Theses on Ferguson


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There is a distinction between being opposed to state violence and being a pacifist. State violence, like corporate speech, is a fiction whereby a non-existent entity appropriates the rights of individuals (and, indeed, appropriates the individuals themselves); as such it must be resisted, and the natural form of that resistance is an assertion of the individual prerogative that the collective fiction has sought to erase.

My upbringing, my education, tells me that violence is never the answer. My consciousness that said upbringing occurred in the most heavily militarised nation in the world suggests that violence may be not an answer, but the only language in which questions of power can be asked.

Or, at least: violence cannot be easily dismissed as an entirely illegitimate form of communication.

If your first thought when faced with manifest injustice is to constrain the means by which those suffering from that injustice may protest against it, rather than to contemplate (just contemplate) your own urge to throw things, possibly large or heavy things, possibly at the people most immediately responsible for enforcing that injustice, then your working definition of solidarity needs revision.

That last bit was a snide academic understatement. What I meant to say was you need to develop a working definition of solidarity, because you probably don’t have one. And then you need to use that definition as a tool to revise your working definition of personhood (or, as I tend to call it in the first draft of papers, being-a-fucking-human-being. I like to think that’s what Hannah Arendt wrote in her first drafts instead of “vita activa”, but it probably wasn’t.)

Sadness is an emotional response, not a political act. It’s not illegitimate in itself, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere except curled up on the couch with a box of tissues. Speech is a political act. This includes speech about sadness.

I’d initially typed “political solution”, and then decided that was really setting the bar a bit too high. Demanding complete solutions every time something in our social structure is identified as problematic, as a precondition for acknowledging the existence of the problem, is yet another way of silencing dissent. Identifying something as broken is an act that opens the way towards a solution.

Curled up on the couch with a box of tissues is not an illegitimate place to be. Sometimes. But your need to curl up on the couch with a box of tissues only takes precedence over the need to seek justice on your own behalf. If your political engagement (speech) is prioritising your emotional response over someone else’s oppression, then see above about solidarity and being a fucking human being.

Adam Kotsko has said some very sensible things about the rhetoric of individual choice (ooh, look at the white academics linking to each other!) but let me say a bit more: handwringing about systemic injustice obscures the issue of individual choice and responsibility. I’m not talking about the protestors, here. I’m talking about the jurors. The prosecutor. The police. All the rest of us, who want to understand injustice as a systemic issue because it displaces responsibility from us as individuals who are choosing to acquiesce to a system which benefits us and oppresses others. The system is not an autonomous entity that has come from somewhere else to enclose us. The system is us.

Yes, I know Margaret Thatcher also believed there was no such thing as society. She was morally corrupt, not stupid.


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