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As some have noticed I have been almost entirely absent for the last few months. In part this has been due to having taken on far too much work. Since June I have written and published four articles, as well as a conference paper for the RMMLA in Nevada last month. In particular, I have a paper coming out with the IJZS on Lacan’s discourse of the capitalist and the three discourses that follow from this discourse as it relates to contemporary Continental political theory that I’m particularly proud of and which I hope goes some of the way towards shifting certain features of political debates surrounding Lacanian inspired political thought. Currently I am putting together an edited collection with Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman that draws together works that are inspired by realist orientations in contemporary philosophy and that will feature contributions from Alain Badiou, Jane Bennett, Ray Brassier, Manuel DeLanda, Ian Hamilton Grant, Peter Hallward, Graham Harman, Adrian Johnston, Bruno Latour, Catherine Malabou, Quentin Meillassoux, Nicole Pepperell, John Protevi, Isabelle Stengers, Alberto Toscano, Slavoj Žižek and perhaps Martin Hagglund. Our desire is to draw together work that offers an alternative to Continental approaches dominated by correlationism or philosophies of access and various forms of social constructivism. Between teaching and working on these projects, I have been exceedingly busy.

However, despite being exceedingly busy, I’ve also felt strangely aphasic these days, as if thoughts are floating around without coalescing into anything. There’s an odd way in which I feel as if all of my old assumptions are falling away one by one and being replaced by something else; yet I do not know what this new thing is. Thoughts flash through my mind in fits and starts, yet hardly anything makes it to paper. In the interim I’ve being going over old and beloved ground, rereading Lucretius, Leibniz, and Spinoza, while also reading a good deal of history, Marx, and Marxist works. I find myself filled with horror at Leibniz’s universe, comforted only by Voltaire’s great work of ideology critique, Candide, while being filled with joy and a sense of empowerment by Lucretius and blessed Spinoza.

I am still in shock following Tuesday’s election results. Not only did Obama win the election, but he won by a near electoral vote landslide and by a popular vote margin that hasn’t been seen in years. In addition to this, he won states such as North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa, Virginia (my state of birth), New Mexico, Colorado, and Minnesota. After the last eight years– and arguably since Reagan –this victory is simply unbelievable. Of course, now the question will be where Obama’s administration goes. Already the talking heads are pushing the mantra that this is a center-right nation and that Obama needs to tack to the right, despite the fact that nearly all the polls indicate otherwise. As this New York Times map of voter patterns indicates, the conservative regions of the country form a very small band across the South and are almost entirely absent throughout the rest of the country:

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On the one hand, it is entirely likely that these segments of the population will continue to diminish over time as it seems largely restricted to older voters who are having a hard time convincing younger generations to follow their ideology. On the other hand, as migrations continue throughout the state and communications technologies increasingly penetrate more rural settings, it’s likely that the sort of xenophobia that characterizes these segments of the population will continue to diminish. This process will be intensified if Obama and the Democratic Congress perform well, though that’s a big “if” given all of the problems that are coming their way.

One of the central problems with American politics for the last thirty years is the almost complete absence of economically informed discussions. While there have, of course, been discussions of taxes, wages, and how to grow the economy, there has been very little in the way of discussions about class and class disparity. Both the Republican and Democratic parties, working under the hegemony of Friedmannian or neo-liberal economic assumptions– assumptions so basic and fundamental that they don’t even bother to articulate them –have implemented policy premised on the deregulation of markets and the rejection of any oversight. While this has made tremendous amounts of money for investors, it has been a blight on the rest of the population both in America and throughout the world, causing massive amounts of human suffering. Due to the absence of any serious discussion about basic economic philosophies, American politics turned to identity politics and values issues (really two sides of the same coin), pitting one identity against another in a war of all against all. Economics– which could provide a common ground among competing identities –receded into the background, and we instead got struggles between blacks and whites, the religious against the secular, women against men, the educated elite against rural voters… Basically all of the things that characterize the so-called “culture wars”. These battles worked nicely for the capitalist class as they directed all attention to “values issues” and group identities, placing economy off limits. If fundamentalist religion has intensified throughout the United States, then this is because people in the lower and middle classes have lost any sense of empowerment and have been completely abandoned to the brutal forces of the economy without any means for improving their lot. It is not difficult to discern racist undertones in these movements, implicitly organized around blaming minorities and immigrants for their dire conditions. As Kevin Phillips argues, these religious divisions can be seen as holdovers from the Civil War that left the South economically devastated in its aftermath and where fundamentalist evangelical Christianity picked up the baton, promising an eschatological redemption for the White South. One need only look at the faces in McCain’s and Palin’s rallies to see this. The tragedy of this is that the ruling class cynically manipulates these movements for their own ends, leading these groups to struggle on behalf of their own oppression. Such is the fate of “Joe the Plumber” who wants to buy his boss’s $250,000 business, when he only makes $40,000 a year and has a lean on his house. Between his concrete circumstances and his idealized vision of himself, he ends up supporting the very party that makes it even more difficult to attain this dream.

Given what is currently going on with the global economy and the election of Obama, perhaps now it is possible to begin changing this. In the last five minutes of Friday’s Bill Moyer’s Journal, Eric Foner remarks that one thing Obama can do to diminish racial and religious tensions is to work to strengthen unions. Where conflict unfolds at the level of identity, at the level of racial and religious differences, it is irresolvable as one group can only be pitted against another. By contrast, labor struggles surmount these sorts of divisions as 1) the participants have a shared problem with which they are engaged despite their differences, 2) labor struggles bring very diverse groups together, coming from different genders, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, etc., creating an opportunity for exposure to difference that diminishes us/them logic that characterizes forms of politics premised on identity, and 3) union struggle creates a sense of empowerment that surmounts the sense of being abandoned to the winds of economic fate. Living in a “Right To Work” state like Texas, this issue is particularly sensitive to me, as the “Right to Work” laws are Orwellian-speak for the ceding of all power to employers while completely castrating labor and providing it with no means to organize or negotiate better conditions for itself. In the second or third debate, Obama stated that he could not support CAFTA, because he could not promote agreements with other nations that brutally suppressed and killed union organizers. John McCain rolled his eyes. This hints at a marked divergence from the free trade assumptions of previous administrations, including the Clinton administration, that have consistently treated human rights abuses as some nebulous phenomenon that come out of nowhere, detaching them from their economic circumstances; and detaching these economic circumstances, in turn, from free market ideology that has consistently led to the emergence of brutal dictatorships and brutal ethnic conflicts due to massive job losses, inflation, the privatization of services, and all the rest.

Political theory and politics are always two different things. Change comes from the ground itself and those that organize and force power to capitulate. Theory creates weapons that can both help us to understand these strange new movements– these rumbling and unheard voices so unlike the platitudes that populate the ruling ideology that clogs the airwaves and newspapers –and can help to formalize these movements, intensify them, and create weapons for them. Today one of the most vital tasks is to once again put economics on the table as a site of politics, shifting away from the endless politics of identity.

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