It’s widely thought that we live in a period of political apathy. I agree only as far as disgust and felt helplessness can mimic the symptoms of apathy.
More than ever, state and corporate power is perceived as unresponsive to democratic demands. Whether this perception exists because in an age of transnational capital, popular demands are by necessity or opportunity more likely to be ignored, or for some other reason I will leave to the side. Consequently we feel disgust (both at the actions of the state, and at its hypocrisy in claiming to be democratic) and helplessness (because the state never seems moved by our complaints).
In one sense disgust and helplessness are in perfect harmony, one doesn’t contradict oneself if one thinks that something is both disgusting and unchangeable. In another sense though, these two feelings stand in a performative contradiction. When we are disgusted by something we tend to either flee it, or attempt to abolish it unless something else prevents us, or gives us a reason not to. This is where felt helplessness plays its part; it restrains most of us, most of the time, from attacking the present state of things. As a result we resolve our disgust as best we can by “fleeing” the political, or watching it with morbid fascination. However complete escape from or denial of capital’s power is an absurdity as long as it pervades our lives, so our felt helplessness and disgust are at war- do we strike out or stand still?
This tension leads to two interesting phenomena:
*An increasing number of us reject bourgeoisie ideology (for our disgust), but seem to be uninterested in finding alternatives (because of our despair).
*One can see the beginnings of a phenomenon of sudden ‘flips’. Individuals who displayed little previous interest in politics, suddenly engaging in high intensity political activity. This represents the sudden swing as disgust finally comes to outweigh despair, whether through a sudden flash of hope, or the slow accumulation of disgust coming to predominate.
Now oddly enough I think this landscape I’ve painted of all pervasive disgust and despair gives us substantial grounds for hope. All that’s needed at any moment is for disgust to hit maximum, or despair to abate, and suddenly everything is fragile. There is space for cascades, as the sudden recognition of power leads to victories, leading to further recognition of power, and on and on. Any situation which depends on the uneasy victory of despair over disgust will not remain static.
Strategically and tactically, it suggests that we are fighting on unstable ground. We can’t depend on permanency or continuity, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek continuity; networks of counter institutions are necessary to receive and support with community and acquired skills those who decide they can’t stand it anymore. Increasingly we will have to remain mobile, prepared to orient in solidarity to struggles that come out of nowhere and do not follow our preferred agenda (certainly not our preferred schedule).
That all things should be held in common.