Kaepernick’s Protest Goes Right to the Heart of American Nationalism

At first glance, meaning a week of media uproar, I dismissed Colin Kaepernick’s mild protest of standing up for the singing of the national anthem as unimportant. The patriotic among us would denounce his disrespect of the flag, the agitators and progressive among us would back him up for his right to protest, and the whole thing would blow over. It may well eventually do just that, but the issue had a stickiness to it that lingered on longer than I had expected. Perhaps I am just to close to the center of the discussion in the California Bay Area, perhaps the mainstream media was attracted to a heated debate about a patriotic symbol (the patriotic symbol?) during the lead up to the 2016 election, perhaps forcing the talking heads of the sports commentators to make a statement on the issue fueled the fire for longer (considering how much football Americans watch), but perhaps this simple refusal to stand was a brilliant move to catalyze a movement to change America to its core. Just maybe this simple act of of protest cuts through the sort of media hype that seizes on a hot-button issue like a pack of ravenous wolves and has nestled its way into the heart of the national consciousness.

After a blithe facebook post in which I do as I usually do and point out bias in the mainstream media and try to convince my friends to stop paying attention (and we do pay for our attention with ads, lost etiquette in our personal arguments, etc.), I was surprised to find replies from people I know that suggested that they had taken deep offense. How could the simple non-gesture of remaining seated provoke such outrage? It shouldn’t have been so shocking though, and I had a bit of an epiphany followed by a face-palm because I had just gotten through a book on Nationalism by Benedict Anderson called Imagined Communities.

When you publicly disrespect the flag, a great number of people are going to react angrily because nations are the basic unit of the people in powerful… nations around the world. I find it difficult to type without conflating the nation of America and the people of the USA. After all, the preamble to the constitution of the United States of America begins with “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”, with the assignees claiming to literally be the people. They signed as the people not yet formed until that act of constitutional adoption passed, which they authored. Their authority to speak as the people and at once form the people is a kind of simultaneous enactment that typifies the logic of nationalism: the people and the nation are one, a unity. The people of America are the nation and they are represented by the government, just as any other nations claim to represent their people in sometimes different, non-republican ways (I could also say countries but who makes a clear distinction between the two anymore?).

Regardless of whether the reader is a devout nationalist or not, the nation has become the organizational unit of politics and we are all subjects of the nation. The force of its symbols and rhetoric are the dominant forces on the planet. The ideological spectrum is largely set within the national discussion and that discussion is a rather singular one that situates the beliefs of its subjects within that spectrum; even if one attempts to take one’s beliefs outside of that spectrum, they will find a place for it and slap an ‘-ism’ on it. In law one has certain rights and privileges as a ‘national citizen’ and to become a stateless person is to understand the gravity of these commitments. As a mark of attachment and as a mode of self-identification, the nation and its citizens reigns supreme.

A nation has a number of defining characteristics and clearly differs from the feudal states of the medieval period, but the flag its single is most unifying symbol. These simply designed rectangles that wave in the wind hold a symbolic power: the power and respect of the nation. To disrespect that symbol is to bring down a disgrace upon the nation in the eyes of a great deal of nationals because that symbol is equated with the nation as a whole. The flag of a nation signifies the most basic belief of a contemporary body politic. That belief has been understood and deployed as a method of mass persuasion in a number of ways and at various key junctures in history. Most people stand and give respect to the symbols of the nation as a force of habit, with a few loudly defending their sanctity and a few others willing to burn them in disgust – the zealous outliers. One way or another, national symbols are an entry point into a conversation that has the farthest reaches and to maneuver oneself in relation to those symbols in word and deed produces some of the greatest impact. That there is a “national discussion” so easily referred to and which so many public figures feel compelled to speak within indicates the influence such words and deeds have. It is one of the hallmarks of nations that there be newsprint conducted in a single language that people can potentially follow and participate in: a current national discussion.

When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the singing of the national anthem, the response from the patriots was that he should not disrespect the flag and all that it stands for. Without yet going into the content of what the flag stands for (i.e. enumerating what a nation is and is not) it is worth pointing out that the flag is revered sanctified by what it represents not for the bare symbol waving all by itself. The flag is the supreme national symbol, it is the medium through which we know that other people who we cannot quite see or know in their personal distinction, people we will probably never talk to, will still feel unified with us and we them. The flag is the device that bridges the gulf of anonymity between people who still have the same political status as a citizen, a shared connection to the territory and the institutions therein. By showing disrespect during the star-spangled banner, Kaepernick can be seen as severing that bond of national attachment by sitting while almost everyone else is standing – a decision with such small physical stakes yet provoking such a strong reaction that it attests to the power of the symbol. The public perception is that everyone else is watching the same flag, having the same feelings, posing in the same fashion, and generally united in thought and action regarding the national symbol.

The sentiments evoked by participants with this scene can be quite overwhelming, and it is no accident that national symbols accompany mass events with the numbers of people present reaching heights vastly exceeding in everyday life. The power and force of a massive crowd is immediately apparent to anyone within one, with an individual’s sense of physical and mental autonomy challenged by the common sights, sounds, smells, arrangement of the locale, and often collective movements that sweep one up into them. All of these forces come into play in the instilling of a national consciousness through national symbols and ceremony that, if conducted properly, can reinforce the beliefs that come along with it. The belief in the nation are what the individual carries along with them after the event is over and reenter the stream of daily life; the power of nationalism is most visibly and affectively pronounced in the symbolic crowd control of these mass events. Taking on that stage and publicly breaking the norm of the crowd is actually one of the most potent forms of protest and so is a rather brilliant. Add to that the historical high of professional sports watching, media involvement with social media apps, and a chatty commentator class that loves an angry debate and you’ve got a perfect storm.

Once you see (if only for a moment) that national symbols are a kind of crowd control writ large and internalized by a critical threshold of people, withdrawing one’s involvement in its ritual of allegiance has a way of forcing people on a very wide spectrum to ask some fundamental questions. If the flag is thought to be unconditionally respected and never questioned, as some will inevitably be led to believe, then the content of the nation and the condition of the people of the nation is irrelevant. The people could suffer to the point of utter destitution and total exhaustion, the infrastructure could be in collapse, and the constitution could be blatantly ignored by those wielding the most power but the flag and would still demand respect. This is of course absurd. In a nation that contradicts its own fundamental tenets and does not allow its people to make decisions of any political significance, allegiance to the flag would take on the form of a totalitarian rule that would maintain the obedience of the masses while shoring up the power of the rulers. The content that the flag stands in for would become irrelevant and the symbol itself would be reduced an empty shell of dogmatic adherence. This is a logical extreme but the arguments coming out against Kaepernick’s protest have nothing to do with the content of his grievances, nor does anyone try to maintain a position that he shouldn’t be allowed to protest peacefully (freedom of speech being the single most important bit of content in the nation); the very persistent, loud, and often angry criticism is directed at his method, the effect it has on the political landscape/national psyche, and respect. Nobody would say that he doesn’t have the right to protest or that there aren’t legitimate concerns that he is voicing, the debate is about form, respect, and etiquette. In other words, people’s feelings are hurt and they don’t want the distress and injustice wrought within the nation to spread to its form in the flag. The image of the flag demands to be clean and virtuous, even when the real people are suffering or the nation’s ideals are not being realized.

It is within this dark gap between the content and the form, between the real situation people are living through and the image of the nation’s symbols, that Kaepernick’s protest tactic shines out. Nobody can deny that his tactic is unsound or illegitimate but he is denounced anyway, nobody can deny that he is expressing grievances adequately but he is denounced anyway, nobody can get him to stop and go back to conformity with ceremonial behavior but he is denounced anyway. The reactive patriots are caught in a bind. As a symbolic protest, it is a perfect place to occupy because it reveals the content-less and purely emotional arguments coming from the other side. He is inducing everyone to either react in a blind rage for witnessing such disrespect or reflect on whether the nation’s ideals are actually being met when looking at the symbol. If the symbol is never to be disrespected, then there is nothing to stop the slippery slope down to totalitarianism. If the symbol is open to criticism, then American symbols will now at least partially invoke the injustice and lack of freedom it tries to cover up – with all of those crowd sentiments and increased media activity coming along for the ride.

On the other hand, it became easy to understand why people were shocked and worried by the action when it began to spread. When the national symbol is openly flaunted, with more and more people choosing to not participate in the ceremony or do so in a dissenting manner, the feeling of unification dies down – the spell is broken. That fall-back level of collective belief and those tingly feelings one gets in a unified crowd (especially as a child) suddenly feel under attack. Aside from the individual affects that are threatened, the level of commitment and confidence people have in the nation to exert its influence on other nations diminishes. When one’s house is not in order, in becomes vulnerable to external threat. The planet being governed largely by nations as the basic subjects of action and international bodies composed of them, to see a tear in the fabric of the nation and those bonds loosened will project a weakening nation. So Kaepernick’s protest has ripple effects that are predictable and he feels that those effects are worth risking for the sake of his grievances within the nation.

The whole episode has the makings of a tragic-comedy, where the actions of the dissenting commentators are only making matters worse. The more the issue is discussed, the more Kaepernick and protesters who feel his way will gain, due to the purely emotional nature of the reaction. It is the American love an on-screen feud that keeps this thing going; the more the public hears about Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the national anthem, the more patriotism will take a hit. Should the division create a clean split and set even more people on the path of reactionary patriotism, it would be another case of the mainstream media fomenting reactionary nationalism on empty ideological grounds. One need only mention the billions of dollars worth of free advertising space that the large corporate media stations gave to Donald Trump in the presidential primary races to see how that works. They determine the spectrum of ideological positions to be had within the nation and guard the boundaries of what counts for mainstream positions, reaching the broad national audience that they do. If they would stop talking about it, then it would stop riling-up people into unquestioning patriotism. The sooner staged conversation rooms in front of the camera stop talking about Colin Kaepernick, the less angry people will become about him – regardless of what anyone believes about the rightness of his actions.

But the statement that Kaepernick is making is consciously striking for a division within the nation for his own reasons. The reaction on the extreme patriotic side is predictable, his gesture is relatively small, and the media is stoking the flames – yes, these are all factors in the episode. But his reasons for protesting are justifiable and the national divisions which he supposedly kicked-off are already latent. Athletes have been coming up with ways to support Black Lives Matter activists and actions against unpunished police murders for a few years now and have done so with some success. Nothing strikes a cord like disrespecting the premier national symbol in a very large crowd as a star-athlete (he is a star athlete and shouldn’t be on the bench right now, but I’ll save that rant for the end. I am a 49ers fan after all) though: he is on the “national stage.”

When policemen are repeatedly shown on video to kill black men without any good reason and are allowed to go free, something is wrong on a national level. When policemen get paid leave after using their firearms to kill the citizens they are supposedly protecting and one factors in the long and thick history of racism in America, one is left feeling like justice is two-tiered. And it isn’t even solely a racial issue when you broaden the scope: the financial sector routinely gets away with crime and reaps huge salary rewards for it, broke cities have local governments fleecing their citizens with all sorts of fees to stay afloat, and Kaepernick’s own words are good enough for the presidential election:

“I think the two presidential candidates that we currently have also represent the issues that we have in this country right now. You have Hillary who’s called black teens or black kids super predators. You have Donald Trump who is openly racist. We have a presidential candidate who deleted emails and done things illegally and is a presidential candidate. That doesn’t make sense to me. Because if that was any other person, you’d be in prison. So what is this country really standing for?”

So what we have is a nation that is already fractured between its rich and its poor, between the people thrown out of their houses to pay for the mistakes that mega-banks brought down the economy with, between a poor people desperately in need of jobs and investment getting gunned-down by officers standing above the law they themselves enforce, between an unpredictable demagogue-bigot and a missile-firing oligarch who is also above the law. What we have is a nation already divided. In this kind of situation the way has already been left open for riots, extreme nationalism relying purely on emotional attachment to empty symbols, and a mainstream media that happily shows it all to us to boost their ratings.  To stop this undesirable outcome, the principles invoked by the flag and other symbols need to be reflected in the realities of the nation.

With this in mind, we should thank Colin Kaepernick for raising the alarm bells and forcing viewers of some of the most watched television programming in football to reconsider just how much the ideals of American society are reflected in its present form. A two-tiered law system, predatory banking system, and a permanent, invasive surveillance system are precisely the things that the founders of the American nation tried to prevent. A cool, calm, and collected explanation for why he is exercising his right of free speech and a basic understanding of what the national symbols represent (vs. their sanctity) would do everyone a favor right now.

Some of the best commentary on the issue has come from military veterans in the #VeteransForKaepernick hashtag: [The Intercept: VeteransForKaepernick]

And for some fun lite reading on the media farce like only a local beat writer can do, read Ray Ratto: [Kaepernick Controversy: America Reaches New Levels of Insanity]

Now for what I’ve been waiting for all along:

Colin Kaepernick is easily the best choice for the starting 49ers quarterback in 2016. He has already proved that he is a Superbowl caliber quarterback who can a lead a team deep into the playoffs, as he did back in 2012 and 2013. He electrified the league when he came in with his ridiculous speed and strong arm. He has one of the highest ceilings of any quarterback in the league, right up their with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. He continued to get better with his accuracy and pocket-presence throughout his career and deserves none of the blame for the team troubles of 2014 and 2015. In the former they lost some games that were very close and very winnable but still went 8 and 8 – sometimes a playoff worthy record but not that year. That year was also a franchise record-setting year for sacks, which are largely the fault of the offensive line, so he had to play under immense stress. Here is a run down of why they underperformed: [What Went Wrong for the San Francisco 49ers in the 2014 Season]. It’s hard for a QB to play well when a) all the players around you don’t care, let in pass rushers, and drop balls b) the offensive coordinator simplifies the offense and c) the coaches limit your running abilities and don’t design plays that complement your talent. Also, the league came down heavy on the 49ers defense and threw penalty flag after penalty flag for offenses that were went unpunished in previous years; the NFL had an image problem and it sent a message that year that it would be protecting its players health more now. I felt the 49ers took the brunt of this policy change, but I’m also biased.

After that year, 2015 was a throw away year in which everyone and their mother knew that head coach Jim Tomsula was a one-year fill-in for the next long term head coach the 49ers would acquire later. The team was a total mess, with a huge chunk of its personnel leaving or retiring to get away from the front office disaster that resulted from the falling-out of the widely successful and popular head coach Jim Harbaugh and team owner Jed York. Everyone in San Francisco, most of the Bay Area and a good deal of American football fans knows that Jed York is the spoiled brat of a team owner and is responsible for the teams plummet to the bottom of the league. None of this is Kaep’s fault.

This year they are starting Blaine Gabbert, an unsuccessful quarterback who had bad years with a bad team in Jacksonville. He came in last year mid-season and was sub-par, but the team wanted to give him a chance during a throw-away year and Kaepernick also eventually got injured. Kaep is now healthy and has a far greater history of success in the league. Those read-option sweeps that the 49ers have been running to get first downs and extend drives (until the opponent’s defense makes the adjustment and forces Gabbert to try and throw the ball down field, which he can’t do reliably enough) would be far better suited for Kaepernick’s abilities. He runs way faster and has far more agility for those and other types of plays coming out of Chip Kelly’s “hurry-up offense”. He also has a stronger, more accurate arm to trump Gabbert’s ground balls he kept throwing in games 1-3. Gabbert is a competent game manager and can beat bad teams, but the 49ers want to get into the playoffs and maybe even win some of those games.

The only way they are going to do that is with Colin Kaepernick as their starting QB. This means his protest will continue gaining media attention, especially when he is inserted into a game early on or starts. Ditto for if he becomes successful or fails, because everyone in the nation will be either with or against him. The 49ers might just keep him sitting to avoid paying any more of his contract next year, but that would be another move that would paint Jed York as a team saboteur for those paying attention. The local media and the team must necessarily stand behind their starter, but the constant stories about it is only a sign that the conversation about Gabbert’s replacement is being had.

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Reasoning with Tyranny

Jon Stewart made a remarkable statement a few days ago on the issue of gun violence and gun control:

“Now I see what’s happening. So this is what it is. Their paranoid fear of a possible dystopic future prevents us from addressing our actual dystopic present.”

He was responding to the fears of media reporters, pundits, and angry citizens over gun control, but he and his team of writers view this as a paranoid and irrational fixation on a possible future apocalypse or some other fantastic threat. Instead of worrying ourselves about the rise of tyranny or power concentration that may some day occur, Stewart and his staff coach us to focus on the present. His practical advice on solving the problems pressing right now is to have a reasonable debate on guns in our society. But what would that debate look like? File that question away for a moment.

Alex Jones went on Piers Morgan’s show and ripped him apart through sheer ranting. He repeatedly talked over Morgan, mocked him with phony rhetorical questions in response to what Jones called his “factoids”, and turned his show into a mouthpiece for Jones’ opinions. This was not a cool, calm, and collected rational debate. Piers Morgan had been shouting about his own native Britain’s success in controlling gun violence through strict laws and Alex Jones arrived to give him a taste of how an American libertarian can rant.

Jon Stewart used footage from this… uh… “conversation” to help him paint a picture of gun nuts obsessed with imaginary dystopian apocalypse scenarios where they can become heroic, antigovernment freedom fighters. Is this characterization so accurate and do these gun-carrying patriots deserve it? Moreover, and this is the crucial part, what would it take to move a more rational and deliberate person into action after recognizing that we all are living in an “actual dystopic present” (like Stewart said)?

What is a citizen, or a patriot, or an anti-capitalist, or a socialist, or a libertarian, or a student of history who hates ideological labels suppose to do when they come to terms with the understanding that they are living in an authoritarian-tyrannical-fascist state? What role would reason, wit, or irony play after reaching this understanding?

Jon Stewart’s ingenuous call for a rational debate in the toxic space where these national debates usually take place seems like the soft, joking, friendly, and intelligent voice amidst a sea of inflammatory rhetoric. I admire Jon Stewart for his witty and hilarious mockings of the mainstream media’s stupidity and demagoguery as I have since the 90’s (and by the way I had never even heard Alex Jones speak before the Piers Morgan thing). Mixing comedic satire with vital issues of the day has always been The Daily Shows genius. But I depart from the opinions expressed here about the role of reason when tyranny has entered our “actual dystopic present”; though whether or not we are at that phase is very much a matter for reasoned debate. When a power grab has occurred and a very small number of people hold absolute power over the rest, the only reasoning left is how most effectively to resist: debate becomes strategy. We can and should always use our reasoned arguments to convince people that what we believe is right given the opportunity. But the moment tyranny is upon us, the moment one is left with a choice between domination and resistance, all conversation breaks off, the diplomats are sent home, the embassies burns their papers. The only reason that a fascist government serving the very few and enslaving the rest deserves is the tactical reasoning that strategizing against it.

This not a Left vs. Right, Liberal vs. Conservative, Progressive vs.(?) Libertarian matter, this is a matter of the utmost importance polarizing everyone with any inkling of a political consciousness: the possibility of a Revolution, a coup d’état (past or future), a Civil War. The debate on gun control and our American culture of violence has brought us here.

There is little to suggest that banning assault weapons would prevent mass shootings like the one in Newton which the nation is still grieving about. The thought of a person shooting up a classroom of children with a giant military-grade rifle is so stirring and awful that a collective wave of emotion will inevitably grip a nation addicted to sensational news stories for the duration of the news-cycle. To have a reasonable debate debate about gun violence and gun control would mean to wait for this collective outrage to pass, but then, in a double standard, proponents of gun control would see this as letting their moment to take action slip away. Banning assault weapons in fact would do little to save lives as almost all gun deaths are from handguns and nearly all of those deaths are gang-related. [Link] If we were serious and calculated rational human beings about lessening violent crime and homicide, we would end the drug war and legalize marijuana. Clinics could be set up to help those addicted to hard drugs and gang violence would decrease.

But popular rage is not with that issue at the moment, so the spectacle is concentrated now on guns and mass shootings. It is very likely that these massacres are done for the media publicity and the perverse “fame” that these suicidal gunmen receive posthumously. Blasting his mug-shot on the nightly news for a week and making a household name out the person probably does more to encourage these atrocities than anything else. These unexpected massacres deserve a much more thorough look into the violence of American culture.

Violence is very much a central part of American culture, and I’m not talking Hollywood and video games (of which there is no evidence that either make people more violent). The USA is the by far and away the biggest military superpower today and maybe even for all of history. The war technology far surpasses anything that’s ever been seen on Earth and continues to advance. Drone warfare allows our executive to kill whomever he wishes on the planet. There is no congressional oversight, the president has the authority to wage micro-war whenever and wherever he pleases. The former president George Bush initiated two wars that have killed hundreds of thousands, scaring congress with blatant lies into giving him executive authority to wage war. There is a war on drugs, a war on crime, along with the war on terror; all with no end in sight. The Patroit Act allows for wiretapping of Americans by the recently formed Department of Homland Security and data mining whatever information it wants with no oversight. Barack Obama has continued the war on “terror” (which would sound like ‘an attack on fear’ to the newcomer) with even broader authority than the much reviled-by-leftists Bush. His signing into law of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA) grants him the power to indefinitely detain any American anywhere in the world without due process of law, holding them in prison conditions that harken back to the 18th century. This allows for the military detention of any “associated forces” of terrorist groups who commit “belligerent acts” in a dangerously vague wording. The statute for total control over the freedom of the citizens of America by the executive has been set in law. Torture has been proven to be used repeatedly as a tactic against alleged “insurgents”. Soldiers go on killing sprees in a fit of adrenaline fueled rage. Children and their villages are wiped out at the press of a button by drone strikes for being nearby someone on Obama’s hand-picked kill-list. And when these war atrocities are made public they shoot the messenger, taking more action against whistle-blowers than any presidential administration ever. Secrecy, death, and total war define most aptly our global state of affaires, together with maintaining a social order to contain people’s anger from coalescing. Protesters exercising their rights to assemble and redress grievances are haphazardly labeled terrorists. And I haven’t even started to talk about the financial sector’s ransacking of the wealth that pushes most people into crippling debt-slavery, or the back-door bailout (after already using the front door) that siphons money to mega-banks leaving the great many in the cold.

These are all reasons to fight back. But in the face of this reality and the thought of gun seizure from this government, how can one demand a state of cool, calm, collectedness necessary for rational debate? A level head is always the first choice in relating to another, but what I will never do is try to reason with a dictator, or a police officer tackling and beating me with a nightstick for expressing my anger in public. No, I like many Americans feel the need to rant and rave and light a fire under people’s asses until I know which side people are on and then reason with those on my side. The tension produced by the proverbial ‘drawing a line in the sand’ flies in the face of the value the American mainstream media places on a civilized bipartisan agreement. The rancorous national debate between neoconservatives and progressives has far too long been a matter of finding some tiny island of common ground between two evils. Imperialism, plutocracy, military-police surveillance, and spectacle worship are on both of *these* sides. The task then becomes drawing different lines and making it easier to determine who is willing to fight and who is content with continuing the way things are.

We may not be in a dystopian present, but the very utterance of that possibility and the popular fascination of post-apocalyptic stories and scenarios (where violence is normal and always upon you, basically the environment) attests to its nearness in our imagination. This is not some aberration but a fear that was anticipated by the very same people that established the federal government in the beginning. They understood the necessity of checks and balances and civil liberties to protect the people from a potentially tyrannical rule. The crafters of the American Constitution and instigators of the American Revolution were very much afraid of the colonial empire subjecting them to intolerable rule: their actions were moved by fear and anger as well as a free and just society. When the protections they outlined in the Bill of Rights are systematically undermined, there is every reason to be angry and afraid.

As David Hume wrote: “reason is the slave of passion”, but there are still good reasons – one is justified reasonably – to be emotional. There are so many levels of injustice that it is difficult to piece it all together and decide how to change it effectively. When the time comes to defend one’s anger and fear, many draw blanks and simply can’t find the words to defend the intensified emotion. Others rant and shout (and there is a time and place for that mode of discourse). To demand a reasonable debate that will in theory convince anyone to believe the correct argument often kills the mood needed to follow through and take the right action – even if that action is reasonably justified.

With all of the recent political developments written above, it is not hard to make a case that America is on the march toward tyranny. But whether or not totalitarian plutocracy is imminent, I would not insist that all willing to defend their freedom state an air-tight, logically sound explanation for why they must resist. A general feeling that something is terribly wrong, seeing people suffering, and experiencing unnecessary plight is enough to take action. Getting screwed should not require an essay.

But my open question still is: what more would it take to convince people rationally that the government claiming to represent them is tyrannical? What *could* one do without the means to fight it?

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Ontology Apolitics

There’s a debate that keeps on coming up over ontology and politics in the blog world loosely centered around the space that object-oriented ontology has opened up. Levi Bryant and now Ian Bogost insist that ontology and politics are separate, that things really are and interact before any thing becomes political. There’s the bare materialism of objects moving and colliding hither and the politically charged objects, which exist as well, thither. One’s ontology doesn’t have anything to say about politics until a politicizing act takes place or a thing transforms into a thing of political consequences. Or else, a political entity must be created neglecting the ontological dimension. The big point is that every-thing cannot be political, it must become so.

My question on this is: if ontology is apolitical, why must it repeatedly say so? This need not be because of some fault of OOO but the level of political discourse or misconceptions. I’m beginning to think that if politics is not everywhere and composed of everything, then the notion of the political must be transformed. Politics is a word that gets thrown around far beyond its etymological origins of the business or management of a *city* – ’polis’. Invoking politics for me stirs people up to answer the question “what is to be done?” and look ahead into the future, which might be a utopian vision or just organizing in a small collective project. If politics is not personal or if all states and flows of things do not count as “politics” then a new concept is needed to get over this nagging debate. I think Ian Bogost could be hinting at this at the end of his piece when he writes “there’s something apolitical about political discourse.”

In this globalize world, where it has become easy to feel that ’everything is interconnected’ and one’s daily routines have a stabilizing effect on systemic operations, perhaps what is needed in social debates on rightness and virtue is *less* politicizing and more emphasis on material processes. I never liked the term “social justice”. This is about “Justice” which is and always has been about more than social convention or interpretation (though these socially available discourses always filter it’s discussion). Anyone should be able to hold simultaneously that Justice can (and maybe should) go farther than politics and that some things exist whether we contemplate them or not and have gigantic effects on us.

The way global warming has been turned into another chip in the culture wars and the dominating presence of money in political lobbying are examples of problems that make the term ’politics’ inadequate. The problems traditionally addressed by political representatives are not getting the proper attention they deserve. This helps explain why roughly half the people in the country do not vote for the president and congress’s approval rating is under 10%. Action meant merely on maximizing one’s effect on the field and pushing for change materially are often subsumed under the banner of “political persuasions”. Maybe the better term moving forward could be something like “ideals”, if the stigma of the materialism/idealism divide is treated as an obstacle to get over. I regularly and unflinchingly invoke concepts like “Justice” and “Right” without having anything in mind like policy, bills, and laws; its about encouraging action by any means necessary – political or not.

I think we could learn a lot from Foucault’s method of problematization: beginning with a problem, a mystery, a query to engage in rather than a polemics. Politics in America these days is practically a scripted spectacle of polemics where the voter-audience takes sides and keeps a score of the points won with rhetoric. Ideals are easily captured by politicians (need I write it? “Hope” “Change”), but this is precisely when we should be skeptical and protective of our ideals from politics and politicians. We need new subjectivities and Foucault’s genealogy of the subject has much to offer and not be content with those subjectivities presently seem “realistic”.

I don’t think I have to take sides on which is more real: material things or ideal things; just like American politics does not force me to take the side of the left-liberal or the right-conservative. This is what’s cool about flat ontology. Object-oriented ontology lets me think this way and I thank the likes of Bryant, Bogost, and Morton for creating this debate. Though they might not agree with me and I’m not sure OOO is the right direction to take, the debate is much better than the usual ones and that means A Lot. Perhaps we need to rethink this frustrating concept called politics.