It’s a concept from Ranciere that I don’t fully understand. The basic idea, I think, is that there’s stuff which is understandable, transparent, reasonable – in a word, sensible – and stuff which incoherent, opaque, irrational. And the different positions form an ensemble which changes over time. Put differently, there’s inclusion as inclusion and inclusion as exclusion, and the set of all both varies. Ranciere has an epistemological argument and so on connected with this, and a lot to say about aesthetics, I don’t know what to make of that. What I like about this is more simplistic. It helps me think about, maybe just by analogy, a way to think about things in Marx and elsewhere. (I think this might be more akin to what Ranciere calls the police, but I’m not entirely sure.) Some rather confused and wideranging notes on this …

Marx writes in the Grundrisse that in a sense distribution precedes and conditions production. That is, there is a distribution of classes/positions, and a distribution of people into those positions. This could be thought as another way to understand the composition of class. There are also a number of hierarchies and gradations implied. Some are within the distributed positions – wage differences, differential access to or ascription of rights, different forms and levels of power and violence used – and some are sort of axioms of choice as to who can occupy which roles and at what levels (or rather, which enter into the distribution into these roles in a way which produces the demographics of each role – race, ethnicity, gender etc. I should note that I make it sound like the axioms pre-exist the demographic composition. I don’t think that makes much sense really – though in cases when they’re instantiated in law then they do in a way, but in those cases they’re always in reference to a given demographic which is being preserved or altered).

At this point I am largely unconvinced by much of what I’ve read about changes leading to or in the transition to postfordism, the era of real subsumption, postmodernity, etc. Those accounts that I’ve read strike me as over-inflated, magnifying some changes and dynamics to the level of distortion and thus in a sense totalizing. They are also politically suspect. Take precarity, for example. The changes being addressed in Europe under the name precarity are quite important. They do not, however, consitute a new era where everything is different. The claim that there is such a new era can only be made if one ignores the precarity (or precarities) of others which pre-existed that being addressed in Europe today (and there is of course a series of questions to be asked about what and who constitutes Europe – debates about migration in or on the [no]border of Europrecarity circles are part of this, in a sense they are attempt to provincialize Europe).

While there is not a new era (there are not new eras), there are new distributions, at all sorts of levels.

There’s a sequence that would be interesting to research in opposition to the postfordism narratives.

Neoliberal (neoclassical?) economy (for which the University of Chicago should be consecrated with a memorial to the dead) is analogous the classical political economy Marx criticized. The Doctrine of National Security played a role analogous to the “bloody legislation” against the expropriated. Analogy doesn’t take one very far, but for the sake of a thought experiment. All distributions rely upon or derive from a prior distribution (“turtles all the way down”). Primitive accumulation, then, was not a creation ex nihilo but a shift in distribution. Similarly the dictatorships and neoliberalism.

Anachronism is a problematic concept at best. If it is retained, though, what if we reverse the meaning for a moment? Rather than the end of the welfare state and the existence of “internal third worlds” in the “first world” as throwbacks, what if we see the welfare state (security, not precarity) and the first world (with its or as a multi-axis distribution of inclusion and exclusion) as precisely the anachronism, an extension of the gains won or held by master journeymen and the petit bourgeoisie? The end of those, with accompanying (intensified) proletarianization would then be something like the eruption of the or a future (a once and future) against a bulwark of the past. Those categories are of at most limited use. The inversion is more useful as a polemic or as an abstraction procedure to eliminate some problematic habits of thought. (I wish Yann Moulier-Boutang’s book on slavery would hurry up and come out in Spanish….)

The series I mentioned would be that which stretches from Algeria to Argentina, the sequence of dirty war and neoliberalism. I’m given to understand that the term “dirty war” originated among French generals in their war on Algerians. I know nothing about that period, unfortunately. The name was then picked up by military dictatorships in Latin America. And the techniques used. Like the transnational character of global capitalism and the global capitalist class (or as an example thereof), the military elites were networked and exchanged information across Latin America and the planet.

Military theorists and research and education institutions experimented with and learned from different experiences in order to develop techniques for deployment elsewhere, techniques which were of course transformed in at least some cases in their deployment, providing more information for military innovation. (One example from an earlier time was the Luftwaffe’s leveling of Guernica, a trial run for the bombing techniques used in the second world war.) There was also coordination and information sharing across countries. To some extent the populace being dominated by the dictatorship, including the left networks, were transnational (Cuba being one hub). Effective management thereof required a similarly transnational effort (in two senses – cooperation and espionage across borders).

Neoliberalism was introduced during the dictatorship experiences in Latin America, a new round of originary accumulation (“force is an economic power”). Horrific as these experiences were, and horrible as neoliberalism is, they were not entirely novel. Rather than a new era, they form part of a new distribution. A new distributing partially coordinated and planned, and partly spontaneous. (A process with several subjects in tension and transition, rather than no subject or a single subject, and productive of subjection and subjects.) Some of what happened in the transition from one instant to another of this distribution was precisely the transition of application of techniques deployed in one locale to deployment in another: from Algeria to Argentina. From the Mapuche to the middle classes.

A generalization, perhaps? Or, a slightly increased use, a relative generalization, for there are of course still massive hierarchies and differentials within the distribution. (“we are all X” is one thing as a protest slogan. It should emphatically not be made into a theoretical principle.) Those differentials help maintain certain distributions and make possible an economy of force. Greater differentials mean greater diversity of levels of power and violence deployed, with the more egregious being applied to one or a few sectors. Moments like that of the dirty war are moments when those more egregious forms are applied more generally. I want to say that those moments are inherently unstable but I’m not actually convinced that’s so. (It’s also important to recognize that all the differences here are relative. “Less force” or “less egregious is still force and is still egregious. There’s a tension here between wanting to recognize that there are genuinely better and worse – Walmart is not La Escuelita – and that the two are articulated together in an ensemble. On the other hand, sometimes better and worse are more difference than qualitative rank: differences of political and technical composition – with forms of power and violence forming part of the latter – rather than a matter of being either abject or vanguard.)