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STRAW MAN ARGUMENT!

You are not a fox, neither is any other human being. You might as well have said that Mike Leigh's argument is false because ocean fish aren't interested the quality of our manicures. You are mixing up logical levels. Politics is about *human* relations. Foxes or other non-human opportunists are not relevant. (Ecology... now that's a real system theorist's game, but you are skipping that too)

The 'activist's argument' holds well enough because it demonstrates that if you do nothing (or do 'the usual thing', you are supporting the 'status quo', which is an entirely political (or rather ideological) act. This is quite true, and I challenge you to find an example (from Ms. Arhendt, perhaps) where doing nothing can be seen to be apolitical. The train driver who routinely ferried his human cargo to Auschwitz may well say that he acted apolitically, but we all know that this is not true. To not drive the train would have been politically significant, therefore it is significant that he drives the train 'as usual'.

This is what is meant by 'ideological consciousness'. Yes, Marx is out of fashion, but Zizek has demonstrated rather well that his concept of ideology (or R.A. Wilson's "Reality Tunnel" or Bateson's concept of 'Epistemology' - the relationship of world-view with sensorial reality) are entirely useful and absolutely political.

Brennan: thanks for your challenge here, albeit melodramatically enjoined in all caps! :)

"Politics is about *human* relations. Foxes or other non-human opportunists are not relevant."

But *why* aren't they relevant? There is a tacit assumption here which I am attempting to challenge in this piece, and you buy into it straight away in your challenge. You assume that "political" and "human" go hand in hand... but then you must explain what the boundaries of "human" are to be, and why these boundaries are meaningful to assert in finding what is or is not political. If the fox is to be excluded, it cannot simply be because it is not human; there must be something humans do that foxes do not that creates the boundary of relevance here.

My argument looks like a straw man to you because you don't think the fox is relevant to the issue - but via the fox, and the other examples cited, I seek to show that there are assumptions at work in the Activist's Argument that need to be exposed before we can understand how we are using the term "political". I am assuming this term is a meaningful notion; if it just means something akin to "human", it is not independently meaningful, being merely a synonym for the activities of one species. But I don't think this is really how political gets its sense in our language. Do you?

The comatose woman is "human" - is she political? How? You challenge me for an example of apolitical nonaction, well, the woman in a coma is exactly that. Can you really advance an argument that she is political? And if not, and assuming you accept that she is a human, then something is wrong with the plumbing underneath the floorboards of the classic Activist's Argument.

I can suggest another perspective here. *When* did "everything become political for humans"? If we go back to, say, 200,000 years ago we have anatomical homo sapiens, and we can presume they are living in family units. Families very similar to those that other social mammals live in, such as meerkats and chimpanzees. So is "everything political" for these early humans? Because if it is, and assuming you accept my claim that these early humans are not in any fundamental way different from other communal mammals, then the justification criteria for "political" seems somehow to be *genetic* which would be very, very strange indeed, and would quickly unravel under scrutiny.

We have a choice, here, in whether to accept politics in a weaker sense as applying to other social mammals, or to insist upon politics in a stronger sense, in which it requires the discussion in public spaces (as suggested by Arendt) or some similar criteria. But if we take the strong sense (along Arendt's lines, at least), it still doesn't make all action into politics - all actions may be related in some way to political topics, and be in this sense political actions, but the strong sense of politics requires the public space for discussion first and foremost - it is this which gives us politics.

On this reading, a dictatorship in which the people simply went blindly along with what their tyrant ordered wouldn't be political either, at least not inherently. The people under a dictator would become political only when they began to talk together and work together towards certain ends (whether in support of, or in opposition of, the tyrant). Even if this activity is guaranteed to take place (and this is probably so!), this doesn't warrant using "politics" to describe absolutely *anything* that happens. This understanding of what we mean by "politics" seems to me to be more defensible than the view that "everything humans do is political because they are human", a view I do not find convincing. If you do, the onus is on you to mount a serious defence.

Your train driver argument doesn't cut the mustard, here; he is clearly acting politically - he is executing a political programme. It would equally be a political act to not drive the train in this instance. But either way, that doesn't make driving a train political. That train driving can be done as part of political action in some circumstances doesn't make train driving political, per se; it is precisely this connection that I am challenging here - the separation of what we mean by "political" from political actions. If a person has a private train in the grounds of their home that they run from electricity garnered from a windmill, is driving this train political? Why?

My claim (following Arendt) is that "political" must involve discussion in public spaces. Where there is not this possibility, nothing can be political. It is precisely because we as humans conduct this activity at all that it looks like "everything is political" for us; politics has become part of our background of understanding. But "Political" is not an adjective describing everything humans do (equivalent to, say, a term like "homanidine" or "humanish") and if it were the term would be next to useless. "Political" refers to politics - which goes on between humans via discussion of topics. Anything can be one of those topics, but that doesn't make just anything political by default.

What I am claiming is that the term "political" has meaning only with respect to a particular group living together. So if the early humans were political, it would be internal to their group - and if so, then the chimpanzees and meerkats are also political relative to their groups (these species both having social power relations, language use, personal relationships etc). The foxes in my example above are perhaps not considered to be a proper instance of politics *because they are not involved in any political process with us*. They can still potentially be political with each other in the weak sense, and if one claims otherwise then we have to identify what it is about politics that renders it so uniquely human. This process will not be as trivial as you seem to want to assume, although I have taken some steps towards it in this comment.

The "everything is political" argument makes a lot of presuppositions which I am not convinced by. A remote hill tribe living in balance with its local environment does not politically engage with me and my world of Western politics, even though it may engage politically on an internal level within the tribe. To simply say that everything a hill tribe member does "is political" doesn't really specify anything meaningful. If one wants to expand the domain of connection between humans to include, for instance, our sharing a common atmosphere, then we have to face the issue that non-human species which are political among themselves in the weak sense are also affected by and contribute to these same issues and in substantially the same way.

Put briefly, my general claim could be stated as "No communication, no politics."

I am tempted to say that politics as we understand it began with the city - which is, after all, the origin of the word "politics". Only when people began to live together in large numbers (a change facilitated in part by certain advances in language) did anything we can meaningfully call politics in the strong sense emerge. It emerged in Athenian democracy, but it also emerged in the Court of the Emperor of China and everywhere else civilisations occurred. When people live together, politics becomes necessary between them. But it does not happen automatically, and the boundary of the political is not, I claim, something to be defended at the level of a species but by identifying an activity we engage in which can be meaningfully called 'political'. I believe the most likely candidate is the communication we engage in whereby we exchange perspectives, but I welcome alternative viewpoints on this matter.

Cheers!

"What the activist hoping to spur people into politics might consider offering is not the empty circularity that “everything is political”, but rather the hopeful proposal that “everything political is achievable if we can agree to act together”."

Your proposal doesn't work on a t-shirt. The beauty of "Everything is Political" is it's empty circularity. It acts like a koan, setting thought in motion.

"Put briefly, my general claim could be stated as "No communication, no politics.""

To this I respond with a koan-like proposition from communication theory.

One cannot not communicate.

(Everything is political.)

Rodger: thanks for your comment!

"One cannot not communicate."

Perhaps not, but one can communicate badly and communicate to few or many. So even if one cannot avoid communicating, one does have choices as to the degree of communication. Perhaps I should have said that politics requires more, not less communication. ;)

I particularly enjoyed your remark:

"Your proposal doesn't work on a t-shirt. The beauty of 'Everything is Political' is it's empty circularity. It acts like a koan, setting thought in motion."

What a beautiful way of looking at sound-bites, as modern koan!

Thanks for sharing your viewpoint!

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