love beyond sovereignty: a discussion

(the following dialogue is from a facebook conversation launched by jenny lee, in which micha cardenas and i participated deeply for a night. our friends emi, jon, invincible, morgan and leah were also participating with likes and bravos. i asked permission to repost the conversation here because it was a joyful noise! i only edited out the parts where we went on tangents focused on “you’re awesome and i love you OMG!!!”)

jenny lee posts:
“When we engage in love we abandon at least a certain type of sovereignty. In what ways would sovereignty not be adequate in explaining a social formation that was grounded in love? If we were to think of the sovereign as the one who decides, in the social relation of love there is no one who decides. Which does not mean that there are no decisions but, rather, that there would be a non-one who decides. That seems like a challenging and interesting question: what is a non-sovereign social formation? How is decision-making then arrived at? These are the kinds of things that require modes of organization; that require, if not institutions, customs, or habits, at least certain means of organizing the decision-making process. In a politics of love, one of the interests for me is a non-sovereign politics, or a non-sovereign social formation. By thinking love as political, as somehow centrally involved in a political project, it forces us to think through that non-sovereignty, both conceptually, but also practically, organizationally.” – Michael Hardt on love as a political concept

Micha: So do we not decide whether or not to love, or to “fall in love”? Is there a decision to love?

Jenny: i think so. especially a decision of *how* we love. we’re trained not to exercise our agency in determining whether or not and how to love. it seems important to make that distinction between agency and sovereignty.

Micha: oooh, good point! I think we have a choice to some degree. It makes me think of being polyamorous and the way that you can choose to give more attention to someone and know that will lead you to have more feelings for them, or you can choose to manage those feelings and try not to get swept up if you don’t want to. But I think there is often not a choice to fall in love with someone, but there can still be agency in how you react to your feelings, and that’s the hard part to learn.

Micha: reminds me of Adrienne’s blog post gifting my attention – ‘what we give our attention to grows’

adrienne maree: yes, it also really brings up the idea of impact. in the positive use of the concept of sovereignty I have always seen an assumption that the goal is decisions are made by those who are impacted by those decisions. a sovereign nation is led by the people of that nation, ie, we long for the sovereignty of Detroit. but in truth, interdependence means we are all to some degree impacted by each others’ ‘sovereign’ actions, whether or not we want to be. so in a love politic I think one piece of it is attending to impact, within ourselves, and the impact we have on others. this is not the absence of decisions, but the decentralization of decisions and of holding the impact of those decisions. so that when I say I am in love, I mean my community is holding love through me, with me, and at some point I will hold love for others, as we all grow and decide our futures together. utopia? or just the basis for a survival that feels both thrilling and possible and not boring 🙂

Jenny: yes! decentralization feels fundamental to non-sovereignty. if we understand sovereignty as the establishment of a center, around which identity forms and decision-making processes flow (like we are a ‘sovereign nation’ because we invest power in a certain leadership entity who we then expect to act in our best interest). a more participatory model of governance would require an investment in the power of our relationships. when those relationships are authentic and rooted in love, trust, etc. there’s less of a need to abdicate decision-making to a representative.

Micha: hmm, but Jenny, love can also mask when someone is making poor or unhealthy decisions on your behalf…i love what berlant says in this interview (and everywhere else) “I think sovereignty is a bad concept for almost anything. It’s an aspirational concept and, as often happens, aspirational concepts get treated as normative concepts, and then get traded and circulated as realism. And I think that’s what happened with sovereignty. So, in ‘Slow Death’ I say we should throw sovereignty out. But people are so invested in it [so] maybe we can’t because you can’t just decide ghosts don’t exist. You have to find a way to change something from within. There’s another way of going at this that also has to do with a different relation to incoherence. Part of the reason I think that queer theory and love theory are related to each other as political idioms, is that queer theory presumes the affective incoherence of the subject with respect to the objects that anchor it or to which they’re attached… Training in one’s own incoherence, training in the ways in which one’s complexity and contradiction can never be resolved by the political, is a really important part of a political theory of non-sovereignty.” but perhaps her disavowal of sovereignty is a very privileged statement, considering indigenous and latin american struggles for centuries over sovereignty…

Jenny: but in that case is it *real love* ? (in the mary j. blige conception of real love)

Micha: omfg i already heard the song in my head before i got to your parentheses – but it seems to me like part of the value of including love in one’s political organizing is to decenter love from a heteronormative one and only forever kind of love and expand it into a more collective affect. i’m afraid mary’s version is more about one person, “i thought you were the answer to the question in mind”, but maybe it’s radically utopian instead!

Jenny: about that contradiction between the ideal of non-sovereignty and the fact of centuries of violation of indigenous peoples’ sovereignty — Invincible Detroit and i were saying today, it’s nearly impossible to relinquish your need for sovereignty, in the face of someone constantly trying to take your shit. but i guess that’s the aspiration: towards a collective risk-taking that could result in either part’s demise, or the liberation of both.

adrienne maree: I think any time we are talking about love it is a privilege…to me this is because ‘real love’ is fundamentally abundant and abundance is the true privilege (striving for abundance of space and life and growth vs abundance of material decay of course) and also talking love and love politic is incredibly necessary work, one of the ways we are accountable to each other in the realm beyond shared victimhood…another piece to throw in here is related to that normative aspect, our socialization around what is normal…what is normal to dream of, strive for and build? once we see our socialization, can we assess ‘normal’ and embrace or reject it? and how do we practice intentional new form, such as a love politic, in an environment where we are socialized towards sovereignty, isolation and ownership as modes of everything from pets to children to lovers to land? especially without rejecting, patronizing or dismissing the very real emotional investment our loved ones have in the ‘norms’?

adrienne maree: also the real love is all good, but how much can we have? I’m aiming for a series of ‘the one’s. a wise friend recently told me she aims to feel that ‘in love’-ness once a year. really reframed my thinking. decentralizing oneness!


wikileaks is one of the most exciting things to happen in politics, media and culture since the beginning of the internet.

i made the commitment here and in other spaces to step out of the news cycle, because i am tired of knowing very little about lots of things, and i am tired of becoming a temporary expert on things over which i have no power. i make a valiant effort to only read/post stuff where i can contribute…

but wikileaks makes me want to look at newspapers and news sites again.

here’s why:

1. it’s real stuff! part of the reason i don’t like news cycles is because it seems like they are so rarely based on fact. while wikileaks has so much on it that i can’t even pretend to read it all, the difference is that the documents are real. and while analysis is necessary, our media has become an echo chamber of non-information, pure opinion, creation mythology. it is refreshing to see actual documents that show actual corruption, and have to respond to that.

2. it means more people can be radical! the decentralization of wiki posting allows a much larger population of radical thinkers to act, and allows us to redefine who we see as radical. there’s not a lot of paid work for social change agents, and a lot of folks who want to change the world end up in corrupt institutions (or non-profits, keeping it real).

and it’s so easy to fall into blanket generalizations of “the government” or “the CIA” or “corporations” and not remember that those are institutions made up of people, each with their own moral code, their own senses of right and wrong. wikileaks, and the many leak-pages which are proliferating from digi-comrades across the globe, opens up the door for people to act on their values even if they are working within a corrupt system. now insider-outsider strategy can mean more than professional compromisers vs professional critics.

3. decentralization is strength! in nature, the strongest systems are those that can survive in a way that is linked but self-organized – dandelions, oak trees, fungi. anyone who has studied social change movements knows that hierarchical systems of organizing are easy to take out – google “assassinations in the 60s”.

wikileaks’ strength is that it invites self-organizing to happen in a way that makes it fairly meaningless if one person in the process is taken out. it’s fascinating to me to watch everyone hone in on julian assange, fundamentally misunderstanding the decentralized nature of this information war. wikileaks and the hacker army are everywhere, and have been for some time.

4. transparency is strength. we have been living in a hyper security culture, told that secrecy and backroom proceedings will keep us safe, and to just trust the government to determine when it’s a level orange moment. but…do you feel safer? i certainly don’t. i feel patted down and spied on and suspect, but not safer.

for that antiquated idea of democracy to even be attempted, there has to be transparency of information, so that voters can make choices to direct the systems of our collective living. otherwise it’s a chess game, and we’re on the board while someone else makes the moves. the more we know the more we can determine our identity relative to how we live.

5. history repeats itself. by exposing past offenses, wikileaks let’s us see how anti-democratic forces strategize, and make ourselves distinct from that politic and approach.

case in point – over and over again, our international American identity is of regressive climate policy, and acting as a block to changing our environmental footprint. why? wikileaks shows us specifics around how the U.S. worked to obstruct climate policy moving forward in international climate talks in 2009. this is meaningful and relevant as thousands of people are gathered right now in cancun for the next set of these talks.

we can say “Americans have a different identity than what you have been told, world. see how our government is working outside the democratic processes of the people? see how we voted for major changes and corporate bureaucracy silenced our desires?”

6. this scales up movements worldwide. the people who take the risks to expose corruption in this way are walking out on a limb over a yawning and dangerous chasm – but that is the limb we all need to walk out on. calling for a transparent, accountable world is one thing, pulling back the wizard’s curtain is another. it’s thrilling to see things that progressive/liberal/radical/anarchist/etc folks have suspected and/or believed showing up on the front page of every news source – and it means we have to be up to the task of strategically using this new content we have access to, and supporting those who are taking these risks so that others who are willing to take the risk aren’t silenced.

society is changing, possibly very very quickly. don’t sit it out – one immediate move to take over the holidays is to talk about why something like wikileaks is important with your family! growing cultural understanding and desire for an informed population can lead to other shifts – like an education system that produces folks who can read and analyze such information; like localized wikileak operations where politicians and businesses know that a step towards corruption is a step out of power.

all that to say, in case you haven’t noticed, wikileaks has put an exclamation mark in my consideration of the possibilities of mass media. woot.