Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Philistine army

In the Book of Samuel, it says that when you hear the sound of marching on the tops of the mulberry trees, you'll know the move is on. Stir yourself, be alert, get ready: you're about to strike at the Philistine Army.
But suppose, instead of stirring themselves, instead of feeling the hair rise on the back of their necks, and their teeth and fists clench in preparation, the people said: "fuck that, your marching is problematic and your whole style is chump"?
In light of some of the 'critiques' of the global women's march that I've seen circulating, I'm minded to return to this theme of "unforbidden politics". Not that there is no room for discussing the limitations and problems of the protests. Uncritical boosterism is no use to anyone, and of course we need to think about how we got to this pass. But so much of it, even where it has some validity, is superego-driven spite, and injured snark. And to that extent, I'm afraid, it is unserious. It doesn't mean business. It has no real killer instinct. It is blind aggressivity. Particularly when it comes to the supposed bad subjectivity of "white women" and the 'problematic' "pussy hats". (It doesn't help that with some of the attacks, if you took the word 'white' out of the formulation, you would just have straightforward misogyny.)
But even if all of the critiques were correct and to the point, one would still have to ask what kind of politics it entails. After all, who starts out in politics with clean hands? Who ever even gets clean hands? Whose life is like that? Does oppression and exploitation lend itself to clean hands? Have you ever met someone oppressed by racism or exploited as a worker or fucked over by sexist men and sexist employers more times than they can count, who doesn't have some scars, some injuries, some resentments, and some evil thoughts? 
Do you make radical politics more, or less attractive if you make it into a guilt function, a forbidding terrain where you will be passive-aggressively hectored and shamed and bullied for being inexperienced or getting it wrong or not having all the answers? Do you change people by starting with how fucked up, complicit and unclean they are? Or, by appealing to their desire to be a better version of themselves, to be part of something bigger than they are, to feel powerful for a change, to extend their sense of themselves as historical subjects, to descend on palaces of real privilege and turn them to rubble?
Do you get people to change, to wonder about everything they've ever taken for granted, to become the kinds of people who can wage the kind of struggle that is needed, by turning politics into an elaborate pecking party? Or do you say to them -- "there's the Philistine Army! Do you want to destroy them or not?"