Resistance Must Be Carefully Rationed

An entire part of a society nurtured in and so unwittingly fixated on the promise of choice has been submitted, as if overnight, to a rotten blackmail: wholehearted resistance or complete surrender.
02/04/2017 08:26 am ET Updated Feb 06, 2017
The Tennis Court Oath, by Jacques Louis David

Our friends and families, our comrades, our brothers and sisters in the US have suffered a great loss. An entire part of a society nurtured in and so unwittingly fixated on the promise of choice has been submitted, as if overnight, to a rotten blackmail: wholehearted resistance or complete surrender. Those who oppose the current administration and the ideological and cultural climate that it breeds are starting to miss, if they haven’t already completely lost, something much more precious than mere political representation. They have been deprived of nuance.

The only morally consistent alternatives nowadays are radical self-effacing commitment to opposition, or full-on complaisance. Anything in between counts as nothing, and is ultimately hypocritical. And yet, virtuous as political radicalization may be in theory, many of the people being called to arms to defend what appear to them self-evident truths and rights, had prepared themselves for subtler battles in life. Many are well-educated, politically active, cosmopolitan and intelligent professionals who now have to carry it on their shoulders to argue the obvious, often at the expense of career and family but, most importantly, at the expense of other projects that they were groomed for and are capable of. These people have to put aside other ideas, abandon what they thought were present-day issues, and deplete other output to take part in ideological disputes that were supposed to have been settled by now. This in itself, cumulatively, represents an enormous loss of creative capital.

It can be argued that, in historical terms, lamenting the loss of potential is absurd. Such teleological thinking, the assumption that there is an endgame towards which societies are slowly marching, measuring themselves against it by calculating the distance they’ve covered or the ground they’ve lost, is, quite reasonably, a foolish exercise. Each historical moment presents us with its own demands and challenges, and our duty is to position ourselves in reference to precisely those, lest we are relegated to a place of deep disaffection or utter bovine contentment. Still, a certain amount of gasping disbelief at the sheer regressiveness of the terms that are currently dominating the political debate is excusable.

And it’s not only the dumbfounding necessity to defend fundamental concerns that is at stake here, exhausting as this might be in its vapidity. It’s not just the realization that all this human capital would be doing something better with the time it now has to devote to defend the incontestable, whether by writing, or by demonstrating, or by abstaining, or by participating – or whatever form resistance takes. If that is a necessary distraction, so it is, and it is well. We are all in it together.

There is, however, as always, a personal side to the political. Over the past decades, there has been such a profound concentration of means by the mainstream which, in turn, feeds the same monster everyone opposes, that it is practically impossible to perform any meaningful act of dissent without finding oneself decidedly marginalized. In other words, opposition from within makes use of and, by virtue of this, perpetuates, the very resources that it is opposed to – whilst opposition from the outside takes the form of a disjointed guerrilla struggle. Again, the cycle is vicious: either use the systemic tools to oppose the system, thereby reinforcing it, or participate in a grassroots resistance that, despite its beautiful camaraderie, is admittedly socially disenfranchising. The pressure is on: accept this reality, including the feeble and inadequate illusions of dissent it offers; or, refuse it and be ready to sacrifice yourself in the process.

For the first problem there is no solution; this is the historical juncture we’re at and, rudimentary as its demands seem, we are obliged to live up to them, at whatever cost. For the second, the issue of how disproportionately high the toll on the individual is for living in accordance with his principles, there is a solution, but it remains still unrealized, as if taboo. The only way to resolve the inefficacies and alleviate the crushing existential, not to mention practical, consequences of true and committed dissent on the individual is to organize. In simple terms, to move from a scattered list of grievances to a coherent conceptual framework that eventually forms an organized political body. Without discounting the crucial importance of solitary or small groups of efforts, actual and long-lasting transformation can only come from a disciplined and organized body that resolves the inside/outside conundrum and provides its members with necessary “economies of scale”. There has been a name in the past for this, and it sends shivers down the back of even like-minded people, but it seems the only viable alternative: a party. Otherwise, we’ll fray, and brake, as we have in the past, only to reconvene again so that we can continue on this pointless cycle, trapped in an endless present.

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