The Big Ideas of 2012

Simon Critchley: What Is Normal?

The surprising power of the political imagination.

Nick Whalen

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

We are living through a dramatic and ever-widening separation between normal state politics and power. Many citizens still believe that state politics has power. They believe that governments, elected through a parliamentary system, represent the interests of those who elect them and that governments have the power to create effective, progressive change. But they don't and they can't.

We do not live in democracies. We inhabit plutocracies: government by the rich. The corporate elites have overwhelming economic power with no political accountability. In the past decades, with the complicity and connivance of the political class, the Western world has become a kind of college of corporations linked together by money and serving only the interests of their business leaders and shareholders.

This situation has led to the disgusting and ever-growing gulf that separates the superrich from the rest of us. State politics in the West in the past four decades has become a machine for the creation of gross inequality whose patina is an ideology of ever-more vapid narcissism. As the Eurozone crisis eloquently shows, state politics in the West simply exists to serve the interests of capital in the form of international finance, which exerts a human cost that Marx could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. No matter how much people suffer and protest in the street, it is said, we must not upset the bankers. Who knows, our credit rating might drop.

It is time to take politics back from the political class through confrontation with the power of finance capital. What is so inspiring about the various social movements that we all too glibly call the Arab Spring, is their courageous determination to reclaim autonomy and political self-determination. The demands of the protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere are actually very classical: they refuse to live in authoritarian dictatorships propped up to serve the interests of Western capital, corporations and corrupt local elites. They want to reclaim ownership of the means of production, for example through the nationalization of major state industries.

The various movements in North Africa and the Middle East – and one is simply full of admiration for their individual and collective courage and peaceful persistence – aim at one thing: autonomy. They demand collective ownership of the places where one lives, works, thinks and plays. Let's be clear: it is not just democracy that is being demanded all across the Arab world; it is socialism. And the tactics that have been developed to bring it about are anarchist.

There is a deeply patronizing view of these protests – common among Western politicians and their intellectual epigones – namely that they want what we have: the liberal democracy and neoliberal economics of our fine regimes. On the contrary, the movements in North Africa and the Middle East should be held up as a shining example for European and North American societies of what suddenly seems not only possible, but increasingly probable: that another way of conceiving and practicing social relations is not just possible, it is practicable.

Politicians in the West should be scared, very scared. The clock is running down. What we see emerging across our societies with increasing boldness, coherence and clarity are movements that refuse the separation of politics and power and who want to take power back through the invention of new forms of political activism.

It is in this spirit that I'd like to celebrate and congratulate the protesters in the Wall Street occupations and their followers all around the world.

We should not predict the future, but I think we are entering into a period of increasingly massive social dislocations and disorder which harbors within it countless risks, dialectical inversions, defeats, dangers, false dawns and fake defeats. But I think we are all coming to the powerful and simple realization that human beings acting peacefully together in concert can do anything – and nothing can stop them.

Something is happening. Something is shifting in the relations between politics and power. We don't know where it will lead, but the four-decade ideological consensus that has simply allowed the creation of grotesque inequality has broken down, and anything and everything is suddenly possible. What we require now is solidarity, persistence and the endlessly surprising power of the political imagination.

Simon Critchley is a professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He has authored over a dozen books including the celebrated Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance in which he argues for an ethically committed political anarchism.

49 comments on the article “Simon Critchley: What Is Normal?”

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Anonymous

The so-called "democracy" like "socialism" was never invented to serve the interests of the 99% or the voters. It's sole purpose was and has been to serve the rich and powerful elites.

Many Western and non-Western movements have carried non-violent mass protests to free themselves from Capitalism, Communism and Socialism - in order to get people have their destinies in their hands. However, most of those movements were infiltrated by the elites' agents who diverted the movements from anti-Establishment to 'cooperatives'. The only non-violent movement which succeeded in the last century was Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. It threw away the capitalist democracy and established a government which is controlled by the majority of the 99%. That's the reason, Iran has been threatened by the capitalist West even after three decades.

Cuban leader Castro had called the 1979 Revolution a "symbol of people resistance".

Dr. Manning Marable, a Christian who was pro-Socialism – has judged Malcolm X according to his state of mind and not Malcolm X being a Muslim activist. Malcolm X, in an interview he gave to New York Times reporter, M.S. Handler, said: “I am not anti-American, un-American, seditious nor subversive. I don’t buy the anti-capitalist propaganda of the communist, nor do I buy the anti-communist propaganda of capitalists…I‘m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity (human beings) as a whole whether they are capitalist, communists or socialist, all have assets as well as liabilities”.

http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/malcolm-x-judged-by-a-christian-and-a-jew/

Anonymous

The so-called "democracy" like "socialism" was never invented to serve the interests of the 99% or the voters. It's sole purpose was and has been to serve the rich and powerful elites.

Many Western and non-Western movements have carried non-violent mass protests to free themselves from Capitalism, Communism and Socialism - in order to get people have their destinies in their hands. However, most of those movements were infiltrated by the elites' agents who diverted the movements from anti-Establishment to 'cooperatives'. The only non-violent movement which succeeded in the last century was Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. It threw away the capitalist democracy and established a government which is controlled by the majority of the 99%. That's the reason, Iran has been threatened by the capitalist West even after three decades.

Cuban leader Castro had called the 1979 Revolution a "symbol of people resistance".

Dr. Manning Marable, a Christian who was pro-Socialism – has judged Malcolm X according to his state of mind and not Malcolm X being a Muslim activist. Malcolm X, in an interview he gave to New York Times reporter, M.S. Handler, said: “I am not anti-American, un-American, seditious nor subversive. I don’t buy the anti-capitalist propaganda of the communist, nor do I buy the anti-communist propaganda of capitalists…I‘m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity (human beings) as a whole whether they are capitalist, communists or socialist, all have assets as well as liabilities”.

http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/malcolm-x-judged-by-a-christian-and-a-jew/

Anonymous

I think the previous comments note about "cooperatives" is really critical to all of these movements we're talking about. The Cuban Revolution was a success because of grassroots support of the people, just as the Occupy Wall Street movement is currently successful because of the support of the lower to middle class of this country. Do you believe if this wasn't a legitimate movement it would exist?

What we're facing is a conscious evolution in revolution. With the advent of the internet and mass communication, we are able to pool resources and public opinion in a way the bypasses traditional government and government controlled media (television, radio brodcasting, etc.) which is why the "Arab Spring" has been successful. We're looking at cooperatives of opinion, sentiment and freedom. This is a serious subject, but also there's a great levity to it. What we could see is a brave new world of beauty, cooperation and symbiosis with our environment through communication.

Intention people. Intention to do good by your fellow human. It's what these politicians lack. Their principle concern is the next four years, not the next four generations.

Anonymous

I think the previous comments note about "cooperatives" is really critical to all of these movements we're talking about. The Cuban Revolution was a success because of grassroots support of the people, just as the Occupy Wall Street movement is currently successful because of the support of the lower to middle class of this country. Do you believe if this wasn't a legitimate movement it would exist?

What we're facing is a conscious evolution in revolution. With the advent of the internet and mass communication, we are able to pool resources and public opinion in a way the bypasses traditional government and government controlled media (television, radio brodcasting, etc.) which is why the "Arab Spring" has been successful. We're looking at cooperatives of opinion, sentiment and freedom. This is a serious subject, but also there's a great levity to it. What we could see is a brave new world of beauty, cooperation and symbiosis with our environment through communication.

Intention people. Intention to do good by your fellow human. It's what these politicians lack. Their principle concern is the next four years, not the next four generations.

eightpix

This first part reminds me of the lessons taught by "Mr. Jensen's" lesson in Network (1976). That visionary film, telling of our time, is what this movement is about. The influence of unilateral power over the _reality_ experienced by the powerless. What is sought, by those that sympathize with #OWS and those that marched in #Tahrir, is the autonomy mentioned here. The capacity to realize individual dreams without the influence of an overarching superstructure of controlled obsolescence, nepotism, or other such favours done by and for "the 1%." Rabid capitalism, as I've termed it previously, underlies this mode of thought -- an uncontrollable desire for profit at any cost. There are reasons to operate at a loss: education, health care, fire control, public security (including market, finance, and mental environment security), public representation and child care are essential pillars of society. They serve the public interest. They cause society to persist. They constitute a basic approach to the future. It is these things that are the final horizons for the 1% to command.

So, #Occupy. Until the power balance represents something other than the purchasing power of multinational corporations, investment banks, and pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

eightpix

This first part reminds me of the lessons taught by "Mr. Jensen's" lesson in Network (1976). That visionary film, telling of our time, is what this movement is about. The influence of unilateral power over the _reality_ experienced by the powerless. What is sought, by those that sympathize with #OWS and those that marched in #Tahrir, is the autonomy mentioned here. The capacity to realize individual dreams without the influence of an overarching superstructure of controlled obsolescence, nepotism, or other such favours done by and for "the 1%." Rabid capitalism, as I've termed it previously, underlies this mode of thought -- an uncontrollable desire for profit at any cost. There are reasons to operate at a loss: education, health care, fire control, public security (including market, finance, and mental environment security), public representation and child care are essential pillars of society. They serve the public interest. They cause society to persist. They constitute a basic approach to the future. It is these things that are the final horizons for the 1% to command.

So, #Occupy. Until the power balance represents something other than the purchasing power of multinational corporations, investment banks, and pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

Did the US Stat...

Did the US state just become the outright enemy of its people? Did the Pentagon just take over in a coup? Did the US just quietly die?

What reason could they have for wanting the power to deny people life and liberty arbitrarily and in secret with total impunity? They thinking claiming this has been the rule since Bush makes it ok or justifies it?

Did the US state just become the mafia? Is this the result of Citizens United or our sponsored sponsorship run society?

Did the US government just become illegitimate or in effect announce its illegitimacy. Its as if every US citizen were now exiled into their own country. As if they all had loaded guns to their head with some although silenced going off. Now the US state is the greatest threat to its own people and apparently the world.

The notion of state secrets is absolutely laughable now, we need total transparency to see where are loved ones are or will be detained or are or will be buried. As before it seems that the people of the world although from different cultures and speaking different languages are united against the global corporatocracy.

If America failed as Berman says it was as he says because it fraud callled business, based on a fraudulent ethic.

Did the US Stat...

Did the US state just become the outright enemy of its people? Did the Pentagon just take over in a coup? Did the US just quietly die?

What reason could they have for wanting the power to deny people life and liberty arbitrarily and in secret with total impunity? They thinking claiming this has been the rule since Bush makes it ok or justifies it?

Did the US state just become the mafia? Is this the result of Citizens United or our sponsored sponsorship run society?

Did the US government just become illegitimate or in effect announce its illegitimacy. Its as if every US citizen were now exiled into their own country. As if they all had loaded guns to their head with some although silenced going off. Now the US state is the greatest threat to its own people and apparently the world.

The notion of state secrets is absolutely laughable now, we need total transparency to see where are loved ones are or will be detained or are or will be buried. As before it seems that the people of the world although from different cultures and speaking different languages are united against the global corporatocracy.

If America failed as Berman says it was as he says because it fraud callled business, based on a fraudulent ethic.

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