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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.)


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 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?)

Juan Cole at Informed Comment writes today about Barack Obama’s big shoes to fill.  This kind of talk excites and terrifies me, but I’m also easily excitable and easily terrified.  I have been deeply disappointed with Obama’s silence on Gaza, concerned that, as so many have pointed out to the Obama die-hards I know, he’s still a politician.  And a good politician, at that.  Which is often scarier, because the guy knows how to do the job of a politician.

The story he tells about the Kings visiting Ghana for the official handover of power from the British high commissioner to the Ghanaian government is very powerful, especially when told from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own speaking about the experience.  Like many, I am concerned about the U.S.’s imperialist tendencies abroad, especially those which have flourished in the wake of 9/11 under the Bush administration.  But I think there are two kinds of imperialism that are prevalent today.  It’s not just the overt imperialism of the past — even though the U.S. continues to fight overt and covert wars of empire in the Middle East and South America.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continued existence of the School of the Americas are all testaments to that.

The other imperialism that is prevalent today is an imperialism of economy.  While Barack Obama can do a wide variety of things to end or curtail the kinds of military imperialism practiced by the U.S., flouting imperialism of economy is a bit more complex.

Let me be clear here: I don’t mean, by imperialism of economy, just that the U.S. has a great deal more control over what happens in the world economy, because this is really no longer all that true.  Rather, I mean that the capitalist ethic of consumption and material wealth as a measure of success and happiness.  How you administrate a breakdown in that kind of imperialism is beyond me.

Don’t think that I don’t remain hopeful.  I’m very excited to see what the next four years brings.  I think Obama will at least bring a fresh face and fresh eyes to the White House, which sometimes is the best we can hope for.  At this point in our history, just getting that is a big step.  At the very least I’m thrilled that a man of color has been elected president, and I’m glad that I will be represented abroad by someone who conducts himself with a certain level of grace and dignity.

I’m still working on parsing this peculiar video starring Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, et al.  On the one hand it’s rather encouraging that as a group Congress has decided that keeping in touch with constituents via the internet is a priority.  On the other hand, isn’t it funny that they seem to have decided to appear on YouTube in a decidedly old-school fashion?

Look at the hand gestures Sen. Reid makes.  Congressman Boehner still looks like he’s reading cue cards.

I know it’s a lot to ask of our well-groomed, professionally-handled politicians to do something as audacious as break not just with the media of communication but with the paradigms of political conduct, and maybe this will change over time.  I just can’t help but think that we’re still working with a two-party system, and those parties are really into managing and handling their leaders’ images.

It’s sort of telling that all four politicians have received not-insignificant contributions from the Google PAC (I didn’t even know there was one) and, of course, Google owns YouTube.  Maybe “transparency” isn’t really in the cards for this.  There are good non-monetary reasons to choose YouTube, of course, like its enormous user base and easy, familiar interface.  But it does beg the question: what is this really about, anyway?

After watching Obama’s brilliant acceptance speech last night, the guests were poised to go home when they  heard a strange rumbling in the distance.  “Come out here,” they said, and we did.  It sounded kind of like what I would imagine a very distant volcanic eruption might sound like.  It was thunderous, and it was coming from the Diag.  This is what it looked like when we got there:

In moments, friends and strangers ran up to us, exchanged hugs and hollers of “yes we can!”  It became a solidarity greeting for the night — in the street we yelled to one another and high fived drivers of cars that couldn’t budge for the people packed onto the roadway.  Drivers honked and cheered.  The sheer energy of the gathering was self-sustaining.  As time passed more people joined the crowd, and even though some broke off to go their separate ways, it seemed that at every turn more knots of people attached themselves to the crowd.

The happy mob, as I have been calling it all day, made its way all over campus.  There were musicians playing and we paused in the Law Quad to sing the national anthem.  (I can’t wait to see everyone’s pictures — if you have some, post a link to your Flickr stream in the comments and I’ll feature my favorites soon.)  I have never seen so many people have so much energy all together, for such a long period of time.  We joined the crowd around 11:30 and headed home at 2:30, and the happy mob was still wandering through the streets, chanting and playing music.

I think I said it to at least a dozen people and two dozen more said it to me: I’ve never in my young life been proud to be an American, but there we were, singing the national anthem at the top of our lungs, arms over each others’ shoulders and getting all misty-eyed about it.

Last night was for celebrating, today is for a sober look at the next four years.  One of the chants I heard, though, was “yes we did.”  I don’t think we can really say “yes we did,” not now.  We may have elected the first black man President of the United States, but what does that really mean?  It’s a huge step for the visibility of race relations in this country, but there are some major hangups I have with saying that we did already, when clearly we have just taken the first step in a long journey.

  • Black people are still black; the oppressed are still the oppressed. Just because an exception to the rule has broken through the proverbial glass ceiling, it doesn’t take away my status as a minority citizen of the United States.  Don’t get me wrong, I think President-Elect Obama is a step in the right direction, and a huge step at that, but we need to keep in perspective that millions of Americans still suffer racial profiling, discrimination, disenfranchisement, oppression, and invisibility due to their minority social identities.
  • Now is not the time to fuck up. Obama is now faced with the horrifying task of unifying this divided country, getting the economy back on the right track, wrapping up wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the same time keep the voters who wavered in his favor this year happy so we can see another four years (at least) of people who aren’t total assholes in the halls of power.  I think it’s fair to say these clinchers are giving the “liberal” side a chance to prove their ability, which is something that is pretty rare in this day and age.
  • Complete the Court while we still can. The U.S. Supreme Court could really use a Sandra Day O’Connor version 2.0.  I’m just saying.
  • Don’t ignore the internet. The internet put the Democrats in power in a big way.  It’s important to show that this digital revolution in political life in this country isn’t just a flash in the pan.  There is huge potential to harness this power — so long as the government can ensure that it is both free and secure — and see to it that the change that Obama is all about is a lasting one.
  • Voter turnout was ridiculous, but we need to streamline the voting process. See my previous post about long lines being the new poll tax.  Again, change is all well and good, but lasting change is what we really want.

That said, I think last night’s victory for the Obama campaign sends a clear message: yes, we can take care of all these problems.  Yes, we can make a unified America that isn’t afraid of half of its citizens, reclaims its respect abroad and doesn’t leave people disenfranchised and screwed over for health care.  And I have my fingers, toes and eyes crossed that we will.

It only took me an hour to get through the entire voting process.  Down at my polling place, there was a carnival atmosphere: at least a dozen of my friends were there around when I was there, and we had sparklers and candy and there were high-fives for everyone.  We hung out with the Democratic voter assistance volunteers (one of whom was in all of my philosophy classes last year) and drank coffee and talked about the election.  Spirits are high.  People are counting on this.

But in Ypsilanti Township, people are waiting three or four hours to vote.  In Miami-Dade, people are waiting upwards of five.  It is excruciatingly clear that we are privileged.  Not only did I only have to spend an hour at my polling place, I had the option to hang out and meet other voters.  Economically underpivileged people, especially people who work bit jobs for hourly wages, don’t have that kind of luxury.  Especially when you consider that wait times are considerably longer in underprivileged areas, you can’t help but think — this isn’t an explicit poll tax, but it might as well be.  If I were working 60 hours a week and living paycheck-to-paycheck, I couldn’t spend three hours waiting to cast my ballot.  If I were making just enough money to make rent and were living on food stamps, I would honestly probably choose making my money over voting.  And even if I had the chance to plan ahead and sock a little extra away for November (some people still can’t do that), my employer might not be so cool with me taking off.  I’m enormously privileged as a college student living in an upper middle-class community that 1) I can take time out of my day to vote and 2) there are plenty of volunteers in my area to staff my polling place.

I am not-so-secretly ashamed of myself for not volunteering in Ypsi Township.

I’m also really excited that people are using the internet to give voting social capital.  While the white oval “I Voted” sticker that is on my messenger bag is pretty cool, it’s nowhere near as exciting to get involved on Facebook.  Logging in this morning, I was presented with a running count of every Facebook member who has voted.  I changed my status to the automated message from the Causes application (I was recruited by a friend, and have recruited two so far).  The sheer numbers — nearly a million people used the Causes application to change their statuses simultaneoulsy at midnight, over 2 million have reported voting already — is something that makes it thrilling, not to mention unifying.

This is cool and everything, but how can we better use social networking tools to galvanize young people?  I kind of wonder how many people would have gotten their hands dirty with this on Facebook if it weren’t such an important election to us?  I hope we immediately start working on ways to motivate people in the future.  Social capital is remarkably valuable, and also remarkably easy to come by on the internet.  So long as you have a critical mass of users who are participating, others start paying attention.

And using online social capital to get out the vote is one thing, but it still doesn’t answer a fundamental question: how do we reenfranchise the disenfranchised?  What about the voters in Ypsi Township, in Detroit, in Miami-Dade County?

Or: A List of Demands from a Socialist Blogger.

I realize you probably think I’m a terrorist too, but hear me out for a second here.  There are a couple things I’ve heard in the debates that I take issue with, or want to bring your attention to, because I think it might benefit you should you be elected President of our great nation.

1. I think I’m ready for my public appointment. You’ve pointed out, especially in the first debate, but also tonight, that you have foreign policy expertise due to your travels overseas.  As an American citizen, born into a working-class family, who is half Chinese, and has spent a month and a half living in China, I want you to know that I’m exceptionally qualified to help you with foreign relations with the nation of China.  I’d like to bring your attention to my qualifications as China is a sensitive subject for a lot of Americans and I’m sure you’re thinking about who you can trust on the issues.

I don’t have my B.A. yet.  But don’t worry, by the time you’ve gotten me confirmed I probably will have it.  I don’t speak Mandarin yet.  But don’t worry, you can get by in China on English alone just fine.  Oh yeah, and my B.A. is in philosophy.

2. It seems to me the GOP supports racism and ignorance. Correct me if I’m wrong, Senator, but on prime time TV you just condoned the comments of racist, ignorant, hateful supporters of yours at your and Gov. Palins’ rallies.  Sure it’s fine to have a healthy distrust and disagreement with your opponent, but I have to believe your campaign manager has shown you videos of your supporters at your rallies calling for Sen. Obama’s untimely demise.  Whether or not Sen. Obama’s supporters wear t-shirts that smear you or not, it’s your responsibility as a Presidential candidate in the greatest nation on Earth to stand up to that kind of abject racism and hatred.

3. I’ve served this country all my life, too. I mean, as much as a 21-year-old college student can.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said in the debate tonight and I can fairly say I, too, have been serving the United States for the past three and a half years with honor and dignity.  I’ve been educating our young people.  I’ve been devoting my time to the betterment of others.  Where’s my Presidential nomination?

4. Sarah Palin doesn’t know as much as my mom about special education students. All I’m trying to say is, I think you picked the wrong running mate.  She’s making sure no children get left behind.  She has the best record of getting special ed kids into regular ed math classes in the state of Michigan.  She’s a single working mom too.  Did I mention she put me through college on her public schoolteacher’s paycheck?  Her dad was a Ford employee and a World War II combat veteran.  That’s street cred, Senator.

5. Another thing about education: the market can’t take care of it. Here’s why I’m skeptical of your economic policy, Senator.  I learned this in high school economics, and I can show you a textbook that will tell you how this works.  There are some goods for which there is infinite demand.  Education, for instance, is one of these goods.  Everyone demands good education, at least in primary and secondary schools, for their children.  From infinite demand comes a permanent inability to provide the resources people want.

What do we do about infinite demand?  Well, we can’t really change demand-side policies in this case.  How do you propose to dissuade people that education isn’t really that important when you just said on prime time TV that education is one of the most important things for this country?  The answer is: you take control.  The markets can’t provide infinite resources, and neither can the government.  But if the markets are in control, only the highest bidder gets resources.  Therefore, the government needs to take control and (oh, horror of horrors) redistribute resources to let more people have a fairer chance at their own futures.  Call that socialist, but that’s the only way you’re going to be able to reform the education system.

6. I know you were in a war and everything, and that’s cool, but so was my grandpa, and I wouldn’t really trust him to run a country. He was a crotchety, somewhat-senile old man.  I loved him a bunch, but I wouldn’t daresay he was qualified to make decisions for the most powerful country on Earth.  And hey, don’t smear my grandpa.  He was a staff sergeant in the Army medical corps in World War II and was injured fighting Nazis.  I’m just saying, at 72 my grandpa was no spring chicken, and I knew better than to trust him to make important decisions in my life — a life I knew he wouldn’t see the end of.

7. Senator, you’re still and old, rich, straight, white man. I’m glad you’re worried about somebody’s rights, but when it’s the “rights of the unborn” I kind of want to throw up in my mouth a little bit.  I’ve already been born, I pay taxes, I vote in every election, I’m an American citizen, and I’m really good looking, but you don’t seem concerned about my rights at all.  I’m glad a fetus is more important than me.

Love your friend,


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