As summer wanes, we find the globe seized by multiplying superstorms. In the ever growing man-made catastrophe of climate change, these crises unfold along strictly drawn borders. Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, and landslides lay bare the calculus of care as it is divvied up along national lines.
In the Gulf of Mexico, concern is portioned out according to metaphorical proximity to the United States of America. Politicians offer prayers for U.S. colonial properties, the most they can spare for the black and brown people who call the islands home. And yet, even within continental borders, additional borders further divide the deserving and the left-for-dead. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina transformed the very black city of New Orleans into a death trap. Black residents who fled their homes for nearby southern states were marked as “refugees,” a title given to those for whom the nation reluctantly makes space. Today, in 2017, the administration seeks to eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in an affirmation of what people of color have always known: Patriots are born, not made.
Nothing so tightly congeals which who counts as a person as the word “patriot.” A patriot is not just a person but a human, imbued with all the rights to life that category affords. And so, the role of patriot is intoxicating.
Those within its reach will fight for it, will die for it, and, especially, will kill for it. They stand by their nation through good and ill, even when the nation fails to hold up its end of the bargain. And when citizen interests are inseparable from oppressive state regimes, alternative imaginaries in the hands of “the people” can look just as terrifying as the structures they might replace. Much of this issue is motivated by who does and does not get to be a patriot, who is compelled to be so, who is afforded protection for pledging allegiance, and who remains vulnerable either way.
The nation is strengthened by crisis, such that it must manufacture these crises to survive. The feminist anti-capitalist activist Mari Matsumoto, in her interview with scholar Sabu Kohso, notes how Japan is “constantly seeking to absorb the endlessly expanding accident.” Their conversation draws out linguistic associations between the disaster of the Fukushima nuclear facility and the ensuing disaster of the nuclear family, in which another slippage structures the sovereign’s relationship to citizens as that of a father to his family. The contradictions of a nuclear nation lay bare the contradictions of many national “families”: The sovereign tends to his own power first before tending to those in his charge. Similar to Black evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina and governmental neglect, Japanese residents forced to evacuate are treated like “illegal immigrants” even as the official nationalist rhetoric uses the occasion of disaster to speak of strengthening the collective. Invoking both a world without borders and a necessary shift in political consciousness, Matsumoto states that “to confront the post-Fukushima disaster situation, we need a much longer view: a planetary history.”
This is the kind of longer view often argued for in environmentally focused political movements, which face particular attacks from both national and transnational entities. In the violent fervor needed to preserve state interests that are increasingly private business interests, environmental activists are subjected to a foreignizing discourse, marked as mercenaries and terrorists with similar markers used to target other racialized peoples. In an overview of recent backlash measures against pipeline protesters, Rafa Red describes how any “militant action viewed as an existential threat by fossil fuel companies is now likely seen as such by the White House.”
Fossil-fuel corporations are not the only victors. Willie Osterweil’s “Liberalism Is Dead” offers a vision of the near future crafted by corporatocratic libertarians, the Silicon Valley counterpart to the reinvigorated authoritarian ethno-nationalism of right-wing fascists. In this flipside of fascism, the left fascists dream of a world where instead of “citizens, there will be customers and consumers, CEOs and boards instead of presidents and congresses, terms of service instead of social contracts.” If the nation-state no longer works as a conduit for capital let alone power for the Left, a revolutionary politics must seek new ways to destroy the unfolding fascist future.
Lest the corporatastic future tech visions be confused with workplace governance of old, companies like Amazon and Uber communicate a new, humane workplace culture through office dogs. In “Capitalism With a Fluffy Face,” Jonny Bunning discusses how “dogs on the job” are just another perk, implicated in a larger push to garner good faith in “the new spirit of management” and keep the unsavory parts of the industry—“institutional misogyny,” “shady data use,” “micro-waged jobs”—out of focus.
In a much more disruptive technological venture, Sam Lavigne offers C-SPAN 5, where you can catch all the latest “unadulterated hits of U.S. political dysfunction.” It’s C-SPAN for the overbusy gig chasers in all of us.
Patriots need outsiders and so must invent a foreign threat lest the efforts to preserve their special status be in vain. In the Canadian imaginary of itself as a multicultural friendly neighbor to the north, as described in Jack Gross’s “Soft Borders,” such violent enforcement is masked by a bureaucratic apparatus and the technique of pushing the border out to create not “a geo-political line but rather a continuum of checkpoints.” And in “American Woman,” Jorge Cotte discusses a special myth sprung from the American West that now dominates the way U.S. culture conceives of heroism and disaster. 2017’s Wonder Woman considers the possibility that heroes are a convenient national fiction, however by the “official conclusion, the threat against humanity is made external again.” In America, the post-9/11 superhero has the additional task of rewriting history, “offering opportunities for a spiritual rehearsal of disaster every summer.”
A racist campaign known as Defend Europe both suspended and reinforced borders in its transnational, seaborne attempts to prevent ships from transporting refugees across the Mediterranean. Mohammed Harun Arsalai’s “Fash at Sea” connects aggressive anti-Islamic policies in Europe to the organizing capabilities of fascist groups like Defend Europe. And while that particular campaign was a failure, without consequences for fascists the continental landscape remains ripe for another group to take its place.
Alongside and related to these regimes of citizenships, literature is also produced and distributed most often along strict national designations. The author in their creative or linguistic prowess is made to metonymically stand in for the wealth and worth of the nation. In looking at how the queer author has been excluded from national presence in Russia, the authors of “Language Under House Arrest” situate current gay and lesbian poets who champion more insurrectionary political practice within queer Russian literature’s history of approaching ethno-nationalism.
Turning to Cape Town, Brian Kamanzi questions the “role and future of universities in one of the most unequal societies on earth.” With a focus on the University of Cape Town, his essay “Must Fall” also considers university and student organizing across Africa and the Caribbean as central sites of struggle in continuing decolonization.
Jasbir Puar looks at other forms of pride—namely, discourses of disability pride and inclusion—in “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Putting forth the concept of “debility” to mark how Black and other racialized persons are maimed by state injustices, Puar argues that the current liberal economy of injury “promotes disability empowerment at the same time that it maintains the precarity of certain bodies and populations precisely through making them available for maiming.”
“A Sensor, Darkly” is a first-person account from 2015 Whistleblower of the Year Brandon Bryant on serving his country as a drone operator. Bryant found no glory his work but is transparent about the job—killing people—and the ways in which the U.S. Air Force makes its troops complacent, even comfortable with that role. “I was proud that I was good at it,” Bryant admits and recounts his futile attempts to reconcile death and destruction within his own living body.
The military is just one node in the web of national attachments that give the American flag its significance, as A. Maureen Tant discusses in “Symbolic Threats.” The American flag is a true symbol, “a sentimental idea without substance” apart from the American lives it seeks to represent and revere. Tant uses an artistic intervention by German artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke in 2014 to explicate a uniquely American sentiment about the sanctity of a national flag, in contrast with German “patriotism-with-reservations.” The white flags stealthily put in place of the stars and stripes abstracted a symbol already so far removed from the daily experiences of people of color in America.
Like the flag, black experiences or “geographies,” as Gabrielle DaCosta calls them, become shorthand through political discourse, heavy with meanings beyond the localities they once stood for. In “The Havoc of Less,” DaCosta recuperates Black Panther Huey P. Newton’s theory of intercommunalism, which observes power as concentrated within a small global network that supersedes the nation as “the organizing principle of the world.” Intercommunalism explains dramatic disparities between Americans under one flag, one nation, and just as importantly reiterates the importance of local, community organizing.
It’s a message we would do well to remember.