Authoritarian Discourse, The University, and The Possibility of Democracy by Rethinking the University Collective, May 17, 2024 

A History of the Present of Education by Rethinking the University Collective, May 7, 2024 

The Language of Rights and the Inversion of Words by Cyma Farah, January 23, 2024

Mutual Parasitism: Love/Hate in Silicon Valley by The Surugu Collective

Modern Dialectical Intensification and Fascist Compensation by Shaun Terry, November 2022


  • Authoritarian Discourse, The University, and The Possibility of Democracy

    By Rethinking the University Collective
    May 17, 2024

    We write in response to emails circulating between and among university
    campuses. These emails are meant to assert control over the public sphere as students
    and faculties attempt to engage in that highfalutin ideal withering at the horizon:

    The emails contain a great deal about faculty duties and responsibilities, but it’s
    instructive to consider where responsibilities are substituted for permissions. Referring
    to some of these emails, faculty “may ask supervisees” whether they’ve worked a given
    day and “may keep notes about absences.” Here, faculty “may” but aren’t required to.
    Elsewhere, faculty are “required” or “are responsible,” for instance, for “the delivery of
    instruction.” Whether or not graduate students strike, the University demands that all
    instruction be delivered: “During any strikes, the campus expects to hold all classes,
    discussion sections/labs,” etc. What could this mean other than that faculty are
    responsible for making sure that graduate student-led sections are delivered? Either
    graduate students lead sections or something else must happen, but the emails don’t
    say what. The emails don’t imply that adjunct or other short-term contractual labor will
    fill the gap, so it would seem natural for faculty to ask whether they’re expected to also
    lead sections. However, there’s no language in faculty contracts that stipulates
    something like: If graduate students don’t lead section, then you will have to lead
    section. Like the insistence that faculty ought to perform the Human Resources/policing
    function by which faculty are to track their supervisees’ hours, the expectation that
    faculty deliver section at any possible cost to the faculty’s time implores faculty to
    oppose themselves to graduate students. Apparently, you can either protect your free
    time or you can protect graduate students.

    If universities are meant to educate students in such a way that they can become
    well-rounded adults, well-prepared for the future, that’s not clear from these emails.
    Instead, the University appears as a kind of factory. Faculty and staff are machines
    organized by the will of an oligopoly in order to produce diplomas. These diplomas are
    bought with students’ tuition. At stake in the students’ protests and labor actions is
    democracy—but not only the surface appearance of democracy evoked in the
    reassurances that the University supports the First Amendment.

    In these emails, protests are associated with “turmoil.” The faculty need to
    “steward public property” and “ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community,”
    especially in light of “our obligation to public and private sponsors of research.” The
    relationship between the University and its investors is one between a small class of
    people in the University system and state interests and donors’ interests. By this logic,
    in some dark and smoky ivory tower, somewhere, decisions over policies are beholden
    not to the democratically-determined interests of the University’s community
    members—students, faculty, staff, etc.—but to policymakers and private funders. The
    “turmoil” that these emails refer to is the turmoil of democracy. As Machiavelli
    emphasized, the good health of the republic depends on the tumults that keep freedom alive: “for good examples arise from good education, good education from good laws,
    and good laws from those tumults that many inconsiderately damn.”

    The emails express support for First Amendment rights, but in these emails
    appears the repeated claim that a UAW strike wouldn’t be protected by the First
    Amendment. Of course, it’s correct that strikes aren’t forms of speech protected by the
    First Amendment, but this is because the First Amendment protects not collectivities’
    right to strike but individuals’ right to communicate. The First Amendment can’t have
    much to do with strikes. The First Amendment, in some ways, protects individuals when
    they negotiate contracts, when they express that they won’t go to work on some day,
    and when they protest with fellow workers, but it has nothing to say about when, how, or
    under what conditions people should or shouldn’t strike. However, California labor law
    does protect workers’ right to strike. When these emails claim that a graduate student
    strike isn’t protected speech, this could lead one to believe that a graduate student
    strike would violate the US Constitution. This could help to legitimate repression of the
    encampment and of striking students.

    Another email reads, “The safety and well-being of our students and employees
    remains our highest priority. We are continuing to focus on supporting the right to free
    expression while also allowing our teaching and research mission to continue. We
    encourage people to take alternate routes through campus when possible.” For what
    reason would the University “encourage people to take alternate routes,” avoiding the
    encampment, to get to where they need to go? The assumption seems to be that
    there’s a problem with the encampment and possibly even a danger in its existence.
    Perhaps, the encampment is like the “turmoil” associated with the protests. One
    implication, then, is that students’ expressions of free speech represent a threat.
    Whatever its intention, this subtle vilification of students who use their right to free
    speech provides a potential justification for dismantling the encampment and its
    supposed danger. Should we expect, then, that the university intends to call police
    against protesting students? To be clear, there’s no reliable evidence that protests on
    campus endanger anyone, but apparently, in contradiction to the email’s claim—that, for
    the University, “The safety and well-being of our students and employees remains our
    highest priority”—the University might intend to endanger students who exercise their
    free speech rights. The University claims their “highest priority” to be the safety of
    students and employees, while University workers have been demonstrating at the base
    of campus, for several months so far, protesting the unsafe condition of the university
    buses which led to the death of University employee, Dan Stevenson. If safety were the
    highest priority, then what could be the reason to include such vague and threatening
    language in the email? This isn’t democratic, but it is authoritarian. Students here, as on
    other university campuses across the country, are being taught well how
    authoritarianism works: Don’t protest and don’t publicly criticize those who govern you.
    Instead, do what we tell you in the way we tell you to do it. If you don’t, then you risk us
    sending police violence to discipline you and those around you.

    One of the graduate students’ demands is to make transparent the UC’s
    investments and other entanglements with Israeli interests. Perhaps, this demand
    doesn’t go far enough. Who should determine the UC’s investments and business
    dealings? Why should a small number of wealthy people unilaterally, and in relative
    secrecy, run the UC? Why shouldn’t students, staff, and faculty not only be well- apprised of how money intended to support research and teaching interacts with financial decisions and business interests but, also, take part in these decisions? If the University is a factory, then having a few elites make decisions to benefit themselves makes sense. If, though, the UC really is a public institution meant to enrich the public
    by providing people with knowledge and skills to be productive members of society, then
    having them, alongside other members of the University, participate in high-stakes
    decisions that affect the world could be a valuable, and educational, part of the
    University’s mission.

  • A History of the Present of Education

    By Rethinking the University Collective
    May 7, 2024

    At UC Santa Cruz, the administration is slowly implementing a set of policies it terms “Fresh Air.” The seemingly innocuous name hides a neurotic form of restructuring and budget cuts that will threaten to gut the quality of higher education. A lack of transparency about these policies means the broader effects of Fresh Air remain to be seen. They will likely include less funding for graduate students to secure TAships and larger class sizes for tenured and non-tenured faculty—all while undergraduate tuition costs continue to rise. In a department like History of Consciousness, a graduate, research-focused humanities department, Fresh Air creates a structural impossibility. As our faculty grows, the expectation is for undergraduate enrollments to rise significantly. At the same time, teaching assistantships for graduate students are more firmly tied to enrollments and opportunities for graduate students to teach their own classes are reduced. 

    All that is solid, we might say, melts into Fresh Air. 

    This development parallels the broader financialization of the university: the logics of fungibility, optionality, and the investment in real estate over research. Turning programs like History of Consciousness into undergraduate teaching departments will have the paradoxical effect of gutting the quality of teaching. In implementing Fresh Air, the UC is sidestepping the fundamental question: What is education today? And how might the very impossibility of History of Consciousness help us to rethink what is possible, what education can be?

    Universities are no longer at the center of the production of culture and the reproduction of the ruling classes. The Humboldtian project of national university education has collapsed as it has been decentralized and democratized beyond the limits it could bear. Culture is now produced globally through novels, documentaries, films, art, and music created in every part of the planet, broadly accessible through new media. The entire education system is still trying to adapt to these changes and reacts chaotically through reductionist and economistic measures, exacerbating the problem instead of solving it. As a result, the quality of education declines, and hundreds of students find themselves in overcrowded classrooms, receiving an increasingly impersonal education consisting of mere packages of information.

    Departments are being closed. Funding is being cut. Classes are being enlarged. Education becomes entertainment. Grades become superfluous. Rulers respond with financial regulations, more rules and bureaucracy in a desperate attempt to control what they do not understand and can not control. This is also the birth of Fresh Air. A system that is not even able to name today's problem and opts for the simplest solution: let the patient die or kill him gently.

    The tempo of technological innovation and the tempo of cultural change are out of synch. Result: cultural apocalypse. In this neurotic state, what policies like Fresh Air neglect are the many forms of labor that allow the university to function. Tenured faculty members, adjunct lecturers, and graduate students are necessary to perform the critical work of teaching our undergraduates. Larger, overcrowded classes are often taught by adjunct faculty and graduate students. These untenured educators are also more dependent on strong teaching evaluations to secure their positions into the future. As class sizes increase, classroom space on campus tightens and classes may take place in rooms or facilities too small to accommodate these growing numbers. The challenges of teaching these larger classes invariably falls on the university’s more precarious workers. 

    Let’s not forget our cleaning staff, dining hall workers, and bus drivers who support the environments where faculty and graduate students teach. With more students in each room, cleaning staff often do not have time to clean these overcrowded classrooms. Faculty and students' offices are not cleaned at all. This task, if you want to work in a decent office, is up to them. Dining hall prices were raised this year by 50% while worker pay remains stagnant; some of these workers are students themselves. Campus “loop” buses are mechanically outdated and demonstrably unsafe. In the last term of 2023 alone, one campus bus actively transporting students caught fire and another crashed, injuring students and killing its driver, Dan Stevenson, who had been transporting students around Santa Cruz for 25 years. 

    It is this general and tragic phenomenon of deterioration that affects all university workers and that Fresh Air is not at all equipped to address. Indeed, it threatens to imperil the quality of education further.

    Within the classroom and beyond, Fresh Air is symptomatic of the historical imperative towards the automation of the university and its functions. It marks an attempt to dissolve the productive tensions of education – what Kant called the “conflict of the faculties” – into a seamless loop of ready-made transactions. Faced with administrative demands for greater flexibility, including online and hybrid learning, in addition to spiraling class sizes, instructors and teaching assistants take on the role of administrators themselves, if not automatons. Education becomes a logistical operation managed with greater or lesser degrees of efficacy.

    Mirroring the ethos of nearby Silicon Valley, teaching at UCSC assumes a decidedly technological character, as a mimetic act devoid of any real creative activity: an imitation. This helps explain why UCSC’s emphasis on “activism” and its current branding campaign – “The Change Is Us” – rings so hollow. For a university diffused with the imperatives of Fresh Air, change is no change at all, but the resiliency of what is. This translates directly to the level of pedagogy. What’s precluded by the Fresh Air model is what could be called the educator as producer: a form of education that uses existing productive techniques – the very technologies of automation – to actively intervene in the present and train low-skilled workers. Since education is emptied of content, what is sold is the packaging and the brand, which students pay for with their tuition.

    In an era of AI, automation, and fiscal austerity, when the crisis of the humanities is palpable on a daily basis, History of Consciousness offers a laboratory for working through other pedagogical possibilities, those that assert the urgency of the humanities in re-energized form. We do need fresh air in the university but not the neurotic, austerity-driven version offered by administrators whose only horizon, the horizon of economic rationality, is a hollowed-out humanities stripped of anything novel, politically useful, or worth pursuing in the face of the current crisis. What makes the humanities worth defending is precisely its lack of fungibility – its untimeliness within the capitalist present. 

    What are we asking for? There arises the need not only to control and take control of the processes underway but also, especially, to control who decides on these processes. This means re-discussing the articulation of power on campus and in society; it means questioning the growing vertical nature of decision-making processes; but it also means making those who decide truly accountable. Democracy means discussing how to deal with current processes that marginalize the humanities and destabilize education, but it also means the power to appoint and recall those who make decisions about the entire community. 

    The campus has been mismanaged. Not only because of the structural deficit of $96 million, which will result in new budget reductions in the upcoming fiscal years and slow down the pace of hiring, but because of a deficit of democracy in decisional practices. The campus has been mismanaged because economic logic has taken over instead of putting education and culture at the center. Democratic access to higher education has become merely a brand to sell the product and a quantitative problem that our administration pretends to solve with Fresh Air. If democracy has to be reinstituted as a practice of self-government and as a goal for education, those responsible for this mismanagement should  be recalled. Democracy means that the Chancellor and EVC should be elected, made accountable, and, in this case, recalled by those who work on campus. 

    In light of ongoing student protests across the country in support of Palestinian freedom and universities’ repressive responses to this upswell, we find the question of “what is education today?” all the more pressing. At UC Santa Cruz, in a move that echoes the devolving structure of  Fresh Air, the administration is pre-emptively threatening faculty members to out students who may strike and delegating potential firings to department heads. Departments may live or die depending on these outcomes, and the administration, with their arsenal of Fresh Air, will be able to name it suicide.

    What even is the university today, and how might we rethink it?



  • The Language of Rights and the Inversion of Words 

    Cyma Farah, PhD 
    Early Career Fellow, Arab Council for the Social Sciences 
    Beirut, Lebanon 
    January 23, 2024

    On Tuesday December 5, 2023, the US House of Representatives issued a resolution “clearly and firmly stat[ing] that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” In denouncing alleged moral wrongdoing against the Jewish people, Israel and its allies aim to highlight the legitimacy of their harsh reprisals on Gaza now in its 4th month. More crucially, by enabling laws that would make denunciation of US-supported Israeli action illegal, they aim to produce a highly effective discourse where the law does not simply reflect the moral and social norms of modern society but successfully produces them. 

    Israel has a strong history of converting political ambitions into moral rights by claiming legality of action. At its basis was the British Government’s Balfour declaration of November 1917 which promised the establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine without any “prejudice [to the] civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.” While the Balfour declaration became synonymous to validating the establishment of the state of Israel, the over-simplistic language with which it was hailed by Zionist leaders, completely erased their obligation to the natives of the land. More importantly, beyond the scope of violent British colonialism - which spoke of a Jewish “national home” but only of “civil and religious rights” for the rest - this promise held no validity, neither in the absolute, and certainly not in the eyes of Palestine’s inhabitants, whether legally or morally. 

    Validating Zionist colonization of Palestine took the form of different laws, first enshrined within the British mandate administration in the form of the famous white paper of 1922, and later within the auspices of the United Nations and the USA. 

    An interesting resolution submitted to congress in January 1944 reads: 

    “Resolved, that the United States shall use its good offices and take appropriate measures to the end that the doors of Palestine shall be opened for free entry of Jews into that country, and that there shall be full opportunity for colonization so that the Jewish people may ultimately reconstitute Palestine as a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth.”1

    While the resolution was shelved for strategic purposes, it marks a turning point in US policy to wholly endorse, morally and legally, the Zionist colonial project in Palestine, including the 1947 UN partition plan, predominantly brought about by US pressure.2

    The famous 1947 partition of Palestine by the UN muffled the voice of Palestinians by claiming the right to partition a state it had no internal jurisdiction over. As Arnold Toynbee famously highlighted, it is hard to imagine that if the UN had decreed to separate Delaware from the USA and transferred it to persecuted Chinese refugees, that the United States would abide by such a decision, if not take up arms to fight its implementation.3 The merit of using such examples is to clearly illustrate the situation of native Palestinians who keep having to abide by rights which are neither legally-binding, nor morally justifiable, but militarily implemented. Yet, the Palestine-Israel issue is fraught with moral obfuscation stemming, not from the complexity of the issue but from political rhetoric, which unabashedly muddies the water. 

    The intertwining of these categories—the legal system and the moral norms it ought to reflect—plays a crucial role in censuring the reality of the Palestine-Israel problem. The issue of rights has saturated virtually all conversations around this topic without ever reaching a conclusive agreement on the nature and legitimacy of these rights in question. The word is smeared across and beyond the political discourse without a clear conceptual understanding of its implications or its boundaries. And perhaps this is irrelevant to its use by politicians who are enabled, not by the substance of its meaning, but by its powerful echo as a stringent ethical standard of western political philosophy. 

    It was Thucydides who described it best. In narrating the Peloponnesian wars, he brilliantly captures the instrumentalization of language: 

    "Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot, still shrewder [...] and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime."4

    In the striking resemblance to the political discourse of the war on Gaza, it was the Palestinian ambassador, Majed Bamya, who noted the dissonance in words and their meaning. Rebuking Israel’s accusations of terror propaganda, Bamya was explicit in his reply to Israel’s UN representative: “You are bombing civilian populations, you are using white phosphorous, that’s the absurdity of the argument you are making... The absurdity of coming [to the UN] to explain that it is terrible to kill civilians and then kill them; the absurdity of refusing the rule of international law as the only standard by which we are all measured; the absurdity of saying that the one talking about peace is the one doing terror propaganda, and the one here coming to justify war crimes, would be the peaceful one.”5

    In its resolution to push back antisemitism, the US government too changed the meaning of words. When anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism, when genocide becomes self-defense and when “freedom from the river to the sea” becomes a call for annihilation, we are all compelled, in a very Orwellian way, to sympathize with the occupier rather than the occupied. 

    The legitimacy of Israel’s claims to legal and moral rights remain on shaky grounds, as they have for the last 75 years, and cannot survive without the force of arms— first through the violent military conquest of Palestine by the British, the terrorism of Zionist organizations like the Irgun, the Stern Gang and the Haganah which perpetrated massacres, and lastly through the US military sponsorship of an expansionist apartheid state claiming to be the only democracy in the region. For all the lopsided propagation of Israeli rights over a territory that it ruthlessly occupies, Israel has been unable to persuade the only people who matter: the Palestinians themselves. Israel will always feel insecure for as long as it is unable to convince the Palestinians that their displacement, expropriation, and genocide is a just cause with all the rights that Israel and the West insist ever more forcefully. 

    Israel has gone a long way in pressuring the international community for recognition. In one of its notorious political campaigns, it orchestrated the 1991 revocation of UN resolution 3379 stating that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” In 2018, Israel further entrenched the institutional discrimination of Palestinians by passing the nation-state law declaring that the right of self-determination in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people—excluding almost half the population living in one way or another under its occupation or jurisdiction from that right. Despite all of this, Israel finds itself evermore insecure as it proceeds with genocide, confronts the International Court of Justice, and loses evermore rapidly the popular support it engineered through decades of propaganda. 

    The approval of the international community in Israel’s systemic discrimination and violence against the Palestinians is ultimately fleeting. When Israeli force ceases to compel obedience, it is because decades of oppression, proliferation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and statements by various Israeli leaders refusing to relinquish “Judea and Samaria,” have driven the hard-learned lesson that obedience was, in fact, never the goal. If the Palestinians are denied the right to self-determination that is recognized only for the Jews, and if the possibility of a Palestinian state in the lands occupied in June 1967 is undermined by the facts on the ground, then the obvious conclusion is that the fate envisaged by Israel for the Palestinians is either apartheid, expulsion, or genocide. Israel’s behavior in the current war on Gaza indicates clearly that it is the latter two options that it is now seriously pursuing, leaving the Palestinians with the sole option of sumud (endurance) and resistance as their raison d’être. 

    Ultimately, it does not matter if the West recognizes Israel’s right in Palestine. The reason Israel has not been able to exist peacefully is that, as helpless as the Palestinian people may seem, they are the only ones able to meaningfully grant Israel its right to exist, and they will only do so when this right is equally and justly recognized to Palestinians.6


    1. My emphasis. Kermit Roosevelt, "The Partition of Palestine: A Lesson in Pressure Politics," Middle East Journal 2, no.1 (January 1948): 5.
    2. Roosevelt, 5.
    Arnold Toynbee, “Jewish Rights in Palestine,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 52, no. 1 (July 1961): 10.
    4. Robert Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1996), 199-200
    5. The video clip is available here. More than thirty years after signing the Oslo peace agreement, Palestinians are still waiting for Israel to abide by the now defunct two-state solution. The situation was made more dire by the statement of Israel's ambassador that there was "absolutely no" prospects for a two-state solution.
    6. For more on this subject see Hugh Harcourt, “In Search of the Emperor’s New Clothes,” in Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1997), 288.

  • Mutual Parasitism:
    Love/Hate in Silicon Valley

    by The Surugu Collective1

    First off, regardless of whether you’ve been down here at the bug level like we are, where we can see it, we’ve been knowin’ that the times—they are a-changin’.

    The walls are white, covered in inoffensive, but contemporary, art. Who chose these paintings? Someone knows the answer. A few healthy plants hang in macrame planters around the mustard sectional. A treadmill-with-desk in one corner, meditation pillows in another. The cleaning woman comes on Thursdays. In San Mateo, California, a woman in her late 20s cusses in Farsi before turning to ChatGPT to figure out how to code a few lines for the machine learning project she’s perpetually working on. Funny. An AI algorithm being used to write an AI algorithm. Why do they even need us? she asks herself. Three cans of Monster and an açai bowl crowd the wooden coffee table. A weed roach in an ashtray–she doesn’t smoke much, though. She does look forward to the occasional LSD trip in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They help to give her clarity and keep her optimistic. “It’s California,” she tells herself.

    Yet, she expects to retire by forty. Any older than that and she might have to learn the skills necessary for a different line of work. She sometimes reminds herself: This is normal and It’s worth it. It keeps her working up to 90 hours a week (when things are extra stressful, like in “bad macro situations,” as her boss likes to say). Daily meditations, three-times-a week yoga, runs on the treadmill while coding or listening to affirmations, vegan meals delivered to her front door, a personal trainer: optimization. Lawd knows that, because all her coworkers are doing all these things, so must she, mashallah. Distracted for a moment, she checks her Co-Star astrology app. Today’s gonna be a good day.

    So far today, seven people have been laid off. And, everyone’s stopped hiring. They’re figuring out that they don’t really need us. (Really, they’re figuring out that they can raise stock prices by getting leaner.) A few months ago, a recruiter offered her a $100k sign-on bonus. Even if she could switch now, she might even more quickly lose her job. She knows people who left for greener pastures just to find themselves in the proverbial breadline (of course, there’s no actual breadline; really, they just go for a few months to Thailand or Perú or wherever before getting back in the job market or getting involved in a startup “as a side gig”). People are getting laid off everywhere. Sign-on bonuses are gone. She could change careers, but then she probably couldn’t retire at forty. Her Buddhist guru encourages her to neither cling to her situation nor to cling to desire for another situation. Great.


    Down in Texas sits perhaps her boss: Elon Musk–he of juvenile, half-baked Tweets; of flaming cars (and why did they simply reconfigure the car’s buttons so as to make them less intuitive?); of the laughable paradox of so-called “free-speech absolutism” (like so many of his engineering buddies, he failed to read his Kant); and of support for unjust coups when it suits his hunger for cobalt. One could go on like this. As Tesla meets the sort of fiery end met by many of its defective vehicles–because they’ll soon be competing with real car companies–he’s helped to show everyone that: 1) not all tech billionaires are either smart or charismatic; 2) the laws of thermodynamics don’t apply to capitalism: Musk’s Twitter buyout clearly demonstrates that one can make stored capitalist energy disappear into thin air. Thanks, Elon.

    On the ground, things have changed, too. The pandemic’s emergency welfare provisions made people realize that they don’t want the drudgery of capitalist work. They’d rather hug their children and their grandmothers. They’d rather dance. They’d rather laugh. They’d rather argue. They’d rather do anything than to needlessly push papers around a desk; or code; or tell people, “Welcome to McDonald’s”; or master the machinic motion required to press a car door; or answer phones in order to put people on hold; or whatever other things count today as labor. Many of them aren’t going back to work, and those in the labor market demand more than they did in recent decades. The labor movement shows signs of life, but for how long and to what end is anyone’s guess. Jay Powell and his band of ghouls viciously attack people’s livelihoods in order to re-assert wealthy people’s dominance, but so far, that’s really not working. People don’t want to do pointless capitalist work. People want to have their needs met, and many of them have come to realize that they could get their needs met without having to work a shitty job.

    Reacting to word of a global crime wave, many liberal pundits claim that the demands of Black Lives Matter were either just a mass comedic diversion or a moment of hysteria. All the while, organizers are more seriously thinking through a life without the kind of police who protect the San Francisco elites from the unhoused masses they walk past each day. Instead of clawing back demands for treating prison populations with greater dignity and justice, people are thinking of how to dismantle prisons brick-by-brick (or by wrecking ball–however one sees fit). They’re asking serious questions about the provision of mental health services, food, and housing. They’re proposing empty house taxes to redress all those hedge funds using housing stocks as assets. Why, again, is housing not a universal right? No one seems to have an answer, and more and more people seem to be asking. If drug addiction is a disease, doesn’t that mean that people are being institutionally punished for having been biologically punished before ever being born? Hardly seems fair. Police still shoot Black people for no reason, too; we’re still angry about it. Politicians keep increasing police budgets. Liberal San Franciscans still prefer the police (there’s a lot of money in San Francisco, and the police protect the wealthy from the poor). People don’t want racist police. This tension doesn’t appear to be dissolving anytime soon.


    We’re starting to see the formation of an altogether new, quaternary economy characterized by the use of artificial intelligence to extract even more income and wealth into even fewer hands than perhaps ever before. Of course, the quaternary economy isn’t completely new; the use of information (including big data sets), algorithms, and their productive appendages have been around for a while. What’s only beginning to be realized is the economy in which quaternary goods are the primary driver of profits. If in some economies, profit has largely been driven by cognitive labor instead of physical labor, then it’s only a matter of time before the intelligence entailed in those economies can be artificial in the sense of “artificial intelligence.” This is the society of fully automated profits.

    The transition from a primary economy to a tertiary economy has tended to entail greater economic inequality, and the same logic holds for the transition to the AI economy. As algorithms increasingly do a greater share of the productive labor, optimizing profits for algorithm owners while greatly increasing exchanges of monies–and as algorithms autopoietically produce even more-productive versions of themselves–we might see a few trillionaires competing to the death while the rest of us continue to fight to make six-figure incomes. To be clear, we find the prospect of 10 billion bullshit jobs neither plausible nor attractive. We’re beginning to hear the faint echoes of battle cries from the future: “We are the 99.999%!” The owners of data farms, more effective mechanisms for mining data, more efficient processors, more Hadoop clusters, 1% more data under the curve, etc. will tend to win. Statistically speaking, no one will have access to the tools necessary to participate in these competitions, and without being able to participate, they won’t be able to gain the tools necessary for playing the game.

    Rapidly increasing economic inequality has been leading to the popularization of xenophobic parties throughout the world. Research shows that the decades-long increase in economic inequality draws people to retrogressive political parties.2 Another way to say this is to point out what many theorists in the early-20th century saw: economic inequality as one of the important causes for the mass fear that led to fascism. Wealthy people and right-wing politicians have capitalized on this (both in the early-20th century and in the present) by pressing on people’s psychic bruises–from economic exploitation to fear of job loss to rhetoric around law and order to the rotating culture war obsessions (today, the trans issue appears as the substitute for the Jewish question; tomorrow, who knows?) to the generalized hatred for supposed “outsiders.” However, as Walter Benjamin once wrote: “Fascism attempts to organize the newly proletarianized masses while leaving intact the property relations which they strive to abolish.”3 It seems that we haven’t yet reached a point of no return; leftist options might still be on the table.

    We do seem to be on the precipice of something new, though–perhaps the return of goose-stepping and Nazi chic, but not necessarily. In the light of recent (but in the contemporary experience of time, does it still feel as recent as it really is?) supply chain failures, vulnerabilities have cracked through “neoliberal” global finance capitalism and just-in-time manufacturing. Officials are starting to rethink over-reliance on foreign businesses and governments.

    Increasingly, at least until the barrier to competition becomes too great, business success will be determined–not by technical skillfulness but by one’s ability to read the cultural tea leaves and get AI to produce profitable technological products. In other words, while the overwhelming majority of startups fail, future successful entrepreneurs will look even less like competent, skilled managers than they do today and even more like reckless soothsayers. 


    Other routes still appear open. People working in tech feel empowered to start new ventures. New apps, new applications for AI, etc. They use language models, like ChatGPT, and image generators, like DALL-E, to make new products that facilitate even more automation. There’ll continue to be more of these innovations, including products that we never would’ve imagined would come so soon. Because these tools are combinable and their applications have, so far, been so few, the risk for startups in this area is relatively low. Whereas tech startups of the past few decades have mostly failed, AI startups are both more practical and, relatively speaking, more failproof. AI can be made to optimize people’s already-existing needs. Based on such a reading, in the short term, one might think that we could have many more tech CEOs than before. Anyone with a little bit of capital and a reasonable idea could strike tech gold. Some non-tech workers are beginning to try to implement ideas that they felt they couldn’t get off the ground because of the lack of requisite knowledge. These new entrepreneurs don’t know coding or how things go in the tech world. AI can allow people from more diverse backgrounds to build applications, which could, at least in theory, lead to the breakup of monopolies and the increase of competition in various markets. From the present vantage point, this all seems relatively reasonable. But for now, many of these AI tools are open source, and herein lies the rub. It likely won’t be long until someone develops a significantly more powerful set of tools and encloses them behind intellectual property rights. Otherwise, intellectual property rights could become meaningless. If everyone can develop basically the same powerful tools, then everyone gets to be a billionaire. “ChatGPT, while avoiding intellectual property rights violations, build me a copy of ChatGPT.” Then, what?


    Back to the workers. Despite being relatively new, competition among AI workers has, for few years now, been fierce. Due to high financial returns, as well as the wide applicability of AI knowledge in both tech and non-tech industries, college graduates and workers in various STEM fields have been self-learning in order to enter the AI job market. Today, machine learning positions are not exclusive to any degree level or university major–it’s more-or-less a perpetual, open competition. Dogs eat dogs. Mothers eat their young. Or whatever.

    Because so many machine learning workers are desperate for the piles of cash being offered by tech companies, these employers can, on one hand, use promises of promotion, and on the other hand, the threat of layoffs, to freely exploit employees. This tech nerd Darwinism subjects engineers from across the world to frequent high-stakes evaluations. It’s like Squid Games, but with lines of code (of course, with the global division of labor pushed far to the background of prevailing cultural understanding), plush couches, and fancy homemade kombucha drinks provided by the benevolent corporate overlords. For instance, a worker who increases their business segment’s revenue by 0.2% will likely survive and might even climb the ladder. The trick lies in killer instinct. How do you stealthily, smilingly kill your officemates (preferably while making the “Surf’s up” hand gesture and saying something about “vibes”)? In other words, these are non-teams. They work toward a common goal, but how? By trying to push each other out the window. When one nears the bottom of the team totem pole, one starts to hear the axe being sharpened, and even the axe is an anxiety-inducing mystery. The worker has no idea what the magic number is. Who’ll be cut? And why, exactly? No one knows the answer. With recent advances in AI, competitions might grow even more life-shortening.

    Here’s a funny irony to this. Like a snake eating its tail. It’s easy to imagine that, in a world where the margins are so high stakes, the need to precisely optimize worker efficiency will need to be automated. In other words, at some point, these tech workers will be making the tech used to evaluate them and on which their own firing will be based. There’ll be an algorithm to determine who the least valuable employees are. At some point, these workers will have worked on a special project for the sake of getting themselves fired, and because they’ll have worked to get themselves fired too slowly, they’ll get fired more quickly.

    In another way, the longer they survive, the more quickly they perish. In a highly dynamic environment where new AI tools emerge so rapidly, AI engineers are constantly on the verge of extinction. Unlike civil engineers, for instance, who can learn over time, it’s precisely AI engineers’ ability to learn on their own that gets graded. Consequently, these workers face increasingly harsh ageist biases. The short window for making beaucoup cash, added to all the perpetual competition and exploitation, as well as, recently, almost random layoffs, results in burnout. Tech workers break from the pressure, and some of them, in their time off, learn to become CEOs. Be the exploiter instead of the exploited.


    What do I make of you? Friend or foe?
    Instead of time, you give me money.
    My mother died; I wrote design documents

    for you. So you wouldn’t abandon me,
    so you’d continue to feed me.

    Deadlines–like obsidian mountains–
    came and went, as they always do–
    waves crashing on corporate shores.
    When my bones are ground into ether,
    those deadlines will still flow over redwood or plywood–
    take your pick. A file in a manila envelope,
    a grade on a coding exam, a diversity score.
    A soulless devouring soul–a hungry ghost–
    an insatiable nothing, spinning land beneath it.
    Macros! Numbers! Revenue!
    Inhuman Resources and a new BMW.
    Three types of water on the floor:
    “Sparkling or still?”

    You care for me, but you don’t know me.
    I thank you, but I don’t know who you are.
    Are you even in there? Are you just an algorithm?
    Am I the one being neurotic, or is it you?

    I’ve given you 4,254, 883 lines of code (or so you tell me).
    I wrote each with love and tenderness.
    You counted them; you loved the number.

    If I’m free to leave, then am I trapped?
    Am I my own prison guard? Is it you? Who keeps me here? What keeps me here?

    We’re both bleeding, sucking each other’s blood.
    Mutual parasites.


    1. In Akan, “Surugu” is used to describe “one who eats their anger.
    2. Inglehart, Ronald and Pippa Norris. “Trump and the Populist Authoritarian Parties: The Silent Revolution in Reverse." Perspectives on Politics, 15(2): pp. 443-454.
    3. Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” Selected Writings, Vol. 3, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 2002, pp. 120-1.


  • Modern Dialectical Intensification and Fascist Compensation

    Shaun Terry

    In the woods, men sweat through combat training, angrily cuss the government over beers, and consider plans for regime change and a brighter future—a future augmented by blinding technological advance and the glory of an ethnoarmy at war. In the early 1900s, the Futurists simultaneously reflected and intensified Italian militia and German Freikorps members’ fantasies of bodies-as-glimmering, metallic weapons; indestructible tanks; beautiful fires and explosions; organizational mastery—of modernist presentism taken to grisly extremes. In the contemporary US, members of the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and other militias partake in these same activities, but wearing barbed wire tattoos and Oakley sunglasses, carrying automatic assault rifles, and drinking Coors Lights, as they drive “thin blue line” bumper sticker-adorned matte black Jeeps into the horizon.

    Perhaps, their archetypal allies look even more similar over the same historical timespan: the meek, apple pie-serving log cabin folks, smiling, making the sign of the cross, cutting lawns in their church socks, asking, “Anything else I can get cha, honey?” Tidy houses; Grandma’s little tapestry hanging on the wall: “Home Sweet Home.” When they invoke what they euphemistically call “urban culture”—exemplified by the immigrants, the educated elites, the transes, and the commies—brows furrow. Despite overflowing positivity, eyes roll. “Shocking! Deviants!” they whisper to one another. They long to return to a purer, more innocent time. But, how are meek, traditionalist conservatives friends—let alone political allies—with die-in-fire and glory subversive paramilitarists? And, why does this unholy alliance replicate itself in each modern iteration of far-right overwhelm?

    I claim that such apparent contradictions aren’t merely quirks of modern conservatism. In addition to the coincidence of the paramilitarist and the traditionalist, one could consider other far-right recurrences. Fascism marries individualism and national group identity. Fascists gush about harmonious tranquility as they dream of riots and political assassinations. The anti-Semite figures the Jew both as wealthy banker and as revolutionary communist. Some historians and political scientists write off such far-right paradoxes. They see these contradictions as the outcome of conservative stupidity and/or cynical opportunism. But, I claim, one ought not easily dismiss the importance of these peculiar contradictions. Modern far-right cultures vary widely in their geographies and historical periods, and yet, they share both modern liberal origins and a set of highly specific cultural contradictions.

    In order to show how fascist culture is produced, I’ll relate Adorno’s The Psychological Techniques of Martin Luther Thomas’ Radio Addresses1 to Alfred Adler’s concept of compensation2. While I find Adorno’s framing, his axioms, and his questions especially fruitful for thinking about fascist culture, I think that it’s important to take the lessons we’ve learned since the mid-20th century and re-theorize fascism.

    My point is neither to bracket political economy nor to essentialistically pathologize fascist subjectivity. Fear, I claim, is produced. Whether one asks why Medieval Christians attacked Jews amid blood libel conspiracy theories or why the Lumpenproletariat supported Louis Bonaparte or why so many of the rural dispossessed and disenfranchised support Trump, the wealthy and powerful use their resources to produce and channel mass sentiments. Considering that fascism is always anti-communist3, and that communism always threatens capitalists, perhaps the wealthy support fascism when they feel threatened by the left. In such moments, the wealthy and powerful have a vested interest in a political economy of discourse that engenders and intensifies fear and resentment. The foundations of these mechanics lie, I argue, in the intensification of modern forms of fragmentation.

    I see a three-way relationship between fascist subjectivity; right-wing media production; and modern fragmentation, or dialectical intensification. By “dialectical intensification,” I mean the increased forcefulness and proliferation of various binaries, contradictions, forms of alienation, dramatic changes to social life, etc. Borrowing Ernst Bloch’s conceptual apparatus, modern dialectical intensifications disrupt and multiply people’s non-synchronous lived temporalities.4 Because modern forms of fragmentation appear in market economic processes—capitalist divisions of labor, the ever-expanding array of commodities, and changes in economic structures and forces—and liberal scientific processes—the increase of objects of study, methods, standpoints, and specializations—capitalism and liberalism help to set the stage for fascism’s entrance on the social scene.

    In The Psychological Techniques, Adorno analyzes fascist agitator Thomas’s rhetorical patterns. Thomas assembles messages from capitalist and liberal subjective wreckage, saturates them with paranoia, and disseminates them to susceptible masses. For Thomas, feeling is believing, and the intensification of fear simultaneously integrates the subject vertically with their leader and horizontally with their national community.5 Some fearful subjects are prone to invest in nationalism’s formal—but also empty and ahistorical—unity in order to compensate for painful modern contradictions. This makes sense because, if modern social forms fragment people’s lived temporalities, leading to discontentment, then liberalism’s persistence must necessitate forms of social synchronization like those found in nationalism.6 At the heart of nationalism, one finds what Roger Griffin calls the “palingenetic myth”—the idea of a more glorious national past.7 Such a valorizing myth doubly caricaturizes, or fetishizes: “We” are different from “them,” and “their” proximity threatens “us.” The fascist agitator oscillates between messages of paranoia of national threats and palingenetic hope for the repetition of a glorious national past. Through the mass distribution of a buffet of invented nationalist symbols, rituals, and narratives, nationalism’s purveyors provide means for national coherence. Facing modern fragmentation and unpredictability, would-be fascists choose the warm blanket of one-sidedness: the national citizen over the foreigner, the strong over the weak, the normal over the deviant. Fascism’s nationalist intensity and governmental difference, then, depend on the change in social significance of modern forms of fragmentation.

    Recurrent far-right contradictions also lend coherence, then, to the form of far-right historical rupture. The modern subject who’s susceptible to fascist rhetoric feels the violence of their constitutive laceration. In a moment of intense social crisis, this subject can either sit still in dialectical discomfort or compensate by violently reacting against either the one side or the other. Eager for relief, some want to explain the troubling reality as quickly as possible. They can go too far, too quickly, in their effort to explain the troubling fact and its causes. This rush leads some to engage in what Adorno calls “associative” thinking.8 This need for relief from fear plays a large role in determining the particular representation of the troubling fact and its causes. This fearful subject works from their conclusion backward toward the bogeyman’s cryptic traces. Because rigorous adherence to a method might impede the conspiracy theorist’s ability to represent the troubling fact, they don’t begin with evidence and reliable investigative methods. Ignoring any sense of proportion or scale and following spurious associations and resonances, they comb over whatever makeshift archive. Confusing symptoms for structures, A-ha! they find just the explanation they’d hoped to find.

    Adorno refers to Thomas’s inconsistent, contradictory, syncretic, and non-propositional style by what he calls the “‘Decomposition’ device” and the “‘Flight-of-ideas’ technique.”9 Thomas’s audience gladly permits his presumption of the punchline and his denials of proportion and self-reflexive problem-solving methods. The fascist agitator offers simple, nonsensical stories that resonate with aspects of the audience’s experience. These stories clarify what the audience should fear, why, and the identity of the person or people to be blamed—the Jew, the communist, the politician, the trans person, the poll worker, the FBI, and so on. Through what Adorno refers to as the “‘sheep and bucks’ device,” the agitator crystallizes the audience’s shared Manichaeism.10 Loosening the anxiety-provoking hold of the negative, the fascist agitator’s threatening story throws cold water on the discomfort of the negative.

    In what follows, I offer an interpretation of, and departure from, Adorno. Whether or not it’s his intention, he draws attention to dialectical intensifications within and between Thomas’s use of several rhetorical devices. One could easily imagine the contemporary application of Adorno’s analysis—something like The Psychological Techniques of Tucker Carlson’s, or Alex Jones’s, Televisual Communications. I’ll give a few examples. Thomas’s individualist, fighting-the-good fight claims are characterized by what Adorno calls the “lone wolf” and “indefatigability” devices.11 One could imagine moments when Carlson or Jones argues that they’re the only one drawing attention to a particular issue. Thomas’s use of the “‘personal experience’ device” appeals to anti-elite, anti-establishment, anti-institutional, and anti-conformist sentiments; he bemoans homogenizing social forces.12 Reece Peck’s recent book, Fox Populism, demonstrates how Fox News’s TV personalities assure the audience that, in spite of liberal hegemony, conservatives have a right to be different.13 While, in these different ways, fascist agitators affirm individualism, they appeal also—through use of what Adorno calls the “‘Movement’ trick,” the “‘Unity’ trick,” and “The ‘democratic cloak’”—to traditionalist conceptions of collective identity.14 The “lone wolf” device and the “good old time” device emphasize authenticity, humility, and simplicity; they entail the presumption of a kind of innocent, good-hearted social harmony and/or national victimhood.15 “You’re just a normal, simple person,” says the fascist agitator. Through a device that Adorno calls “the Jews are coming,” Thomas reminds the audience who the deviant, threatening enemy is—not unlike, for instance, how Carlson refers to immigrants and trans people.16 After all, for contemporary conservatives, isn’t trans identity the contemporary version of the Jewish question? Through other devices, Thomas gives license to his audience to commit violence. Consider Jones’s ravings about devils, demons, lizard people, the “new world order,” and the various absolute evils that he calls for his followers to excise from society. As Adorno recognizes, the “religious trickery in operation” and “‘the faith of our fathers’ device,” among others, call on good Christian nationalists to win their eschatological crusade.17 Adorno describes devices that affirm both Jewish capitalism and Jewish communism, collective vulnerability and collective strength, obedience and disobedience, humility and self-importance, and internal corruption and national solidarity. Why do Thomas and other fascist agitators throughout history employ this same set of contradictory rhetorical devices? Lest they risk communism and dramatic reconfigurations of power, the wealthy and powerful might sometimes have good reason to support fascist agitators’ efforts to produce paranoid fascist cultures. 

    One can usefully translate these dynamics into Adler’s individual psychology terms. The fascist agitator intensifies the subject’s anxious response to modern contradictions, leading the would-be fascist to negatively compensate. Failing to properly compensate for felt inferiorities, the fascist adopts destructive thoughts and strategies. Mass-disseminated messages engender fascist fears but also violent impulses, enabling the possibility of broad politically subversive mobilization. In “The Feeling of Inferiority and the Striving for Recognition,” Adler writes, “[T]he danger is that in his striving for compensation he will be satisfied not with a simple balance of power, but will strive for an extra-compensation and will aim at over-balancing the scales. This striving for power and dominance may become exaggerated and intensified to a degree that will entitle it to be called pathological.”18 This might describe, on one hand, the paramilitarist, or on the other hand, the fascist agitator or the fascist leader. Adler describes the obverse, too:

    They conceal their aspirations as if behind a veil, and so modestly expect to escape disclosure in this way. Their uninhibited striving for power, seeking for support, is capable of producing degeneration in their psychic development, with the result that, in their exaggerated striving for security and might, courage becomes changed to impudence, obedience into cowardice, gentleness degenerates into a subtle treachery, and the final result is that every natural feeling or expression carries with it a hypocritical afterthought the final end of which is the subjugation of the environment.

    Where the paramilitarist’s enthusiasm is toward domination, the traditionalist seeks satisfaction through service to the master.

    As Adorno at one point briefly acknowledges (but doesn’t develop), Adlerian compensation is useful for explaining these recurring contradictions. To claim that anyone who emphasizes the individual, violence, capitalism’s problems, collective vulnerability, etc. will necessarily be led to fascism is obviously nonsense. Instead, I argue, the person who responds to fear by overcompensating or undercompensating, in Adler’s parlance, might be especially susceptible to fascist persuasion. Again, the broad distribution of fascist fears is determined through the political economy of fascist media. Whether paramilitarist, traditionalist, or otherwise, the fascist’s intense experience of modern fragmentation finds catharsis in the ethnonationalist enterprise. When rapid change coincides with deep social crisis, some fearful subjects invest in fascism’s promise: the repetition of the nation’s mythologized previous glory. For these people, the solution, in retrospect, was always obvious: the victimized majority should forcefully retake the country from the conspirators and the wrongly privileged deviants. So that they can rejuvenate and perhaps even surpass their previous glory, they should restore the natural—which is to say dehistoricized, or fetishized—order.


    1. Adorno, Theodor. The Psychological Techniques of Martin Luther Thomas’ Radio Addresses, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
    2. By invoking Adler, I don’t mean to endorse individual psychology. Instead, I’m interested in how Adler’s concept of compensation—the use of which endures in contemporary psychology discourse—might help to explain hitherto opaque dimensions of fascist subjectivity.
    3. Perhaps the most well-known, recent substantiation of this claim comes from Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism, New York: Vintage Books, 2004.
    4. Bloch, Ernst. “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialectics.” New German Critique 11: pp. 22-38.
    5. Adorno, Theodor. “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda.” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, New York: Continuum, 1987, pp. 124-5.
    6. In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson argues that nationalists view themselves as part of a large, relatively homogeneous community of people—most of whom the nationalist has never met. Where nationalism functions, it binds people together who might otherwise never think of themselves as bound together. Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New York: Verso, 2016.
    7. Griffin, Roger. The Nature of Fascism, New York: Routledge, 2006.
    8. Adorno, The Psychological Techniques, pp. 34-6.
    9. Ibid., pp. 81-5, 32-6.
    10. Ibid., pp. 85-7.
    11. Ibid., pp. 4-6, 13-5.
    12. Ibid., pp. 87-91.
    13. Peck, Reece. Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
    14. Adorno, The Psychological Techniques, pp. 31-2, 47-50, 50-3.
    15. Ibid., pp. 4-6, 25-7.
    16. Ibid., pp. 120-3.
    17. Ibid., pp. 98-100, 100-3.
    18. Adler, Alfred. “The Feeling of Inferiority and the Striving for Recognition,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 20: p. 1884.
    19. Ibid., p. 1883.



    Adler, Alfred. “The Feeling of Inferiority and the Striving for Recognition,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 20: pp. 1881-6.

    Adorno, Theodor. “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda.” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, New York: Continuum, 1987, pp. 118-37.

    Adorno, Theodor. The Psyhchological Techniques of Martin Luther Thomas’ Radio Addresses, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

    Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New York: Verso, 2016.

    Bloch, Ernst. “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialectics.” New German Critique 11: pp. 22-38.

    Griffin, Roger. The Nature of Fascism, New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Paxton, Robert. The Anatomy of Fascism, New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

    Peck, Reece. Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.