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Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist (Or Am I?) -- Continued

These reflections continue on from another post from a couple of days ago, and I would recommend you read that one too. I doubt it matters all that much which order you read them in, though.

I have sometimes thought that my "political orientation" would be better captured with the neologism consensualist, given the centrality of the provision of a substantial scene of consent to my understanding of a democratic and non-violent politics. In our historical moment, however, philosophical neologisms like that render one all too susceptible to the distortions of marketing and self-promotional discourse (advertizing, with all its devastating deception and hyperbole, has come quite close to colonizing public deliberation entirely by now, to the ruin of all), recasting one as another wannabe guru circus-barker with a movement and a manifesto soliciting tax-deductible contributions in exchange for promises of offering a meaning of life package re-conceived as something like the promise of more regular bowel movements and a whiter smile.

Since it is not a substance but a scene, not a faculty but a ritual, there will always be concerns about the profound gameability of consent. The libertopian anarcho-capitalist's whole schtick essentially derives from his pretense that transactions are perfectly consensual and social orders sublimely peaceable even when they are stratified by unequal knowledge and misinformation and driven by what amount in the context of informal and precarious labor to permanent threats of force.

In the typical neoliberal instance, then, I would declare the scene of consent largely vacuous as often as not. But of course there are vulnerabilities on the flip-side as well. I describe a legible scene of consent as one that is both informed and non-duressed, but since "informed" can never arrive at omniscience and since "non-duressed" can never arrive at omnipotence, there will always be a slippage between actual scenes of consent and the ideals at which they might be said logically to aspire, the legibility of the scene will always be a comparative matter. Part of that legibility would have to derive from the susceptibility of the scene of consent itself to interminable re-elaboration by critique. Part of what might be named by "anarchism" is this interminable constitutive dimension of critique to the scene of legible consent, it seems to me.

To the extent that democracy is less an eidos to approximate in our institutions (culminating, presumably, in The Ideal of "direct" democracy, "perfect" consensus, or what have you) than it is an ideal that might wholesomely articulate endlessly many different institutions in endlessly many variations and measures (the notion that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, as I would put it, probably does not have one best institutional materialization, given the many contexts in which it might make public life better), then another part of what is named by "anarchism" might be this interminable experimentation with and proliferation of institutionalizations of the democratic notion.

Inasmuch as I believe the key values of democracy are equity and diversity, and these values both depend on one another but are in tension with one another (I refer to equity-in-diversity as a single value, but the hyphens denote a dynamism not a stability), their institutionalization again looks to demand an endless re-elaboration through critique, and again "anarchism" seems to me a good name for this interminable constitutive dimension of critique.

Part of the trouble with a commitment to non-violence is that there is always some measure of dispute as to what violence consists of in the first place, and to circumscribe this dispute is itself to do violence. So, too, the constitution of a vocabulary in which it becomes possible legibly to testify to a violence will often (perhaps always) render testimony to another violence illegible. Brecht's question and quip, which violence is worse, to rob a bank or to found one? is provocative not only because one can easily assume a perspective from which either violence can seem worse, but because there is something about assuming the perspective from which either violence becomes clear that renders the other nearly invisible. Again, "anarchism" might name the interminable critique that permits a traffic among perspectives rendering testimonies to violation provisionally legible (even at the cost of rendering others provisionally illegible) to resist a stabilization that amounts to a violent circumscription of the discourse enabling attention and testament to and hence the institutional address of violences in the first place.

Part of what I would insist on, however, is that whether order names the provisional universalization of equity-in-diversity, whether it names the comparative accomplishment of the scene of informed nonduressed consent, whether it names the provision of ever more people with ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect, whether it names the commitment to nonviolence, this order is always institutionalized, and the work of critique is to expose the measure of slippage between the actual and the aspirational not to rationalize renunciation of the institution but to enable its interminable re-elaboration.

There is a tendency and possibly a permanent temptation in the anarchic imaginary that indulges an exposure that yields so all embracing a transparency it amounts finally to indifference rather than insight, that indulges a rebellion that yields so all embracing a rejection it amounts finally to resignation rather than to resistance. It goes without saying that any more pragmatic commitment to resistance, re-elaboration, and reform is no less prone to complacency, parochialism, exhaustion -- and the restlessness and rigor that might be named by "anarchism" can provide an indispensable re-invigoration to those of us whose pragmatism is directed to the service of the ethics of consent, democracy, non-violence, equity-in-diversity. Any anarchist who helps democratize the institutional terrain that besets us is a friend to me. To me, that comrade is democratizing the state, not smashing it -- but I am content to keep quiet on that quibble if that is all that stands in the way of our mutual education, agitation, and organization to materialize liberty and justice for all.


JD Tuyes said...

Brecht's quip mentioned again in this debate:

and of some interest to your article.


Dale Carrico said...

An interesting clip -- of course I found Assange enormously subtle and interesting and Zizek mostly insufferable throughout. So strange the way his comments were always followed by joyous applause (as Assange's only came to be later, as it became clear from Zizek that their comments should be understood as performing monkey acts). While Zizek made a few valid points about how truths never speak for themselves but must always be contextualized and how ideology functions less to deceive us as to permit us to engage in the collective cynicism of acting as if we are deceived while we know we are not -- the fact is that Assange clearly already brought these assumptions on board. Mostly, Zizek functioned in the strange way commercials do during the Superbowl. Usually, commercials are unwelcome interruptions of the content we have chosen to attend to, we mute them or use them for bathroom breaks, or endure them as a kind of good- capitalist- subject penance for getting "something for nothing." But of course, many watch the Superbowl FOR the ads. The Superbowl is of course the culminating event in American football, possibly the most tedious palpably ridiculous sport in the world, and the promise of clever original funny ads (that will be talked about at work or school the next day) renders endurable the joyless ritual of people pretending they care about football even when they do not. Zizek's performances are always self-promotional, he is no longer ever philosophizing apart from performing himself (derisively waving away the Elvis comparison while endlessly flogging it), and of course since the West no longer really gives two shits for philosophy or critical theory -- finding it a dull excuse for bathroom breaks or the mute button or at best a penance endured to demonstrate one is a better sort of bourgeois, one who can name-drop Kant as well as regurgitate a NYT op-ed -- Zizek's clown show variation on it is especially welcome, enough so to lend allure to the difficult intellectual and practical work Assange is doing, permitting Assange to be re-imagined as a kind of Brando whose work need not be thought through as he himself so scrupulously and forcefully has done, but can instead be enjoyed via Zizek as a dirty joke or an abbreviated Barthean reading of a pop culture object with all the sarcasm and little of the truth. I think the exchange was interesting among other things in showing that Assange really is dangerous to the status quo and Zizek is not at all so, and yet the elite-incumbent media in applying the label to them indiscriminately reveals it either doesn't recognize how dangerous Assange really is or is still silly enough to fancy Zizek is (either blind spot would be pretty encouraging) or is so aware it means to domesticate Assange via Zizek (with Zizek's participation) in case it cannot constrain him, which is not at all encouraging.