We live in a violent world. There was a video circulating around my Facebook friends a while ago that analyzed the data of all the killings and deaths during the Second World War, which was making the point that, by economy of scale, we live in a remarkably peaceful world.
But even though we’re far from the constant mass slaughter of the Second World War, we still live in a world where organized crime, civil conflicts, and wars between states kill many every day. I wrote yesterday, in part, about how I think we should all honestly admit that the multi-front war in the Middle East – interconnected conflicts in Libya, Syria and Iraq, and Yemen with participants and bankrollers from overseas – is the Third World War.
|Today's American face of conservatism, reaction,
Slowly working on a giant book of philosophy about political and social revolution means I have to confront the problem of justifying violence. My ultimate conclusion will be very anti-violence and anti-war, but I know I’ll have to accept that there’ll inevitably be some violence in any serious political change.
Think about the most obvious example, given events of the last week in Charleston. #BlackLivesMatter and the affiliated mass protests in Ferguson, New York City, Boston, Cleveland, and elsewhere throughout North America, in the most optimistic case, can radically transform society in the United States.
If American society truly learns the lessons that these demonstrations and conversation offer, then the movement will have produced genuine and transformative social progress. But the cost in murdered people is already so high. One of the major questions underlying my Utopias manuscript is whether social progress is worth that violence and death, and whether a cost-benefit analysis is even appropriate. My thoughts right now on the subject are that it’s more of a perversion.
The problem of violence in social change is why I’m going back to Marinetti and the Italian Futurists as a central philosophical source. They express an admirable energy to smash the conservative, mothballed social structure and elite that hold society back. Read Marinetti’s manifestos, and you can see clearly why I call the Futurists proto-punks.
But their ideology is terrifying. It calls for humanity and the entire Earth to be remade through industrial technology, literally the mechanization of man. It calls for the totalitarian governance of society to mobilize people for constant industrial production. A world without forests; a paved world, every road a highway. His dream of a greater Italy is an Italian colonial empire that stretches farther than the greatest reach of the Caesars’ Rome.
Marinetti calls for permanent revolution, the constant production and flow of “courage, power, and energy” to overcome the old before they become entrenched in positions of power and calcify a culture. And his revolution is violent: bloodletting and war. It’s a combination of rebellion and patriotism, because the revolution’s purpose would be to inject your society with the courage and energy to make it a great power.
|Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, another face
of conservatism, reaction, and repression sitting at
the heart of the Third World War.
Dealing with this contention will require a lot of thought about what violence can achieve, and when it’s unfortunately necessary. The only response to many of the tyrants in the Middle East, the site of the Third World War, is organized violence. Bashar Assad would never leave office through the peaceful demands of demonstrations. Same with the Saudi and Jordanian monarchy, the Hamas government of Gaza, and the repressive military dictatorship of Abdel al-Sisi in Egypt.
Yet the best hope for peace in Israel is the voice of groups like Meretz, who call for reconciliation and sacrifice in the name of building a peaceful nation of two states. They’ve chosen the most difficult path, which is also the most admirable one.
The central theme of Utopias is the tension between violence and social revolution. How we achieve our dreams of a better world and the substance of those dreams.
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Reading list, to supplement this. Hannah Arendt’s voice will be enormously important to working through this problem. After mulling over Marinetti, I realized I should look into some of the writings of Vladimir Lenin on revolution, and Mao Zedong on the concept of permanent revolution. And Alain Badiou’s elaborations on Mao’s philosophy.
Playing the ideas of Antonio Negri and Etienne Balibar off each other will be very productive too. Negri has already been very influential on my political thinking over the last few years.