Sunday, December 18, 2016

The tyranny of geopolitical reality in Syria

In a keynote I presented to the international cultural studies association Crossroads (#XR2016) yesterday, i used the Syrian predicament as an example of the analytical importance of thinking in terms of multiple realities, and particularly the productivity of thinking politics as a struggle between realities not just a struggle over a single reality.
The world of international relations and geo-politics is an order of life where states or sub-state groups are agents interacting with other states. In such a world human actors whether foreign affairs, or diplomatic corps, or military, officials do play a variety of roles. but these are channelled in the final analysis towards giving shape to what is the action of a nation-state assemblage, unless such national assemblage is too weak to act.

This geopolitical world of nation states is different from the world of individuals and citizens facing their state apparatus in so far as it is a governmental apparatus. The two worlds are clearly interrelated but they are nonetheless different worlds, different realities or different orders of life, each having what Aristotle would call their own particular 'individuality'. This is slightly similar to the classic Durkheimian differentiation between the order of social facts and the order of individual facts.

Left politics occurs and has a separate dynamic in each of these worlds and realities. In the geopolitical domain left politics is defined by degrees of opposition to the imperialist design of the colonialists.
In national space it is defined by struggles against inequality, exploitation, injustice, despotism, etc... and for better public health and schooling.

Ideally, a leftist politics should succeed in making the struggles occurring within each of these domains complement each other if not even fuse with each other. Practically this has rarely been the case.
Because of its ontological autonomy geopolitical anti imperialism has been used by an assortment of national bourgeoisies and petit-bourgeoisies, bureaucratic, military and police personnel as a governmental as a mode of carving for themselves a space of capitalist accumulation, which is opposed to western imperialism, but has little time for popular aspirations for freedom, justice etc...
Likewise it facilitates movements expressing a desire for freedom, justice, etc. devoid of any internationalist anti-imperialist dimension and easily récupérable by alternative reactionary formations.
The Syrian state today deploys geo-political reality against the reality where popular demands for justice are being formulated. It deploys it as a way of making its petit-bourgeois 'anti-imperialist' problematics drown the problematic of popular liberation. That some radical Marxists in the west fall for this cheap trick that basically institutes a tyranny of geopolitical reason at the expense of popular aspirations is beyond me. 

But one must recognise that the difficulty also lies in the absence of a political/ military force that represents that dimension of the popular revolution that is both liberationist and anti imperialist in its ethos. This dimension exists among the population but on the whole its only means of *public* expression is among some of the intelligentsia of the Syrian diaspora.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Peter Dutton and the Lebanese Sunnis

Take a sociological fact: one the most socio-economically deprived parts of Lebanon's population live in the north-western suburbs of Tripoli, Lebanon's second biggest city after Beirut. They live in deplorable conditions: the highest number of people per square meter in Lebanon, the lowest level of education in the whole country. And yes, fertile ground for the growth of Islamic fundamentalist of all kind of looney tunes variety, no doubt. but i understand that the number of young males who joined the police force, and even the number of males who became hairdressers from this milieu exceeds the number of males who became Islamic fundamentalist. So it's definitely not a sociological fact to just choose to emphasise the Islamic fundamentalist credentials of this group. 
Polemic: When Australia, under Fraser's government offered to have an intake of Lebanese amid the civil war. It made sense to take the most economically deprived part of the population. it's called humanitarian help. Now I know that today's rampant neo-liberal instrumentalism makes it inconceivable that one takes people like this. I know that today you are supposed to take the least needy people. people who represent a net asset gain. but. still, humanitarian help used to happen. some of us still remember it.
So yes, along came the most deprived of the deprived and yes, they came with the possibility of Islamicos among them. But do we have any statistical evidence of how this cohort developed as a totality. That is, *beside* not as opposed to the believable fact that there might have been a few home-grown Islamic fundamentalists that popped up from among them?
how many coiffeurs for instance? I'd be very interested. I've got this theory about Lebanese coiffeurs. Have you noticed how many of them there are in the world? Lebanon has unleashed way more coiffeurs on the word than Islamic fundamentalists and yet no one wants to talk about this. The destruction of western civilisation they have been responsible for far exceeds... (I'd better stop since my cousin in Lebanon is one so I'l wait to have more empirical evidence before pronouncing myself on this matter)
Take a second sociological fact: Peter Dutton was born in the working-class Brisbane suburb of Boondall. almost the equivalent (relatively speaking, of course) to Tripoli's working class suburbs. 
Take a third sociological fact: Beside coiffure, the Tripoli people from those suburbs who manage to get out of poverty commonly do so by getting some military education and joining the police force. Now, what do you know: Peter Dutton also rose from his working class background by getting a military education and becoming a police officer. 
Concluding Polemic: Now perhaps Peter Dutton has a lot more in common with the people he is attacking than meets the eye. Perhaps *he knows* he has a lot in common: working class, military education, low cultural capital, zero cosmopolitanism, tendency towards cultural fundamentalism.
Are we to blame the whole suburb of Boondall for the fact that the Liberal Party has unleashed someone like Peter Dutton on us. indeed on the whole world. of course not. Likewise, let's leave this poor Sunnis of Tripoli alone. They have enough problems surviving as it is. I mean they have to deal all the time with all the filthy Lebanese politicians for god's sake. It is just not fair to add some of the filthiest of all Australian politicians to this.
By the way, the brilliant Lebanese novelist Jabbour Douaiheh has written a novel called 'The American Neighbourhood' (available in English) on that part of Tripoli the is being talked about here. It is about an Islamic fundamentalist from the neighbourhood who returns after failing to go through a suicide-bombing mission in Iraq. go and read it if you are interested in intelligent fiction about this socio-economic milieu. Intelligent fiction is nicer and way more informative than Dutton's non-intelligent pseudo-sociology.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trumpontologies 1

There are various intellectual trends that are increasingly seeing the world as a plurality of worlds, realities or ontologies, such as 'the ontological turn' in anthropology. I think that those who see this trend as a mere 'intellectual choice' or 'fashion' with no basis in reality are really mistaken. The popularity of the ontological has to be itself explained ontologically, not epistemologically. Or at least to put it in a Marxist language it has to be explained materially not idealistically. 

This is not unlike the way Marx regarded the upside down nature of the reality of the commodity as an ontological issue not an epistemological one. It was a situation where, as Godelier put it, 'It is not the subjects deceiving themselves it is reality that is deceiving them'. Likewise, we can say it is not the analytical subject increasingly opting for ontological difference it is reality that is increasingly presenting itself as ontologically differentiated.

To continue flirting with Marxist analogies, perhaps it is only in the era of dynamic capitalist accumulation that 'All that is solid melts into air'. when this dynamic stalls, all that is melting into air slowly becomes solid.

Like a volcano emitting it's lava capitalism has been burning every thing that is in its way. Now that its 'driving heat' is slowing down the lava is becoming solid turning to rock. Cultures that were being transformed are solidifying mid-way through their transformation. To a certain extent western multiculturalism reflects the cultural beginning of this stalling of the transformative/assimilationist drive that was western/capitalist modernity. It marks the rebirth of culturally essentialist 'resistance' in the face of a stalling processes of capitalist globalisation. The french essentialism of Le Pen and the Islamic essentialism of ISIS are both 'Lava rock formations': evidence of the cooling down of the melting (pot?) processes that fuelled and drove capitalist modernity.

This also links up with the work I have done on stuckedness (see Alter-Politics): for example, the processes of people identifying themselves as 'middle class' in the US relied on the existence of some minimal upward class mobility which kept the belief in the possibility of such a mobility alive. Once this social mobility despite its minimal nature actually stops, the belief in its possibility dies, people experience themselves stuck and their social cultural world becomes frozen. What was a process of social transformation and change comes to a halt and people feel imprisoned in their social locations. Is that not one defining characteristic (needless to say, among many) of the ontological reality that is the Trumpist life-world?

Friday, September 9, 2016


All I said was ‘woof!'
I was not asking you to look at who was walking down the footpath past our front door!
That would have been more like ‘woof’ with a little bit more oonf and intentionality. Which again is very different from the more intense ‘woof’ which says I know who is coming and they’re not my friends. If you paid attention this woof was a little bit more low key which did not involve me even moving a single muscle in my body. my head is still resting on the mat, my body’s muscles are very relaxed. maybe there was a minor movement of my paw but this is it. This has always meant: ‘somebody is passing by, it is not worth worrying about it, but might as well make sure they know that I am here and that I know that they are passing by'. 
So, let's be clear, it is is not my fault if you rushed to open the door and tripped and hit your head on the wall.
You are always so big on ‘teaching me’ things. And I am supposed to know the difference between slow down and stop and go and come here and come here  now I said, and even complex formulations like how many times do I fucking need to fucking say: you don’t bite the fucking ham sandwich when I am fucking holding it in my fucking hand. 
I have to learn all this and all the subtleties in intonation you are capable of, and you can’t tell the difference between one woof and another. 
So, let me repeat since you are refusing to accept this and you are still giving me these dirty looks: it is not my fault that you rushed to open the door and have cut your head open needing a couple of stitches. I can live with you using me as your emotional punching bag. projecting on me whatever mood you’re in. But you need to take some responsibility for your inability to understand me. Would you understand it better if I said ‘you need to take some fucking responsibility for your fucking inability to fucking understand me’? If you still can’t at the very least stop pretending that you are so intellectually and morally superior.
Just accept it. it was you who rushed, you who fell, you who fainted, you who had to be taken to hospital two hours later, you who gave yourself stitches, you who didn’t end up taking that Uber that came for you.
And no, I recognise an Uber when I hear one, no its not like any other car, an uber has a far more ambivalent arriving sound. I can’t tell you a lot more about what makes its arrival sound so specific. I would have woofed differently had it been the Uber you were waiting for. So no it is not me that made you miss your job interview. and yes the world is not going to be the same even you try and understand my woofing. had you done it in the past, perhaps.
woof. in case you’re wondering, this woof means you still have my sympathies as a fellow creature. but you sure have fucked things up for yourself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"I will fight for this naked breast"- Ghassan Hage

I have already read a lot of facebook commentary about the French PM saying that the naked breast represents France better than the headscarf. While I find it as ridiculous as any of my facebook friends, it actually brought home to me how scholastic so many intellectual reactions to Islamophobia and other things produced by politicians, including those like Pauline Hanson in Australia, Trump in the US, etc... are. Indeed I think that scholasticism is increasing, especially among intellectuals, today. It is a way of escaping a reality that is hard to fathom, a reality where we come to terms with how desperately politically inefficient at convincing and mobilising those who disagree with us we intellectuals have become. Scholasticism, in Bourdieu's term, means that we discuss what politicians say as if it is a statement of logic or an analytical statement. we discuss it, analyse it, agree with it or laugh at it and ridicule it as if the world is one big facebook discussion page and, most importantly, as if the sole purpose of an enunciation is to exist as an object of facebook, or tutorial room, discussion in terms of its coherence and its logic. To use Bourdieu again, we project into the object our particular relation to the object. We take the way a statement presents itself to us as intellectuals (ie, as an object of intellectual inquiry) as the way it presents itself to everyone in the world. But politicians are not analysts and they don't make statements aimed at being sophisticated, they make statements aimed at being politically efficient. So, while its fine to make fun of what the French PM says, or what Trump says, etc... some of us increasingly forget to ask: how good are they at doing what they are doing? What are the conditions of political efficiency of statements like this?
I happen to think that the French PM statement is an exceptionally powerful and skilful political statements. it is simple, metonymic, and manages to condense all the differences that French Politicians in their embrace of Islamophobic culture are competing to mobilise politically today.
I have written before how so many western values today are being re-deployed in a phallic manner. Instead of caring about how democratic the West is, more and more Westerners care more about 'flashing their democracy' to the other and say: 'look at my democracy it's better than yours'. Instead of enjoying their jokes they enjoy showing off that their sense of humour and capacity to be irreverent towards religious symbols is so superior to that of the other. And now, in this latest installment, some French people want to show off the naked breast of their women in a phallic manner. It is a masculine appropriation of the feminine for warring purposes and it is very efficient. It actually reminds me of Yassin Al Haj Saleh's analysis of a photo showing ISIS combatants in a region under their control pinning a poster which shows a fully covered woman with the caption; 'Your veil is my blood'. The French PM is now introducing a similar warring appropriation of the feminine: 'your naked breast is my blood', that is, I will fight (in a masculine way) to protect it.
We can ridicule what we have come to here, and maybe we should do so between us to comfort each other, but we need to always remember that we intellectuals, or intellectually savvy people, ridiculing something has not political efficiency whatsoever, Indeed, it even works at making what we are ridiculing more efficient.
Especially we intellectuals, should not shy away from confronting the fact that we have no political authority whatsoever today among those who are mobilised in such a phallic way. indeed we are the opposite of an authority: people go out of their way to embrace everything we laugh at and everything we criticise. Enough to drive anyone into the comforting refuge of scholasticism.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Nice - Urgent

The Nice attack, more so than any terrorist act before it, is bound to change the way the fear of Muslims will circulate in everyday life in the West.  More so than bombs that are specifically designed to kill, have no other usage, and need to be hidden from view, and more so than the planes that were used in the 9/11 attacks on New York, trucks are everyday objects that we encounter at every moment of our day. The attack will therefore inevitably accentuate the feeling that the ‘Islamic danger’ lurks anywhere at any time. There is no need to smuggle illegal substances, to learn how to technically build bombs, or how to use them, anything can be used to hurt people as long as there is a Muslim willing to hurt you. One cannot help trying to imagine how much ‘willingness to hurt’ that truck driver had in him to continue zigzagging and killing people for so long.

The space of suspicion will now become wider. It will no longer be someone-looking-Muslim on a plane, or someone-looking-Muslim with a backpack. Now the bearded man driving their truck from the wholesaler to the local shop, the someone-looking-Muslim who made an extra noise while driving his motorbike, etc… all of them will be looked at suspiciously. And the space of suspicion will not only be restricted to ‘trucks’ but will extend to any object that can potentially be transformed into something that hurts people. Terrorists are succeeding in making our societies become more and more nervous, more and more paranoid, and this always means more and more venomous and fascistic. And that is without the likelihood of achieving much else.

Today’s Islamic fanatics are operating with a well-established and understandable warring logic. They understand that wars always involve two boundaries. The first boundary is the one created at the point of contact that separates friends from enemies. The second, equally important, is the one separating the space of war from the space of peace. Each society that is at war aims to protect its citizens not just from the enemy but from war itself. That is, it aims to create a space where its citizens don’t even experience a state of war. It is that space that the terrorists try to infiltrate. They see the West as waging a colonial/religious war against the ‘Islamic world’. But they also see that this war is always being fought in ‘Islamic’ territories while westerners can enjoy a peaceful life on their own lands. They think that it is a major achievement to disrupt that state of peace. From their perspective it appears as a just re-distribution of violence but it joins a long history of practices of collective indiscriminate ‘revenge’ in being anything but just.

Fanatic terrorists are not going to ‘learn from history’ anymore than anyone else has done so before them. But if they were open to learning they would recognise that what they are trying to achieve on a world scale has been tried by Palestinian terrorists in their war of liberation against Israeli colonialism. And that is a struggle that has far more legitimacy and roots in popular struggles than their’s.

The Israeli government tries to protect Israelis from Palestinian warriors, but it also tries to protect them from the very idea and fact that there is a war between Israelis and Palestinians. The more successful they are the more Israeli citizens are capable of happily sipping wines and coffees in Tel Aviv oblivious to what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank. This is also true in a certain way of the Arab citizens of Israel despite all the discrimination against them. They might not be oblivious to what is happening elsewhere in Palestine but they are nonetheless capable of benefitting from the Israeli success in carving out a space which is not a war zone. They are capable and they do benefit from such a space. When terrorists strike, they indiscriminately strike in that space.

Whenever Palestinians succeed in hurting Israelis through an act of terrorism, some Palestinians still rejoice feeling that as long as there is a will to fight and as long as there is a capacity to hurt, there is a hope of liberation. But over sixty years of this petty kind of hope at the sight of revenge attacks that have taken variety of forms, including ploughing trucks through crowds, many Palestinians are wondering if such violence-derived hope in the face of the formidable violence of the Israeli machine can actually take them anywhere. They are looking for alternative paths. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement is an expression of such an alternative path.

Thus, it can be said without a shadow of a doubt that today terrorism is the least useful part of the Palestinian struggle. It might have brought recognition at some point in history. It might have given Palestinians a sense of purpose and disallowed them to feel entirely defeated. But in the last analysis it has outlived its usefulness and failed to achieve its goal. All it is now doing is contributing to give legitimacy to the inevitable and continuing drift of Israeli society into increasingly fascistic forms of Zionism.

This ‘French Tunisian’ truck driver is a hater in a way that is way more vile than all the racist haters of western society that are raising their heads everywhere are. All he has done is given them reasons and alibis to hate more and perhaps to hate like him. He has assassinated more than eighty people and driven us more inevitably than ever towards the Israelification-to-come of our societies and our souls.
Those who see themselves engaging in progressive politics can no longer simply ‘critique’ the government drift to the right, the curtailing of freedoms and the racist profiling that anti-terrorist legislations have institutionalised. They urgently need to engage with, formulate and push for radically different anti-terrorist policies themselves. What does a non-discriminatory anti-terrorist policy look like? Does it even exist? How can it be implemented? How can it be articulated to a foreign policy animated by an alter-colonial desire? Is that remotely possible? I have always operated with a sense that such questions are impossible to ask without serious radical change. But perhaps the urgent need to fight the global Israelification-to-come that we are facing makes it urgent to ask them and make them yield practical policies ‘before’ rather than ‘after the revolution’ as it were.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why I don't give an eff about and will not 'debate' the 'findings' of the Chilcot inquiry

In February 2003, millions of us around the world demonstrated against the Iraq war. Most of us were not 'pacifists' nor were we 'pro-Saddam' but we thought that the very idea of a western invasion of Iraq was pure madness. The Sydney Morning Herald graced me with some space on its Opinion page to say just this (click below for the 'historical record')
We all knew our leaders and many of our journalists were not misguided or misinformed. We all knew they were just lying. And they went ahead and did what they did. And they got what they wanted to get. which was no different from what other colonialists before them got in the past. and they caused the horrors that we are still living today. which are no different from the horrors that colonialists before them have caused in the third world in the past.
It is very tempting to participate in the debates following Chilcot's 'findings', to get some satisfaction from saying 'I told you so' and to have some grounds on which to incriminate Blair, Bush and that other globally forgettable entity that no one is mentioning except for us here in Australia - whatever that Western arse licker's name was. But from past histories of 'inquiries' nothing much of consequence will happen. Quite the contrary, it is the colonialists who will end up getting all the satisfaction from discussing the 'findings'.
White (ie,white colonialist) inquiries into white evil are cleansing rituals in which white people routinely forgive themselves for the evil that they have done. they do so precisely by participating in a cleansing 'debate' around the 'findings'. And in the process they also manage to re-assert their racial superiority over the barbarian other. For let us not forget: White Inquiries are technologies of racial distinction: 'The inquiry, as with the innumerable Israeli inquiries into the interminable massacres in Gaza or the inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacre during the Lebanese civil war, always works to project a sense of ‘distinction’ from the barbarians whose worst sin is not that they behead people but that they do so without having inquiries afterwards.' (from Alter-Politics, p.21)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

White Nation’s Conclusion

For anyone following the White media's fascination with Pauline Hanson, it does not take long to realise that this fascination is well beyond the ordinary. The amount of exposure Hanson personally received after her election was well beyond any attention given to a newly emerging politician. Her political views were presented and represented at every possible opportunity — more so than any other new member of parliament. The rise of the One Nation Party received more attention than the rise of the Democrats or the Greens ever received. What is the secret of this obsession?

I'd like to suggest that there is a good dose of infantile narcissistic fascination here. The White media and the White public are seduced by an infantile projection of themselves. There is more than one psycho­analytic interpretation among many in this hypothesis. To develop my point, however, I'd like to begin by relating an incident from my youth in Beirut.

I was born in a middle-class, Maronite Catholic and culturally conservative environment. I often heard around me racist and derogatory remarks directed against Muslims. Like most Christian families in Beirut, however, my parents and their friends had to deal, by necessity, with Muslim people.

I remember one day a Muslim merchant visiting a neighbour's house on some business. I and the neighbour's son were six or seven years old at the time, and we had already learned enough derogatory remarks about Muslims to last us a lifetime. Unfortunately, we had not learnt the art of recognising the appropriate time and place where such remarks can be made. When the guest picked up my friend and started teasing him in a common adult–child mode of play, my friend instinctively unleashed a number of venomous anti-Muslim remarks, telling him exactly what he has been taught to think of Muslims. Needless to say, his remarks caused severe embarrassment in the ‘salon’. I particularly remember how we were unceremoniously dispatched from the lounge room, with his father sternly telling him, 'Shame on you.'

But this is not the end of the story, for I also distinctly remember what happened after the guest had left: how everyone was laughing and saying how cute my friend has been and 'Ho ho ho! Did you see how the guy's face went red' and 'Good on you, Georges, you show them.'

When I look back at this event, I realise that my friend's unchecked and 'immature' abuse performed the 'Christian tribe' a function. Not having carried out the abuse themselves, the respectable Christian families continued to benefit from the relationship of proximity and 'business as usual' they maintained with the various Muslims with which they had dealings. Nevertheless, they also benefited from the many incidents of open abuse to which the Muslims were constantly subjected, for 'business as usual' also meant keeping the Muslim as the inferior partner — the marginalised and the not-too-comfortable party in this relationship of proximity. This was important for ensuring the Christian middle classes’ position of dominance vis a vis the Muslim middle classes before the civil war — a position they have now lost.

I want to suggest that the respectable side of White Australia today relates to Hanson in the same way my friend's family related to his 'unchecked extremism'. Whether they are in the media, in politics, in academia or in any other workplace (they can be spotted as soon as they talk about having no problem with multiculturalism as long as migrants put the interest of Australia first), behind every White multi­culturalist affecting a position of respectability — and a willingness to condemn `Hansonite extremism' in the nation's lounge room — there is another White gleefully grinning 'Good on you, Pauline. You show them' or another amusedly saying: 'She's so naughty', as if saying it to one's own child after he or she has misbehaved.

This is not a mere sentimental issue. It is a self-interested politics of domination. In much the same way as the story above, those respectable White Australians have an interest in someone else perceived as 'irrational and/or immature' doing the exclusion for them. They benefit from both this marginalisation and from the relationship of proximity and dominance with the already marginalised that they are able to maintain thanks to, but also by distinguishing themselves from, the 'extremists'.
For White multiculturalists today, White neo-fascism represents the latest technology of containment and problematisation of Third World-looking migrants. Pauline Hanson has enabled White Australians to unleash a new phase in the dialectic of inclusion and exclusion, aiming to transform the increasingly demanding and 'arrogant' migrants into decent `debatable problematised objects', safely positioned in the liminal spaces of inclusion/exclusion. The relation between the dominant White multiculturalism and White national exclusionism, which has always been a relation of affinity based on a shared fantasy structure, has evolved today into an active relationship of complicity. This is the fundamental basis for what has clearly become the more general Hansonisation of White culture.

In the face of this destructive White tendency, some questions need to be asked: Are Whites still good for Australia? Have they been living in ghettoes for too long? Are they dividing Australia? Do we need to have an assimilation pro­gram to help ease them into the multicultural mainstream? Clearly, it's time for Third World-looking Australians to do the 'worrying about the nation' number. And let's face it, there's plenty to worry about.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Transcendental Capitalism and the national distribution of hope (Chapters One and Two of Against Paranoid Nationalism Pluto Press 2003)

Transcendental Capitalism
the national distribution of hope
(Chapters One and Two of
Against Paranoid Nationalism Pluto Press 2003)

Ghassan Hage

Chapter One
Transcendental capitalism and the roots of paranoid nationalism

The majority of the polls published in the media are clear: Westerners, on the whole, are suffering from compassion fatigue in the face of the increasing number of asylum seekers heading towards their shores. In Australia, at the very least, 50 per cent of all people support conservative Prime Minister John Howard’s ‘tough’ stand on the asylum seekers issue. Some say it is up to 70 per cent. While the Prime Minister’s capacity to ‘be in touch with the views of ordinary people’ is celebrated by some, it is interesting to note that the ‘non-ordinary people’, the minority opposing this stand, see themselves as a moral opposition. They oppose in the name of things like ‘compassion’ and ‘hospitality’ rather than in the name of a left/right political divide. This has become a pattern in the last ten years or so. Whether dealing with issues of poverty, or indigenous rights, or the conditions in the asylum seekers’ detention centres, a small-“l” liberal, largely but not solely middle-class population, supported by churches and human rights organisations, increasingly perceives itself as the outraged defender, the last bastion of a decent and ethical society. Now that the ‘moral majority’ is in power it has been shown to be clearly less moral than it initially claimed; instead, we have a ‘moral minority’ in opposition. It argues that with the increased worldwide implementation of a dogmatic neo-liberal social and economic policy, by left and right governments alike, ethics and morality have been thrown out the window. Interestingly, conservative intellectuals, who in Australia are more often than not newspaper commentators who have mas-tered a slightly comical neo-tough journalistic style of the ‘hey softie, let me tell you about what reality is really all about’ variety, seem to agree, despite themselves, with the liberals. They argue that there is no place for ethics and morality in a world where people, such as the incredibly rapacious asylum seekers, can viciously ‘exploit our compassion and generosity’. Consequently, the disagreement is not about the lack of ethics and morality in social life. Everyone agrees on that. The question is how should one react in the face of such an ethical vacuum. The small-“l” liberals see themselves as courageously fighting to maintain a glimmer of ethical life within society. The incredibly pragmatic neo-tough conservatives condemn the soft liberals for being naïve. Considering themselves very ‘ordinary’ despite their high-profile middle-class jobs (and in a way they are often right on this point), these conservative populists like to portray themselves, like John Howard, the Prime Minister they support, as incredibly in touch with ‘ordinary’ people (it is rumoured that they actually imagine themselves to have encountered such people in the streets from time to time). As such, they are particularly down on the small-“l” liberals, whom they see as being from privileged class backgrounds and unable to see the relationship between their pompous airs of tolerance, compassion and hospitality and their comfortable lifestyles.
But it is not clear why the assertion that a certain ethical point of view is the product of middle-class comfort makes such a view less ethical. It is more ethical to be hospitable to needy people than not to be. It is more ethical not to be racist (that is, to consider a group of people as less ‘human’ in one way or another than you are) than to be one. It is also more ethical to be a racist and acknowledge it than to be one and deny it. The list is a long one … It is more ethical to acknowledge that the West is reaping the benefits of the colonisation and decimation of innumerable indigenous societies than not to do so. And it is more ethical not to marginalise and vilify a whole ethnicised or racialised ‘community’ under the excuse of fighting crime than to do so.1 No amount of ordinary neo-tough huffing and puffing against imaginary threats of political correctness can change this.
Nevertheless, it is also true that small-“l” liberals often translate the social conditions that allow them to hold certain superior ethical views into a kind of innate moral superiority. They see ethics as a matter of will. And they see the voters falling for the paranoid ‘zero-tolerance against crime and asylum seekers’ packages of the competing political parties as not wanting – rather than not being able – to offer marginalised others the kind of hope they ought to be offered as fellow human beings. For there is no doubt that this is, at least partly, what we are talking about when it comes to discussing hospitality towards asylum seekers, or compensation for the colonised indigenous people of the world, or compassion towards the chronically unemployed: the availability, the circulation and the exchange of hope.
Compassion, hospitality and the recognition of oppression are all about giving hope to marginalised people. But to be able to give hope one has to have it. This is why the conservatives, populist as they are, are right in this respect. Those who are unable to give hope to others, who see in every Indigenous person or refugee someone aiming to snatch whatever bit of hope for a decent life they have, are not immoral people as such. They are just people who have very little hope to spare or to share. And so the conservative supporters of neo-liberalism might feel triumphant for being in touch with the great popular majorities who are unwilling to be hospitable to the asylum seekers. But only idiotic neo-tough ones find reasons to celebrate this. For such a situation, more than anything else, begs a rather sad question: why is it that the great majority of the population of the Western world are left with so little hope for themselves today, let alone for sharing with others?
National capitalism and the distribution of hope within society
To think about and with hope as a social category is both an ex-ceptionally exhilarating and an exceptionally frustrating exercise. It is exhilarating because, as I hope to show (even if briefly) here, thinking about human subjects as ‘hoping subjects’, and thinking about societies as mechanisms for the generation and distribution of hopefulness and social opportunities, allows us a fresh and enriching angle from which to examine and understand our social nature and the nature of society. Furthermore, once one has hope within one’s field of vision, one discovers the astounding degree to which the constellations of feelings, discourses and practices articulated to hope permeate social life. But perhaps because of this, to think about hope is also exceptionally frustrating, in that it sometimes seems as if one is examining something as vague as ‘life’, given the multitude of meanings and significations associated with it. Not only is the language of hope associated with aspirations as different as ‘hoping for an ice-cream’ and ‘hoping for world peace’; there is also a considerable difference between hoping as an affective practice, something that one does, and hope as an affect, something that one has. There is also a considerable difference between hope as a momentary feeling and hopefulness as an enduring state of being. As Farran et al. point out: ‘Hope has often been described as an elusive, mysterious, and “soft” concept. Part of this elusiveness is due to the fact that the term is used as a verb, a noun and an adjective …’ Furthermore, they argue, after Averill et al.: 2 ‘The concept of hope is also elusive because it can be expressed as a way of feeling (affectively), as a way of thinking (cognitively), and a way of behaving or relating (behaviourly).’3
What makes hope even more difficult is that it is associated with many other concepts that have approximately similar significations, and these both clarify and blur what it actually means. For instance, optimism, fear, desire, wishing, wanting, dreaming, waiting and confidence are among many other terms all associated with hope and hoping. Nevertheless, despite the plurality of meanings, attitudes and practices that constitute the discourse of hope, there is still something important that unifies them: all those terms express in one way or another modes in which human beings relate to their future.
In his Principles of Hope, Ernest Bloch goes further, saying that hope means that people are essentially determined ‘by the future’.4 Here ‘the future’ is not so much a ‘science fiction’ construction as the future that one can already detect in the unfolding of the present. It invites a more complex conception of the present. It is, as Erich Fromm has put it, a ‘vision of the present in a state of pregnancy’.5 The nature of our hope depends on our relation to this state of pregnancy. While the social sciences, and particularly the analysis of nationalism, pay particular attention to people’s relation to the past, it is interesting to note that not many perceive the importance of our relation to the future. As Kenneth Nunn, from a general psychological perspective, has rightly pointed out: ‘The construction of the perceived future has not been elevated to a faculty of brain function in the same way as the construction of the perceived past, namely, memory. Despite this, anticipation, planning, foresight and the executive functions are pivotal to human adaptation.’6
Another difficult aspect of hope is that there can be different views as to its moral worth. There is, of course, the classical dark version of hope – the Pandora tale. Pandora, whom the God Zeus sent to bring misery to all humans for having accessed the heavenly fire, arrived with a box containing all the ills of the world. When the box was opened, all those ills spread into the world, except hope, which remained in ‘our possession’ (in the box). Hope here is the worst of all human ills: if it wasn’t for hope, our subjection to a miserable life full of those ills that escaped into the world would lead us to suicide. It is only because we continue to have hope that we continue to suffer and endure the ills. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it, ‘hope is the worst of all evils, for it protracts the torment of man’.7 Here hope is perceived as the force that keeps us going in life. In that sense, it is not defined any differently from more positive conceptions of hope; it is the depressed version of life as full of ills that makes hoping in it such a miserable affair. More analytically pertinent is the sociological difference between ‘realistic’ and ‘unrealistic’ hopes, which captures the extent to which hope is grounded in ‘the pregnancy of the present’ as opposed to being totally detached from reality. As the psycho-analyst Anna Pontamianou argues:
As the vehicle of a state of trusting expectation, or even conviction, that what is expected can or must come to pass, the feeling of hope is a psychic strategy. On the one hand, this strategy remains attached to reality testing, because it acknowledges when our hopes are but lures and illusions, whereas, on the other, it tends to short-circuit the reality principle, which, of course, hands down the verdict that our internal wishes do not necessarily correspond to what can be found in the external world. At any rate, by introducing fulfilment of the wish as probably and sometimes even as practically assured, our hopes keep alive in the mind the image of a good object to come, able and willing to respond to our demands. 8
This possible disjuncture between wishes and reality has led to a range of moral evaluations of hope throughout history. For most of the philosophers who see hope negatively, hope is considered a variant of a commonsense conception of ‘religious hope’, the hope to end up in heaven. This has often been seen as a hope that detaches people from their social reality and makes them less committed to act to change their circumstances. It raises the issue of the relationship between hope and passivity/activity. The negative views of hope, here, are often along the line of Karl Marx’s characterisation of religion (and presumably religious hope) as ‘the opium of the people’. This kind of hope breeds passivity. Fromm also criticises passivity-inducing hope and exemplifies it as the man in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, who is waiting for permission to enter heaven’s door but never takes the initiative to enter.9 Here hope is seen not only as working against reality but also against the knowledge of reality which can lead to its (hope’s) demise. It breeds anti-intellectualism. This antagonism between hope and knowledge is represented best in Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, where the heroine screams: ‘We are of the tribe that asks questions, and we ask them to the bitter end – until no tiniest chance of hope remains to be strangled by our hands. We are of the tribe that hates your filthy hope, your docile, female hope.’10
Pontamianou has usefully characterised the difference between the hope that induces an active engagement with reality and the hope that breads passivity and disengagement by using the Nietzsche-inspired differentiation between ‘hope for life’ and ‘hope against life’.11 As we examine the social distribution of hope, it is always useful to remember that society not only distributes hope unequally; it also distributes different kinds of hope. The importance of this difference will be examined in Chapter 3. In the analysis of the unequal distribution of social hope below, I will be referring mainly to a hope that is ‘for life’, a hope that allows people to invest themselves in social reality.
National capitalism and the distribution of hope within society In a lecture presented in London, Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst,12 reflected on the inability of the British left to dent Margaret Thatcher’s electoral appeal among the working classes with their usual strategy – emphasising the massive inequalities her policies were generating. For Zizek, the opposition, in its preoccupation with inequalities in the distribution of wealth and the distribution of goods and services, left out of its sight the very area where Thatcher’s strength resided: her capacity to distribute ‘fantasy’. ‘Fantasy’, in Zizek’s ‘Lacanese’, is the set of subliminal beliefs that individuals hold that makes them feel that their life has a purpose, that they have a meaningful future. Fantasy, here, covers important elements of what has been referred to above as hope.
What Zizek’s point implies is that social hope, as a perception within society of a better future already potentially existing in the pregnancy of the present, is capable of overriding the determining powers of the inequalities experienced within this present. This capacity for hope clearly works well with capitalism. Not least because the yet-to-come of life offers exactly the kind of space in empirical reality that is most open for ideological intervention. Thatcher, for example, distributed hope: first through a racist ideological strategy that emphasised the causal power of the British character, and second through highlighting the viability of the small shopkeepers’ dreams of rising above their situation and experi-encing upward social mobility. Her message was simple and clear: if you ‘possessed’ the ‘British character’, you possessed the capacity to experience upward social mobility even if, in the present, you were at the bottom of the heap. The British character did not give you immediate equality and the good life, but it enabled you to hope for a future good life. You could look at your Pakistani neighbours, living in the same conditions you were living in, and say: ‘Sure we’re in the same hole, but I’ve got the British character, so I can at least hope to get out of this hole, while these black bastards are hopelessly stuck where they are.’
Here lies the magic of national identification and the capacity to utter the national ‘we’. ‘I’ as an individual can live most of my life watching sports on TV, but as an Australian I can still claim with confidence that ‘we’ are a sporting nation. ‘I’ as an individual can be hopeless at playing cricket (as indeed I am), but that doesn’t stop me from telling an English colleague (on a good day!) that ‘we thrashed you last night’ (as indeed I do). ‘I’ can be uneducated and yet can confidently claim that ‘we are highly educated compared to the people of Afghanistan’. The national ‘we’ magi-cally enables the ‘I’ of the national to do things it can never hope to be able to do as an individual ‘I’. As importantly, the ‘we’ is also transformed into an aspiration. The child uttering ‘we are good at football’ sets himself or herself on the road of ‘trying to be good at football’. The imagined ‘we’, in a kind of noblesse oblige, actually becomes causal in influencing the capacity of the person who is trying to be what ‘we’ all are. Through this magical quality all collective national identities work as a mechanism for the distribution of hope.
But capitalist society does not produce and distribute hope only through the mechanism of national identification. It also does so through its ability to maintain an experience of the possibility of upward social mobility. First we have to note how capitalism hegemonises the ideological content of hope so it becomes almost universally equated with dreams of better-paid jobs, better life-styles, more commodities, etc.13 But second, and as importantly, despite the fact that capitalism on the whole works towards the inter-generational reproduction of class locations, there are always enough stories circulating of people who have ‘moved on’ (thanks to hard work, or to education, or even to a lottery ticket!) to allow for the belief in the possibility of upward social mobility. The power of these hopes is such that most people will live their lives believing in the possibility of upward social mobility without actually experiencing it.
This capacity to distribute hope in the midst of massive social inequality has been the secret of the nation-state’s enduring ability to sustain capitalist accumulation. Jules Michelet, the 18th century observer and historian of the rise of nationalism, relates to us nicely, in his famous description of the ‘birth of a Frenchman’, how the nation worked as an apparatus for the distribution of hope. No sooner was the person born as a ‘Frenchman’, he informs us, than he was immediately ‘recognised’ and ‘accounted for’ as a person. Through his inclusion as part of a national society, the nation-state provided him with a recognition of his moral worth, and he could immediately ‘claim his dignity as a man’. At the same time, Michelet stresses, the national subject is made to feel in ‘control over the national territory’; no sooner is he born than he is ‘put … in possession of his native land’. But most importantly, the sense of being included, being accounted for and being in control all add up to what is in a sense the finality of the process: the national’s capacity to receive what Michelet called ‘his share of hope’.
We should remember that in the history of the West, access to a share of ‘dignity and hope’ was not always open to the lower classes. The rising bourgeoisie of Europe inherited from the court aristocracies of earlier times a perception of peasants and poor city people as a lower breed of humanity. The lower classes were ‘racial-ised’ as innately inferior beings considered biologically ill-equipped to access human forms of ‘civilisation’ – which included, particularly, ‘human dignity and hope’. ‘Human’ society within each emerging nation at that time did not coincide with the boundaries of the nation-states. Its borders were the borders of ‘civilised’ bourgeois culture. Bob Miles, relying on Norbert Elias’ classic work, The Civilising Process,14 has examined the way racist modes of thinking originated in the West in categorising the working classes.15     This has also been examined by Tzvetan Todorov, in his analysis of the French racist thinker Frederic Le Bon. Le Bon, in his Les lois psychologiques de l’évolution des peuples (1894), exemplifies the way European thought racialised the working classes and excluded them from the sphere of civilisation. He argues that ‘The lower strata of European society are similar to primitive peoples’, and that ‘it is enough … to let time intervene, to see the upper strata of society separate themselves intellectually from the lower strata by a distance as big as that which separates the White from the Black, or the Black from the monkey’.16
What Michelet’s work describes to us is the important historical shift that began in the late 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century: the increasing inclusion of nationally delineated peasants and lower classes into the circle of what each nation defined as its own version of civilised human society. But this de-racialisation and civilisation of the interior went hand in hand with the intensification of the colonial racialisation of the exterior.17 Now skin colour, in the form of European Whiteness, was emphasised, more than ever before, as the most important basis for one’s access to ‘dignity and hope’. Michelet captures the birth of the ideal imaginary of the European nation-state proper: a state committed to distribute hope, to ‘foster life’ as Foucault has put it,18 within a society whose borders coincide with the borders of the nation itself.
Through his emphasis on the relationship between dignity and hope, Michelet also illustrates another important way in which national society works as a mechanism for the distribution of hope. This is a mechanism that is not specific to capitalism but is an intrinsic quality of any society: the production and distribution of a meaningful and dignified social life. If hope is the way we construct a meaningful future for ourselves, as was established above (with the help of Ernst Bloch and Erich Fromm), such futures are only possible within society, because society is the distributor of social opportunities for self-realisation. We can call this hope societal hope. That society is a distributor of these forms of societal hope, these social routes by which individuals can define a mean-ing for their lives, is a point implicitly but powerfully present throughout Pierre Bourdieu’s work.
Responding to a critique of the anthropological basis of his work which assimilates it to a utilitarian vision of human beings as always aiming to accumulate capital,19 Bourdieu has argued: ‘It is not true to say that everything that people do or say is aimed at maximizing their social profit; but one may say that they do it to perpetuate or to augment their social being.’20 Bourdieu is offering a conception of being that is inspired by Spinoza’s ideas of conatus and joy21 (as augmentation of being); this gives us a key to his general anthropology and sociology. In positing the idea that humans aim to accumulate being, Bourdieu is first of all undermining the holistic, and commonsense, phenomenological idea of ‘being’ as an either/or thing (epitomised by Shakespeare’s ‘to be or not to be’). Indeed, for Bourdieu, being is not an either/or question, but a more or less one: some people have more being (a life that is more meaningful, satisfactory, fulfilling, etc) than others. To paraphrase him, we could say that there is no communism of being in society. Being is not equally distributed among the population. While some people inherit ‘a lot of being’, others have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get even a bit of being.
At the heart of Bourdieu’s anthropology is the idea that people are not passive recipients of being; they struggle to accumulate it. At the heart of his sociology is that being, a meaningful life, is not, unlike what is posited by religious thought, something given prior to social life. Life has no intrinsic meaning. Rather, it is society that offers individuals the possibility of making something meaningful of their lives: ‘doomed to death, that end which can-not be taken as an end, man is a being without a reason for being. It is society, and society alone, which dispenses, to different degrees, the justifications and reasons for existing.’22 This is made particularly explicit in his philosophical work Pascalian Meditations. ‘The social world,’ he argues, ‘gives what is rarest, recognition, consideration, in other words, quite simply, reasons for being.’23
For Bourdieu, therefore, society is primarily a mechanism for the generation of meanings for life. It does so by offering people the opportunities to ‘make a life for themselves’, to invest and occupy and thus create and give social significance to their selves. This is what Bourdieu calls illusio:24     the deep belief in the importance of our life pursuits, our future, and thus the deep belief in the importance of our social selves. The key to a ‘decent’ society is above all this capacity to distribute these opportunities for self-realisation, which are none other than what we have been calling societal hope.
It is, of course, quite clear that under capitalism, government has always given primacy to the interests of capitalist investors. But thanks to the nation-state’s being a mechanism for the distribution of hope, the interests of investors were made compatible with a commitment to the construction of a viable society within national boundaries. Hospitality towards migrants and refugees in this national system was also part of this dual economic/ social logic. They represented an extra source of (often cheap) labour, but their reception was also represented as a commitment to an ethic of the good society in general.25 The fact that they were received at all reflected something positive about the quality of life within the host society and legitimised it in the eyes of its nationals as capable of producing a surplus of hope. This was so even when this surplus was itself the product of the colonial plundering of resources and destruction of existing social structures – which undermined the hopes of millions of people in what became known the Third World. The vacuum of hope left behind is still felt today within the societies of the colonised, in terms of the hopelessness found in some colonised indigenous societies and in terms of the migration generated by dysfunctional colonially produced nation-states that are unable to provide a sufficient ‘share of hope’ to more than a small minority of their citizens.
Until recently, the capacity of the great majority of migrants to settle in Western societies was dependent on the availability of a Western ‘surplus of hope’. This surplus is the precondition of all forms of hospitality. But it is clear today that while the West is producing a surplus of many things, hope is not among them. As Bourdieu points out, while society is certainly defined through its capacity as a distributor of ‘meanings of life’, any society’s actual capacity cannot be taken for granted at any time, and hope and meaningfulness are not always offered. Capitalist societies are characterised by a deep inequality in their distribution of hope, and when such inequality reaches an extreme, certain groups are not offered any hope at all. ‘One of the most unequal of all distributions, and probably, in any case, the most cruel, is the distribution of symbolic capital, that is, of social importance and of reasons for living,’ he tells us. For him ‘there is no worse dispossession, no worse privation, perhaps, than that of the losers in the symbolic struggle for recognition, for access to a socially recognized social being, in a word, to humanity’.26 Elsewhere, he speaks of ‘social ageing’ as a social situation where the possibilities that life has opened before us become fewer and fewer.27 By the same token, a situation where the possibilities of life are nil is akin to social death. For, as he puts it, ‘The competition for a social life that will be known and recognized, which will free you from in-significance, is a struggle to the death for symbolic life and death.’28
This opposition to social death is perhaps what marks Bourdieu’s ‘radical phase’ in the 1990s. As he saw it, capitalist societies have always been marked by an unequal distribution of hope. Yet they have offered the ground for struggles towards more equitable distributions. What characterised neo-liberal economic policy in his eyes was not that it was shaped by a society marred by inequality, but that the very idea of society, of commitment to some form of distribution of hope, was disappearing. This has been perhaps the most fundamental change that global capitalism has introduced to Western and non-Western societies alike. In the era of global capitalism, the growth of the economy, the expansion of firms and rising profit margins no longer go hand in hand with the state’s commitment to the distribution of hope within society. In fact, what we are witnessing is not just a decrease in the state’s commitment to an ethical society but a decrease in its commitment to a national society tout court. Many social analysts today debate the decline of national sovereignty and national identity as a result of ‘globalisation’. Yet the greatest casualty, and the one that has most bearing on the quality of our lives, is neither the decline of sovereignty nor of identity as such, but the decline of society. This is hardly ever mentioned. When the society of the past saw the possibility of social death, the welfare state intervened to breathe in hope, for there was a perception that all society was at stake wherever and whenever this possibility arose. Today, not only does the state not breathe in hope, it is becoming an active producer of social death, with social bodies rotting in spaces of chronic underemployment, poverty and neglect. We seem to be reverting to the neo-feudal times analysed by Norbert Elias,29 where the boundaries of civilisation, dignity and hope no longer coincide with the boundaries of the nation, but with the boundaries of upper-class society, the social spaces inhabited by an internationally delin-eated cosmopolitan class. Increasingly, each nation is developing its own ‘third world’, inhabited by the rejects of global capitalism.

Transcendental capitalism and the shrinking configuration of hope
It is well understood today that what characterises the global corporation most, and what sets it apart from its multinational and national predecessors, is the absence of a permanent national anchorage point that the corporation sees as its ‘true home’. In the era of the dominance of colonial or international capitalist enter-prise, capitalism had a specific and stable national base, partly because it was physically difficult to relocate the great majority of industries. This was so even when a company’s operations had spread to wherever it was able to exploit resources and labour. With the rise of the big multinational companies we began to see a shift. The multinational firm, as its name implied, was no longer associated with a single nation-state. It had core bases in many parts of the world, but wherever it was, it operated within a nation-state framework. The most important political aspect of global capitalism is the end of this reliance on a nation-state framework of operation.
In a way, global capitalism is simply the intensification of the tendencies of multinational capitalism towards capital accu-mulation outside the traditional industrial sector. But there are also changes: now there is a clear dominance of the finance sector and a massive expansion of the services sector. These developments have been accompanied by the rise of a relatively new field of capital accumulation: the information sector. Partly because of the above changes, and partly because of the use of computer technology in some of the more traditional sectors, the global firm is now characterised by an almost complete loss of a specific national anchoring. It is not that, like the multinational corporation, it has anchors in many nation-states; rather, it hasn’t any. Wherever it locates itself is considered a home, but on a conjunctural, non-permanent basis. Capitalism goes transcendental, so to speak. It simply hovers over the Earth looking for a suitable place to land and invest … until it is time to fly again. It is here that a significant phenomenon emerges. The global/ transcendental corporation needs the state, but does not need the nation. National and sub-national (such as State or provincial) governments all over the world are transformed from being primarily the managers of a national society to being the managers of the aesthetics of investment space. Among the many questions that guide government policy, one becomes increasingly para-mount: how are we to make ourselves attractive enough to entice this transcendental capital hovering above us to land in our nation? This involves a socio-economic aesthetic: how do we create a good work environment – a well-disposed labour force and suitable infrastructure? It also involves an architectural and touristic aesthetics: how do we create a pleasing living environment for the culturally diverse and mobile managers and workers associated with these global firms, so that they will desire to come and live among us for a while?
The global aestheticised city is thus made beautiful to attract others rather than to make its local occupants feel at home within it. Thus even the government’s commitment to city space stops being a commitment to society. This global urban aesthetics comes with an authoritarian spatiality specific to it. More so than any of its predecessor cities, the global city has no room for marginals. How are we to rid ourselves of the homeless sleeping on the city’s benches? How are we to rid ourselves of those underclasses, with their high proportion of indigenous people, third world-looking (i.e. yucky-looking) migrants and descendants of migrants, who are still cramming the non-gentrified parts of the city? Not so long ago, the state was committed, at least minimally, to propping up and distributing hope to such people in order to maintain them as part of society. Now, the ideological and ethical space for perceiving the poor as a social/human problem has shrunk. In the dominant modes of representation the poor become primarily like pimples, an ‘aesthetic nuisance’. They are standing between ‘us’ and the yet-to-land transcendental capital. They ought to be eradicated and removed from such a space. The aesthetics of globalisation is the aesthetics of zero tolerance.
As the state retreats from its commitment to the general welfare of the marginal and the poor, these people are increasingly – at best – left to their own devices. At worst, they are actively portrayed as outside society. The criminalisation and labelling of ethnic cultures, where politicians and sections of the media encourage the general public to make a causal link between criminality, poverty and racial or ethnic identity, is one of the more unethical forms of such processes of exclusion. This is partly why globalisation has worked so well alongside the neo-liberal dismantling of the welfare state. The state’s retreat from its commitment to seeing poverty as a socio-ethical problem goes hand in hand with its increasing criminalisation of poverty and deployment of penal sanctions.30
Societal hope, which is, as I have argued, about one’s sense of the possibilities that life can offer, is not necessarily related to an income level. Its enemy is a sense of entrapment, of having nowhere to go, not a sense of poverty. As the state withdraws from society and the existing configuration of hope begins shrinking, many people, even those with middle-class incomes – urban dwellers paradoxically stuck in insecure jobs, farmers working day and night without ‘getting anywhere’, small-business people struggling to keep their businesses going, and many more – have begun suffering various forms of hope scarcity. They join the already over-marginalised populations of indigenous communities, homeless people, poor immigrant workers and the chronically unemployed. But unlike these groups, the newly marginalised are not used to their state of marginality. They are not used to being denied a share of hope by society. So they don’t know how to dig for new forms of hope. They live in a state of denial, still expecting that somehow, their nation and their ‘national identity’ will be a passport to hope for them. ‘Deep down’, they know that their national society is no longer ‘servicing’ them, but like a child whose mother has stopped feeding her, the very idea of such a reality is too hard to accept and to think. Struggling with it generates trauma. They become self-centred, jealous of anyone perceived to be ‘advancing’ (being cared for by the nation) while they are stuck. They project the fear that is inherent in the fragility of their relationship with their own nation onto everything classified as alien. Increasingly, their attachment to such a non-feeding nation generates a specific paranoid form of nationalism. They become vindictive and bigoted, always ready to ‘defend the nation’, in the hope of re-accessing their lost hopes. They are not necessarily like this. Their new life condition brings out the worst in them, as it would in any of us. That is the story of many of those in the Western world who are anti-asylum seekers, who are running towards the right and extreme right ideologues who still promise a ‘good nation’.
Paranoid nationalists are the no-hopers produced by trans-cendental capitalism and the policies of neo-liberal government. They are the ‘refugees of the interior’. And it is ironic to see so many of them mobilised in defending ‘the nation’ against ‘the refugees of the exterior’. Global rejects set against global rejects constructing what is perhaps the greatest phobic international order instituted since World War II.


On worrying: the lost art of the well-administered national cuddle

Since the rise of paranoid nationalism in the last 15 years or so, its affective expression, ‘worrying about one’s nation’, has become such a dominant cultural trend in most Western societies that it is sometimes uncritically equated with what it means to be attached to the nation. The culture of ‘worrying’ which was initially most pronounced among supporters of extreme-right, anti-immigration movements, such as the Front National in France and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in Australia, has now become the dominant cultural form of expressing one’s belonging to the nation. Nowhere has this generalised culture been as intense as it has been in the Australia of the Tampa crisis and the detention centres. This is perhaps because no other society has ideologically legitimised, even institutionalised, the culture of worrying to the extent that the conservative government of John Howard has (see Chapter 5). ‘Worrying’ clearly denotes the prominence of a dimension of fear about the fate of the nation that is only minimally present in the affective practice of ‘caring’. Thus the difference between the two can simply be the result of the presence or absence of a threat: our caring turns into worrying when something is threatening what we care for. Indeed this is often the case when worrying is a relatively fleeting sentiment associated with a specific threat to a specific relation, and where the threat is external to the caring relation. In such cases ‘caring’ emerges as the norm to which one reverts after the disappearance of the threat and the worrying it has caused.
The problem with cultures of national worrying is that they are not of such a fleeting nature. Of course national worriers do posit threats – threats that are located, either literally or symbolically, outside the national subject-national society relation – as the source of their worrying. Migration, illegal refugees, crime, paedophilia, ‘foreign investment’, etc are often cited, and one can imagine why they can be a matter of concern for some people. These sorts of threats do not, however, explain what is beginning to look like a structural entrenchment of the culture of worrying. Indeed, worrying has become such an enduring mode of relating to the nation that if the nationalists ever ceased ‘worrying about the nation’ it would be hard to remember what the ‘caring about the nation’ one is supposed to return to means. That is, worrying today exerts a form of symbolic violence1 over the field of national belonging. It eradicates the very possibility of thinking of an alternative mode of belonging.
In this chapter, I aim to recover the significance of the relation of care that can exist between the nation and its citizens. I will argue that the cultures of worrying and caring about the nation do not reflect the existence or absence of a threat to the nation as much as they reflect the quality of the relation between the nation and its citizens. Extending the argument developed in the previous chapter, I will emphasise the way society works as a mechanism for the distribution of hope and examine the relationship between this distributional capacity and the prevalence of either caring or worrying. As I will show, understanding the ethics of care provides us with an important conceptual site from which we can capture the pathological nature of a nationalism consumed by worrying.
On dispositional hopefulness
In the previous chapter I argued that by being a mechanism for the distribution of social opportunities, society operates as a distributor of social hope among the population it encompasses. Given its location within society, I called this societal hope. Social hope, however, does not refer only to these societal routes for self-realisation. As implied by a statement such as ‘I am hopeful but the situation is hopeless’, hope also refers to a disposition within individuals. Farran et al. differentiate between hope as a state and hope as a trait. They argue that:
As a state, it reflects the present feelings that persons have about a particular situation, it may fluctuate over time, and it can be influenced through growth or intervention. As a trait, hope functions as a more enduring attitude or approach to life, and is less subject to fluctuation in response to life’s vicissitudes.2
The dispositional hopefulness that concerns us here is, in Farran et al.’s language, more like a trait than a state. It is an enduring disposition rather than a fleeting feeling. But if hopefulness is a disposition, what does it dispose the body/the self to do?
For most social and psychological researchers who have worked on this issue, hopefulness is above all a disposition to be confident in the face of the future, to be open to it and welcoming to what it will bring, even if one does not know for sure what it will bring.3 Spinoza importantly points out that hope (unlike wishing, for example) is an ambivalent affect, always laced with fear. For him hope is like a combination of desire for and fear of the future in which the desire for the future is more dominant.4
One can extract from Spinoza a conception of the hopeful disposition as nothing more than the will to live – come what may – that is inherent in the human body. It can be linked to Spinoza’s theory of conatus, that ‘each thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persevere in its own being’.5 We can call this raw disposition to embrace life as it unfolds, conatic hope. It is a dis-position denoting what Spinoza would call an ‘appetite’ for life.6 It is well captured by the popular saying, ‘Where there’s life there’s hope.’ This kind of hopefulness emerges most clearly when humans are confronting desperate situations. This is why one finds it captured most powerfully in the literature analysing human beings’ ‘fighting spirit’ in the face of fatal illnesses7 or in concentration camps.8 But this desire to confront life and live it, even if it is an intrinsic property of all human beings, cannot be separated from the effect of society on its development. Indeed, in some cases society ends up extinguishing it – this is the case with suicides.
Galina Lindquist, an anthropologist doing her ethnographic work in contemporary Russia, describes how some small business people (such as her informant, Olga) rely on visits to urban magicians who give them enough ‘hope’ (in the form of ‘cosmic advice’, charms, spells, amulets, etc) to confront the deep un-certainties of a market characterised by an acute absence of trust. For her, hopefulness is the ability to cope with what is beyond one’s control and a belief in the possibility of a minimum sense of agency despite all. In this sense, it is the perceived capacity to exercise some mastery over life, and it stands in opposition to helplessness.9 As Lindquist points out: ‘Magical means are the very few left to a woman like Olga to exert power over others in this society, to exercise agency … Olga is learning to have confidence in her own self.’10
Magic, then, gives Olga hope in the form of a capacity to confront the uncertainties of the market; she does not know what the future will bring but she has some ‘magical’ confidence that she is on the right path. Such hope ‘sustains people like Olga and helps them to arise and continue after absorbing the hardest blows’.11 Thus even though the social conditions of the Russian market are, so to speak, hopeless, magic allows Olga to reach a hopefulness that is within her regardless of what the social situation is like. Lindquist ends up defining hope as ‘a stubborn confidence without any substantial ground, an ineradicable human faculty’.12 We can see that Lindquist, here, ends up with a definition of hope close to what we have called conatic hope. Though one senses a contradiction in this definition. For if this hope was, as Lindquist says, an ‘ineradicable human faculty’, why did Olga need a social means in the form of magic to find it within her? This does not so much negate the idea of a conatic hope as awaken us to the fact that even when we say that the disposition for hopefulness is inherent in all people, this does not mean that it is present in the same way in every single person. The intensity with which this inherent disposition of hopefulness is activated within an individual depends on the material and symbolic social conditions of its activation.
So society is not only a mechanism for the distribution of societal hope; it also functions as a mechanism for the distribution of hopefulness, through the provision of certain social conditions which, once internalised by individuals, activate their conatic hopefulness and allow it to flourish. Olga’s story, by emphasising their lack, already gives us a sense of what some of the social conditions that activate this hopefulness can be: they are the negation of the conditions whose presence magic is trying to compensate for. These are, according to Lindquist, ‘lack of trust’, ‘a society where the dangers of social interaction are pre-eminent’, ‘where the mechanisms of security and control are dramatically reduced’, and where there are no sanctions for breaching contractual relations.13 Although Lindquist is speaking of the ‘market’ in a strictly economic sense, I would like to suggest that these conditions are equally important in defining more generally ‘the market of life’. A society that can induce and distribute a dispositional hopefulness, a lasting and enduring hopefulness, is precisely a society where the opposite of the conditions mentioned by Lindquist prevails.
The distribution of hopefulness and the art of the well-administered cuddle: on caring and worrying
In its examination of the dynamics of early childhood, psycho-analysis has already shown us that the internalisation of ‘good social relations’ as a means of developing a healthy sense of hopefulness begins with the internalisation of a ‘good mother– child’ relation. Within Kleinian psychoanalysis, for example, hope has been explicitly linked to the infant’s internalisation of the good breast. As Anna Pontamianou argues, ‘Hope is conditional upon the idea of a breast which it is possible to find, as opposed to non-breast, non-existence of breast, or destructive fragmentation of the other and of self.’14 A well-internalised breast allows us to develop a capacity to wait for the object of our desire with minimum anxiety, even when this object does not show up when expected. That is, the internalisation of the good breast allows the development of exactly that capacity to ‘face the uncertainties of the future’ which, I suggested above, is an essential characteristic of hopefulness.
Hopefulness, then, is a ‘historically’ acquired sense of security in facing what the future will bring – historical in the sense being the product of an internalisation of the history of one’s relation to the breast and the objects of desire that come to replace it later in life. It is also an enduring disposition, in that it is not likely to be modified just by the odd occasions where the object doesn’t ‘turn up’. It is thus a confident belief that ‘of course the good object will come, or of course my mother will feed me, even if I am a bit worried that she hasn’t shown up yet (Spinoza’s fear)’. This ‘bit of worrying’ takes over, however, when the history of the child’s relationship to the breast is such that it leads to an insecure form of attachment, an attachment overshadowed by the fear of the bad breast. We can begin to see here the relationship between worrying and hope-deprivation.
Clearly, there are elements in this foundational breast–child relation that offer us some key insights into the imaginary relationship between the national citizen and the ‘breast of the motherland’. Above all, it allows us to appreciate how the social hopefulness of the national subject is produced through an internalisation of the certainty that their national society will care for them. Worrying emerges when this certainty disappears, and when the national’s answer to the question ‘Will my society care for me?’ is an insecure ‘I don’t know.’ Then anxiety sets in.
But despite these insights, it is clear that the Kleinian breast– child relation is of limited value in understanding the national subject–national society relation; not least because, at this early stage in life, the passivity of the child in this relation makes it an unsuitable model for understanding the active role the national subject plays in relating to the nation. Taking a later stage in the parent–child relationship offers us a better understanding of the development of hopefulness within the nation, and of its complexities.
One can note, when watching children who have only recently began to walk confidently play with others in a playground, how often such children go back to the parental lap for a ‘reassuring cuddle’ before resuming their play. More often than not this parental cuddle lasts a bit longer than the child desires. And one can see children, especially when they have ‘returned to the lap’ in the middle of some very involved game, battling to free themselves from a cuddle they initially sought but now find restraining. They wildly struggle to free themselves, screaming with all their body: ‘Hey, I’ve only come for a little reassuring cuddle. No need to suffocate me. I want to move on …’
This situation emerges when the parent’s desire to reassure the child is overcome by more narcissistic desires. In such a situation we have an interaction between two different desires: the desire of the child to make contact with a reassuring presence and the desire of the parent to treat the child as a cuddly and perhaps soothing possession. To begin with, each wants the other as an object that satisfies their own needs; to be just that and nothing more. The child wants the parent to be around but not so around as to restrict their movement. The parent wants the child to stay long enough for them to ‘get a cuddle’. But this is only at the beginning. What is crucial is that with time, both parent and child start learning to seek what they themselves need and to try to give the other what the other needs.
For the children, the cuddle they seek is an energising cuddle. It is a cuddle which replenishes their capacity to face the world (the game they are playing). Confident with the caring presence of the parental lap, they are ready to confront the uncertainties of the future (as they present themselves in the playground). The cuddle represents the essence of the relation between caring and hope-fulness. That is, the cuddle acts like Lindquist’s magic. It activates conatic hopefulness in the child. The caring cuddle also represents the essence of what it means to be ‘at home’, and opens up for us the significance of the relationship between hopefulness and homeliness.
Although one often finds in the literature on ‘home’ and ‘homeliness’ an equation between ‘home’ and the mother, the mother’s lap and/or particularly the mother’s breast (see next chapter), there is an enduring assumption that home and the mother’s breast represent security in the form of immobility as well as in the form of an enclosure. Such homeliness is perceived to stand in opposition to openness and movement, which are somehow associated with homelessness. As Paul Chilton and Mikhail Ilyin argue:
The concept of ‘security’ seems in English to be understood by accessing base concepts of fixedness and being inside an enclosing space or a container. This basic cognitive schema is also an important component of the ‘house’ metaphor.15
Yet this is at best an incomplete definition of both security and homeliness. Alone it provides an imaginary of claustrophobia rather than of homeliness and security. For what is security if it isn’t the capacity to move confidently? And what is ‘home’ if not the ground that allows such a confident form of mobility, i.e. that allows us to contemplate the possibilities that the world offers confidently and move to take them on. A home has to be both closed enough to offer shelter and open enough to allow for this capacity to perceive what the world has to offer and to provide us with enough energy to go and seek it. This is why there is always a subliminal psychological value to the ‘room with a view’. This also explains the homely ontology of glass and the reasons for its popularity in the construction of houses. Is it not the ideal medium for the embodiment of this double movement of closure and openness that is the essence of homeliness, providing a shelter from the outside without becoming a claustrophobic inability to see what the outside has to offer?
It is precisely that double movement that the child seeks in the parental cuddle. It is a cuddle that manages to simultaneously embrace and protect and allow the child to contemplate the future and move towards what it has to offer. Working towards ad-ministering such a finely tuned cuddle is part of the essence of parental care in all walks of life. After their initial tendency to ‘suffocate’ the child with a claustrophobic embrace, parents soon learn that their child needs different kinds of embraces at different times, and they then aim – according to their ability and their own history – to become both physical and metaphorical providers of this range of hope-inducing cuddles.
The more parents are capable of providing such caring embraces to their children, the more likely the latter are to develop a sense of security which will make them less dependent on these cuddles and more capable of moving into the world confidently and securely, without needing a constant direct physical relation with their parental ‘home’. They acquire something similar to what in attachment theory is called an ‘internal secure base’:16 a sense of confidence and homeliness that is internalised as a place in the psyche, and which allows one to move away from parental care without losing the sense of homeliness it provides. As Jeremy Holmes puts it: ‘the child no longer is wholly dependent on the physical presence of the care-giver but can be comforted by the thought of “mum-and-dad”, or “home”’.17 The child de-velops the capacity to move further and further away from the parents and to live more and more without needing an actual ‘cuddle’, since the latter has now become internalised.18
Another equally important effect of the caring embrace is that the child who has internalised such an embrace becomes more amenable to allowing himself or herself to become the object of parental desire: s/he becomes more disposed to allow the parent to get out of the cuddle what that parent wants to get out of it. Care essentially generates an inter-subjective and reciprocal ethics that is intrinsic to its nature: there is no caring without caring back. And the way one has been cared for shapes one’s capacity to care for others. As Holmes puts it:
As care-givers, to put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we take a small fragment of our own experience and amplify it so that it fits with that of the person in our charge. In this way, our own experience as receivers of care is used when we become care-givers ourselves.19
It is precisely this kind of caring relation that national societies are ideally imagined to have with their members. Nation-states are supposed to be capable of providing a nurturing and caring environment and of having a considerable mastery in the art of border management. They are supposed to be able to operate between the two never-to-be-reached extremes: where openness becomes lack of protection and where protection becomes claustrophobia. Likewise, by being cared for, citizens ‘care back’ through their active and affective participation in the nation. It is this relation which the uncaring penal state of transcendental capitalism and its paranoid obsession with border controls is no longer allowing us to even think of as a mode of attachment to the nation.
Worriers cannot care about their nation because they have not been and are not being cared for properly by it. Because of the insecure relationship they have with their own nation, they substitute a national belonging based on the defence of a good national life they cannot access (worrying) for a national belonging based on the enjoyment of such a good life (caring). The primary source of worrying, therefore, is internal to the relation. As Holmes argues: ‘In insecure and especially disorganised attachment, the body becomes a vehicle for an introjected “alien” other from and with which the individual can neither peaceably separate nor harmoniously co-exist.’20 That is, the threatening object in the discourse of worrying is intrinsic rather than extrinsic to the national subject–national society relation. It is nothing but the manifestation of the national subject’s relation to the motherland, the subliminal fear that ‘she’ is going to abandon us. It is in this sense that worrying is part and parcel of paranoid nationalism.
Conclusion: all overboard

During the ‘children overboard’ case, the government made people believe that asylum seekers were throwing their children overboard to gain access to Australian soil and the right of refuge. As this was later proven to be a lie, it was argued that it is xenophobia that allowed Australians to believe such stories. But is it really so? What kind of people believe that a parent (even an animal parent, let alone a human from another culture) could actually throw their child overboard? Perhaps only those who are unconsciously worried about being thrown overboard themselves by their own motherland?