"NOTES ON PRECARITY"
On this May Day, a day in which we honor liberatory struggles across history and around the world, NOW! Journal presents a series of short works: “Notes on Precarity.” These are films made in response to America's new, more nakedly malevolent political regime, but also to the deep structures of inequality and violence which are the purview of no single political party or reckless xenophobic demagogue. There is mourning in these works, ennui, and a sense of overwhelming odds. But there is also reflection, conversation, action, and ultimately, resistance. A famous Wobbly slogan tells us, DON’T MOURN ORGANIZE! Fine advice indeed, but as these films show us, the two processes need not be mutually exclusive. Mourning brings compassion, empathy, and solidarity. Organizing is its articulation, its praxis. So on this May Day, we say: MOURN! ORGANIZE!
CALL FOR NEW WORKS!!!
NOW! A Journal of Urgent Praxis is accepting new submissions in response to our contemporary political moment. We are seeking films, texts, images, poems, GIFs, and collages that respond to and/or express reactions, feelings, frustrations, and thoughts about these dark political times. Anger over the (not new) white supremacy of our country, frustrations over the Dakota Access Pipeline, reactions to Trump and his upcoming inauguration day, notes on resistance and visions of hope are all welcome. We encourage especially the creation of new works made with the immediacy and urgency that these times call for.
Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis for NOW! Journal.
(Please send submissions to: email@example.com)
UNTHINKING FASCISM by Ian Alan Paul
Since this Fall I've been part of the faculty at a small university in the West Bank of Palestine, a unique and unquestionably defamiliarizing vantage point from which I've somewhat obsessively been following the U.S. election and its fallout from afar. Every morning I swipe across the surface of my phone on my way to work as we pass through one checkpoint and then another, eventually driving along the graffitied separation wall itself as bright pixels blink in and out of existence with each subtle drag of my finger. The screen scrolls past countless debates between friends on facebook concerning what speculative direction Trump's authoritarianism will first follow, past photos of demonstrations filled with tear gas and banners and masks and police that at some point become indistinguishable and blend together with one another, past colorful animated memes of Trump, of Hillary, and of exasperated liberal celebrities still unable to come to terms with an outcome that even the victors seem to not have fully anticipated. The other day, just after I wrapped up a lecture on the politics of reenactment and brought the class to a close, several of my students approached me and asked about how I was responding to Trump's election, and specifically inquired as to whether I thought he was a fascist. It's a term that has widely circulated, off of tongues and across wireless networks alike, seemingly without much consideration or constraint in the days that have followed November 8th. Both online as well as in the classrooms, cafes, and bars of the West Bank, related and unrelated to the U.S. elections, everyone seems to be wondering what it means to rethink fascism today.
In the end I wasn't able to give them a simple answer, largely because I haven't reached any firm conclusions myself, but nonetheless we were able to have a generative discussion regarding what fascism was, and how we could potentially begin to think about it in new fashions today. After they had left to catch the bus home, I felt the need to return to the work of Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher who was forced to flee Nazism and soon after emerged as one its fiercest and most prolific critics. She's a scholar I've studied but have never formally written about, but nonetheless the force of ideas and way of thinking about the world left a lasting impression on me since the first time I read her work as a young college student myself. This felt need to return to her writing didn't come to the surface because I think Trump is necessarily a fascist, but because Arendt's critique of fascism seems to remain provocative and, unfortunately, in some way apropos to the present we slowly finding ourselves all waking up within. As I recall, her critique takes on two different forms which are interconnected and rely upon one another, and interestingly they aren't political or economic in nature but rather mobilize the human condition itself as their basis. Now, I think it's perhaps worthwhile to attempt to return to her arguments again to see if we can potentially put her particular way of thinking about fascism to new use.
Her first claim regarding the banality of fascism is probably most familiar, although unfortunately it's too often passed off as a clichéd platitude. When Arendt describes the banality of fascism, she's not making a claim regarding the boring or everyday qualities it takes on (although fascism unquestionably also operates in this way), but rather she is trying to make clear fascism's profound disinterestedness and inattentiveness to the world it inhabits. In other words, her first charge against fascism can be reframed as an accusation that fascism is guilty of failing to think. Her argument here relies upon a particular definition of thinking, one that differentiates itself from the routine ways we engage with the world that are often defined by bureaucratic or administrative tasks that become normalized unthought actions repetitively taken without consideration. For Arendt, thinking was in contrast about wrestling with the plurality and diversity of the world, of confronting, relentlessly again and again, what is unknown and is to some degree perpetually unknowable in other people. Interestingly, this also means thinking with oneself, of having a conversation with an internal other that allows you to critically reflect on your own actions and ways of being in the world. Ultimately, the fascist fails to think, and is thus banal, because they don't see this otherness that is ineradicably part of humanity and its radical plurality. As a result of failing to see this otherness in others and in themselves, they are in some way removed from the very thing which Arendt argues makes us human: our capacity to think. It's a beautiful and incredibly rich argument, and I think is something we should continue taking up in the present as we think about Trumpism, but this is only the first part of her critique.
Arendt's second and possibly more important claim regarding fascism concerns how we should treat fascists when they put their beliefs into practice through the exclusion and, at the extreme, extermination of those that they refuse to share the world with. In rejecting the inherent plurality of humanity as well as refusing to think it, the fascist claims the world for themselves and denies any other person's right to it. Just as Arendt thinks that it is the act of thinking that makes us human because of the way that it unavoidably brings us into relation with others, she also thinks that the act of inhabiting the world and necessarily coexisting with different others makes up the very basis of our human condition, of what it means to be human. In fact, for Arendt, thinking is only possible because of this plurality, this unavoidable and necessary encounter with otherness, even if it was with the otherness that can only be found within oneself. And so when fascists refuse to share the world with others, Arendt claims that they are refusing to be part of that which makes them human and are thus are excluding themselves from the human condition and from humanity itself. In other words, when fascists refuse others, they give up the very thing that supports the claim that anyone else should be expected to share the world with them.
What does this all mean for the present? As I said at the beginning, I hesitate to say that Trump and all of his followers are fascists or should be blanketly treated as such. However, I do think that we should respond to any claim that immigrants, or Muslims, or queers, or women are somehow not eligible to fully share the world with us with the same critical ferocity that Arendt responded to the Nazis with. Whether in Standing Rock, or in New York, or in Flint, or in Ferguson, or in Jerusalem, or in Ramallah or in Istanbul, or in Cairo, or in Aleppo, or in Calais, or in Johannesburg, or in Berlin, or in Moscow, or in Hong Kong, or in Ayotzinapa, if anyone chooses to exclude others from the ineradicable human right to plural coexistence, then we should treat them as if they themselves have forfeited their right to our coexistence with them. Arendt's critique should ultimately be understood as a demand that we must incessantly think, to see others anew in every encounter with them and to not let the banal impinge upon our capacity to do so. It is a demand to understand that our coexistent plurality must be the very foundation of our politics, ethics, and ways of living, being, and resisting in this world. It is a demand to see the fact of our coexistence as also being the basis of our equality, the thing that grants us our equal right to exist with one another. Finally, and perhaps most urgently, it is a demand to radically refuse those that have unthinkingly refused others.