The Foucauldian Left represents an unfortunate regression to the Marxist obsession with scientific rigor. This Left still wants to put historical events in a theoretical context. It exaggerates the importance of philosophy for politics, and wastes in energy on sophisticated theoretical analyses of the significance of current events. But Foucauldian theoretical sophistication is even more useless to leftist politics than was Engels’ dialectical materialism. Engels at least had an eschatology. Foucaldians do not even have that. Because they regard liberal reformist initiatives as symptoms of a discredited liberal ‘humanism,’ they have little interest in designing new social experiments.

Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country

A little over a year ago the Black Lives Matters protest movement swept over Berkeley and Oakland. My boyfriend and I skirted the line between participant and spectator, walking or driving along the protesters over the course of that week. In some respect, it felt like you were at the forefront of something that mattered; and each night I didn’t put my body out on the line triggered a feeling of guilt. At the same time, and this part is way more real, it was pretty obvious that most of this stuff was based on some sort of image young “radical” 20 somethings felt compelled to live up to. But sincerity is not the question at hand.

The thing that really started to eat at me was the fact that here we were, protesting some sort of police-born phenomenon that had been plaguing the country. Except none of us knew about how the police worked. None of us understood its funding, its internal mechanisms, the politics and the money and training behind the department stalking us as we walked in the night. It struck me that we could all sit around and happily talk about Marx and Foucault and Trotsky but no one really understood what the fuck politics actually meant outside of a bleak, imaginary one conceived by philosophers over a century earlier.

I’ll never forget when, over an Irish coffee, I asked my now former best friend if she can see how this obsession with philosophy prevents our generation from meaningful participation in the political sphere. (At the time I was reading Mark Danner’s brilliant articles on the Iraq War, which if you want to jog your memory you can find here.) She blankly stared at me and responded “I believe we all live in different realities.”

I was totally flabergasted. I couldn’t and still can’t understand the conflation between the concrete–torture memos, directives from the Capitol, internal fights between the Department of State and the White House–and the imaginary.

Is this some sort of testament of our intellectual degradation? On the one hand it feels like theory fills the void left by secularism; installing a total and systemic view that 1) privileges the social over the political and 2) explains this highly social universe within a single narrative. People rely on heuristics and feelings to determine socio-political sentiments (as distinct from researched, complex thoughts) because the social is the most natural and obvious domain of experience today. To understand what is it like to be a woman, or not a woman, to be gay or not gay, I live my day to day life, I observe, I feel, and I configure these observations into whatever set of beliefs I hold. Not a lot of intellectual leg work goes on in determining a “feeling” on one side of the fence or another.

Policy is different. Policy requires knowledge of extenuating circumstances, of potential backfire, of loopholes and similar legislation. It requires understanding the interests at play and examining the repercussions. What policy does not pose for most, however, is the possibility of egotistical involvement. Policy does not necessarily fall into the now tired feminist statement “the personal in the political.”

I have no desire to wrap this up eloquently. For now, it’s frustrating to watch this. It’s equally frustrating that at this point I know more about Rorty, and Tocqueville than I do about policy. They’d be disappointed.

 

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In her socially-based art practice, Susan O’Malley uses simple and recognizable tools of engagement – offering Pep Talks, asking for advice from strangers, installing roomfuls of inspirational posters, distributing flyers in neighborhood mailboxes, conducting doodle competitions at high schools – in order to offer entry points into the understood, and sometimes humorous, interactions of everyday life. Interested in shifting these otherwise mundane exchanges into heightened experiences, O’Malley’s projects rely on the back-and-forth between herself and others in the creation of the artwork. Ultimately O’Malley’s projects aspire to inspire hope, optimism and a sense of interconnectedness in our lives.

Susan O’Malley passed away this March. You can see more of her work here.

The bus: in the years following 2013, it has become an emblem of gentrification, displacement, and higher rent. Of a long commute to Mountain View. And of puke and shit and words wielded as weapons by locals and protesters in the smaller hours of the morning.

Compounding the status of bus-as-symbol within the second wave tech boom are two new films, vastly different in their respective goals. The first, an advertisement for the private shuttle service Leap, aims to “redesign” the typical San Franciscan commute, at the price of $6 each direction. In stark contrast, Elizabeth Lo’s film, “Hotel 22”, focuses in on a portion of the 7,500 people currently homeless in Silicon valley. Only 8 minutes long, what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. In a New York Times opinion piece accompanying her film, she stated “I hope this film is a window into this nation’s inequities that can so easily go unseen.”

In a city which now boasts the nation’s fastest growing income gap, the bus as a synechdoche for the vastly different lives of its inhabitants couldn’t be more poignant. Leap allows riders to turn a blind eye to the poor, the disabled, to children, to those who cannot afford its $6 single direction fare. There’s even talk of Leap out-moding Muni, as seen in this article by Joseph Rodriguez. While it seems preposterous that a fleet of 5 buses with the price tag of 12 bucks would dethrone Muni anytime soon, Rodriguez is right when he says that “Public transit is where San Francisco meets itself. Isn’t that the point of cities after all?”