“The Princess and the Ice Monster”
Image by Hachiimon @ Deviant Art
Or, for a much more edifying, fond and generative depiction of ice use among
I snatched these photos from all over the place ~ collectively I take them to be grabbing back the public domain from the hands of those conspiring to restrict its terms of membership and eradicate dissidence.
The images are presented in the chronological order events unfolded …. more or less … with one or two exceptions…
(what a liberty!)
I pay tribute to all the friends and strangers who participated in the making of these snapshots and their circulation .
Thanks for sharing ~ such awesome creativity.
In Mad Travellers (1998), Ian Hacking argued that each historical age produces its own types of madness or mental illness. What happens when a hegemonic social identity – in this case, white and heteromasculinist – starts to lose its presumptive grip on national space and understand itself as an aggrieved and embattled minority?
In the wake of Trump’s election, digital snippets began to emerge that captured white people ‘losing their shit’ in the course of a range of mundane consumer transactions. Losing their shit is a polite way of putting it: those encountering these clips on social media became spectators to a series of highly public, abusive outbursts, precipitated by frustrated feelings of entitlement to special treatment:
In each of these incidents, subjects emboldened by the Trump win fly into highly public scenes of vitriol, rage and abuse at the drop of a hat. Trump and Brexit-style rhetoric has carefully mapped out sites of external blame for whatever it is these white folks are suffering: racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, liberal elites, independent women and transgender individuals are typical scapegoats.
The documented spikes in racist, homophobic and transphobic violence that occurred after Brexit and the US election can be read as further manifestations of a syndrome or structure of feeling ‘triggered by’ these official endorsements of populist ethno-nationalist sentiment. These violent acts, committed in bids to reassert failing sovereignty, remind us that the idealised nation is not only racialized (white), but also has a sexuality (heteronormative) that is felt to be constitutively endangered.
What I find particularly interesting about these acts of aggression and violence is their adoption of the prism of identity politics to vent out their claims on cultural supremacy and special treatment. These people feel they have been discriminated against: that, were it not for radical intervention, the liberal state would further conspire to reduce their recourse to the terms of abuse that once kept minorities and women in their place and thus served to ensure their own social status and dominance so effectively.
In 1997 Lauren Berlant observed, “today many formerly iconic citizens who used to feel undefensive and unfettered feel truly exposed and vulnerable …They sense that they now have identities, when it used to be just other people who had them.” What has happened in the interim, and what few could have predicted, is how enthusiastically these self-same subjects have embraced the terms of identity politics to understand their own plight and vituperatively restore their hold on cultural privilege.
In Australia, there has been no shortage of privileged white men prepared to line up to whine at length, publicly and pathetically, about their intolerable sense of of having been victimised. The federal government actively panders to these sentiments, withdrawing funding from anti-bullying programs offering sex and gender diversity education in schools, and more recently, announcing a parliamentary inquiry into whether provisions that make it unlawful to publicly “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” others on the basis of race impose “unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech”. (Won’t someone please unfetter the poor privileged white darlings?).
The ebullient outbursts I’ve described above are steeped in vindictive and vengeful ressentiment that seeks out sites of external blame upon which to avenge hurt and redistribute their pain. It is very tempting to diagnose these psychotic outbursts as symptoms of a new pathology: Trumpitis? Brexophilia? Post-Trump Manic Spectrum Disorder? After all, anger and violence generated by delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution are regarded as textbook signs of paranoid schizophrenia.
Pathologising people isn’t my usual style – I’ve spent most of my life contesting the imposition of therapeutic morality – but part of me says, why not? If these folks truly want to qualify as minority identities, bring it on! After all, would LGBT, feminists, and people of colour really qualify as minority identities in the absence of their historical subjection to intensive pathologization, criminalisation, surveillance and brutal treatment? If you’re really a subordinated identity, show me the evidence!
The problem with psychologisation is that it dehistoricizes affective complications, extracting these feelings of the world from any broader sociopolitical, historical trajectories. It’s also patronising, and therefore likely to compound the problem: In 1997, when a ‘highbrow’ journalist asked Australia’s far right politician Pauline Hanson if she was xenophobic, Hanson’s blinking response, “please explain?” resonated with many older, white non-tertiary educated Australians, powerfully embodying a spreading sense of alienation from the structures of liberal power.
One of the most subtle and provocative arguments of Wendy Brown’s (1995) States of Injury – perhaps the least popular among liberal critics – is that the disciplinary genres of US identity politics personalise and naturalise some of the complex injuries of capitalism. In taking the white heterosexual middle class as the standard against which social injury is measured, the North American habit of staging politics through identity makes categories of identity “bear all the weight of … sufferings produced by capitalism.” I find this insight particularly useful in terms of getting a grip on the present conjuncture, where the capitalist dream is failing to deliver on its promise even for much of the white middle class. In this instance, the siphoning of socioeconomic and cultural frustrations into a racialised category of wounded identity has generated particularly abusive, vindictive and (dare I say) psychotic manifestations.
What I think would be most helpful now is a more affirmative understanding of identity and difference, a reformulation of the possibilities of identity that equips us for dealing with our multi-ethnic, multi-gendered times – and even take some pleasure in them. (I’m struck, for example, by the factoid that recently came to light that Trump supporters ‘are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones’ and have limited interaction with other social groups. The point speaks to the critical relevance of contact theory, whose vision of social safety is elaborated most imaginatively and queerly by African American Sci-Fi writer Samuel Delany.)
Imagine if identity was conceived, not as a category of victimhood or failed sovereignty requiring the protection and reparative intervention of a (presumptively white and heterosexual) state, but a source of multiplicity and difference – a contact zone – that is valued and affirmed for the occasions it opens up for mutual transformation? Whose promise consists precisely in the unpredictable and exciting possibilities that emerge from inter-class/identity encounters for what nations and worlds and states might become ?
With this more affirmative approach to identity and difference, perhaps we will get a more active, constructive handle on what might become of the present phase of consumer capitalism and globalisation. But of course this will require white heterosexual subjects to renounce their claims on sovereignty and special treatment, and address their present manifestation as retaliatory violence against unknown others – as a matter of urgency.
 In the Australian context of state multiculturalism, Ghassan Hage theorises this situation as one in which a white majority starts to worry it is losing its grip on the managerial relation it has enjoyed over national space, which it feels is its birth-right. See Hage, White nation: Fantasies of white supremacy in a multicultural society. Routledge, 2012.
 For a wonderfully pedagogical and accessible explication of this point see Meaghan Morris, ‘Sticks and Stones and Stereotypes’ http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-June-1997/morris.html
 Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America goes to Washington City: Essays on sex and citizenship. Duke University Press, 1997, p. 2.
 On ressentiment, see Friedrich Nietzsche, On the genealogy of morals and ecce homo. Vintage, 2010.
 For a brilliant discussion of this moment to which this argument is indebted see Meaghan Morris (2000), “‘Please explain?’ignorance, poverty and the past.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1,2: 219-232.
 Wendy Brown, States of injury: Power and freedom in late modernity. Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 60. For another brilliant excavation of the trials, tribulations and terms of US identity politics see Cindy Patton, “Tremble, hetero swine!” in Warner (ed.) Fear of a queer planet: Queer politics and social theory, 1993, pp.143-177.
 Rylan Lizza, “What we learned about Trump’s supporters this week”, New Yorker, August 13, 2016. For a queer vision of social safety that draws brilliantly on contact theory see Samuel Delany (1999), Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.
 For a more detailed elaboration of the theoretical coordinates of this approach, and an attempt to put it into practice, see my forthcoming book, The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV, under contract with Routledge.
I’m at NSW Parliament at the moment participating in the Sydney Drug Roundtable organised by state and national MPs who have assembled an impressive group of leading figures in the drug and alcohol field in NSW
Reflecting on the points made by various participants and the examples they have given has made me think about the affective dimensions of care, policing and government more broadly.
Working on the (generous) assumption that police are concerned with the quality of their relations with citizens and want to promote “order” and harmonious relations within the community, there must be ways of making police and authorities aware of their own implication in the production of these relations and their affective qualities: e.g. trust, mistrust, contempt, respect, feelings of inclusions/exclusion, goodwill, aggression, etc.
The practices available to authorities are wide-ranging, of course, and the ones they adopt in a given situation make all the difference:
Sniffer dogs for example not only exacerbate drug harm, but position police as moral detectives and citizens as suspects, fair game for hassling at any moment. Despite recent deaths at music festivals (complete with massive drug dog operations) police have bullishly rejected the possibility of allowing pill testing at dance events: Imagine wanting to enhance the agency of citizens to look after themselves. Unthinkable!
Meanwhile the recent ads for roadside drug testing in NSW reveal little interest in encouraging safer driving, but are bent on reasserting the power of police to discredit people on the basis of any drug consumption. (The tests themselves are unable to measure impairment and have been known to pick up traces of drugs consumed well before the driving event – days in some cases).
The ads are clearly designed to threaten and scare citizens for their presumed moral transgressions: not simply intoxicated drivers, but anyone who might be inclined to smoke a joint or use illicit substances occasionally. They smack overwhelmingly of the desire to intimidate. Just take a look! (There is no escaping it): The aggression is dumbfounding.
As police and civil experts know, there are other ways of addressing and engaging with citizens that promote trust and safety and generate more friendly and co-operative relations. Indeed, the concept of “community policing” is premised on precisely such principles.
The history of collective experience in the fields of HIV and drug policy consistently demonstrates that the penalization, punishment and criminalization of disapproved behaviours (like risky sex and/or drug use) is counterproductive. Criminalization alienates people from authorities and produces paranoia, distrust, and evasion of the very services that are entrusted with the task of caring for citizens. This is why the decriminalisation of drug use is such an urgent priority.
The use of punitive strategies in relation to matters of public health alienates people and produces evasion, avoidance, contempt and aggression towards authorities. After all, these authorities are institutions whose existence is premised and justified by the desire to improve the health and welfare of the population and care for citizens. They were never designed, not should they operate as, repellents.
A question that needs to be posed more expansively and taken on as a key priority, then, concerns the affective climate that social authorities want to promote. There is a choice here: the government can choose to promote the goodwill of citizens by anticipating and expanding their agency, or it can treat them with contempt by belittling and intimidating them, and then just sit back and watch the results. They won’t be pretty.
If you treat people with contempt, they rapidly lose respect for you, and either retaliate aggressively or withdraw from further engagement entirely. Until social authorities understand the implication of their own practices in the making of particular affective climates, they will be locked into their stubborn attachment to enforcement, which rebounds with escalating violence.