[-empyre-] Introduction from Claire Pentecost

Quoting claire pentecost <cpente@artic.edu>:

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 "legitimate" population.

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 such cases.

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,

Claire Pentecost
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Photography
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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