Fragment on Riotous Subjects and Riotous Objects

As Minneapolis burns, I spent a bit of time thinking about this tweet from Nick Land today:

Suspending the actual rhetorical purpose of this classic @Outsideness shitpost, on the face of it, ‘protestors or rioters’ seemed like a flawed formula to me. Because what even is protesting anymore? A “protest” — at least of the large-scale variety — and especially in the UK — hasn’t brought about social change from below on any occasion this side of the millennium.

I began to think about a third category. Might it be better to ask ourselves: what differentiates a demonstration from a protest and a protest from a riot?

The last “protest” I went on, for instance — an anti-Brexit protest — was distinctly little more than a demonstration. I found myself acutely embarrassed to be there. It was clear that the anti-Brexit “protests” weren’t actually protesting much of anything. They were simply demonstrating that an opposition existed by publicly performing democratic disappointment.

A protest, by contrast, enacts and embodies its opposition and makes it known through blockages to infrastructure. Extinction Rebellion protest effectively by shutting down large portions of London (or other major cities). In getting their message across that “time is running out”, they attack time itself. They delay and postpone and slow down. They temporally disrupt the comings and goings of (the) capital. And yet, whilst protests disrupt, at the level of the state, what do they change?

Riots are protests that attack space. They don’t just block space to slow time but attack it outright. They disturb capital. They treat property how the state treats bodies. They are retaliations.

The sense with which conservative commentators disapprove of rioters for having a lack of decorum only shows how distanced they are from actual material existence, but there is more to it than left and right. From this perspective, Land’s “protester / rioter” binary echoes a sort of “subject / object” binary.

The right, whenever there is a riot going on, cannot help but demonstrate the grotesque reality of what happens when business ontology — “the ideology that any social or cultural structure must exist as a business” — collides with an object-oriented ontology — the philosophical insistence that anything must exist as an object (giving particular resonance to Pete Wolfendale’s speculative dystopia: “It is this that reveals the age of objects for a new dark age.”)

Black bodies and businesses face off to insist on which mode of destruction is a more horrifying spectacle, and the answer that comes back from capitalist realism only fuels more hatred from below. An orientation towards objects over subjects, every time the levy breaks, only enables the state to claim criminal damage when it goes against them and collateral when it does not.

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