Opposing all forms of violence, from direct, physical violence (mass murder, terror) to ideological violence (racism, incitement, sexual discrimination), seems to be the main pre-occupation of the tolerant liberal attitude that predominates today. An SOS call sustains such talk, drowning out all other approaches: everything else can and has to wait … Is there not something suspicious, indeed symptomatic, about this focus on subjective violence – that violence which is enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds? Doesn’t it desperately try to distract our attention from the true focus of trouble, by obliterating from view other forms of violence and thus actively participating in them? According to a well-known anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist ‘chaos’ of the painting, asked Picasso: ‘Did you do this?’ Picasso calmly replied: ‘No, you did this!’ Today, many a liberal when faced with violent outbursts such as the recent looting in the suburbs of Paris , asks the few remaining leftists who still count on a radical social transformation: ‘Isn’t it you who did this? Is this what you want?’ And we should reply, like Picasso: ‘No, you did this! This is a true result of your politics!’
There is an old joke about a husband who returns home earlier than usual from work and finds his wife in bed with another man. The surprised wife exclaims: ‘Why have you come back early?’ The husband furiously snaps back: ‘What are you doing in bed with another man?’ The wife calmly replies: ‘I asked you first – don’t try to squeeze out of it by changing the topic!’ The same goes for violence: the task is precisely to change the topic, to move from the desperate humanitarian SOS call to stop violence to the analysis of that other SOS, the complex interaction of the three modes of violence: subjective, objective and symbolic. The lesson is thus that one should resist the fascination of subjective violence, of violence enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds: subjective violence is just the most visible of the three.Zizek, Slavoj (2008) Violence, pg 9-10.
Knowing that there exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling towards women as towards slaves, such as is expressed in the common phrase, “Tell that to women and children,” that the infinite soul can only work through them in already ascertained limits; that the gift of reason, man’s highest prerogative, is allotted to them in much lower degree; that they must be kept form mischief and melancholy by being constantly engaged in labor, which is to be furnished and directed by those better able to thinkFuller, Margaret (1845) Woman in the Nineteenth Century
‘I am certainly tough and I am ready to help solve the Jewish question,’ (Wilhelm) Kube wrote to his superior in December, 1941, ‘but people who come from our own cultural milieu are certainly something else than the native animalized hordes.’ This sort of conscience, which, if rebelled at all, rebelled the murder of people ‘from our own milieu’ has survived the Hitler regime; among Germans today, there exists a stubborn ‘misinformation’ to the effect that ‘only’ Ostjuden, Eastern European Jews, were massacred.
Nor is this way of thinking that distinguishes between the murder of ‘primitive’ and of ‘cultural’ people a monopoly of German people. Harry Mulisch relates how, in connection with the testimony given by Professor Salo Baron about the cultural and spiritual achievements of the Jewish people, the following question suddenly occurred to him: ‘Would the death of the Jews have been less of an evil if they were a people without culture, such as the Gypsies who were also exterminated? is Eichmann on trial as a destroyer of human beings or as an annihilator of culture? Is a murderer of human beings more guilty when a culture is also destroyed in the process?’ And when he put these questions to the Attorney General, it turned out – ‘He [Gideon Hausner] thinks yes, I think no.,’Arendt, Johanna (1963) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
What happens when a person thinks that he has done something unjust? Isn’t it true that the nobler he is, the less he resents it if he suffers hunger, cold, or the like at the hands of someone whom he believes to be inflicting this on him justly, and won’t his spirit, as I say, refuse to be aroused?
But what happens if, instead, he believes that someone has been unjust to him? Isn’t the spirit within him boiling and angry, fighting for what he believes to be just? Won’t it endure hunger, cold, and the like and keep on till it is victorious, not ceasing from noble actions until it either wins, dies, or calms down, called to heel by the reason within him, like a dog by a shepherd?Plato, The Republic
From the great 2006 movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, the writer and team behind the scenes of this moment capture the essence of the value in suffering, the power in leading your own life and not letting anyone get in the way of your dreams.
Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.
Frank: You know Marcel Proust?
Dwayne: He’s the guy you teach.
Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.
Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. You know, school, then college, then work, fuck that. And fuck the air force academy. If I wanna fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest.
Frank: I’m glad you’re talking again, Dwayne. You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.
Current training methods are often inappropriate and not particularly stimulating. There is an urgent need at all levels of the education system for a reform which will focus on the individual’s ability to learn by him or herself, on the acquisition of a range of related skills which will enable individuals to become polyvalent and develop their capacity to carry out a range of occupations. School will need to reverse their priorities: instead of giving priority to training ‘human computers’ whose memory capacity, abilities of analysis and calculation and so on, are surpassed and largely redundant by electronic computers, they need to give priority to developing irreplaceable human capabilities such as manual, artistic, emotional, relational and moral capabilities, and the ability to ask unforeseen questions, to search for meaning, to reject non-sense even when it is logically coherent.Gorz, André (1988) Critique of Economic Reason, VersoBooks, London, p. 240
‘The market-based order’ is fundamentally challenged when people find out that not all values are quantifiable, that money cannot buy everything and that what it cannot buy is something essential, or is even the essential thing.
But workers will not discover the limits of economic rationality until their lives cease to be wholly occupied and their minds preoccupied by work: until, in other words, a sufficiently large area of free time is open to them for them to discover a sphere of non-quantifiable values, those of ‘time for living’, of existential sovereignty. Conversely, the more constricting work is in its intensity and hours, the less workers are able to conceive of life as an end in itself, the source of all values; and more as a result they are induced to regard it in economic terms [and] conceive of it as a means towards something quite other which would, objectively, be valued in itself: money.
Charly Boyadjian has given us a remarkable description of this destruction of workers’ personalities through the compulsion to work, to the point where they know nothing beyond the wish for more work so that they can earn more; and the rediscovery of non-economic, unquantifiable values […] when the compulsion to work is slackened.
The author worked in a shoe factory where split-shift working was in operation, forty-eight hours and six days a week and
“it was easy to find volunteers for Sundays as well. I’m sure that there were times when you have asked them to work seven days out of seven for a whole year; they’d have done it, if they’d been pushed … And there were people who worked after house as well, cash in hand, as well as their split shift, either through alienation, or sometimes from necessity. You see, when you were working forty-eight hours a week, cash really became the thing you were after … A friend said to me, jokingly: ‘Me, when I’m not working, I don’t know what to do, I’m bored stiff, I’m better off at work.’ Your factory is your life. When you’re at work, it’s kind of secure, you’ve nothing else to do, it’s all set up for you, you don’t have to use your initiative. You have a bit more money, you’ll buy as much electrical gadgetry as you can. You’ll chase after money, but it won’t do you much good in the end. It won’t buy you any time. In fact, you just lose quantities of it: to gain, lets say, ten minutes on something or other that you do every day, you’ll lose an hour a day at work to pay for it. It’s quite mad. But you even get to like it in the end. It’s real security, you have no more responsibility, it’s almost like going back to childhood. This applies to everyone: before I came to this factory, I was an activist, politically ‘advanced’, but I was sucked into these same ways of carrying on.”
The author tells how physical and nervous exhaustion stifles the life of a couple, erodes sexual relations (‘you end up so exhausted that you completely forget the other person, you really haven’t got time’), and destroys the ability to think:
“Even I, during these periods, though I was on an anti-racist commitee, I was a hell of a lot more racist … Intellectually, you’re hopeless, for the very good reason that you can’t make the physical effort of listening to someone else and arguing with them; so you become really authoritarian. After a while you get to be so exhausted that it’s not your brain that’s in charge but advertising slogans.”
When the crisis came, working hours were reduced to forty a week and then, a month later, to thirty-two, spread over four days:
“Then, bit by bit, there was an unbelievable phenomenon of physical recuperation. The idea of money really lost its intensity. I don’t mean it had disappeared but eventually even the blokes with families to look after said, ‘It’s better now than before.’ It’s true that we lost a good deal of money, £40 to £50 compared with before but, quite soon, only one or two of the blokes minded. It was about now that the blokes became increasingly radical because we had begun to have a lot of discussions … It was now, too, that friendships began: we were now able to go beyond political conversation, and we managed to talk about love, impotence, jealousy, family life … What’s odd is that during this period of short-time working, work on the black economy lessened … It was also at this time that we realised the full horror of working in the factory on Saturday afternoons or evenings. Before, the blokes had to put up with it, but now were once again learning the meaning of the word living, working Saturdays came to seem an enormous grind … Similarly, for Sundays or Bank Holidays, which were paid at triple time, managed admitted to us that they had difficulty finding people … There had been a change of attitude, they weren’t able to buy workers as easily as before.1“
More is better, whether this applies to speed, power, income, turnover, capitalisation, life expectancy, levels of consumption and so on, whatever the concrete content or the use value of these increasing quantities might be. People must be prevented to from choosing to limit their working hours so as to prevent them choosing to limit their desire to consume. A growing number of wage earners must work and earn beyond their felt needs, so that a growing proportion of income may be spent on consumption determined by no need. For it is such optional, superfluous consumption, which can be directed, shaped, manipulated according to the ‘needs’ of capital more than the individuals needs.
Men, therefore, may prefer to use money as a yardstick even in efforts which do not have the aim of making additions to a society’s stock of utility. Even where the aim is to add to solidarity, collective effectiveness, or societal authenticity, men, once committed to rationalization, deployed a variety of cost-benefit analysis to measure their performance … A whole host of social problems from urban renewal to delinquency-prevention projects remain a mess in part because of the use of money for ends that money alone cannot serve.R.C. Baum, ‘On Social Media Dynamics’ quoted by Jürgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, Cambridge 1987, vol. 2, p. 293
From the point of view of the social system, maternity is also a ‘function’ which women absolutely must perform if society is to perpetuate itself. The conflict between these two things is, therefore, radical. The mother’s body initially shields the baby from the clutches of society … indeed, from the point of view of the social system, mothers possess an exorbitant power which challenges society’s rights over its (future) citizens. Society therefore does everything it can to limit and restrain women’s power over their children, and also to appropriate and subjugate women themselves by depriving them of rights over their own bodies, their lives, their very selves. This is the fundamental cause of women’s oppression.Gorz, André (1988) Critique of Economic Reason, VersoBooks, London, p.151
To say that a man is an idealist is merely to say that he is a man; but, nevertheless, it might be possible to effect some valid distinction between one kind of idealist and another. One possible distinction, for instance, could be effected by saying that humanity is divided into conscious idealists and unconscious idealists. In a similar way, humanity is divided into conscious ritualists and unconscious ritualists. The curious thing is, in that example as in others, that it is the conscious ritualism which is comparatively simple, the unconscious ritual which is really heavy and complicated. The ritual which is comparatively rude and straightforward is the ritual which people call “ritualistic.” It consists of plain things like bread and wine and fire, and men falling on their faces. But the ritual which is really complex, and many coloured, and elaborate, and needlessly formal, is the ritual which people enact without knowing it. It consists not of plain things like wine and fire, but of really peculiar, and local, and exceptional, and ingenious things — things like door-mats, and door-knockers, and electric bells, and silk hats, and white ties, and shiny cards, and confetti. The truth is that the modern man scarcely ever gets back to very old and simple things except when he is performing some religious mummery. The modern man can hardly get away from ritual except by entering a ritualistic church. In the case of these old and mystical formalities we can at least say that the ritual is not mere ritual; that the symbols employed are in most cases symbols which belong to a primary human poetry. The most ferocious opponent of the Christian ceremonials must admit that if Catholicism had not instituted the bread and wine, somebody else would most probably have done so. Any one with a poetical instinct will admit that to the ordinary human instinct bread symbolizes something which cannot very easily be symbolized otherwise; that wine, to the ordinary human instinct, symbolizes something which cannot very easily be symbolized otherwise. But white ties in the evening are ritual, and nothing else but ritual. No one would pretend that white ties in the evening are primary and poetical. Nobody would maintain that the ordinary human instinct would in any age or country tend to symbolize the idea of evening by a white necktie. Rather, the ordinary human instinct would, I imagine, tend to symbolize evening by cravats with some of the colours of the sunset, not white neckties, but tawny or crimson neckties — neckties of purple or olive, or some darkened gold.
All men, then, are ritualists, but are either conscious or unconscious ritualists. The conscious ritualists are generally satisfied with a few very simple and elementary signs; the unconscious ritualists are not satisfied with anything short of the whole of human life, being almost insanely ritualistic. The first is called a ritualist because he invents and remembers one rite; the other is called an anti-ritualist because he obeys and forgets a thousand. And a somewhat similar distinction to this which I have drawn with some unavoidable length, between the conscious ritualist and the unconscious ritualist, exists between the conscious idealist and the unconscious idealist. It is idle to inveigh against cynics and materialists — there are no cynics, there are no materialists. Every man is idealistic; only it so often happens that he has the wrong ideal. Every man is incurably sentimental; but, unfortunately, it is so often a false sentiment. When we talk, for instance, of some unscrupulous commercial figure, and say that he would do anything for money, we use quite an inaccurate expression, and we slander him very much. He would not do anything for money. He would do some things for money; he would sell his soul for money, for instance; and, as Mirabeau humorously said, he would be quite wise “to take money for muck.” He would oppress humanity for money; but then it happens that humanity and the soul are not things that he believes in; they are not his ideals. But he has his own dim and delicate ideals; and he would not violate these for money. He would not drink out of the soup-tureen, for money. He would not wear his coat-tails in front, for money. He would not spread a report that he had softening of the brain, for money. In the actual practice of life we find, in the matter of ideals, exactly what we have already found in the matter of ritual. We find that while there is a perfectly genuine danger of fanaticism from the men who have unworldly ideals, the permanent and urgent danger of fanaticism is from the men who have worldly ideals.
People who say that an ideal is a dangerous thing, that it deludes and intoxicates, are perfectly right. But the ideal which intoxicates most is the least idealistic kind of ideal. The ideal which intoxicates least is the very ideal ideal; that sobers us suddenly, as all heights and precipices and great distances do. Granted that it is a great evil to mistake a cloud for a cape; still, the cloud, which can be most easily mistaken for a cape, is the cloud that is nearest the earth. Similarly, we may grant that it may be dangerous to mistake an ideal for something practical. But we shall still point out that, in this respect, the most dangerous ideal of all is the ideal which looks a little practical. It is difficult to attain a high ideal; consequently, it is almost impossible to persuade ourselves that we have attained it. But it is easy to attain a low ideal; consequently, it is easier still to persuade ourselves that we have attained it when we have done nothing of the kind. To take a random example. It might be called a high ambition to wish to be an archangel; the man who entertained such an ideal would very possibly exhibit asceticism, or even frenzy, but not, I think, delusion. He would not think he was an archangel, and go about flapping his hands under the impression that they were wings. But suppose that a sane man had a low ideal; suppose he wished to be a gentleman. Any one who knows the world knows that in nine weeks he would have persuaded himself that he was a gentleman; and this being manifestly not the case, the result will be very real and practical dislocations and calamities in social life.
It is not the wild ideals which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.
G.K. Chesterton (1908) Orthodoxy: The Fallacy of The Young Nation