On Violence: Radical Apoliticism and Human Conflict
Irrepressible violence is neither sound and fury, nor the resurrection of savage instincts, nor even the effect of resentment: it is man re-creating himself. The rebel's weapon is the proof of his humanity.
--Jean Paul Sartre. Preface to Frantz Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth"
Rather recently, on October 16th, this country saw another fight in a long string of violent displays of political tribalism between far right groups and far left groups. This time, in New York City, it was between the Antifa (short for Anti-Fascists) and a group of individuals called "Proud Boys". The event has given some a moment to pause, asking themselves if perhaps now political violence is a norm for the United States. It strikes fear in the hearts of some, and draws a malicious smile from others. To some, this is the most recent form of out of control political tribalism, and to others this is the death rattle of a quasi-capitalist, modernist system as it tries to handle the rising of cultural change.
To revolutionary and traditionalist alike, I give a sneer. I must disappoint you, for how can I not? The wrongness upon which their visions of the world rest are akin to a delusional psychosis. The call for violence for a cause, to bring down or bring back the system, to right political wrongs, are the stuff of an amateur, of people who have only enough blood to boil, but not enough to circulate. Violence, political violence, is not to rebel, it is not to curse the system. It is to play into the system; political violence is still politics.
Political Violence: Or the Corruption of the Weapon of the Rebel
Politics, as I insist upon, is an illusion. A means of subverting the existential and ethical agencies of humanity. And like the religious extremists, we have political extremists; those who serve a pervasive and blindly ideology of one kind or another, finding it their calling to push forward their politics and impose it by whatever means onto the agency of their fellow man. They decry the oppressions of some system, only to be carrying within them the oppressions of another system, all too happy to merely change the color of the chains you wear.
The brawls we see in the streets, the acts of violence against human and building, the crying out of proposed causes, is not the pure acts of they who strive for something better, the rage of the oppressed, but merely the frustrated temper tantrums of the masters, squabbling amongst themselves how best to fleece the sheep and guide the herd. To fight for a political cause is to corrupt the weapons of the rebel, to taint your own humanity. Socialism, capitalism, nationalism, conservatism, liberalism...they are all passing masters with different names. They will not hesitate to use this "political violence" to silence those who rattle their chains.
Violence for politics, for a political cause, is the last desperate act of they who adhere to politics as their morality, who internalize the external beliefs of ideologies. Incommunicable not by complexity but by sheer impoverishment of conscious consideration, political violence serves only the system it is within. It justifies systemic violence, in the name of "law and order", whilst used as a way to both try to marginalize or promote either of the groups. Violence for a political cause allows for the political space to be used to subvert the desires of the people and promote the desire of the power structures of the nation.
Violence and Defiance, Or Violence as a Contingent Action
In our postmodern, political world, it is very hard to step away from everything, to push away everything you know and are told, and wake up from this nightmare. Often, we must temper our anger, our outrage, with a self examination of ourselves. We want to join the people in the streets, that deep, primal desire within us trying to motivate us. We want to stand defiant to the worst of things, to be the one who willing stands up for the best this messed up world can offer.
But defiance is not without violence. It cannot be. But, the horrendous mistake of our times is to prioritize, to make fantastical, violence as opposed to the defiance that must come of it. Our superheroes, our cops, our soldiers, our people are violent in the most hollow of ways, where our violence is the product of emotions only. We see hollow violence, but let it be known that I am not naive enough to be against all violence. Violence, to me, require defiance. Defiance is not an act, however. To stand and protest, to give up on your convenience in the name of a cause, is not defiance. Defiance is a trait of Being, of our very existence. To mere decision to live, to stave off the abyss everyday, is itself defiance. From the catastrophic Nature that we live within, we have grown an impulse to defiance, and with the rise of comfort in our modern age, we have repressed it.
Violence is always contingent, and thus always needs justification. Violence is not a trait of ours, as people, but a vehicle for our traits. And I offer to you that one not focus on violence, but on the defiance needed to justify violence. Your life must be lived defiantly; that is, in opposition to all that is external to yourself. People, governments, identities, ideas, fantasies, utopias, moralities; these belong to something that is not you. Defiance is to compose yourself, your own self. It is for you to approach the reality you live within, and not have it brought to you, and for you to finally choose for yourself. This is no different in your confrontation with the political.
As Jean Paul Sarte writes in his Preface to Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth,
"[W]e only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us."
Violence as Expression, Or Communicating the Incommunicable
In his work What is Literature?, Jean Paul Sartre writes,
"The function of a writer is to call a spade a spade. If words are sick, it is up to us to cure them. If one starts deploring the inadequacy of language to reality...one makes oneself an accomplice to the enemy, that is, of propaganda. I distrust the incommunicable; it is the source of all violence..."
We live in a culture where our words have been tainted by the very propaganda, the very consumerism, the very ideologies we know have embedded themselves in our language. They have made the communicable incommunicable, and have made our language sick. The weapon of the political is linguistic confusion, and they have pushed us here. Writers are censored and silenced, even allowed to die in foreign lands far from here. As they try to cure the sickness of language, we must realize that this language needs to be taken away from the political space, to be protected for the sake of our agency.
Thus, violence has become a vessel of expression for those of us fed up with the subversion of our existence by the political. The violence of those who are fed up, truly fed up, is not empty. It is not shallow. It is not primal. It is not resentful. It is an act of defiance in a world where the tools of resistance have been blunted and removed. We are watching as the culture we live in is destroyed by its own hand, and we must respond. But violence is not a gathering of a group, going out to attack others. It is not the feel of fists against someone. It is when one lives out the defiance of their very own existence. It is the breaking of unjust laws, and instead of hiding from the consequences, facing them. It is the prioritization of yourself over the society that demands everything from you and gives you nothing else. As much as it is an African American man standing up to a corrupt cop, at risk of his life, it is a good cop standing up to a corrupt cop. It is the defiance of the corporations that feed on the injustices of the world by, rather than inconveniencing yourself through a meaningless boycott, finding a meaningful way to oppose them so that you cannot be ignored.
Violence is disruption, and disruption as a vessel for defiance is the character of those who are willing to let go of the illusion of politics, to exist with defiance in the face of futility. That is violence: the disruption of the incommunicable by transforming it into the communicable, into an expression of yourself.