Day 140: Precarious Superheroes


Dear all,

 I have effectively recovered from the MLG, I wrote my encyclopedia entry and even sent it out on time and now I am beginning a new article on graphic novels. Should be fun. Also, this weekend one of my oldest friends is visiting me from Silicon Valley, where he presently works as a builder of robots, micro-surveillance flies and sharks with friggin lasers attached to their heads (or something like that). Hence I am trying to get as much work done before his arrival as I can (including doing things such as cleaning my apartment and doing laundry, which I really haven’t had the chance to do since I moved in). Ergo, today’s post will not be very long either (well, it will be long compared to the posts of the last three days). I do, however, quickly want to draw people’s attention to something going on in Germany/Europe at this point, which is the court case against a woman who has under very suspicious circumstances been charged and sentenced for being part of a group called the “precarious superheroes.” These people have all my sympathies and I am sure some of my readers will enjoy hearing about their project (if you haven’t heard about it yet, that is). See the two articles below for a quick intro to the project (the second article is followed by an English translation).

I promise I will write something of more substance soon!

Oh: and I cut all my hair off on Tuesday. I just couldn’t take it any more. New color following soon.



  1. So. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If so, where can we get those masks? YES.

    Oh, and now I want a haircut too. And color. You are fueling my impulsive tendencies.

  2. Well, I do not openly want to condone such practices.
    But I really do.
    Just not openly, officially, etc.
    I am a law-abiding guest of this great country.

    As far as the masks are concerned: you are planning on going to grad school right? In that case your face will automatically turn into something that looks very much like these masks. Unless you desk will be located on a sunny balcony. 🙂

  3. Really? I heard that the main difference between grad school and college is that your professors actually know your name. But I guess you would know better.

    Regarding “such practices”: I feel like it’s a very delicate process that runs many risks, though by risks I don’t just mean the risks of “breaking the law” 🙂 . I’m afraid this might be kinda clumsy (I’ll blame it on the sleep deprivation) but let me attempt to explain. It seems to me that being revolutionary can’t only be measured by the actions that you DO, but rather what you ARE (inside, as a human being). There’s quite a bit of people out there who are blindly willing to take action, participate in “such practices” whatever they may be, but what are such actions worth when inside those people are just as hostile, just as violent as the thing they are fighting against? I don’t know any of these superheroes personally, so I’m not trying to judge them or anything, I just feel that “such practices” sometimes come with a risk of turning into just one ideology trying to bring down another and not from a truly revolutionary source, (that being compassion).

    Does this make any sense?

    ps. By accident I am now a lovely redhead. Oops.

  4. ***Edit***

    OH GOD. I totally butchered that last part. So sorry. Didn’t mean to give you a brain blister.

    You just got me thinking about political action, what that actually means, etc., and it seems to me that although it can be a very powerful tool it is at the same time very slippery (I used the word “risky” though I don’ t think that’s the right word…) and that a lot has to be considered when taking it into account.

    I was briefly involved with the ISO a few months back–it wasn’t a good experience, but a learning experience nonetheless and a real eye opener when it comes to understanding this. I have some thoughts on it, but I guess before I say anything else about it (and confuse everyone in the process) I’d like to know what you think about political action in general?

    Ok, I’m at the lab right now and they’re making me get off the computer…g/g

  5. shit!!! I just wrote this two-page response and then that dumbass browser that comes with AT&T internet froze again–so I lost the post. Nice thing about that browser: almost impossible to uninstall in order to return back to regular winexpl. So now I’m using firefox–screw you AT&T and microsoft!

    Ahem, what I really wanted to say was this (I am probably not able to recreate this all):

    first of all the ISO is crazy. They are, however, crazy in an interesting way (at least within the confines of this theoretical argument). The most radical thing about the ISO (and you can count other groups such as the Trotskyites here in Chicago as part of the same group of crazy organizations) is the degree to which they are ideologically misguided. Rather than a truly progressive political organization the ISO more closely resembles religious fundamentalists who are caught up in their own orthodoxy to the extent that it becomes impossible to imagine progressive action since their analysis of the actual problems is paralyzed by the restrictive nature of their own (incredibly limited and outdated) analytical paradigm. So, much like any other religious organization, the horizon of activity for the ISO becomes the battle against other “religions” and the attempt to expand their organization by missionary activity.

    Apart from this you ask a good question: namely about the interrelation of radical action, thought and what may be called a humanitarian impulse. First, regarding political action, I would like to say that I am guilty of romanticizing people such as Che Guevara. However, I would like to stress that I am very much opposed to the idea that Che-like action can actually lead to any form of successful political transformation within the context of the United States (that is the model of action first, theory later). Our contemporary socioeconomic and sociopolitical situation has become complex to a degree that necessitates rigorous theoretical inquiry aimed at identifying the true power structures and system of determinations of contemporary capitalism, a system that can no longer be explained (much less opposed) by using non-updated (and in fact now productively incorporated) political models from, say, the 1960s and 70s (in case of many “radical” political groups they haven’t even arrived in the 60s and 70s). Within such a rigorous theoretical model of political opposition we must inevitably realize the degree to which anti-humanism becomes central, as it is a crucial component of the effort to transcend the limits liberal humanitarianism, which, and this may speak to you r question more directly, does harbor the power of reinstating conventional forms of repressive power along with the ideals we tend to cling to (such as humanism, compassion, etc.). The problem with these categories such as compassion is that we need to construe them as universals in order to give them value–however, this opens the door to other universals and this way we quickly replace one power structure with another (the facet of V for Vendetta the Wachowski brothers were not able to to capture correctly). After all: the British colonizers also subjugated Africa largely based upon what they thought were the best of intentions. I understand you reluctance to depart from ideas such as compassion. However, logically and politically they can be treacherous and dangerous in their universality.

    While theoretical anti-humanism seems essential to me as a precursor for radical political transformations that are actually progressive and not reactionary in nature (especially in case of some Chicago radical groups that see themselves as vanguard parties–and how sad a vanguard they would be, even within the ridiculous paradigm of a vanguard itself), I do understand the attachment to the belief in the goodness of th human spirit (after all: if that is not a give, what are we trying to save???). I have found the writings of Herbert Marcuse to be interesting here–not because he provides us with any valuable answers (how writings are often quite troubled) but precisely because he provides a good basis for beginning to think through this problem. He desperately wants to work out a way to preserve the distinction between “false needs” and “true needs” within a Marxian/Hegelian revolutionary logic and realized the degree to which this distinction is a logically troubling one. However, Marcuse also refuses to completely depart from his attachment to true needs, which would be the need for freedom, compassion, peace, etc. I really recommend his _One-Dimensional Man_ in this respect. It is an easy read and theoretically not entirely persuasive (especially regarding the present context), but he has some theoretically brilliant moments in there as well (ones that are making a big comeback in academia at the moment-e.g. his idea of “repressive desublimation”) and, most importantly, he will be a lot of fun to read for you regarding this question and will, of nothing else, provide you with a good basis from which to continue thinking this through for yourself. If you’re done: write a book about it and I’ll teach it. 🙂

  6. wow–sorry for the bad editing–I rushed through this.

  7. just quickly (I have been speaking German too much the last few days): substitute “humanist/humanism” for “humanitarian/humanitarianism”–both actually make sense in this discussion but I really mean “humanism” and its liberal roots (in a Kantian sense).

  8. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for rewriting this long response! I hate when I lose shit too, it’s the worst. I promise I’ll have something written back by tomorrow–sadly I don’t have enough time to write anything sufficient at this moment. I’m hoping to catch a quick nap before I’m off again for another night shift. This study is driving me bonkers.

    Okay, more tomorrow.

  9. Hey, there is no rush. Try to get some sleep at some point. I cannot believe they are keeping you their lab even on the 4th of July–how unpatriotic of them!

  10. Ugh oh. I broke my promise. Now you have to promise me something and break it so that we can be even. 🙂 Yeah, this was the second year in a row that I missed the fireworks. It’s okay though–I walked around all day with an American flag draped over my shoulders because I’m so into nationalism.

    In response…

    First off, you are dead on about the ISO. Another interesting aspect of this group that I think relates to this discussion is that apart from all the crazy stuff you mentioned, a large number of the members fostered this ridiculous notion that human violence (whether warfare or the small violences (psychological/emotional) that we enact on one another in our relationships) would be completely eradicated by the fall of Capitalism—as if human beings were simply victims oppressed by the system (and somehow ‘forced’ to act within its doctrine) and not in any way the creators/continuers of it. It is very apparent to me that the greed, selfishness, and dishonesty that drives Capitalism are the very same things we may find in ourselves (that is, if we are brave enough to look honestly). Though I don’t deny that Capitalism might have some negative influence over the way we relate to other people, at the same time not every country functions on a Capitalistic structure, and yet those same violent behaviors exist (and have always existed) across the globe. The question of revolution therefore cannot just be a question of politics, but rather one of humanism.
    Just to clear something up, although I understand your reluctance to universalize anything, I think (and correct me if I’m wrong) that what you are pointing to are the dangers of universalizing belief systems, whether they be religious, political, cultural, or personal. In that respect I completely agree with you, however, you are also defining compassion in this way (i.e. compassion as liberal humanitarianism), a category which I do not think it belongs to. When I talk about compassion, I am talking about compassion as an understanding that arises out of perceiving (that is, being critically aware of) the contradictions and anti-humanism that sometimes exist in our social constructions, including the seemly “good” ones such as liberal humanitarianism. I’m talking about people actually treating people like human beings, which is much different than the anti-humanism we find in systems like liberal humanitarianism, which oftentimes functions as a paternal power that compromises people’s humanity in exchange for necessities (think religious missionaries who use people’s poverty status as a means to dominate them—“I’ll give you food if you start believing in Christ”). Now, I know these people might THINK they are acting out of compassion (after all, they are saving those poor wretched souls from Inferno…ugh…), at the same time there is no denying that their critical awareness is limited, the limit no doubt imposed by the very belief system itself. But they will never see themselves as oppressors if their beliefs are never questioned or if their actions are never problematized, and will always in their minds be “doing the right thing.”
    The concern about revolution then is that it needs to be driven by compassion (which is born out of critical awareness—perceiving the contradictions of one’s thoughts/actions) and which in turn can only develop through dialogue and relationship with others. If a person is concerned only with spreading ideas and systems to people, then that person’s concern is only with those ideas and systems, and not the people themselves. However, if the concern is with the people, (which is I think what revolution is all about) then it can’t just be about passing on ideas but rather needs to be about real human empowerment—that is, working together to become more critically aware, compassionate beings. Revolution isn’t just about being able to conceptualize theory or blindly involve oneself or others in political action (which is what both the church and the ISO are really good at doing). None of that will ever be progressive if it is not coming from a deeper place—a place of inquiry, where human relationship is at the core. Revolution needs to start with us, otherwise we’re just replacing systems, but not really transforming anything.

  11. […] revolution, humanism, the potential value of universalisms etc. You can find the discussion here: Day 140. I am sure there are some of you who might have valuable opinions to offer. Let me suggest several […]

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