Be an Interface Between Power and the User

What is to be done? On one side there is Curtis Yarvin, who counsels doing nothing. On the other side are those who demand a vision, a movement, counter-institutions and a program, yesterday. Any radical analysis generates the question, and, of course, there might be multiple answers. Who knows what might come of Yarvin and his do-nothingers—perhaps they’ll produce a perfect model of government that will be completed just in time to fall into the lap of a new set of system builders on the eve of the collapse of the old system. And those who are in a hurry to build now will at least provide lessons, cautionary tales, data, and perhaps a model or two in whose path others might follow. I don’t have any specific goals or visions in mind—just a model of practice, which complements a minimal model of politics: do what you can to help create conditions under which someone will take the center in such a way as to name his successors and they name theirs in perpetuity. There’s someone out there now who best fits the bill, or will discover, support or teach he who does: find that person, send out feelers for him, turn the social order into a gigantic device for detecting signs of him, and bring others into the search.

There’s a practice of disclosure that I’ve gleaned from Freud’s theory of transference and Hamlet’s dramatic practice, processed through mimetic thought. This practice of disclosure entails mirroring the desire of the other, positioning oneself as the target of the other’s desires and resentments, so as to draw those desires and resentments out into the open so they take on textual or public form and can be inspected, diagnosed, and revised. In a way, this is an extremely passive practice, pure receptivity, akin to Keat’s “negative capability”—you let the voices echo and get amplified through you. You have no designs of your own—you don’t even know how things will turn out. You just want as much turning out as possible. But this is also a very active, intricate practice, requiring constant alertness, precisely because the best way of bringing what would otherwise not be seen to light without any “entrapment” on your part is a kind of aesthetic capability that could never be reduced to a set of rules. It’s kind of like mimicking another, gesture by gesture, but also selectively, so the other gets a reading of himself in the process.

In this context, I will also recall my concept of “originary satire,” which I argued for in Anthropomorphics, which similarly combines intense action with extreme passivism. (It is a way of doing nothing, but doing it very energetically.) Here I had Bertolt Brecht’s notion of “alienation” as a pedagogical theatrical effect in mind. Just doing what the other does, after he does it, and ever so slightly askew to the way he did it, has the effect of a startling exposure if performed right—by repeating very closely another’s act it calls attention to that which was repetitive, and therefore not self-authorizing, in the act itself. I also insist that satire wants nothing, supports nothing, has no political goal in mind—it’s not “reformist” in this radical mode. What, exactly, was Aristophanes after? Or Swift? They wanted to take apart our perceptual and cognitive apparatuses and make us reconstruct them. But they do focus, in particular, on power, and thereby make themselves potential targets—no one likes to be mocked, but those with power can do something about it. But the originary satirist places a bet: the more overtly and undeniably harmless he is, the more he is stripped of any conceivable goals or the slightest association with an “opposition,” the freer he is to utterly expose what is automatic and habitual in the operations of power without restraint.

This is the basis of an apolitical political practice, which can be scaled up and down as necessary. At all times we should be revealing the desires of power by enacting the grounds along with the figures of power. We can always begin with whatever little piece of power and responsibility you’ve been given—provide yourself with the assignment of making power and responsibility match each other. There’s always an institutional proposal to make, but also a way of engaging with others, so as to make your efforts to make power line up with responsibility interoperable with others’. Insofar as this can’t be done—and it will always be impossible to do it past a certain extent—then you represent, speak for, the space wherein it would be done, and gesture toward those operations of power that prevent it from being done. This, by the way, holds for more informal and voluntarily chosen occupations—if someone asks you what you think about something, and they seem even minimally likely to listen to you, you’ve taken on a bit of power and responsibility. You might try and bring your power and responsibility into alignment by speaking with more people, and listening to some others; maybe you’ll start a podcast, or join with others in forming a website. The problematic remains the same—you’ve taken responsibility for the future of your community, and the power you’ve seized is probably incommensurate to the responsibility you adopt, so your work is to obtain more power and keep honing your sense of responsibility. The way you do this is by continually conveying the operations of power through your practices—you’re at some intersection, and you want to make evident, through X-ray treatment, the powers that have come to meet at and form that intersection.

All through this, you don’t really “want” anything, nor are you “doing” anything. You’re just an interface between power and the user. You show the user of your “device” that space where power would hypothetically meet responsibility and the two would reciprocally enhance one another as one side of a Mobius strip the flip side of which is the operation of power that “disappears” that space. For this to work, you’d need to eschew all pretenses to power, beyond whatever is exercised in your utterance, yourself. No “positions” on “policy”—you should never utter a sentence that begins with “we should” or “we must.” If you have no real power beyond the discursive space itself, why should anyone care what you think about climate change, or lockdowns, or monetary policy, or police reform or the latest executive order? Why should you care? The same thing holds for grander, long-term goals—what, exactly, do you think is the relation between you saying “this is what we need to do to save Western civilization” and anything that might be said and done in the coming decades that might have some greater or lesser impact on something we might or might not still be calling “Western Civilization”? You can’t summon anything with such phrases. At the same time, you can talk about anything, and in lots of different ways. Just talk about them in such a way that they interface between the operations of power, on one side, and the user in some anomalous position between power and responsibility, on the other side. You’re a walking, talking, curator, provider, piece, analyst of data under the controlled conditions of marking that space—those spaces where power is incommensurable with responsibility.

Being an interface between power and user enables you to do all the things political actors do—organize, argue, debate, confront, even protest. But you do all these things in order to convert others by becoming interoperable with them. Insofar as they’re not already engaged in the kind of practice you’re modeling, they are evading, concealing and falsifying those power-responsibility incommensurabilities—they’re pretending to power they don’t have, or claiming responsibility they can’t back with power, or concealing the power backing them so as to evade responsibility. And they could be doing these things honestly or dishonestly—sometimes that matters, sometimes it doesn’t. You want to enter into an exchange with them by laying bare your own incommensurabilities and exposing theirs, insofar as they reveal themselves under the glare of your presence. This can be done in collegial or confrontational ways. You engage with them in such a way as to surface their designs on you—whether they see you as friend, enemy, tool, or somewhere in between, you can enact the construct of you they are producing so as to surface their commitments.

This practice could be minimalized to the postage stamp size of a tiny dissident community, or it can be taken all the way to Power itself. Let’s say we have an emergent confrontation between the collected forces of a globalized liberal order, operating through the organs of state, media, educational institutions, etc., on the one side; and, a proto, let’s say “authoritarian” order, with bearers of its potential sovereignty occupying strategic positions within those institutions but with prevailing power in the military and informal pedagogical and cultural institutions. Even here, there is absolutely nothing the representatives of the potential new order would ever have to do other than point to formal responsibilities that are being evaded and power that is not being supplied where some stand ready to fill the responsibility gap; even the very taking of power need be nothing more than a kind of satirical demonstration of everything the previous regime left undone by virtue of everything they were doing instead. The best way to take power is to slide imperceptibly into it, with one’s enemies dissolving upon being deprived of the final levers or power which, in their desperation, they had clung to.

Nor are dreamers and big picture types excluded from being an interface between power and user. Incommensurabilities between power and responsibility can be pregnant with previously unimagined possibilities. The climate changers claim they want to save the planet—what kind of power, social and technological, would have to be composed so as to meet that responsibility? And once it was composed, of course, it might find it has other things to do than pump carbon out of the atmosphere. I haven’t mentioned the articulation of needs and abilities here (from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs) because incommensurabilities and anomalies in this realm are brought into focus with the anomalous space of power/responsibility mismatch—you need to see yourself has having responsibility, and as wanting the power to match it, to bring into view the enormity of unmet needs and unused abilities. Whatever vocabulary might be harnessed to name the practices necessary at that level is not for me to guess at, other than to say that the closer you are to that level the more likely you’ll be able to make the names stick.

There’s nothing particular complex or esoteric about this—one never needs to compromise or deceive; one can be intelligent without being cunning. Ways of writing, thinking, talking, and organizing are all implicit in being an interface between power and user. If you want to form a political party and get a bit closer to formal power, you could put together a program that’s essentially proposing to do nothing but show the usually invisible workings of the system and you might make a good case that this would do more for your constituents than getting some laws passed. Attention leads to intention—what you bring into view will tell you what you need to do as you turn what you bring into view into a launchpad for bringing other things into view. If you’re an interface between power and the user you can be completely consistent in your practice without ever getting bogged down in specific promises and commitments that could be used against you—you’d be teaching your users what you’re up to and that if they’re not interested in joining the inquiry and being converted into an interface they’re free to keep supporting people who they think will give them things or protect them against others. An interface between power and user might do this on occasion because we are, after all, exercising power (as is everyone) but only in order expose anomalies and incommensurabilities, which must always come first.