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The Twittering Machine. Richard Seymour. From Internet Addiction to “post-Truth” politics.

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The Twittering Machine. Richard Seymour. The Indigo Press. 2019.

This month Benjamin Griveaux, candidate for Paris Mayor from President Macron’s party, La République en Marche, stood down. Peter Pavlinski had posted on the Internet a video of the Macronist stalwart having ‘virtual sex’. Images of the candidate tossing himself off in a previous online exchange with the Russian exile’s girlfriend, Alexandra de Taddeo, had been taken, without, he claims, her knowledge, from her computer. Published on Paveninski’s site, Pornopolitique, it looked like a victory on the Web for those challenging what Richard Seymour in the Foreword to his new book calls the monopoly “formerly enjoyed by media and entertainment companies”. Pavlinski called it a blow against the “hypocrisy” of politicians.

The Twittering Machine is “an attempt” “to work out a new language into what is coming into being” in this “new techno-political system”. The title is short for the whole range of digital platforms. The book is a sustained critique of the “techno-utopians” dream of “creative autonomy” that has gone with the rise of the “bloom of the web”. Beyond being an “addiction machine” it has important political effects. Nobody is any doubt that the Affaire Griveaux would not have happened without the Net’s “ubiquitous publicity. This may be added to the growth of what Seymour calls “cyber-cynicism”.

Debate has raged over making public these “sextos”, and more online regulation, with some defending the confidentiality of intimate relations ( Griveaux scandal revives France’s will to regulate social media). For others it illustrates how “connectivity” can become the fantasy of sharing solitary pleasure. Others relate it to the  #MeToo movement, ,#BalanceTonPorc, and the way sexual issues, from harassment, and rape to infidelity, are no longer considered private in France.

Political Twilight Zone.

Less noticed internationally is the presence of Juan Branco. The author of Crépuscule (2018) and self-styled leftist he is one of the lawyers for Julian Assange. The advocate now represents Pavlinski and is, in effect, part of his public voice (Le Monde. Derrière la chute de Benjamin Griveaux, enquête sur le rôle d’un trio sans foi ni loi.)

Announcing the twilight of President Macron, the book (initially available for free on the Net) has been fiercely criticised on the left for its portrait of high-society plots, the international ‘Gotha’ of the international, elite schooling, moralism, dislike of ‘degenerates’ and venom against homosexuals. Crépuscule is studded with lengthy passages on the networks and manoeuvring of one gay man, Gabriel Attal, charged with organising Macron’s youth wing. For at least some this would-be Revolutionary Prosecutor looks more at home in the world of far-right ‘anti-globalists’ and 4Chan than the left. It comes as no surprise that Branco vaunts how, on Twitter, he had exposed media cover-ups of the oligarchs’ activities. (1)

Richard Seymour offers a way of looking at how figures like Branco and Pavlinski have become political players. Some readers will be disappointed at the absence of discussion about Lenin’s Tomb, Race-play BDSM and the merits of poking fun at people with severe facial injuries. But they will find that the author puts such “anti-celebrities”, the “propagandists of human failure” in their place. Seymour has also written a thoroughly readable thoughtful book.

Trolls and Trolling.

Many of the stories set out in The Twittering Machine, are more tragic than the fate of Benjamin Griveaux. Between our addiction to the instant rewards of ‘like’ on Facebook, the ‘community’ run for profit, the surveillance capitalism, we have the space where trolls gloated on young people’s plight and helped drive them to suicide. The taunting of Océane, her death in front of a high-speed train, her “protest” against an ex-boyfriend’s rape, her remote father, “a profiteer in the sex industry”, and society, made us weep. Seymour, in a sensitive account, talks of the yearning for popularity, for renown, and puts charge of self-regard in its place, “complaints about narcissism are almost always, as Kristin Dombek writes, about the ‘selfishness of others’.” (Page 94) In this world of intense self-promotion come moments of pack hunting. Vigilantes react against the baiting. “Trolling, and the backlash against trolling, is for the most part good money.” (Page 123)

Citing Jean Baudrillard it becomes clear that in a world of simulacra there is a “darkly dystopian potential”. In “post-truth politics” “new fascisms are emerging round micro celebrities, mini-patriarchs and the flow of homogenised messages.” Racist propaganda has “compensatory, antidepressant effects”. The Islamic State, ISIS, another “far right social movement” based on religious-racism spread on the Web with “snuff videos”, “It self-consciously incarnated the antithesis of everything liberal modernity stood for” (Page 187) These “collective hallucinations” have real effects, far-right murders, Daesh’s genocidal state. And there is the first “Twitter President” Donald Trump….

Digital Democracy? 

Can the Internet still have progressive potential? The Twittering Machine cites the role of the early pre-Net French system, Minitel a videotex online service. Seymour says that this played a role in student protests way back in 1986 – although while present out of solidarity at many of them, including the most violent, I failed to notice its impact. Have its successors now become a “sub-hegemonic practice” keeping us in line to the “emerging techno-political regime”? This is at least is certain.

Yet, it was not the technology used but that anti-democratic folk politics principle of “consensus” decision-making that hampered movements like Occupy, accelerating their own lack of a political strategy that could have an effect. The scope of “digital democracy” remains open. Parties organised digitally, like La France insoumise, have their own ways of blocking dissenting voices, by prohibiting any organised opposition. It is impossible to imagine the modern left without social media platforms, Blogs, YouTube, web sites, even Instagram, and the use of Twitter during protests.

In its opening chapters  The Twittering Machine speculates on the “subterranean” drives that attach us to a world in which “we are all scripturient”, writers of texts. The seemingly detached cyberspace in which letters are typed is equally one where we work “without remuneration the better to sell us as a product” (Page 215) Behind lies a taste of B.F. Skinner’s behaviourist ‘utopia’ for business, as surveillance capitalism shadowing the Twitter Machine. Behind the digital revolution and the time consuming Monster, the ‘Chronophage’, is profit from human lab rats. .

The Twittering Machine raises more questions than than it offers plausible conclusions. No left activist in the heat of a political struggle is going to leave behind her mobile, tablet, laptop, or PC and stroll in “the park with nothing but a notepad and a nice pen”. Nobody who wishes to express his or her views is going to rely on speaking or the postal system. Perhaps the “post-Baudrillard” writers, Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serrory are onto something when they write that amongst the promotion of the self, and the aesthetic capitalism on Facebook and the Net, may also inspire people to see in themselves their own artistic desires, that it may also allow personal creativity outside of mass consummation and simulacra. This leaves a place for a “utopia”, not exclusively of writing, but certainly fit to occupy the “dreamspace”. (2)

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(1) Crépuscule ou l’erreur de la confusion. À propos de l’idole BrancoAjoutez aussi –- car tout y est — ses pulsions homophobes, qui transparaissent dans une note où l’effondrement de notre civilisation est associé à deux figures gay — Gabriel Attal et Edouard Louis — si dissemblables qu’on se demande ce qui peut les réunir si ce n’est l’homophobie de l’auteur et le vieux thème de la décadence homosexuelle.

On the alt-right use of the Internet see: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right Angela Nagel. 2017 Zed Books.

(2) Pages 479 – 480 Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serror. L’esthétisation du monde. 2013. Folio.

______________

See also, RS 21.

Review: The Twittering Machine Mark Murphy

Notably,

It is important to note that the last major book ‘left-wing’ book that gave an account of the impact of social media on our politics was Angela Nagel’s Kill All Normies. The problem with her writing is that it is less a description of the material circumstances of our current digital predicament and more of a moralising screed against the current state of left-wing politics. Likewise, before Nagel, we had Exiting the Vampire Castle by Mark Fisher, who began tracing the jouissance (toxic pleasure) laden tendencies that social media brought out in the left. He tells us that the Vampire Castle – his metaphor for the horror story of social media – is driven by a ‘priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.’ The problem with Fisher and Nagel’s work, in short, is that they have both become a resource for those who moralise against moralism rather than explain our addiction to moralism.

Seymour’s work is vital because he refuses to be drawn into any form of moralising. The psychoanalytic insight, which underpins Seymour’s work, therefore resists externalising, moralising and fetishising the return of the writing repressed. Instead, he argues that it needs to be looked at honestly as we are a part of it whether we like it or not. Against the all too common ‘techlash’ theme, he argues that social media does indeed bring out fascistic and conspiratorial impulses, but it has also given a voice to the marginalised. Moreover, even if the Twittering Machine does give the marginalised more voice, it does so at the expense of handing power to huge corporate entities like Google that monetise our attention.

 

In Defence of Richard Seymour – “Labour’s Antisemitism affair” largely gets it right.

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“Media-Manufactured Anti-Semitism Crisis” Says Weekly Worker: Richard Seymour Disagrees.

There is no joy like that of Tendance Coatesy’s at the welcoming back of a sinner into the fold.

In celebration this Blog’s editorial committee – a powerful and influential body on the international left – has sent to the rubbish bin one of our posts criticising the esteemed comrade.

Not everybody is of the same view.

The Monster Raving Greenstein Party expresses his opprobrium, at great length, in the latest issue of one of his many House Journals, for whatever faction he is now leading, the Weekly Worker.

No doubt piqued by the fact that Seymour does not mention him once he states, in words that could have been written by that master of revolutionary polemic Gerry Downing,

“Seymour’s article, entitled ‘Labour’s anti-Semitism affair’, on Labour’s media-manufactured anti-Semitism crisis, proves the maxim that those who leave the SWP invariably drift to the right.2 In Seymour’s case this involves a wholesale abandonment of class politics in favour of subjectivism and a crude empiricism.”

Here is the master polemic:

Both sides of the fence. Leftist intellectuals have taken fright when faced with the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. Tony Greenstein responds to Richard Seymour

No doubt piqued by the fact that Seymour does not mention him once this is one of his other opening comments,

Seymour’s latest article in Jacobin suggests he is wandering aimlessly across the left, dragged in the undertow of conflicting political currents without either ballast or firm conviction.

Followed by, blah blah…..

..mired in the swamp of identity politics and this is causing him to lose his political bearings.

To sum it up ,in words that could have been written by that master of revolutionary polemic Gerry Downing  Greenstein asserts,

Seymour’s article, entitled ‘Labour’s anti-Semitism affair’, on Labour’s media-manufactured anti-Semitism crisis, proves the maxim that those who leave the SWP invariably drift to the right.2 In Seymour’s case this involves a wholesale abandonment of class politics in favour of subjectivism and a crude empiricism.

Few will be arsed to read further, so let’s look at comrade Seymour’s contribution in its own right.

Labour’s Antisemitism Affair.    RICHARD SEYMOUR

Lenny begins by describing the absurdities of the Corbyn ‘Beetroot’ scandal and Judass (although as a seasoned far-left internet-surfer, they have largely only been at the corner of the Tendance’s interest).

Warning signs about anti-semitism begin to flash when he sees that,

“Some Corbyn supporters signing a petition defending him against a “very powerful interest group,” toxic language to use in this context.”

Delving into the nitty gritty of recent events, tackles  the Christine Shawcroft affair.

Seymour  suggests that her most recent behaviour at Labour’s NEC, which led to her ignoble resignation after it was discovered she’d defended a Holocaust denier,  may be explained, “Given her long-standing commitment to defending members against a hostile bureaucracy, it is plausible that Shawcroft acted on autopilot.”.

The Tendance is less generously inclined on learning, after this article will have been written, the following, (Leaked minutes show Labour at odds over antisemitism claims).

The minutes also reveal Shawcroft refused to recuse herself as chair when the panel heard the case of a Labour councillor who has been accused of using a racist term to describe a black council candidate and co-ordinating with the party of the disgraced Tower Hamlets former mayor Lutfur Rahman against Labour.

Shawcroft, an active member in Tower Hamlets who was once herself suspended for defending Rahman, was asked to recuse herself after other NEC members said she had acted as a “silent friend” of the councillor during his investigatory interview, but refused, the minutes said.

But from this point the article really gets into its stride.

The context is well set out,

Corbyn was not supposed to win. The fact that he did, with a landslide, was treated by many Labour MPs as a matter for counter-subversion. Rather than reflecting their weakness, they insisted, it was proof of the infiltration of Labour by a “hard left plot”: new virulent strain of Militant. For both the right-wing and the hard-center of the British press, it was evidence that an unthinking mob had taken over — akin, said the Financial Times, to the supporters of the Third Reich.

Then we have, amongst other cases, including, (an old star on this Blog) “Gerry Downing, a seasoned sectarian hack, was the next to appear in the headlines, for urging on ISIS victory against the US, and describing Israel as a form of “the Jewish question.”

And, he looks at Ken Livingstone going on about them there Zionists and Nazis.

Livingstone was making a gratuitous hash of a history which wasn’t particularly relevant to the issue, and dropping his party in a huge and unnecessary mess. He was suspended, amid a huge furor.

And …Jackie Walker at the Jewish Labour Movement training……

The nature of her intervention left no doubt that Walker was there to wage factional war, attacking the JLM’s approach to antisemitism and the political valences of Holocaust Day by suggesting (wrongly) that it was not “open to all people who experienced a holocaust.” On the most generous reading possible, Walker chose the worst terrain and format for making points that would have required nuance and careful unpacking. The audience was on edge as soon as she spoke, and her roundly heckled comments were secretly recorded and leaked. To anyone not steeped in Walker’s politics, this looked at best tendentious. In the coverage, it looked as though she was splitting hairs, belittling antisemitism. Walker’s tactical misadventure inadvertently damaged her own cause, and she was drummed out of the Momentum leadership.

One imagines this raised some hackles.

It’s a complex and well-researched  article – though some reference to very real anti-semitism not just in Hungary or the US but in the rather closer France where allegations of left-wing complicity have arisen would not have been amiss –  which merits being read in full.

Seymour rightly focuses on ” the traditions of anti-Zionism emerging in the post-1967 era tend to be socialist and internationalist. For example, Moshé Machover” and,

Mike Marqusee (who) was a celebrated figure on the Labour left whose moving memoir challenged Zionism’s claim on Jewish identity. The Jewish Socialist Group and the radical group Jewdas, (who) take their inspiration from the tradition of secular, anti-nationalist Bundism.

He concludes,

 As I have argued, while the issue of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is vitally important, Israel is not a major source of polarization in British politics. It has, however, become a displacement, a pseudo-explanation for much larger and longer-term social processes.

For some on the Left, meanwhile, the fight to defend Corbyn’s leadership has come to mean defending it against Labour Friends of Israel, the Board of Deputies, and the Jewish Labour Movement: in a word, the “Lobby.” But such groups are neither as cohesive nor as powerful as the “Lobby” thesis implies. If they were even a tithe as powerful as Unite, for example, Corbyn’s leadership might be in danger. Such groups merit criticism, but a singular focus on them cannot found a sensible politics.

It is, alternatively, possible to walk and chew gum. To refute bad-faith accusations of antisemitism, assert the simple justice of Palestinian rights, and recognize that the Left is not exempted from racism. The rise in antisemitism is not separate from the general increase in racism, and nor is it eternally marginal and out-of-power. At a time when nascent far-right movements are surfacing, with antisemitic tendencies linked to state power in Hungary and the United States, the Left has a particular responsibility to lead on this issue. It can’t do that if it’s so focused on the “Lobby” that it can’t see the problem clearly.

In other words some people on the left are obsessed about ‘Zionism’ to the point of losing any sense of judgement and that this ‘displacement’ has  mighty pissed a lot of others off, including a large section of the left.

That we had better direct attention to wider issues about racism, which includes an anti-semitic element – see above comment in the present article about France.

So what of poor old Monster Raving’s objections?

After dismissing the whole piece on the grounds that “It is not for Richard Seymour to now lecture us on the evils of anti-Semitism.”  Greenstein does say one thing worth of note:

I was surprised that Jacobin published Seymour’s article, but reassured that the current editor, Bhaskar Sunkara, has told me that he completely disagreed with the thrust of the article. The previous editor, Max Ajl, has told me that he would never have published “such a shoddy piece”! So I still find it puzzling why Jacobin thought it worthy of publication, when so many rightwing sites would have welcomed such a ‘repentant sinner’!

Which confirms everything progressive opinion thinks of the oddly named Jacobin.

And provided the opening sentence of the present post.

That Sunkara even talks to this creature….

 

 

Momentum Invites Richard – Mocker of Burns Victim, Veteran Simon Weston – Seymour to Conference.

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Target of Richard Seymour’s Mockery.

The coming Momentum conference looks intresting.

The “five-day festival” of radical politics will take place alongside the official party conference in Liverpool, and will include talks from the film-maker Ken Loach and the journalist Paul Mason. The Young Fabians’ Greg Dash will be doing a slot at the event, but tells the Staggers it is not an official Young Fabians event (the group will, however, be hosting their own fringe events alongside the conference).

It  has stirred up controversy.

I will not comment on the list of speakers, or the programme (such as available at present)  but it looks pretty obvious that a 5 Day event is going to have a broad range of opinion on the left, and that many of these views, and individuals, would not be palatable to everybody.

That is the nature of democratic debate. 

These are more balanced reports, at least about the event’s content:

Momentum launches “special event” timed with Labour’s conference – but some see it as a rival. (New Statesman)

Momentum event featuring Corbyn ‘is not Labour conference rival’ (Guardian)

It is however of concern, which the Guardian notes,  that this individual is going to have a platform.

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Simon Weston suffered serious injuries whilst on active duty on HMS Sir Galahad when the Argentinians attacked it. His injuries included severe burns to his face.

Richard Seymour wrote in a comment:

“If he knew anything he’d still have his face”.

Seymour refused to apologise on his comment which appeared on an article written by Simon Weston in the Daily Telegraph.

The Guardian no doubt underlined Seymour’s appearance for the simple reason that they refused to have anything more to do with him after these vile, anti-disabled, comments were written.

GUARDIAN CONFIRMS RICHARD SEYMOUR DOES NOT WORK FOR THEM AFTER HATE POST.

More on this story: here. 

Apparently Seymour has not learnt to curb his tongue.

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It seems that Trolling is now an acceptable part of the political scene.

Or it is, if this creature is invited.

 Seymour would go down well in certain quarters with further remarks – perhaps a few jokes – about making those fighting on the side of the   ‘imperialists’ disabled, or murdering them.

Well-established rumour has it that he could have them rolling in aisles.

We hope this does not include Momentum.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 19, 2016 at 5:11 pm