Let us make one thing perfectly clear: the incarceration of Julian Assange should be seen and acknowledged as an attack on the international left. We can discuss and condemn many of his personal views, affiliations and behaviour, absolutely, but it is due to his service to anti-imperialism that he is currently incarcerated.
Any attempts to formalise and prolong this incarceration are, in essence, to keep the material exposed by whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning secret – to keep secret any alternate narrative to the predominant neoliberal consensus. Hence, if we believe in any freedom to oppose the ideological narrative late capitalism may feed us, propose an alternative (perhaps more materialist) outlook, or give any evidence or documentation about the validity of said narratives to the populace, then Assange’s extradition to the US was of our concern.
And luckily, on this occasion, the UK government heard us – on January 4th ruling against extradition to the United States.
What is also of our concern is to understand the cultural phenomena at play here, pertaining to the existence of political narrative, in how the public came to support and perhaps save Assange. For this, it is worth revisiting analysis of the “postmodern condition”, its role in post-truth politics, and what may be in line to succeed it.
When we think of postmodernism, we tend to think of a certain group of philosophers and literary critics, often French, whose emphasis on relativism, the imperfections of analyses, and subjectivity have become very popular within Western academia and frequent bogeymen for conservative commentators.
However, these ideas did not come out of nowhere – they were, at least in part, in reaction to a changing geopolitical era that has had a profound effect upon how we approach questions of meaning, purpose, truth, and much else. Some of these changing conditions involved globalisation, the “computerisation” of information, the eventual end to the cold war, and the uprooting of many standard rules and procedures in favour of more efficient manners of pursuing desire.
In 1979, French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard attempted to investigate the effect of this setting of “postmodernity”, not only on analysis of social structures, but also as a broader social “condition”. Central to the changing accessibility of information would present a new hostility to grand narratives of the past, in favour of a pick and mix of smaller narratives available from the vast array of what computerisation has made available.
It is this phenomenon that forms the essential platform for “post-truth society” to emerge – with tons of knowledge to choose from, easy refutation of ideological direction and acknowledgement of our own failures to determine objectivity, society ceases to move along a political narrative, and becomes almost stagnant in its discoordination.
It is this social condition, in turn, that has given rise to the neoliberalism of Francis Fukuyama: history, to Fukuyama, appearing to be nearing its end. Neoliberalism is characterised by its rejection of ideological direction and its focus, instead, on simply tweaking the existing structure pragmatically when necessary, as opposed to systemic change based on any larger narrative (which, presumably, could be lambasted as non-objective and in some way refutable).
Neoliberalism is, in many ways, capitalism under the postmodern condition, to the chagrin of many of neoliberalism’s staunchest advocates.
But this has only meant that, as neoliberalism proves itself miserable to so many of its inhabitants, and incapable to deal with crisis or enact meaningful change, the cultural condition of the population moves ever forward. People are longing for the return of meaning, truth, direction – and the rise in what has been called “metamodernism” or “post-postmodernism” is becoming ever more clear.
In the political scene, metamodernism is reawakening the demand for political narrative, not in strict modernist dogmas of the past, but in a more adaptable and vague “populism”, which can still acknowledge the validity of poststructuralist analysis of human fallibility in searching for objectivity, while also adopting conditional objectives nonetheless. And so, people no longer are content with the truths of someone like Assange being dismissed, circumvented, or shrouded by the narrative of the status quo.
The battle of Assange’s extradition may be simply one of many battles, but for the greater conflict of an evolving culture at play here, it most certainly gives us hope.
Image: espenmoe via Creative Commons