Habit has something of a bad press. Radicals (I mentioned Massumi’s User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, but there are plenty of other examples) see habit either in terms of clinging on to the remnants of convention and subjectivity or (in Marxist vein) as conformism and false consciousness. Meanwhile, liberals and the right too have a hard time with habit: it’s regarded as pernicious by the ideologists of the market and the theorists of rational choice. After all, as soon as you do something out of habit, you are exhibiting some kind of unreason. Overall, habit is equated with addiction, with weakness, with bad faith, and with unadventurousness by both left and right.
But habit is simply a form of incorporated memory. I don’t see it as essentially problematic in itself. Without the security (to use Glen’s word) that habit brings, we would be essentially paralyzed. And while, as I said in a previous entry, being terrorist can and does become habitual, in general terror and habit are opposed. Terror seizes up all the processes that had become habitual, semi-automatic: it forces us to rethink our habits, by making us self-conscious about getting on the tube, sitting in an aeroplane, doing our shopping, seeing people with rucksacks, or whatever. Terror shocks us out of our routines; that’s part of its trauma and most of its objective.
And habit goes every which way: it’s a posthegemonic mode of control, but could surely also be a means of constructing posthegemonic community.
For while there are certainly (politically) bad habits, such as the unconscious sexism of men interrupting women, or the everyday racism that draws assumptions from skin colour, one could also imagine a political programme that saw itself as the inculcation of good habits: solidarity, say, could be a habit we might want to work on a little more. A solidarity that went beyond consciousness and good intentions, policy-making and self-dramatization, that was a habitual, affective mode of relating to the “other.”
(Which somewhat circuitously brings us to “I’m alright, Jack”, a recent and rather bizarre entry at Harry’s Place that claims that the pro-war left has somehow assumed the mantle of internationalism. I contributed some comments to the discussion. It is a little odd to think that Harry’s logic would lead one to nominate Oliver North as one of the foremost internationalists of the twentieth century. Well, I suppose in a way he was, but then we might want to distinguish better between internationalisms.)