McKenzie Wark on how #OccupyWallStreet re-introduces “The Political” where none existed before

Excerpted from McKenzie Wark:

“The most interesting thing about Occupy Wall Street is its suggestion that the main thing that’s lacking is not demands, but process. What is lacking is politics itself.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but there really is no politics in the United States. There is exploitation, oppression, inequality, violence, there are rumors that there might still be a state. But there is no politics. There is only the semblance of politics. Its mostly just professionals renting influence to favor their interests. The state is no longer even capable of negotiating the common interests of its ruling class.

Politics from below is also simulated. The Tea Party is really just a great marketing campaign. It’s a way of making the old rentier class demands seem at least temporarily appealing. Like fast food, it will seem delicious until the indigestion starts. It’s the Contract on America, its Compassionate Conservatism, but with new ingredients! The Tea Party was quite successful. But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and no doubt there’s a new marketing campaign waiting in the wings for when it runs out of steam. But none of this is anything but the semblance of a politics.

So the genius of the occupation is simply to suggest that there could be a politics, one in which people meet and propose and negotiate. This suggestion points to the great absence at the center of American life: a whole nation, even an empire, with no politics.

On the one hand, it’s a physical thing, a taking of space. This has confused the New York Police Department, which has responded with clumsy tactics. It just can’t figure out what to do with an ongoing occupation that is peaceful and mostly content to camp out, but which swells on the weekends to thousands of people. There’s a danger that it could become about the NYPD and its cack-handed arrests and either devious or incompetent crowd management.

It is possible that Occupy Wall Street has the rentier class a bit spooked. Not that they would be too bothered by a few anarchists, but they are bothered by the very possibility of any cascading of events that could really catch fire from this largely symbolic action. In the absence of any real competence at the growth and refinement of a political economy, the rentier class has basically decided to loot and pillage from what is left of the United States and to hell with the consequences. They just don’t want to be caught doing it.

The taking of a tiny square in downtown New York hardly impinges on the power of the vector. It doesn’t even inconvenience the minions who work in the surrounding offices, but the actual occupation is connected to a more abstract kind of occupation, and the slightest hint that it could spread disturbs the fragile constitutions of the rentier sensibility.

The occupation extends out into the intangible world of the vector, but not in the same way as Wall Street. The cop who was stupid enough to pepper-spray some women who were already cordoned off behind orange mesh was quickly identified by hackers, and all his information appeared on the internet for all to see. The incident on the Brooklyn bridge where the police let people onto the roadway and then arrested them for being on the roadway is on the internet from multiple angles. The occupation is also an occupation of the social media vector.

The so-called mainstream media doesn’t quite know how to deal with this. The formalities of how ‘news’ is now made is so baroque that news outlets descended to weird debates about whether the occupation is ‘news.’ It doesn’t have top tier publicists. It didn’t issue free samples. It doesn’t buy advertising space. It started without any celebrity spokesmodels. So how can it be news? The occupation exposed the poverty of reporting in America. And that in itself is news.

The abstraction that is the occupation is then a double one, an occupation of a place, somewhere near the actual Wall Street; and the occupation of the social media vector, with slogans, images, videos, stories. “Keep on forwarding!” might not be a bad slogan for it. Not to mention keep on creating the actual language for a politics in the space of social media. The companies that own those social media vectors will still collect a rent from all we say and do—not much can be done about that—but at least the space can be occupied by something other than cute cat pictures.

While intellectuals have gotten into the habit of talking about The Political, the occupation has proceeded by creating a lower-case-politics which is abstract and yet at the same time completely everyday. Its no accident that it started with what we might broadly define as ‘anarchists’, who have been working on both the theory and the practice for some time now.”

1 Comment McKenzie Wark on how #OccupyWallStreet re-introduces “The Political” where none existed before

  1. AvatarMarvin Brown

    Right. So much of the work of progressives is about advertising that tries to get people to react rather than to think.

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