Note: This was the text written on request to accompany Mercy Pictures’ show ‘People of Colour’, Auckland, October 16th – November 7th, 2020. I had no role in the conception or production of the show, but I fully support the artists of Mercy Pictures, and defend the right of all artists everywhere to make work freely. Without freedom of expression we are lost.
A flag is a piece of material, stuck to a wall, hoisted on a flag-pole. From a scientific standpoint, a flag, any flag, is nothing, just a scrap of cloth. In this sense, then, flags are silly. To care about flags is to expose oneself as vulnerable to a certain symbolic dominance. To pledge allegiance to a flag, any flag, unless done under duress, out of a cultural habit, is a strange move in a world shimmering, exploding with floating signifiers. What differentiates a McDonalds sign from the Stars and Stripes? Why not kneel outside a Dunkin’ Donuts instead? What is capitalism’s flag – all of the banners flapping outside consumer huts strewn across the world, perhaps?
Text originally written for Workers’ University / Front Slobode Tuzla, Bosnia, funded by Rosa Luxemburg Society
[All photographs taken by Nina Power in lockdown in Madrid & London between March-September 2020]
Introduction: The Social Framework
In the light of the global pandemic of 2020 and the various governmental and collective responses to it, we are better able to discuss certain material realities that were previously obscured by the everyday machinations of global capitalism. The pandemic and the question of health, risk and responsibility, and where any of these things really lie, came into unadorned focus during the many months of the spread of the disease and the various political reactions, from the state on down, to it.
The virus poses questions about who cares, how this work is remunerated (if it is remunerated), and what we value more broadly individually and collectively. Now is a good a time as any to think carefully about ‘the politics of care’ so that we might be better able to make more central this most obscured, but utterly necessary, area of thought and being, particularly in its collective dimensions.
I’m teaching a new Adult Ed course. Register here.
The course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of risk. It will examine the topic from a variety of different philosophical perspectives that will in turn operate as a way into understanding broader philosophical areas and questions.
In this regard over twelve weeks, we will come at the question of risk from different angles: as a question knowledge, as a question of morality, as a question of behaviour, as a question of calculation and so on. Towards the end of the course we will look at more real-life situations of risk and risk-taking, including questions concerning health (and the relation between individual and collective health), and where responsibility for risk lies politically.
Among the authors covered will be: Immanuel Kant, Daniel Kahneman, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, Michel Foucault, Amartya Sen, Ulrich Beck, Deborah Lupton.
By the end of this course you will be able to: – Explain key concepts in the philosophy of risk, including probability, outcome, error, information, intentional and unintentional risk exposure, consent – Recognise the are covered by the philosophy of risk, and be able to discuss and debate the strengths and weaknesses of arguments relating to risk – Relate concepts, ideas an arguments from the philosophy of risk to philosophy more broadly, but also to everyday life.
Within a few minutes the next attack will begin. Now that I am surrounded for the first time by all the members of my family it seems only fitting that a complete record should be made of this unique event. As I lie here – barely able to breathe, my mouth filled with blood and every tremor of my hands reﬂected in the attentive eye of the camera six feet away – I realize that there are many who will think my choice of subject a curious one. In all senses, this film will be the ultimate home-movie, and I only hope that whoever watches it will gain some idea of the immense affection I feel for my wife, and for my son and daughter, and of the affection that they, in their unique way, feel for me.
[This text was written the night of 11th December 2019]
Mood in advance of tomorrow – judgement in Alfie’s case expected, general election, forecast rain – dystopian, fatalistic, thinking about Edmund Burke, Margaret Thatcher, the English countryside I grew up in, the conservatism of the country, its separations and splits, its fractures and perennial class war, its blood sports, its interminable legal processes, its indifference to food, its grimy, seedy sex, its pasty bodies, its love of surveillance, the weaponised blithe spirit, the masochistic attachment to mediocrity, to greyness, to bedsits, mould, damp, bread, cruelty, moss, rabbit holes, rabbit pie, rabbits with mixy, white rabbits and Welsh rarebit.
We have now not only travelled through the land of pure understanding, and carefully inspected each part of it, but we have also surveyed it, and determined the place for each thing in it. This land, however, is an island, and enclosed in unalterable boundaries by nature itself. It is the land of truth (a charming name), surrounded by a broad and stormy ocean, the true seat of illusion, where many a fog bank and rapidly melting iceberg pretend to be new lands and, ceaselessly deceiving with empty hopes the voyager looking around for new discoveries, entwine him in adventures from which he can never escape and yet also never bring to an end – Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age – H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
[Note: this is the Dissertation I wrote for my Birkbeck LLB, which concluded in 2016. It touches on matters of the definition of, and political and policing implications of the term ‘public’ as it appears in Public Order law in England & Wales. In the background are the experiences I personally had campaigning with Defend the Right to Protest, and more specifically in relation to supporting Alfie Meadows in his on-going attempt to defend himself against the state and receive justice].
‘There is an order to be found, within things and between them, which binds and directs this world … No sooner does one lift one’s head to pay attention to the obstacles and difficulties of life, than it comes natural to ask how it is that on the one hand God takes care of human affairs, and on the other these same affairs are shot through with so much evil’ – St Augustine
‘At a moment when our grasp of the concept of the public has become so confused, paradoxes multiply and compound the confusion’ – Dan Hind
‘In public order law, legal powers and regulation are defined by vague terms, such as breach of the peace; threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; and causing harassment, alarm or distress. Therefore, the police’s discretionary powers are so wide that virtually any action can, depending on its context, be plausibly branded as criminal so as to justify an arrest’ – Iain Channing