Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Power and Resistance

When you meet with power and resistance and treat those two impostors just the same, and then you'll be a revolutionary, my comrade.

Slavoj Zizek writes on power and resistance in the current London Review of Books. The piece is a critique of the latest book from the philosopher Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding. Critchley argues for a "politics of resistance" operating at a distance from the state "bombarding the state with impossible demands, of denouncing the limitations of state mechanisms". Zizek then brings out the "superego" to describe Critchley's "anarchic ethico-political agent" which "bombard[s] the state with demands; and the more the state tries to satisfy these demands, the more guilty it is seen to be. In compliance with this logic, the anarchic agents focus their protest not on open dictatorships, but on the hypocrisy of liberal democracies, who are accused of betraying their own professed principles." Wow. Liberal democracies aren't perfect lands of milk and honey. Tell me something new. Sure, it is worth seeking to change the egregious parts of liberal democracies, like the UK's immigration policies and the USA's prison system. Leaving critique's of "open dictatorships" to the people of those countries is like telling those people "I have heard your heart breaking story, now go and annoy someone else", and washing your hands of their predicament. Whatever happened to solidarity and internationalism?

Zizek then discusses the 2003 demonstrations against the war in Iraq:
Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’
Finally Zizek argues against "impossiblism".
... the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.
If these are not possible then what is possible? Make things better.

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