Thursday, July 23, 2015

The existential dimension of conflict, compromise, and enemies.

Over at Another Panacea, Josh cites Sarah Shugars on compromise (both these blog posts are super short, you should just read them). From Shugars blog post:

…if a full victory is beyond our reach perhaps a step towards justice is better than the status quo. Or, perhaps, a step towards justice will simply mollify the moderates, who will no longer feel the need to fight for more robust reform. On the other hand, refusing to compromise may earn you enemies – alienating moderates who might otherwise be willing to support your cause. These are complex, strategic questions which every movement and activist must evaluate and consider. Importantly, a willingness to compromise for the good of the movement should not be confused with an instinctual response of conflict-avoidance.

I think this is generally right. Compromise and conflict have to both be strategic decisions about building coalitions, striving for justice, and relieving suffering. To ideologically refuse compromise ahead of time is to promote the purity of your (beautiful) soul over the possibility of amelioration of suffering for actually existing other beings. Okay, but Josh is not so sure about the last line from Shugars. He argues:
I don’t think Shugars justifies that last line: perhaps it’s wrong to avoid conflict, but perhaps too those instincts have wisdom, such as the importance of preserving comity for future matters. A nation torn by value-based disagreements can fail to fix a lot of roads and schools while they glare daggers at each other. (Ask me how I know!) And activists are not always the best judges of either their opponents or the effective strategies for achieving their goals (nor are philosophers and political theorists, of course). In any case the question of instinct here suppresses a decision about the default strategies we should adopt that is itself strategic and requires the utmost prudence and practical wisdom.

I take Josh to be saying that we should strategically always try first to deescalate, that we should always try for coalition, that we should always assume the other comes as friend first, not foe. And I think there is a lot of merit here, too. Okay, but! struggle is often an existential question as much as it is a strategic question. As Jean Genet quotes an old Palestinian woman in The Prisoner of Love, "to have been dangerous for a thousandth of a second" is the only possibility for existence. (I steal this shamelessly from Bill Haver's "The ontological priority of violence"). Thus, when someone like Fred Moten proposes a "general antagonism," he is neither advocating a strategic understanding of antagonism, or a preservation of beautiful souls, but rather the existential requirement of having a relationship of antagonism against a culture bent of his destruction. He is affirming the ontological necessity of non-neutrality in existence. This tension is one that haunts me, and I have discussed before in the importance of pluralism. I worry that my ability to be like, "Of course I should treat this person as a friend first" cannot be generalizable.

Okay, the other two posted poems, so I guess I should too (mine is a lot longer than theirs, sorry). From June Jordan:
I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies
Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
                                     Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or
condemn me
I must become the action of my fate.
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
Shall we pick a number?
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will
I must become a menace to my enemies.
And if I
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries
And if I
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.