Incrementalism good /T version

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FW addendum

Incrementalism good /T version

Even if our topical version is not perfect, it promotes interim gains – those are valuable themselves and promote revolutionary politics if focused on particular state-centric goals

Connolly 13 – Professor of Political Science @ JHU

(William, “The Fragility of Things,” p. 36-42)

A philosophy attending to the acceleration, expansion, irrationalities, interdependencies, and fragilities of late capitalism suggest that we do not know that confidence, in advance of experimental action, just how far or fast changes in the systemic character of neoliberal capitalism can be made. The structures often seem solid and intractable, and indeed such a semblance may turn out to be true. Some may seem solid, infinitely absorptive, and intractable when they are in fact punctuated by hidden vulnerabilities, soft spots, uncertainties, and potential lines of flight that become apparent when they are subjected to experimental action, upheaval, testing, and strain. Indeed no ecology of late capitalism, given the variety of forces to which it is connected by a thousand pulleys, vibrations, impingements, dependencies, shocks, and threads, can specify with supreme confidence the solidity or potential flexibility of the structures it seeks to change. ¶ The strength of structural theory, at its best, was in identifying institutional intersections that hold a system together; its conceit, at its worst, was the claim to know in advance how resistant such intersections are to potential change. Without adopting the opposite conceit, it seems important to pursue possible sites of strategic action that might open up room for productive change. Today it seems important to attend to the relation between the need for structural change and identification of multiple sites of potential action. You do not know precisely what you are doing when you participate in such a venture. You combine an experimental temper with the appreciation that living and acting into the future inevitably contain a shifting quotient of uncertainty. The following tentative judgments and sites of action may pertinent. ¶ 1) Neither neoliberal theory, nor socialist productivism, nor deep ecology, nor social democracy in its classic form seems sufficient to the contemporary condition. This is so in part because the powers of market self-regulation are both real and limited in relation to a larger multitude of heterogeneous force fields beyond the human estate with differential power of self-regulation and metamorphosis. A first task is to challenge neoliberal ideology through critique and by elaborating and publicizing positive alternatives that acknowledge the disparate relations between market processes, other cultural systems, and nonhuman systems. Doing so to render the fragility of things more visible and palpable. Doing so, too, to set the stage for a series of intercoded shifts in citizen role performances, social movements, and state action. ¶ 2) Those who seek to reshape the ecology of late capitalism might set an interim agenda of radial reform and then recoil back on the initiatives adopted to see how they work. An interim agenda is the best thing to focus on because in a world of becoming the more distant future is too cloudy to engage. We must, for instance, become involved in experimental micro-politics on a variety of fronts, as we participate in role experimentations, social movements, artistic displays, erotic-political shows, electoral campaigns, and creative interventions on the new media to help recode the ethos that now occupies investment practices, consumption desires, family savings, state priorities, church assemblies, university curricula, and media reporting. It is important to bear in mind how extant ideologies, established role performances, social movements, and commitments to state action intersect. To shift some of our own role performances in the zones of travel, church participation, home energy use, investment, and consumption, for instance, that now implicate us deeply in foreign oil dependence and the huge military expenditures that secure it, could make a minor difference on its own and also lift some of the burdens of institutional implication from us to support participation in more adventurous interpretations, political strategies, demands upon the state, and cross state citizen actions. ¶ 3) Today perhaps the initial target should be on reconstituting established patterns of consumption by a combination of direct citizens actions in consumption choices, publicity of such actions, the organization of local collectives to modify consumption practices, and social movements to reconstitute the current state-and market-supported infrastructure of consumption. By the infrastructure of consumption I mean publicly supported and subsidized market subsystems such as a national highway system, a system of airports, medical care through private insurance, agribusiness pouring high sugar, salt, and fat content into foods, corporate ownership of the public media, the prominence of corporate 403 accounts over retirement pension, and so forth that enable some modes of consumption in the zones of travel, education, diet, retirement, medical care, energy use, health, and education and render others much more difficult of expensive to procure. To change the infrastructure is also to shift the types of work and investment available. Social movements that work upon the infrastructure and ethos of consumption in tandem can thus make a real difference directly, encourage more people to heighten their critical perspectives, and thereby open more people to a more militant politics if and as the next disruptive event emerges. Perhaps a cross-state citizen goal should be to construct a pluralist assemblage by moving back and forth between experiments in role performances, the refinement of sensitive modes of perception, revisions in political ideology, and adjustments in political sensibility, doing so to mobilize enough collective energy to launch a general strike simultaneously in several countries in the near future. The aim of such an event would be to reverse the deadly future created by established patterns of climate change by fomenting significant shifts in patterns of consumption, corporate policies, state law, and the priorities of interstate organizations. Again, the dilemma of today is that the fragility of things demands shifting and slowing down intrusion: into several aspects of nature as we speed up shifts in identity, role performance, cultural ethos, market regulation, and state policy. ¶ 4) The existential forces of hubris (expressed above all in those confident drives to mastery conveyed by military elites, financial economists, financial elites, and CEOs) and of ressentiment (expressed in some sectors of secularism and evangelicalism) now play roles of importance in the shape of consumption practices, investment portfolios, worker routines, managerial demands, and the uneven semen of entitlement that constitute neoliberalism. For that reason activism inside churches, schools, street life, and the media must become increasingly skilled and sensitive. As we proceed, some of us may present the themes of a world of becoming to larger audiences, challenging thereby the complementary notions of a providential world and secular mastery that now infuse too many role performances, market practices, and state priorities in capitalist life. For existential dispositions do infuse the role priorities of late capitalism. Today it is both difficult for people to perform the same roles with the same old innocence and difficult to challenge those performances amid our own implication in them. Drive by evangelists, the media, neoconservatives, and the neolibreal right to draw a veil of innocence across the priorities of contemporary life make the situation much worse. ¶ 5) The emergence of a neofascist or mafia-type capitalism slinks as a dangerous possibility on the horizon, partly because of the expansion and intensification of capital, partly because of the real fragility of things, partly because the identity needs of many facing these pressures encourage them to cling more intensely to a neoliberal imaginary as its bankruptcy becomes increasingly apparent, partly because so many in America insist upon retaining the special world entitlements the country achieved after World War II in a world decreasingly favorable to them, partly because of the crisis tendencies inherent in neoliberal capitalism, and partly because so many resist living evidence around and in them that challenges a couple of secular and theistic images of the cosmos now folded into the institutional life of capitalism. Indeed the danger is that those constituencies now most disinclined to give close attention to public issues could oscillate between attraction to the mythic promises of neoliberal automaticity and attraction to a neofascist movement when the next crisis unfolds. It has happened before. I am not saying that neoliberalism is itself a form of fascism, but that the failures and meltdowns it periodically promotes could once again foment fascist or neofascist responses, as happened in several countries after the onset of the Great Depression. ¶ 6) The democratic state, while it certainly cannot alone tame capital or reconstitute the ethos and infrastructure of consumption, must play a significant role in reconstituting our lived relations to climate, weather, resource use, ocean currents, bee survival, tectonic instability, glacier flows, species diversity, work, local life, consumption, and investment, as it also responds favorable to the public pressures we must generate to forge a new ethos. A new, new left will thus experimentally enact new intersections between role performance and political activity, outgrow its old disgust with the very idea of the state, and remain alert to the dangers states can pose. It will do so because, as already suggested, the fragile ecology of late capital requires state interventions of several sorts. A refusal to participate in the state today cedes too much hegemony to neoliberal markets, either explicitly or by implication. Drives to fascism, remember, rose the last time in capitalist states after a total market meltdown. Most of those movements failed. But a couple became consolidate through a series of resonances (vibrations) back and forth between industrialists, the state, and vigilante groups, in neighborhoods, clubs, churches, the police, the media, the pubs. You do not fight the danger of a new kind of neofascism by withdrawing from either micropolitics or state politics. You do so through a multisited politics designed to infuse a new ethos into the fabric of everyday life. Changes in ethos can in turn open doors to new possibilities of state and interstate action, so that an advance in one domain seeds that in the other. And vice versa. A positive dynamic of mutual amplification might be generated here. Could a series of significant shifts in the routines of state and global capitalism even press the fractures system to a point where it hovers on the edge of capitalism itself? We don’t know. That is one reason it is important to focus on interim goals. Another is that in a world of becoming, replete with periodic and surprising shift in the course of events, you cannot project far beyond an interim period. Another yet is that activism needs to project concrete, interim possibilities to gain support and propel itself forward. That being said, it does seem unlikely to me, at least, that a positive interim future includes either socialist productivism or the world projected by proponents of deep ecology. ¶ 7) To advance such an agenda it is also imperative to negotiate new connections between nontheistic constituencies who care about the future of the Earth and numerous devotees of diverse religious traditions who fold positive spiritualties into their creedal practices. The new, multifaceted movement needed today, if it emerges, will take the shape of a vibrant pluralist assemblage acting at a multiple sites within and across states, rather than either a centered movement with a series of fellow travelers attached to it or a mere electoral constellation. Electoral victories are important, but that work best when they touch priorities already embedded in churches, universities, film, music, consumption practices, media reporting, investment priorities, and the like. A related thing to keep in mind is that the capitalist modes of acceleration, expansion, and intensification that heighten the fragility of things today also generate pressures to minorities the world along multiple dimensions at a more rapid pace than heretofore. A new pluralist constellation will build upon the latter developments as it works to reduce the former effects. ¶ I am sure that the forgoing comments will appear to some as “optimistic” or “utopian.” But optimism and pessimism are both primarily spectatorial views. Neither seems sufficient to the contemporary condition. Indeed pessimism, if you dwell on it long, easily slides into cynicism, and cynicism often plays into the hands of a right wing that applies it exclusively to any set of state activities not designed to protect or coddle the corporate estate. That is one reason that “dysfunctional politics” resounds so readily to the advantage of cynics on the right who work to promote it. They want to promote cynicism with respect to the state and innocence with respect to the market. Pure critique, as already suggested, does not suffice either. Pure critique too readily carries critics and their followers to the edge of cynicism. ¶ It is also true that the above critique concentrates on neoliberal capitalism, not capitalism writ large. That is because it seems to me that we need to specify the terms of critique as closely as possible and think first of all about interim responses. If we lived under, say, Keynesian capitalism, a somewhat different set of issues would be defined and other strategies identified. Capitalism writ large—while it sets a general context that neoliberalism inflects in specific ways—sets too large and generic a target. It can assume multiple forms, as the difference between Swedish and American capitalism suggest the times demand a set of interim agendas targeting the hegemonic form of today, pursued with heightened militancy at several sties. The point today is not to wait for a revolution that overthrows the whole system. The “system,” as we shall see further, is replete with too many loose ends, uneven edges, dicey intersections with nonhuman forces, and uncertain trajectories to make such a wholesale project plausible. Besides, things are too urgent and too many people on the ground are suffering too much now. ¶ The need now is to activate the most promising political strategies to the contemporary condition out of a bad set. On top of assessing probabilities and predicting them with secret relish or despair—activities I myself pursue during the election season—we must define the urgent needs of the day in relation to a set of interim possibilities worthy of pursuit on several fronts, even if the apparent political odds are stacked against them. We then test ourselves and those possibilities by trying to enact this or that aspect of them at diverse sites, turning back to reconsider their efficacy and side effects as circumstances shift and results accrue. In so doing we may experience more vibrantly how apparently closed and ossified structures are typically punctuated by jagged edges, seams, and fractures best pried open with a mix of public contestation of established interpretations, experimental shifts in multiple role performances, micropolitics in churches, universities, unions, the media, and corporations, state actions, and large-scale, cross-state citizen actions.

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