What Is Politics?

I was a history major in college. Mostly, this was because my high school history teachers were smart, Marxist revisionists so we read insane books. (It turned out I was actually interested in interpretation, not history, but it took me a few years to figure that out.) I entered college with all these AP credits in history so, well, I continued with it as a major.

But I was immediately disappointed. Every class seemed to talk about wars, treaties, governments, presidents, great thinkers, great books. It all felt so, well, wrong to me. I kept telling my advisor that I wanted a different kind of history — what people thought, felt, how they lived, dreamed, conceived of the world. The History of Great Men and Great Moments was so full of shit, so out of touch. Who the fuck cared what these rich motherfuckers were up to? And that was when I read Foucault and everything changed.

I’ve had the same frustration with the assumed model of the political. We imagine that governments do things that matter, that dictate how things go. They ‘choose’ a system such as capitalism, socialism, communism. And we live within this system. We might try to change it but this change focuses on them — on legislators and senators, on public policy and elections.

But I can’t but think that this is just not how things work. I see a people — some population stipulated by place — as a networked engine, a system of production. What does it produce? Itself.

I am looking for a model of the political that sees the world in terms of thermodynamic flows of energy, distributions of desire, will, capital. Governments and laws and police and corporations: these are constitutive and constituent of this great social engine. But they do not determine it.

To focus on politicians as the source of power is, as Burroughs says, to be the bull charging the red flag only to meet air. It is a distraction, a diversion from the flows of power and desire and capital that actually define the everyday, that define and create the social body.

I’d like to see these thermodynamic maps of behavior around the world, map how these flows are distributed, what kinds of circuits and feedback loops there are, what kinds of temperatures and valves exist to make this or that social-body-engine.

We don’t choose a system. We are a system.

This has enormous implications for those interested in changing the terms of this life we lead. TC mark

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