“Barren Utilitarianism”: Mental Health on Campus

It’s been hard to avoid the government’s latest promises regarding improvements to support for students with mental health issues on Twitter today. It’s laughable just how vague and pointless it is.

I’ve been reminded of activities that have been happening over the past few years at Goldsmiths, which I have kept an eye on by proxy, attending a few meetings whilst I was still a student there back in 2017.

The Gold Paper has been a working document that began life as an institutionally-specific response to the government’s Green Paper which, when published, “left us in no doubt that [the] government is aggressively pursuing the privatization of higher education.”

The Green paper has become a perfect example of what Mark Fisher called “business ontology” — discussed on this blog a few times recently, albeit in other rough-shod contexts — for the way it wholly diminished conversations around student wellbeing by making finance and senior management the bottom line of every issue currently facing British universities. You hear things like: “Improvements in student wellbeing up attendance, saving millions in potentially lost student fees.” When universities approach every issue from a defensive position, assisting only so they can protect their wallets, communities continue to suffer.

The Goldsmiths UCU blog writes:

The 2010 Browne Review began the process of turning higher education into a consumer driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market. The Green Paper finishes this process by effectively removing entirely any reference to higher education in terms of non-economic value leading to what Collini (2016) refers to as ‘barren utilitarianism’.

I like this phrase, “barren utilitarianism”, if only because it describes perfectly the Tory mindset — a mindset that is blatantly on display again with this new “policy” (if you can seriously call it that).

Considering the three-point plan posted on Twitter today, we can see that the government’s plan of action is basically to improve their management infrastructure, rather than actually deal with any of the material circumstances and conditions that lie at the root of various institutional crises that have occurred across the country.

The most obvious flaw here is the focus on students. Spikes in staff and student suicides, as well as recent strikes at all levels of university infrastructure — from lecturing to cleaning staff — show that these issues are extensive and not limited to student bodies.

Student distress is symptomatic of countless wider issues and so, if the government wants to make substantial change, it must broaden its scope. Transitions from school to university and better links with parents seem like further attempts to outsource responsibility, distributing it to areas that are likewise already struggling.

It seems like a slippery slope towards a “care in the community”-lite which, as anyone who has dealt with the reality of this issue knows, has nothing to do with community, socially or ethically speaking, instead becoming a policy of handing over responsibility to people woefully unqualified, unable to cope and offer the necessary levels of support, protecting profits through a policy which should otherwise be called “state neglect”.

My view of this situation concerning universities is obviously blinkered and biased — I’m a Goldsmiths alumnus, minor member of staff and still live five minutes from campus — but I mention the situation at Goldsmiths if only because I have not heard of any similar staff/student-led initiatives occurring elsewhere, and these sorts of approaches deserve wider publicity and understanding.


The psychological affect of privatisation on students has long been violently public. The feelings of precarity and hopelessness amongst students has been pronounced since at least 2010. Around that same time, in the immediate aftermath of the protests around the tripling of student fees, everyone saw the incredibly distressing footage of police attacking Warwick University students conducting a peaceful sit-in.

I’ve written here previously — I think… I can’t find it now — about the distress this footage caused further afield. The possibility of being open to attack on campus — in what felt like, and was, for all intents and purposes, our homes — made so many people feel impotent, devoid of any say or control over their surroundings, at the mercy of the cold arm of the state that was reacting violently to what many saw ahead on the horizon: the very situation that the government is now saying they want to remedy.

Nothing has really changed since that time, however. Things have only stagnated.

The explosively violent crisis that engulfed universities in the early 2010s has continued and since been normalised, allowing weak non-interventions such as this to be heralded as somehow “progressive”, rather than being seen for what they really are: a bandaid on a wound that has long been septic.

I’m thinking of the Gold Paper again today because of the marked improvements on the government’s new policies that their (notably compromised) demands offer.

These demands have been circulating, within Goldsmiths at least, for at least three years. Last year, things were accelerated, as so many things were, by Mark Fisher’s death. A petition was released that was used to lobby senior management of the university.

Senior management, faced with an admittedly knotted and complex crisis, asked for demands to be whittled down to three bullet-points. With an eye-roll, students and staff nonetheless agreed. They recommended the following priorities:

1 Inquiry into College Mental Health Crisis: An urgent inquiry into the mental health crisis on campus; a commitment to increased funding for counselling and a re-structuring of services based on a consultation process with both staff and students.

2. Housing Justice: In line with the ongoing student rent strike, we demand that rent in Student Halls of Residence be cut to 50% of the average student maintenance loan and that the Halls of Residence are brought up to the minimum housing standard stipulated by the housing charity Shelter.

3. Democratisation of College Governance: At least 50% of Council should be elected by staff and students at Goldsmiths. Alongside this, the Warden’s open meetings should be turned into a genuinely democratic forum to which all staff and students can bring motions and debates that, if passed, have to be acted on. Timetables should be organised so that all can attend and Assembly attendance should be reflected in AL and fractional contracts.

These demands, reduced to three, remain the most concise suggestion of what senior management at Goldsmiths, and at universities elsewhere, could do to improve staff and student lives. The government’s new proposal, of course, only deals with point #1 but even this alone shows how out of tune with life at a modern university the Conservative party is.

Housing and governance are two further points, perhaps superfluous to some, but they are intrinsically entwined with mental health issues on campus. They are notably institutional-specific but can easily be scaled up to address issues which violently affect young people around the country.

Housing is endemically subpar and overpriced, and feelings of communal impotence related to influencing governance are a mainstay of the student mindset. This is evident not only at the level of the university but at the level of the state more generally.

There is nothing more disenfranchising than this feeling of having no control over your own circumstances, being placed on a Higher Education conveyor belt, living in damp, mould-ridden, dilapidated but nonetheless extortionate student housing. Better funded counselling and support services would go a long way as to making students feel less alone but this does nothing to alleviate the material conditions that are contributing to this distress more generally.

Mental health is not a one-stop issue that can be solved with six weeks of government-funded CBT.


The university, despite appearances, needn’t be a bubble. Communities within and without universities, overlapping but kept distinct, are handled with a sort of divide and conquer approach and this newly articulated government policy is no different.

What these new policies seem to suggest is that the government is looking at handling supposedly new developments, limited to student experiences, which they themselves have created. They are not only tackling issues half-heartedly, seemingly without any input from the people the policies are intended to benefit, but they are skirting around the fact that these issues that are the direct result of previous Conservative policies, implement over the last decade.

The full extent of these issues, whilst complex, is not unmanageable. In fact, the People’s Tribunal at Goldsmiths in 2015 laid out the specific circumstances of that institution’s problems rigorously and damningly.

I’ll end this post here, recommending anyone from any institution to watch the video above. It highlights the vagueness of the new government policy in striking contrast. Showing the full scope of the situation and showing just how inadequate this three-point plan is to what students and staff have long been facing.

You can also skip to 15.20 for the infrequently publicised speech that Mark Fisher gave at the tribunal, particularly haunting after his death, but the entire video could not be better for outlining the complex issues that universities are actively trying to deal with, which they talk about very openly, and which senior management and the government continue to ignore almost entirely.


See also: The #MedsWorkedForMe (But Nothing Else Did)

Points of View: New Essay on ŠUM

By embracing the vagaries of human life and the self-objectifying production of the sign of the subject, we can succeed in dissolving ourselves into something altogether new.

I have a new essay on ŠUM entitled “Points of View: On Photography & Our Fragmentary, Transcendental Selves”. You can read it here.

I first started writing this essay back in 2015. Very little remains of the first version but it feels very surreal to finally have this out in some form after so many attempts at it. I’m happy to have persevered.

Shout out to everyone in Ljubljana. I want to say a huge thank you to Marko Bauer and Andrej Škufca for reaching out, and Miha Šuštar for taking the time to proofread and edit it. I had a lot of fun doing this.

 

“Somewhere between Mark’s mural and the Amazon lockers.”

Somewhere between Mark’s mural and the Amazon lockers. Over the road from the picket line, past the bins at the back end of the field, and the lights left on in Studio B.

Where reputation meets ambition and we eat well to do well.

Finding we still have a bit of time and a bit of space.

Digging in against the commuter traffic and the biting east coast wing that ushers out these long evenings.

We line up to stamp our time sheets.

Clocking in, clocking off, pushing on, pushing on.

Shout out to Archie Smith, this year’s Junior Fellow for the BA Fine Art and History of Art course at Goldsmiths. I think the above text, written for the degree show this year, might be the most beautifully concise degree show text I’ve ever read.

Texts in degree show publications often try to fill in all the inevitable blanks. Archie instead just hints at a range of topics, a drive-by hinting at internal gossip and false representations — everything degree shows aren’t supposed to be about but inevitably require those on their way out of the institution to painfully come to terms with.

I love degree shows for this. They’re so weird and pointless. They mean everything to the people that are in them but likely remain opaque to all their polite visitors. They’re meant to be the culmination of three years of study but such an experience is surely impossible to distil into a piece of work, tucked in the corner of an outbuilding given a temporary makeover.

Degree shows are futile exercises and all the more fun for that reason. They’re absurd and the best ones embrace that fact. Goldsmiths knows this best, I think. Better than any other university I’ve been to. They futureproof the feelings of anticlimax by making sure each degree show after party is so insane and excessive that no one could possibly feel like they have missed out on some necessary release.

The high fashion strutting that is always a feature of the opening night is just performative foreplay for the low brow mayhem to follow.

What Archie captures in his text, tellingly elusive and concise, is everything bubbling under the surface of the process of letting-go, hinting at just some of what this year’s graduates have been through, the contradictions inherent to a modern neoliberal university, and particularly one which likes to think of itself as somewhat “radical”.

A further shout out must go to Kitty McKay, whose work in the show was perhaps my favourite, for similar reasons. It also did well to summarise these contradictions and tensions, framing them within the tensions of the country at large, making them even more implicit and far-reaching, but smuggled into a version of the mayhem to follow, taking form as a series of phrases and statements, critical and scathing, an abstract karaoke, prompts crawling along the bottom of a screen showing a montage of newsreel footage and her own videos.

Until next year.

American Ear, Omni Ear

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the recent line-up for Light in the Attic‘s 16th birthday doo at the Barbican was eclectic. In the end, to its credit, it didn’t really feel that way.

Willie Thrasher & Linda Saddleback, Haruomi Hosono and a reunited Acetone functioned as an evening of ears for America rather than the disparate mix you might otherwise expect.

Each were representative of new releases from the enormous reissue label which has made its name over the years shooting niche collector’s favourites to hipster stardom.

They first came on my radar with their much-appreciated Karen Dalton reissues a few years back. Since then, they’ve balanced big blockbuster reissues with more nuanced re-releases, bringing many a forgotten oddity and out-of-print modern classic back to popular attention.

It’s easy to be cynical about some of their releases. Searching for Sugar Man or Lewis were hugely overhyped records, setting an industry precedent for irritating levels of overt romanticising and mythologising, each story given the corporate hard sell via a template that will now be familiar to anyone keeping an eye on reissue cultures.

And yet, at the same time, they are perhaps one of the best curators of compilations in the business. I Am The Center is the first to come to mind: one of my favourite compilations of all time.

Last night at the Barbican felt like a showcase for a new spate of releases for the label. Thrasher and Saddleback were first on the stage, having flown over from Vancouver, Canada, and they could not have been happier to be there. Representing the label’s recent compilation Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985, the pair played a short but excitable and endearing set, with Thrasher repeatedly thanking the label for the invitation and for hosting him in London.

As easy as it might be to be cynical about the reissue record business, it was lovely to hear an unknown artist be so vocal in his indebtedness to their efforts to shine a light on his culture.


Next, Haruomi Hosono: the blockbuster of the night (and a surprising choice for the second slot). The forthcoming set of reissues that Light in the Attic are putting out is mixed, encompassing his incredibly diverse career.

I’m personally very excited to finally get my hands on a vinyl copy of Omni Sight Seeing, its closing number being perhaps my favourite Hosono song. It’s a masterpiece of mastering and mixing. I’d argue it’s one of the best sounding records I’ve ever heard.

How necessary these reissues are is another story, however. I bought a copy of Hosono’s first album, with its imbecile grooves, just a few years ago. Making such a fanfare about bringing some of these albums to vinyl for the first time is too typical of this industry.

What can be applauded is their success in bringing Hosono to the UK for the first time in his career, but if the audience was expecting some sort of career-spanning “best of”, they would be wrong but surely not disappointed.

The set consisted for a mix of Hosono songs and American classics, all played in a “boogie woogie” style.

The most striking part of the show was surely Hosono’s brief but sombre reflection on the earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukashima disaster in 2011. After playing a sample from Japan’s smart phone earthquake warning system, his band slid into a fascinating cover of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity.

He then played a cover of the Dale Hawkins’ rockabilly classic “Susie-Q”: “I used to like techno, now I just play boogie.” Hosono continued, explaining that he was born just two years following America’s bombing of the Japan at the end of the Second World War. When Japan became increasingly Americanised following the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, boogie woogie was the first music he remembered hearing and now, aged 70, it was the music he had adoringly come back to.

The set did not consist of boogie covers entirely. Another highlight was a boogie version of Hosono classic “Sportsmen” from the album Philharmony.

His set came to an end when Hosono asked for the house lights to be raised, then asking if his “friend” was in the audience tonight. Craning necks and crowd muttering meant I could not hear who exactly Hosono was looking for. As the unmistakable trilby of Yukihiro Takahashi emerged from his seat and walked towards the stage, the crowd went wild.

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Taking his place behind the drum kit, he was closely followed by the likewise unmistakable lightning white curtains of Ryuichi Sakamoto, his arms wrapped around Hosono’s keyboardist, the expanded group ending the set with a tremendous jam session.


The crowd was noticeably thinner following a short interval when Acetone took to the stage.

Representing the “necessarily rescued classic” of the evening, Acetone were a band I had never heard of before buying my ticket for the night but over the last two months I have listened to the label’s beautiful “best of” constantly, becoming the centrepiece of the records on rotation in our kitchen at present.

Following the suicide of band member Richie Lee in 2001, the band came to an end, and this reunion show with patched-up lineup was mournful and sedated, their songs feeling far too fragile for the cavernous space on the Barbican’s main hall.

This is a band made to be heard in a garage, blissfully casual, tones warbling in concrete heat. Here, at times, the band would swell and fill the space, with Moog organ giving the band an ambient canvas, more appropriate to the location, on which to build.

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They couldn’t compete with the disjointed momentum of the night, however, which is down to strange programming rather than their performance.

As my mind wandered over Acetone’s slack grooves, I couldn’t help but try to fit together these different ears on America. From the indigenous folk of Canada’s aptly-named Thrasher, his mantras barely contained by his vigorously strummed chords, native expression aggressively stunted by the primitivism of frontier form.

Acetone are instead the perfect distillation of various free-roaming, late-century forms: slowcore garage band surfer rock.

Light in the Attic‘s website notes how the band got their big break in the aftermath of Nirvana’s unprecedented success as many labels looked for a similar goldmine.

I remember something being said of Low, the anti-Nirvana, playing as slow as possible, rejecting the energy that the grunge hype was making ubiquitous. Whilst no Nirvana, their innovations are rightly lauded when it counts.

Acetone seem to exist somewhere in between the two, opting for heat-fucked bliss rather than glacial dread.

Hosono, literally placed between the two, as far as the night’s lineup was concerned, makes for an unusual and alien experience here. Thinking again about Omni Sight Seeing, an album which takes in musical forms from around the world, which he bends effortlessly to his will, here instead we have Hosono’s omni ear embracing its inherent and underacknowledged Americanisation.

On paper, this was a night of “world music”. In reality, the audience were presented with an expanded Panamericanism: the disparate fruits of a fragmented ear that nonetheless share a core DNA which takes in the world and which the world itself takes in in turn. It is an ethnographic feedback loop of maligned insiders, celebrated outsiders and something in between.

Too often, perhaps, on this label, we are presented with the oddest forms of American cultural appropriation to be committed to wax: the strange and forgotten mutant offspring birthed by a culture that so often fetishes that which is beyond itself, bringing the outside in and monetising it cynically.

Tonight, the tables felt somewhat turned. Here the artists looked back, presenting London with an unfamiliar America as seen through a succession of unusual lenses.


Recent posts on the weird American psyche:

New West 1; New West 2; Herzog; New West 3

 

Patchwork from the Left

I received a comment on a patchwork post recently. My response to it ended up being too long for the comment box and so it became a post in its own right.

Right now I’m feeling a bit embarrassed about the argumentative tone of that last post.

It’s far too easy for me to jump to a defensively polemic position here — I’m used to being challenged on patchwork and I’m becoming a bit hardened to and bitter about it.

I’m particularly embarrassed about this instance because snow.ghost, who wrote the original comment, has written a further — very gracious and good natured — response on their blog. Evidently, assumptions were made on my part in my response, and I greatly appreciate being able to hear more about snow.ghost’s own position. However, assumptions are still being made on their part, particularly with regards to the extent that Land’s view of patchwork is central to my own.

His view of patchwork is no more influential than Moldbug’s on my thought– i.e. only by proxy. As I said last time, I’m more interested in updating Deleuzian patchwork to now. To conflate my vision with Nick’s, as happens repeatedly throughout this response, betrays a complete ignorance of the position they are arguing against.

The blame for this, of course, lies with myself.

What must be repeated here is that any “glib rhetoric” on my part is due to topical burnout rather than laziness. I have written 1000s of words on these points over the last six months. The list of key posts remains over here, and many of these are currently under revision as I try to turn them into a bigger, more coherent, more rigorous and less polemic project — because pointing people to two dozen posts when wanting to explain my position really isn’t a practical solution.

So I’m going to retread some ground here but avoid it when possible.

This is a long one…

Get comfy…

Continue reading “Patchwork from the Left”

Salad Tossers

So I might have made a mean and salty subtweet recently on the tl that got a bit more attention than I thought it would…

It’s another one of those Twitter encounters that really doesn’t warrant being highlighted on the blog but, in light of all the Consciousness Razing chat here recently, about not feeling good enough and vocabularic baggage, it has got me thinking about a lot of things — and those things at least deserve their proper context.

That being said, this isn’t all directed at the example above. This is just the mental fallout of two years pent-up frustration.


There’s no denying that word salad is common on the tl — in some places more than others. This blog might even be guilty of it on occasion, although I do personally try to be clear and jargon-free if I can help it because so are most of my favourite writers.

Sometimes complex ideas need complex explanations. Sometimes word salad just works. Sometimes, in writing, it conveys a sort of cyberpunk Other English. (I like philosophy that reminds me of the first time I read Pat Cadigan’s Synners.) It is not inherently bad — if it’s done properly.

What is bad is using the hyperaffected language of a college education to disguise the fact you’re trying to reinvent the wheel…

The line between the two really isn’t as thin as it might sound.


What makes me salty about this kind of posturing is how damaging it can be.

When I went back to studying in late 2016, trying to read philosophy properly for the first time, I felt like I was really late to the party. I was surrounded by people who’d studied philosophy previously and most of them weren’t afraid to swing their weight around.

I remember I felt like a hobbyist.

In early seminars there would always be someone (or more than one person) — and I’m sorry to say that 90% of the time they were American or had studied in the US — who would always talk using this jargon-laden affected language that reeked of a certain standard of education that someone wanted to lord over you.

I remember hearing things like the above example and it really getting to me at first. It created this super-competitive atmosphere that wasn’t remotely healthy or productive. But then, after a few months of hard reading, I realised most of this stuff that was getting spouted in seminars was wrong or just bad posturing. It was always a bad, basic reading — usually of Deleuze — interspersed with misused jargon to give it an air of legitimacy, that was so densely packed no one bothered to challenge it.

Others, who weren’t so resilient, dropped out. I wish I could find them and shake them and tell them not to leave over a bunch of blowhard theory bros.

Without posturing being challenged, it spreads.

Insecurity breeds insecurity.

The stakes are, obviously, far less high on Twitter than they are compared to real life institutional imposter syndrome, but the last thing anyone needs is that academic posturing leaking out onto the timeline.

Save it for the bar after the conference.


Thinking about all this makes me want to ask a question, to any American readers or other current/former philosophy students from anywhere in the world:

My (potentially unfair) assumption has always been that this sort of posturing is worse amongst the insecure and US-educated because the intense competition of US academia necessarily makes people that way.

It’s not exclusive to the US — people are shit all over — but in the UK it feels noticeably less pronounced because no one has any careerist optimism that there is anything to fight for. UK academia is beyond all hope, but people seem to want to be clearer and more communal in their learning because of that.

A fair assessment? Or am I deluded and “theory bros” really are just endemic?

Patchwork and the Marketplace of Ideas

I received quite a long and meaty comment on my last patchwork post that I’ve kept trying to draft a response to, and I drafted it so much that it felt better to just make it into a post.

I’m going over a lot of previously covered ground here but hopefully this post will make clear how I see a lot of things slotting together.


The other day, snow.ghost asked:

How is [patchwork] not simply another version, albeit of a utopian and technocratic flavor, of the oft-repeated neoliberal econonomic meta-concept of the ‘marketplace of ideas?’ How are you going to ensure that there is some sort of superstructure or essential interconnectedness that creates stability or at least a flux / non-equilibrium that is not preloaded for a nasty form of future imperialism and future colonialism. It sounds like the implicit solution being suggested here is that market forces will protect from this (my citation for this being your “Ethnonationalism becomes ethno-isolationism and good luck surviving long with that outlook,” quip)? While the patchwork model may indeed be anti-fascist in some sort of imagined original state (ie, the exact moment the system is implemented) it is NOT anti-capitalist, nor is it somehow incompatible with neoliberal subjectivity and, by extension, the commodification of all subjectivities that are not fundamentally economic. The model relies on inherent contradiction and thus will inevitably degenerate to another form of the present capitalist moment, and thus is not in the long run necessarily inkompatible with fascism.

As I’ve written on numerous occasions on this blog, one of the most frustrating things about contemporary political thinking — particularly from the left — is that anything that has been even slightly touched by the wrong kind of politics is forever contaminated and must be abandoned. There also seems to be a complete lack of appreciation for the potentials of our present moment.

We see this all the time and, with regards to some issues, it hasn’t left the left with a whole lot of options. Everything is already something. Everything is already caught up in modernity’s auto-productive feedback loop. Simply pointing that out seems to be enough for people, who do so and then just wallow in their impotence, feeling clever.

“Is there no alternative?” Do you really care either way?

Patchwork, as I see it, is largely compatible with a lot of the arguments for postcapitalist futures that many leftist theorists have been making in recent years. However, at the same time, making explicit comments about geopolitics in these circles has become unpopular. It is not as prevalent a topic as it once was — most of the good stuff seems to be at least 40 years old, although there are some exceptions — and it seems like this unfamiliarity alone is what has people unnecessarily running scared. Patchwork, as I see it, just adds in a geopolitical and fragmentary twist to prevalent theories of postcapitalism, and this in itself freaks people out who have wrongly internalised the conflation of one-world globalisation with leftist utopianism — a leftist neoliberal tendency if ever there was one.

This invocation of the “marketplace of ideas” feels like a peculiar example of this same tendency. The expression is, fundamentally, an analogy — nothing more. It does not mean that freedom of expression is, in and of itself, “neoliberal”.

The history of the phrase is linked explicitly to the market due to its conception in the American supreme court related to the publishing industry, in which publishers of newspapers, books and magazines all — literally — engage in a marketplace, selling their ideas and perspectives. (At least, that’s the idea.) Taking the principle right back to John Milton’s Areopagitica, however, the founding principle of freedom of expression and publication is explicitly related to the freedom to proliferate ideas, whatever they are, and to make the means of proliferation more widely accessible.

The printing press is just one example of this, with pamphleteering being a cause of things good and bad since it’s invention. No one can deny that the printing press, and technologies like it, have been central to the proliferation of ideas that we now take for granted. It’s an obvious point to make. What’s made all the difference over the years has been who has been in control of these technologies and the worst people to control them are usually governments or the Rupert Murdochs of the world who monopolise them for their own propaganda, etc. The internet is a similar technological development that is increasingly under the threat of being consolidated under ever-increasing state control.

As such, this originally Miltonic sense of the “marketplace of ideas” is very different to the marketplace that we have today, ruled by monopolist media tycoons. In this way, it is not only an analogy but a myth. The Internet remains a space for proliferation but much of it has been coopted by markets as well (although I’d argue there’s still plenty of pockets of resistance.)

This was demonstrated most damningly in a recent viral video that highlighted the prevalent use of the so-called “Sinclair Script” (which, obviously, became a news item in its own right, memetically inescapable for a week or so in May of this year, further exacerbating the modern marketplace’s ouroboric nature.)

What this video’s virally ouroboric life-cycle demonstrates is the way that markets are always trying to keep up with our ever-developing communicative superstructure(s). Even when it is critical of the mainstream media, it becomes a part of the mainstream news cycle.

All this is to say, don’t need to ensure anything. This interconnected superstructure already exists and is expanding all the time. We can call it “The Stack“, if we want to, or we can call it something else. Whatever you call it, its implications for geopolitics are still unfolding as state powers seeks to monopolise these developments too, but they’re not yet set in stone.

This kind of communications superstructure, that we already use everyday, is key to patchwork. Again, as I’ve written here many times before, patchwork isn’t a call for everyone to bury their heads in their gated patch of sand and never talk again. In fact, I think patchwork would necessarily be more fluid and better connected than our currently dysfunctional world is right now. Connectivity and integration are not one and the same thing.

A large portion of my “Egress” post was dedicated to the plasticity of communicative capitalism that must come into play here. Drawing on Mark’s writings as well as Jodi Dean’s work, I wrote:

For Fisher and for Dean, the now-ubiquitous nature of our networked communication technologies is a demonstration of capitalism’s ability to capture and shape desire. In the decade since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, communicative capitalism has seeded a biological basis for itself by infiltrating our hard-wired necessity to communicate with one another and by monopolising the contemporary technological means of doing so. This “biological basis” relates to Herbert Marcuse’s argument that, in an affluent society, “capitalism comes into its own” by permeating “all dimensions of private and public existence.” Dean’s communicative capitalism provides this process of permeation with a much-needed technological update and Fisher drew his line between Dean and Marcuse as he attempted to chart the continuous acceleration of this same process.

Marcuse argues that what is needed to counter these processes of permeation is the establishment of a biological foundation for socialism through the mechanisms of the Great Refusal: “the rationality of negation” inherent to art which is always a “protest against that which is.” That which is is constituted for Marcuse by contemporaneous norms and standards of morality, and so his analysis is tied explicitly to social taboos. He highlights the perceived “obscenity” of sexual liberation during his time of writing and the way this apparent obscenity contrasts with the normalisation of the obscenity of state and institutional violence. Marcuse then goes on to suggest that this structure of social morality, and therefore the human drives themselves, are inherently plastic.

The leftist desire for a one-world utopia is, I think, largely responsible for capitalism taking a hold of us quite so ruthlessly. It expands as we expand, previously along trade routes and now down fibre-optic cables, hitching a ride of our well-meaning coat-tails. Like state apparatuses more generally, capitalism can’t help but consolidate itself. Patchwork attempts to interrupt these processes by privileging communicative fragmentation over consolidation.

So, patchwork is less just another name for the “the marketplace of ideas” and more like a new name for that which the market has taken for its own ends — the production and proliferation of ideas as such, scaled up to the level of geopolitics. It’s an attempt to take back the space for experimentation that the market has eclipsed. It is a way of taking processes of deterritorialisation quite literally.

In this way, there is a Promethean bent to patchwork which, as with Milton’s argument for the printing press and freedom of expression, requires the means of State production and proliferation be seized — that is, everyone is able to form a state if they so please. That is the extreme level of fragmentation that the patchwork ideal advocates. (I am aware it is an ideal.)

The problem with the framing of snow.ghost’s comment is that it equates too many dynamics with their dominant processes and takes them as givens.

What is key here, again, is that whilst the market runs on a system of mythical meritocracy towards consolidation, patchwork is instead a fragmentation engine. I know in my last post I already invoked this sense of meritocracy, although the tongue-in-cheekness of that invocation was probably lost. The point I was trying to make is that all sides assume the other side will fail — or, I wish they did: the left are arguably too concerned about their own ideas failing to even come up with any.

Competition may be an integral part of a market, and therefore capitalism, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same thing. Patchwork only becomes compatible with neoliberal subjectivities, in my view, if you incorrectly make this assumption. The fact I have a preference and an opinion about best practices, which are hypothetically opposed to someone else’s, doesn’t automatically make me, or the patchwork model in general, inescapably capitalist. That feels like very lazy logic.

Let’s put it another way:

The neoliberalisation of the “marketplace of ideas” relates, I think, to the way the phrase has been used to further bolster the incessant celebrations of the market’s efficiency — i.e., “the market can solve everything!” If this does sound a bit patchwork-y, that’s no doubt Moldbug’s influence, thanks to his prefering neocameralism.

However, in line with what we have discussed above, the shifting of our use of language is nonetheless important here. I have already addressed this in a previous post, in which I wrote about the ways that this neocameralist framing can be useful for thought, irrespective of subjective political desirability:

[The language of neocameralism] 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.

That concept was “business ontology”: “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.” Neocameralism, then, often comes across, to me, as a way to smuggle a new radical geopolitical perspective into acceptable discourse through the language of business — “To find ways out is to let the outside in”, etc. However, Mark wrote:

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?

This is not, of course, a blanket rejection of all forms of “organisational management” (or whatever else you want to call it) — it’s mainly a suggestion that we break down the language of neoliberalism in order to be more resistant to neoliberal processes of subjection. We internalise its processes and preferences to the point of ontologisation. However, to reject “business ontology” isn’t the same as rejecting ontology as such, just as rejecting the “marketplace of ideas” shouldn’t slide into the rejection of having ideas.

snow.ghost’s invocation of the “marketplace of ideas”, even with everything discussed above aside, just feels like an attempt to reframe patchwork into the language of business. In this way, their anti-neoliberal comment nonetheless feels like it is built upon an inherently neoliberal argument. It eats itself in its self-neutralising business framing.

Mark’s conceptualisation of “business ontology” is an attempt to reject certain ways of framing reality which suffocate all that might hope to exist outside of its bounds. Patchwork may be like the “marketplace of ideas” — and explicitly so for Moldbug, perhaps — but, for this blog, it’s a chance to develop another productive kind of (head)space.

So whilst the comparison isn’t inaccurate, it does largely miss the point.

“(Head)space” is worth dwelling on for a moment here also, particularly for responding to the comment about subjectivity.

This blog’s view of subjectivity, via Foucault and Butler, is that it is formulated by the state’s processes of subjection, and so this blog has repeatedly considered the entangled fragmentations of self and state that patchwork likewise encourages.

Patchwork is a “rip it up, start again” approach, although it is not naive enough to think that anyone can truly start from scratch. If some patches are successful and others fail, that’s fine. As we’ve already said, that’s not “market forces”: that’s just the nature of experimentation.

The whole point of wanting to instigate patchwork is that large nation-states are becoming less and less well governed as state consolidation slides back down after reaching its zenith. How am I going to ensure things aren’t preloaded with imperialism and colonialism? The idea itself, as formulated by this blog, is already trying to respond (and go along with) post-imperial / post-colonial tendencies around the world, whether that be the Zapatistas or some other group.

With a transformation of the state, along these sorts of lines, I think we will see a transformation of the subject that is resistant to neoliberalism and which moves us towards the kind of collective subjectivity that Mark and others have called for.

That first requires an acknowledgement of the kind of neoliberal subjectivity that this kind of comment already seems to be informed by.


snow.ghost has written a further response to this post on their blog which you can read here.

John Doran on Killing Joke and Goth

Goth originators Joy Division (music journalist Paul Morley coined the term gothic in a very early review of the group) never suffered the same fate as any of their peers due, in part at least, to how normal they looked and behaved. While only a fool would attempt to talk down the importance of the Macclesfield/Salford quartet and the stunning body of work they produced in such a short space of time, it would also be a fallacy to suggest that no other ‘gothic’ band shared their revolutionary potential.

An excellent article by The Quietus‘ John Doran, arguing that more goth bands deserve the kind of credit their post-punk peers get.

I love this passage on Joy Division, and also this on Bauhaus as dub goth pioneers. It’s all very much up this blog’s alley.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead was an instant composition / free-improvised dub reggae epic utilising the studio mixing desk as an instrument and non-standard guitar and vocal techniques, immediately placing them on a par with such self-regarding sonic revolutionaries as the Pop Group, and arguably ahead of conceptually progressive funk rock group, Gang Of Four.

He argues that Killing Joke, in particular, deserve more credit and have generally been misunderstood by the music journalists and historians of our time.

Of course, one of the reasons why Killing Joke remain at the sidelines is a matter of pure un-quantifiability. Reynolds himself was astute enough to note that a hard-to-define “dark, tribal energy swirled round the group” and this was one of the reasons they were accused, variously, of being Nazis, nihilists, devil worshipers and just plain evil. They were none of these things however, they had simply constructed a brand new sound whose tension and intensity, stemmed in part from obsessive practice of occult ritual. This new sound was unpalatable to most outside of their devoted fanbase. It might sound odd to mention the band’s deep interest in Rosicrucianism, the Kabbalah and Thelemic practice in relation to their status as sonic innovators but no more so than the way a working knowledge of critical theory is often used to plump up the avant garde CVs of bands such as Scritti PolittiGang Of Four and the Pop Group.

Critical theory is a relatively obscure blend of Marxist philosophy and psychoanalysis which was devised by a mainly counter-revolutionary group of mid-20th Century German academics to analyse the impact of capitalism on modern life and culture. Thinkers such as Theodor Adorno undoubtedly inspired some of the best music writing of the post punk period from the likes of Ian Penman and then later on Reynolds himself, and when they were talking about the heavily politicised groups that they favoured, this kind of framework made perfect sense. Music writers of this period traditionally gravitated toward songwriters who were stridently left wing and who wrote self-referentially about the business of making music. So when it came to describing Gang Of Four’s (excellent) Entertainment! album and its forensic look at the alienation caused by capitalism (“Down on the disco floor! They make their profit!”), writers had the perfect critical tool in the form of critical theory. But this framework would prove itself less useful when it came to music that dealt in the numinous, the sublime, the spiritually crushing and the existentially nauseating. All of which were elements of the overwhelming Killing Joke experience.

This has obviously reminded me of some of Mark’s writings too, particularly this post on goth fashion.

I’m overcome with that distinct sadness again tonight that I wish he was around so I could ask him about all this.

Consciousness Razing: “Solidarity Without Similarity”

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A huge thank you to everyone that came through for “Consciousness Razing”, our second For K-Punk event back on June 9th at SET, Dalston.

I wrote a bit about it here in the run-up but, now it’s over, I find myself wanting to try to process and articulate what exactly was exchanged over the course of our 12-hour marathon of workshops, talks and music.

I’m not sure that’s possible…

What is to follow is an account of the day mixed into a heap of stray thoughts, sounds, visions and readings.

Continue reading “Consciousness Razing: “Solidarity Without Similarity””

Ethnostates and Patchwork

In his NCRAP course ‘Outer Edges’, Nick Land speaks of a productive diagonal of “high connectivity / low integration” for thinking about catabolic geopolitics such as patchwork.

Axxon N. Horror has written a great intro to this framing that is definitely worth a read. They write that Land “outlines two commonly held models of geopolitical organisation: high integration, high connectivity (globalisation, multiculturalism, unions) and low integration, low connectivity (tribalism, xenophobia, separation); and then suggests ‘the positive critical diagonal’ — linked to Patri Friedman’s Dynamic Geography — a low integration, high connectivity option.” Axxon continues: “This terminology is simple, neutral, and outstandingly vivid, lurching right into core issues of sprawling diversity, complex networks, strategies, etc.”

On Saturday, at Consciousness Razing, the call for “solidarity without similarity” was mentioned numerous times throughout the day and what is this if not a leftist, humanist framing of this same diagonal? (More on that in a later post).

The assumption that connectivity and integration or solidarity and similarity are inseparable — which is to say, they must mirror each other — particularly along sociocultural and racial lines, as far as I can tell, is nothing but a regurgitation from the right.

If I really need to be so this clear on this: this is not how I feel.

Solidarity through difference is all the more powerful. Subculturally, it has produced all of my favourite things ever, and let’s not pretend that that sort of collaboration and collectivity isn’t actively subdued by present systems already.

The point of capitalism, as Fisher made clear to us all, is that all alternatives are currently subdued, for better and for worse. Consciousness is constantly and necessarily deflated. Patchwork is a potential geopolitical operating system for addressing this.

Is it really so dangerous to want to shake things up? Or is it not just a sign of the times?


I received a notification from mcs responding to a CuriousCat question on Saturday. I wanted to draw attention to it in another post but doing so threatened said non-patchwork post with complete derailment so I’ll leave it here as an aside to point back to later.

The notification I received was from this tweet:

https://twitter.com/michaelcsiebert/status/1005504631542370304

The other day, I was sent a question on CuriousCat asking basically the same thing: “What would stop patchwork from looking like a million tiny ethno-states?” (In fact, I get this question a lot.)

My response was as follow:

Our current levels of diversity? People aren’t just going to start setting up apartheid and deconstruvting social infrastructure because nations get smaller. That’s dumb. As a devolved geopolitics, it’ll basically just mean better representation on lower scales. London, for example, is the most diverse city on the planet but, politically, it votes pretty consistently. Majority Labour. Remain in EU. Most people outside it see it as another country already because of this different mindset. Patchwork, in some areas, basically redresses the distribution of power and would, for example, allow London to not be held back by the conservative rural areas and allow other areas to not be neglected because of the pull of London. Proxy race wars in deprived areas may likely decrease once people have more local political autonomy. Or at least I think so. Yes, patchwork could give ethnonationalists a chance to put their money where their mouths are, but personally I think they’ll be at a massive disadvantage and won’t keep up with more diverse powerhouses. Ethnonationalism becomes ethno-isolationism and good luck surviving long with that outlook.

I don’t stand entirely behind this hastily written answer — dynamics of preference and neglect are not so simple — but my response to mcs was more specific.

The assumption that patchwork would lead to a bunch of ethnostates seems to come entirely from the fact that its best known advocates are currently on the political right. There are always alternatives and the main attraction of patchwork is, for me, the way it creates a geopolitical foundation for alternatives to proliferate.

The most difficult pill to swallow when considering patchwork is that it will allow those with entirely different goals and dreams to you to have pop at creating their own ideal. For the left, the worst case scenario seems to be the establishment of a kind of ethnostate. For the right, perhaps it’s the establishment of a socialist haven full of hipster-commie slackers. Each is given the right to exist under patchwork and, if either side is able to stomach that possibility, the assumption is no doubt that either side will be unable to function and fade into irrelevance.

For the left, in particular, since that is where these concerns are coming from, the question of what horrors could be allowed to happen if a white nationalist patch opts to eject all non-white persons from their city-state are absolutely legitimate.

The right doesn’t seem to have any concerns and perhaps that’s also a worry. Maybe they just get it? Maybe they just know that the dumbest thing to do when thinking about patchwork is to make assumptions? If you don’t like it, offer an alternative. That’s the idea. Don’t fall back into left melancholic, capitalist realist naysaying when offered a potential do-over…

The silver lining to this ethnostate example is, of course, that all white nationalists will be isolated to a relatively small area. Patchwork, depending on how you look at it, is another way of neutralising that kind of threat. As has been explained so many times, patchwork is an inherently anti-fascist system. It is founded on a “you do you” mentality.

This is not to say that things are so simple, of course. This is rather the patchwork trolley problem and all this is easier said than done. But the potential for the unrestricted progression of other political ideals, and the proliferation of as-yet-unsubstantiated alternatives, whatever they may be, is not something I am willing to sacrifice for the sake of a single patch of shitheads.

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I would rather be able to say “you do you” whilst the rest of us, wherever we are, get on with formulating real, productive alternatives to our present circumstances, allowing the ethnoisolationists to fade into obscurity and irrelevance having achieved their blinkered and superficial ideal. I would rather take a punt on my own political biases than continue along the bleak, single-track “progressivism” of neoliberal capitalism. I would rather have the opportunity to experiment.

Call me naive — to an extent, that is inevitable — but I am willing to embrace that naivety for a shot at another existence.