In relation to the ongoingOccupation movements I’ve been split in terms of whether I have hope in them,identify with them or simply let sputter out unnoticed. Initially I thoughtthey were rather novel and if they gained enough inertia they could potentiallylead to mass strikes that could reinvigorate organized labor. But as I began tolook into the demography of the movements, the landscape appears to becharacterized more by trustafarians playing hacky sack and drinkingmicro-brews. Even the recent campus movements that chant “we’re the 99%” seemsomewhat ridiculous to me. Yes you are the 99% but most likely if you’reattending this university you’re the top 10% of the country, and top 1% of theworld.
In a lot of ways, themovement has been somewhat self-aggrandizing in many senses. I understand it isdecentralized and leaderless, and thus is may be wrong to make sweepinggeneralizations, nonetheless I think writ large what is being produced will endup remaining unorganized and position-less. It comes off as an outburst ofpopulism, not a tangible political force. I think the result is that eitherpoliticians will pander to and co-opt them, and van Jones has already attemptedto do just that, or the movement will refuse the influence and they will driftinto obscurity. Transforming a moment of potentiality into a nullity.
There are those thatproffer broad based class critique, [and I say critique instead of ‘warfare’because this is nothing like ‘warfare,’ just watch the Brooklyn balloonresistance] but its typically aimed at scapegoating ceo’s rather than thetotality. Then there are those that criticize ‘the system’ yet the responsethey seek to garner is simply a reinstatement of the unemployed. More taxes,less bread!
Inmy previous post I indicated that I would not be reducing my analysis to classcritique and that I would engage in a more phenomenological approach. In Sein und Zeit in The everyday being of the “there,” and the Falling of Dasein sectionHeidegger writes
Ourinterpretation is purely ontological in its aims, and is far removed from anymoralizing critique of everyday Dasein, and from the aspirations of a‘philosophy of culture’ (SuZ, 210).
Likewise, myinterpretation of these movements does not come as a distanced recluse rather Iwent and observed the movements first hand the last couple of days. I may besomewhat more moralistic than Heidegger in tenor, but will attempt to use thephenomenological analysis as a jumping off point for questioning the effects,modes, and genuineness of the movements as a thing in and of themselves.
Yesterday when I went tothe pre-rally on the main mall of the University of Texas at Austin I spokewith Professor Miller (I hate sharing my last name with this guy) of theMcCombs Business School. He was talking to some of the protesters and ajournalist from the Daily Texan. After pontificating about the ills ofgovernment regulation his basic point was that ‘these kids’ need to quit‘complaining’ and start coming up with incentive based solutions to the market.One of the things that sparked this post however was a comment he made thatthese protests simply get people to join on board something withoutunderstanding the ‘back story’ of the situation. Basically that the protestsmake people unreflectively bandwagon onto a movement they are ignorant about.
At the time I quicklyretorted that symbolic protests are not public policy forums and that hisargument was generally more characteristic of the right than the left, and thatthis is simply a response to the rhetorical branding that’s worked so wellsince the Gingrich revolution. On further reflection after watching theprotests evolve in person and online, and seeing the media’s coverage of themovements it seems he might have had a decent point after all.
Heidegger produces theidea of Idle Talk as a mode ofDasein’s average everydayness. It’s not that Idle Talk is more or less present-at-hand as a mode of discoursethan others, it points to the ways that this mode can only come from the sortof Being that has disclosedness as a necessary and essential aspect of itsexistence. Heidegger’s definition,
The Being-said, the dictum, the pronouncement[Ausspruch]-all these now stand surety for the genuineness of the discourse andof the understanding which belongs to it, and for its appropriateness to thefacts. And because this discoursing has lost its primary relationship-of-Beingtowards the entity talked about, or else has never achieved such a relationship,it does not communicate in such a way as to let this entity be appropriated ina primordial manner, but communicates rather by following the route of gossiping and passing the word along. What is said-in-the-talk as such, spreadsin wider circles and takes on an authoritative characters. Things are sobecause one says so. Idle talk is constituted by just such gossiping andpassing the word along- a process by which its initial lack of grounds to standon becomes aggravated to complete groundlessness (SuZ, 212, emphasis original).
Idletalk is a people magazine, shooting the breeze, speaking without ground. What’sinteresting here is not just a basic description of people talking withouteither being sincere or having acquired a level of expertise to do so butrather the analysis of the ways in which IdleTalk lends itself to circulation. Idle Talk as a mode of communication ismore apt to circulate because its very nature implies that lack of ontologicalquestioning; things can simply be taken on face. This precludes a search forthe grounds upon which the discourse is spoken from, it is a part of the largerforces of nihilism in which the Being of beings that speaks is forgotten. The type of entities thatlanguage possesses is likewise forgotten,concealed, and covered over. Heideggerwrites;
The groundlessness of idletalk is no obstacle to its becoming public; instead it encourages this. Idletalk is the possibility of understanding everything without previously makingthe thing one’s own. If this were done, idle talk would founder; and it alreadyguards against such a danger. Idle talk is something which anyone can rake up;it not only releases one from the task of genuinely understanding, but developsan undifferentiated kind of intelligibility, for which nothing is closed offany longer (SuZ, 213).
Idle Talk circulates throughout the public because of itssimple reductive ‘truth’ value. Things don’t have truth for a specific Being asthe result of making it their own through ontological reflection, rather thingsare because ‘they’ have said so. The desire for understanding pure and simpleobscures the necessity for inquiry,
The average understanding ofthe reader will never be able todecide what has been drawn from primordial sources with a struggle and how muchis just gossip. The average understanding, moreover, will not want any suchdistinction, and does not need it, because, of course, it understandseverything (SuZ, 212, emphasis original).
Thisis what upsets me about the Occupation movements. Its not that I want to seethese people engaged in riveting dialectical materialist analyses that wouldrival Marx or Harvey today, but I think the lack of anything resembling acoherent message points to the fact that the movement embraces an anything goessort of mentality. Everyone’s sign is just fine. There aren’t any internaltensions being exposed. I understand the left has been plagued by in-fightingfor far too long and a generous disposition of alliance is strategic, but towhat end? Its probably more strategic to create some sort of signifying pointat which the criticism crystallizes. I understand it’s a movement against WallStreet, but does capitalism really have a center? It will always be moredispersed and decentralized than your movement, how successful can mimicry be?
Heideggerputs it best,
Thus, by its very nature,idle talk is a closing-off, since to go back to the ground of what is talkedabout is something which it leaves undone….Becauseof this, idle talk discourages any new inquiry and any disputation, and in apeculiar way suppresses them and holds them back (SuZ, 213)
Idletalk as a modality of communication cuts off and closes down. It seeks toshelter being from agonistic engagement. For movements to be successful theyneed to be more aggressive and explicity. This movement is nothing like the Battlefor Seattle or the Arab Spring. There is no attempt to disrupt the flow ofgoods, traffic, or people. Simple chanting and cheering may ‘speak truth topower’ but it won’t redirect the power relationships.
The dominance of the publicway in which things have been interpreted has already been decisive even forthe possibilities of having a mood-that is, for the basic way in which Daseinlets the world “matter” to it. The “they” prescribes on’s state-of-mind, anddetermines what and how one ‘sees’ (SuZ, 213).
Thusmy critique is not aimed at tweaking or reforming a bit of the content withinthe movement writ large, but rather to expose the ways that the generaldisposition of the movement in terms of the way it inculcates a mood ofcritique and movement is problematic. It enframes the complex flows of globalcapitalism and the populist energy of America into neat easily understood andthus subverted forces. This obscures the contradictions of capital rather thansearching for breaking points. It assumes single individuals are evil, ratherthan attempting to smash the oppressor within. It views capital as adisembodied structure rather than one that operates moreso on the ability toreproduce the relations of production by commodifying the sensorium, ourmusculature, emotive tendencies and perceptual capacities.
When Dasein maintains itselfin idle talk, it is – as Being-in-the-world – cut off from its primary andprimordially genuine relationships-of-Being towards the world, towardsDasein-with, and towards its very Being-in. Such a Dasein keeps floatingunattached [in einer Schwebe]; yet in so doing, it is always alongside theworld, with Others, and towards itself (SuZ 214).
Thisgeneral mood cuts off our capacities to care for the Other’s we are speakingabout and for more generally. The desire for completely intelligible system ofcapitalism and the arrogance it breeds cultivates a general cynicism that failsto see the objectifying processes within the everyday. Capital does not existsolely as an invisible structure that occurs behind the closed doors of the NewYork Stock Exchange its refracted through our movements, modes of speaking, andfriend and family interactions. Until greater attention is paid to the minutiaeof everyday biopolitical processes, than the reversal of such power relationswill always remain a utopian, moralistic castle in the sky.
While the particular Daseindrifts along towards an ever-increasing groundlessness as it floats, theuncanniness of this floating remains hidden from it under their protectingshelter (SuZ, 214)