elections

A couple of quick links, and some thoughts about the current state of British politics…

First, it’s good to see the recent success of Sweden’s pirate party. The one spark of life in an election that otherwise was pretty dismal, not least in Britain with the implosion of Labour (in itself no bad thing) but the absence of any decent alternative (hence votes for Ukip and the vile BNP).

Second, on the political mood in the UK today, K-Punk is excellent in suggesting resonances with the late 1970s and the world recently conjured up so expressively by David Peace. In his words, “It seems as if we are tumbling and stumbling back towards a version of Callaghan’s era, living through a negative 1979… tumbling and stumbling out through a political-economic event horizon that marks the end of neoliberalism.”

The difference is that in 1979, at neoliberalism’s outset, Thatcherism did offer some kind of alternative (in the guise, of course, of “no alternative”). Politics, for better or worse, was still alive and well. And even in 1997, when Labour came to power finally almost by default, as John Major’s Tories crumbled under charges of sleaze not unlike (if less widespread than) those of today, Blair et. al. did at least seem to stand for something, an “ethical foreign policy” for instance, even if those principles were soon revealed as simply an extension of the New Labour brand.

Now, however, politics is no longer about politics… It’s about petty corruption. Or it’s about a new constitutional project, a project to reform the voting system and (finally) finish off the reform of the House of Lords.

The turn to constitutionalism is interesting, however much it is clearly also a mark of some desperation on the part of a party that has run out of ideas and hope. It’s interesting because what is at stake is the shape of the body politic itself, which is why its tied to the now wholesale disrepute of the representational system triggered most recently by stories of duckhouses and the like.

So maybe, just maybe, we are truly entering interesting times.

ordinary

The multitude is common. It is ordinary and everyday, and it is also both the product and the producer of shared resources. It comprises what Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker term the “hewers of wood and drawers of water”: a “motley crew” of apparently disorganized labor (The Many-Headed Hydra 40, 212).

Though Negri sometimes flirts with an almost Leninist vanguardism, the multitude rebels against party organization or the privileging of so-called advanced sectors. The exercise of constituent power is a matter of habit, not training, indoctrination, or even will. The multitude seeks connections based on what we already hold in common; its polyvalent powers of connection open up new bases for commonality.

Negri and Hardt reverse the narrative that claims that capitalism has already destroyed the commons, and that privatization is now rampant, especially after neoliberalism. They argue that we have more in common now than ever before, and that the stage is set for the “common name” of a Communist liberty to come. The love of the common people is to ensure this transformation of what is now either private interest or public command into an immanent utopia.

And yet it can be hard to distinguish the multitude from the actual dystopia of Empire. Hardt and Negri oppose the multitude’s commonality to Empire’s corruption, but their analysis of corruption is confused and contradictory.

Indeed, the common and the corrupt often overlap: both are products of informal and unsupervised networks. Again, the multitude is ambivalent and the state has no monopoly on corruption. The principle of commonality suggests that there can be no categorical distinction between multitude and Empire: if constituted power is merely a particular (de)formation of the constituent, the point is rather to distinguish between such formations, to find a protocol by which to set apart bad from good, rather than to affirm the multitude at every turn.

When it comes to the multitude, Negri’s projective Marxism too quickly renounces critique.

limited

Further to previous discussions of the neoliberal university

This is a very dodgy enterprise. It is a limited company established by four local academic institutions, all of which (like almost all Canadian universities) are in the public sector. Its goal seems to be to profit from the local real estate market and what it itself calls “the City’s rapidly growing high-technology precinct”. Yet it is masquerading as itself an educational institution, wrapped up in visions of high-tech cyber-utopia and “digital villages” and the like. This is no doubt to the advantage of its sponsors and investors, both public and corporate. The gaming industry (et al.) gains prestige (as well as human capital) from its association with higher education; the university hopes to rake in the cash (not that it necessarily will) while spouting the requisite terms of art about cutting edge interdisciplinary research.


The gall of it, as far as I can see, is that its corporate name, Great Northern Way Campus Ltd, is easily enough shortened to “Great Northern Way Campus” which on first sight (I was fooled for a long time) seems to imply that it is indeed the campus of some other educational institutional, i.e. an integral part of that institution. In no way is this the case.

No wonder it calls itself “a unique, collaborative university campus environment”. What’s “unique” is that in fact it is not a university, nor is it a campus, however much it may provide an environment. This is the language of set-dressing and interior furnishings. “Not alchemy, but close,” they say. No, it’s just the usual sleight of hand of corporate shenanigans, attempts to ensure rapid conversion of cultural into financial capital, and shed-loads of PR spin.

Of course, there’s nothing too “unique” about this… the Great Northern Way Campus Ltd is a commercial venture like any other, simply one that has managed to wangle an awful lot of money out of public funds for its business ventures (a least $40.5 million, it seems), not to mention the fact of benefiting from an initial real estate donation that one hopes was originally destined for educational purposes. (OK, let’s be real, it was a tax write-off or similar, no doubt.)

Anyhow, I ran into all this by accident. Looking for examples to show my students as to how to edit wikipedia, I discovered that the article on this firm was plagiarized from the place’s own website. I blanked the page (note at this point I mistakenly thought that this was a university campus). But the deleted text was shortly replaced in similarly glowing terms, if now no longer word-for-word copied from other online promotional materials, but more cunningly crafted, by a wikipedian who apparently is paid by GNWC Ltd to write encyclopedia articles about them, sometimes in the name of Gnwc, at other times anonymously.

Ah, the university of excellence!

Perhaps the only redeeming feature is that university bureaucrats still fortunately make such poor technocrats that they managed to lose c. $1.4 million a year over the first four years since the initial donation. This at the same time as the city was undergoing rampant property inflation! Anyhow, no wonder that despite all the investment, both public and private, those few students enrolled at the “Campus” (21 to date) still have to pay, and at rates far above those paid by their colleagues who are studying in honest-to-goodness Canadian universities.

And what’s with the transparent people?