representation

Commenting on my earlier post about global citizenship, Jodi argues that “politics is impossible without representation, that is, without drawing lines, making distinctions, exclusions, and representing these in terms of a universal.”

And Craig half agrees when he says that he “can’t imagine a politics without representations or symbols.” He half disagrees, however, in that he argues that “it isn’t clear that this has to be ‘universal’ such that the representation entirely overwhelms the original political moment of getting together and coming up with a project in common.”

What’s at issue here is perhaps partly the distinction between representation as proxy (Vertretung) and as portrait (Darstellung).

But to put it this way: why does what Craig terms a “point of a agreement” have to be symbolically portrayed? Why should agreement not be incarnated in the bodies that meet in an encounter or community? Isn’t that what a politics of affective resonance suggests?

To conceive of politics only in terms of representation is surely a drastic limitation of its proper sphere. And yes, it may be the imposition of such limits that is, in Jodi’s sense, the political. But the price paid is that politics is always secondary, always a delicate flower that can be interrupted at any moment.

I can see a certain sense to this position, but it casts the interruption itself into the outer darkness of anti-politics.

Mary Read
To put it another way: tonight I am giving a talk (on piracy) to a seminar on “political violence.” I have been frustrated with this seminar in that so far we may sometimes have managed to discuss politics, and less often to discuss violence, but we have never managed to think through the conjuncture that would be “political violence.”

Surely that’s because, for a concept of politics founded in representation, violence has to be the anti-political rupture par excellence. But what a setback, no longer to be able to talk about violence politically, except as the other or limit to politics!

Yes, piracy pervades Western cultural and political imagination, and so (symbolic) representation. And, yes, that imagination casts pirates themselves into the outer darkness of anti-politics, villains of all nations, outcasts at sea. Their exclusion is one of the founding acts of the West’s political representation: pirates have no proxies. But can we not conceive of pirates, too, as political subjects?

Or can pirates only become political by accepting our norms of liberal civility, representation, and mediation? By, already, agreeing with us?

yet more piracy

Why pirates are in fact good for the world. The chart below is taken from Joshuah Bearman, who in turn got it from The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In the CotFSM’s own words:

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

chart correlating piracy and global warmingI should mention that the image file is named “piratesarecool4.jpg.”

Otherwise, for more serious thoughts on piracy, head over to theoria.

more piracy

This is mostly a placeholder.

A blog by the name of Organic Warfare has two recent entries on contemporary piracy and insurgency: Piracy in the Malacca Straits and Piracy and the Global Insurgency.

“Organic Warfare” states that “modern pirates are now using tactics similar to terrorism to capture ships and goods.” By contrast, of course, I’d suggest that the relation is inverse: it is the terrorists who are the inheritors of piracy’s historic tradition. Which does not preclude feedback and cross-contamination between the two forms of activity.

UPDATE: John Robb of Global Guerrillas (I’m not sure what the relation is between his two blogs) points to an article in the Sunday Herald on private navies, also in the Malacca Straits.

But as I point out in my comment on Robb’s entry, the irony is that “private navies” are far from being “a radical new solution.” After all, “privateers” were, precisely, private military forces that flourished before the nationalization of naval warfare. So from privateers to pirates, and back to privateers…

black globalization

Blood & Treasure offers an analysis of what the author terms “black globalization” based on an entry taken from “Global Guerrillas”.

The Iraqi resistance is, we learn, characterized by flat management structure, portfolio careers, free agency, continuous improvement, delivery cycles, learning organizations, skill set development, and outsourcing. The very model of a modern multinational.

At the same time, a comment to the earlier, “Global Guerrillas” post states “As I read about the strategies mentioned above it suddenly hit me where I had heard of them before, from a book I read in the 80’s called ‘The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism’ by Hakim Bey.” To which the “Global Guerrilla” blogger links his own analysis of Fallujah as a TAZ.

I think this undecidability, or rather the cross-mutation between commerce and subversion under the sign of terror, can also be seen in classical piracy, as I mentioned earlier.

Is there really a difference between “black” globalization and any other form of globalization? Is not “black” globalization the “truth” of a putative “white” globalization, which is held back only by the remnants of transcendence and command?

What’s at issue is also, in the sixteenth century as much as today, the relation between Multitude and Empire.

The question is precisely whether what we have here is an identity, an undecidability, or perhaps a complex series of potential “tipping points” between different forms. Is there in fact no real distinction between the two (between globalized insurgency and networked commerce), except for their overcoding by the state discourse of a “war on terror”? Or is there in fact a real difference, whose contours can only be mapped contextually and historically, i.e. in terms of effects (does, for instance, piracy encourage or slow down the slave trade) rather than by examining the movement itself? Or can a line be drawn between Multitude and Empire, albeit with the acknowledgement that one may easily and at almost any time be converted into the other?

Certainly the pull of commerce is very strong. One could imagine a number of guerrilla groups (the FARC, the IRA, even Sendero) that have become dominated by what had perhaps originally been an instrumental use of illegal trade networks. Smuggling, extortion, and protection rackets may have originated as means to raise funds to continue the armed struggle, but their logic overtook the instrumentality of political violence.

Is this how the multitude becomes “corrupted”? Whereas Empire becomes corrupt through the hypostasis of state command?

piracy

Just a quick note or two after reading the BBC story “Microsoft Steps up Piracy Fight”.

First, on the political economy of digital production. Pace declarations that “a third of software worldwide is fake” or “counterfeit,” in that these are digitally exact replicas of the “original” software, charges of “fakery” are ungrounded. This is not a product that is constructed to resemble what Microsoft sells. This is what Microsoft sells. I take it that the rhetoric of the “counterfeit” is invoked to suggest that “pirated” software is in some way inferior to the “real” thing. But this goes against the whole logic of the digital mode of production.

Second, on the political economy of piracy. I find it interesting that over the past thirty years or so there has been an almost exact reversal of the relation of pirates to the process of production. Classical piracy involved the disruption of distribution networks. Indeed, a common charge against sixteenth and seventeenth-century buccaneers was that they were parasitic and unproductive. Today’s software (and CD and DVD) piracy, however, is stigmatized because these pirates, freed from the start-up costs of R&D, from the requirement to invest in the fixed capital of the recording studio, from the obligation to pay wages (royalties) to the artists and designers, and from taxation and other levies imposed by the state, etc. etc., are producers who enjoy unfair comparative advantage because of their overall lower unit costs.

Of course, the political economy of piracy is complicated by the political economy of digital reproduction: most people would probably suggest that pirates copy, rather than produce. But copying is an essential part of the digital production process, in a manner quite distinct from traditional production processes. In Fordist industrial production, for instance, it is not that you first produce one car and then copy that car; rather you produce moulds for the various car components, which are then assembled to construct a car. (Here a counterfeiter would produce his or her own moulds, perhaps relying on inferior technology or materials to construct a product that resembles or is a replica of the original product.) Digital production, however, involves exact duplication. It is as though the “pirates” now have the exact same moulds as the “legitimate” producers (and, as I said, their product is indistinguishable from the legitimate product). They are therefore producers no more and no less than Microsoft (or Time Warner or whoever), albeit that they have abbreviated (rationalized?) the production process.

At the same time, the political economy of classical piracy is also more complex than appears at first sight. There are two main, apparently dichotomous, approaches:

1) Pirates disrupted trade routes, forced extra costs (above all protection costs) on capitalist producers, and also often destroyed the goods that they seized. When this is taken into account along with their prevalent ideologies of freedom from state and other authority, they should be regarded as essentially anti-capitalist, perhaps even proto-communist.

2) Pirates forced open trade routes, introduced competition in the face of monopolized distribution networks, and also often sold on much needed goods to make up for the inefficiencies of over-restricted markets. When this is taken into account along with their prevalent ideologies of freedom from state and other authority, they should be regarded as essentially capitalist, perhaps even proto-neoliberal.