Sunday, October 10, 2010

Me and Mike's discussion continued

Mike: On the aesthetics of revolution debate: while certainly kind of nifty, Zizek's arguments are non-responsive - regardless of how potentially liberating and sublime the experience of revolution is, Zizek would intentionally expose people to s...tructural violence to create the conditions for revolution. This is bad for a couple of specific reasons: first, his methodology, in and of itself, is dehumanizing. I'm cross-applying your analysis here: structural violence may not be throwing someone in an oven but it's still dehumanizing and Zizek will throw people under the bus in order to have his revolution, i.e. some people are not worth preserving in order to achieve the greater good. What about the people who, while on the road to revolution, will die because they can't afford chemotherapy or food, etc.? For Zizek, their deaths don't really count for some reason; why are they denied the experience of the "sublime" heroic death in revolution - they literally die because they aren't worth preserving - the revolution is what matters. THAT is the essence of dehumanization. The only way to combat dehumanization is a new aesthetic where anyone and everyone is worth preserving at any cost - even the revolution itself. Dehumanizing people to stop other instances dehumanization isn't exactly the route I feel comfortable taking. While Zizek places a high value on human life, it's not high enough.

On the "alternative": Zizek's critique isn't micropolitical - he's arguing that the Targeted Asset Relief Fund, etc. all should not have happened - that's a fiat-level argument if I've ever seen one. I offered an alternative at each level of the debate: macro and micro. At the macro level, yeah I think the Supreme Court should rule the constitution unconstitutional; I think that would expose the farcical nature of law and allow for a reconceptualization of how progressive politics are possible in this country. Absent the constraints of the founding myth, maybe we could find a way to provide truly universal healthcare. And nationalize the oil and gas industries. And elect Crawford the new premier/chairman/czar. At least that way, I'm not actively letting people die. I mean, while I have my hands on the levers of power I think I do everything I just mentioned.

At this point, I think it's important to throw in a little impact analysis: the chances of Zizek's revolution don't look too good - you never responded to my arguments as to why people are radically defending property rights even as the private sector fucks them over. I think this pretty much makes the probability of revolution zero, that is, if it doesn't make people even more radically conservative as the present situation seems to indicate. However, the probability of dehumanizing people a long the way is 100% - people must literally die via structural violence even to create the conditions for the possibility of revolution; I think Zizek's flat out of luck.

On the micro level, yeah I'm still going for CLS: sure, criticism won't do much on the streets of Los Angeles but it can shake shit up in the institutions that produce lawyers, judges and politicians. And we can continue to help each other survive and patch up the glaring holes in the system. At least we wouldn't be letting our friends die. As I see it, you don't propose any micropolitical action - if you're not advocating Zizek, then I'm not sure what you're saying. I think CLS is a realistic way to go about doing stuff right now.

I'm not copping out on revolution - I'm flat out opposing it. I'm not precluding the possibility of revolutionary politics but what I am saying is that when Zizek goes all "whirling Dervish" on the beauty of the aesthetics of revolution, he sends people to die and for no reason. Given that the rev itself is dehumanizing, shouldn't we care even a little bit what we wake up to? Maybe that makes for some really hot poetry but I think this is why kid's don't run Zizek as their alts anymore - he literally doesn't have any. I think the world has a lot at stake the morning after - I mean, not everyone gets the sublime experience of martyrdom, so what happens to them? They just start doing Dadaist jigs in the streets or do they start over? Obviously something is going to happen and I think the world deserves to know that the likely outcome of the revolution is going to be. Is it going to be Maoism? Stalinism? National Socialism? God, I hope not.

So what's your micro-political event - taking the family van to Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity"?

Ok. I'm not advocating a revolution for the very reasons you mention - our lives would become disrupted and it would suck. However, people are already dying due to structural violence - especially in the third world - so obviously something... should be done. In your last post you even suggested that when people are dying due to structural violence we're on the eve of revolution. Are you therefore advocating revolution? Is that the threshold? Aren't deaths resulting from a potentially emancipatory Revolution preferable to deaths due to the ongoing march of the cold machinery of capitalism?

However, I'm still not advocating Revolution. My argument is simply that in order for CLS to make an impact that would have to be some radical re-organization of society, some kind of Event in the Zizekian sense that completely re-orients social forces and opens up space for the CLS critique. We're talking like French Revolution - or ideally the Haitian revolution which is Zizek's personal favorite. Jon Stewart's (lowercase) event doesn't qualify as an (uppercase) Event.

CLS simply can not change anything, and is going to be permanently relegated to the margins without such a radical restructuring. I mean seriously if CLS could make a difference merely by circulating around academic circles, it should have already done so. CLS was hot in the 70's and 80's but people sort of lost enthusiasm for it and it fizzled out without making that much of an impact - at least no revolutionary proclamations from SCOTUS resulted.

Likewise, you’re hand on the lever thing would be OK if either of us ever had a chance to be in power, but I kind of doubt that ever happening. I don’t think either of us have the ambition to ever be in a particularly powerful position of influence. People, especially those in power, just don’t like CLS because it undermines the edifice that their power is built on. There’s no way SCOTUS will ever rule the Constitution Unconstitutional because that would expose the empty seat of power and render them completely useless - and once one has attained that level of power being useless just isn't an option anymore.

So this brings us to the micro-political level, which is the only level that we'll ever work from. I feel we can do much more to slowly change things via less radical critiques, which don’t undermine the entire legal edifice the way CLS does. This is less radical (and therefore less dependent on revolution) and has the best chance of at least softening the impact of structural violence, so I’m winning you’re impact analysis regarding dehumanization. Again, CLS is pretty much certain to do nothing to influence the legal/political powers-that-be. Instead more limited academic pursuits are much more likely to resonate and make themselves felt in ways that will actually make a difference in decisions rendered by SCOTUS. For instance, Brown and Roe – arguably about as radical as SCOTUS gets – are probably indebted somewhat to the work by radical legal theorists, but they still conform to the regular legal systems internal mechanisms. Thurgood Marshall's method of practical adjudication has done more to change things and help people than Duncan Kennedy's radical interrogations will ever do from his ivory tower at Harvard. I’m afraid we’re stuck working within the system of (at least superficially) textual legal reasoning if we’re going to make any difference at the micro-political level in minimizing dehumanization without resorting to revolutionary violence.

I'm somewhat surprised to find myself advocating this position, but this discussion was too much fun for me to just agree with you like usual.

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