January 30, 2017

Disruption as Radical Nostalgia

Hi guys.
 
I wrote the essay this talk is taken from almost exactly a year ago, as a response to my comprehensive exam question: Does disruption have a politics through time, and if so what is it. That essay ended up being over 60 pages long, drawing on over fifty different sources (and I passed! that was nice).
 
If it seems dry and academic, well, that’s because it is. It’s probably a lot easier to digest if you’re listening to it while I flash pictures of Kanye and Milhouse and fat ginger cats in classic paintings on the screen (all slides that appeared in my actual deck, hire me for your pizza parties, I’m a professional academic).



I'm front-loading some For Further Reading Suggestions, and a TL:DR, because this talk is a pile of text and if you don't read it all I will not be offended or even particularly surprised. If you've got comments or question, yes please send them my way. If you think this sticky history-theory hairball is useful, please feel free to forward it along, but if you want to cite it somewhere, I'd appreciate a ping first. If you're an academic or an editor and have an idea for what I can actually *do* with this piece, I would love to hear from you.

FOR FURTHER READING:
On the Newer and Shorter side, Frances Fox Piven (😍) says we should be prepared to throw sand in the gears of everything if we want to mount an effective resistance. 

This might be a fun time ("fun time") to watch Mario Savio's speech from the steps of Sproul Hall.

Seth Rosenfeld's SUBVERSIVES: THE FBI'S WAR ON STUDENT RADICALS AND REAGAN'S RISE TO POWER: extremely upsetting, extremely thorough history of the FBI, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, J. Edgar Hoover, and Ronald Reagan. Read if you want to know about how J. Edgar Hoover was basically the king of America for 50 years.

Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin's BLACK AGAINST EMPIRE: THE HISTORY AND POLITICS OF THE BLACK PANTER PARTY: If you think you could be STILL MORE ANGRY at the FBI, and your knowledge of the Black Panther Party isn't as complete as it should be, pick up this book next.
 
Gareth Stedman-Jones' OUTCAST LONDON: This is a history of how changes in industry, shipping, transit, housing and social policy, and philanthropy impacted the poor casual laborer population in Victorian London. That might sound far from us but YOU'D BE SURPRISED. Or maybe you wouldn't be.
 
Luis Fernandez's POLICING DISSENT: If you are the marching in the streets type, you should be aware of the measures that may be taken against you and the styles of policing and state pushback you might encounter. This is a good review of the recent past in state suppression of street dissent.

TL;DR
This talk posits that insomuch as the politics of disruption exist, they are at core a politics of "radical nostalgia," a term I'm adapting from Alastair Bonnet's work on nostalgia in the political left and Craig Calhoun's work on the development of radical politics in England. Radical nostalgia  describes a politics that reaches, creatively, into the past, drawing up stories, characters, events, and philosophies to retell and reinvent, in order to bolster and animate current politics, both as a foundation to build upon and as a goal to reach towards. Disruptive politics is invested, primarily, in halting processes which have most often been wrapped in the mantle of (liberal or neo-liberal) "progress".  Disruption as radical nostalgia articulates the politics of disruption as one of interruptive potentialities based in an ideological rejection or refusal of progress. The disruptive action is not simply a sterile freeze, nor does it lead to a barren space. The lead up to the disruptive act, the act itself, and interrupted spaces which result are all generative, creative zones; the politics of disruption are at every stage a creative politics. The radical nostalgia as core political impetus requires a creative engagement with the past, with myth, with modernity.

The politics of disruption as radical nostalgia is in distinct contrast to the manner in which "disruption" as an ideological concept is deployed in Silicon Valley, where is it primarily a-historical, kinetic, and Whiggish. This has distinct impacts the products, systems, and infrastructures that come out of Silicon Valley. This talk argues that if we take seriously the ideological infusions present in the network communication technology economy and infrastructures, infusions which hamstring the effective potential of such systems through diffusion, distraction, and echoing, then we must take seriously the potential of disruptive politics as core to tactical resistance.  To effect a confrontation, the deployment of disruptive politics must confront the network society on multiple levels (though not necessarily simultaneously or in the same action): infrastructure, content and user flows and linkages, as well as financial and capital flows. The constructive capacities of disruptive politics as radical nostalgia operate here to interrupt both the circulating flows of content, users, and capital identified by Dean, but also to interrupt the deployments of apolitical innovation and disruption that powers and directs the design and construction of the network society itself. The aim of disruptive politics is to interrupt that (appearance of) progress, creating a potential space for the manifestations of alternatives. Those alternatives may in the end re-establish the march of liberal progress, but the disruption itself, the moment of interruption, of non-advancement, is in itself counter to the liberal ideology of progress.

Ready? Ok, let's dance.

DISRUPTION AS RADICAL NOSTALGIA
 
1.
As a word in common usage, “disruption” carries a stronger connotation than, say, “disturb.” If, for example, one was accused of “disturbing the other customers,” it would be a reasonable expectation that consumerist calm would reassert itself after the disturbing agent had left, like stillness returning to the surface of a pond after a skipped stone has sunk. “Disruption,” however, connotes a bursting apart or a breaking asunder, a dramatic or even violent separation in the manner of an earthquake or eruption. A disruption lingers, if only in feeling or memory, like a previously concealed fault line. What was once steady has faltered; what was once contiguous, broken. Still it is milder than “destructive”; what has been (dis)ruptured may yet be repaired, unlike that which has been destroyed.
 
What is the political and social meaning of “disruption”? When deployed politically, specifically in the context of social movements, “disruption” or “disruptiveness” may describe a set of tactics, an event, or a particular theory of change. The term has also been drafted into service, perhaps most loudly, in the open-plan offices of Silicon Valley, where “disruption” is deployed as a highly desirable hallmark of creativity, innovation, and success. Though the term may be applied in a host of contexts, the question at hand is, broadly, what are the politics of disruption? Can it be interpreted to have one that holds steady throughout its applied contexts? If it does have some such underlying politics, what are its implications for the use of “disruption,” both as a descriptor and proactive guide of action?
 
Disruption’s politics are primarily tied to a politics of radical, ideological nostalgia. Its conceptual opposite is not the apolitical “continuation,” but rather the liberal “progress,” and progress’s special, extreme form, “innovation.” Its closest conceptual synonym is “interruption”. The main project of disruptive or interruptive politics is to arrest the drive of “progress,” and in doing so achieve a number of potential ends: making room for the presence of counter publics in public speech; provoking or inducing internal thought or reflection; arresting liberal progress itself or introducing strategic inefficiency into a given system; acting as a provocative performative example of a specific politics or practice; acting as a “steam valve” to release built-up pressures inherent in a particular society or way of life; or creating an “effective pause” through which to bleed the momentum from an cultural shift that is gathering speed.
 
Disruptive politics and tactics present particular and special challenges when deployed in NCT (Networked Communication Technology) spaces, such as the internet or mobile phone networks, due to the dense overlap of speech, presence, spatiality, and property concerns; the domination of publicly subsidized private corporations; the lack of strong rights protections, and the breakdown of a geospatial understanding of legal regimes and controls. These challenges in turn have implications for the political potentials and limits of NCT spaces in general, and in the context of confrontational, dissenting, or counterpublic politics in particular.
 
The special case of disruptive politics in NCT spaces also summons the attendant case of “disruption” as it is used as a concept within Silicon Valley, and technology development and capitalization. In this context, “disruption” is divorced from its radical nostalgia traditions and placed in an ahistorical, Whiggish setting wherein its closest synonym is Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction.” This deployment builds only on disruption’s interruptive or rupturing potential, willfully ignoring its nostalgic, reflective, imaginative potentials, or its capacities for re-assemblage. While this usage does not render disruption a floating signifier, stripped of all integral meaning, it does serve to emphasize the potential of the concept and its associated tactics to wander, maintaining only the kinetic, physicalist aspects of their definitions as truly inescapable.
 
2.
THEORY BASE: CALHOUN + BONNETT
 
“Radicalism” is a many-storied term, with a deep and at times contradictory history. Here, I use the term according to the tripartite definition used by Craig Calhoun. He identifies three main strands of radicalism: philosophical radicalism of theorists “who sought to penetrate to the roots of society with rational analyses and programs for systematic restructuring” (Calhoun 4); the reactionary radicalism of “those who tried to save what they values in communities and cultural traditions from eradication by the growth of capitalism” (Calhoun 4) which arises from “the basis of deep social and cultural roots” (Calhoun p. 14); and tactical radicalism, the seeking of immediate change through the use of violence and “other extreme measures” (Calhoun 4). 
 
Calhoun’s definition has the benefit of not being tied to a particular movement or era (though he is writing primarily through the tradition of British Radicalism and its influence on Western social movements), which given the temporal range of the cases under review, would limit our ability to come to a coherent definition of how disruption has operated through time and across different movement structures and ideologies. For while disruption has at its core a particular politics, that of interrupting liberal or neoliberal progress, this politics can be consistently mobilized in the service of a number of different ideological movements, some of which may have ends that contradict those of other movements which also employ disruptive politics. But the politics of disruption remain consistent throughout these apparently inconsistent or contradictory applications, across ideologies as well as across time. Therefore our definition of radicalism, as part of our definition of disruption and disruption’s own politics, must operate at a level that stands above and across ideological and temporal divisions. 
 
Here I employ “radicalism” to modify “nostalgia,” after the work of Alastair Bonnett. For Bonnett’s work, and for our purposes, nostalgia’s most important aspects are a sense of loss (Bonnet 60-64) and a creative impulse to reconstruct an ideological past (Bonnet 10). By “ideological past” here I mean the construction and deployment of a narrative of the past that brings it into accord with a particular ideology, to serve as a foundation for specific movement goals and projects. 
 
 
3.
RADICAL NOSTALGIA
 
I invoke “nostalgia” here to mean not a surface-level romanticization of the past, but rather a densely constructive nostalgia that is inherently idealistic, aspirational, and political. “Hiraeth” is a Welsh word, used to describe a sense of longing for an idealized Wales of ancient history, an independent Wales before the conquest by Edward I in the thirteenth century. Hiraeth combines a distinct sense of irretrievable, communal-scale loss, with a necessarily imaginative reconstruction of an idealized, ideologically nationalist past, which serves as the foundation of a millenarian nationalism through the figures of mythologized Welsh princes who have served as messianic and totemic figures of Welsh nationalism. Though Bonnett does not cite hiraeth in his work on radical nostalgia, I find its particular combination of loss, the post-hoc construction of an idealized ideological past, and a far-future forecast of a millenarian, messianic nationalist future to be a helpful centering-point in our deployment of nostalgia. 
 
“Radical nostalgia” describes a politics that reaches, creatively, into the past, drawing up stories, characters, events, and philosophies to retell and reinvent, in order to bolster and animate current politics, both as a foundation to build upon and as a goal to reach towards.
 
In his work on nostalgia in the political left, Bonnett criticizes the idea that nostalgia must perforce be “misty-eyed myths found among the old and the weak-minded,” noting the “hard-headed recall” of the “radical rural laborers” that made up the Luddites and Swing rioters who “remembered a better life and...wanted it back” (Bonnett 10). He further criticizes the view that nostalgia is the result of a “failure to adapt.” Rather, “nostalgia disturbs modern life” (Bonnett 10), and “simultaneously evoke[s] a refusal of the present age, while demanding to be understood as presaging a new one” (Bonnett 10). Here Bonnett gestures at an understanding of radical nostalgia as pluripotent, narratively critical , and tense with immediate potential applications. Disruption is the activation of these potentialities into political praxis.
 
Disruption as radical nostalgia articulates the politics of disruption as one of interruptive potentialities based in an ideological rejection or refusal of progress. The disruptive action is not simply a sterile freeze, nor does it lead to a barren space. The lead up to the disruptive act, the act itself, and interrupted spaces which result are all generative, creative zones; the politics of disruption are at every stage a creative politics. The radical nostalgia as core political impetus requires a creative engagement with the past, with myth, with modernity.
 
4.
IDEOLOGY
 
Here it is worthwhile to spend some time on the creative, constructive role of ideology, which I see as a core aspect of radical nostalgia. Stuart Hall notes that as ideologies are understood to make up “the whole range of concepts, ideas, and images which provide the frameworks of interpretation and meaning for social and political thought in society”, “no ideology is ever wholly logical or consistent” (Hall (3) 36). Rather, ideologies are an active and ongoing process, what Hall describes as a “struggle” to make discordant and contradictory elements fit together within the broader landscape. 
 
Hall notes that ideology has the effect of
 
...grounding what is historically specific in the apparently timeless and eternally changeless terrain of nature” are the result of “the constitutive function of ideology. They are the mechanisms by which ideologies construct the world in definite ways, through certain distinct categories.... 
(Hall (3) 52). 
 
Disruption as radical nostalgia highlights the constructive nature of ideologies in two ways: the first by demanding and springing from the active reconstruction of ideology and renarrativization of extant ideological elements for its own justification; and second in how the disruptive, interruptive form and action themselves challenge not only progress, but the modern ideology of (neo) liberal progress, by introducing breakage and anti-continuity as a viable alternative and contribution. 
 
Frantz Fanon draws particular attention to the role of ideological history-making within a colonial or imperialist context: 
 
The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because he constantly refers to the history of his mother country, he clearly indicates that he himself is the extension of the mother country. Thus the history which he writes is not the history of the country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all that she shims off, all that she violates and starves. The immobility to which the native is condemned can only be called in question if the native decides to put an end to the history of colonization—the history of pillage—and to bring into existence the history of the nation—the history of decolonization. 
(Fanon 51) (emphasis added) 
 
This bringing into existence the history of the nation is a deployment of the constructive capacities of radical nostalgia, radical because it ideologically recrafts the historical narrative, and nostalgic because the built history is cast as foundational, constantly relevant, and that which determines the direction of the political program at hand. Radical nostalgia deploys a strategic past as a utopian, or near utopian, counterfactual, to be mined as a political resource. 
 
5.
RADICALISM AS FIRST PRINCIPLES
RADICALISM AS ROOTEDNESS
 
Calhoun’s definitions of “radicalism” revolve around the concept of “roots,” be it rootedness in a community or culture, or a philosophical focus on foundations and first principles. We shall take the second part first, and review Calhoun’s analysis of “philosophic radicalism” and how we might apply it to disruption. 
 
“Radical analysis” here prizes rational, logical reasoning from established first principles, often in the service of a reordering of philosophy or society. Calhoun identifies Descartes, Hobbes, and Kant as standard bearers of such radical philosophy, and religious leaders such as Thomas Müntzer, Andreas Karlstadt, and Anabaptist movements such as the Amish, Hutterite, and Mennonite movements as prominent in the Radical Reformation of Christianity, beginning in the 16th century (Calhoun 12). Calhoun intentionally highlights the cross pollination of religious reformation, Dissent, and Nonconformist movements with political philosophy in the early days of British Radicalism and liberalism. The antinomianism and antiauthoritarianism of the Radical Reformation and Dissenting traditions inflected the political conversations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly those early articulations of natural rights and individualist autonomy (Hall (3) 39) as articulated in the writings of Thomas Paine and Jeremy Bentham (Calhoun 15, 18). 
 
Calhoun groups together Bentham’s attempt to formulate, after Hobbes, “an approach to law and the design of social institutions based on what he regarded as the essentials of human nature” (Calhoun 18); Paine’s radicalism in his “appeal to nature and common interest as the basis for government—and for revolution when government was unjust” (Calhoun 16); and Mary Wollstonecraft’s “rationalist” arguments against “arbitrary tradition” (Calhoun 16) under the banner of politics-sprung-from-philosophical-radicalism. He further notes that the power of such modes of reasoning seemed obvious, and that “[m]any thinkers expected the most thoroughgoing rational reconsiderations of social order to bring dramatic social transformations and social progress” (Calhoun 19). 
 
How does radicalism-as-reasoning-from-first-principles modify nostalgia, and the particular hiraeth-connected connotations of nostalgia, and contribute to the politics of disruption? What is central here is the ability of philosophic radicalism to induce the construction of alternative systems and models based on ideologically-dependant first principles. Disruption’s politics are rooted in the availability or potential of an alternative to the current flow of progress. The ability to construct that alternative from an ideological base assumption or (as we shall explore in the next section) return to an earlier, preferable state of things or simply induce stasis is what makes disruption a viable rather than nihilistic, suicidal option. The politics of disruption is, via radical nostalgia, a politics of creativity, of potential. Calhoun’s philosophic radicalism illustrates part of that potential. Even if the alternatives constructed are impossible, unreasonable, or fully utopian, Calhoun notes that “a utopian vision is a basis for critique of actually existing society and existing trends in social change” (Calhoun 34). What is central here is not the viability of the “rationally constructed” alternatives themselves, but rather first, that they exist at all, and second, that they will inevitably be carriers of ideological critique of the current state of things, as contrasted with constructed potentials. 
 
6.
RADICALISM AS ROOTEDNESS
COBBETT, SWING, LUDDITES
 
The concept of “rootedness” persists in another strand of Calhoun’s radicalism, which he identifies as the “reactionary radicalism” of “those who tried to save what they value in communities and cultural traditions from eradication by the growth of capitalism” (Calhoun 4). While the radicalism of Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Paine follows Calhoun’s definition of “rational radicalism,” the radicalism of writers and thinkers such as William Blake, John Cartwright, and William Cobbett situates itself among the traditions and habits of the culture in which it is embedded. 
 
Calhoun identifies several strands of radical thought and action that draw primarily from this rootedness within communities and traditions. He focuses on two in particular: the first draws specifically on sentiments of popular constitutionalism and the idea of the ancient English constitution; the second depends on the traditional, communitarian nature of local craft and artisan communities, and the internal drive to defend them in the face of encroaching industrialization and capitalism. These strands were by no means distinct and discrete from each other; rather, they were often braided together, with artisan and craft communities staking claims to ancient rights as a defense against acts of enclosure and the introduction of technology (physical and financial), which rendered modes of traditional employment and community relations redundant, inefficient, or impossible. 
 
Thinkers like John Cartwright and William Cobbett “saw the idea of England’s ancient constitution2 as providing the basis for a radical reform. Indeed, [Cartwright] presented the ancient constitution as a measure by which the legitimacy of contemporary government could be questioned” (Calhoun 22) These thinkers and those who followed them held that the ancient traditions and common law “guaranteed liberties enough” and advocated for a defense of and return to these rights and traditions of old. “We want great alteration, but we want nothing new,” Cobbett wrote in 1816, in perhaps the most well known articulation of this “reactionary” or “traditionalist” radicalism. 
 
The audience for William Cobbett’s extensive writings and speeches were small farmers and craft workers, whose ways of life and livelihoods were being directly compromised by the waves of domineering innovation in financial and industrial capital. His—and their—radicalism, sought to “conserve social relations and ways of life being undermined by existing trends in social change and the explicit programs of governing elites” (Calhoun 27). Cobbett’s audience and others like them found themselves boxed into a corner, forced as a matter of survival to mount a radical challenge to the established authorities which were permitting if not actually encouraging these trends. Calhoun notes the radicality of this challenge in two ways: first in its rootedness in threatened communities, “and thus its capacity to appeal to ordinary people through the categories of traditional culture and mobilize the through the structure of their existing relationships” (Calhoun 27); and second in its “lack of easy compromise positions” (Calhoun 27). For those communities which depended on weaving, threshing, crofting, or other types of craft or use of the commons and cottager communities, their desire to maintain and reliance on traditional ways of life meant their claims and desires were “radically—deeply— incompatible with the policies of dominant elites and the processes of industrial capitalism” (Calhoun 31). 
 
Here again we see the creative and ideological potential in the reconstruction of the past to serve current political ends. Cobbett and others like him explicitly invoked a creative, interpretive, ideological nostalgia for England’s ancient constitution in order to articulate and defend a bill of rights, freedoms, and obligations in the face of barreling innovation. Cobbett also invoked a direct, immediate, and personal nostalgia for practices and ways of life with which he and his audience had either direct experience with or intimate familiarity through oral tradition (Bonnett 62). The radicalism displayed by these crafters, crofters, and cottagers was given its political program through both ideological and personal nostalgia, a political program which is in the main disruptive. 
 
As noted by Calhoun, Thompson, Bonnet, Hobsbawm and Rudé, and others, the radicalism of these threatened communities was in the main a demonstration on the incompatibility of their continued existence with the rising trends of industrialization, capitalism, and the drives of “progress.” The reactions open to them were not incremental accomodationist reform, as were open and attractive to the growing industrial labor force. The real threat of cultural destruction required a disruptive reaction radical in both form and intended effect. 
 
7.
EMMALINE PANKHURST/SUFFRAGETTES
HUEY NEWTON/BLACK PANTHERS
 
Another movement that took advantage of the radically nostalgic ideology of the ancient English constitution and its attendant implied rights and freedoms was the British militant suffragette movement in the early 20th century. In their fight for the extension of the franchise to women, militant suffragettes intentionally called upon the Radical political tradition, presenting direct appeals to these traditionally understood rights, privileges, and obligations, specifically the right of the people “to resist corrupt and tyrannical government” (Mayhall (2) 40), a right which had previously been core to Thomas Paine’s radical writings (Calhoun 17). Though the militant suffragettes had, unlike their contemporaries, the suffragists, in the main abandoned the slow, mostly ineffective process of petitioning and lobbying Parliament for change, they did not see themselves as abandoning the constitutionalist idiom in their actions, even though they included disruptive and illegal actions such as street marches, sit ins, tax and census resistance, and more violent tactics like window breaking and occasional incendiarism (Mayhall (2) 41). What Britain’s suffragette’s sought was not a political innovation, but a political restoration. 
 
The suffragettes explicitly rooted their actions in the ancient British constitution and crafted an ideological nostalgia for various “golden ages,” which their resistive actions were intended to revive: 
 
They located Britain’s golden age at various points in time. Its dawning could be traced to the ‘Parliament of the Saxons,’ which ‘was a Parliament’ of women,’ or only as far back as Magna Carta’s use of homo to mean both man and woman. Women’s loss of constitutional rights in the modern era corresponded to a curtailment of progress in civilization, and a shift from direct to virtual representation in government. 
(Mayhall (2) 43) 
 
Suffragettes drew upon their rootedness in this radical nostalgia for not only their political rhetoric and logic, but their active repertoire of contention as well. They used their ideological kinship with historical British radicals to craft and defend their two main branches of practice: withholding consent from the British government via actions such as tax and census resistance, and actively resisting and impeding the operations of government via disruptive actions at Parliament, such as the “Grille Incident” in 1908 (Mayhall (1) 357) or the “Rushing” of Parliament that same year (Mayhall (2) 353). Leaders like Christabel Pankhurst consistently and repeatedly tied the logic of the militant suffragettes to the history of British radicalism and constitutional reform, noting that Magna Carta itself was secured from King John by “hard fighting” and “could have been got in no other way” (Pankhurst quoted in Mayhall (2) 48). Thus it was ‘hard fighting’ and violent action, Mayhall notes, that Pankhurst held as central to prompting political reform and social change. Pankhurst also “renarrat[ed]” British constitutional history to, in the first place, construct a strong sense of historical legitimacy for “popular violence as a counter to official despotism” and in the second place to strengthen the ancient constitutional support for women’s suffrage. The suffragettes active exercise of the constructive elements of radical nostalgia serve to undergird both their disruptive politics and their disruptive activist actions. 
 
Radical nostalgia finding expression through a sense of rootedness is also present in Black Power/Black Liberation movements in the United States. In the 1960s, the Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party built its political identity on the concept of African Americans as a “colony within the American empire,” drawing strong linkages between the struggles of the black community and anti-colonial struggles world-wide, particularly in Africa and in the raging conflict in Vietnam (Bloom and Martin 66).
 
The Panthers drew upon a wide range of international anti-colonial and anti-imperialist thinkers to construct their political ideology, including Frantz Fanon, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, and Malcolm X, among others. Regardless of whether or not the Black Panther Party ever directly organized guerrilla warfare in the streets of urban America, they saw themselves as fitting into and moving forward the global anti colonial/anti imperial struggle. This allowed the Panthers to link into a ideological history of anti-imperialism, casting their struggles as a continuation of long-established international politics. 
 
 The Black Panthers mobilized the radical nostalgia aspects of disruption in two ways. The first through the crafting claims of historical inheritance with global anti-imperialist struggles and through making alliances with ongoing struggles worldwide. The second is by directly emphasizing the ideological importance of history and by making their interpretations of received imperial and colonial history widely available through a number of formal and informal channels. The Black Panthers’ implementation of historical narrative is an illustrative example of the creative, constructive power of radical nostalgia and its central place within disruption’s politics. 
 
8
SYNONYM: INTERRUPTION
 
I mentioned earlier that the closest synonym to disruption as used for our purposes is “interruption.” Here I refer to Arendt’s analysis of the “paralysis” induced by and required by “thinking” 
 
Unpacking Socrates’s characterization of himself as, alternately, a paralyzing electric eel and an inciting gadfly, Arendt here picks apart what she has identified as the interruptive or paralytic potential of thought. She presents an argument that thought and thinking in the meditative, reflective mode, that which deals with intangibles, invisibles, and a contentedly unproductive search for meaning, is, as a state of being, incompatible with activity or action, which Arendt holds are limited to interactions with particular instances, those things and people actually in front of you, and broadly governed by extant doctrines of behavior, politics, and ideology (see Arendt (3) 423-424; 425-426; 435). Only thinking, as distinct from action or behavior, Arendt claims, has the capacity to unsettle doctrine without being merely a usurpation of one doctrine by another: “Thinking is equally dangerous to all creeds and, by itself, does not bring forth any new creed” (Arendt (3) 435). 
 
As such, it is this interruptive, paralytic manifestation of “thinking” that is the closest conceptual synonym for “disruption.” It most closely describes the immediate effects of disruption and disruptive politics, or their immediate goal: the arresting or interruption of the process and doctrine of “progress.” For the initial disruptive, interruptive moment is without doctrine, without ideology, except that of breaking with continuity, breaking with a given stream of progress. Its interruptive nature denies any framing doctrine or ideology, including those that may have motivated the action. As that near-kinetic breakage occurs, it prevented from becoming a political or ideological vacuum by the forces that rush in to fill the empty space. The ideologies that spurned the disruptive action and those that propelled the stream of progress that was interrupted collide as their adherents attempt to turn the moment of vacuum into an advantage for their side. 
 
The moment of vacuum is the briefest flicker of Arendt’s interruptive, paralytic “thinking.” The politics of disruption as an opposition to continuity and progress arc over the ideology of any particular movement or action. Disruption seeks the interruption itself, and cannot prevent the in-rushing of ideology. 
 
9.
DISRUPTION AND INNOVATION IN SILICON VALLY
 
Disruption manifests in NCT spaces in several ways. Two major threads will be examined here. First is the deployment of the concept of “disruption” and “disruptive innovation” within Silicon Valley and the neoliberal capitalization of technology. This deployment runs counter to our previous description of disruptive politics as radical nostalgia in many ways, and it is worthwhile to note how neoliberal ideology has altered the political valance of disruption within this particular context. The second is the deployment of disruptive politics as previously defined within the network society though NCT channels. Here we will unpack the special implications of disruptive politics within NCT spaces and how those impact the potentials and limits of NCT- mediated politics in general.
 
Disruption as it manifests in Silicon Valley ideology is divorced from the traditions and politics of radical nostalgia we reviewed at the start. Rather, the Silicon Valley deployment of disruption aligns it with Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction,” but with a peculiar, ahistorical bent. Where disruptive politics as we have previously identified them represent a nostalgic, creative connection with the past or with a constructed vision of the past, Silicon Valley’s disruption, coupled with its fetishizing of “innovation,” intends to break with and surpass the past. “Innovation” in the Silicon Valley usage is closely tied to the liberal concept of progress, but strips it of many of its moral and political implications.
 
Disruption in Silicon Valley is an extreme deployment of liberalism’s cult of the self- sufficient individual. This is apparent in expectations of how individuals within the high tech economy are expected in interact with the companies that employ them; how companies are expected to interact with history, without a particular sense of obligation or coherence; and how the Valley itself interacts with society at large: from a fundamentally extractive stance, wherein society is primarily a handy assemblage of readily exploited and monetized resources. Fred Turner has described how the writings of Kevin Kelly influenced the ideology of the modern tech economy, pushing it towards an understanding of atomized individuals manipulating data beyond the confines and obligations of the physical world and society at large.
 
The Silicon Valley deployment of disruption partakes of its interruptive potential, cutting out the aspects of radical nostalgia that are central to disruptive politics. In this way, I describe Silicon Valley’s use of disruption as only accessing its “kinetic” qualities, while remaining apolitical and ahistorical. While disruptive politics specifically construct a space for the countering of the ideology of liberal progress, apolitical disruption interrupts without broader motivation, beyond atomized self-advancement and self preservation. It interrupts, but disregards the foundational or reactive potential of what it has interrupted.
 
10.
DISRUPTION AND THE NETWORK SOCIETY
 
If the above is accurate, and the deployments of disruption and innovation that undergird the current manifestation of the Silicon Valley economy and NCT development have at their base amoral liberalism and Whiggish anti-historicism, what does that mean for the political potential of these spaces?
 
To deploy the products of Silicon Valley in the hopes of disruptive or even meaningful political impact is to swim against the tide of their design. As Jodi Dean notes in her theory of communicative capitalism, the products and tools of the network society are, in the main, oriented towards the circulation and multiplication of content. Dean states that, “Ideally, the communicative interactions of the public sphere, the circulation of content and media chatter, not only impact but also constitute official politics.” But in the network society, this coincidence has failed, a fact particularly troubling as NCT mediated communications models become grow to become the privileged mode of communication in the names of efficiency and modernization. Dean notes the “ significant disconnect between politics circulating as content and official politics,” and the ways in which the circus of content circulation can potentially “relieve top level actors” from their obligations to engage with the messages in circulation.
 
The product channels of the network society bleed off disruptive potential like a relief valve, hampering the pressure build-up that is necessary to launch a disruptive event. Note that it does not work to wholly prevent such acts, but multiplicity of available channels has the potential to distribute individuals and diffuse political momentum to the point where it is difficult to act collectively. If one believes in the necessity and capacity of radical political change, how must one react to the dark challenge thrown out by Dean’s communicative capitalism? If it is improbable if not impossible to arrive at Rancière’s state of politics through the product channels of the network society, is exit the only reasonable option? It is certainly an option, but one that is suffuse with a resignation and contempt for the world left behind. The exit that abandons modernity damns modernity and itself in the same breath: at this stage of history, we have run out of new worlds to meaningfully retreat to. For those who believe that radical change is both desirable and possible, exit in the style of the Puritans or the Amish can only be seen as a necrotic politics.
 
The network society and NCT spaces require disruptive politics. To effect a confrontation, the deployment of disruptive politics must confront the network society on multiple levels (though not necessarily simultaneously or in the same action): infrastructure, content and user flows and linkages, as well as financial and capital flows. The constructive capacities of disruptive politics as radical nostalgia operate here to interrupt both the circulating flows of content, users, and capital identified by Dean, but also to interrupt the deployments of apolitical innovation and disruption that powers and directs the design and construction of the network society itself. The aim of disruptive politics is to interrupt that (appearance of) progress, creating a potential space for the manifestations of alternatives. Those alternatives may in the end re-establish the march of liberal progress, but the disruption itself, the moment of interruption, of non-advancement, is in itself counter to the liberal ideology of progress.

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