WTF Am I Thinking?

Hi, just a little update of sorts as an intro to this post. Last year I graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in Law and I wrote my dissertation on the topic of Freedom of Expression and Fascist Speech. My experience of researching and writing this, alongside various other essays and whatnot for my classes, confirmed for me what I was already pretty sure of. That’s what I want to do. Like, forever. I want to read, research, write, and if possible, teach. The dream being to produce something ‘important’ – whatever that means. Or perhaps, just to rein in my ambitions a little, something ‘noteworthy’ would suffice.
Ultimately though, I simply want to be an active participant in a progressive, creative, academic community. Trying to understand and explain why things are how they are, imagining ways to make things a bit less shit, communicating our ideas in interesting and engaging ways, and always, always learning.
To this end I now present to you the blog post proper:

W h a t   T h e   F u c k   A m   I   T h i n k i n g  ?

Good question. 

And one I ask myself on a daily (hourly) basis for one reason or another.

But, the reason I am asking it today is because I want to bring some semblance of order and organisation to my thinking. I want to outline a few topics and ideas which I find interesting and/or important, in part to record some of my initial thoughts, feelings, etc, and partly to have a base of ideas that can structure any future research I do. It is arguably my main flaw as a writer that I don’t note my thoughts down when I think them, I just think some more and then forget about them until something comes up that reminds me of all those cool thoughts I had a couple weeks back. Hopefully something like this, done semi-regularly, will help me keep better track of my thoughts on the more complex topics I like to think about.

Freedom

of

Expression

Barry Deutsch – thenib.com

My engagement with ‘Free Speech Discourse’ comes from a place of deep irritation and frustration more than anything. The way free speech is discussed and weaponised in mainstream media makes me want to repeatedly smash my head into my desk. Free speech is most often invoked disingenuously, as a cover for indefensible positions, and second most often invoked incorrectly as an engagement with the first category. If I can in any way help reverse the erroneous and regressive trends in free speech discourse then I’d consider that a W.

Cancel culture is an horrendously misunderstood concept which I have already written about, here and here, and one which I’d like to continue exploring. Briefly put, as I see it ‘cancel culture’ comes in one of two general forms: 1) a misidentification on the part of powerful and privileged individuals of egalitarian and democratising shifts in public discourse as a targeted attack on them and their contemporaries; and, 2) an overly punitive overcorrection by predominantly liberal-left and left adopters of progressive values. Both of these forms are intensified by the totalising and radicalising effect of social media and media algorithms. The latter is a far less prevalent and pressing concern, and to me seems mostly a problem of its punitivity rather than of its substantive progressivism. The former, however, is a reactionary and potentially dangerous understanding of things and this (wilful) misidentification should be forcefully contested.

Secondary, but complimentary, to this concern would be to explore how free speech is employed euphemistically, weaponising the aforementioned misunderstanding as a tacit defence of other less defensible claims. For example, where free speech claims are used to defend the proliferation of unsubstantiated or poorly evidenced claims that have racist implications or overtly racist intentions, free speech can become a place holder for white supremacist ideas. Meta discussions can arise over whether it’s okay to discuss X without ever really discussing and interrogating X itself, allowing for X as an idea to be legitimated without actually having to justify it. The prevalence of these meta discussions can imbue the concept of free speech with a euphemistic value, where it becomes implicitly understood that to defend free speech is to defend the X within these meta debates, which are predominantly racist, sexist, and fascistic ideas.

A further interrelated point of interest is the influence of money/capital on speech. This is the loosest set of ideas I have here so I will just list a few ideas without much detail. The connection between financial power and the power/volume of one’s speech, and linked to this, race, gender and queerness as socio-economic categories with reduced speech power. The problem of equal speech freedoms granted to an unequal citizenry. The financialisation of speech and speech freedoms. The tendency of capitalism to concentrate wealth and thus to concentrate speech and speech freedoms.

Fascism, Capitalism, and Neoliberalism

The other half of my dissertation was about fascism, and my extensive reading on the topic led me to a few intriguing ideas that I really want to try to develop and see if there’s anything to them. The first, and which bleeds into the others, is that fascism is not a distinct political isolate but rather a fairly rational reactionary product of a capitalist political economy threatened by left-wing revolution. The fascist organisation of society is the natural end point of a society which accepts capitalism and the primacy of the accumulation imperative.

In this regard, it is first unhelpful that we have compartmentalised fascism as a distinct and isolated set of extreme political ideas rather than an extrapolation and intensification of relatively ‘moderate’ political views. There’s then a gap in the thought process that I’m think this blog post by one of my lecturers and this post which I relied on greatly for my dissertation are relevant to filling. But basically I want to say that there is an unlabelled, unidentified, and hence difficult to discuss, political space that sits between classical liberalism, neoliberalism and fascism due to how fascism is compartmentalised in the western political imagination. Following this I then want to argue that neoliberalism is, at one level of analysis (for sure not reducing it to this), a politics directed towards fascism. Rather than the revolutionary transition of ‘fascism fascism’, neoliberalism is a gradual progression towards fascism that flows from the rejection of social democracy and the acceptance of capitalist logic.

Marxist and Post-capitalist Legal Studies/Theory

Now we move on to the topics I have done far less research into and thus have far fewer concrete thoughts on. I think that a Marxist, or to be more accurate to accepted definitions, a Marxian understanding of the law (I am unsure as to the value and correctness of this distinction) is essential to understand the role of the legal system. I think there are better ways of understanding the law qua law but to understand law within the societal context a Marxian or similar critical perspective is necessary to give value to any generalised understanding of the law. If you have no idea what I just said, don’t worry, neither do I really, but I think the vibes hit at how I feel about the law and legal philosophy pretty well. So let’s just nod academically and move on, yeah? Cool.

Basically I have an idea for a fairly extensive project in this direction which is to conduct a contemporary Marxian analysis of the law and use it to critique UK law, and critique the development of law within communist/socialist countries which have and are attempting to transition to non-capitalist law. The big question that comes from a Marxist critique of the law is that if the law is inherently capitalistic, how then do you regulate society in a way that does not reproduce capitalist relations? And further, is it possible to make reforms within a capitalist legal system which do so, or is the construction of an entirely new system of regulation required to avoid co-option, watering down, frustration of anti-capitalist law by the law’s inherent capitalist and hierarchical tendencies?

It’s mostly questions at the moment, so I have a lot of base reading to do before I can tell if this is even a worthwhile endeavour but I think the general framework of theory into double pronged critique into imaginative/speculative theorising is useful and (i think?) an innovative way of utilising the Marxist critique of law.

Queer

Phenomenology

This is my newest interest. I think phenomenology is an incredibly useful philosophical practice for the purpose of understanding and communicating difference. I think there’s even a credible argument that leftist political advocacy often suffers from a phenomenological shortage, in that it doesn’t fully communicate at a non-rational level. (For more detail on this idea watch this interview with the author China Mieville.) I find the understanding and communication of the queer experience in a way that resonates on a non-rational/emotional level to be a source of inspiration for my more creative writing, which is the direction I would mostly (if not entirely) take with the exploration of this topic.

It’s also difficult to explain what exactly I mean – I’ll work on that. But I can show you, I think. If you have the time, watch Love Simon and then watch Heartstopper. They both show the queer experience, but Heartstopper far better communicates the feeling of queerness and the queer experience at an emotional. To me, it is phenomenologically queer in a way which Love Simon isn’t. And I want to write like that. I want to be able to do and to communicate queer phenomenology. I want to strike that deep emotional, non-rational chord that all my favourite works of literature and film are able to do with my own words. I’ll try keep you posted on how that goes.


Well that’s all for now, thanks for reading. I understand that this was more of a post for me than for any readers but I hope I made it engaging and intelligible. At some point I’m going to have to pitch some of these ideas if I want to do a PhD or get anything published anywhere so I guess it was good practice for that. Feel free to let me know what you thought about any of my ramblings, and thanks again. Have a good day 🙂

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