There are times I wish we could have something like a 'symbolic amnesty' where we just wipe a particular terminological slate clean of connotations so that we can have certain conversations without constantly blundering into excuses to derail them.
Like, it'd be really nice if we could talk openly about the *incredibly tight* ties between governance and finance in countries like the UK without having to be on the defence about accidental associations with accusations of blood libel. It's a discursive minefield.
There's a perennial 'man covered in shit' problem here, where no matter how economically reasoned or anti-racistly seasoned your critiques are there *will* be people who turn up to agree with you dragging flecks of anti-semitic faeces on their shoes, if nothing else.
I'd really, really like to be able to openly talk about how the post-imperial UK made itself the financial hub of the global tax evasion industry, and how the Tory faction who drove Brexit are now aiming to double down on this role, committing to making the world around us worse.
Like, this is real concrete complicity. The relative purchasing power of my wages depends on how much trust dictators and their associates can put in my country to help them extract and hide wealth from people all across the globe. There's no good symbol for this complicity.
The closest we've got is Jeffrey Epstein and Prince Andrew, which is a world historical convergence of financial-political complicity wrapped up in upper class sex cults. But the sexual angle means it's easily assimilated to historical examples that ignore the present network.
You're stuck talking about billionaires as either sex perverts (Epstein), unfeeling robots (Zuckerberg), puerile meme-lords (Musk). The first has obvious issues. The second is so close to Ickean 'lizard people' that you'll reliably get called out on it. The last has *problems*.
This is one way of tracing the current counter-cultural moment in outline. The symbolic resources that are acceptable within the mainstream culture for articulating the perniciousness of the ruling the class are incredibly restrict(ed/ive). This is an opportunity for divergence.
This divergence isn't necessarily good. The legacy of the 4chan-tumblr wars is far from straightforwardly positive, but you have to look at it for what it is (…). If Musk is doing a better job of engaging with the counter-culture than you are, that's on you.
Insisting that the existing language of 'capitalists' is already sufficient is to ignore the parameters of the task we've supposedly set ourselves, i.e., to give explanatory and normative resources to those agitating for real social change on the basis of their (class) interests.
Of course, there's a good chunk of the youth who are primed for Marxist analysis or other strands of radicalism, but they're about as likely to become Twitter tankies covered in semiotic shit as they are to embrace 'the one true way', whatever that's supposed to be.
They're primed to embrace the very symbolic resources that their elders forbid them in the name of transgressive liberation. Such transgressive desires can be appealed to in constructive ways, we're talking about 'counter' culture here, which is essentially oppositional.
But fragmented opposition based on transgressively reappropriating symbolic taboos from the dominant culture in a more or less random manner is a classic case of tactics over strategy. Symbolic pluralism is useful, but it also needs to be disciplined to facilitate solidarity.
Part of this discipline is recognising that the symbolic amnesties we can sometimes achieve in local contexts, are more or less impossible in the global context, unless cultural hegemony has already been achieved. The only alternative is disciplined experimentation.
The key to experimental discipline is simultaneously suspending one's own impulse to pre-emptively criticise while acknowledging that our success conditions are defined by how well our experimental symbols engage with people will never suspend these impulses.
This is a very concrete case of 'you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem'. It's entirely up to you whether you'll suspend your critical reflexes in the name of political pluralism and experimental solidarity. Terminological schadenfreude can be poisonous.
At the end of the day, no matter how subtly honed your semiotic/hermeneutic understanding, loudly enjoying others' failures is not the same as trying to succeed. Merely attending to failure is not the same as trying to learn from it, especially when you expected these failures.
There's a genuine political Gettier problem here: just because something you expected to fail did doesn't mean that you know anything, because you have to see whether the way it *actually* failed lined up with how you *expected* it to fail. There's no knowledge without learning.
If there's a singular vice of the Marxist tradition it's the (self-identified) cassandra complex: pointing to every failure of concrete efforts at local reform as evidence for one's prophesy of inevitable global revolution. Hegelian idealism packaged as Feuerbachian materialism.
Obsessing about the failures of socialism in the 20th century is pure navel gazing if you're not really looking around you at the failures of political movements in the present. Simply assuming you already understood the way they would fail turns your knowledge into ignorance.
If the 'negative' in 'negative dialectics' just means sneering at other's failures then it's not worth a damn. I don't give a fuck that you don't give a fuck, because giving a fuck about materialism entails giving a fuck about a whole lot of things that aren't your pet theory.
I cannot locate the original tweet, but someone posted this line a line of utter shitpost poetry recently, and it stuck with me: "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted Marx in various ways; the point is to change him."
This means not just separating what is living from dead in his ideas and those of the tradition that elaborate them, but also what's living from dead in their symbolic repertoire, and being willing to let others with similar goals experiment with it in different ways.
Part of what I've been doing here on twitter over the last few months is carrying out some symbolic experiments. Trying to see what sticks and what doesn't, what resonates, coheres, or has unexpected and unfortunate consequences. I'll keep doing this, and reflecting on it.
I heartily encourage you to explore alternate paths. Just don't be so invested in your symbols that you can't tell the difference between rhetoric and logic, affinity and commitment; and be prepared to switch lanes when we find things that work. Solidarity in symbolism guys. 🖖
CODA: For anyone interested in this ongoing work on symbolism, here are a couple threads:

1. Solidarity in Joy:

2. Promethean Wolf and Orphic Magpie:

3. The Hogwarts Experience:

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More from @deontologistics

17 Feb
I think it's worth recognising that death will always divide us. There are deaths that are intensely positive/negative for me that you don't and can't feel in the same way I do. This is a source as much as a symptom of enmity. Yet the only universal enemy is death itself.
When one dances on another's grave, be it literally or performatively, one is inviting those who feel strongly for the dead to hate you. There's no getting around that. It's the price of doing business in the market of mortality, sorrow, and grief.
But all the same, violating a heuristic taboo (e.g., 'don't speak ill of the dead') is a legitimate way of signalling value (e.g., '...unless it's important'). It's a way of saying: 'Look what this fucker made me do! I only stoop this low as a monument to their awfulness.'
Read 11 tweets
17 Feb
Here's a hypothesis I just explained to @mojozozoe that I may as well put out here. DNA is not a map of an organism but a sequence of densely interlinked instructions for constructing one. The Y chromosome provides a very minimal way of modulating this process of construction.
Any attempt to understand (statistical/functional) sexual dimorphism has to begin from this fact, which is made obvious by the size of the Y chromosome relative to not just the X but all the other ones. This has a lot of interesting consequences for thinking about sexuality.
If there's one thing Freud got right about human sexuality it's that it's something that's assembled as the genetic process of constructing an adult organism gets modulated by the social process of producing a (gendered) person. The genesis of sexuality can be *very* extended.
Read 22 tweets
17 Feb
Just listened to this piece () by @jersey_flight about the responsibilities of leftist intellectuals and the ways these responsibilities are all too easily abdicated by academics. It resonates with my own recent critical comments (…).
Here's a few related threads for anyone interested:

1. A conversation with @OlufemiOTaiwo and @deonteleologist about debate culture and discursive charity:
2. A thread on degenerate 'critique' and the epistemology of ignorance:
Read 4 tweets
17 Feb
'Talent' is a place holder term: a promissory note for some more concrete conception of ability, yet to be articulated. The same might be said of 'electability'. When the Labour right repeats these terms without even trying to cash them out, they're running on intellectual fumes.
It's particularly telling that the one original term they had for Starmer's talent was 'forensic', which by now has been widely and rightly mocked. This is because it shows how incoherent their conception of political communication is.
Corbyn was repeatedly painted as and criticised for not being a man of the people, for being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the metropolitan bubble of urban millennial progressives. There wasn't nothing to these criticisms, but they were mostly performative.
Read 14 tweets
16 Feb
I’m beginning to think that the left has been too obsessed with GDP as a broken economic metric governing the global shitshow, when inflation is more insidious. Deflation may be a more radical demand than degrowth. Burst bubbles. Deflate the price of fossil fuel infrastructure.
It’s amazing just how much political economy is still determined by the threat of stagflation. This has created a weird metonymy in which as long as you’re fight inflation (preserving the interests of (older) savers) you’re also fighting stagnation (supporting (younger) earners).
To some extent the residual fear of deflationary spirals lies behind this, waiting in the wings for any suggestion that stagnation must be fought with deflation. This is entirely understandable, as uncontrolled deflation hits the poorest hardest.
Read 18 tweets
16 Feb
I think one way of looking at the economic pathologies of our society, without using words like 'capitalism' and 'rentiership', is to talk about inequities in the distribution of risk. Some have more taste for risk than others, sure, but risk is not distributed on this basis.
In the UK, so much of our political troubles come from the growth in the landlord class, who if nothing else, wield disproportionate power relative to their social worth: at one and the same time claim to be martyrs to the risk of investment, and demand these risks be minimised.
Of course, it's possible to make claims like this: e.g., nurses have every right to claim that they shoulder not merely more risk than most, but far more risk than is strictly necessary. The pandemic has made this brutally obvious to anyone who has been paying attention.
Read 28 tweets

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