In her recent book Crowds and Party, Jodi Dean argues against the radical individualism that continues to characterize politics on the Left, recalling a scene from Occupy Wall Street in which efforts to organize break down because everyone is asked to make their own decision about what to do. She argues convincingly that the subject of politics is produced as the individual in a way that serves a market-based economy. On this account, expressions of political resistance can be commodified and monetized as free expression. In service to that marketization of politics, politics and political discourse require the individual be produced as the fundamental unit of politics and political decision-making. Political resistance breaks down because the individual remains privileged above the collective.
Dean argues that crowds produce possibilities, heretofore unrecognized, for resisting the ways that everything from social media to marketing efforts demand that we be individuals. Crowds are collectivities that are not yet communities. Crowds have no shared history or shared norms. I started reading this book right before the January Women’s Marches, and I was struck by the possibilities at work in this way of seeing the crowd:
Because the crowd is a collective being, it cannot be reduced to singularities. On the contrary, the primary characteristic of a crowd is its operation as a force of its own, like an organism. The crowd is more than an aggregate of individuals. It is individuals changed through the torsion of their aggregation, the force aggregation exerts back on them to do together what is impossible alone. (9)
Cross-posted from The Prindle Post.
My last post discussed the bifurcated incentivization structure of capitalism: owners profit while workers become disempowered by working harder. In this post, I want to address an accompanying myth to the myth that capitalism compensates you better for working harder which is that collective ownership divests individuals of motivation to work.
People say that the problem with collective ownership in producing an incentive to work is that no one takes responsibility. If you don’t own it, you won’t care to maintain it. But the incentive in capitalism isn’t that you work on a thing because you own it, you work because otherwise, you will starve. The ideology here is that we are working on our own thing and that we have more investment because it is ours. This is the case in capitalism for the self-employed and small business owners–the middle class–but the middle class has shrunk considerably. A 2011 Pew Charitable Trust study shows that a third of those raised in the middle class (earning between 30 and 70% of their state’s average income) fall out of it in adulthood. A recent article on The Washington Post on the cost of college shows that it isn’t college costs that have risen but the purchasing power of the middle class that has shrunk. Read more
Last weekend, I finally watched Divergent. Last semester, I kept telling students in my Plato’s Republic seminar that someone needed to get on the film version of the dialogue. It just seems so cinematically rich. I mean, I know people have made films that are treatments of the cave analogy, but I want the thriller that is the dialogue as a whole.
Halfway through the semester a student told me I needed to see Divergent because it depicted Plato’s Republic. Let’s just bracket that this film fails as a depiction because any successful film of the dialogue would have to find a way to perform the narrative encapsulation of the dialogue–Socrates narrating the story of the conversation that follows, the argumentative set up to the city in light of the question of whether justice is advantageous. If Divergent depicts the Republic, it does so because it depicts a community in which people are divided into classes on the basis of their natures and these classes do the different tasks needed for the city to flourish. Erudite seeks knowledge, Dauntless defends the city, Amity farm peacefully at the outskirts of the city, Candor speaks the truth, and Abnegation feed the poor and rule the city. The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, gets traction from the problem that not everyone easily fits into one category, because you know, they’re divergent! Like Hunger Games, a story that sets itself up as a revolutionary tale of resistance against oppression, Divergent ends up serving the same neoliberal practically Ayn-Randian celebration of individualism against collective action. In this film, the collective becomes a problem because it attempts to limit and narrowly define individuals, while individuals succeed only when they work independently of the collective in order to resist it. Read more