Symbols and the public sphere

Sovereign citizens, LARPing insurgency, institution building, symbolic capitalism

February 20, 2022 — January 26, 2024

Placeholder/scrapbook for notes on attention politics, performative rebellion, and semiotic battles. Will probably touch upon our preference for mythic gestures, relative to practical ones.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can, to be honest, hurt me. But if you want to achieve both, you can achieve more by distracting me with worry about hurtful words to the point that I forget to deal with the sticks and stones.

This is our inheritance, as the most consummate political animals. We are the animals who could argue about the way we describe an oncoming tsunami so long and hard that we forget to run away from the onrushing wall of watery death. For us, cheap talk can be very expensive.

Figure 1

The Revolution Will Not Be Trending – Hong Kong, Social Media, and The Failure of Attention Politics

Don’t mistake the makings of a festival for a coalition with meaningful power.

Ben Burgis, discusses symbolic versus substantive battles. His concerned that the coalitions formed by arguing over speech might be the wrong ones to enact change that the speech seems to concern.

Adam Elkus, The World Will Look Upon You As Wild Beasts

How do movements with fantastic if not delusional ideologies acquire steerage? How do movements that deliberately disdain forethought answer the question of “what shall we do now” that all movements must ask in order to act?

Blackfishing at the Aboriginal tent embassy. Blackfishing is the word for alt-right recruitment amongst aboriginal Australian mob, according to this article. Fascinating. For all that the Sovereign Citizens rhetoric is not the same as the sovereignty that many aboriginal activists demand, it bears a resemblance. I have met some at least who do who want something similar and some of those can make a case that direct action is pretty reasonable given their experiences. This movement may go interesting places. Also, if the alt-right agenda includes radical indigenous liberation then what is still politically conservative about it? …an overriding concern about paedophile conspiracies? 🤷‍♂️ What would Edmund Burke make of this? What a time to be alive.

It could be an attempt to divide and thus conquer the Aboriginal community by recruiting people to a divisive cause. But then, find me an Aboriginal organiser who is not accustomed to that move.

On Cultures That Build:

Nancy Bristow’s account of the emergency committees created to deal with the flu is much shorter than we would like it to be, asher book is not a history of institutions, but public attitudes and perceptions. […] When the America of the 1910s faced a national crisis, America responded by creating dozens and dozens of emergency response committees at the local level. These committees included membership of both local governments, federal public health officials, and the leaders of local business, social and religious organizations. They did this fast. And finally, they set these committees up as temporary instruments to address a temporary problem. For the Americans of 1918, this was the obvious response demanded by crisis. Crises demanded organizing at the local level to try and meet the problem head on.

Figure 2

Musa al-Gharbi: We Have Never Been Woke

The rise of the ‘knowledge economy’ has empowered a new constellation of elites tied to fields like law, consulting, media, entertainment, finance, education, administration, science and technology. They traffic primarily in data, ideas, rhetoric and images instead of physical goods or services. Drawing from Bourdieu, we can refer to them as ‘symbolic capitalists.’

I’m a symbolic capitalist. There’s a good chance you are too.

One defining trait of symbolic capitalists is our commitment to social justice. We are the Americans most likely to self-identify as feminists, antiracists or allies to LGBTQ people. Politically, we’re overwhelmingly aligned with America’s primary ‘left’ party.

Nonetheless, inequalities in the U.S. have grown increasingly pronounced as symbolic capitalists have risen in affluence and influence. Symbolic capitalists are, themselves, among the primary beneficiaries of these inequalities and social justice discourse is increasingly mobilized to justify them.

Connection to Elite Capture.

Is the the gossip trap simply a failure to align symbolic systems with material ones?

1 References

Al-Gharbi. 2023. We Have Never Been Woke: Social Justice Discourse, Inequality and the Rise of a New Elite.