Turning over the Game Board: The Yellow Vests and the Price of Progress
"Cost is the father and compensation the mother of progress." --J.G. Holland
Many, many pundits, journalists, and ideologues have taken a look at the gilet jaunes, the Yellow Vests. We hear of the very common and very irritating attempt to tag those in this protest on someone's political team, from the philosopher Slavoj Zizek arguing that they are leftist in his articles on the protests (specifically, How Mao Would Have Evaluated The Yellow Vests on RT and The Yellow Vest Protesters Revolting against Centrism Mean Well – but their Left Wing Populism won’t Change French Politics in the Independent) to the Washington Post Editorial Board claiming they are, or have sympathies with, the alt-right (France’s ‘yellow vests’ Protests Could Weaken one of Europe’s Few Internationalist Leaders). The attempt to politicize the protest, to give unto them a jersey for either team seems to be, to a radical apoliticist, an attempt to not only de-legitimize or artificially legitimize the protests, but it has also been an attempt by the existing neo-liberal ideology to incorporate a protest that is not like the usual political spats of the our political game. It is an attempt to make an end-around run, as so to cover up the fact that the very condition of our existence in the political constructs of our society are the reason for these protests. Through the use of politically constructive language, this is being done.
Subverting Language an Faux Tolerance: Tagging Kirby
My argument, here, is this: the working class has risen up to face the ideological conditions it lives in, because they are tired of footing the bill for progress. Or, more specifically, being told to accept the premise that progress does, in fact, require some sort of sacrifice. Thus, they have been considered incoherent when, in fact, I think they are not incoherent but rather attempting to approach their ideological masters from a non-ideological position. Neoliberal politicians, pundits, and intellectual continually promise major progress for the working class, pointing often to history, while forgetting conveniently to tell them what they already know: the progress they promise will be placed on the backs of the working class, on the backs of those bound by toil and exploitation of the economic system that they profit from. The blood, sweat, and toil for which the future will be conceived will be specifically at their expense. The mantle of progress is heavy, the ideologue will point out, before placing it on the shoulders of these individuals, who not only see their burden grow, but their opportunity to speak on these issues greatly subverted by those who do not carry the burden.
But what do I mean by subversion? How do I conceive of such of thing? In our day and age, those who supposedly are against the corruption and amorality of our political system will often say "follow the money" on this point, an once faithful trail for those who are looking for the culprits of this subversion, but I claim this is not the right one. Not anymore. The trail to follow, to find these individuals so will to demand progress at the expense of others, is the trail of subversive labeling. Those who use the terms "leftist", "alt right", "Nazis", "Commies", etc ad nauseam, these individuals are those who truly wear the boot that is pressed to the face of humanity, for they use words in such an unclean way. They never label in order to label, to try to get us nearer any truth, but rather use terms in order to subvert entire aspects of reality, to bend the facts to fit the political constructs on which our ideology is presupposed. True labeling empties the concepts of this world, but the ideological "tagging" of our age does not empty the concepts to give us a clearer look, but fills them ever so deceitfully. A subversion of language is the best subversion that money can buy.
Why such subversion is necessary is because, at the core of neoliberal thought is a faux-tolerance that does not act as a road to any sort of actual social tolerance, but rather an ideological mechanism for survival. Neoliberalism is the Kirby of ideological presuppositions, in that it becomes tolerant of ideas that pose a threat to it so that it may eventually incorporate and devour it. It neutralizes the arguments against it by tagging those doctrines and ideas in such a way that someone claiming adherence to such a system (e.g. saying "I am a socialist") has their agency subverted by the political ideology. To tell people one belongs to doctrines, in our neoliberal ideology, allows one to be removed from any consideration of the truth and allows the barbarity of falsehoods to be used.
Demands of Humanity: Replacing the Premise
My pointing out of the subversive nature of ideologically presupposed language is to make the point that the gilet jaunes, thus far, have resisted such tagging. Their demands have been pretty straightforward, perhaps not collectively but individually, as far as I can tell, and their demands have been analyzed without a reactive, uniting response from the protesters. While it may seem counter-intuitive, this disorganization is the strength of the Yellow Vests. The Neoliberal ideology thrives on the efficient, organized set of ideas. Everything with a category, everything with a purpose, everything with a weakness.
However, while disorganized, I see the Yellow Vests and their demands as not only being caused by our ideological pricing of progress and footing said bill, but as a good attempt at responding uniquely to this issue. If you notice, the grounding of the demands they have are not in some sort of uniting doctrine that attempts to achieve an objective, cold position, but rather in the most human of positions. In a video done by The Intercept, an online news publication, they went about asking the protesters not only what they wanted, but why. To the question of why, a perfect moment for some sort of sweeping, rhetorically beautiful answer, they instead answered more along the lines of a gritty humanism: they would prefer not to starve. Rather than railing against the system, or making some speech towards revolution, or arguing that "taxation is theft", they demanded a tax being removed because they would like to eat, and would like to have heat, and would like to be able to afford the electric bill. In short, they would like to live.
This is a replacing of the premise from something specific and political to something deeper and human. Instead of playing into the political constructs of our system, they have rooted their position in their own agency. They have rejected politics as a form of morality, replacing it with their own existential agency. How can one twist the desire to survive, to live, into an ideological subversion? I am optimistic enough to believe one cannot.
It seems to me that the Yellow Vests have taken a tentative first step towards fighting the ideological presuppositions of their system, by replacing the premises of which their demands are made from political ones to existential ones. Moving away from arguing for what they wish based on political doctrines or ideas to arguing for what they want based on the need for survival. The ideologues and pundits will continue to try tagging this protest, to claim it has leanings one way or another. I ask of those in yellow: do not sway, do not bend, do not give way. The label are but an attempt to subvert you, to move you from your existential desires to the politically constructed duty you are demanded to hold. Do not be Atlas, the sky need not be on your shoulders anymore. Neoliberalism cannot integrate survival into it's ever tolerant mechanism for preservation, for to it, survival is to be sacrificed for "progress". You have no need to be placed on an altar.