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It’s kind of challenging to live and document the living at the same time. You need to have your full focus in two places at once — one, on actual life, and the other, on creating a meaningful record of the actual life. I was never the kind of person who was able to take photographs while on vacation. I’d return home with a roll (or memory stick) with about a dozen photos from the first two days, and not much else. You’d think I’d lost my camera.

The question becomes, for me, how do I leave a trail — one that I can annotate — of a process like running for public office? How do I — but only inasmuch as I need to to earn a degree — document something that is fraught with emotional and intellectual investment, without losing that sense of investment, while at the same time conveying a convincing, affective sense of how the process worked?

The first great thing is that I can create an archive of every email I sent and received about the electoral process. This is relatively easy — I just need to find a place and a way to store this stuff (preferably online) that gives me the tools to annotate it. We’ve been looking at Omeka for another project, but making an Omeka site as the comprehensive documentation of what has been happening to me lately seems like a really good possibility, as well.

This is also useful because eventually we might make a book about this. Filled with reproductions of campaign ephemera, transcripts of speeches, and early drafts of official documents (including those scrawled on by friends and such), and ideally bound with a version of our campaign poster, I’ve been thinking about this book for a while now.

The other thing of it is — I need a little help parsing what happened these past few months. I feel a little like I took everything I understood about what I am and what I’m doing with my life, upended it, and shook it. A lot of stuff fell out. A lot of stuff got rearranged. The future today looks different from the way it looked at the beginning of the semester. That’s good, in a way. It’s also frightening. But, as Shasti said, say hello to the new normal.

(On that note this site is going to be getting an overhaul soon. Might be offline for a few weeks.)

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So I’m a little stuck, and I like to think out loud here, so here I go. Because it’s here, I’d love to hear what you think about my thinking. I’ve been ruminating on this for a few days now and I’m not quite ready to conclude.

In Homo Sacer, Agamben describes the concentration camp as the most perfect implementation of biopower in human history, which, of course, implies that it is the outcome of any biopolitical environment, whether we are talking about totalitarian dictatorship or a liberal democratic welfare state. If this is what we face when we are facing down biopolitics, it’s clear that we need to break the cycle. The problem is, of course, that Agamben effectively proves that all politics have been biopolitics since the beginning of recorded Western history. In light of that, how do we “solve” the problem of biopolitics?

I’ve been thinking about this a little obsessively because the issue has become deeply personal. I don’t want to offer some kind of sophistic solution. I’d really like to — at least — point in a direction that might be fruitful for further investigation, or gesture at what I think might lead to politics beyond biopolitics. In thinking about the biopolitical situation, I couldn’t help but go back to Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” because she writes of biopolitics: “Michel Foucault’s biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics, a very open field.” [Emphasis mine.]

What could this mean? Is the cyborg a product of the concentration camp? Another possibility that has crossed my mind is — the cyborg is both a product of the technology required by the concentration camp, and produced by the concentration camp. Which would mean that the cyborg springs from the same source, and grows alongside, the concentration camp.

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I don’t think I’ve written about the choice to run for GSA executive board here at all. As many of my more regular readers are undoubtedly aware, I do fancy myself a bit of a public intellectual and I think that civic involvement is both my right and my duty. I think I’ve found a situation that I can address from my perspective and my power, and add something to with my skills and knowledge. I want to make clear here that what I write in this blog is not the official line of our coalition, but rather my reasons for being a part of it.

One of the things that excites me most about the election is the very real possibility that we stand on the cusp of change. This is a critical time for public higher education, and it is also a critical time for the SUNY system, with Albany crumbling and funding drying up from the public sector. I don’t think I’m the only UB graduate student who’s alarmed by these developments — far from it. In fact, this isn’t an issue that is limited to people who are supposed to be “left-wing intellectuals” anymore. The public university is a critical site for scientific research, too — the kind of scientific research that needs to take place without being beholden to shareholders, for example.

Many newly-minted Ph.D.s and others with terminal degrees are being siphoned off to universities abroad. Now, I don’t think there’s a problem with finding a job in another country — I have fantasies about pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Copenhagen — but if U.S. institutions can’t keep Americans here, the American university system is going to go hollow. But more immediately than that, current graduate students are suffering because all kinds of resources are drying up. These are only some of the complaints and concerns I hear from graduate students. I also think that, if we combine our forces and present a united front, we might have a shot at getting listened to.

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There is a fine line, in critiquing the institutions you thrive on, between nihilism and the injunction to think about them in radically different ways, especially when your critique is as far-reaching as Giorgio Agamben’s in Homo Sacer. I had an argument recently about whether or not Agamben’s book is political — I think it is. In fact, it seems absurd to say that he argues against politics entirely. He explicitly writes:

The idea of an inner solidarity between democracy and totalitarianism…is obviously not…a historiographical claim, which would authorize the liquidation and leveling of the enormous differences that characterize their history and their rivalry. Yet this idea must nevertheless be strongly maintained on a historico-philosophical level, since it alone will allow us to orient ourselves in relation to the new realities and unforseen convergences of the end of the millenium. This idea alone will make it possible to clear the way for the new politics, which remains largely to be invented.

Which is to say, of course, that Agamben knows he doesn’t have the answers, but rather that he thinks the answers are in the offing if we engage his analysis of the underlying ideological overlaps between liberal democracy and the totalitarian state. He is not implying that we should be apolitical (in fact, this should be an injunction to be political, just not the kind of political that is average or expected). His text is, I think, deeply political.

The implications of bowing to a nihilism that might grow out of the shared basis of both democracy and totalitarianism — that is, the nihilism that grows out of the realization that biopolitics underpins virtually all the politics of recorded Western history — are grave. If we accept this nihilism, we damn ourselves to the future we are building for ourselves in security checkpoints, terror warning levels, and even the refusal of a nationalized health care plan. We accept that there will be the kind of genocidal mass killing, ruthless dictatorship, and tactical abduction of political prisoners in the 21st century, as there has been in the 20th. These are all instruments of biopolitical control, but in order to solve the impasse between security and freedom, health and economy, debate and stability, Agamben writes that we must think beyond biopolitics.

To say that Agamben’s critique of biopolitics is a critique of political life is entirely absurd. This week (spring break!) I am going to explore the idea of political life beyond biopolitics, because I believe it is not only possible to think a politics that rejects biopolitics, it is also ultimately essential. Oh, and I also want to prove a point.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about late capitalism as a form of political control, especially in unconventional environments. We talked on Sunday at brunch about how the sale of the experience and the sale of “individual identity” is a form of control peculiar to our day and age. There are a couple of disparate things I’ve been thinking about lately in regards to this.

I.

I remember being in China two summers ago, a couple months before the Beijing Olympics, and wandering through the botanical gardens with my dad. We saw a young couple running through the gardens with their toddler-aged child. It was cute. The dad was laughing, taking pictures of the mom and the kid, wobbling around next to some flowers.

“People here look so happy,” he said. “They can buy clothes, food, cars, in the colors and styles they want. They can express themselves through the consumer goods they buy. Five, ten years ago this was not true.”

I remember talking to some other students at Peking University, who told me that people were content so long as they could have the material goods they thought of as part and parcel to the material wealth of the West. The right to assembly was not as important culturally as the right to a Chrysler 300.

II.

What constantly weirds me out about the “green” movement is how consumption-oriented it is. I don’t mean that in the sense that it is concerned with our consumption, because obviously anybody concerned with the state of the environment should be worried about our consumption. What I am constantly struck by, and grossed out by, is the co-opting of the rhetoric of the “green” movement to sell products. New products. Products that are manufactured using traditional methods. Products that may or may not have any positive impact on our “carbon footprint” at all.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that “green” marketing is anything but marketing. And the weird thing is that we’re willing to buy the experience of feeling like we’re making a difference in the world. We might each have our own reason for doing so, but we’re buying it. The selling of an experience, as opposed to an item, is something peculiar to late capitalism. I have been thinking about this since Zizek lectured here at the beginning of the semester.

III.

Yesterday in my class we talked about the development of society and economy in Second Life, and what that means for our society and economy in our first lives. I think one of the things that always strikes me is how mad excited everyone gets about the economic opportunities and innovation that come along with Second Life growing as a kind of “3D internet,” as one of my students called it. Nobody is really discussing the way in which Second Life is actually run. (Which is the way the vast majority of virtual worlds are run, through an administrator oligarchy.)

Now I understand that some people will say, “Wait a minute, Cayden, Second Life isn’t about forming a government. After all, it’s run by a company that is interested in using its software to make money — and to enable people to connect, to create things, and to play.”

At the same time, in Second Life you can be anybody and do pretty much anything you want. Except liberate yourself. What’s easy to forget about it is that you’re being sold an experience in an ultimate way — people spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on ethereal piles of pixels in order to have an experience in the game. You’re being sold a deeply consumeristic experience, no less. The main tabs on the Second Life website are “What Is Second Life?” “World Map” “Shopping” “Buy Land” “Community” “Help” and finally the join button, which emphasizes that joining is free. Which is funny. Considering two of the six main tabs are about spending money.

IV.

So what does all this mean? I think these three things are symptoms of a bigger issue. Something about how too much wealth begets complacency. Or that our priorities aren’t quite what they used to be, or rather that our priorities were never what we were made to think they were. And also something about capitalism as culture, not just as economic system.

The symptoms speak to an environment where economic freedom is mistaken for individual and political freedom. Think about it.

I don’t think I’ve had a lot to say recently because I just don’t want to be involved in any of the so-called debating that’s going on in this country.

I remember in 2004 when some of my friends said, “If George Bush wins again, I’m moving to Canada.” I used to counter them by saying that, if nobody stayed here and tried to foster reasonable discussion, then everyone would lose. Well, I’m afraid that everyone’s losing now.

In a political climate where a vast majority of self-identified Democrats approve of the President and a vast majority of self-identified Republicans disapprove of him, where members of Congress behave as if they are a part of a “town-hall discussion” on health care reform, where it’s become mainstream to call the President a Nazi, I’m teetering on the precipice of throwing in the towel. I’m sick of the jingoism. I’m sick of the partisanship. I’m sick of the hate.

I have nothing to say about any of this, except that the enormous sense of loss I’ve been coming to grips with in the past couple of weeks is exceptional. For me, this is bigger than the 2000 election, this is bigger than the 2004 election. This is bigger than 9/11. This is bigger than the day we invaded Iraq. In my eyes, this is the bubbling-up of something awful from deep within the fault lines of this country. And, like springtime in Michigan, the artifice is starting to melt away and we’re beginning to see what the freeze-thaw cycles of the past season have done to our infrastructure.

Nobody seems to care about anything except feeding their own raging case of political rabies. I don’t understand what happened to my country. (Maybe this is the ultimate goal?)

In the meantime, I’ll be here, making plans for one of the most subversive acts of all — having fun. With other people. Regardless of political opinion or social identity. Do you think we can do it? (Better yet, will you join me?)

I’ve been a busy one lately, and I know it’s really not a very good excuse for not blogging, because if anything, I should be posting more because I’m always looking for something to do that isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.  I haven’t been feeling ready to write anything lately, which is another kettle of fish entirely, but it is somewhat related to my preoccupation.

This past weekend was the University of Michigan Social Justice Conference.  I actually had a pretty good time, learned a great deal, and met some excellent humans.  It was a good space for me to meet some people I wouldn’t have met normally due to our different interests in different sectors of social justice, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything they had to say, I think it was a good experience for me to get outside my IGR-insulated comfort zone.  I had a hard time with a lot of things, though, including the issue of diversity of groups and individuals involved.  For a conference examining community growth and coalition-building as well as personal development as activists, I felt very out-of-place and disconnected from much of the conference.  Like I said, I found the conference largely beneficial.

Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of alienation.  I couldn’t help feeling isolated from time to time, like I was watching other people doing things.  It wasn’t until our breakout session when we brainstormed challenges for the future that I felt really connected to anybody else at the conference.  I think part of the root of this feeling was the acute knowledge of being regarded in a certain way because I was the only out transgender person at the conference.  The number of queer folk seemed pretty small in general, and the number of people of color was a bit disappointing to me, too.

Looking back I can kind of see why this was the case.  I don’t think that queer political movements were integrated into the conference the way others were, and perhaps that is merely emblematic of the personal interests and priorities of the group who were most influential in organizing the conference.  (An important observation at our large-group session toward the end: we might never come to a consensus about what to tackle and how!)  I just took a look at the poster again on the blog, and the only social identity groups whose fight for civil rights is not characterized as a rights struggle are queer folks and women.  I have other social justice priorities, interests and passions, too, but my struggle for equality is not about my gender “issues.”  It’s about my rights to be fully enfranchised as a human being.

The representation at the conference of LGBT-related organizations began and ended with LGBT Commission.  While I respect the work LGBT Commission does, it is, undeniably, dominated by white, upper-middle class, cisgender gays and lesbians.  I’ve never felt like LGBT Commission had my interests in mind.  I suppose I can’t make assumptions about whether or not other groups were reached out to or invited and, possibly, declined to offer a workshop or input because of time constraints, but it kind of left a feeling of uneasiness with me.

Let’s also consider the keynotes and panelists, with the exception of Shanta Driver and Hector Aristizabal, were white men.  And that the closing plenary, Derrick Jensen, while interesting and entertaining, is also a deeply divisive figure.

In order to build the broad-based coalitions we talked about at the conference, we must address these things.  It didn’t take me until now to really articulate some of these specific things that caused my feelings of alienation and unease.  That said, I do think that UMSJC 09 was a great step in the right direction.  I’d be really happy to see more events and activities like it to continue on this campus.  I can’t help but care deeply about U-M even though I’m leaving in four months.  (Still seems incredible.)  This is, in a big way, my home, and I love it.  I hope we can take these critiques to heart as serious ones, and continue to build greater solidarity.

I’ve decided to pull out of the MSA race.  This was a hard decision for me (it was a hard decision to enter the race to begin with) and it’s something that I’ve been wracked with doubt over for the entire…week and a half…I was committed to running.  I believe that by presenting myself as a qualified candidate with strong ideas and strong ideals is doing a disservice to voters, after all.  I would only be serving for two MSA sessions.  Since the end result would be the installation of an arbitrary MSA representative in my stead by LSA Student Government, my running is harmful to the overall functioning of MSA.

However, this isn’t to say that I’m any less committed to the ideas I began this project on.  I will be assisting the Defend Affirmative Action Party with their campaign, and I plan to bring a resolution regarding the Creative Commons license for Ph.D. candidates to MSA before the end of the semester.  I remain committed to encouraging others to run in my stead — we need another write-in candidate for DAAP, or run as a write-in by yourself.  I’d be more than happy to endorse anyone who stands for lowering the cost of higher education and increasing access across the board.

I just think it is contradictory for someone who is running for the reform of student government to be putting hir seat back into the hands of an established student government group.  It is doing a major disservice to voters.

I’m not happy about this decision, but I also wasn’t entirely comfortable running for MSA.  I’m pretty frustrated with the whole situation at the moment, but I think it’s important that I withdrew from the race.  Nevertheless, I will still be speaking tomorrow in Angell Hall Auditorium D at the public hearing, which begins at 6:oo PM.  If you’re available, I’d love to see you come out.  I promise it won’t be one to miss.

Many people who know me were surprised to learn that I am running for MSA. They were more surprised to find I am running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party. I think it’s worth knowing why, because my run is based mostly on the symbolic significance of my presence in the race and any contention for an MSA position.

I believe that MSA elections have historically been ignored due to a lack of candidates who distinguish themselves in the eyes of the student body as new, unique, and interested in actually doing something with their positions. It might come as a surprise to some, since I am a graduating senior, that I care very much about what MSA does. In fact, I hope to introduce very specific resolutions before the Assembly in the short period I am seated, with eyes on creating a more egalitarian campus. In some ways, I feel as though being elected will mean I have extra responsibility to my constituents to work on the projects they put me in office to work on.

My primary goal in MSA will be the passage of a resolution putting pressure on Rackham to allow graduate students filing Ph.D.s to license their works under a Creative Commons license instead of a traditional copyright license. Creative Commons was developed by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to better serve the needs of a digital community of thinkers, writers, and artists. I believe that this is an important step that students themselves can take to address the rising costs of education.

Currently, Ph.D. candidates are required to file their dissertation with UMI Dissertation Services, which is a division of ProQuest. ProQuest automatically licenses the dissertations under a conservative copyright, which is all rights reserved. Ostensibly, this is so newly minted Ph.D.s can make money on their hard work. In reality, the only people who make money in this system are really ProQuest, while also increasing the costs of re-printing dissertations. If I wanted to include your copyrighted dissertation in my anthology, I would be paying an absurd amount of money, mostly to ProQuest, in order to do so.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, is a some rights reserved license. Creators get to pick how much redistribution and reuse others get when they choose their license. The version of the license that makes the most sense for academics is the noncommerical attribution license – essentially it says that you are free to take my work, adapt it or reprint it, so long as you aren’t going to be using it to make money and so long as you attribute what’s mine to me. In an academic world that relies increasingly on digital publishing, Creative Commons makes more sense. And, in the long term, it will help drive down the costs of textbooks and maintaining library subscription services to academic journals.

Ph.D. candidates at the University of California at Berkeley have already set this precedent. Two dissertations were filed this year under Creative Commons licenses, and we have a chance to put our institution and our intellectual production in the vanguard of a new legal precedent for intellectual property. It just makes sense. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s practical, and the more scholars who take part, the less expensive education will become.

Above and beyond the work that I intend to do in the few weeks I would work in MSA, I believe my very presence sends an important message to everyone at U-M. First, that people who care can and should take part in student government. Second, that minority students at U-M deserve to and can have their own voices heard across campus. And third, that we are in fact living in a new progressive era, when service and clear thinking are valued above partisanship and identity politics.

I am running with DAAP as a gesture against the identity politics of the past, in hopes of taking steps toward the alliance politics of the future. Briefly, I think that identity politics, by virtue of its creation of monolithic identity groups, drives people apart. It alienates people with hybrid identities, and erases the important, unique experiences of the individual. We cannot afford that kind of thinking: we need the strength and expertise of each person and their specific experience.

I want to show that there is another way forward for progressives who care about diversity and social justice. It is time for us to start thinking of our movement as an alliance. In an alliance, we already know that there will be differences, disagreements, and negotiation. A progressive alliance has shared overarching goals: peace, justice, diversity, community service, and democracy are foremost amongst others. Yet we’re all individuals, with our own unique identities and styles and perspectives and strategies for success. There is no reason for us to stay isolated because of that. There is no reason we should be unable to stand together, and I am committed to serving in that spirit.

I am a long-shot candidate with big ideas. I am an idealist. I am a true progressive. I am also ready to give back to the university that has made me into who I am today, and I am ready to test the waters of public service. At the very least, I stand for change, and change deserves a chance.

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