Tag Archives: Britain

Grievable life, ten years on.

National melancholia, understood as a disavowed mourning, follows upon the erasure from public representations of the names, images, and narratives of those the US has killed.  On the other hand the US’s own losses are consecrated in public obituaries that constitutes so many acts of nation-building.  Some lives are grievable, and others are not; the differential allocation of grievability that decides what kind of subject is and must be grieved, and what kind of subject must not, operates to produce and maintain certain exclusionary conceptions of who is normatively human: what counts as a livable life and a grievable death? – Judith Butler, Precarious Life.

Set aside, for a moment, the American context of the passage above, and the fact that it was written over ten years ago.  It could have been written about the United Kingdom.  It could have been written yesterday.  The great paradox of the last fifteen years, since the declaration of  perpetual war against a tactical abstraction is that for all the talk of everything having changed, a remarkable degree of continuity remains.  As the government prepares the construction of a memorial to the British victims of terrorism over the past ten years (who number, including aid workers, less than 100), the perpetual acting-out of  trauma through a narcissistic, inward looking grief culture inevitably precludes any way to properly work-through this trauma and develop appropriate responses.

“Our” dead are, once again, endowed with vivid inner lives and identities: they were fathers, mothers, football fans, teachers, students; they had aspirations, histories and connection to communities; their faces were our faces.

It is a crude arithmetic that would place the scores killed under the streets of London, the beaches of Tunisia or the Syrian desert alongside the tens of thousands killed in the various “operations” to “secure Britain at home” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and perhaps many more (unofficial) locations.  To create such a ledger would also be a category mistake, because the critique here is not that the innocence of people killed is produced by degree relative to their location, but rather is absolute.  An Afghan farmer is no more responsible for his incineration at the hands of a drone operator than a holidaymaker is responsible for the deranged, gun wielding fanatic.

This is the heart of the problem, though.  Through the ongoing presence of a culture of mourning -vis e vis terrorism-that valourises the innocence of the Western victim whilst not only remaining silent but often actively working to anonymise the Other when they suffer a similar fate, we have fail to develop an ethical imagination appropriate to the globalised world from which we benefit; if innocent life curtailed by violent death is a priori grievable, then this applies to all who suffer this fate.

The above point is not a new claim; indeed it is at he heart of what Butler, and other theorists of cosmopolitan ethics have been writing about since the late 1990’s.  The tragedy of this is that we seem further, not closer, to incorporating the idea that all victims of violence, dispensed by states, armed groups or individuals had individual identities, lives and families; pasts and presents but, no longer, futures. To cultivate an ethical apparatus which is able to perceive in a way which refuses to create victim hierarchies, either explicitly (through the dehumanisation of the Other) or implicitly (by elevating proximate victims through grief-narratives) is more important than ever.


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Radio Geographies and Documentary Film

I’m going on a course in a couple of weeks which, hopefully, is going to show me how to make documentary films using the BBC’s clips archive (although ongoing access to this isn’t going to be available until, well, who knows).

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about communicating research, and how my PhD might be communicated “otherwise”, particularly through film.  Consequently, I’ve been having very early trawl through some of the available videos in the BFI archive and other, linked repositories at the Imperial War Museum.

This post is mainly an excuse to link to this extraordinary film about the “brave new world” of military radio engineering in the 1970’s.  I don’t want to say too much about it, perhaps that’s for later, but it gives a wonderful illustration of the early development of human-technological-military assemblage. Just as in the basic tenets of professional soldiering, the recruit(s) are drilled to become a component in the wider body of the unit/platoon, and also the disciplinary assembling/disassembling of one’s rifle, here we see the training of specialists to connect and become part of the advanced radio/radar assemblages which were becoming vital to Britain’s military apparatus.  Even without the sinister feedback spiral at the end of the film and the bizarre ballroom jazz as the guns are inspected, this is a fascinating piece of military/social history.

WordPress’s seeming hatred for the embedding of video (or rather, my inability to get the html code from the Imp. War Museum to work) means that this link will have to do for now.


More, I hope, in due course…

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March 18, 2014 · 5:39 pm

Immigration: The debate we’re “not allowed to have?”

Racist vans, UK Border agency goons racially profiling commuters and the bizarre spectacle of the Home Office twitter feed gleefully broadcasting tweets and pictures of people being arrested in a clear attempt to get #immigrationoffenders trending.  Aside from the contempt of court necessitated by this, the “debate” on immigration seems to have taken on a far more poisonous hue of late.

The problem with the “debate” on immigration is that we’re constantly being told by those of the Daily Wail/UKIP/Centre for Social Cohesion/Migration Watch persuasion that it’s “The one debate we’re not allowed to have”.  This would be more convincing if the debate on immigration weren’t constantly being conducted, and at the most hysterical register imaginable.  Any attempt to “have the debate on immigration”, we’re told, is immediately slapped down by the “multiculti thought police”.  If only. 

Mainstream current affairs panels such as question time have featured participants who have repeatedly claimed that New Labour engineered mass immigration in the early 2000’s as method of creating a permanent majority and annihilating “indigenous” British culture.  These deranged conspiracy theories and views like them are regularly articulated as part of the “debate” on immigration and are, by and large, subject to very little of the de-bunking and ridicule they deserve.  

The government’s current policy seems to be working on a dishonest conflation of legal and illegal migration.  Illegal immigrants are hardly going to see the billboard van, realise the error of their ways and hand themselves in to police, so clearly the target of this semion is all migrants (code: non-white).  In addition to this, those arrested in the heavy-handed, speculative sweeps made by UKBA (which, let it be remembered, has recently been completely discredited as a functioning agency) would have rights of appeal and will not be instantly deported (no doubt to the apoplexy of those at Telegraph towers).  

The central focus of the “debate on immigration” which is, in reality, never mentioned is pretty much the same question which isn’t allowed to be asked of the financial crisis and global recession, namely the stagnation of real wages and their replacement with an unsustainable credit bubble.  It’s much easier to placate a workforce whose wages have stayed the same or dropped in comparison with senior managers if financial institutions can provide cheap, easy credit to pick up the slack.  Real wealth is concentrated at to the top through ever increasing remuneration packages whilst the chimerical feeling of wealth generated by credit serve only to shackle those at the bottom.  

The eternal refrain of anti-immigrant rhetoric is that of “them” coming over “here” and undercutting (rather than taking) “our” workers.  This isn’t a problem of immigration or borders, it’s a problem of not having wages which keep pace with the cost of living and, moreover, a lack of enforcement in the paying of the minimum wage by unscrupulous employers.  This is the only place where undercutting takes place by “illegal” migrants, at the level below the minimum wage where employers can pay their (illegal) labor force whatever they chose and face no opposition, as they can be blackmailed using their status at any time.  This, of course, is to say nothing of the massive number of “illegal immigrants” who are “working” in circumstances and under conditions which vary from indentured (debt) labor through to slavery.

As for those here working legally, either on visas or as citizens of EU countries, there really is no debate to be had.  Because it’s not a debate about immigration, it’s about membership of the EU.  Such a debate has begun, or really it’s re-started, as it never really went away.  It seems unlikely that a majority of people, no matter what some of them  might say in more lubricated moments at the golf club bar would vote for a the economic suicide which would accompany the an outright exit of a trading bloc which contains all of our biggest trading partners.  This may not be the case, though, if the “debate” on EU membership is conducted with the same level of ignorance and inaccuracy with which it has been thus far. 

The misinformation, dishonesty and divisive, populist rhetoric which is employed by the anti-immigrant lobby has poisoned the possibility of there actually being a sensible debate on immigration, not the lack of trying to have one.  It’s a common tactic amongst capitalist societies to ensure that the instability generated by periodic crises of capital are managed through the setting of the working poor, under-employed and unemployed and marginalised groups against each other, preventing attention being turned towards the underlying socio-economic conditions of massive concentrations of capital and political power in the hands of unregulated corporate monopolies and compromised political classes.  

As red herrings go, immigration is as big as they come.  

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