[-empyre-] Introduction from Claire Pentecost
Quoting claire pentecost <email@example.com>:
Dear empyre-ical thinkers,
Sorry for my delayed entry. Just getting my bearings. Both on the
list and also in a new semester where I teach.
I want to thank the organizers for inviting me, as it has encouraged
me to look at Australia in more detail. And thanks to Dr Ben Saul for
his "Briefing on Sedition Offences in the Anti Terrorism Bill 2005"
(and thanks to James Barrett for the posting the url:
http://www.sisr.net/apo/SeditionBriefing05.pdf ). That said, please
forgive any errors in my information and assessments, since it is
true I am far away and only just now reaching through the grids to
get a feel for what is going on in Australia.
Nine-eleven was produced as an especially spectacular event both by
al-Qaeda and by the U.S. government and media. Although these
laws-the 2005 Sedition Act in Australia and the patriot act in the
USA -stand out as particularly alarming responses to the "terror"
induced by 9/11, they seem to be part of ongoing processes, well
underway before that date.
I'm thinking of the fact that many of the cases in the U.S. against
alleged terrorists are actually built on a law that was signed by
Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing. Among other provisions, "The
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996" renders it a
crime for U.S. citizens to provide material support to the lawful
political or humanitarian activities of any foreign group designated
by the Secretary of State as "terrorist." You could see this as a
nascent piece of the policy that would become known as the Bush
Doctrine, a declaration that the U.S. will treat nations suspected of
harboring terrorist organizations as terrorists themselves, and that
we are entitled to pre-emptive strike on any government that we judge
to be lending support or refuge to terrorists.
In Australia you have 1992 changes to the Migration Act providing for
mandatory and extrajudicial internment of designated persons as well
as the institution of "Temporary Protection." And in 2001 the Border
Protection Act, setting up limbo spaces in which to detain citizens
crossing borders without resolved legal accreditation.
In the U.S. we have had the practice of extreme rendition (abducting
"suspects" to offshore detention and torture facilities inside the
borders of secretly cooperating nations), invented before September
11, but expanded and elaborated in the last four years.
If I am understanding correctly, given that so many of the offenses
putatively covered by Australia's new laws can already be prosecuted
under other laws, the fresh legitimization of the very notion of
sedition is all the more pointed.
Although in popular usage "sedition" seems to apply tacitly to a
nation's own citizens, anti-sedition laws find a special sort of twin
in laws policing borders and immigration; the policies addressing
these issues are part of a larger set of policies controlling the
rights accruing to citizenship itself. So we are talking about
sedition or subversion coming from both "inside" and "outside" the
One of the frames in which I find it useful to view these
developments is that which revealed the ascendance of "soft power" as
in Foucault's ideas of biopower and governance, and relatedly, in
Deleuze's concept of control societies. In this frame we also might
examine the articulation of the "creative class" and the flexible
worker. These are integral parts of the transformation of capital
from value embodied primarily in fixed assets to the more fluid,
mobile morphemes of ubiquitous financialization: credit, debt,
speculation, brands, networks, all the things that make capital fast
and smooth in the space of global operation.
What I am thinking is that, as capital becomes more flexible, the
state administers a compensating rigidity in order to govern the
human dimension of wealth production and concentration, specifically
that part of the labor pool that needs to be kept dammed in large
reserves and managed thorough precise valves. With the demise of
factory discipline in affluent liberal democracies and with the
porosity of borders to the movement of goods and capital, the job of
the state becomes more focused on two aspects of one function:
guarding the localization of capital accumulation -keeping it in the
reach of only a few; and enforcing the borders that distribute labor.
Under neoliberalism the market is supposed to sort and solve all
social problems. But who gets to be part of the market? The simplest
answer is well rehearsed: anyone with a dollar or a euro or a yuan,
etc. But the other side of the market is productivity, the role of
the seller. As we know, the only thing most of humanity has to sell
is their labor. But what determines the conditions of that sale? Here
we see the rights of citizenship playing a greater and greater role.
The price you can get for your labor, and the access you have to a
labor market fundamentally depends on your citizenship.
The rights accruing to citizenship in one nation or another are
grossly unequal, and under globalization this is increasingly the
site of struggle. So of course borders, migration, asylum-seeking are
all subject to increasingly brutal measures.
But in liberal democracies, the ideology of equality, human rights
and humane governance potentially pose conflicts over the imbalance
of citizenship in the world. This sets a stage in which loyalty to
the nation, and its opposite, sedition, are ripe for reinvestment.
The division between _kinds_ of people has to be established on
grounds that can justify the devastating forms of exclusion that
distribute the priviledges of differential citizenship. Hence
criminalization of the status of non-citizens or "illegal" immigrants
extends to those crossing borders to escape life-threatening
conditions, whether those conditions result from the economic
wreckage caused by neoliberal policies, trade agreements, and global
debt servicing; or from the terror of civil wars and dictators.
The claim to human rights is only officially entertained for migrants
in the latter category, a distinction we should question. But even
within that dubiously separated category, the appeal to basic human
rights is a thin shield as these populations are absorbed into
systems organized for foreigners designated as criminals. We see this
in the alien detention centers run by both the U.S. and the
Australian governments. In the U.S. fears of terrorism have been
exploited to extend the designation of illegal status into ever more
murky judicial territories. The several hundred people (mostly
"foreign" by some definition of ethnic or religious heritage) held in
Guantanamo for four years without charges or entitlement to
internationally established standards of treatment and process, make
up only the most publicized example of the violence committed through
the merger of immigration, terrorism and criminality.
If the Bush administration has its way, the identification of
criminal sedition exceeds all parameters in the category of the
"enemy combatant." This power is the unmediated instrument of the
president alone. Enemy combatants have zero civil rights - no right
to an attorney, no habeas corpus, no restrictions on unwarranted
search and seizure-and without civil rights how can human rights be
assured? Enemy combatants fall into a black hole from which no
information is available. They can be held indefinitely without
charges and without the right to an attorney. Such an extra-juridical
space is almost assured to produce human rights violations.
In the case of this classification no citizenship is protection. Such
a status could be said to mark one end of the spectrum of potential
abuse derived from the invigorated instruments of alien and sedition
laws. Servicing this spectrum of selective abuse is the legal and
enforcement infrastructure of the penal system. In many parts of the
U.S., an individual history of incarceration for criminal offenses
restricts a person's full access to citizenship even after he/she has
served the time. This may include permanent suspension of the right
to vote, but even more commonly, restriction of the kinds of jobs one
is entitled to hold. So again full enfranchisement in the labor
market, an advantage of citizenship, is available only to those
consistently deemed fit -in terms of both birth and behavior.
At the softer end of this spectrum is the power of accusation. It
takes less and less actual deviance from the narrowest norms of
patriotic citizenship to put an individual under state suspicion.
Under the PATRIOT Act sneak-and-peak provisions (even without the
illegal wiretapping operations of the bush oligarchy) the state is
empowered to gather evidence without justifying suspicion, and once
so empowered may find any number of small irregularities that can be
distorted into charges and even indictments that ruin reputations,
health, finances and spiritual well being of accused persons. Even if
the prosecution is unsuccessful and the charges are proven
groundless, serious damage is done. In my paper on the prosecution
Steven Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble and Bob Ferrell
(http://www.caedefensefund.org/reflections.html) I refer to several
In that paper too, I briefly review the way that the production of a
new judicial atmosphere after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has
facilitated widescale intensification of prosecution and deportation
for minor visa and immigration violations. An almost total confusion
of the issues of terrorism and labor-driven immigration is rampant
and virulent. Just this morning I heard a radio host justifying
Bush's illegal wiretapping, declaring that if al-Qaeda is here
talking on the phones he wants the government listening because we
can be sure they [al-Qaeda] aren't just here for jobs Americans don't
want to do, but they also have the bombs Americans don't want.
(Sorry, it really is this bad.)
I guess what I want to say is that the sedition laws in themselves
are alarming but I think to understand their actual weight, we have
to look at the context in which they are legitimated and brandished.
To me the root of that context is made of the economic ravaging of
most of the world by the elites of a few more powerful nations (with
whom elites everywhere struggle to collude). Islamic outrage finds a
place in the branching relationships of sedition and citizenship very
much at this root, and not so much where the inherited values of the
enlightenment 'go apart' from the ethos of religion, faith and
traditional authority. In that distinction, Bush falls on the side of
the anti-enlightenment. In fact he may be the first
anti-enlightenment president in the history of the United States,
evident, among other things, in his desire to converge church and
state, his support for intelligent design, and his complete
undermining of science policy based on science. Right wing
extremists, highly audible in the center frequencies of our broadcast
spectrum, decry offenses every bit as fine-grained as some
Muslim-world offense at satirical images of Mohammed. The month
before Christmas rang with outrage over the [symbolic] "war on
Christmas" (because some employers told their employees to say "happy
holidays" instead of merry christmas so as not to offend nonchristian
customers or to include them or however you want to see it and
because the White House Christmas card said happy holidays, etc.)
These men of faith are not literally setting fires in the streets,
but they don't have to; they are among the most enfranchised people
on the globe. They are highly rewarded for producing such a din over
something besides the government corruption scandals and failed
policies that should otherwise be searing our public space.
oh i really should stop here and hope for comments, questions, corrections---
also, i need to catch up on the last few posts.
thanks for reading,
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Photography
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
This archive was generated by a fusion of
Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and