the oppressive arts, thanks to training sessions in Israel for U.S. cops. Israel’s vast experience in the curtailment of civil liberties and human rights means it’s an ideal accomplice in the increasing militarization of police, one effect of which is that sections of the domestic population end up being seen as enemy combatants. [...]

"And on Monday, when tensions boiled over and young Baltimoreans repeatedly threw rocks at police tanks and cruisers, the scene was eerily reminiscent of the Occupied Territories, which should surprise no one who has followed U.S. police militarization in accordance with the Israel Defense Forces model.

"In his speech, Hagler urged the audience to forget the issue of black versus white; the real problem, he said, is blue — the color of the police uniform. He’s right. Contemporary police behavior constitutes an affront to justice, enforcing a system of race- and class-based oppression in which blacks disproportionately occupy the lower rungs of society." - Belén Fernández

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Like workers in all industries, pilots deal with personal tragedy and pressures at work and in their personal lives. When you are not fit to fly, physically or mentally, the regulations and expectations stipulate that you stay home. It would be fair to say, however, that machismo is quite prevalent in aviation, and most pilots would rather not fly because of a bad cold than admit they are dealing with mental health problems.

"While the culture of the aviation industry has improved over the last few decades, mental health issues remain an enormous taboo. One major problem is that most pilots who clear the substantial hurdles to sit in that seat (having the skills, having the finances, relocating, finding a job) will do anything to keep their position. Apart from grieving and going through a divorce, it is not an insignificant risk to admit to your colleagues and employer in the airline industry that you are dealing with issues that are not of a physical nature. The fear of losing your job is very real, even paralyzing.

"Commercial pilots are required to have a Class 1 medical certificate, which has to be renewed every year (and more even regularly as you age). This is on top of regular proficiency checks, where an examiner assesses whether you are up to your job. Lose or fail any of those, and it can quickly be the end of your career and your livelihood.

"Naturally, airlines select candidates who can deal with the stresses and pressures of flying. Lubitz himself was the product of Lufthansa Flight Training, a prestigious institution that uses the DLR flight aptitude and skills test. This exam is one of the hardest selection procedures in the industry and has a very low pass rate. However, like all current selection procedures, the test does not check for mental illness. Psychological profiles are assessed, but these simply determine if someone fits the job profile and the company culture.

"There is no adequate support system in place for pilots suffering from mental health issues, even if brought on by fatigue or a variety of other causes common to the industry. The perception among pilots is that if we ask for help we will be out the door, with no hope of returning to work. This pressure is not conducive to optimal mental health for those sitting at the controls. [...]

"The point is not to justify Lubitz’s actions, but to try to understand why a human being might behave in such a way, so as to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Within aviation over the last few decades, this has been the goal of aircraft accident investigations: not to heap blame on any particular individual, but to try to uncover a chain of events in order to draw lessons. Similarly, we shouldn’t just throw up our arms and declare Lubitz a “madman” or a 'rotten apple' who lived in a social vacuum.

"We should instead situate Lubitz’s actions in the context of both the degradation of work experienced by pilots and the degeneration of the aviation industry. Hyper-individualized analyses of cause and effect won’t get us very far."

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Language is not a reservoir of possible meanings waiting to be realized. On the contrary, meaning always exists in an actualized state and the set of meanings attached to a given phrase is finite, limited to those meanings actually in use. [...] Language is a part of nature, infinite, incessantly producing itself according to ever changing laws immanent to it which no individual can disobey without falling into meaninglessness. It is both the producer and product of a collectivity." - Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"Everywhere accountability is sought, it is usually the instinct for punishing and judging which seeks it. One has deprived becoming of its innocence if being in this or that state is traced back to will, to intentions, to accountable acts: the doctrine of will has been invented essentially for the purpose of punishment, that is of finding guilty. [...] Men were thought of as 'free' so that they could become guilty: consequently, every action had to be thought of as willed, the origin of every action as lying in the consciousness (where the most fundamental falsification in psychologicis was made into the very principle of psychology). . . .

"What alone can our teaching be? That no one gives a human being his qualities: not God, not society, not his parents or ancestors, not he himself ( - the nonsensical idea here last rejected was propounded, as 'intelligible freedom', by Kant, and perhaps also by Plato before him). No one is accountable for existing at all, or for being constituted as he is, or for living in the circumstances and surroundings in which he lives. The fatality of his nature cannot be disentangled from the fatality of all that which has been and will be. He is not the result of a special design, a will, a purpose; he is not the subject of an attempt to attain to an 'ideal of man' or an 'ideal of happiness' or an 'ideal of morality' - it is absurd to want to hand over his nature to some purpose or other. We invented the concept 'purpose': in reality purpose is lacking. . . . One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole - there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole. . . . But nothing exists apart from the whole! - That no one is any longer made accountable, that the kind of being manifested cannot be traced back to a causa prima, that the world is a unity neither as sensorium nor as 'spirit', this alone is the great liberation - thus alone is the innocence of becoming restored. . . ." - Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

"Philosophers look upon the passions by which we are assailed as vices, into which men fall through their own fault. So it is their custom to deride, bewail, berate them, or, if their purpose is to appear more zealous than others, to execrate them. They believe that they are thus performing a sacred duty, and that they are attaining the summit of wisdom when have learnt how to shower extravagant praise on a human nature that nowhere exists and to revile that which exists in actuality. The fact is that they conceive men not as they are, but as they would like them to be. As a result, for the most part it is not ethics they have written, but satire; and they have never worked out a political theory that can have practical application, only one that borders on fantasy or could be put into effect in Utopia or in that golden age of the poets where there would naturally be no need of such. Therefore, while theory is believed to be at variance with practice in all practical sciences, this is particularly so in the case of political theory, and no men are regarded as less fit for governing a state than theoreticians or philosophers.

"[I]n turning my attention to political theory it was not my purpose to suggest anything that is novel or unheard of, but only to demonstrate by sure and conclusive reasoning such things as are in closest agreement with practice, deducing them from human nature as it really is. And in order to enquire into matters relevant to this branch of knowledge in the same unfettered spirit as is habitually shown in mathematical studies, I have taken great care not to deride, bewail, or execrate human actions, but to understand them. So I have regarded human emotions such as love, hatred, anger, envy, pride, pity, and other agitations of the mind not as vices of human nature but as properties pertaining to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder and such pertain to the nature of the atmosphere. These things, though troublesome, are inevitable, and have definite causes through which we try to understand their nature. And the mind derives as much enjoyment in contemplating them aright as from the knowledge of things that are pleasing to the senses." - Baruch Spinoza, Political Treatise

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Those who breathlessly clamour for the anticapitalist uprising, calling for a liberation understood as emancipation from the servitudes of the social order, and potentially as - using the language of rupture - total liberation, namely, the reaffirmation of the sovereign autonomy of the subjects who regain the free command of their lives, are unaware of the deep intellectual kinship that binds them to the liberal thought they imagine themselves fighting, and of which their orations are almost as canonical an expression as the entrepreneurs' apologies. For the entrepreneurs too are free, masters of their success, at times even engaged in storming the Bastilles (the monopolies that want to corner the market, the restrictions on competition that dissuade from risk-taking); in short, they are equally busy 'changing the world' - in their own way. The 'innovators' of both kinds, revolutionaries of the social order or of the industrial order, are united above all in their common loathing of deterministic thought, to them an offence against their freedom, which in the last analysis is the sense they have of their unique ability to transform the world. The only difference between the two is the nature of the transformations sought by these otherwise equally liberal subjects. Witness the gesture of revulsion unfailingly and almost universally provoked by any suggestion that we may not be the free beings we like to imagine ourselves as. The purest formula of disgust is perhaps the one offered by Schelling, for whom to be conditioned was to be reduced to the rank of things - that by which 'anything becomes a thing'. This gesture of revulsion indicates the depth of the roots of a scheme of thought shared by agents who believe themselves to differ politically in everything, whereas philosophically they differ in nothing (in any case, nothing fundamental).

"The category of the 'new' is perhaps the site par excellence where all these confusions and common grounds are concentrated. For the new is the counterpart, in the world of objective things, of freedom in the world of subjective actions, and thus would like to pass for a kind of uncaused advent, an ineffable event that is an absolute exception to all known laws; a dazzling manifestation of freedom's ability to break with the past as the ability to suspend absolutely the order of the world and make it bifurcate. In other words, coming from these false non-believers, it is exactly what is called a miracle. How can an event come about in a way that escapes the sequence of causes and effects, namely, out of nowhere? And, conversely, how to maintain the radicality of a 'new' that can be derived from a causal unfolding, rightfully knowable? Perhaps the only way we can avoid this dilemma is by downgrading the idea of the new, for example by reducing it to the finite abilities of the human understanding that sets itself to judge it. 'New' is nothing more than the name for what lies outside our ordinary experience, the quality we ascribe to what surprises us. But to surprise human understanding - to exceed its simple limits - should not in principle suffice to ground a metaphysical verdict. That the infinite complexity, synchronic as well as diachronic, of the concatenation of causes and effects eludes the human mind is a lacuna inscribed in the mind's very nature as finite mode, but not a sufficient reason to occasionally declare the concatenating order suspended." - Frédéric Lordon, Willing Slaves of Capital

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"In the past, counter-cultures have been carrier groups and social bases for anti-capitalism, anti-racism, feminism, ecology, queer politics, and a variety of other progressive political movements. Counter-cultures are inherently 'radical' in the sense that they seek to negate the current social reality and try to create an alternative. Politically, though, they are not intrinsically Left or Right. Fascism—as distinct from most other types of right-wing politics—seeks a radical transformation of the current Western social order (based on liberal­ism and democracy) and as such can appeal to counter-culturalists just as much as Marxism or anarchism can.

"Therefore, the presence of Far Right attitudes in these counter-cultural scenes—even when they do not directly translate into fascist organizing—also has negative effects. Instead of a progressive, pro-queer, and feminist milieu, an atmosphere filled with reactionary social attitudes can become dominant. Even when the bands aren’t committed Nazis, a Far Right-leaning scene further repels the participation of those targeted by the Right. [...]

"When bringing up exclusions, the question of 'free speech' inevitably comes up. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the protection of speech from interference by the government. To call for excluding a group, individual, or band is not to be mistaken for a call for the government to ban or otherwise violate the Constitutional rights of fascist and related groups. (Even from a realpolitik perspective, these kinds of restrictions often end up being used against progressives in rather short order.) But it is legal—and always has been under the First Amendment—for non-governmental political groups to decide who may attend private gatherings or be published in their media; free speech does not guarantee your right to crash anyone’s party, join their organization, or attend their meetings. Likewise, media are under no obligation to publish articles representing everyone’s viewpoints. Freedom of speech means that the government cannot suppress individuals from holding their own meetings or expressing political opinions publicly—it does not dictate that Far Right activists must be given open access to progressive events."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Sometimes, our self-deception can be downright funny. Two weekends ago, the New York Times profiled a group of fancy private schools in New York City where wealthy, white and privileged students learn that they are…wealthy, white and privileged. There’s even an annual 'White Privilege Conference,' which is being held this year at Dalton School (tuition: $41,350). More and more private schools, according to the Times, 'select students to attend' that conference. These students are so select (and these schools so selective) that they have to be selected to attend a conference on their selectedness.

"You’d think that if the parents and teachers of these masters of the universe were truly concerned about racial and class privilege they’d simply abolish private schools. Or lobby for better state and federal laws, and more liberal courts, to reintegrate the public schools: after all, in 1988, even after two terms of Ronald Reagan, even after two decades of a Republican near-monopoly on the White House, racial integration was at an all-time high. That’s how strong the laws and court orders were.

"Or schools could organize workshops to teach students how to lead a mass movement that would divest private schools of federal tax benefits, such as the Coverdell Education Savings Account, or state-level tax benefits, which are even more generous to the wealthy.

"The advantages of such a movement would be many. Students would learn, firsthand, that race or race privilege is indeed constructed—a term often bandied about but not always understood—not merely by words and symbols but by laws, taxes, wealth and institutions. In confronting the defenders of these privileges, which might include their parents, teachers, principals and even themselves, students would see, in a concrete way, just how invested people can be in their privilege. And, who knows, they might even win.

"But that, of course, is what private school leaders don’t want. They want a conversation, not a confrontation, about privilege. They want to change words, not worlds. So why talk about privilege at all? Because privilege talk is good for business.

"There’s actually an industry of privilege consultants who sell their services to schools like Dalton, Spence and Collegiate. According to one of these consultants, school administrators realize that 'raising students to live in a bubble—a white bubble, a black bubble, a Latino bubble, whatever type of bubble you want to call it—is not to your benefit in a global society.' And 'anti-racist thinking,' adds the Times, 'is a 21st-century skill.'

"Global society, 21st-century skills: These are buzzwords for the international capitalism the students of these schools are being trained to lead. Far from being educated to dismantle privilege, they’re being schooled to perpetuate and preside over it.

"Education is the quintessential American hustle. Schoolmen and con men have one thing in common: They both believe they can talk their way out of anything. But the reason our schools are unequal is that our society is unequal. And no amount of privilege talk is going to change that." - Corey Robin

Friday, January 30, 2015

"App-enabled workers don’t fit neatly into a regulatory landscape that recognizes only two types of worker: employees in traditional work relationships and independent contractors. Employees are generally covered by protections such as minimum-wage and antidiscrimination statutes, workers’ compensation, and union-organizing rights, while the latter have no such protections. Employers in many situations favor the contractor model since it frees them from certain tax obligations and legal liabilities. [...]

"One suit in federal court in San Francisco could bring changes to the way companies pay on-demand workers. CrowdFlower Inc., a startup that breaks down digital jobs, such as data entry, into tiny tasks performed by millions of workers, has been winding down a class-action suit alleging that the company violated minimum-wage laws.

"The nearly 20,000 workers in the suit say they should have been classified as CrowdFlower employees, and not contractors, citing the company’s work assignments, minute instructions as to how they should do their work and work-monitoring algorithms. CrowdFlower’s co-founder, according to the suit, said in a video interview that the firm sometimes paid workers $2 to $3 an hour, rather than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, or paid workers in points for various online reward programs and videogame credits. [...]

"About 34% of the labor force, or 53 million Americans, work in some form of contingent arrangement, according to a 2014 report written by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk Inc., an online marketplace for freelance work.

"Kristy Milland of Toronto says odd jobs on the Mechanical Turk platform, like checking the accuracy of a software program’s search results, help her support her family, but calls her experience with the site 'a conundrum.'

"She is a leader of the online forum, which gives Mechanical Turk laborers a place to air complaints and connect; a similar forum,, does the same for Uber’s drivers.
'At the same time that I’m using it to make a living, I’m fighting against it,' she says. 'It’s not paying fairly and it’s taking advantage of people in a situation where labor laws don’t apply.' [...]

"According to a new study commissioned by Uber, drivers earn an average of $19 per hour before expenses. The majority are 'very satisfied with the platform, they have complete control over when they work, and they’re very satisfied with the income opportunity,' says David Plouffe, a former White House official who heads Uber’s policy and strategy team. 'We obviously are comfortable with our business model.'

“ 'In some ways it’s saving me while I search for other employment,' says an Uber driver in New Jersey who started with the service last year on a part-time basis while working in technology sales. Since losing his job recently, the man, who declined to be named since he doesn’t want Uber to cut him off, now drives for the company full-time and estimates he earns roughly $500 a week after expenses and depreciation, working 40 or more hours.

“ 'If you want to ‘Uber’ as a moonlighting thing, it’s great,' he says. But driving full-time, 'basically you’re in a service industry job making $8 to $10 per hour and getting clobbered on the depreciation of your vehicle.'

"Zirtual, which provides remote personal assistants, initially used independent contractors, but switched to an employee model after growing tired of arm’s-length relationships with contractors, says CEO Maren Kate Donovan. Now considered full employees, Zirtual assistants now stay longer with the company, and start at $11 an hour, she says.

“ 'At first people like the flexibility of being a contractor, but at the end of the day most people don’t have the luxury to bring in half a paycheck,' she says."

 "Uber drivers often complain about the low (and declining) pay and miserable conditions. S., a driver in Chicago (who, like everyone I spoke with, wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals), says that full-timers put in sixty hours a week for an hourly rate that comes to $12 or $13 after expenses. He says the company is constantly scheming to cut pay. A., a driver in Los Angeles (and one of the few women in the trade), says she gets $11 to $12 an hour after expenses (daily expenses like gas, not depreciation of the car), which is around the twenty-fifth percentile of the city’s hourly earnings, though about in line with typical taxi-driver pay. That’s a sharp contrast with the $35-an-hour rate that was dangled in front of her when she signed up. A. describes Uber as 'a port in the storm,' a way to pick up some cash while, Angeleno that she is, she works on some movie and web projects. [...]

"Drivers are rated by their passengers, and if your rating isn’t high enough, the company will 'deactivate' you—which is how they say 'fire,' since you’re just another node in the app to them. J., another LA driver whose name was passed along to me by an organizer with the California App-Based Drivers Association (a project of the Teamsters Union), says passengers love to wield this power over drivers: one insisted that he run a red light or lose his five-star rating. And J. says there’s no appeal process for a bad rating or deactivation.

"You need a newish car to drive for Uber; if your car gets too old, that’s grounds for deactivation. But the company is ready to help: it’s entered into a partnership with Santander, a Spanish bank, to offer car loans to drivers, with the payments conveniently deducted from their paycheck. According to the terms posted on, a chat board for drivers, the payments work out to an interest rate of around 21 percent. They get you coming and going. [...]

"[I]n the 1990s bubble, jobs were easy to come by and real wages were rising across the board, so optimism was easily transmissible. Now, despite over five years of official recovery, the sharing economy offers some people, like cab drivers, the prospect of real wage cuts, and others, like people with a spare bedroom, a way to supplement stagnant incomes. The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population.

"The sharing economy looks like a classically neoliberal response to neoliberalism: individualized and market-driven, it sees us all as micro-entrepreneurs fending for ourselves in a hostile world. Its publicists seek to transform the instability of the post–Great Recession economy into opportunity. Waiting for your script to sell? Drive an Uber on the weekend. Can’t afford a place to live while attending grad school? Take a two-bedroom apartment and rent one room out. You may lack health insurance, sick days and a pension plan, but you’re in control.

"As Airbnb’s Chesky said in a McKinsey & Company interview, today’s generation sees ownership as 'a burden.' People aren’t proud of their homes or cars; they’re proud of their Instagram feed. As Chesky predicts, 'in the future, people will own whatever they want responsibility for. And I think what they’re going to want responsibility for the most is their reputation, their friendships, their relationships, and the experiences they’ve had.' Affect triumphs over material lack."