Gramsci vs. ‘the political’

…the Schmittian concept of the political in reality participates in one of the most venerable illusions of the Western metaphysical tradition: namely, the dogmatic assertion of a moment that provides the essence for the contingent events that are determined by it. Political philosophy, as the specific form of philosophy that thinks the political (and as distinct from modern political science, which can only analyse ‘mere’ politics), claims to have a privileged access to this moment…

…this approach offers a notion of a ‘real political’ or ‘true politics’ as a substitute for the pale imitations of traditional political philosophy and ‘official’ politics. Žižek, for instance… has argued that ‘a leftist position should insist on the unconditional primacy of the inherent antagonism as constitutive of the political’: ‘the internal struggle which traverses the social body’. For Žižek, the political thus ultimately finds its foundation in the social, or rather, it is precisely the suppression of the constitutive internal division of the social that requires the emergence of the political as the terrain of its resolution, in its turn suppressed or deformed by existing politics.

…Gramsci does not provide a theory of ‘the political’ as such, even less than he provides a ‘general theory of politics’. Rather, he attempts to provide an analysis of the ‘production’ or, more exactly, ‘the ‘constitution of the political’ – constitution in both the active and formalized sense – as a distinct social relation… Hegemony’ describes the process of this constitution, or the way in which historically identifiable political practices – the social relations of communication, coordination and organization of the project of a particular class or social group – have come to define the nature of ‘politics’ as such…

— Peter Thomas, Gramsci and the Political

Mathematical Objectivities

The skeptical reader may still be wondering, How exactly does the mathematical discourse relate or apply to the actual, material situations it purports to describe? How precisely do we move from the purely void-based multiples presented in ontology, which are all “qualitatively very indistinct,” to the qualitative variety of historical situations? To be sure, we know that Badiou “in no way declares that being is mathematical, that is, composed of mathematical objectivities.” Nevertheless, his conviction is that the substance of material or historical situations offers no significant resistance to their mathematization, and that insofar as they can be thought, all situations are to be subtracted from the uncertain domains of substance, perception, and the object.

Badiou: A Subject To Truth. p 105

#CTUStrike FAQ

What is at stake in the Chicago Teachers Union strike? Here are some links to articles I’ve found useful/interesting in the form of a FAQ. I will attempt to keep this post updated as best I can.

What are teachers in Chicago striking about?

Diane Ravitch has a good summary.

According to most news reports, the teachers in Chicago are striking because they are lazy and greedy. Or they are striking because of a personality clash between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and union president Karen Lewis. Or because this is the last gasp of a dying union movement. Or because Emanuel wants a longer school day, and the teachers oppose it.

None of this is true.

And a more in-depth overview at Mother Jones: What’s Happening With the Chicago Teacher Strike, Explained

And this post, by a parent and former teacher is also a good corrective to some misperceptions about the union’s demands. Read More

Intelligence Gathering

Two stories about intelligence reports from the CIA and the war in Iraq. In the first one, on WMDs, the CIA got the story wrong because they fit the facts into their own preconceived narrative rather than trying to understand Iraqi behavior in its own terms:

In other words, the CIA was right to identify evidence of deception, but wrong in its analysis of why Iraq was being deceptive: not to hide WMDs, but to protect its own sovereignty and to provide ambiguous signals to its principal threats (Iran and Israel).

In the second one, on 9-11, the CIA got it right, but the neocons refused to believe the warnings because it didn’t fit with their own preconceived narrative:

the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

If you expect our government (CIA, neocons… or Obama) to learn from their mistakes, you haven’t been paying attention. And a very good argument against having something like a “kill list”…

This Constant Struggle

I became aware of just how fleeting the sense of happiness was, and how flimsy its basis: a warm restaurant after having come in from the rain, the smell of food and wine, interesting conversation, daylight falling weakly on the polished cherrywood of the tables. It took so little to move the mood from one level to another, as one might push pieces on a chessboard. Even to be aware of this, in the midst of a happy moment, was to push one of those pieces, and to become slightly less happy.

And later in the book:

How petty seemed to me the human condition, that we were subject to this constant struggle to modulate the internal environment, this endless being tossed about like a cloud.

Teju Cole, Open City

Obama != Romney

Below are my thoughts on a recent Truth-Out post entitled: Closer Than You Think: Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On.

On foreign policy and the security state this is largely accurate, however on domestic policy I think it conflates political pragmatism with ideology in a way that is rather deceptive. It is one thing to say that they both agree on the use of drones, it is another to say that they both agree on the minimum wage or card check. Without a super-majority there is no way in hell that Obama could get this, especially when it is opposed by a significant minority within the Democrats as well. But I think he does support such policies and doesn’t agree with Romney on them. Yes, it is true he is a lot more to the center on a lot of issues than many of his supporters would like him to be, but the Republicans really are much, much, farther still to the right on these issues.

Moreover, I think the nature of the list hides the importance of these differences for America’s working poor: (1) While the stimulus was far less than it should have been, it is arguable that millions more would have been trapped in poverty without it. And (2) many existing policies, like labor laws, safety laws, and environmental laws were not enforced under Bush but have been enforced under Obama. This last point I think especially deserves much more attention than it has gotten, as the non-enforcement of these laws is essentially a huge policy shift away from the national consensus (i.e. “the center”).

A lot of people on the left seem to want to punish Obama for not being more to the left, but a Romney win would probably just punish the poor and move the Democratic Party even further to the right. I wrote before the 2008 election that we need a grassroots movement to push the Dems further to the left. But I worry when occupying Wall Street means abandoning electoral politics and turning over the keys to the White House to Romney.

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