Dispatches has received a communique from an anonymous collective called OBU, announcing a sixteen-part Manifesto. The group has stated that it intends to send Dispatches one section every week over the next four months. The Manifesto apparently meditates on the current conjuncture and calls for the formation of a diffused cultural resistance of a brand new kind. The Manifesto as a whole is entitled OBU Manifestos 1-14 (Plus Two OBU Interludes). Past sections of the manifesto can be found under our Dispatches section tab, where they will be archived as they arrive.
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OBU Manifesto #11
OBU believes that the technical problems of capitalism cannot be solved by technical means. The problems are not technical.
When we speak of labor,” “production,” “consumption,” markets” today, we refer to different things than were spoken of fifty years ago.
How does “work” work?
Neither technocrats nor demagogues will bring back work in the way it was.
OBU says the technocrats will not save us.
OBU says the people will not save us.
And no, not to worry, OBU is confident the intellectuals will not save us.
The artists and poets will not save us.
No avant-garde will save us.
But OBU says, let’s think of “redeem” in its economic sense–to buy back, as if someone had put a lien on all of us. And that is, actually, exactly right. How much do people actually own? What is there that cannot be repossessed?
Everything we pay is rent and interest.
Our bodies are rented and temporary. Look at the secret amortization table of the cells. Every year we pay more, not less, in interest for the use of them, until the interest overwhelms the principle and we own nothing.
What kind of capital will redeem us?
Nothing will redeem us from our biological debt, of course–except, perhaps, children, memory, the effusions of soul in love, in art, in whatever passionate struggles whose material traces survive us.
But, OBU asks, is happiness possible in this world, while we live? And how do we think of happiness? Oh, if one can feel happiness, one should. Happiness is, in this world, an obligation. But what is the nature of happiness in a world predicated on predation? How exactly are the boundaries constructed within which happiness flourishes best? What forms of comfort and how obtained?
OBU recalls Frank O’Hara’s line: “Happiness–the best and least of human attainments.” To be happy is an obligation; but to increase the sum of happiness beyond one’s private sphere is also an obligation.
Not to be happy all the time! What an absurd idea. But to have happiness not be precluded, to have happiness always as potential, which means as a power one might possess.
Happiness is power, says OBU, if properly understood. Happiness not experienced is potential, which may be a greater power.
Happiness may certainly be experienced under conditions of misery and oppression. Who is there so miserable that he or she cannot experience some happiness? There are times with loved ones; or moments when something is so funny that the world falls into an incongruous alignment of making sense in its madness; or times when you’re just a little high and things feel pretty much as they should be, just a little better; or feeling crazy loving someone and knowing that person wants you too; or seeing one’s children grow and seem to be happy and doing well, and you know how hard it is and yet it seems to be working out and that gives you such joy.
All these and other wonderful things happen in almost every life. But then, there are the losses: parents, brothers and sisters, friends, children who just can’t make it, who sink underneath it, who are pushed under and can’t climb back, and maybe they’re gone or they’re in a place you can’t reach, and you know they’re suffering, suffocating, diminished, pretending, grasping for weapons, meting out what they think is justice to anyone they can touch, and then beaten down by someone more powerful, or by the state or by chemicals or by promises.
Happiness will redeem us, thinks OBU, if only we can create for everyone the spaces around and between happiness, the boundaries of safety and strength within which and through which happiness flourishes.
OBU Manifesto #12
OBU is the movement that does not exist.
If a group exists, it cannot be OBU.
No, that can’t be right, exactly.
OBU is One Big UNION. Therefore it is an amalgam. It is the sticking together of things. The question OBU faces is, what makes it stick?
It is not for lack of feeling that OBU does not exist; it is for lack of proper adhesion.
It is so difficult, OBU laments, to keep everything in order
OBU is nourished by the fantasy that if only every factor could be accounted for, every counter-argument parried and turned to advantage, and no possible retort of “Well, what about…?” able to be wielded, then the Movement would fall into place, would click into place with a well-oiled and satisfying Quod erat demonstrandum and the (entirely non-violent) revolution could begin.
OBU is One Big Union
But OBU has learned through painful experience that the better argument does not prevail. Or it can prevail, but not simply on its merits–there must be other forces.
OBU sees that one group is pretty good at on-the-ground organizing. But the group is run as a hierarchy, almost a corporate model, with committees that report to committees, a central planning unit, an obsession with tactics and a purposeful vagueness reg. strategy and broader vision. It fights for democracy but avoids democratic practice.
Other groups rely on feeling. OBU is told that we wept and prayed for Paris, but no one weeps and prays for Aleppo; and OBU thinks, how are weeping and praying an effective politics? If weeping and praying are the best we can offer, that tells us we’re moving in a fruitless direction.
OBU is Oligarchy Busters United
Oh, then you don’t feel enough?! No! OBU feels plenty. There is providence in the fall of a sparrow, but one can’t do anything about it–nor about Aleppo, at this moment. It doesn’t matter how much you feel; it matters how you use emotion and reason and knowledge to create effective solidarities to battle oligarchy.
That’s what it comes down to, OBU asserts. If you’re not there, then where are you? Weeping for the lost souls of the day, and each day come new ones. And with every election, the oligarchy remains constant.
If the new henchman is Secretary of State or merely CEO of Exxon Mobil… what real difference? If he’s not one, then he’s the other, and another henchman will fill the vacancy.
OBU shares Stevie’s fantasy in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent: to bring victim and oppressor (who is also himself a victim) together in a “bed of compassion”– if only we could talk with each other, interpret to and for each other, touch each other with heart, mind, and flesh, establish almost a communion or at least a new community or new sense of commonality… a touch… and then justice would begin. We would do this one by one, for that is the only way it can be done. And yet, of course, as Conrad points out, this method has “only the one disadvantage of being difficult of application on a large scale.”
OK, OK, says OBU; well, then, we’ll do it online. “Like” by “Like,” “Share” by “Share.” Solidarity and justice will go Viral! The world will be infected by them and thus redeemed. There is no resisting the Meme.
But the virus passes quicky, OBU notes, and the oligarchic organism emerges in good health. The great digital revolutions could not succeed. Occupy; the Arab Spring.
OBU notes that the Democratic Party is bankrupt–that is, intellectually and ethically… they have plenty of cash and that’s all they want and appeal for. And OBU contends that MoveOn is likewise useless with its endless petitions and outrages and appeals for yet more money.
These organizations exist. How can they be OBU?
OBU is the personal exchange of tongues, OBU is shared food, OBU is feeling good together, OBU is arguing hard questions, OBU is insistent, OBU is the actual allotment of time, OBU is new songs for the movement, OBU is poetry that scatters when you read, then reassembles, differently, behind your eyes, OBU is the urgency of play the way children play as they do a project, OBU is the return to privacy but then the coming back out from privacy, OBU is art but also something not art, OBU is politics but not always politics, OBU is the personal relationship and the slow accretion of relationships, OBU is the war of accretion, OBU is care searching for an economy of scale.
OBU is person to person, person by person. But the personal is too slow.
OBU is the speed of the digital, the depth of the personal.
OBU is searching for its code and searching for its womb.
OBU yearns to exist, even as it does not exist.
But OBU continuously exists in its yearning.