16_fullBogost has an interesting post up reflecting on Nick’s talk [.PDF] on actor-network theory and politics. Ian writes:

This is something like what Srnicek is suggesting for politics: instead of the fast-cook burger revolution of revolution, what if we considered the slow-cook barbeque of reform?

Another implication of this notion, which Nick hints at but doesn’t say directly, is whether this process can be understood in relation to Badiou’s notion of the event. Is Badiou’s idea of fidelity as a process by which an event is sustained compatible with Srnicek’s political slow cooking? Or is the event too static, more like the protein denaturing of the burger than like the melting collagen of the slab of ribs? It seems to me that the event is too retrospective, too singular, and too momentarily constituted to stand up to the sauce of reform.

I confess that the term “reform” really causes my hackles to rise. To me it just sounds a lot like “working within the system to change the system”, where one becomes a politician or joins a corporation with the intention of changing things. In this respect, Badiou’s notion of “truth-procedures” strikes me as closer to what Nick is getting at, though “truth-procedure” isn’t quite the best term either. Responding to Ian’s worry, it’s worthwhile to recall that for Badiou it is not the event that is important, but the practice that emerges following the event that is important. Truth-procedures proceed by restructuring elements, objects, and relations belonging to a situation, producing the sort of groundwork for new networks and relations that Nick describes in his paper.

read on!

Perhaps what Nick is getting at with his rejection of politics based on grand abstraction can be fleshed out through an anecdote about a young child. A while back an exasperated co-worker told me an amusing story about how her child had had a melt down the night before because she wanted fruit. The mother first tried to give her child grapes, then melons, then apple, then oranges, but with each attempt to appease the child the child’s face grew a darker shade of purple, clouded with anger and frustration. The whole time the child screamed “No! I want fruit!” I was, of course, delighted by this anecdote because it is an exact version of Hegel’s joke about the universal and the man who goes to the market trying to buy fruit. I was astonished to hear that this mistake could genuinely be made.

When Nick denounces grand abstractions it seems like he’s gesturing at something like the error of trying to eat fruit. You can’t fight capitalism, nor can you fight neoliberalism. Asking how to turn over capitalism or how we can overcome neoliberalism is like trying to eat fruit. The real issue is that of how the local relations in a network can be used to produce effects on global relations within a network. So suppose you’re an oppressed worker in a corporation. Just as you can’t fight capitalism and you can’t eat fruit, you can’t fight a corporation. Where is the corporation? It is everywhere and nowhere.

However, while you can’t get at the corporation itself, within the corporation there are all sorts of local networks and nodes that you can act upon. Just as there are strawberries, grapes, apples, and so on, there are local interactive relations that make up the endo-consistency of the corporation in its ongoing existence. These can be targeted. Among these nodes there will be hubs, through which many axial or radiating elements are connected. For example, in the United States there are major airports like Chicago International or Dallas Fort Worth, and then all sorts of other smaller airports that radiate out from these like Lynchburg, Virginia’s airport. If Chicago International Airport shuts down due to ice or a snow storm, all of these other airports are effectively shut down as well. Similarly, in the blogosphere, there are blogs that function as hubs that regulate flows of connection and exchanges of information throughout the rest of the internet. If these shut down, then the sites that get their traffic from these hubs become separate. New “speciations” begin to take place as a result through topological isolation and “information drift”, new relations begin to come into being, and so on.

It seems to me that Nick is thus making two proposals. On the one hand, Nick is making the obvious observation that we need to know how these networks are concretely organized, where their hubs are, how interfaces among the elements in these hubs are interrelated, to strategize acting upon these networks. Absent that sort of concrete knowledge we are like the child trying to eat fruit. On the other hand, in proposing that “we can see that what is needed now is not a full-scale revolution, nor an overthrowing of an entire network, but rather the piece-meal construction of the conditions for a new system to emerge”, I take it that Nick is asking how we go about producing new networks, nodes, and, perhaps most importantly hubs that act upon established networks that have become efficient at reproducing themselves over time. The point is that through this sort of local action the global network is acted upon. And, with any luck, a point emerges where a tipping point or bifurcation point is reached, leading to a qualitative change in the object or social organization as a whole. The worry here, however, is that what follows these tipping points is generally very difficult to calculate and predict.