Footnotes to last week

1) Somehow the rational conclusion that we require economic redistribution in the face of rising global inequalities does not have any impact on the practical policies crafted in the name of solving economic disparities. It is here that the gap between reason and power becomes evident.

2) Problems of late capitalism:

—One initiates work projects with friends, blurring the line between friend and colleague

—One’s boss initiates friendly socializing at work, blurring the line between boss and friend

—One’s always looking for the authentic self, blurring the line between constructing a self for some provisional purpose and unintentionally chasing for a self whose purpose suits capitalism

3) When people are not given the social conditions in which they can individuate themselves, they are looking for some leader, some text, some slogan to rely on. And there’s always that person or that object which people start to take as their anchor. What’s troubling is not that there is a leader or a guiding text, but rather that people are unable to reflect on this dependency and take a step back to critically interrogate their relations to the object they depend on.

4) There are people who are wounded, hurt, their souls cut up in slices. They project the ruins inside on the world around themselves. They are filled with fantasies about being under threat, being undermined always. An aggressive competitive spirit, paralyzing fear, perpetual anxiety shape their interaction with the world. They impose on the world, thought by thought, action by action, the violences that mutate and wriggle in them. The axiom goes: left unchecked, violence multiplies violence. And so when such people are not confronted their fears, anxieties, competitiveness spreads through a society, producing more of such personalities. Before you know it, we end up producing a society of fascists.

5) Readings on infrastructure highlight an important point: that infrastructure space functions as “spatial software.” That is, infrastructure makes certain things possible, “it is not the declared content but rather the content manager dictating the rules of the game in the urban milieu.” In the same book, one learns to see the gap between the stated intent of an organization and what an organization actually does as “disposition.” To understand disposition in this way, one has to pay attention the ‘multipliers’ in urban setting. “The city grows or changes because of the multipliers that circulate within it—cars, elevators, mobile phones, laws, real estate formulas, structural innovations, and security technologies among them.” Such multipliers impact the way the space and processes around them are constructed or changed to accommodate them. Another infrastructure form is the ‘switch/remote’. A dam in a river network for example. “Like the ball on the inclined plane, they establish potentials. Like a valve, they may suppress or redirect. The switch may generate effects some distance down the road or the line. It is a remote control of sorts—activating a distant site to affect a local condition or vice versa.” Switch/remote “modulates a flow of activities.” But a switch/remote cannot control all of its impacts. Could we reorient multipliers and switch/remote to hack the spatial software? Perhaps. Beside the material aspects of infrastructure space, there are the processes by which infrastructure space gets wrapped up in symbolic garments of nationalist projects, state and military purposes, capitalist goals for example.

6) So many times in activist battles, folks are fighting against what the powerful oppressors have said. But what the powerful say might merely be a distraction. It is up to activists to define their own fields of battle as opposed to allowing imperial and corporate powers to suggest fields of battle to them.

7) What would an unorthodox repertoire of strategies be composed of? Perhaps, “techniques like gossip, rumor, gift-giving, compliance, mimicry, comedy, remote control, meaninglessness, misdirection, distraction, hacking, or entrepreneurialism.”

8) There are those who pick battles with full intentionality, often but not always, to win. There are few who pick battles to lose with the intention to instrumentalize the submission in a larger strategy of power struggle.

9) The pitfalls of law for gender equality: patriarchy is built into law, example: denying women the right of property; even when there is formal acceptance of equality, on ground people practice patriarchy; treating men and women equally is unjust because they are situated in unequal contexts; law makes subjective experiences invisible through the deployment of objectivity.

10) Emancipation is not a state of being but a continuous struggle against cooptation and oppression.

11) What if we have reached the limits of human rights discourse in social movements? Where do we go next?

12) I am in favor of access to abortion. But I don’t think an ideal world is where we have free abortion everywhere. Rather, it’s a world where unwanted pregnancies do not happen.

13) In cases of rape, it is taken for granted that the law can determine the victim and the perpetrator and therefore by punishing the violator give the victim justice. I wonder if justice is so clearly disbursed in each case.

14) When social movements solely focus on proving that a rape happened and the violator must be punished, they leave open the possibility for another woman to get raped because they haven’t yet raised the question about what conditions produce instances of rape.

15) Power determines law. Therefore the unevenness of power is necessarily inscripted into the writing of law.

16) Liberal law takes on the power of naming group identities, and in this manner it reproduces colonial racialization.

17)  I do not claim my identity because I cannot think of it so rigidly. But I invoke my identity at specific movements. Invocation implies that this identity is porous, open to dismantling when the time comes and is only conjured up provisionally to make a certain point about oppression.

Reading Masselos

Masselos points out that in Bombay’s mohallas, authority had multiple sources: “power exercised corporately, legitimated by custom, tradition, or religion, and reinforced or at least not undercut by the legal strictures of British administration. There was a primary level of authority which resided in the family unit in each caste-like group and a further moholla level often expressed through one or two leaders but usually shaped in gatherings of the senior, more elder, or respected residents. Their decisions carried formal weight and were usually issued in the name of the jamat, though here all adult males might be required to ratify them in a gathering. And, finally, where they existed there were the sanctions wielded by the city-wide jamat or by the spiritual heads and, to a lesser extent, by other religious representatives.” The term mohalla is also used in the case of Dhaka. Are there similar structures at play here? One begins to wonder what are the networks through which power operates in dhaka’s neighborhoods today.

And then there are forms of power that don’t have formal structure: “in some instances, it depended upon wealth; in others, upon positions in the local official or police hierarchies; while others who wielded it came from families who had been long settled in Bombay city. As well, such power vested in head jobbers in mills or with the leading workers of a trade or occupation or, in at least some instances, with men who had at their disposal gangs of those lawless elements…” How easily I can see the functioning of such powers in Bangladesh, most certainly in the case of ethnic and class riots.

In that sense, what do powers that underlie riots do through riots? A riot breaks down the underlying assumption that holds a city together: that people from different walks of life can live together. A riot leaves us wondering that perhaps we were never meant to live so close to each other. Riots reorient the center to the periphery and expand/constrict the spaces of mobility for specific groups.

inaccessible

sometimes when you tell me you can’t read me
because i am illegible, i see myself through your tongue
and hear a bazaar, hustling and bustling,
bodies upon bodies huddled together,
merging and moving, hands and legs and hair,
with no sense of property, privacy, and lines,
an unreadable landscape at which
the white ghosts looked and said,
“let’s build the city elsewhere,
this place is too messy, frightening, inaccessible.”

Reading the Promise of the Metropolis

1. For the affluent who own means of production or the middle class that possesses the basic commodities to lead a good life, ‘rights’ refer to state protection so that what they possess cannot be taken away. This notion of ‘rights’ does not apply to those who have nothing to begin with that can be taken away. For the already always dispossessed, there are claims. Claims are calls for entitlements that is not yet extended to the dispossessed. Claims may be violent, claims may redefine the uses of the city. Claims are anxiety producing for the rich and powerful, because claims imply the powerful and moneyed will be left less powerful and poorer than where they are now.

2. At times we are looking for continuities and homogeneity in history. But how interesting would it be to see heterogeneity and ruptures in history?

3. Here in this book we see how social hierarchies imprint themselves into city space. For example, caste played a role in giving the better accommodation to upper castes and keeping lower castes out of more attractive sites and upper caste restaurants.

4. Vaastu becomes a way to cope with the economic anxieties of changing Bangalore.

5. Home decor and domestic appliances come to symbolize honor and status, producing the consumer citizen.

6. There’s something to be said about the spatial strategy of capitalists. First they located the factories close to the areas where workers lived to exploit female labor. Then when workers began to organize in these neighborhoods, they moved the factories away.

7. Municipality politics can be swayed heavily in the direction of the benefits of the middle class that sees neighborhood as its domain of politics.

8. planning itself can be a commodity that is on offer in the market for an exchange value. p.123: “What are the circumstances under which planning takes on exchange value, so that it is planning itself, rather than house, that is offered for sale in the real estate market today?” p.134: “Most important, what was offered to this ‘citizen’ was what was denied to the residents of the city, namely planning itself. What is new and different about developers is that they no longer sell housing or buildings but planning; indeed, planning itself takes on exchange value. The new housing colonies promised enclaves of privileged consumption of public and private goods, while offering to eliminate all aspects of urban reality by turning away from the street, the square, or other public meeting place. An exaggerated privacy and social homogeneity succeeded in keeping plebeian democracy and its discontents at bay.”

9. p.163: “These enclaves are therefore a retreat from politics itself. The unwillingness to participate in the uncertainties of politics, and to secure oneself from such contamination in physical ways, is also a sign of how beleaguered such an existence may be, and how they represent at best privatized solutions to intractable social/public problems. Therefore, these dreams are always haunted by the fear that the future may not be Singapore, as what lies beyond these walls is the same deeply segmented social and economic life from which one may have temporarily escaped.”

10. The map is not the territory. The territory is always changing, always negotiated.

patriot

there was a time in my teens when i was a patriot,
holding to a sense of belonging to my little memories of growing up in little places,
then i moved around a bit, away from little places, went to big places,
and i started having a sense of belonging to all the places i move through,
feeling like a local in the global, in my twenties,
and then many days later i began to feel everything is strange to me
the people, the places, the streets, the skies,
wherever i go, however long i stay… everything is as strange to me as i am to myself
i do not know if i will ever know anything or anyone again,
i do not know if i will ever feel patriotic, or cosmopolitan again,
i also do not know if i have ever felt this close to everything and everyone anytime before.

moves

you make a move
the other makes a move
a situation of interdependency comes about.
think of the woman throwing a seed into ground
the seed germinates and becomes a green something.
the moves are not necessarily intentional
the moves are not necessarily emerging out of the same time frame
what does the woman know of the seed’s time / what does the seed know of the woman’s time?
i want to think about moves as something more than and less than intentions,
somewhat of a layering of different timeframes,
something of an agency that is relational and interdependent from the very beginning.
perhaps, hegel has done this with consciousness already.
what if we did this with materiality as well?

Why suppress the knowledges of the wounded?

Why suppress the knowledges of the wounded?
So that the technologies of torture appear to be medicine.

Living within certain class conditions does not produce class consciousness
Living within certain gender socializations does not produce gender consciousness
Living under a skin does not produce race consciousness
Consciousness requires polishing
Consciousness comes out of living within/under and
stepping out from within/under simultaneously.

Children are first the private property of parents, then the private property of state-capitalists.
Could we de-privatize children and raise them more in common?

I wish there were pure victims and pure oppressors
The calculation of justice would be so easy
Instead, what’s there is a muddy world
Each one dragging themselves under a penalty and rising with a privilege
Unknown to the other:
The incalculability of injustice.

You could start by looking at climate change, before you know it, you’ll be thinking about the kids in your neighborhood, and soon enough you are staring out through your eyes as if they were windows to something else…

You could start by nit-picking through old thoughts in your head, before you know it, you’ll be thinking about the friend far away, his nation, the nation’s political relationship to the changing eco-system and the trees, people, water around the world…

To digress is also a way to think relationally. To digress is also a way to craft a series of partial perspectives from multiple viewpoints.

I don’t quite get this language of centering and de-centering this or that experience. As if there was only one center-position for which we have to struggle. Instead of space, what if this is a question of time? What if we simply require to spend more time assessing, engaging, understanding, highlighting each experience without centering or de-centering any?

Rana Plaza 2017

HRW reports: “The Bangladeshi authorities have failed to make measurable progress in investigating the April 4, 2012 abduction, torture, and killing of prominent labor rights activist Aminul Islam, including allegations of links to state officials, Human Rights Watch said today.”

It shows once more that the question was never about a building crumbling, but a matter of political power. Who gets to decide how one will work, in what conditions, at what cost?

A radio based campaign around safety is coming to town. bdnews24 reports: “Each episode with 30-minute duration will focus on a specific OSH related issue. The episodes will feature a drama format as well as songs and discussions. The first show will cover ‘what to do in an emergency’ while the others include electrical safety, earthquakes, good housekeeping and hygiene.”

Once more, the focus is on a culture of safety than a culture of oppression.

Histories

Histories have sharp teeth, sometimes.
Sometimes, histories bite my tongue off,
ear off, chew my flesh and grind my bones
with the pleasure of a British Governor
eating his curried meat.

I am and am not responsible for all this.

Histories, sometimes, paint themselves
over the faces of friends, acquaintances, strangers.
I get so enraged
so resentful
so possessed
whirling whirling whirling
in storms circling a rubble of self humiliation.
And there, at the site of collapse I sit with an eraser,
uncertain who’s the transgressor —
the body in front of me or the histories before me.

I am and am not responsible for all this.

Who to rewrite?
What to wipe away?
I can neither forgive nor look past.
What is left to me are the promises of my own words and gestures.

I am and am not responsible for all this, I tell myself, tell the other in me, tell the me in the other,
and conjure an opening in the walls of this maze full of wounds.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we will walk out,
together,
transfigured beings
that endure.

surrealism, white supremacy, nationalism

Nov 23, 2015. Minnesota. A white supremacist opens fire at a Black Lives Matter protest and wounds 5 people.

Summer, 1917. Paris. Andre Breton defines a surreal act as ‘going into the street, revolver in hand, and shooting at random into the crowd.’

Could surrealism provide a pathway to explore the psyche of white supremacy?

2017. New Delhi. Celebrating India’s progress under “competitive cooperative federalism” Modi says, “This government does not have tunnel vision, but total vision.”

March, 2017. Jantar Mantar. Tamil Nadu farmers protest the Mekdatu dam and crippling debt burdens. They carry with them skulls of other farmers who committed suicide because of the droughts.

2001. Dana Giola writes, “There is always a skeleton on the buffet.”

Could Giola’s surrealist refrain defamiliarize us from the normal notions of national progress?

note

—For the first time, it hits me like a nail that the academy is an incestual intertwining when one professor calls me out in her class: “Don’t pretend like you agree with my argument. You are your advisor’s student after all. She would cover her head and die at this table if she heard this. You don’t like my position. Say it.”

—Not that I have been betrayed recently, but I imagine betrayal as holding up an umbrella to pouring rain and this umbrella bending at the back, channeling all the rain down your back.

—Races, ethnicities, religions, genders: the animal that I am sees these as colonial taxonomies. And the taxonomies of the colonizer are there for me to resist, deflect, deploy subversively, but not at all to adopt as my own ways of breathing in the world.

Morning thoughts:

—gangs use spray paint; rich people put up ‘neighborhood watch’ signs

—when occupations live separate, do not see each other, have no social relations beyond knowing each other as labels, we have transitioned from a class society to a caste society

Footnotes

—Can we move past romanticizing democracy where democracy equals justice? When has democratic procedures of mutual respect, trust, tolerance guaranteed that the landless would have political rights, that the racialized would not be shot in the streets, that non-conforming bodies would live in dignity, that women would not be colonized, that the colonized would achieve liberation? Instead, democratic ornamentations, these civic rituals, these virtuous posturing culminating in a code of civility often worked to provide authority to the propertied, so that they can continue with their exercise of exclusions and expulsions.

Democratization which may complement the search for justice will certainly have to be outside the deep historical grooves of democracy’s injustices.

—At the level of policy, there’s empowerment. At the level of micro politics, there’s manipulation.

—If science/intersectionality conversations merely focus on hiring people of color, we are still discussing ‘diversity and inclusion’ to increase the hues in science departments, a drive to get more skilled workers for capitalist science-making while also shielding the institution from addressing white supremacy. A science/intersectionality conversation of greater integrity would go past diversity to engaging with the body of feminist thought that challenges the very foundations of the scientific enterprise. How do we know what we know? What are our practices in research and teaching, and why those practices? What is the role of ethics in science production? What are the historical relations between capitalist science institutions and oppressed communities, and how to give an account of current scientific pursuits in that context? These are, of course, a few of the many tiny steps collectives might consider.

—I am less afraid of crisis than security because security makes sure everything stays the same.

—The logic of white supremacist society: when white frat men rape women, administrators point to the inefficacy of punitive measures and advocate for incentivizing not-raping. On the other hand, criminalizing, incarcerating, and deporting (even murdering) black and brown bodies are touted as effective measures to deal with ‘crime’, a buzzword which often means uncommitted offenses.

Liking the values of liberal democracy

In a recent conversation with an american liberal, I learned my positions a little better:

  1. I am on the side of liberal commitment to scientific thinking as long as it is not fetishized and mythologized.
  2. I am on the side of property as long as it is somewhere between private and collective and not a tool of class domination.
  3. I am on the side of liberal principles like freedom of speech as long as these principles encompass a responsibility and accountability to produce the conditions in which one’s speech is not being protected while simultaneously the ‘other’ is being annihilated. For example, to the Bangladeshi government I would say: “you have to uphold freedom of speech no matter who it hurts but at the same time you have to diligently work towards creating material conditions where people are not excluded from basic human rights such as shelter, food, education etc.” To the U.S. government I would say: “you cannot protect the freedom of speech of people justifying rape, racial dehumanization and murdering while these violences are everyday occurrences.”

Thinking with MacIntyre

MacIntyre makes this interesting observation that “modern academic philosophy turns out by and large to provide means for a more accurate and informed definition of disagreement rather than for progress toward its resolution.” It raises the question: well, what happens in the absence of resolution in academic spaces? What are people left to when philosophical investigations—which are really matters of daily life—end with no particular ethical proposal? What fills up the vacuum in public sphere when no real resolutions are proposed? Perhaps, something like Trump happens.