Archive for January 13, 2011

“None of us know what triggered this attack”: How President Obama revised history

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

President Obama speaking at the memorial service for the victims of the outrage in Tucson, Arizona. Having lulled us all by detailing the accomplishments and lives of the victims, he then proceeds to erase from our memory, and from history itself, two years of deliberate effort by the Party of Washington and the Party of Wall Street to whip their respective supporters into a frenzy of hatred and vitriol for purely partisan purposes, and as a means of exploiting the divisions of society to rule over society:

For the truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. (Applause.) But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. (Applause.) That we cannot do. (Applause.) That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

Marx’s theory of property: Ghetto Gaggers as social criticism

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Ghetto Gaggers - Jessica (

In my first reply to Daniel (Marx’s theory of property: Whore or Just “Easy”?), I made an argument that, despite Marx’s assertion that property is a relation between people, he would entirely agree with Daniel that the commonsense — perfectly logical — view of things is that property is an object outside of us that we own. Moreover, let me state for the record at this point: these relations between us that we refer to as property can ONLY exist in the form of an object external to us. The very idea that property is some thing, some object, which is not us, but which we own, presupposes that, even if property is only a relation between each of us and other members of society, it has to have an object-like existence. So, if a particular piece of property we own does not actually exist in the form of an object that is independent of us, we have to create it, so to speak.

In my examination of my transactional tryst with my companion, it was, as a matter of agreement, that she present to me, in exchange for my one hundred dollars, her sex organs and her body generally as an object, a mere means of my satisfaction, to complete our agreement. For that sixty minutes or so, she was not her self, but a commodity — a collection of orifices (oral, anal, vaginal) — which I, like any purchaser of an iPod, was free to employ according to an mutually agreed upon Terms of Service.

The Terms of Service state that, despite my use of her body as means of my satisfaction, ownership of it remained with her — she was not selling her self into any permanent condition of servitude. It also stated that, in exchange for my use of her body as a means of my own satisfaction, she was not obliged, in return, to pretend to enjoy the experience herself — except as she might decide would enhance my experience with her body — nor was I required to provide to her any sort of pleasurable experience — her object was not satisfaction in the form of a good fuck, but in the form of my one hundred dollars. It also stated that, at the end of my sixty minutes of use, I was to return her body to her self in such condition as did not leave it in a damaged state, and, therefore, unable to serve as a commodity in a later exchange of this or another type.

Although she is not a commodity, but a human being, she nevertheless had to present her body as an object outside of her self. Although, she is not an object but a person, she had to treat her personhood as if it were somehow detachable from her body and deliver this body without personhood as an object for my use. That she is not, for me, a person but only a body without personhood is given in my exchange of one hundred dollars for the use of it — so far as I am concerned, she is only my one hundred dollars in the particular form of oral, anal and vaginal cavities I can employ for my own satisfaction, just as an iPod is one hundred dollars in the form of an mp3 player.

As I argued in my second post (Marx’s theory of property: Who owns me?), that this object, property, appears to have passed through a very long historical development until it emerges full blown in the founding documents as self-ownership, does not in the least make it false or a social fiction. It simply means that it arrives on the scene not as the expression of natural law within society, but as a break in historical development during much of which we did not own our capacities but were ourselves owned in some fashion by others.

Concealed from us behind the liberating bourgeois manifesto of self-ownership, Marx warns, is not only freedom from enslavement to others, but also the history of property itself as slavery in various forms throughout history: self-ownership, Marx declares, while a definite advance over ownership by others, is not authentic human liberation, but merely self-enslavement. Rather than being an object at the disposal of some feudal chief, we are now each of us our own object.

In the internet series, Ghetto Gaggers, a number of young African-American women sit passively, or passively allow themselves to be variously positioned, as two anonymous white men engage in savage and quite horrifying acts of sexual abuse for about a half hour or more in each video. There is no hint of sentimentality in the actions of the three, no illusion of mutual engagement. Each woman is alternately gagged with the penises of the two men until they are forced to vomit, buggered, flipped and fucked, positioned for double penetration, and finally facialed. This abuse sometimes getting so intense that the woman’s pretension that she is a mere object momentarily slips and she sheds tears — a slip which is always captured by the camera because it enhances, rather than detracts from, the spectator’s experience of her objectification. It is, on the surface, a particularly jarring example of the pornography increasingly available to us through the internet. As, social criticism, however, it is unparalleled, as these three individuals, each owner of themselves — as their own slaver, their own petty entrepreneur — convert themselves into commodities on-screen for the enjoyment of their audience.

That the entire history of the United States is only a history of white male abuse of African-American women is demonstrated in the flesh by the descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s systematic rape of his girl slaves, whom his more legitimate descendants were so hesitant to acknowledge until recently, but, is a matter of public record. What makes these videos a matter of critical significance is that, even after the bourgeois manifesto of self-ownership was extended to Jefferson’s bastard descendants, the same patterns of behavior reappear in the form of a pornographic video starring three self-owners — two white, one black. In no previous age did we imagine that such horrific sexual abuse could be a voluntary act of a free individual. In our age — that of self-ownership — the very irrationality of this act not only appears rational to us — even if somewhat uncomfortable to watch — but, more importantly, earlier epochs of human civilization where it was decidedly not a voluntary act, and where, because this enslavement was not accompanied by the purchase/sale of a commodity,  are re-imagined in film as a banal sentimental romance, Jefferson in Paris.

The age of self-ownership — the bourgeois epoch — Marx argues is society marked not by the abolition of slavery, but by its universalization; it is an age not where the shadow of the slave master hovers over the crouching young girl who is legally unable to defend herself, but the age where that young girl rises to her own two feet as her own slave-master groomed from birth onward to employ herself as her own object. We arrive at a state of society where, it appears, property is perfectly compatible with freedom, but find that we are free only to the extent we are willing to enslave ourselves to each other.

It is this irreconcilable conflict, which is inherent in the very concept of self-ownership itself, that offers the basis for true freedom, and the subject of my final post.