Capital can't be reasoned with - the importance of affective politics

Students block police from intervening in a demonstration
Students block police from intervening in a demonstration

When we limit ourselves to reasoned critique we cut ourselves off from the everyday experiences of life under capitalism from which any revolutionary rupture must grow.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 19, 2013

David Graeber's article on 'bullshit jobs' seems to have struck a chord, being widely republished and discussed, as well as inspiring numerous responses. One of these in particular, which takes on the slightly broader theme of ‘zombie social democracy’, is very much worth reading. However, I think this debate raises a broader political question that's possibly more significant than the contested specifics here.

Graeber's style is very much that of the anthropologist - where the truth of a narrative isn't so much in its literal veracity as in its resonance and affective power, its meaning in a given context. This understandably infuriates Marxists, whose approach is one of critique, and who, intent on dispelling mystifications, set about pointing out all the errors. Father Xmas isn't even real! Read some value theory!

The result of this seems to be a split between emotion and reason. On the one hand, a 'wrong' analysis which resonates widely, on the other hand 'correct' critiques that seem only to circulate amongst the already-convinced.1 This seems symptomatic of a wider problem: we can have the sharpest, most erudite and incisive critiques going, but movements run on affect, so we're stuck talking amongst ourselves.

This is not to argue in favour of sloppy theorising and hasty generalisations, but to make the case for an affective politics which resonates in a way which links everyday life to the critique of capitalism. Graeber's choice of work, and mobilisation of anti-work affect, seems promising in this respect.

In general, I think there's a wariness amongst libertarian communists towards emotive politics. All too often, they're seen as inherently reactionary, or even deceitful or manipulative. Maurice Brinton's The irrational in politics is a classic text in this vein. From the Home Office and street racist refrain of 'go home' to the moralised trope of defending 'women and children', affectively charged slogans do seem to have an affinity with reactionary politics. Right-wing affective politics are also often downright counterfactual. See for example the fears of Sharia Law in the UK, or the weird and wonderful paranoias of the US Christian right and the likes of Glenn Beck. Libertarian communists understandably tend to prefer reasoned and empirically grounded analysis. Even to the point of packing 1,000 tightly argued words into a double-sided A5 leaflet (a pet-hate of mine).

The historian EP Thompson's work on the 18th century English bread riots is instructive here. He found that hunger alone couldn't account for the riots. Rather, it was the violation of collective norms - typically merchants seen to be exploiting food shortages to hike prices - which led to bread riots. Thompson writes that "an outrage to these moral assumptions, quite as much as actual deprivation; was the usual occasion for direct action." Collective norms are part of the material conditions of the class struggle. That said, the norms Thompson identified could be seen as fundamentally conservative, in the sense of defending already-established patterns of life and seeking to restore the status quo ante.2

However, in Joe Burns' book Reviving the strike, he shows that the historic US labour movement, even its right-wing bureaucrats, accepted the slogan 'labour is not a commodity'. It's not hard to draw anti-capitalist conclusions from such a normative statement.3 For Burns, the violation of this norm everywhere in capitalism was the affect that fuelled the wild strikes in defiance of the cops, courts and the Pinkertons up until the 1930s. This suggests that moral or normative politics need not be conservative. Even if we rely on already-existing norms, those norms could be in conflict with the prevailing capitalist order.

Therefore I'd argue there's nothing inherently reactionary or manipulative about normative politics and the mobilisation of affect. The point is to resonate with everyday experiences in a way that's compatible with the critique of capitalism, rather than watering down the critique to appeal to the (imagined) popular audience. Such watering down is common on the left. Graeber's bullshit jobs piece is certainly guilty, singling out finance capital for criticism rather than capitalism itself. But while Marxists are right to reject such 'truncated critiques', it often comes at the cost of underestimating the moral or normative dimension of the class struggle.

It shouldn't be too hard to articulate an affective politics compatible with anti-capitalist critique. Anti-work seems like a good place to start. A recent Gallup poll found that 70% of American workers hate their jobs, 50% are just going through the motions to collect a paycheck and 20% are actively disengaged, putting energy into undermining their workplace. The situation is horrible of course, but it's a maelstrom of anti-work affect which goes some way to explaining the resonance of the 'bullshit jobs' piece.

Work is for the most part shit. It dominates our lives. Even potentially fulfilling roles are rendered dull and repetitive by compulsion - the horizontal compulsion to seek a wage and the hierarchical compulsion of managerial power. Work chews us up and spits us out. Work stresses us to breaking point that tosses us aside for fresh meat when we finally break down. Work's a vampire sucking on our lives and on our loved ones. It's miserable. Fuck work.

Recomposition's work stories are one of the few examples I've seen that really work to link the affective everyday experiences of work to both a (self-)organising practice and an anti-capitalist critique. I think we need more of this, not as an alternative to rigorous theoretical work but as a gateway and a complement. At one end of the spectrum short slogans summarise or even help enact collective norms, and work on a logic of affective resonance. At the other, detailed, reasoned, theoretical and analytical tomes make sense of the situation and work on a logic of reasoned persuasion and empirical rigour. These in turn help reinforce and validate the resonating affects.4

We neglect the normative and affective dimensions of the class struggle at our peril: these are the stuff movements are made of. We aren't alone in our feelings of boredom, misery, and rage. The affective resonance that comes from talking about them helps establish the collectivity that is the basis for any movement to against the present conditions.

  • 1We could say the truth of 'bullshit jobs' lies in this resonance not in its specific theoretical and empirical claims, which have been debunked by Kliman and others.
  • 2This is also a charge that can be aimed at Graeber's politics of debt jubillee, i.e. forgiveness of debts in order to preserve the established order.
  • 3For any Marxists itching to point out that, actually, labour is not a commodity, labour power is, this is exactly the pedantic preference for theoretical correctness over affective resonance that I'm talking about!
  • 4For example most anti-work or anti-cop feeling arises from experience, but analyses showing the structural and social relational logics of work or policing help validate those feelings and furnish them with theoretical and analytical tools to make sense of them.

Comments

mikail firtinaci

10 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by mikail firtinaci on September 19, 2013

Very good article. I have two questions;

The first is; why do you think the normative politics and the affect have to go together? Normativity, even though it does not suppose to be self-explanatory in an analytical sense, presupposes a logic; affect does not necessarily. Yes, normativity might be widely appealing. But, what makes it dangerously close to reactionary politics is that, normative perceptions usually appeals to the most backward class institutions (religion, family) etc., that impose morals. However, affect can be rational or, expressed rationally. But as you said, it can be quite different from a cold-blooded analysis addressed just for the "already convinced."

The second question is wider; so, how do you think radical politics can take affect into consideration? I think the article is great but, it does not seem to be finished. Reading it, I felt that it finished right at the point when, you would start to write about that question.

Joseph Kay

10 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 20, 2013

mikail firtinaci

why do you think the normative politics and the affect have to go together?

Good point. I pretty much assert this on the basis of EP Thompson, but I don't demonstrate that it's necessarily so. I guess violation of shared norms can set all sorts of affect in motion, but that doesn't mean they have to go together. I also focus on negative affects, probably cos i'm hating on work at the moment, when positive affect is also abundant in movement situations, certainly in something like Occupy Sussex.

mikail firtinaci

Yes, normativity might be widely appealing. But, what makes it dangerously close to reactionary politics is that, normative perceptions usually appeals to the most backward class institutions (religion, family) etc., that impose morals.

True, but do you think such morals can go beyond or even against their origins? I mean, the US miners who launched an insurrectionary strike wave, recounted in Brecher's Strike!, were often deeply Christian. I'm not one to defend theology, but there's certainly elements of Christian morality which can be proto-communist (community of goods, love thy neighbour...).

I think you have a point though, which is one of the major asymmetries between system immanent/conservative politics (of rightist family values or leftist dignity of labour forms) and anti-systemic politics. They have a lot more options than we do, so we need to be a lot more careful about which norms and aspects of common sense we work with.

mikail firtinaci

how do you think radical politics can take affect into consideration?

I think more face-to-face conversations, listening and agitation relative to texts. I think it's often the default to write a dense leaflet and think that does the job. That then implies a micro-level practice in our own lives (workplaces, localities, whatever). I'm starting to think of organising and theorising as necessary opposites.

Organising means breaking things down into small steps people can take together, talking but mainly listening to others' anxieties, fears, hopes. Theorising means linking up all the fragmented aspects of everyday life into a coherent big picture, privileging reason and structure over affect and subjectivity. Generally I think radical politics is better at the latter.

In terms of affective writing, I think the recomp work stories are the best example, stuff like 'Bout to explode or Pissing blood. I struggle to write like that, as my 'theory' instincts kick in and try and rationalise everything as part of X or Y aspect of capital. I think it can be better to just let the affect do the work sometimes. [Edit: the power of storytelling is hardly a new insight, but i'm pretty rubbish at it.]

Maybe also the DSG memetic propaganda during the student movement worked on affective resonance. Which maybe points at an over-reliance on text. Maybe work/life stories on YouTube, or radio, would be something to explore.

Shorty

10 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Shorty on December 15, 2013

I enjoyed reading the blog post, thanks for writing. Still mulling it over. It relates in to your other one on realism and this other solfed piece on 'winning the debate'.

http://libcom.org/blog/liberalism-realism-class-struggle-21032011

http://libcom.org/library/paradox-reformism-call-economic-blockades

It also reminded me of this short blog post by Adam Kotsko.

http://itself.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/weaponized-debate-2/

I've still got to think it through, but I guess it's about forming an effective affective strategy.

Joseph Kay

10 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 20, 2013

I just remembered this comment by Karl Nesic, which has similar frustration with being ineffectually 'right' about things:

Karl Nesic

When a friend recently asked me what radical project I was involved in, I answered by saying how unsatisfied I was with being persistently "right" in the midst of defeat, with being unable to change the world and yet able to analyze our incapacity for changing it.

http://libcom.org/library/what-next-troploin

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 20, 2013

Some comments from Twitter:

Nate

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on September 20, 2013

I like this piece a lot. One thing that this made me think of is about the different chapters of Capital. The best bits IMHO are the more affectively charged and storytelly bits, like the working day and primitive accumulation etc.

The other things I thought of, I think the piece talks about having a clear moral voice/talking about moral issues, and talks about writing in an emotional way, and talks about using stories in writing. I think all of those are related but they're different and it'd be helpful for me personally to think more about each of them and how they relate. Also, I have a hunch that historically these were probably more common at times when the left was bigger and more widespread throughout the working class. I would guess for instance that the traditions of radical speechmaking and debate had more of this stuff, and maybe in mass circulation left publications too. I'd be interested in finding examples that were powerful back in their times to think about ways to do this in an updated way.

catstevens

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by catstevens on September 20, 2013

The distinction between emotive rhetoric and a recognition of the affective dimensions of oppression is an important one.
Another dimension is that to work on affect in terms of liberation struggles we are often need to challenge deeply entrenched embodied rigidities. Affect work needs physical action whether it is courageous acts in the face of police intimidation or taking turns talking to each other about our experiences of work, or other instances in which we have suffered the abuse of authorities. It's not library work by any means.
The deeper problem with this is that it flies in the face of machismo on the one hand and stiff upper lips on the other. To say nothing of academic practices that many of us are trained in. Most of the left is still run under those Humanist styles of leaderships - affect politics is most likely to be led (or has been led!) by working class women.

fingers malone

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on September 20, 2013

Yeah I'm really conflicted about that aspect of it to be honest.

I feel that this side of class struggle, and the amount of effort working class women are often putting into this work during a struggle, is massively devalued and ignored, and when it is acknowledged, we are often essentialised as being just naturally "good at it".
I'm not naturally good at it, I learned to be a good organiser, just like I learned to cook, (in both cases involving a lot of listening to my mum) it isn't some nice warm fuzzy natural thing, it involves me using my brain.
Organising I feel is completely different from theorizing. It involves getting really involved with people, and it involves taking risks that you and the people you are with are going to have to take and deal with the consequences. So it involves making yourself vulnerable in a completely different way.

I think theorising is useful, and involves effort, don't get me wrong, but I don't agree with the way theory trumps practice in the political movement. And I think the gender division is way too much like housework.

Btw I do actually like the article, I'm being generally angry about the general issue.

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 20, 2013

Really resonated with this piece. All politics, but anarchist politics esp. given its emphasis on everyday struggle, needs to reorient itself to the praxis of intervening in affective ecologies. My tweets that Joseph embedded above formed the basis for a blog post in dialogue with this piece that may be worth a read by people who got something from this post.

martinh

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by martinh on September 20, 2013

I think there are things to connect with in "common sense" for want of a better phrase, but Joseph is right that it is often easier for the right to use emotional responses. Some of this is just because there's a lot more resources put into their agenda - mass media being the most obvious example. All the tabloid press in the UK would say they speak "common sense on behalf of the ordinary hard working Briton".

The right will always have more resources on this, but a lot of the failures of anyone on a radical/revolutionary point of view is down to theory being seen as the important stuff (I blame Marxist academics ;) ) and organising and relating to people is for the footsoldiers. I think this choice is a false one. There are angles in almost every issue to get in a different narrative, and some simplification is going to be necessary just to get the message across.

An example (I always feel easier making arguments using examples) - talking to non-politicised people about workfare, a lot have no solidarity with anyone forced onto these schemes, and are very hostile towards the unemployed. However, pose the issue as one of "their tax money" being used to allow employers to get workers for free and their view usually changes. Sometimes you accept that people you meet in the street aren't going to be won over to full communism with a short leaflet or quick conversation, but that getting them to consider a different point of view is a good thing.

(As and when we have something that looks like a revolutionary movement of any size it will feature people engaged in a whole range of everyday activities and bringing their politics to bear in them)

Spikymike

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on September 21, 2013

I feel like there is some 'common sense' in this discussion but it comes across to me in some of these posts in an overly academic language - surely a contradiction somewhere. In terms of how we express ourselves in different situations and with different people it's surely just a matter of 'horses for courses'. Is there not an element here also of that endless search for a 'silver bullet' which will magically turn our minority efforts into a mass movement??

Nate

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on September 21, 2013

No, there's not such an element. We should definitely discuss the vocabulary of this post at more length though, rather than its content. That'd be awesome.

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 21, 2013

Spikymike

Is there not an element here also of that endless search for a 'silver bullet' which will magically turn our minority efforts into a mass movement??

I don't think that's the case. There is a difference between suggesting that the way we communicate and the strategies we adopt take on a more nuanced form in light of what we know about how affect works. There is a tone of scientific research into affect and how powerful it is- how people's decision making is often based more on affective appeal than rational argument. This isn't to say we ought to abandon rational argument but that we should be more aware of the ecological reality of affects and have bear it in mind when we consider our rhetoric.

Aiming to resonate with more people isn't the same as trying to build a mass movement, and certainly such a proposal couldn't work just by the use of affects.

Ultimately this is about whether we make use of a tool or abandon it to the monopoly of the forces we are trying to overcome.

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 21, 2013

I should add that this term "making use" isn't meant to read as suggesting coercion or the use of emotional manipulation. Nor am I trying to say that this "use" is only about communicating w/ people in the wider world. We have to use this tool for the self management of the toxic affective consequences of life under capital, esp. among those who are active in fighting it.

kingzog

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by kingzog on September 22, 2013

Does this have any connection to Silvan Tomkins' Affect Theory?

fingers malone

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on September 22, 2013

Joseph Kay

Organising means breaking things down into small steps people can take together, talking but mainly listening to others' anxieties, fears, hopes. Theorising means linking up all the fragmented aspects of everyday life into a coherent big picture, privileging reason and structure over affect and subjectivity. Generally I think radical politics is better at the latter.

.

Ok maybe that's theory being the best it can be. But every day experience of theory is often a lot more negative than that- something that comes on tablets down from the mountain, and which you are then measured up against and found not good enough. Fragmented aspects of everyday life which challenge the theory, once it's written, are shouted down, when they could be seen as an opportunity to challenge the theory and so make it stronger.

Actually if theory really worked like in that quote, it would be something really amazing. Can't we make our political movement different so that it really does? Serious question, how can we do that?

IlanS

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by IlanS on September 22, 2013

Tomkins was a path breaker... but there are 50 years of additional research in the domain of basic emotions (of daily life) relevant for us. More important is the research of the opinion-system each of us have, that enter into action in every meaningful situation. Our political work is mainly directed to influence this opinion-system by inputting both by direct actions, by being example, by theoretical and reasoning, and by enhancing emotions.

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 22, 2013

There is a host of work to draw on from more recent affect theory, cognitive science, affective neurology and the older philosophical traditions that deal with affect (a lot of people go to Spinoza or Hume). Like I say in my blog response to this, I think we'd do well by listening to advertising: the master technology of affective interventions.

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 23, 2013

fingersmalone

Actually if theory really worked like in that quote, it would be something really amazing. Can't we make our political movement different so that it really does? Serious question, how can we do that?

Yeah, i think a lot of actually-existing theory doesn't work that way. Which is probably a symptom of the isolation of theory from self-organised struggle. So theory becomes a set of idiosyncratic truths derived from careful study of the last wave of mass struggles and/or close textual analysis of Marx (usually). Often it also operates as a gatekeeper to radical identity/set of shibboleths. And it does that whether or not it's 'correct'.

You're right there's an obvious gender dynamic here - the privileging of reason and High Theory over affect and practice pretty obviously maps to the gender binary. Organising is definitely no less learned than theory or cooking, though I suspect gender socialisation means it conflicts more with masculine identity, in a way that high theory doesn't. Which in turn means theory is cast as critical and important while organising and affect is cast as natural and something 'some [other] people are just good at'.

I mean solving this would be tantamount to undoing binary gender roles. That's a big ask. But it does show how gender is always present - structuring questions of theory/practice, affect/reason etc. I don't think there's a neat synthesis here, but I guess theorising from our experiences, making generalisations, using those to inform strategy and tactics, which give rise to new experiences, is a plausible feedback loop. And part of that is gonna involve insurgent experiences, i.e. confrontation and rejection of theories which exclude or remain silent on important aspects of experience, and their replacement with better ones.

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 23, 2013

On advertising, I think there's two main problems here, one pragmatic, the other principled. Pragmatically, a lot of advertising works by associative learning, e.g. creating an unconscious affective link between the product/brand and some other desired thing (very often sex, or 'the Other's desire' - e.g. see Lynx deoderant ads). But associative learning requires repetition and therefore big budgets and mass scale campaigns. So even if we wanted to do this kind of thing, we simply don't have the resources.

The principled problem is related to this. No advert (afaik) creates associations from scratch. E.g. even the most basic 'sex sells' trope, linking arbitrary commodity A with sex appeal, is going to be piggybacking on a huge and well established web of beauty norms, sexuality norms, gender norms etc etc. So this kind of thing tends to be conservative insofar as it only works if it's drawing on existing norms. The question is whether there are sufficient norms (e.g. anti-work feeling) on which to base things. The CGT in Spain made this trailer for a (one day) general strike, which is pretty good. Obviously its aims are limited, but it does play on an anti-work feeling:

[youtube]8Y-H_KssDdk[/youtube]

I guess the question is, what would be the point of such a video if not linked to a specific practice? It's all very well criticising one day general strikes, but a video promoting a sentiment in general seems like pissing in the wind. I've also seen it argued that hatred of benefits claimants is actually a displaced hatred of work ('work makes you miserable, look at these fuckers escaping misery! They should suffer like you!). So I don't think we can ignore affect, but I'm not sure traditional advertising offers much by way of a model.

More contemporary advertising is more interesting. Viral marketing specialises in manufactured 'authenticity' to ensure peer-to-peer propagation. We shouldn't have to fake authenticity. Videos of police brutality etc go viral. I dunno what an anti-work version would be though. And maybe this is base-superstructure thinking, but I can't help thinking you need the thing itself before you can film it and it goes viral. So if there's a wildcat strike or an occupation or something you can make media with affective resonance which spreads it, but without the actual content it's just... media. I mean maybe it would be no bad thing if people were sharing anti-work videos or whatever, but I dunno how/if that would feed into actual class struggle/self-activity.

And yeah, none of this is about a magic bullet to spontaneously convert millions of people. It's about understanding how communication works. If propaganda's worth doing, it's worth doing well, no? I mean maybe general propaganda for communism isn't worthwhile, but most libertarian communist propaganda is still pretty much stuck in the age of the Gutenberg press. I've even heard arguments against using nice fonts for a dense overlong leaflet 'because thats what capitalists do.' Almost like marginality, irrelevance, and crap communication skills come to be the guarantors of radical purity.

I don't think people sharing anti-work memes is going to suddenly inspire self-organised wildcats all over the place, but it probably reaches more people than the most reasoned and footnoted piece. Not that the two couldn't reinforce one another. Afaic this isn't about substituting PR for working class self-activity. It's about recognising that if we don't operate on the affective terrain our enemies will - and anti-work affect will be turned against claimants, against immigrants, against the disabled and sick.

Shorty

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Shorty on September 23, 2013

Joseph Kay

I've even heard arguments against using nice fonts for a dense overlong leaflet 'because thats what capitalists do.' Almost like marginality, irrelevance, and crap communication skills come to be the guarantors of radical purity.

I've uppped your great post, but I had to laugh at this as I've heard similar sentiments in the squat scene when I was living in Amsterdam. Though there was also a group of design students in the scene who were doing some great work too. Thankfully. :)

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 23, 2013

Joseph, I'm certainly not looking to replace self-organisation with PR- I'm not interested in either/or but in "and...and...and". I'm not sure what advertising would/could do for anti-work sentiments...its a speculative gesture that'd have to be seen in practice. On advertising's piggybacking- well, I think some folks do tend to try and use that same effect (wherever a news story covers protests and seeks out young attractive girls etc).

On the idea that we need the thing itself first- this is exactly what the example of Eddie Bernays argues against. There was no especial desire among women to smoke, his campaign generated it, and there was no especial desire among women to use cigarettes as a symbol of challenging patriarchy. He invented the whole thing- he simulated a reality that came to pass.

But essentially, the need for an affective politics and the possibility of wedding these to a post-spectacular media strategy are different questions. Neither follows from the other necessarily. My interest in the latter problem is in whether we can use media rather than endlessly write about its propaganda effects, and whether we can move beyond the critique of the spectacle (which is already a passive position in respect of the spectacle).

I don't know if these questions amount to much, and I don't mean for them to be anything more than an adjunct to self-organisation. Although, that said, there is and has been the possibility of self-organised media operations undertaking this work (Radio Alice, Novara Media etc.)

kingzog

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by kingzog on September 23, 2013

Joseph kay wrote:

The result of this seems to be a split between emotion and reason. On the one hand, a 'wrong' analysis which resonates widely, on the other hand 'correct' critiques that seem only to circulate amongst the already-convinced.1 This seems symptomatic of a wider problem: we can have the sharpest, most erudite and incisive critiques going, but movements run on affect, so we're stuck talking amongst ourselves.

What I get from this-- and from the whole article, is that movements run on emotion, not reason and we need to harness emotion. I tend to agree that emotional and moral appeals can be powerful. But shouldn't we mention that we should prioritize truth over emotion appeal? Emotional appeals and arguments backed up with truth, evidence, etc, tend to survive criticism longer than moral appeals based on bad foundations.

The key towards not having the split between the cold-hard critique and the effective moral appeal is having the moral appeal flow naturally from the critique--be grounded in it. This is going to be our best, safest, bet. So what takes priority should be making the best critique, no?

the truth of 'bullshit jobs' lies in this resonance not in its specific theoretical and empirical claims, which have been debunked[...]

What kind of "truth" is this?

What I think is missing from the article is a clear statement about what should take priority over what. Which is subordinate to the other? The truth or the affective? Reason or emotion?If, on the one hand, our approach starts with "what has the most resonance" we begin to lose sight of the truth and this can lead to bending the truth to fit with our niftty appeals. This then opens ourselves up to debunking--and to the loss of the moral high ground and our appeal. But, if on the other hand, our approach starts with prioritizing seeking the truth (and dispelling the false) this will give us (and maintain for us), in the long-run, the moral high ground. This actually gives us the best position from which to make the most effective, and lasting, emotional appeals (affectivness?).

Another consideration is that people are much more sophisticated and educated than we sometimes think; a sophisticated modern movement cannot be sustained if truth takes a back-seat, or is subordinate to, emotional appeal. A riot can be started by emotion, but can effective social movements that really changes things be maintained this way? if our arguments have too many holes in them, then it won't matter for any substantial amount of time how much "affective charge" they have. They'll be debunked by the opposition.

I'm not necessarily against moral outrage or "affectively charged bits", but I am afraid of this taking priority over truth. There really cannot be a compromise. And I don't believe any of this is what Joseph Kay meant to imply; I just think his article raises these questions--for me at least. And I think it's an important discussion to have.

The other issue is that this article might give the impression that there needs to be some sort of compromise or balance between reason and emotion or that we need to just find emotional appeals which are 'compatible' with our critiques. Although this seems to be quite reasonable, I think it is the wrong way (perhaps it's working backwards?) to approach things.

Kay wrote:

This is not to argue in favour of sloppy theorising and hasty generalisations, but to make the case for an affective politics which resonates in a way which links everyday life to the critique of capitalism. Graeber's choice of work, and mobilisation of anti-work affect, seems promising in this respect.

The point is to resonate with everyday experiences in a way that's compatible with the critique of capitalism, rather than watering down the critique to appeal to the (imagined) popular audience. Such watering down is common on the left. Graeber's bullshit jobs piece is certainly guilty, singling out finance capital for criticism rather than capitalism itself. But while Marxists are right to reject such 'truncated critiques', it often comes at the cost of underestimating the moral or
normative dimension of the class struggle.

I agree with the spirit and intention of this article, that we should have an effective "affective politics". but I think affective politics should come from, and be grounded in, good and honest critique's; critiques which seek the truth first and foremost for the sake of finding the truth---not for the sake of producing emotional impact. In the end, this will turn out to be more effective and affective. When we consider what our "affective politics" will look like, we should start from our solid critiques--look to them-- rather than find or compose "affective politics" which are compatible. This is a subtle distinction, but I think it makes a lot of sense when one considers it from all the angles.

At one end of the spectrum short slogans summarise or even help enact collective norms, and work on a logic of affective resonance. At the other, detailed, reasoned, theoretical and analytical tomes make sense of the situation and work on a logic of reasoned persuasion and empirical rigour. These in turn help reinforce and validate the resonating affects.

This article is not able link the two together-- even though I think this was the very purpose of the article. Reason and emotion are still implied to be separate, at different "ends of the spectrum". But it also seems that "resonance" is to be prioritized over reason or that reasons purpose is to '"reinforce" emotional impact. Like our critiques are only meant to reinforce or illustrate what we already "know", based on our feelings--this is a dangerous way to approach
things. This leads us down the path of reactionary elitism.

One more thing:I seriously doubt anyone would disagree with some of my arguments, but I feel very strongly that these issues should be considered a little more.

Hopefully this comment is productive or helpful in some regard?

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 24, 2013

kingzog,

The idea that we have to choose between truth and emotion seems odd to me. Its as if the transmission of truths wasn't already coded in emotive language and received because of its affective resonance. On this point, we should be careful with our language. Affect is not isomorphic with emotion.

Still, the way that you place affect/emotion on one side and reason/truth on the other belies a Cartesian understanding of how reasoning, affectivity, and the emotions work. It has been known for some time (via cognitive science and affective neuroscience) that there is no such dichotomy between between reason and the passions but that reason is already contaminated and function by affectivity.

The point that we oughtn't to jettison the truth- although let's not be naive empiricists about this term- in favour of powerful emotional appeals is, I think, implicit. The point isn't about the production of propaganda with a distorted or no relation to the reality of the situation but to recognise that that reality is already experienced in an affective way. At the other end of the scale, we also mustn't follow Chomsky in the idea that if you present people with the facts they will automatically care about them.

In the example of Graeber's article- it isn't that its a lie, its just that it is a situation people will immediately recognise as their own. From there, the path is opened to more sustained critique.

hellfrozeover

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by hellfrozeover on September 24, 2013

(If anyone feels like digressing a wee bit to explain/clarify what "affective" means in this context I would be grateful.)

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 25, 2013

Affective/affect has two meanings here.

First, there is the psychological meaning of "affect" that is roughly translatable as the experience of emotions and moods in response to environmental stimuli and immersion. In most psychology affect is part of a tripartite distinction between affect, conation, and cognition (roughly: emotion, volition, and thought). CBT, for instance, grew out of Albert Ellis's REBT, or rational emotive behavioural therapy- the idea being that emotion, thinking and behaviour all mutually interact.

For most people interested in radical psychology (or rather its displacement) the distinction is pretty stupid. This is the case in affective neuroscience and much of cognitive science in general where the idea that these distinctions can be made has increasingly been questioned. The whole thing really just amounts to a mind-body dualism that is pretty dumb. Affect has been shown to be crucial to how our cognition and volition work and is seen as pretty much a cornerstone of most human-human interactions. (Interestingly, ancients like the Stoics and so-called moderns like Freud always maintained the split was a fraud).

There is also the idea of affect in Affect Theory this is often linked to broader approached that stress the embodiment of subjectivity and thinking such that there is no "reason", "objectivity" or such like that can remove itself from being emotionally involved in its bodily situation.

This is usually coupled with a Deleuze inspired turn to Spinoza's theory of affects. Broadly, and basically (I'm not an expert), Spinoza's theory of affects thinks of affect as the power of bodies to affect and to be affected by each other. This active idea of affect is what allows Spinoza to say that for him affect refers to what increases or decreases a body's power of action.

Deleuze and Guattari inherit this idea and emphasise the fact that it departs from the idea of personal emotional states:

AFFECT/AFFECTION. Neither word denotes a personal feeling (sentiment in Deleuze and Guattari). L'affect (Spinoza's affectus) is an ability to affect and be affected. It is a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body's capacity to act. L'affection (Spinoza's affectio) is each such state considered as an encounter between the affected body and a second, affecting, body (with body taken in its broadest possible sense to include "mental" or ideal bodies).- Brian Massumi.

So here "affect" becomes a third term in a relation that names the relation: affect is the situation between two bodies, without losing its original meaning.

So "affect", at least as I use it, refers to a complex of emotion, mood, and the increase or decrease of power to act that a body possesses. "A body" can be my body or your body, or it could be the collective body of a bloc, or the more abstract idea of the body of capital itself.

So in the context of Joseph's article, as I read it, the idea is that this affective dimension is one that we are all already immersed in because of our various relationships (interpersonal, social etc). Work produces certain affects not because of something to do with our attitudes or behaviour- the CBT line- but because those affects are precisely the outcome of one body acting on another.

This doesn't really cover it in its total sense but I'm aware its already verging into high-theory speak.

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 25, 2013

God that's a long reply. It's boring too. Don't read it.

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2013

Yeah, in the context i'm using it, I basically mean 'the emotions/moods/experiences which circulate between people' (specifically: amongst people in wage labour). Some stuff resonates not because of 'consciousness', as in classical marxist theory, but because it is in tune with those affects already operating, as a result of social relations. So 'affective resonance' doesn't require shared consciousness so much as shared or similar experiences.

hellfrozeover

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by hellfrozeover on September 25, 2013

No, thanks for the reply arran.
I had it sketched as "emotionally engaging political practice". It'll take me a while to work out if that meshes with the original post and your thing above.
Thanks.

Caiman del Barrio

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on September 25, 2013

I'm rather worried by the notion (suggested in the quoted tweets above) that the only way to emotionally connect with people's daily experiences of capital is via spectacular deception. What kinda movement do people hope to build if they 'recruit' them instrumentally via manipulation & half-truth? How will we encourage self-organisation and direct democracy if we've conned people into activity? This is a bizarre suggestion, which is self-evidently doomed.

On the other hand, there is certainly the issue which the OP deals with, this incredibly dry & outdated Gradgrind-esque obsession with Fact as the saviour of all and the path to communism. I find some of the unconditional and exclusive reliance on science by elements on Libcom to come close to this: as if science hasn't been (ahem) affected by human comprehension of it, smudged with our fingerprints, moulded by the heat of our breath, etc, etc (yes, METAPHORS here to illustrate my ideas ;) ). there's a certain Libcom admin who prostrates himself at the altar of Fact to the exclusion of all else, which is rather ironic if you consider some of the choices said admin makes in social situations ;) . It must only really be in the (tiny!) communist milieu that we even have to remind people of the existence of emotional, instinctive or 'irrational' responses, both on an individual and mass level.

Anyway, I'm only really saying this cos I like to write pretty things about why I want communism now. I'm in absolutely no place to comment on psychology or organisational praxis.

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 25, 2013

As they were my tweets, I'll answer :)

I'm not really sure where the idea comes from that affective communication= "manipulation & half-truth". I'm also not sure why, Caiman, you think I'm advocating affective communication (which could just as well be read as "communication of affect") as a recruitment strategy.

I'm not at all interested in trying to build a mass anarchist organisation, and if I were it wouldn't be through lying. An example of "post-spectacular" strategies was even pointed to in my tweets- the work of the DSG. If affective communication in propaganda is half-truth deployed to building mass organisations, then that accusation has to be levelled at the DSG. So I find it a "bizarre suggestion" that that is anything like what I've said. If the suggestion is there in my tweets then maybe I need to be a bit more careful with my wording.

Also, to say it again, I'm not saying that those strategies are the same or are necessarily related to affective politics. I am saying that paying attention to the production of affect is.

Caiman del Barrio

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on September 25, 2013

arran james

I'm not really sure where the idea comes from that affective communication= "manipulation & half-truth". I'm also not sure why, Caiman, you think I'm advocating affective communication (which could just as well be read as "communication of affect") as a recruitment strategy.

The idea comes from your suggestion that we should stop seeing the strategies of the spectacle as 'evil in themselves' (or words to that effect) which I understood as saying it's OK to use the deceptions of 'the spectacle' (or whatever you want to call it) in order to communicate to people in such a way that they will respond in the way you want them to (ie manipulate them).

I'm not at all interested in trying to build a mass anarchist organisation

Yes, the instrumentalism more comes from the OP, whose tone I didn't disagree with at all. I only started to worry when I saw your tweets linked to them. ;)

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 26, 2013

Caiman del Barrio

The idea comes from your suggestion that we should stop seeing the strategies of the spectacle as 'evil in themselves' (or words to that effect) which I understood as saying it's OK to use the deceptions of 'the spectacle' (or whatever you want to call it) in order to communicate to people in such a way that they will respond in the way you want them to (ie manipulate them).

The strategies of the spectacle and the spectacle itself are different beasts. Strategies of the spectacle are really just techniques, ways of speaking, the presentation of images. In a way, we could say that groups like The Metropolitan Indians were doing this kind of post-spectacle stuff.

It has nothing to do with "manipulation" if we mean by that the coerced implementation of ways of thinking. If we mean something like manipulation in a non-moral sense, in the sense that its embodied metaphorical content points, then yes, sure, it is manipulative. Not manipulation as devious psychological wargames (this is what post-spectacle is meant to counter), but manipulation as arrangement, movement, collage- the attempt to produce an effect and an affect.

I'm simply talking about not ignoring the massive build up of techniques and means of communicating that exist all over the place. Look at Novara media: sure they have minority appeal and a minority audience, and they have overtly theoretical content, but its presented in an affective way...and, in embracing streaming radio and (soon) video content they are using the tools of spectacle against itself.

Hell..even Class War's tabloid approach was close to what I'm talking about.

But just to be clear...all of this is secondary to the more important aspect of face-to-face affectivity. This is one of main reasons people gather, discuss, form groups, attend protests: to express a shared affective climate and being together as bodies.

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 26, 2013

Caiman del Barrio

Yes, the instrumentalism more comes from the OP, whose tone I didn't disagree with at all.

Ok, I know you said it's arran's tweets which worried you. I just quoted them for reference not endorsement, and I'll let him speak for himself. But I'd like to push you on this, cos 'instrumentalism' and 'deception' are strong claims.

I don't think it's right to equate affect with deception, which seems to rest on an implicit separation from reason, equated with truth. You can lie with reasoned discourse (see: the respectable press, police testimony), and you can tell the truth with affect (e.g. everyone hates their jobs). Anti-work sentiment isn't a lie. It's congruent with both our own feelings, which are shared by many others (see the referenced Gallup poll), and can be reasoned with a theoretical reading of Marx, the refusal of work etc.

In terms of instrumentalism, how does saying something that resonates with people reduce them to mere means? If we were cyncially saying things we didn't believe (i.e. deception), then yeah. But the point is more to say that because of our material position in society - e.g. as workers - we share an affective relation with lots of others. That's a basis for collectivity and collective action, but if you want people to do something together (strike, say) you still need to persuade them (i.e. accept their agency). I don't see how anything in the OP would allow you to trick them, even if you wanted to.

Chilli Sauce

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on September 26, 2013

In terms of instrumentalism, how does saying something that resonates with people reduce them to mere means? If we were cyncially saying things we didn't believe (i.e. deception), then yeah. But the point is more to say that because of our material position in society - e.g. as workers - we share an affective relation with lots of others. That's a basis for collectivity and collective action, but if you want people to do something together (strike, say) you still need to persuade them (i.e. accept their agency). I don't see how anything in the OP would allow you to trick them, even if you wanted to.

So without getting into too many details, this is something that's come up as a criticism of the SF workplace organiser training. (Note: I really don't want to get into too many details of the training on a public forum, so if folks respond, let's keep it general.)

The training suggests - to use the language of this thread - finding affective issues your workmates are willing to confront with management about. It also suggests looking at existing social networks (certainly friendship groups are affective relations) in your workplace and using them to make your organising easier and more effective. This has been called manipulation more than once.

The thing is though, I find that a really tough position. On one hand, anarchism is rightly criticisized for being theoretical and lacking strategies for being relevant to people's lives. On the other, attempts to link up with our workmates on a more emotional/affective level can be labeled manipulative if we do it in any sort of strategic way.

JK, any chance you had any of this in mind when you wrote the blog? Or, if not, I'd be curious to hear more about how/if your recent organising experiences (again, be as general as you want) spurred the writing of this blog?

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 26, 2013

The organiser training wasn't at the front of my mind when I wrote this. My immediate motivation was that one of my close friends/family has been forced to give up their trade (chef) due to a workplace injury, their body broken in less than a decade. Another is off with stress, in an office where 2/3rds of the staff are just breaking down - stress vomiting, muscular spasms, going into shock (pushed that hard because 'mere' mental distress isn't a reason to slack, for managerial pricks - 'there's 50 applicants for every job so be thankful' etc). Much as I love Marx, I don't think reaching for the Capital chapter on the working day is an adequate response to this. Rage, love, empathy are.

But this does definitely apply to organising too. I edited out an example from the draft OP (it seemed petty next to the EP Thompson/Joe Burns examples). Basically, the anti-privatisation movement at Sussex very much ran on affect. It's not that we didn't make lots of reasoned, footnoted arguments. I'm sure they helped firm up peoples' beliefs in fact. It's more that what drew people in, what lead people to act, was more to do with affect. Being together, experiencing power, hope, rage, solidarity/love, in a way that's hard to articulate without sounding like a daft hippy. When me and some workmates attended a banned lunchtime demonstration, in defiance of the high court, despite tens of riot vans parked up all over campus, we weren't driven by a critique of the class nature of the state apparatus, but by the mixture of anger, fear, anxiety, love (agape not eros) that circulated among us and bound us together.

And like I say, that's not to argue against reasoned arguments or critiques of the class nature of the state apparatus. I think these are important, and can help us make sense of the affective relations of struggle we experience. But the affective is primary, movements run on affect. In an organising context, that means conversations and listening more than leaflets and arguing. I find it odd if that's seen as manipulative, as if the only true position is being beligerant, not listening, and being indifferent to others' feelings (see also: masculinity).

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 26, 2013

Just to add, I think this also opens up more avenues for analysis and critique. E.g. at Sussex the way the campus trade unions, principally Unison, sabotaged and demobilised things could be understood as affective management. Slowing things down (allowing affects to diffuse), stopping organising meetings (disrupting the circulation of affects until we started organising meetings ourselves), spreading disinformation (knowingly or unknowingly i don't know) to sow doubt and confusion (e.g. claiming it's illegal to strike against outsourcing, that you can't have a trade dispute if management aren't negotiating, and then later, that you can't have a trade dispute if management are negotiating)...

The law itself can be seen in these terms, with the statutory notice periods, the restrictions on face-to-face direct democracy etc. When you compare the dynamics of mass strike waves in Brecher's 'Strike!' or present day Bangladesh with UK industrial relations law, they're diametrically opposed, and I think diffusing and distrupting the circulation of affect is one of the main ways the law prevents struggles arising, or spreading when they do. Though I have to say Unison weren't just obeying/enforcing the law, they invented imaginary laws and refused to do things they were legally entitled to do (like enter trade dispute, or do an indicative ballot, or an industrial action ballot).

sometimes explode

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sometimes explode on September 26, 2013

In the end all the criticism, whether of me or of Joseph Kay (I'd like to think we're not miles apart on this though), seems to come down to the spurious affect/reason=lie/truth relation. As I've kept trying to stress this distinction is itself a fabrication, the great old Cartesian lie.

And as I keep saying, this isn't a point of pure philosophy (although its already there in the Stoics, in Spinoza, in Nietzsche, in Foucault, Deleuze etc) it is a finding grounded in contemporary neuroscience.

Affect is always already. Tapping into- seeking resonances with- isn't instrumentality. In fact, if anything is instrumentalisation it is the reduction of human beings to rational machines without affect. "The rational animal divorced from affect" might already be a pretty good encapsulation of the idea of a One Dimension Man.

Caiman del Barrio

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on September 26, 2013

OK for me to continue in this, we need to define what Arran James means by 'post-spectacle'. Is s/he claiming that the spectacle no longer exists?

More generally, I have to say I'm in agreement with Martin & Fingers' earlier contributions: for a discussion which is - effectively (heh) - about how to relate to people in terms that will galvanise them, there is an incredibly convoluted body of complex ideas & terminologies floating around which serve as a barrier to comprehension for folk like me, who don't have a degree in humanities or psychology and don't read much theory. Like I say, my interest in this thread piqued cos i like to write & enjoy reading tracts on the 'affective'/personal cost of capital on individuals and groups, not cos I'm au fait with the ultra-left/critical theory debate around these issues.

For example, Arran writes:

Look at Novara media: sure they have minority appeal and a minority audience, and they have overtly theoretical content, but its presented in an affective way...and, in embracing streaming radio and (soon) video content they are using the tools of spectacle against itself.

If this is what you meant by using 'the strategies of the spectacle', then I'm not sure who you're arguing against (noone on Libcom, I'm quite sure...it's been 8 years since we drove the primmos out!) & I'm not sure what part of using broadcast media can be said to be 'affective'. FTR, I wouldn't say Novara is particularly affective, in fact, at times, it becomes a bit bogged down critical theory and/or economist jargon IMO. It's no coincidence that they broadcast on Resonance, a niche (albeit quality!) local alternative arts station after all (as opposed to, say, LBC ;) ). What are their listener figures? I don't wanna criticise them, cos I have a lot of respect for both of the presenters & what I've heard of the new series seems a bit more accessible, but I'm not sure exactly what your argument is here.

OK, Joseph Kay:

Joseph Kay

I don't think it's right to equate affect with deception, which seems to rest on an implicit separation from reason, equated with truth.

I didn't, or at least, I didn't intend to; rather, like I say, it was the notion of using 'spectacular strategies' which irked me. For my part, i actually think there's often a lot more truth in affective/personal/emotionally-generated depictions of capitalism than the mere statistics (lies, damn lies, etc...).

Also, I'm playfully enjoying the irony of you reaching for a Gallup poll (a 'fact') to support your assertion. ;)

In terms of instrumentalism, how does saying something that resonates with people reduce them to mere means? If we were cyncially saying things we didn't believe (i.e. deception), then yeah. But the point is more to say that because of our material position in society - e.g. as workers - we share an affective relation with lots of others. That's a basis for collectivity and collective action, but if you want people to do something together (strike, say) you still need to persuade them (i.e. accept their agency). I don't see how anything in the OP would allow you to trick them, even if you wanted to.

Yes, quite, like I say, I liked your OP (even if my English teacher's eyes would have simplified it a bit ;) ). The part I put in bold above is absolutely key here: and relates to the notion of self-emancipation as a means of breaking the (post-?)spectacle, rather than trying to wrestle ourselves onto the spectacle's steering wheel to drive in the direction we consider appropriate for other people's needs.

Perhaps i shouldn't have put 'instrumentalism' last night at 1am. Perhaps the word I wanted was 'praxis': the process of converting ideas into practice. That strips it of any pejorativeness right?

Joseph Kay

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 26, 2013

In terms of 'post-Spectacle', I understood that as 'using some of the techniques of the spectacle against it'. The example being DSG. I'm all for high production values, and I'm not convinced that a lot of the media output of radical groups serves much purpose (though on the other hand I know e.g. Catalyst gets read in places Twitter doesn't, so I'm not doing a Paul Mason and waxing lyrical over new media).

But maybe I'm just a diehard modernist (pre-postmodernist? fuck knows), but I tend to think you need content before communications. Arran's example of Bernays I think goes further - arguing the right communications can create the content to which they speak. I can't think of any examples of that in an anti-capitalist context though. Kathi Weeks argues that's the strength of demanding a basic income, that the demand creates the movement, but I'm not convinced.

In terms of jargon etc, I got the OP down to a Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level of a school leaver (11.6). No idea how accurate that is, but that's a lot lower than it started out! Though I think that measures sentence complexity - nested clauses etc (like this) - as opposed to vocabulary? I'm happy to explain any words or phrases I use and if I can't do it in plain English feel free to call bullshit.

Nate

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on September 26, 2013

Joseph Kay

when I wrote this. My immediate motivation was that one of my close friends/family has been forced to give up their trade (chef) due to a workplace injury, their body broken in less than a decade. Another is off with stress, in an office where 2/3rds of the staff are just breaking down - stress vomiting, muscular spasms, going into shock (pushed that hard because 'mere' mental distress isn't a reason to slack, for managerial pricks - 'there's 50 applicants for every job so be thankful' etc). Much as I love Marx, I don't think reaching for the Capital chapter on the working day is an adequate response to this. Rage, love, empathy are.

It seems like one thing going on in this thread is moving back and forth between talking about the importance of what folk are calling affect, and that bit of the conversation sometimes veers toward actually doing/sharing/whatever that kind of thing - telling stories and whatnot. And then there's theorizing the importance of affect and why it is or isn't used or how. To put it abstract terms, this is moving back and forth between (or at least it makes me think about the difference between) a more operationalized conversation (actually doing a bit of the affect, or like practical tips/rules of thumb for practitioners, I think the Workers Power column in the Industrial Worker has tried to run this kind of writing sometimes) and a more theoretical conversation. I think often in our sorts of circles the first is thought of as kind of dumb or simplistic and the second is thought of as smart. As people talked about before that tends to line up with gender lines. It's also I think a pretty common thing with a division between practitioners and critics (I have a relative who is a really talented musician in a technical sense - can play complicated guitar parts in weird time signatures very quickly etc - and very critical of a lot of music on technical grounds, but he doesn't write music and so doesn't get that there's important skills involved in composition. So he'll be like "that pop music is crap" because it's not dissonant enough or whatever, with no recognition of the intelligence involved in creating music people care about. Or as another parallel, someone really good at playing a sport or caring for a child does all kinds of complicated activities very quickly. A neurologist who can't do those activities as well might be able to give a sophisticated account of what that person is doing, and that will seem more intelligent than the performance of that activity itself. Sorry, I'm rambling now.)

Anyway, I wanted to say about this injury stuff in particular, I think this is a place where theoretical work and this stuff on affect, like actually communicating affectively more than most theory tends to do, I think injury's a place where that lines up. At least in my life. A few year ago I realized that every member of my immediate family growing up has suffered a fairly severe workplace injury at least once, in various kinds of jobs. But we've never really talked about it, let alone talked about it in an emotionally charged way. So after I started thinking about it it was like I saw this really important aspect of my family's life that has shaped a lot (like where people moved, what jobs they worked and so when people were home or weren't), and also just that we've had these really crappy experiences that everyone has mostly just endured in isolation. That's partly a matter of the weirdness and unfortunateness of my family and how we relate but it's not reducible to that I think. I think there's also structural reasons that make people less likely to talk about the non-economic (or non-monetary anyway) costs of working class life. I don't know what all they are but I think getting at that in a theoretical way can help explain this, and it ought to be tied to pushing past that silence and getting at those costs and miseries.

I've totally had similar experiences as JK says below. I think this is common and also there are often disconnects around this in the left, at least the parts that prefer theoretical vocabulary/see theory as more intelligent. Because being like "this just matters a great deal, experientially" is different from being able to say "our activity is strategically important because XYZ analysis and program." I've often struggled with this because most of what I've been involved in has been driven way more by a felt sense of importance than it's been about something I know how to justify theoretically (let alone something planned out and strategized well in advance). Final thing, I think this column is relevant to this conversation: http://libcom.org/library/how%E2%80%99s-campaign-going

Joseph Kay

Basically, the anti-privatisation movement at Sussex very much ran on affect. (...) what drew people in, what lead people to act, was more to do with affect. Being together, experiencing power, hope, rage, solidarity/love, in a way that's hard to articulate without sounding like a daft hippy. When me and some workmates attended a banned lunchtime demonstration, in defiance of the high court, despite tens of riot vans parked up all over campus, we weren't driven by a critique of the class nature of the state apparatus, but by the mixture of anger, fear, anxiety, love (agape not eros) that circulated among us and bound us together.(...) the affective is primary, movements run on affect. In an organising context, that means conversations and listening more than leaflets and arguing. I find it odd if that's seen as manipulative, as if the only true position is being beligerant, not listening, and being indifferent to others' feelings (see also: masculinity).

Chilli Sauce

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on September 26, 2013

claiming...that you can't have a trade dispute if management aren't negotiating, and then later, that you can't have a trade dispute if management are negotiating

I'd be keen to hear more about that. I have no doubt that they'll be a long piece at some point about the PUU and some details about this (Unison's finagling and the language they used to justify it) would be worthwhile to include, imo.

kingzog

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by kingzog on September 27, 2013

Arran James wrote:

Still, the way that you place affect/emotion on one side and reason/truth on the other belies a Cartesian understanding

No, I just argued that we should prioritize critique over just making emotional appeals and that the best appeals are based in strong critiques.

I didn't put them in contradiction, in fact, I was trying to offer a way to connect them.

kingzog

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by kingzog on September 27, 2013

Arran James:

The idea that we have to choose between truth and emotion seems odd to me.

and I never said we had to choose between truth and emotion. I said our emotional appeals need to be based in strong critiques. You should re-read what I wrote.

fingers malone

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on September 27, 2013

I don't think there is necessarily any contradiction between truth and emotion, other posters have said that already anyway but you can be emotional and be telling the truth.

Seems to me like everyone is thinking of affect in terms of a message, like it's densely worded pamphlets with footnotes vs high production quality videos or something. But doing affective politics isn't fundamentally about getting out a 'message' it's about what you do, how you treat people, do you stick by people after they've been sacked or do you do drive by politics, do you care about them as real people, do you listen to them, do you respect them.

A lot of the way affect works in workplace struggle is along the lines of "we helped you out with that problem didn't we? We stood by you. You're gonna back the strike now, aren't you?" which relies on you having actually cared about and put time into the person's problem in the first place.

fingers malone

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on September 27, 2013

Some more thoughts on this:

Firstly, I've been noticing for a while that loads of what I do depends on relationships that have built up over a long time, eg some strike linkup stuff we were doing at one point was based on contacts going back to the early nineties, same with some non workplace stuff. Problem is, for a lot of people especially those in their twenties I think things just don't really work like that any more, in that case what will we do, how will we build up those kinds of relationships of trust?

I know some people think "oh that's not a problem we have all these exciting new kinds of relationships on our exciting new technology, I am in touch with 20,000 people through my smart phone." Ok that would be really good for calling a protest, but other types of actions, ones that are more difficult? I mean, I don't know right, maybe we will actually see, in the future, strikes through twitter. But I think some kinds of actions demand stronger connections and more emotional commitment than others, and I worry that those strong connections aren't necessarily there.

Wider workers solidarity in the past meant that people would strike in defence of people in another part of the country that they'd never met, but that did depend on a specific type of class conciousness that is weaker all the time now, and also on a level of confidence that other people would do the same for you, and various mechanisms in place like workplace levies and other forms of solidarity which made taking action more feasible (levies were a system where all the workers in a workplace would be contributing a small sum from their pay each week to a another group of workers on strike elsewhere.)

We used to have a lot of unglamorous, bread and butter solidarity holding things together. I know all this is pretty much gone now. But I think it was much more important than a lot of people realise and I think that it made a lot of our struggles possible. Now it's gone, ok I have to learn to live in this brave new world but we really, seriously need to think about what we replace it with if we want to be able to conduct really conflictive struggles without people getting seriously fucked over afterwards.

Pennoid

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Pennoid on September 28, 2013

Bread and Roses anyone?

Tyrion

10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Tyrion on September 28, 2013

Great blog! I think the point about an anti-work emphasis is very important. In addition to what JK wrote (that no one likes work), an anti-work emphasis also cuts through common misunderstandings of communism that equate it with brutal workplace discipline of the Stalinist sort.