We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Thursday, August 14, 2014

No Safe Place: How Cities Are Making It Illegal to be Homeless

Click here to access article by Michael Maskin from Talk Poverty

How are we to understand this issue, and many others like the recent shooting of the unarmed African-American in a Saint Louis suburb (also see this) which are having such destructive effects on our lives, that is, the lives of the Ninety-Nine Percent in the US and throughout the world? I would like to offer what I consider to be an excellent thesis to help us understand what the Empire's One Percent are doing to us and why.

I recommend insights provided by British writers Camille Barbagallo and Nicholas Beuret in one chapter entitled "Revenge of the Remainder" (available online here) in a collection of essays in a book entitled Occupy Everything: Reflections on Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere

Their argument essentially is that the current economy under capitalism has reached the limits of exploitable growth and simultaneously has eliminated most subsistence activities outside of the formal economy. The capitalist economy no longer needs as many people to obtain their profits under a no-growth scenario. It has created surplus people who are a problem that capitalist authorities are having to deal with. Referring to the inevitable result, they write:
Over the last 40 years the world has seen the birth of a new kind of worker--a worker bereft of work. Workers who inhabit precarity and are deemed to be superfluous to the requirement of capital.
So, this begs the question: how are the political operatives of the One Percent dealing with this problem? Barbagallo and Beuret have a very interesting answer. They borrow a concept from African philosopher Achille Mmembe called "necropolitics" where death assumes an important function of elite governance. Here is an excerpt from their illuminating essay which expands on this concept and provides an answer to this question.
With a surplus population, managing death is the core concern of political activity. One of the key political tasks is allowing them to die without endangering the section of the social body that must remain productive. Surplus humanity--the bodies dwelling in slums, ghettos, refugee camps, prisons, old people's home, ..., and of course those existing in the informal economy that are beyond any utility for capital--it is these bodies that are abandoned at as little cost as possible. This is necropolitics: the politics of containment and abandonment in a world without resources beyond the market.
This practice of allowing people to "fall behind" operates through a range of practices and discourses centred on a kind of Darwinian racism: a purity of ideas perfectly matched to the rhetoric of neoliberalism and "right to be unequal" held so dear. Necropolitics operates through diffused institutions--private companies, aid and disaster relief bodies, personal militias and government agencies. It creates a series of fragmented territories that disable mobility--territories in both the physical (slums, estates and prisons) and social sense (as in the idea of hoodies or welfare cheats).
Walled off and policed, these territories are maintained separately from those spaces deemed productive. Through a permanent state of siege the borders are maintained by either postcolonial policing (racial profiling, stop and search powers, ASBOs, anti-gang activities etc.), economic exclusion (such as redlining, or lack of educational facilities) or ideological public campaigns of shame and stigmatisation (against the unemployed, the migrant, the diseased or disabled). For all the differences that exist between exclusion through ASBOs vs containment via migration regimes or precarious service industry work vs informal micro-credit debt, the underlying logic is the same: contain, fragment, isolate and abandon. Kept apart as less than fully human, as not able to contribute, as a threat and contagion, these bodies are then allowed to die. Slowly. Inch by inch. Through hunger, ill health, disaster, gang violence, poverty and disease. This is the fate outlined by capital for one third of humanity today.
They end their essay with what appears to be an inevitable conclusion:
Only revenge is possible. By revenge we mean the inflicting of wounds so grave that our enemy suffers more than we do. A hatred of capital is necessary, but a rage to injure and inflict revenge from below is also required. Yet alongside this necessary violence, a process of salvage is needed. At this juncture, the question must no longer be one of better terms within a system that will only confine us to an ever-worsening condition, but one of escape. An armed escape. We must return to the fundamental question of life beyond the wage. We must seize the means of reproduction, violently, and with a hatred of a life enslaved.