Socio-economic activism updated!

Cynics are often the most accurate observers of reality precisely on account of their hostility. This is a particular attraction of philosophies of finitude: a permanent suspicion of meaning and motives. Developed through to its full consequences in Continental Philosophy, this means reason must turn against itself and overthrow its own sovereignty. The renunciation of rational mastery and the critique of illusory metaphysics are instances of this work. Nihilism, the breakdown of ultimate meaning and absolute truth, is clearly respectable in that it honestly assesses that there is no fixed frame of reference: humanity is always already embedded and thrown in a particular environment that colors our perception of the world. Nevertheless, our contingency upon history in the form of language, culture, society and so forth means that we are the makers and keepers of our own socio-symbolic existence, one order no less arbitrary than another.

With everything cast into doubt in this way it is no wonder that postmodernism has been the harbinger of resistive, subversive and disruptive strategies aiming to undermine common assumptions, destabilize conventional customs, and show that things can be otherwise. Beyond these negative gestures of sabotage philosophy must turn to the latter positive task of imagining and forming new worlds. This is the contemporary predicament: either accept the loss of truth altogether and limit oneself to “the interplay of multiple meanings” or revalue and transform the current vacuum of values by establishing a new balance to society.

This tension is faced by anyone who opposes or struggles against global capitalism. More to the point, we always belong to the systems we criticize.  Using conservative concepts in any revolution is inevitable, but their limits–it is hoped–can be exposed at the same time. The capitalist machine, on the other hand, functions precisely due to its misfirings and contradictions thus rendering futile the exhaustive efforts in exposing our contingency and unraveling inconsistencies. All the frantic activity (read: activism) that has gone into breaking apart the hegemonic global social order that poisons nature and gives certain individuals clear advantages over others has oftentimes been in vain and has instead actually fueled violent social organizations to grow. In fact it appears as though nihilism fits in quite well with capitalism: it can justify nothing so it tolerates everything and antagonistic games are allowed to continue as usual.

Is there then any solution on the horizon today? With lack of resolution and a long list of failed attempts and impotent intentions it is no surprise that the modern subject, myself included, has come to peace with incommensurability, pessimism and indifference itself. Perhaps the reason hipsterism is not a vibrant response to the (post)modern deadlock is precisely because the threshold of generating positive new alternatives, for the time being, has itself been reached.

At a different level, however, perhaps the most popular rebel-clique today really knows (implicitly?) what it is doing here. In some respects I think that hipsters are using apathy and irony to update the old activism of the previous century, to make it more believable for the 21st century (here I unquestionably lift the words from Shaviro written in a difference context – see here). What I mean by this is that hipsters, read in this light, are “making new equivalents” for those aspects of activism “that might otherwise now seem antiquated” and, therefore, are very much in-line with keeping activism “intact”, albeit making “revisionist updates” in parts that look wholly unlike the activism that most liberals have become familiar with.

Given the somewhat obscure character of this comment, one I am increasingly willing to be crucified on but nonetheless jejune and a tyro in, I will provide a short series of quotes that have significantly stirred me towards this position. The authors should not be altogether surprising.

But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one? – To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World Countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go further still, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet. (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. 260)

…the withdrawal expressed by “I would prefer not to” is not to be reduced to the attitude of “saying no to the Empire” but, first and foremost, to all the wealth of what I have called the rumspringa of resistance, all the forms of resisting which help the system to reproduce itself by ensuring our participation in it—today, “I would prefer not to” is not primarily “I would prefer not to participate in the market economy, in capitalist competition and profiteering,” but— much more problematically for some—“I would prefer not to give to charity to support a Black orphan in Africa, engage in the struggle to prevent oil-drilling in a wildlife swamp, send books to educate our liberal-feminist-spirited women in Afghanistan….” (Žižek, Parallax View, p. 383)


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