On Britain’s imperial decline, Gramscian geography, Catalan cryptos, monarchical Brazil and Hungarian state consolidation.
Whilst I was writing yesterday’s quick post on the demise of the nation state, as envisaged by The Guardian, the major story of the day hit which was that £50mil has apparently been funnelled into the creation of a new centrist party in the UK…
The suggestion was largely ridiculed along the same lines it usually is. It’s a suggestion that has come up very frequently over the last few years, particularly since Jeremy Corbyn took over the Labour leadership.
With a political landscape defined by polarisation, a cavern has opened up before us where a party of true centrists can sweep into power and save us from ourselves.
Tony Blair said it first, I think, longing for a return to the heyday of New Labour and later the Liberal Democrats believed that their time had finally come (again — and this time they wouldn’t fuck it up, they promise!)
Both failed to recognise that they were largely to blame for centrism’s disrepute, alongside the general principles in the first place being incredibly dumb. Centrism now seems to be synonymous with the denial of just about every political development of the last five years. But maybe not all of them…
This morning, I came across a brilliant satirical post by Richard Seymour that offers us a horrifying vision of what might happen if these centrist and fragmentational tendencies continue to proliferate despite each other.
For a fractal centre! For the diversity of the shopping centre! Let a thousand nearly identical flowers bloom! One, two, three, many new centrist parties!
This is a dystopian sci-fi novel I would read and this is part of the reason why any recognition of our present moment demands far more political imagination than is currently being offered to us by establishment politics, economics and the media.
Ed’s latest post, “(Anti)Markets“, expands on this brilliantly, describing the internal engine of a paradox like Seymour’s.
Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. […] The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization.
Seymour’s horrifically banal vision is a wonderful case in point. Patchwork is no less at risk of capture than any other idea, product, people, etc.
To continue to tease and break apart my promised “Patchwork 101” post, this is a large part of my problem with Moldbug’s insistence on framing patchwork in terms of corporate business models. Sovcorps are an interesting idea and worthy of consideration if only because they’re frighteningly easy to imagine but we do not have to remain wedded to this business analogy forever — even Moldbug himself adapts it to fit his own preferences, referring to it as “a modified version of monarchy.”
A royal family is to an ordinary family business as a Patchwork realm is to an ordinary, non sovereign, public corporation. Joint-stock realms thus solve the primary historical problem of monarchical government: the vagaries of the biological process.
But if this business model is so adaptable to Moldbug’s preferences, why speak in terms of business at all? Moldbug makes clear that there has been no precedent for anything quite like a sovereign joint-stock company in world history. His various analogies all seem like near-fits.
It is only in this way, in terms of aiding our imaginations, that the business analogy is helpful. It allows us to describe processes of state dissolution in ways that are both familiar and entirely other to the current status quo. I have said previously that I believe patchwork to be an “eerie politic” in this way, invoking Fisher’s “eerie”, but in Moldbug’s specific imagining it is also perhaps like another concept of Mark’s taken to an extreme.
Mark says that “Business Ontology” is
the idea that everything is folded inside a business reality system, that the only goals and purposes which count are those that are translatable into business terms. The problem is that Business Ontology has no place for anything like ‘the public’. It’s time to reinvent the concept of the public and also for workers in public services to start to drive out business interests and business methods. Up until the credit crisis, we bought the idea that business people somehow have a better handle on reality than the rest of us can muster. But, after the credit crisis, that’s no longer tenable. And as I say in [Capitalist Realism], if businesses can’t be run as businesses, why should public services?
In a twisted sort of way, these are the potentials that are already inherent to Moldbug’s theory itself. Patchwork in this way completely transforms our conception of “the public” — albeit negatively by most leftist standards but it nevertheless provides an exit / egress from that which is.
However, we should note that the business model framework is similarly useful only because businesses are constantly changing entities. We live in an era where our industries — particularly our cultural industries — are in a constant state of flux. Even our relationships to businesses through labour are said to be on the cusp of potentially radical change.
I would hope that a “post-work” society, for instance, is not just the homogenisation of politics, finance and labour into a seamless whole, in which labour becomes indistinguishable from being. (Tolerable Funeral‘s inaugural post speaks to this, I think.)
Business competition, like political progressivism, also follows a tendency towards homogenisation — of buying out both failing and succeeding businesses in order to expand. Patchwork, at least how I see it, should reject this also.
The diversity of the shopping centre is a potential outcome and also perhaps the worst one imaginable.
After decades of globalisation, our political system has become obsolete – and spasms of resurgent nationalism are a sign of its irreversible decline.
Just as I was starting to enjoy my new reputation as a Twitter radical who makes people really angry, The Guardian publishes a long read on the demise of the nation state and unmasks me as the normie that I am…
Rana Dasgupta does a good job here of sketching out the current dilemma, both in Europe and around the world, particularly the contradictory tendencies of international state relations.
When we discuss “politics”, we refer to what goes on inside sovereign states; everything else is “foreign affairs” or “international relations” – even in this era of global financial and technological integration. We may buy the same products in every country of the world, we may all use Google and Facebook, but political life, curiously, is made of separate stuff and keeps the antique faith of borders.
Dasgupta goes on to point to “the loss of control over money flows” as the key catalyst in dissolving national borders, both physically and psychically.
Capital deterritorialises. We know this. What I don’t get is how the correct response is then to moralise these flows themselves, as if to say that if our nations were more morally robust, capital wouldn’t flow so waywardly…
(The position of this blog is that it’s irrelevant. Financiers suck because they follow these flows like cleaner fish, scavenging the rot, but moralising the rot itself is pointless.)
Without wanting to sound too smug about it, Dasgupta then rehearses many of the arguments described here in recent weeks, including how, since we don’t know anything else, the decline of “national political authority” feels like “the end of the world“.
Despite this, Dasgupta seems to fall into the very traps they describe. To let the idea of the nation state die is apparently to go backwards and embrace whatever we had “before”. Again, these are the same arguments we have seen being rehearsed ad nauseam about capitalism: it’s not working but to let it collapse is inherently to go backwards. This still feels like a sign of a populist left unable to give up the ghost of a naively universalist progressivism.
(To be clear, it’s universalism which is the problem here and its funneling progressivism into a single, unwavering straight line. Progressivism reveals itself to be political tunnelvision. When you’re political system starts to offer you the Kool Aid, progressivism becomes putting it down and heading for the exit. There are surely better paths on the outside.)
Mark used to say that the restlessness of capitalism is a result of a failed escape from feudalism — which is to say that there’s too much hangover for us to class it as a clean break — and the restless compositions of our nation states are surely related to this.
Even if we wanted to restore what we once had, that moment is gone. The reason the nation state was able to deliver what achievements it did – and in some places they were spectacular – was that there was, for much of the 20th century, an authentic “fit” between politics, economy and information, all of which were organised at a national scale. National governments possessed actual powers to manage modern economic and ideological energies, and to turn them towards human – sometimes almost utopian – ends. But that era is over. After so many decades of globalisation, economics and information have successfully grown beyond the authority of national governments. Today, the distribution of planetary wealth and resources is largely uncontested by any political mechanism.
But to acknowledge this is to acknowledge the end of politics itself. And if we continue to think the administrative system we inherited from our ancestors allows for no innovation, we condemn ourselves to a long period of dwindling political and moral hope. Half a century has been spent building the global system on which we all now depend, and it is here to stay. Without political innovation, global capital and technology will rule us without any kind of democratic consultation, as naturally and indubitably as the rising oceans.
There’s something interesting happening here.
In many ways I agree wholeheartedly with the above quote. The suggestion that politics as we know it is over and warrants innovation is absolutely correct but to limit politics to “democratic consultation” — i.e. politics as we know it — feels contradictory. The innovation needed is surely to allow for the free expression of extra-democratic dynamics.
Similarly, Dasgupta keeps insisting throughout the article on how the collapse of nation states is to do with our waning moral fibre. Our governments certainly do little to inspire confidence with their own blind faith in capitalism, upholding it at all costs, and their failure to handle the global refugee crisis is likewise a major issue more than worthy of criticism, but to generalise the moral fibre of our nations is surely the most boring and predictable response to the decline being described. We’ve heard that so many times before and generally, lest we forget, from the mouths of reactionaries and conservatives.
This trend continues throughout this Long Read. I agree with it consistently but it seems incapable of thinking the very limits it demands be thought.
That is how we will complete this globalisation of ours, which today stands dangerously unfinished. Its economic and technological systems are dazzling indeed, but in order for it to serve the human community, it must be subordinated to an equally spectacular political infrastructure, which we have not even begun to conceive.
Well, that last part is definitely not true…
It will be objected, inevitably, that any alternative to the nation-state system is a utopian impossibility. But even the technological accomplishments of the last few decades seemed implausible before they arrived, and there are good reasons to be suspicious of those incumbent authorities who tell us that human beings are incapable of similar grandeur in the political realm. In fact, there have been many moments in history when politics was suddenly expanded to a new, previously inconceivable scale – including the creation of the nation state itself. And – as is becoming clearer every day – the real delusion is the belief that things can carry on as they are.
I could keep quoting from this article at length but I won’t. I’d definitely recommend reading it as a pre-primer for Patchwork 101.
Dasgupta, unfortunately, isn’t thinking about alternatives but this article at least demonstrates why we should be.
Nevertheless, for Dasgupta, any future requires three things:
- global financial regulation
- global flexible democracy
- new conceptions of citizenship
I’m unconvinced by all three of these suggestions, since they simply continue the globalisation trend.
The homogenisation of finance, democracy and citizenry feels like a real failure of imagination considering the problems we are faced with. All this seems to advocate is the expansion of powers outwards to the global hubs — your EUs, your UNs — so that all the dissidence Dasgupta has pointed to can be subsumed within an even larger whole. (The equivalent of just buying a bigger carpet when you can’t brush any more dissent under the current one.)
Transnational flexibility and a rethinking of political identity are good inclusions but, unfortunately, they’re in the wrong package, and I don’t see a situation where these ideas don’t continue to eat the system we have from the inside out.
As I prepare the promised “Patchwork 101” post, I am all too aware of the dangers of considering this kind of thinking recklessly.
This post began as an aside within “Patchwork 101” itself but it grew too big and started to derail it. I feel, unfortunately, that what I write here is still worth saying. Much of what is to follow (I hope) is obvious, or at least I thought it was, but since I am questioned on it frequently perhaps this is not in fact the case.
So let this be a sort of disclaimer: an attempt to answer some questions that often come up with regards to the way — that is to say: the style, aesthetic, tone — I end up talking about topics like patchwork but also the make-up of this blog more generally.
My interest in the Gothic is probably one of the most frequently questioned and challenged aspects of this blog, particularly when mixed up with politics. “Why does everything have to be about death?” “What is the appeal of darkness and the Gothic when talking about supposedly ‘progressive’ politics?” “Why can’t these politics be about life instead?”
These questions are all legitimate. Other criticisms really aren’t.
My previous post ‘Disturbed‘ came out in a flurry. I spent all of the next day thinking about deleting it.
I wrote it on my phone in about twenty minutes, my mind racing whilst lying in bed, reminiscing, dumping thoughts into my WordPress app in the hope that I might sleep better — I did — but thinking maybe it was too personal or too emotional to have on this blog…
Then I hit publish, set my alarm and rolled over.
It’s not a big deal, really. And yet why am I still so anxious about it?
What does a post like that say? It’s not subject to the same standards of more theoretical posts and I think my anxiety is that it is nonetheless viewed in that same way.
Writing, as a hobby, often speaks to momentary feelings and experiences and needn’t do anything more than that.
Consider this post a fragmentary and confessional introduction to that sort of post, regarding what I haven’t been able to say to those around me in recent weeks.
Local government reorganisation is a great British hobby
Patchwork posts are stalling as I consider turning this investigation into something more purposefully substantial and long-form.
The PhD itch might need scratching soon…
Questions for future posts keep piling up as I dive deeper into the subjective fracturing inherent to the Gothic novel and read up on non-humanities takes on geopolitics.
Last night, with all this in mind, I met someone who works in city planning between Newcastle and Manchester and who is as enamoured by Yorkshire’s fractured infrastructure as I am.
He spoke about, for instance, how Leeds is the biggest city in the EU without a metro system and advocated higher connectivity between the county’s various cities. In his professional view, it was this lack of effective transport infrastructure alone that has held the county back from reaching its otherwise obvious potential to be a nation in its own right.
It was interesting to hear this call for better internal connectivity between Yorkshire’s cities when the government’s solution remains to forge “high speed” rail links to London to increase prosperity…
He said that One Yorkshire was the only way to go.
As he kept talking about connectivity, I decided to pitch patchwork to him as a model of “low integration, high connectivity.” I wasn’t very successful getting through to him — “I’m not a lefty but that sounds far too corporate for my liking”. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear someone actively working in this area, fascinated by local authority boundary changes, highlighting various regional secessionary trends but still holding on to that dream of blanket unification, even when it seemed to be antithetical to what he himself saw as the best way forward.
Ed Berger recently sent over a study on this sort of entanglement of unificatory and secessionary trends in a paper titled “Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums on Sovereignty over Time and Space“, mentioned in an article on the history of “sovereignty referendums” in the Washington Post.
The spiral of conflicting sovereignties is fascinating. I can’t help but be reminded, reading the WP article, of how Nigel Farage declared the day the Brexit vote was announced as “our Independence Day”.
Farage was rightly ridiculed, considering so many Independence Days around the world celebrate the end of British rule, but does this not highlight just how entangled our various political and economic unions are in the minds of so many?
The British empire has dissolved (at least as a symbol of power) and the Soviet Union fell only 25 years ago. Now other unions exist in their places. They’re not strictly comparable, of course, but as these unions layer up on top of each other’s former or contested boundaries, the fracturing of identities is hardly a surprising result.
It seems obvious to me now, nationally and internationally, that there is a conflict over which future will win out — unified or patchwork. Desires for both seem internalised by many.
If you’re still wondering what the production of subjectivity has to do with patchwork, surely these trends reveal how it is in fact the eye of the storm. The conflict is as internally subjective as it is externally geopolitical.
Whichever one wins out globally will have a currently unimaginable impact on who we think we are.