Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Being critical of the protests

There is a general abhorrence of critique amidst the energy of the "Occupy..." protests.  This is understandable to the extent that the critique is one of the reflected corporate interests in the media, whom reduce the matter to two questions. The first is the neo-liberal question, "what are your individual demands?" The immediate self-identification and reduction of demands is meant to separate the groups participating in the protest. The second question is reflective of specific corporate interests, when the media asks in so many words, "what is the consistent narrative of your movement?" so that even the protests may be recapitulated into commodity and communication.  At the same time this general resistance to leftist critiques, which have ranged from comparison to various other protest movements (the anti-Iraq or World Trade Protests come to mind), to critiques of methods, of the involvement of certain groups, or the representation of movement--the "99%" "women are the niggers of the world"--is somewhat frightening.

This brings to mind Nietzsche's notion of the orgy of feeling. The Priest, who attempts healing through one's self-identification of sickness, weakness and lack, corrals his subjects into a Dionysian festival. The violent and joyous masochism of this state reduces the assembly to depression; if only because in momentarily living an ideal the return to the world negates their biological-ecstatic truth actualized in the festival, sucking the participants of their force.  Zizek, for all of his problems, slid this into his speech; imploring that the protest not become something spoken of over beer or fondly remembered as a nostalgic joy.  And in a converse way, there is an equal demand from the protesters that one be with them, participating, or opposed to them.  That you mark yourself as one of them, be recapitulated into their mode of protest, or be cast off as indifferent nobility. This too indicates the delirious effects of the rhetorical practice.  It is like Socrates commentary in Phaedrus; we are often so ecstatic about a rhetorical position that we turn away from truth.

The purpose of the critique is not to curb the force of the movement, but to complicate it and funnel its active energies into a sustainable form. This does not necessarily include a reduction to political form, but it does require a pedagogical interest in the law and institutions. It is essential that this movement construct an alternative tax policy, an alternative oversight of corporations and speculate about its own industry and potential for sustaining life. Learning the internal complexity of markets and political relationships, and confronting them on their own plane will allow for the fog to be lifted from it. If the acts are ritualized and divested of their actual transformative political interests, they will degrade into the subjective resistance that has plagued protest movements from the late-60s onward.

There is a strange way in which the participants seem actualized into their liberalism, only through the demanded ritual violence of the police. To put it another way, the actions of the police, which are automatic in relation to the protest, are turned into a ritual for the identity of the protester. Here, just as in their original reasons for protest--a collective realization of economic crisis--they find themselves able to join a "99%" from which they had so long been excluded in middle class alienation.  But they remained mum on the violence perpetrated by police everyday, both in relation to Capitalism or not.  And there was not this sense of emergency, despite the equal abjection of the urban poor, while people participated in the housing markets of the 90s.  It is only once the trickle down floods the floor that the middle class realizes that they too are standing beside a levee.

The most important aspect of this is that we must remain as distant from revenge as possible. It is easy for expressions of outrage to become a malaise of ressentiment.  If these protests become a railing against Wall Street as the problem, we forget the inactivity that gave them power for so long.  We forget the true violence that these protests should be focusing on, which is the sustained and endemic poverty of much of the population that preceded this economic crisis and followed the last.  It is our economic system that must be reformed; not the practices of particular individuals, nor the ideology of Capital.  It is a set of laws and policies, algebraic formulas and oversight panels.  Once we lose sight of that we fall back into idealism, and with it the religious absence that the day after brings.

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