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My Friends Are the Universe: Expansive Global Politics

by ANON Tuesday, May. 28, 2002 at 4:40 PM

But what’s wrong with being an ark? The miracle of Noah is in architecture. 40 cubits by 40 cubits containing the multitude. The universe lined up on the shore in naked desperation, mooing cooing barking hissing nipping purring chirping buzzing tweeting flapping. The worlds bounty waiting for berthage on the ship of life, entire histories of science will never qualify this plenty.

errorMy friends are the Universe: Globalization’s Protest Expand the Political.

“A Noah’s ark of flat earth advocates” penned Thomas Friedman in the New York Times on those who blockaded the meeting of the WTO in Seattle the day before. Predictably Friedman’s characterizations were attacked by those advocates as smears belittling the real political concerns and solutions that activists came to Seattle to set upon the world stage. In this and all globalization protests since, street action has been accompanied by progressive forums highlighting alternatives to corporate free-trade. In Seattle’s Ben Arroyo Hall, the Forum for Globalization offered speakers on subjects of labor, environment and health. The World Social Forum, which had its second annual gathering this year in Puerto Alegre Brazil, is a virtual summit of real politique offering itself up as a laboratory to discuss, if not embody, a socially minded vision of global futures.
Despite this, the movement is dogged by Freidmanesque critics who declare that it lacks visions and represents the voices of dumb babies. Noam Chomsky writes famously of a media that cannot contain complexity of thought in a hyper speed news market, while alternative media tries its best to inject culture with policy alternatives. When radical political ideas are presented in mainstream venues they are quickly discredited. This can be seen in the New York Times coverage of the World Economic Forum. This past January NYC anarchist activist Brooke Lehman was interviewed on the subject of bio-centric economies in Mondays Times. The paper privileged itself spending the rest of the week calling her ideas goofy. When it comes to policy discussions, those who arbitrate what defines logical discourse will always up end the globalizations movement. Language like political policy ideas must be granted legitimacy. Where media interests are aligned with corporate interests, voices like Friedman’s will win out. Politically the globalization movement will have to contend with the negative frame of an illegitimate horde.
Freidman’s false rhetoric draws its strength from an investment in the enlightenments rational thinking. Belief in the bible and a flat earth indicates an affinity with a medieval world-view; a cosmology beset by superstition, fear, and ecumenical law. But what’s wrong with being an ark? The miracle of Noah is in architecture. 40 cubits by 40 cubits containing the multitude. The universe lined up on the shore in naked desperation, mooing cooing barking hissing nipping purring chirping buzzing tweeting flapping. The worlds bounty waiting for berthage on the ship of life, entire histories of science will never qualify this plenty. If you observed the behavior, values, and actions of all those who participated in Seattle, you might begin to characterize some of the elements in this menagerie. Aesthetically the ultra-contemporary was contained in such places as the DotCommies (a semi ironic name for an affinity group of digital workers participating in the protest). But like our universe, prevalent in the crowd were participants who do not share the same histories of western rationalism as the free traders. The markets inability to acknowledge these peoples legitimacy stains the free traders as the flat earth advocates, literally removing features from the globe.
Seattle and the subsequent globalization’s street protest contain political alternatives to corporate globalization, but it could be contended that the real solutions offered within these events are in the over the top aesthetics taken on by protestors who manifest divergent opinions of what constitutes reality. In so doing these groups are revitalizing and expanding the notion of both political discourse and democracy. Further, these actions open up possibilities beyond measured rationalism whose end logic of economic deconstruction allows Thomas Freidman to discount the globalization movement’s concerns as backwards.

To begin, Seattle’s accomplishment certainly wasn’t in immediate policy reform. Since Seattle the WTO met in Dubai under circumstances way less democratic than the meeting in Seattle. What the protest did accomplish was a cultural rupture, marking for many a new beginning. Characterizing the times since the sixties as a period of wandering in the wilderness, author Todd Gitlin echoed what many wrote of as a new chance for the progressive and radical left in the Country.

Metaphorically this rebirth was contained within the actions of the street protestors who maintained barricades and danced in the stateless freedom of a “reclaimed” temporary liberated zone of downtown Seattle. Highly controversial in their actions, the faceless saboteur elves of the infamous black bloc offered their actions of property destruction as a bit of transcendence. You can argue if smashing windows is politically wise, but it is hard to discount the poetry of the action. The Acme Communiqué issued by a black bloc faction, was a statement of purpose explaining the “vandalism.” A portion of it reads:

When we smash a window, we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights. At the same time we exorcize that set of violent and destructive social relationships which has been imbued in almost everything around us. By “destroying” private property, we convert its limited exchange value into an expanded use value. A storefront window becomes a vent to let some fresh air into the oppressive atmosphere of a retail outlet … A newspaper box becomes a tool for creating such vents or a small blockade for the reclamation of public space or an object to improve ones vantage point by standing on it. A dumpster becomes an obstruction to a phalanx of rioting cops and a source of heat and light. A building face becomes a message board to record brainstorm ideas for a better world.

What’s remarkable about this action is that it holds out the possibility of transubstantiation within a culture that long ago civilized the topic. It’s a bit of practical magic for the revolutionary set! It is now generally agreed that the downtown cities function is to facilitate the transparent operation of business, its architectural elements are meant to facilitate this. The Acme Collectives declaration insists that the meaning of a building or a dumpster or a window is not fixed to this reading, but is subjective. The city can be alive and involved with the naturalistic elements of fire, heat, light, and air. The statement reclaims the right for a political individual to demand her own unique perspective. This statement is made within the context of a meeting of a global political body (the WTO) whose sole agreed upon term is the finite value of capital, as expressed through property, human beings, the environment, and wildlife as value- or as the Acme Collective maintain, “an exchange value”.
The collective’s acts harken back to Abbie Hoffman’s 1968 levitation of the pentagon and 1985’s Hands Across America; utopian inspired action demands the suspension of disbelief and an insistence that the impossible is possible. But unlike Hoffman’s action, the Acme Collective’s are more than metaphorical. They accomplished a real transformation. The acts of transgression against corporate property and the tangible growth of the anti-corporate movement since Seattle bear this out. In their words: “After N30, many people will never see a shop window or a hammer the same way again. The potential uses of an entire cityscape have increased a thousand-fold. The number of broken windows pales in comparison to the number of broken spells.”

That this slight of hand, a feat of symbolic transference, was successful is a political coup in itself. In a system set up to incorporate all dissent, resistance to the global economy loomed nonsensical. Uniquely contemporary, “global free-trade” is crafted in a socially minded paradigm- facilitating the flow of wealth between nations, in order to trickle down the benefits of economies to all. Neo-liberal policies are designed around the postmodern political framework of an end of ideologies, where all modern political positions are suspect because of their perceived inability to incorporate differing identities (rich-poor, gay-straight, black-white). In this vacuum neo-liberal economic philosophy asserts a theme that it suggests can unify all. It reasons that the identities can be equalized through their inclusion in the market (whether it’s a communist or capitalist store). This mindset becomes a blanket occupation when it is maintained by an economic policy that blindly believes it has successfully incorporate all differences within its logic. The mastery is achieved through “progressive” sociology functionalized as political science. Difference (conflict) is a matter of economic disparity, thus it can be bought off. Racial strife, class struggle, ethnic conflict can be smoothed over by the application of the language of the market and capital. As a result, Africa becomes a huge economic opportunity zone for corporate plunder. A plurality of perspectives is manufactured through the wedding of conservative economic policies with Marxist “share the wealth” humanism. Mythically- scientific method of quantitative research and capitalisms’ manifest destiny, have conspired to locate free trade anywhere.

In the past decades, anti-corporate theorists acknowledging the rise of the postmodern linguistic and economic aesthetics reacted cynically. The hip journal The Baffler, told its readers that cultural resistance was naive since the markets had already commodified your dissent. Hipsters pining for revolt should stop investing in the making and trading of signs and go join a labor union. Taking a different view, the Critical Art Ensemble in their book The Electronic Disturbance noticing the virus like nature of late capitalism, pronounced that street politics were dead. Since global corporate power was not invested in actual sights, they reasoned, radical change could only be won by abdicating the real to fight virtual battles with corporate symbols. Philosopher John Zerzan looking at Eighties cultural aesthetics clearly linked its cut and paste collage tropes with the dizzying nature of demand economics.
An anarchist, Zerzan in his 1987 essay The Catastrophe of Postmodernism, squashes disparate bits of postmodernism together. A work of cultural criticism its perspective reads as an essentialist tome glossing over a more nuanced reading of French theory. However it daringly offers the elemental tools of refusal that allow people to crawl out from under the haze of self congratulatory capitalism posing as sanctimonious theory. Zerzan decries the retreat from political praxis that he sees aesthetic deconstruction facilitating through its centralization of relativism. He states that postmodernism “leaves us hopeless in an unending shopping mall”. He criticizes the fetishization of alienation which he notes as a central value in postmodern art and theory. He acknowledges deconstructions ability to lay bare human endeavors as text which allow more “intimate kind of knowing” but balks at Deridas totalizing of all reality into texts, endlessly negotiable with no foothold left for real questions of power. Where Derrida sees binary thinking as emblematic of linguistic trickery, Zerzan sees a disavowal of politics and history. Zerzan remarks that Derrida is “conceiving of difference with out opposition”. Zerzans criticism of deconstruction is mirrored in the writing of Glenn Jordan and Chris Weedon’s Cultural Politics. They write:

Where postmodern difference is seen as pluralism without attention to the social
location of difference, power and its effects become invisible. Here difference often appears as a form of radical chick indifferent to the often brutal power relations that structure difference. The postmodern move from history to histories can be productive and empowering, for groups usually absent from history. But here, too, not all histories are equal.

In Zerzans case it is the hunter-gatherer whose histories aren’t equal. His branch of anarchism is described as primitivist. In the case of the WTO, histories of environmentalists, workers, and the ‘undeveloped world” aren’t equal. Or to allude to Freidman, the ark doesn’t count.

That the term deconstruction has a double meaning for those involved in issues of globalization is a curious affair. It might be that the job of market deconstruction, which works to usurp the authority of local economies, is to deconstruct culturally specific meanings and beliefs. An object, lets say a brick, in diverse cultures is made up of many values. A brick may have a sentimental value (“it was grandpas”). It may have a magical value (when placed on an alter the brick will bring its owner its weight in gold). It may have a cultural value (my people have always used pink bricks). It may have aesthetic value (the shape seduces me). It may have revolutionary value (without the lowly cobble stone where would the revolution be today?). It may even have values beyond its relationships with human beings (the exotic Brickus Russaus of the Eastern Steppe has rarely been seen by man). By stripping away barriers to free trade (some culturally established, some politically located) in effect neo-liberalism desecrates the complexities of human experiences. For the free marketer when something has multiple values it’s described as a luxury item, which in the capitalist system is reserved for the wealthy. You must earn the right to have this sort of variety in your life
Free trade, a system that privileges the market, makes the multitude subservient to its commodity value. Consider Jose Bove’s demand that French cheese is an invaluable treasure not a standardized widget to be processed and shipped away. Its existence is an expression of the cultural wealth of the French people. A rich variety who’s local textures, tastes, odors, scents, weights, and consistencies are worth saving from the predatory brands of Velveeta and General Foods. In effect, Bove’s politics demand the right for an unquantifiable taste for exquisite, wholesome, sustainable, and inexpensive food, over cheap imported crap.

Post-colonial agricultural theorist/activist Vandana Shiva, in a play on words, considers “postmodern de (con) struction” the “opium for the intellectuals… blinding them to the struggles people are engaged with in their everyday lives.” Attacking the politics of difference as a reductive function of deconstruction, she offers the idea of a politics of diversity. Politics of difference may invest itself in issues of race, class, gender but it cannot account for locations outside of these identities. Politics of diversity are designed around promoting the radical profusion of species rather than empirically enumerating political subjects.

All liberation movements in recent history have been partial and exclusivist. They exclude other species and they exclude diverse cultures. For the first time we have an opportunity to seek freedom in inclusive ways, in our diversity, to seek freedom for humans in partnership with other species and to seek freedom…This freedom of and through diversity is the alternative to globalization.

Shiva recognizes that the struggle over globalization is about cosmologies. It is a struggle to recognize all forms of life, ancient plant varieties to local economies, as unique.

“The First Intergalactic Encounter for Humanity Against Neo-Liberalism” was held in 1996 by the armed Zapatistas in their homes in the Lacandon Jungle of Southern Mexico. The term Zapatismo is used to describe a global movement of folks always in flux whom embody the Zapatistas politics of inclusion. Hearing the calls of the spider monkeys to attend the "encuentro" were the constituency of a sublime revolutionary movement; union organizers, environmentalists, academics, gays, media workers, lesbians, cyberpunks, indigenous peoples, Klingons, and other extra terrestrials; a Zapatista after all is any oppressed person anywhere. The poetic invitation to the meeting read:

The international of Hope. Not the bureaucracy of hope, not the opposite image and, thus the same as that which annihilates us. Not the Power with a new sign or new clothing. A breath like this, the breath of dignity. A flower yes, the flower of hope. A song yes, the song of life.

Far out!! Thomas Freidman, Milton Freidman, Rennato Ruggierio et all… could never claim to speak for the trees.
Prefacing their battle as a fight against extinction, the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas are defined by their original existence as a culture connected to the ecosystem of Southern Mexico. This pre-conquest location for the Zapatistas in Mayan cosmology privileges them to define politics on their terms; it also lets them elude the characterizations of being doe-eyed flower children. Starhawk, a well-respected figure in the globalization movement, on the other hand is stuck with it. She is Northern Californian witch involved with the activist “pagan cluster” who is a member of a coven known as “Reclaiming”.
What is a witch? What’s the attraction between witches, international policy, tear gas and state violence? Why is a witch a suitable “voice-of-a-movement?” What have witches lost that they are now looking for? Weren’t all witches burnt at Salem?
My friend Henry says, “Politics are the life-blood of the people.” He’s a Marxist and a party member to boot. It’s my suspicion that for everyone else politics are nothing but routines performed by individuals on the make or the already minted. In the gulf between these two (dis)engagements the possibility of activism beckons. Activism unlike mainstream politics is made by the forming desires of people engaging the immediate complexities of their lives. Therefore it isn’t sanitary like a vote. Nor is it always immediate like Brittany Speares. Since its route is active, it involves the raw experiences and emotions of participants. These feelings are its stock and trade- the mad as hell taxpayer raging against the bureaucrat, the insolent youth set to trounce the status quo, the determined worker struggling against shithead management. Like commedia del arte, these roles serve to contain the intangible depth of emotion felt by the actors. The freedom to express afforded to activists, their cultures, and the unique characters, which are created through it, are activisms affirming value as well as a big draw for outsiders (at the same time these can be activisms greatest political liability). Starhawk came to my attention this way.
During the meeting of the G8 in Genoa this last summer an anarchist identified youth, Carlo Giulliani, was killed by police who shot and then drove over his body. That evening the Carabinari conducted a bloody raid on a building that housed the IMC and a second that served as an activist convergence center. In an email I received hours after the incident, Starhawk recounted her terrifying night. As she tells it, she’d run up five flights of stairs seeking safety underneath a table, a sleeping bag over her head for padding in case she “got beaten.” Hiding from out of control police she hears helicopters buzzing the building, the sounds of doors slamming, and yelling. Then a cop, walks into the room she’s hiding in. Terrified she finds herself unable to breath and begins to cough uncontrollably. But than “(I) lay there remembering we had lots and lots of people sending us love and protection and I was finally able to control my breathe.” Starhawk is the kind of witch who remembers these things, and takes power from them. What is more, her belief in the actuality of prayer makes my feelings on the fate of G8 protestors an active element capable of effecting change, rather than an ephemeral notion, the casual prayer, floating in the stew of human semi-consciousness. It is a perspective that generously acknowledges whole ecologies of previously ignored action.
Permaculture, the agricultural science of compassionate planting, is a subject that Starhawk draws upon when discussing security culture at the demonstrations around the World Economic Forum. Abbie Hoffman was famous for practicing what he referred to as “judo” with television. By taking a holistic view of media, he felt that he was able to exploit its weaknesses (predilections for sensationalism and pretty pictures) for his sly advantage. Similarly Starhawk offers that “the problem is the solution” when it comes to police surveillance; cops can be fed wrong info or other wise deceived. A witch has a systems viewpoint- one that attempts to take into account all perspectives in an action. Hers is as an earth based religion responsive to and informed by the innumerable cycles of life. The Reclaiming web sight offers this information:

Reclaiming is a community of women and men working to unify spirit and politics. Our vision is rooted in the religion and magic of the Goddess — the Immanent Life Force.

Witchcraft is a religion… in some ways similar to Native American spirituality It is a modern religion, but it is partly based on what we know about the beliefs and practices of people in Old Europe, centuries before Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

One of our most basic rules is: Harm no-one, and you may do as you wish. It sounds simple, but this law requires us to consider the consequences of our actions very carefully.

The Spirit is the Center of the Circle: it is life, which is created by the elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. In our belief system, life is part of a continuous circle with death. We sing, "Air I am, Fire I am, Water, Earth and Spirit I am."

In the context of the World Economic Forum, the pagan cluster held what it called a Brigid Ritual. Under the eye of the world news in a scared and scarred New York the witches set up the shrines of “grief, healing, rage, and vision.” The ceremony culminated with a spiral (a line of moving bodies) that rolled through Central Park’s trees amidst the curious cameramen. Than “we wound it up, and raised power -- first a roar of energy and then a sweet, sustained tone to feed the forces of liberation.” In another email Starhawk refers to this tone as a “cone of power” this one was set off in Grand Central Station.

The witches’ circle has an analogous form in the globalization movement. It is the spokes-council, a model of anarchist non-governance used to coordinate political actions at large-scale protests. Sometimes described as the hub on a wheel, the council is made up of representatives from the tire’s spokes. The spokes are the variegated voices of cells, rhizomes, identities, collectives, nations, and entities, making up the contexts in which the spokes-council is taking place. The spokes-council is not a senate where votes are cast; it’s a place for understanding. It’s where individuals, empowered by their own spoke go to embody their disparate collective. The critical issues are decided upon within the spokes, who maintain the right of autonomy from the collective universe of the spokes-council. Power is decentralized remaining in the individual tribes whom have agreed that this model of governance can best maintain their diversity- while at the same time allow them to hold political space. It is the echoes reverberating back from the cone of power cast off by the solid walls of individuals claiming their niche in the universe.
The globalization movement is much more than the witches, black block, cheese lovers, or Zapatistas described in this short article. They make up sub-culture groups within it. Categorically it is wrong to describe them as definitive of a movement that embraces perspectives both radical and rational. The movement does create, and is in the process of creating, its own big ecology. Within this system, the perspectives of their multiplicities are given room to thrive.
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