Filed under: Resistance | Tags: cuts movement, Foucault, ill-formed opinion, left-wing youth
Scattered speculations from a scattered mind. So much to write about yet currently lacking an appropriate frame from which to make sense/critique all which I am witness to. From the death of Osama bin Laden to The Wedding, to virginity testing to Nato leaving migrants to die to the 7/7 inquest to police withholding information over Ian Tomlinson’s death, to the AV referendum, to the continuing cuts, tuition fees debates – it is no surprise the nation appears to be subsuming into a mutual sense of melancholy, particularly it would seem my fellow peers.
And everyone has their views on everything. Obsessively reading blogs, catching the news updates on Twitter, examining the stream of comments on newspaper articles and blog posts; the immediacy and ‘democratic’ platform of online commentary often results in a overwhelming glut of opinion, that serves to gag more than it inspires the reluctant writer.
I find this a particular trend amongst the leftish ‘youth’ who now ‘radicalised’ and politicised by their recent protesting and kettling endeavours feel the need to spout their rhetoric at will. Whilst not totally critiquing this sometimes positive move, it does unfortunately result in many cases the circulation of ill-formed, biased opinion (and the incorrect usage of theory namely old favourite Chomsky, and for the more critically engaged, Deleuze). Passion and creativity have a very important place, but despite my empathy for the voices of the student ‘revolution’ I cannot help but feel it is time for a move to the next phase. Continuing to engage in counter-strategies or demanding a reversal of the current system will not get very far. Counter arguments and movements cannot rise beyond the structures they are fighting against for they are still within. Further there are many contradictions in the arguments which make easy targets for attack by not only the conservative right but people who also consider themselves left-wing. What is lacking is a coherence and more importantly a clear understanding amongst some of the young population of what and who they are fighting, who they represent and from where they are speaking from. (This is exemplified in the writing of Laurie Penny, who a 24 year old journalist of sorts has been appointed it would seem as the voice of the student protest movement. Her contradictions and bias require analysis on their own which have been critiqued by many. Suffice to say I was quite sympathetic to her cause until I saw her on ‘Young Voters Question Time – a remarkable programme if only for the remarkable density and incomprehensible nature of much of the views of its token ‘yoof’ audience -where Penny came across as disrespectful of others opinions, childish and ignorant in her blanket views).
This mentality always reminds me of my first year as a Sociology student. I remember witnessing a sort of reawakening amongst my peers as we learnt about media and popular culture and feminism and Marx and suddenly the thin veneer of ignorance was peeled away and we saw the world for what it ‘really’ was. Many people stay in this stage and this is the cause of the problem. People are arguing truth with another truth both believing there is an ultimate sovereign truth. But from where is this truth derived? And from what position are you claiming truth? The shattering of illusion is easy in comparison to a critical engagement, that requires the development of a vigilance to your position, to deconstruct the hows and whys of representation, that call in to question your very loyalties.
As an academic this scholarly rigour is mandatory and it is for that reason perhaps I find the stream of over important ill-informed babble so repugnant. However these are integral tools I feel to any journalism, or for the establishment of any coherent argument. Most importantly they allow the creation of dialogue rather than a throwing back and forth of information. Now as I write this I am sure many would believe the time for dialogue is over, and indeed that dialogue requires the flow of interaction both ways. Yet the use of words such as ‘they’ and ‘the government’ (as used by Laurie Penny in YVQT) gloss over the contingency and peculiar situatedness of context. It also reinforces categories of them and us (as in government and plebs) which again is unhelpful and promotes a juvenile idea of politics of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ that falls into the games of the media that relish simplistic narratives. I am not denying the truth of these narratives, the pre-arrests before The Wedding are a clear demonstration of the demonization of certain groups. Yet this type of anti-government rhetoric (which appears to be against governance of all forms) is at odds with the demands to increase and reinstate government support of tuition fees, EMA and so on.
It maybe the case I have been reading to much Michel Foucault, but arguments that lack any recognition of historical and political context and fail to interrogate the implications and motives of their demands are becoming tiring and also counter-productive. I find myself instead steadily moving to the adoption of a position perfectly described by the late great comedian George Carlin:
Divorcing oneself as a mere observer is perhaps not the most ideal, nor feasible, prospect. Yet with the noticable and detrimental absence of a sustainable ‘alternative’ – even if that alternative is no alternative and merely an attempt to attack from without as Herbert Marcuse detailed – then I see little way of transgressing this bind. Foucault, who profusely rejects the claiming of any ‘politics’ or to be situated in any way, perhaps can provide different strategies through problematizing rather than searching for a political formula to contain a just and definitive solution. Foucault is rarely one to advocate a strategy, but he outlines below what this could look like:
Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are. We have to imagine and to build up what we could be to get rid of (a) political ‘double bind’, which is the simultaneous individualisation and totalization of modern power structures. The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try and liberate the individual from the state, and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualisation which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity which has been imposed on us for several centuries.
(Foucault, (1982) ‘Subject and Power’, p. 216 in Dreyfus and Rabinow ‘Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics’.)
The creation and promotion of new forms of subjectivity is a proposition familiar to anyone acquainted with feminist writings and post-colonial critique. This is a process far less straightforward and requires better tools than occupying Fortnum and Masons. But of course occupying Fortnam and Masons is an acceptable strategy – depending on what your aims are. The question for the anti-cuts movement now is one of revising strategies in order to obtain the form of liberation Foucault outlines – one that would entail the sort of reflexivity and vigilance in order to recognize and deconstruct the forms of state linked power that have shaped individual subjectivity, involving a refusal of what you take yourself to be, or else a lowering of ambitions and a demand simply for shifts within the same system, and a return to the familiarity of what was before. Will people change themselves or continue with short-sighted ambitions? I wish I could be more optimistic about it all.
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