The Aspirational as Affective Fact

So what is an affective fact? The mechanism is quite simple:
Threat triggers fear. The fear is of disruption. The fear is a disruption.

Brian Massumi’s concept of the “affective fact” was an attempt to come to terms with post-911 governance by George Bush Jr. The concept foregrounds the virtual in governance. In The Future Birth of the Affective Fact, Massumi writes:

The event’s consequences precede it, as if it had already occurred. It event remains virtual – future-past — but is real and present in its effects. The present reality of its effects mean that it can be responded to pragmatically all the while remaining virtual.

The discursive logic of narrative is peripheral to the tautological logic of effecting causes. Governance by affective fact works to produce indexical signs of a future event (fire) to cause an event in the present (smoke); Massumi describes this as a “semiotics of alarm”. He writes, the “affective fact induced by the indexical sign of alarm is that there was in effect a danger, as certainly as there was an alert”. Affect serves as a mechanism in the operational linkage between the possibility of danger and the undeniable factuality of the alarm.

In Australia, the state of affairs was somewhat different. The long decade of John Howard’s conservative coalition was premised on economic growth and even after the Bali terrorist attacks Australia did not invest in governmental modes of security as much as the US. One of the key qualities of Australian situation was the rise of what was called the “aspirational voter“:

upwardly mobile men and women on the make, buying their name-brand values off the self, devoid of any class or political loyalty, defined only by their purchasing power and their driving ambition to acquire the gadgets and graces of the middle class.

Instead of trying to fill the discursive position of the aspirational with an empirical account of those who roughly do (or do not) fulfil most of the requirements of being considered ‘aspirational’ as an identity category, I want to consider aspirationalism as indicating a series of affective facts. Aspirationalism is a movement or process with a number of qualities, here are two:

1. Becoming-majoritarian

The aspirational wants to be part of the ‘majority’. The ‘majority’ does not have to be counted as an actual majority, only represented as such. There is no conservative and progressive or right/left only majoritarianism and minoritarianism. The majoritarian are the ‘winners’ in a competition they create. The aspirational does not understand how this could ever be a criticism: it is natural to compete for scarce resources, therefore it makes perfect sense to barrack for the winning team.

2. Probe-heads of opportunity

If the paranoid governmental apparatus is characterised by an overemphasis on security concerns, then the aspirational governmental apparatus singularly attends to economic growth. The affective fact of aspirationalism is the ‘opportunity’.  An opportunity is a particular kind of configuration of social relations where someone benefits in the future based on present action. More importantly, however, is that an ‘opportunity’ in the current composition of governance serves as an invitation to become (more) majoritarian. This is now defined almost entirely on economic grounds. Importantly, this is experienced as a positive affect — in the Spinozist sense of increasing one’s capacity to act — even though it is an affection of one’s aspirational majoritarian peers.