“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
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.
Queer theory makes a rather polarized distinction between pleasures of self-confirmation and pleasures of self-shattering, plaisir and jouissance. But pleasure can be approached as a conjunctural event in which new objects, attachments, identities, and ways of relating to the world emerge. Standard conventions in drug research remain unmoved by pleasure, consigning it to irrelevance, minimizing its significance or otherwise disregarding it. Thinking with pleasure is different from thinking about pleasure, thinking against it, or even thinking through it. It foregrounds the relation between the researcher and researched, proposing that each party has the capacity to affect and be affected by the other in surprising and potentially generative ways. While this creates some symmetry between the practices of the researcher and the practices of the researched, it does not confuse their respective projects. Each is engaged in their own process of self-transformation, though in each case established habits of practice and thought are put to the test in an encounter that creates the conditions for new ways of feeling and doing and being to emerge. Drug practices are often said to be motivated by a desire for self-loss, but this is not the same as a death wish. Concerns about safety inform the design of people’s experiments with drug use – experiments which also, incidentally, put techniques of reducing risk (among other procedures) to the test. Thinking with pleasure confers agentive capacities on research participants, while directing attention to the sociomaterial arrangements that constitute the infrastructure of their experiments and the criteria of value they employ to make sense of them. If care services find better ways of articulating with the everyday concerns and experimental arrangements people put in place to benefit from using drugs, new prospects for health, care, wellbeing and safer drug use might emerge.
This is so evil. And so transparent.
The strong arm of the increasingly militarised NSW government is tweaking the urban geography of Sydney so it becomes a cash cow that funnels money straight into the coffers of corporate oligarchs via gambling and pokie machines.
Basically, Baird, Grant and their cronies are playing the city to court the support and donations of corporate tycoons and ensure a constant stream of revenue from the gaming industry for their increasingly intensive and aggressive operations.
The once ‘independent’ – now ministerially controlled – Office of Liquor and Gaming is presumably cheering on the push to raze Moore Park and Kippax Lake (a precious habitat for wildlife in the inner city) to build a massive footy stadium in an area whose loutish drinking culture the government claims to be concerned about.
SO concerned, in fact, that it has taken it upon itself to impose an inner city curfew on all other signs of nightlife “for our safety”.
But no concern is evident in any of these decisions for the public culture of the city or what it might take to keep it friendly, diverse, collectively accessible, interesting, relaxed, open, relatively free and dynamic.
Meanwhile this state – newly weaponised with unprecedented police powers and immensely fortified by the opportunity to control all regulatory decisions on liquor AND gaming – is so addicted to gambling revenue that it is prepared to condone and profit from a commodity-system that is industrially designed to create compulsive attachments – highly lucrative ones at that – that are known to exacerbate socioeconomic inequality and destroy communal and family relations.
Despite its claims and protestations, the state is ultimately devoid of *real* concern for the health, welfare and safety of its citizens, as this licentious investment in industrial gambling demonstrates.
The only thing stopping the state from trying to monetise other commodities deemed ‘dangerous’ and ‘addictive’ – like, say, drugs – is the irresistible opportunity that drug enforcement provides to harass minortized groups, emergent communities – indeed anyone who doesn’t fall in line with the state’s self-proclaimed right to determine norms of consumption and forcibly populate sanctioned markets.
Indeed, so invested is the ‘casino state’ in the invasive powers it has accrued through drug enforcement that it expressly rejects and denounces (as criminal!) medical interventions and measures (like pill testing) that might actually reduce some of the harms associated with consuming drugs procured through markets that the state hasn’t or can’t or just couldn’t be arsed working out how to regulate.
In the case of gambling , by contrast, the state makes consumers directly responsible for managing the potentially destructive effects of consumption. Indeed, it’s very eager to put all responsibility on the consumer and disavow its own implication in gambling problems. We’re talking, remember, about a form of consumption that happens to appeal overwhelmingly to the most economically desperate, vulnerable, structurally disadvantaged citizens.
The message we’re meant to get from all this – the message the state is stepping over itself to send us – is that those who don’t comply with sovereign authority and its arbitrary decisions and determinations about what counts as legitimate consumption are basically just gonna get what’s coming to them. Comply or die. Necropower incarnate. Allow the body that consumes properly and profitably to live as long as it manages to (when fed a diet of shit), and let the bodies that don’t consume in profitable ways die. That’ll teach those masses a lesson or two about the unquestionable right and might of power.
Hypocritical, thuggish, and contemptuous of the social life of citizens. And of course Troy Grant, Minister of Police, is right behind it, doing the heavy lifting, flexing his might in plain view, just to demonstrate the power of the state to suppress any trace of difference or dissidence or enjoyment that is not immediately monopolisable and easy to cash in on.
So blatant. So transparent. A violent demonstration of power undertaken in plain view. Like a schoolyard bully. Or a drug lord. Both of which happen to be figures the state silently gives the nod to. Exemplary power.
Are we feeling safe yet?