Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Symptom of Globalization

I was listening to some random mp3 of a Zizek lecture at work today ("Why Sept 12 is more important than Sept 11," Jerusalem, January 12, 2003) and his discussion of the Lacanian symptom reminded me of debates over the way that sovereignty and globalization interact with each other.

To explain the symptom in the context of Western Buddhism, he brings up an example that occurs over and over again in his books (he's not too adverse to plagiarizing himself). He had a friend whose wife died of breast cancer. The friend surprised everyone by not shying away from the subject of her death. He would willingly discuss all of the painful moments leading up to her death in horrifying detail without even flinching.

It turned out that the friend kept a hamster in his pocket that had belonged to his wife. Whenever he discussed her, he would hold the hamster in his hand. This allowed him to create the guise of directly accepting the loss of his wife. However, a year later the hamster died and he had a break down. The hamster was a symptom that enabled him to cope with his situation and when it disappeared, he couldn't handle it anymore and had to be hospitalized.

Zizek uses this to explain why he thinks that various forms of Eastern mysticism act as supplements to capitalism. Western appropriations of Buddhism and their advocacy of resignation and withdrawal from materiality allow people to better cope with the excesses of capital. This allows one to be a more efficient participant in economic processes because their excessive features have been dulled. The CEO can calmly fire half of his staff in pursuit of the bottom line after spending an hour meditating in his office. This is the essence of ideology: the mental distance that you achieve towards violent processes enables your continued participation.

This reminded me of how globalization affects the state and its claim to sovereign authority. One of the banners of leftist activists in recent years has been the use of transnational forces to challenge that authority, including features such as the state's monopoly on violence and the existence of concrete borders that mark up the planet into separate jurisdictions.

However, I think a lot of this misses the point. Sure, the growth of the global economy has introduced a number of forces of deterritorialization, but a lot of that has been accompanied by reterritorialization. This is especially evident in the years since Sept 11, which have seen a reassertion of state authority against international institutions like the United Nations.

But it's even more radical than that. Globalization has been a dramatic process, but it is one that has been appropriated by sovereign power. See how the U.S. dismisses realist norms regarding the sanctity of sovereign power in its pre-emptive invasion of Iraq or its ability to detain individuals as enemy combatants at will. See how the U.S. uses its relationships with nations in Eastern Europe to "disappear" inconvenient prisoners to black sites beyond the oversight of humanitarian activists and organizations.

Neocleous talks about this effect in his book, Imagining the State, in the context of the monarchy in the 18th century. When movements struggled for and won the right to representative government, this created the illusion that the power of the monarch had been broken. Although this seemed to move power from one central pole to a more dispersed space, it merely moved the power that was imbued in the body of the king to a new pole, the "body of citizens." Feudal rule was replaced by the bourgeois rule of capital, allowing new forms of subjugation. In the same fashion that the metaphysical institution of the monarchy used to achieve immortality by transferring to new locations every time a particular king would die ("The king is dead, long live the king") the body of sovereignty merely moved to a new location. One was still subject to the demands of the body politic, including any measure deemed necessary for the health of that body, however reactionary or violent.

This is the same process we see now. The global dispersion of power is often far from liberating. In place of the United States' ability to exercise violence against the subjects of its rule, we find a state that can use international influence to indefinitely imprison anyone on the planet that it deems to be an unlawful combatant. People become subject to the whims of transnational firms that can utilize structural forces to compel them to forfeit absurd portions of their labor power while being unable to take care of their families. Refugees are reduced to the status of bare life, deprived of any possible form of subjectivity.

Although a lot of possibilities exist for using transnationalism to challenge subjugation, a lot of the rhetoric is little more than ideology. We glorify globalization as an abstract universal, ignoring a wide variety of specific manifestations with sharply different political stakes (compare the investor who uses trade liberalization to cement petroleum future deals as he flies around the planet to a refugee displaced from the Iraq conflict). We satisfy ourselves with the idea that we've somehow "broken down state power" when we've merely shifted its power into new spheres of life, allowing for more insidious violence on a planetary scale.

This is the definition of the symptom. We can cope with all of these processes because the illusion of progressive transnationalism has conflated contradictory forms of globalization with each other. In the same fashion as the Buddhist CEO, the neoliberal investor can associate his decisions with hip progressivism. He's not extracting surplus value from laborers, he's challenging the static nature of the state system. The idea that this is fundamentally altering social relations is the lie that speaks to the global truth whereby the hegemony of global capital is cemented and any kind of alternative is rendered impossible. Jacques-Alain Miller writes:
In this sense the symptom, as it is articulated and conveyed in the speech addressed to the analyst, formalized in the field of the Other, is a lie. It is, if I may say, an allegory of the symptom - the term allegory is for me irresistible since long ago, at the Section Clinique, I heard it used at its worst apropos of anxiety. The symptom is a lie - what does it mean? It doesn't mean that as soon as one enters analysis one becomes an imaginary sick person - even if the analysand tends to believe so, for he could willingly believe that nothing could happen to him as long as he is in analysis. To state that the symptom is a lie is not an insult to pain; on the contrary, it is to state that the parlêtre of the symptom belongs to the dimension of truth, for it is only there that truth and falseness are posited. And it is in this sense that Lacan formulates that the symptom is truth, "made both of the same wood, if we posit materialistically that truth is what gets established from the signifying chain." We must understand what this assertion implies against the background of "truth having the structure of fiction". One has only to superimpose these two assertions to infer that for one's guidance, the symptom has the structure of fiction.
Although the sovereign is initially threatened by transnationalism, including its assault on the state's monopoly on violence and the introduction of transnational flows, like immigrant populations and terrorist networks, that threaten its territorial integrity, it finds ways to utilize those very processes to extend its power into new domains. The illusion of power dispersal is the devil's greatest trick, utilizing the lie of a new order in which any person on the planet has equal access to the proceeds of the global economy to conceal the re-emergence of very old forms of sovereign violence in very new contexts. The anxiety posed by the figure of the Mexican migrant is temporarily papered over, allowing one to ignore the sheer chaos that continues to exist at the periphery. We pass a guest worker plan and put up a wall, allowing the migrants to continue to work in the margins of society for scant wages, providing the cheap labor that bourgeois Americans rely on to enjoy their excessive lifestyles. We pass trade deals, allowing firms to locate manufacturing overseas. The violent conditions required to make my cheap PSP games are pushed out of view, so I can continue to play them without being overwhelmed by any of my liberal guilt. Even though the vision of a global market utopia is a lie, it reveals the truth of how sovereignty and capital interact with each other.

Clinton commits sonic atrocity.

Celine Dion song selected for Clinton campaign theme

I could probably forgive her for her DLC brand Democrat lite shtick and for enabling the Iraq invasion, but this is beyond the pale.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Health care

I am so fucking sick of Blue Cross Blue Shield. I was offered a full-time position, which includes health benefits, months ago. Since then I've been working full time. After getting the run-around for months ("We'll get it done in two weeks. The new system is coming.") they finally decided to come clean and tell me that the offer was rescinded. Since staff might have to change a month from now in response to the new scanning system, they're worried that they'll have to take the full-time away after a month and don't want to put me through that.

Gee, thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind if I get cancer and get fucked out of coverage for life because of a pre-existing condition.

And I'm still expected to work full-time. They get all of the benefits of full-time labor without having to pay the full price for it. They deceived me, keeping me from getting coverage elsewhere (not that I could afford it on my sub-poverty line salary). If they had been up front, I could have at least tried to get a job with the state or something. Now, the closest thing that I get to health care from a goddamn insurance company is a pathetic newsletter telling me that should get enough sleep and drink anti-oxidant tea.

I can't even begin to express how awesome it is to show up at the ER without insurance. I love getting treated like a criminal for daring to seek emergency treatment in the middle of the night. I love getting shoved into a broom closet that bears a pretty close resemblance to the holding cell the police locked me in the night that I was arrested. I love getting shoved to the bottom of the list and having to wait for five fucking hours for anything to happen. I love getting bills from collection agencies months later because I don't have thousands of dollars to pay for necessary care.

This would all be irritating if it were just me, but now I have a family to look out for. When you can't get health care for a loved one in desperate need of it, it makes you feel helpless and empty inside.

The insurance industry sure spent a lot in their lobbying efforts and have gotten an awesome return on their investment. The millions of people, most of whom are in much, much worse situations than I will ever face, don't have that kind of clout. They can't pressure their representative by dangling campaign funds in a swank Washington gym. And I'm guessing that not much is going to happen to fix this trainwreck of a system because it's too much of a threat to the profit motives of the health care industry.

Fuck it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Back from the dead.

It's been a long time, but, after months of debate, followed by months of full time work without an internet connection, I'm back.

A lot of stuff has happened to me.

I got married to my best friend and the only person who could break through my cynicism to show me that something like love is possible.

I finally got my BAs in Philosophy and Communication and have been working about forty hours a week, aiding the redistribution of capital for an insurance company.

I'll be attending law school in the fall. I'm really conflicted about what can be done about the legal system at this point but think that I can do some good with a JD.

My wife and I have also adopted a kitten. She was living in a barn when a dog killed her mother and a sibling. Someone dropped her off with a few other cats at a local animal clinic and we took her in. I was nervous at first, but after a night and a day with her, I'm attached. Here she is:

She's the tiniest cat that I've ever seen and is really fragile right now. Her name is Vera Limon (or Limón... I'm not sure).

The main reason that I'm posting here is in case some person that I haven't spoken to in a while happens to check here. I'm also struggling with some of my thoughts regarding critical theory. Being at a computer, entering data all day, I have a lot of time to think, but not many ways to actually express what's going through my head, other than the dozens of sticky notes covered with erasable pen ink that sit in my desk. Hopefully, this will change that.