Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Smash the State...Literally

“I guess having been out in the front lines of conflict for most of my life, I just haven't had the time to grow older. Anyway, death usually comes suddenly and unexpectedly to people in my line of work, so I don't worry about it.” Saul Alinsky

“We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.” Buenaventura Durruti

“Marcos is every untolerated, oppressed, exploited minority that is resisting and saying, "Enough already!" He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak, their way to speak. Everything that makes Power and the good consciences
of those in power uncomfortable - this is Marcos.” Subcommandante Marcos

These three quotes encapsulate the key aspects of V the character and V the ideal.

First we’ve got Alinksy. This quote has a lot to do with V’s conception of freedom, namely that we can only break out of our mental and physical prison by acknowledging our mortality. Through this action we come to understand that our fears are weak and unfounded. If we are willing to accept that death may come whenever, then we must also accept that we must live life. To accede to the demands of those in power is a foolish thing under this new mental framework. For even if you may live longer as a favored pet, you’re still not free and you’re still gonna die sooner or later. It’s a matter of living “lives of quiet desperation” or truly living. The individual that accepts that they cannot live forever and understands it on that “gut level” will no longer cower in deference, because what’s the point? As the old saying goes “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!”

Second we’ve got Durruti. This goes to V’s notion of the destroyer and creator. Like Durruti, V does not fear ruins, in fact he welcomes them. He knows that society has every ability to build something else in its place; all it needs is to be freed from the shackles of authority. This is central to understanding V. The creation of ruins is central to his belief system and mode of social organization. As an insurrectionary anarchist, V believes that the inherent dissatisfaction of the masses can explode when they witness the spectacular destruction of authority. What differentiates V from others is that he seems unable to do much more than to destroy. V is so warped from his own torturous past that he must commit a kind of suicide. Only with Evey, the girl who won’t kill, can we bring about a new time of anarchy.

I think this points to the main weakness in Vs ideals. The “land of do what you please” is awesome. As yall have probably surmised I’m all down with it. My issue is that by simply destroying the authoritarian apparatuses, V does not create an environment for positive social organization. He creates a system that may or may not produce a new norsefire. Why? Just like V, all of society has been warped by centuries, even millennia, of hierarchical rule. Yes we all have a very strong cooperative instinct and when push comes to shove, most folks are whole lot more cooperative than competitive. But the matter remains, that whatever competitiveness they had has been exacerbated a million fold, while cooperative behavior has been crushed. We cannot overlook the massive power that socialization has on people and their behavior. By and large what we term as “human nature” is really just what we’ve socially conditioned people to engage in. Unsurprisingly our current sickly batch of prominent businesspeople, public intellectuals and politicians seem to think we’re all greedy bastards. How convenient for them.

Under a different social setup this “human nature” would be different. The great problem with V is that he does not try and change anyone’s socialized behavior…except for Evey. Everyone else is still programmed as they were before, to be sheep. And while their natural impulses to egalitarianism and freedom are certainly heightened in this environment, they are also hungry, confused and unsure. I can only hope that their recent encounter with the State has left them with a bad taste in their mouth.

Though all is not lost. For at least here our revolutionaries are faceless and unable to take up a seat in government. This is where the third quote comes in. For those that don’t know, Subcommandante Marcos is a spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation or EZLN. The EZLN rose up in 1994 in the Mexican state of Chiapas. They soon declared a ceasefire and have since used a mix of violent and non violent tactics to secure better lives for their communities, which are mainly composed of poor Mayan farmers. What makes the EZLN special is that they advocate for revolutionary pluralism and participatory democracy…not Marxist Leninism. They place heavy emphasis that their leaders are accountable and controlled by the communities at large. Part of this is expressed in that all major EZLN leaders wear ski masks at all public events. Thus the leadership can never fully develop a cult personality. Further this seemingly mere security measure forces the observer to think that the Zapatista could be anyone, anywhere. The mask, much like V’s, is a way to include others in the movement and to destroy the potential of charismatic leaders. For just as Evey points out, the man or woman behind the mask will always turn out to be smaller than the symbol they became.

This is important to understanding V. His insistence on retaining total anonymity is probably his best organizing tool. He forces the rest of us to take responsibility for ourselves and each other. We can’t put our faith in him as he’s just a shadowy figure, one without a mass organization behind him or a specific party line. V, as any good organizer knows, seeks to open space so that others can step in and organize/transform for themselves. He does not seek to lead or control them; rather he is a grand facilitator… a facilitator of people and high explosives..

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