March 29, 2011

Resistance: On Groups, Individuals, Performance

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What is the issue?

The other day, I’m walking down the street only to find myself accosted by a young woman asking me to join Greenpeace — which is not as much a joining as it is a paying. One doesn’t join Greenpeace: one pays Greenpeace to do various things, I suppose, including accost people on the street.

Now, don’t get yourself in a tizzy (I’ve never written that word before: tizzy. I like it). Greenpeace might very well be a fine organization doing a world of good. I have no idea. Nor, really, do I care. What interests me is that this encounter was such a familiar encounter: it was consumerist. That is, Greenpeace mimics any other corporate brand, hocking its wares for money in exchange for stickers, tote bags, and that sense of having done something good. When, in fact, all you did was buy more shit.

Again, don’t get yourself in a tizzy. What I’m pointing to is the performance. That is, put aside the content for a moment — Greenpeace — and just look at the structure of behavior: it’s the same old shit. And I think — I stress this part: I think — that real change happens when structures of behavior change, not when we do the same old shit under a different umbrella.

And then there’s the whole group thing. I have what seems to be an ingrained resistance to groups. I don’t join ‘em, however formal or informal. I don’t even have a group of friends — I swore off that shit after the hell of group politics that was college. I prefer the lone encounter. Or solitude.

But I am not advocating the selfish individualism that runs rampant in the US. I just don’t think that the way to resist said selfishness is through groups. Groups, as far as I can tell, foment sameness and with that violence: adhere to the group or die. (Think of that Seinfeld where Kramer refuses to wear the AIDS ribbon and they kick his ass for it. In fact, this is an ongoing theme of Larry David’s throughout “Seinfeld,” culminating in the finale which finds them in jail for apparent moral indifference.)

I return, then, to WS Burroughs’ ethics of the Johnson: the one who doesn’t stick his nose where it doesn’t belong but at the same time won’t let someone drown. This is my kind of ethics — rabidly individual but at the time thoroughly societal: A society of individuals.

And this is my politics, my ethics, my idea, my rhetoric: to build towards a society of individuals, a way to go with others but without demanding unity. This entails tolerance — who gives a fuck who wants to marry whom? Who gives a shit who fucks whom? And it implies a certain appreciation of diversity — after all, it’s a society of individuals and being an individual means being different. And so public discourse itself changes — rather than a media of conformity, we begin a media of multiplicity. And it asks for basic politeness, a sense of civility in the public arena: politeness allows individuals to negotiate public space without violence. It marks a respect for the other individual.

There are no doubt those who say: We don’t need more individuals. We need more cohesion, more togetherness. Perhaps. But I, for one, like my space and don’t want to give it up. And so I imagine a different kind of interconnectedness, a network of individuals. TC mark

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