Psycho-historian Chris Millard has described the clinical invention of ‘self-harm’ as a category so narrow that most cases actually treated (eg. overdoses of non-’recreational’ drugs) don’t count.** The term ‘self-harm’ becomes shorthand for young white women damaging their skin, which they do for standardized personal reasons. Impersonal reasons and anomalous personal ones are sidelined in the diagnostic process, along with atypical patients and nine tenths of the ways of physically assaulting the abstract self.
So much for the exact words.
But figurative speech serves social policing in strange ways. If the literal meaning has leaked out of self-harm over the last four decades, it has sunk deep into ordinary social management in the meantime. [Read more →]
The truism that history is written by (or rather, on behalf of) conquerors is more respectable now than ever before among Sunday supplement intellectuals. The reason (where it goes beyond a simple, resentful wish to damn historical analysis per se as ‘irrelevant’) seems to be that victors’ history is easily opposed to that of victims, that ill-defined class in whose name a towering moral authority can always be claimed. If it does nothing else, Antonio Negri’s book on constituent power, recently published in English as Insurgencies, wrecks this convenient opposition. Its Italian title translates as “constituent power: essay on the alternatives within modernity”: in the shadow of this concept, Negri outlines a modern social and political counter-tradition which, though defeated again and again, never attains the saintly glow of victimhood, for it has never acknowledged its project to be finished with. From Machiavelli’s citizen millitia to the LA rioters of 1992 [1.], these historical agents refuse to become patients represented by the politics of empathy. [Read more →]
You add it up it brings you down
A preoccupation with management of risk has often been observed in post-millennial culture’s efforts to express itself. The immediate past and future, however, almost belabour the point that this is not some marginal, hysterical obsession: at its disposal is all the apparatus with which constituted power’s deadly earnest will is done. April Fools’ Day 2003 heralded the third week of a total war waged pre-emptively on the pretext that a subaltern state’s remaining industrial capacity could be used in unauthorised slaughtering ventures (something true of any such infrastructure in the world). Meanwhile Britain awaits the passage of more legislation encouraging counsellors and other police to intervene, as the Home Secretary puts it, ‘before bad behaviour becomes criminal behaviour’. Blunkett’s Anti-Social Behaviour Bill deserves special mention, in fact, for its doubly anticipatory structure. The trigger for therapeutic enforcement is behaviour ‘likely to result in members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed’. Here the problem is twice removed into the future tense, once in the wager ‘likely to’ and again the way ‘alarm’ and ‘distress’ imply as yet unaccomplished cruelty.
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Biology is Ideology
In 1999, as Datacide readers are sure to remember, JFK’s son John Junior joined the family of Dead Kennedys, flying his light aircraft straight down into the Atlantic. Mystery surrounded this terrible event at first, until an Israeli geneticist set our minds at rest. The Kennedy family, he explained, probably carries a risk gene, which drove poor John Jnr, like his father, to tempt fate once too often. [Read more →]
The police and the media did everything they could to make us believe that last year’s Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho bombs were the work of one lonely madman. Their efforts were more than just an improvised attempt to contain local fury after the Brixton attack (although that’s certainly one thing they were): the ‘deranged loner’ fantasy is still being promoted long after the second and third explosions eliminated any doubt about the bomber’s motive.
The treatment of ‘right wing’ violence as a psychological symptom rather than a political problem is no accident, it’s a new ‘multi-agency’ policy. Five or ten years ago racism was Britain’s dirty secret, only mentioned publicly at all when forced onto the agenda by a riot or a sensationally brutal murder. Now everything seems to have changed: the prime minister delivers homilies on the subject at every opportunity, and the word is all over all the front pages. But this sudden eagerness to ‘talk about it’ has an important condition attached: acceptance that ‘it’ is something wrong with individuals, a personal failing shared by millions of people. The portrayal of ‘racism’ as sin or sickness (Tony Blair likes to call it a ‘disease’) leaves those encountering it in their everyday lives helpless and isolated. The threat appears to be eternal and inescapable: instead of planning retaliation, ‘victims’ are made to feel reliant on the state for protection, or to look for symptoms of the ‘evil’ deep inside themselves.
[Read more →]