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Exceptionally Funny, Exceptionally Serious - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Exceptionally Funny, Exceptionally Serious
flw, perhaps because he was once in a band, perhaps because he was once in a comedy troupe, or perhaps simply because he was and is paranoid, provides some of the most consistently interesting content on my "Friends" page. Sometimes, though, he makes you laugh in a way that doubles over into the face you make when you realize that you've left your wallet, keys, and cell phone in the bar where you were just drinking shot after shot of Jägermeister with a Rolling Rock chaser. Or me, at any rate, since the rhetorical second person is what reality looks like in the battered and spit-spattered stainless steel "mirror" of that sort of bar.

Take his most recent entry, in which he ponders the new regulations that will permit Mexican trucks to travel far into the United States for the first time. It's written the way a stand-up routine might be. So I laughed when I read it. But it's also deadly serious and a pithy companion to Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception:
What happens when you create an exception, is the exception becomes the rule. For instance, if you allow Mexican Heavy Trucks on the freeways, don't be surprised when EVERY truck becomes a Mexican Truck. This change comes on the heels of the WORST copout in the history of the NHTSA: They just changed the Trucking Regulations to allow trucks to drive for eleven hours a day, seven days a week. The old regs were ten hours a day, six days a week. It seems like a small change, let me assure you IT IS MONUMENTAL. And now that we have invited Mexican Trucks in, our regulations are OUT THE WINDOW. We have thrown it all away.

What I am having trouble expressing is how I SAY SLAVERY is going to make its return to the USA. I call it "mobile embassies". Now every truck on the highway is a little mobile Mexican Embassy. We are not only importing Mexican Trucks, but also Mexico's Laws. Of course, if Mexico had more stringent safety requirements than the US, I wonder if we would be importing these laws, hmm... I wonder? Of course not! The trucking companies don't want the Mexican Trucks, THEY WANT A BIG MEXICAN HAMMER TO BEAT THE TEAMSTER'S UNION WITH!

But since the trucks are Mexican, but operating within the US, under Cheney-Logic they are outside of all law. The only laws they need obey are the ones that maximize profit while minimizing all benefit to the workers.
I've read many accounts of how people living in a totalitarian regime deploy humor to convey what cannot be delivered under the sign of sincerity. I wonder, though, whether that behavior might not simply reflect a dissolution of the capacity to distinguish irony from its absence. That's the condition that many of Franz Kafka's thought experiments seek to conjure. And it's also the condition that I fear the inhabitants of these United States are in danger of contracting permanently, a temporary illness turned chronic. At any rate, I'm still shuddering at the near future conjured in flw's vision of Mexican trucks as national enclaves in motion, which both reminds me of the post-national "nations" in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and other cyberpunk narratives and points out their failure to recognize the pre-post-national nation's continuing role in the construction and perpetuation of that seeming political disorder. Here's a little Agamben, channeling the beastily brilliant Carl Schmitt, to drive home the point:
In truth, the state of exception is neither external nor internal to the juridical order, and the problem of defining it concerns precisely a threshold, or a zone of indifference, where inside and outside do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other. The suspension of the norm does not mean its abolition, and the zone of anomie that it establishes is not (or at least claims not to be) unrelated to the juridical order (Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, translated by Kevin Attell, p. 23).
In other words, the carving out of territories exempt from the law of a nation within that nation's borders, does not necessarily imply that the nation is losing its political force. Indeed, the appearance of disintegration could well represent the concentration of that force. After all, if the presence of the national government is most obvious at points of entry, whether along the border or in ports of call, the proliferation and dispersal of what we might call "border situations" might actually represent a strengthening of the regime. The question is, "For whom?"

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flw From: flw Date: September 10th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm totally blushing.

Also, you could've just said, "Someone else already thought of your idea and expressed it way better than you." I am used to it! It happens to me all the time. I am going to the library to get State of Exception as soon as I am done working here.

I feel like a "Noble Savage"!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 10th, 2007 05:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You should read Carl Schmitt's short, smart and possibly proto-fascist -- he went on to support the Nazi regime at first, before retreated into the private sphere prior to the war -- treatise Political Theology, to which I linked, first, since Agamben spends a lot of time on it.
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cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 10th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Well, that's not what I was trying to say. Really. I was more interested in the relationship between one form of exception -- the trucks allowed to travel further into the U.S. -- and others -- such as at Guantanamo. But I suppose, if pressed, that I actually would come out in favor of attempts to uphold a law applied universally as opposed to one adhered to as the convenience of ruling class dictates. Except, of course, that I also know that this preference of mine is not far removed from a preference for unicorns, since all laws are applied selectively.

All that aside, I do think there's a difference between Mexican enclaves -- often in former Mexican territory -- and what the new trucking regulations enable. I believe that flw was exaggerating for effect in his entry. That's certainly how I took him, as I hoped to indicate, both by discussing humor and comparing his vision to a cyberpunk one. Nevertheless, I think there's a lot of insight in his rant into the way that a change of this sort at the regulatory level can act as a political and economic wedge. No, this trucking issue isn't qualitatively different than NAFTA or what preceded NAFTA, but it does provide us the opportunity to discern a trend evident in our handling of "enemy combatants," our shifting rules on surveillance etc.

Does that make sense? I guess the biggest reason why I responded to flw's entry as I did is that, living so close to the border -- as you also do now -- I'm always struck by the government's role in differential response to border-crossing. The permission being given to Mexican trucks echoes the permission already given to members of the upper and upper-middle classes in Mexican regions along the U.S. border. Shit, half the shoppers at our malls in Tucson have come from across the border. With the new trucking regulations, though, I think we're seeing the potential for this differential treatment to be used for a lot more than it initially seems to be intended for.
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cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 10th, 2007 07:04 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I do like the cyberpunk approach, when done well. But there's a reason why both Stephenson and William Gibson, both of whom write words I greatly admire, have pretty much abandoned the genre. Snow Crash offered a first-Bush Administration vision of what the yet-to-be-invented Wired magazine set wanted to see happen. It's interesting in that regard. Very interesting, at times. Yet it's crucial to remember that it was a fantasy, with present-day circumstances projected into the future along a hypothetical vector that would never have been possible to sustain in the short term with the social, political and economic pressures that would surely have redirected it elsewhere.

The Mexican middle class thing, with the cars you mention being a prime example, is really interesting. There are folks who drive up to Trader Joe's from Hermosillo every week or two. And they aren't the rich folks who shop at our new Armani or Tiffany here in Tucson. Come here before Christmas and you can really see what I mean. I'm sure you have the phenomenon there too. But there are fewer people in the Tucson area, which makes it easier to discern in these parts.
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cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 10th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, IKEA there in San Diego is the perfect place. We were there the week it opened, back in September, 2000.

The one in the Phoenix area has some of that, but it's further from the border than the Los Angeles stores.
schencka From: schencka Date: September 10th, 2007 07:25 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I like the debate going on here.

As for all this inside/outside theorizing, are Derrida's meanderings on that point as important as Hegel's master/slave dialectic? Ain't it the same debate, maybe?

I've embarrassed myself watching TV -- I felt patriotic zeal watching Faux News report on Chinese lead toys and delicious melamine, and Lou Dobbs' apoplexy re: the oncoming anti-Teamsters trucks.

And as for the moneyed Mexican shoppers, I was also fascinated when in Tucson -- the class signifiers are barely skewed. A "classy" Mexican owns, wears, and flaunts well-nigh exactly the same stuff as their American counterparts.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 10th, 2007 10:39 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes. I can't tell the difference, frankly, unless I see the license plate or hear them speak. You'd think they could aspire to be classier than American. It's not like the rest of the world applauds our fashion sense!

Inside-outside is lots of fun. Alain Badiou's work is in the shadows to the left of Agamben's. But Derrida is also worth discussing.
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