K, Punk?

I’ve started this writing a thousand times and yet never. Overly concerned with response, I stare at the dying plant on the shelf, I drink the depressed whiskey, I read the prophetic blog post, and yet I lie in my pyjamas and concern for nothing.

A ghost sits on my shelf, literally or not, figuratively, or not, but regardless as clay, in pink and pinker. A ghost in emotion, in person, and in figuration, hidden from myself and the world, by its small cardboard box, and the death of the phone that captures its relationship. It’s still a ghost.

A larger spectre looms, one of personal desire, one of personal, nostalgic grief. Both promise of a better life that shall never be, and yet both proffer a better life that may still await. The former also even seems to haunt over Europe, even if that is confined to Paris.

I guess everywhere I look there is the opportunity for depth. Though, I am told, this may just be aesthetics. But what does that say of me on reflection? I cannot answer about what it makes of me as appearance, but is it even possible to engage with one’s own aesthetic bubble from the inside. Donna Haraway again seems the most important diving board in the English-speaking universe. So let me situate myself: I am listening to the rain through the back door that is my bedroom’s direct link to the outside world; I am a little drunk… solitude, libido and inquisitiveness brought me here via a YLYL (you laugh you lose) thread and a search for… well let’s say release, that took me to Mark Fisher. A brand as big as Lidl socks, the bee’s elbows to those who know, but as unheard of as Lidl socks to those who don’t.

Last night, I went to a talk on Fisher’s magnum classic: Capitalist Realism, to coincide with its rerelease as a Zer0 Classic. I have floated on the portents of hauntology for many a year, dipping through the strata of liminality and techno-nostalgia, but I have never taken the effort to know the work, or dive deeper through the K-Punk to explore the man. (Thank you, Chase, the impetus is delightfully received). And now, one talk and one blog in, I am an expert, and world authority. Sad though.

But is it? Tariq Goddard, a speaker at the symposium said that greater help may have achieved nothing in preventing Fisher’s suicide. Excuse the morbidity, dear reader, it is not out of a macabre fascination I bring this up, but a contemplation. This was stated as a response to a question which, among a confused set of others, wondered whether had there been adequate services at the time, Fisher would have been there to deliver the talk himself.

My agreement is not unreserved but relies on the singularity of public service availability as being a reflection of the values of the time. Fisher under a system with more freely available mental health services would not have needed them, as the remedy to the suffering subjects of his writing would have been there, in promise or actuality, as the fabric of its society not solely as services provided by that society.

I did not know the man, nor have studied his writing, I am not a scholar in Fisherism or psychology, I do not give any more than a speculation, but someone who upon all accounts, diagnosed the ills of a society so bleakly, so keenly, cannot have escaped the oppressive force of socio-econo-politico-miasmatic-Britain, when contemplating their own end. I would imagine the same considerations engage Boris Johnson as he mounts the collapsed spine of the donkey, hoists his lance, and builds on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s platform of tilting at windmills, while he rallies for a second go at being Prime Minister, two months or so after being disgraced and ousted from that very office. Only, their personal and professional outlooks on things differ.

Whiskey is dead, Tango lives as cola, but beer persists, solitary and cold or reinforced and warm. Fisher’s K-Punk article proclaimed “Democracy is Joy”, or at least that’s the title and who seriously reads beyond those these days? It refers to a phrase on OXI day, when the Greeks told the Axis powers “no”. The biggest small word. Any brit now must feel far removed from Greece, and particularly its heralded past as a bastion of thought. What the fuck even is democracy now, in Britain. Let me drop an unreferenced conjecture, I have heard that Britain perhaps invented the modern democracy. The Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forests laid out the ground rules for the modern state, that the regent isn’t the sole and total concern of their subjects, but that they themselves hold autonomous rights to be equally applied to all. K-Punk talks about our greatest export being that of the nation state, a not unrelated idea. But I sit here, the day after a PM has resigned for the second time in a calendar year, for the 4th time in a 7 year period that has seen 3 general elections and no transfer of executive leadership via public mandate. This isn’t democracy. When 100 people can decide for a voter base of 46 million, this isn’t a nation state ruled by democracy, not as I believe in it. Where are the terms of this social contract, that I may review my part in it? I would be one to say “no”, but I don’t count.

I said no last year when my university fired many admin staff and it didn’t count. I still paid my fees, still bought my education, still played into the game that I had entered. At least I could see, and had a choice about the contract there, and in proper English-colonialist, capitalist manner, I chose extraction, of education, over the value of moral indignation. But again, my education being held to ransom over the enforced redundancy of backroom staff is not a position that will carry Goldsmiths kindly in my thoughts when spreading my experience of the course. And we look upon it now and see, oh, every predicted failing and more has come upon us less than a year later. Timetables are not done, a month into term, the new registration system barely works (the class I was signed into last week was “Musical Theatre-Making 1”, rather than “Computational Arts Studio Practice”) if it works at all. Module choices were poorly allotted, with bad communication about how rejections were handled, or who was being accepted into various modules. Everyone is upset, staff and students and for what? There are 90 students on my course alone, the vast, vast, vast (over 75) majority being foreign students paying 16K+ a year, and the home students still paying 11.5k a year. This is well over a million pounds, for one course. I accept, running a university must be a difficult administrative, and financial task. So firing those overseeing the administration seems the least sensible thing to do, no?

But as Fisher, through Graeber (or someone else idk im too drunk to look It up) talks austerity as liken to anorexia.

Trim, trim, trim the fat,

cut and slice and prune the flesh,

a pound, an ounce, it is all for the good,

to the end, to the end we relish (I don’t know, I’m not anorexic, I choose food)

It is masochistic, as well as Sadistic. There is self-harm even if that is down the line, of the future. As much as we hate the poors, eventually they will rise up, or the planet will.

Not that, not that, let’s till the field,

Not that, not that, let’s grease the wheel,

Not that, not that, let’s work together

(but I’m not a communitarian, I’m lazy, I choose food)

Democracy to me, exists in a presentness, a here and now. Either I’m here and it is now, or I’m not and it was then. Decisions are being made on our behalf, without our consensus, if with our consent. At work, what does your workplace pursue, how is the extracted value distributed, what are the mandatory hours, how does holiday work? In our supermarkets, what is sold to us, when, from where, produced by whom? We live in an age of great delegation, Hey to piggyback an idea I recently learnt of and doubtless misinterpret, we live in an age of Kantian immaturity. It is not enlightenment, but enclosure. The walls of our perceptions have been so far retreated that the barren pastures that lay beyond them seem as deserts to the luxury of our present lives, and yet the revelation is that the deserts are kept so by the very fences that keep us from them. Without such barriers (of capital) we may pursue the fruits of the world in a manner more sustainable and psychologically enriching than such that an English public has known for near a millennium.

Democracy, when working has an aesthetic of a glass box. It is hard to steal from a glass box, thus transparency is never offered by any organisation that considers itself in the position of authority. Goldsmiths refused to open their books to the UCU after having opened their books to a million-pound-plus consultant agency, whose laughing response on the way to the bank was that Goldsmiths should get rid of staff to pay for the eight or so million pound shortfall in the budget. I wonder how much of that budgetary hole patches up senior management team salaries. This is not to say they shouldn’t be compensated for whatever it is they do, but if you’re able to avoid campus for a month of strikes, I do question the necessity of the £250, 000 / year role that Frances Corner apparently “does” as warden.

So it is safe to say that Goldsmiths isn’t a healthy democracy when nowhere near a majority of its students or staff have input on its decisions (direct democracy) or on choosing or removing the decision-making executive (representative democracy). I have spent an hour or so trying to track down the process in which the warden is chosen, but haven’t been able to find anything other than images of the inauguration. But in the timeless words of the late Terry Jones, “Well I didn’t vote for you”. A “democratic” nation is nothing but a collection of micro-tyrannies and fiefdoms without forms of collective decision making or representation being present throughout all organised areas of life. A great project of capital has been to instil within us a righteousness of individuality, told us the particular collection of purchased goods is a reflection of our personhood, is our statement of identity and existence. Yet this has been the veil over a system of depersonalisation, and homogenisation. Everyone has seen or made a joke about the clamour over the new iPhone that seems identical to the old, Wall-E did this fantastically with jumpsuit colours, but it is not this superficial sameness that capital has branded us into. Clothing and iPhones (for those not forced to make them) are harmless, boring in the sameness of their diversity. What the big techs have done to homogenise us is what astrologers have attempted for millennia and to find the linear regressive differences between us. Divining metrics, through the enormous wealth of data brought about by analysis of our communications, that plot our position on a multidimensional chart modelling our relationship to the capital itself. This is one of the most miraculous of our inventions as a species, a tool to predict decisions made with “free-will”, to effect, alter or serve those unknown wants, needs or little buttons that are there to trigger a want or need. But we have no say. These are doomsday tools, black-boxed and if they even are understood by those that wield them, are done so without a mandate from those subject to them.

In our class discussion on aesthetics we considered the aesthetics of a thing or person to be a conversation between the observer and the observed. It is not simply something that is applied to a body, but something that co-creates that body. This hidden digital self, the mathematized probabilities of our actions, is the ultimate aesthetic of humanity as seen through the machine of capital. To capital, a system, an ideologically backed system of value relations between labour and commodity, humanity is only a consumer. The consumer is the recipient of the commodity that has the most extracted value over the cost of labour as seen by the capital. The consumer through the eye of capital has no relationship to the labour of the commodities it produces. The more specialised, more atomised, and more meaningless the task of labour in the production of commodities, the less valuable the individual labourer is, the more they become a mechanical problem for capital to remove, than a set of human qualities for capital to preserve in order to maintain the efficiency of labour. Companies like Amazon are reported to do this all the time. From the standpoint of Amazon, the corporation, a machine of capital, there is no such concept as “inhumane” conditions. What is humane as a set of values for treating workers, from the worker’s perspective, arises from the aesthetic of human coming from the point of a human, as an animal with physiological and psychological needs. Amazon sees these workers from the perspective of capital, it sees them as computerised agents performing or not to a predicted set of outputs. The mistake we make in discussing such practices is anthropomorphising a corporation like Amazon, because it is run by human people, we think it should therefore have human emotions, compassion towards its workers. But the emergent identity of Amazon has different motivations to the people who work within it, and that identity has developed strategies within what was once a highly competitive environment to manage both its workers and the wider market of which it now dominates. Individual decisions may be made by individual people, workers, but macro decisions are made by the entity of capital whose sole self-measure of success has been market share and growth. Corporations can now move and intra-communicate and react on a noticeable day-to-day timescale, financially they react faster than humans can comprehend. They are living information systems. Mattia asked if we could imagine an otherwise, what would that otherwise be like? A question he told us was posed by his former tutor. Well, I think with the modern IT-driven corporation, humanity has birthed a form of existence that disregards the humanity in us, whose motives we can understand, but whose functional reasoning is that incomprehensible otherwise.

For a human, growth is time-based and reflective, something that happens to us physically as adolescents and emotionally as adults. Our understanding of growth comes when we look backwards and see change. For a corporation, growth is more akin to an emotion, something the corporation feels. Meta at the moment is not growing, the company experienced its first ever decline in revenues, by 1% year on year July 2021-2022. Its refocus away from capturing identity as Facebook to developing the metaverse, under the desires of its figurehead Mark Zuckerberg has been rocky so far. With changes in user privacy protection from Apple affecting its advertising revenue, and the rebrand itself being speculated to be distancing from the negativity surrounding the “Facebook” brand and associations with snooping, invasion of privacy and capturing of data related to children, and the company’s knowledge of the harmful effects the platform has that was exposed by whistleblowers; this identity crisis seems symptomatic of some kind of corporate depression and as a result, it has experienced its first shrinkage.

I sit, dead of ideas, staring through this blog post after a class of not very much, knowing that I must submit it tomorrow, and knowing I never quite got to the thesis. I would bring out my practical developments, but they are underdeveloped so far and many questions remain open that need exploring in full through their own blog post. So I shall leave it here with a teaser for that future.

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