Living With Power, or There is No Against, Not Really

A Whole Foods moved into my neighborhood a few years ago. It's right near my boy's school, to boot. But I hate Whole Foods. I hate it on principle for being a big, global, corporate demon hell bent on greed, indifferent to local business but who still has the gall and gumption to act like a so called good citizen. There's even a sign outside this one that says, Buy Local. I shit you not! It's one of the strangest, most explicit examples of outright falsity and manipulation I've ever seen in this bewildering spectacle of 21st century San Francisco and America.  Just thinking about it fills me with rage. The poor butcher down the street who's been there for decades and actually is local and who sells local goods, is being mercilessly driven out of business. It pisses my shit off.

I also happen to loathe Whole Foods aesthetically and practically. Their produce is crappy, old, withering and dying within days. When I buy produce from my local market who buys their produce from local farms, the lettuce lasts forever — and tastes better. The fish at Whole Foods all seems to come from other countries. Why would I buy shrimp from Thailand when I can buy shrimp from the Gulf down the street?

Still, once in a while, I do pop into this corporate hell hole with my boy to grab a snack or something for dinner. Sue me.

I could no doubt boycott the place completely. Which, needless to say, makes no impact on them but does on me. It spares me the humiliation of going in there and having to walk out with a branded bag so I can continue to advertise for them. Oy! And boycotting also creates a pain in the ass for me as then I have to drive and park again to go to my butcher, then my grocer, all the while my boy is getting hungrier.

Living by principle is something we seem to respect as a culture. But not me. I don't respect it. Living by principle is living by fixed abstractions while I am a living, breathing, changing system. Why would I ever want to be tethered to a principle?  Eeesh!

And yet I do believe in certain things. I like local business. I like giving my money to the person who will use said money to pay his rent, feed his kids. Giving money to a clerk who makes minimum wage so some fat cat who lives on his own island can blow more lines doesn't feel good to me.

Does this mean I position myself against the corporate behemoths? Well, I don't want to live against anything. I want to live for me, for a beautiful, thriving world around me. Occasionally, I do need not to do something but I try to channel that No saying into a Yes saying to me and my world. No to Whole Foods is Yes to Drewes Meats which is Yes to the world I want to live in.

Anyway, it's impossible to live against or outside the reigning power structure. That's not how power works. It doesn't come from above or even from outside of me. I am constitutive of power. It flows through me and comes from me. I am as much its agent as its subject. The very ways in which I think about myself — as male, sexual, parent, father, worker, human being — have all been told to me, bred in me, of me. Power is a way of thinking and speaking. I perpetuate power at the same time, in the same breath, that I negotiate it, recast it, appropriate it.

We don't live for or against power as much as we live with power. It's an endless process of negotiating my desires, my ideas, how I impact the world around me, what I want from other people. It involves a relentless questioning of my assumptions: Why do I feel this or that way? Is it just a knee jerk reaction — Big companies are bad! — or something that really affects how I feel day to day, moment to moment?

The thing that's always driven me apeshit about so called liberals is that they assume that what they assume is just plain old right. Oh, man, maybe I just wish I could be like that rather than always questioning what drives my beliefs, my actions, my desires.

On the other hand, I enjoy this interrogation, this act of exploration and questioning. In fact, I'm less interested in the outcome than I am in the very act of interrogating my beliefs. Why do I go or not go to Whole Foods? Why do I feel this way about marriage, couples, sex? Why do I feel guilty or not about this or that parenting I do? I love when I come upon something that I've always just assumed but is now ripe for interrogation. As of late, my 10 year old son is obsessed with aliens. And that's not something I've ever really thought about, not in any demanding way. It's been such a pleasure to talk with him and, together, figure out what we even mean by alien. As he said to me, we're all aliens as we can never really know each other.

Unfortunately, to those who don't interrogate, my interrogation sounds like rejection. I don't believe marriage is a necessary good or even necessary step. However, this doesn't mean I believe marriage is necessarily bad. It all depends. But my questioning gets read as rejection — my negotiating with power is interpreted as working against it. Which is not right. There are not many things I am against per se. Well, maybe Illinois Nazis — and blind assumptions.

The other day, I was sitting with some co-workers (sort of) and we were discussing local teams. And I suddenly found myself speaking rather ardently against the logic of fandom, my pleasure in watching sports, and my disdain for the high-five and its implied complicity within a structure of fandom and masculinity that rubbed me the wrong way (I love that phrase). To me, my rant seemed so, well, obvious — banal, even. They all looked uncomfortable, turned away, and restarted their discussion about the local football team. Of course you love a team! Or else you don't like sports, which is ok, too. But land somewhere else and you're off the map all together. Foucault called this being "outside the true," outside what can be recognized as an utterance within the language game at hand.

Now, am I assuming this kind of critical inquiry? Is that my ideology? I suppose so, yes. I believe it's the way to negotiate power rather than just perpetuating power's worst traits (such as the demands of marriage, career, home owning, child rearing, fandom, and so on). I believe critique to be an essential component of not only a so-called healthy society but a more interesting society. I tend to like people who question rather than assume; I prefer ironists to the serious, tricksters to bigots.

Does this make me a critique bigot? Maybe. But I understand that there are some people for whom critique is painful; it runs against their metabolic health. I remember doing a Q&A with PT Anderson and asking him about his collaboration with Jeremy Blake on Punch Drunk Love. I asked some complex, elaborate question about the relationship between affect and character. He just looks at me like I'm an idiot — or maybe an alien — and says something like, I just thought it looked cool. Which is the best possible answer to my babbling query. Negotiating with is not really a principle; it's an operation and not one that suits everyone equally.

We make decisions all day every day, at every turn. We balance our ideas, concepts, needs, desires, beliefs into an impossible calculus that results in buying or not buying some Starfucks espresso; telling my son that he'll never own a hand held gaming device because it steals souls and, no, I don't care that every single one of his friends owns one; asking your sweetie to move in, to marry you, to have a child with you; watching "The Wire" or "American Idol." We don't live as minions for principles or agents of the state or even agents of change. We live as we live, with power, with the world.


dustygravel said...

I love many things that are the resolute/extension of centralized power. I recognize that it takes authority, and control in order to realize a vision, and that the scope of possibility for the actualization of any given vision is dependent on the scope of what can be resourced, (this is the essential relationship between ideology and power). This is the power of that State in the abstract, and technology in its extension, the contract, the law, receipts, (imagine if you could see the sum total of all the receipts ever printed)the consumption, ect.

The State is the state of things as they are, tethered to the center of power as it is. I like many things just the way they are, I love many things with out even knowing that I love them. I would sacrifice for them with out even knowing what I've giving up. Doors of possibility I wish to keep closed.

So that's my basic understanding of politics. Now I will get esoteric. The French have a phrase for that sense of regret one gets when they miss an opportunity to deliver a scathing come back, only to think one up later, "staircase wit," (I learned that from Palahniuk's Guts). I'm one of those post-Liberals (in the broadest sense) that participated in the occupy movement. I don't think that I'm alone in feeling that staircase wit is the mood of the day.

So here is some of my staircase wit. It has been said that the Corporation is a person, but the Corporation is a corps. All collective entities have personality, but the Corporation has a will to profit, a need to expand, the share holders priority.

The government recognizes the corporation as a person, having the rights of a person. Production is an essential component of power, and of coarse the government and the corporation have never been separate. There is a corporate body, there is a State, the State protects the corporate body, the body nourishes the State.

dustygravel said...

Who's streets? Our streets! We used to chant. But who really owns the streets? The tow company. The tow company nourishes the life blood of the streets. The tow company is the shepherd of the streets. The tow company is of one body with the road construction crow. But the tow company extracts value from the failure of commuters to comply with the Law, they get their cut.

What about Whole Foods? Whole Foods gets their cut as well. City planers plane for the Whole Foods.

I think people imagine that the State is their enemy. Anarchists do. But what would it mean to be an enemy of the State? The State has been defined as the monopoly of force, but it is a force that shapes both the infrastructure and the opposition to the its perimeters.

What about reformers? Privileges are exchanges are exchanged over MTV satellite networks and the center holds strong.

There is no identity that is entirely out side the State apparatus..."There is no out side." Organic food, is not the same as food before the invention of GMO's, of chemical additives. Twinkies are FDA approved but herbal remedies are not. Approval and dis-approval are both productive forces. The State expands it jurisdiction through advocacy groups, and street canvassers.

I remember the first time the Portland Trail Blazers struck me as a cool thing. I was 5. I remember Black was my favorite color. I was told it was evil, but I liked it. Sports where boring compared to Batman, but the Blazers looked cool, and suddenly I could see what they where doing. It was incredible. I remember I had a friend who's favorite club was the Bulls, this was very offensive to me because he wasn't from Illinois. He wanted to win more then any thing, and I thought that was weak. One day a pastor friend of my parents from Zimbabwe rocked my world. He said some times he likes to rout for the under dog and some times the champion. I said way are you so flaky? Don't you have any loyalty? He said, "Nah, I do like to fallow certain clubs, but I really like the game, and I like to see what a dedicated athlete can do." That was the first time I'd ever heard any one express this appreciation for the "rhetoric of sports" that you often expound on. I often wonder how this Nietzschean stain became so strong in this Zimbabwean pastor. I guess its an over coming power. Every Power has its own restraint. What does it really mean to pose an alternative? Can we decolonization our food?

How can we resist the forces that shape us? It is indeed an esthetics question. The State is an image.

dustygravel said...

Oh yeah one more thing; some theorists like Delanda have tried to prove that the State doesn't exist by showing all the contradictory strands but the State does exist. When Senator like bernie sanders tries to get a bill passed, or a corporation like Nike attains a patent on a shoe or a pastor of a church attains tax exemption status they are all enlisting the same power who's expression is the police and armed forces. A monopoly reaching the global limit. So Whole Foods can buy routing fish from Bannock.

Daniel Coffeen said...

"The State is an image": Yes! Love this. It's always a behavioral question, an aesthetic question, a question of what we take up and how we operate with what we take up. Which is my point, of course; it's not a matter of fighting power but of negotiating power.

I truly believe wit, irony, humor are the only real sources of resistance to the spectacle, if resistance is the right word. I prefer hedging, reengineering, steering, clearing....

I like your takes on the State here quite a bit. I need to think about it. I believe I use the word to mean the general regime of armed force, legislation, and corporate deployment, including the media. The NY Times is a State run newspaper. Hollywood films are state run films.

But my use could conflate too much too readily. Which is how I go.

dustygravel said...

It is true; we are often accused of conflating terms. I think this is because we consider identity to be constituted/dependent on it relations to other things. This is what Derrida meant by Diffarence, and what Deleuze meant by difference in its self, (correct me if I’m wrong). But Deleuze did have a name for what is outside the State…
I admit I like this word, the State. I like it for a number of reasons; because of its relationship to discourse in general, because it denotes a general condition or mode of being, because it connotes the connection between discourse and being, and because of the esthetic resonance it carries in the anarchist and libertarian milieus. Milieu is another great word for describing a trance subjective social setting.
In a way though, I think I mean something a little more specific when I use the term the State. I mean the condition of things as they are organized by a center of authority through the use of threats of physical violence or incarceration. So when I refer to Corporate personhood as a legal entity I am specifically identifying its relation to the use of violence for its constitution. So that’s a “Legal” definition. Ontologically everything has a state, and there are even overlapping states, I rode my bike to day so my body is in an exhausted state, some people refer to the exhausted state of their marriage, and these are different states that have varying relationship to the monopoly of power that we call the State. The State is general in its extension, and specific in its modality. It is contractual, and it is violence, it is policy enforcement. Law is an image, but it is no elution. The Law is real in its discursive stage, its physical in its enforcement, and it’s cultural in its normalization.
When the State is conflated with another institution such as the church, the corporation, the party, the military, or other such interest group, it is reforming all other entities in the image that institution. This is the nature of reform. But there is a way to push this conflation even further, its dialectical relationship. The most commonly sighted example of this kind is not Marxism, its prohibition. The history special on prohibition stated that alcohol consumption increased during prohibition, then there’s all (alleged) back door deals between the mod and the FBI, an indirect result of prohibition, but more importantly the result of a privilege that the State provides. Coming up with a none dialectical, none “oppositional”, alternative to the State is certainly is a challenge.

dustygravel said...

I strongly agree that wit, irony, humor, are among the best ways to forge alternative paths through the State, because the State its self is a discourse who’s primary characteristic, apart from all other extension, is rigidity, what Max Weber and Marcuse call Rational-legalism. Even activist judges make presidents. I also like “hedging, reengineering, steering, clearing” an example of this here in my home town of Portland is dignity village, a “hedged property”(not in the wall street sense) with an alternate building code, where “homeless” can build their own dwellings. Another similar hedging is R2D2 located down town, but City Hall is currently threatening to move it to some place less conspicuous, in other words they want to return the city to its former State.
All that said I’m not even opposed to the State, not existentially at least. I don’t even know what a Stateless society would look like. Duchamp's urinal is just a urinal without the museum, or is it? I know what other States, Realms, Kingdoms, Municipalities, and Caravans look like. The Taj Mahal couldn’t be built in D.C., and it might be hard to get your Sheikh across the Oregon state line without an Oregon transportation certificate. Maybe the State we live in is a good one, maybe it isn’t. There is the issue of imperialism though; I would sincerely like to see how micro resistance could protect other peoples form the encroachment of the Empire, which is the State in its expansionary mode.


dustygravel said...

Oh! you know what I'm talking about, I'm talking about your mountain lien, endangered, and fitted with a radio collar.

dustygravel said...

"Law is an image, but it is no elution." I meant to say is no illusion.Oops.

roca de carioca said...

I read this and the two posts below and their threads today. A wild smile and a wide smirk appeared. My spirits and state are uplifted. Thank you dusty and dc.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Oh, man, it's all Dusty here, hands down.

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