An intuition and a hypothesis rather than a thesis.
01. There is a dominant (hegemonic, if you will) conception of the world, and its name is neoliberalism.
02. Neoliberalism — the management of life by business — is a global logic, but it exists in every one of the places where we experience reality (the school, the workplace, the street, our relations with others…).
03. If neoliberalism is reproduced every day it is not only through coercion and fear, but also because 1) it is self-evident and 2) it is desirable. It is self-evident in a myriad of life situations where one must think of oneself as a business and of the other as a competitor. It becomes desirable through a myriad of signs that carry its promise of success, of self-realisation, of freedom.
04. Neoliberalism passes through our bodies. It does not sustain itself through what our opinion of it is, but through what it makes us feel. We could all be against it and yet the machine could go on working undisturbed. Because we are against in the abstract and in general, but in the concrete situations in which we live the everyday it becomes self-evident and desirable. It holds all meaning. (‘Tiene todo el sentido‘)
05. Global neoliberalism is challenged locally and concretely. By opposing it, in any place of our experience, with other practical definitions of what is evident and what is desirable.
06. Social change entails the multiplication and generalisation of these practices. They are fragile, ambivalent, discontinuous, but they already prefigure a different society, another definition of reality. A new hegemony.
Making the square: 15M, the mareas, the PAH (Mortgage Victims’ Platform)
07. The squares of the 15M were at once a challenge to the neoliberal definition of reality (a NO) and the production of a new reality (a YES).
08. First of all, a NO. “We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers”, “They do not represent us”. A NO pronounced with one’s body, with others, in the street. A NO that redefines reality: the threshold between what we tolerate and what we no longer tolerate, between the just and the unjust, the decent and the indecent. And which breaks (with its deeds) with a regime of what is self-evident and what is desirable.
09. Secondly, a YES. A YES that did not consist so much of a programme as the making of a common experience of a better world than the one offered to us daily by neoliberalism.
The squares were an experience of cooperation between people who did not know each other, were the others were not instruments or obstacles, but rather accomplices and equals. A kind of anonymity, where there was a dissolving of the classifications and identifies that establish each day who is who and who can do what. An experience of activation, where we discovered ourselves capable of doing things that we generally delegate. An experience of lushness and enjoyment, where the abundance of time and relations, alongside care for our collective life, became the true measure of “wealth” and the “good life”. An experience, then, of the intensification of the common dimension of existence.
10. This experience materially questions the neoliberal definition of reality: the self as a firm, the search for profit as the motor of behaviours, competition as the principle governing relations with others, property and consumption as measures of wealth and the good life, the world as a mass of opportunities to be monetised. This is the substantive content of the ‘real democracy’ that people laid claim to in the squares.
11. The various mareas, the PAH and many other initiatives have multiplied the experience of 15M, translating it and dispersing it into a thousand corners of everyday life. Redefining what is just and unjust through the NO: “The health system is not for sale”; “This hospital is not closing”, “Our neighbour will not be evicted”. Creating new spaces and times where the YES might be lived. We call this operation “making the square”.
12. One can “make the square” in the squares or outside of them,1 with actions and with words, in the exceptional and the everyday, with others and even alone. To make the square is to oppose one world to another, or place one world in another. Concretely, putting oneself there, with one’s body, poking holes in the institutional definition of reality and producing new meanings for social life. Elements of a different conception of the world.
13. This form of political action, making the square, is anything but easy. For a thousand reasons.
Because it is difficult to do things with people who are different from us, to change one’s immediate surrondings and oneself.
Because today the harshest of scenes is unfolding and accelerating, the precaritisation of life, institutional lockdown and repression.
Because we lack forms of organisation which make political action a long term habit, save for full time activists.
Because our mental schemes of reference (the imaginary of revolution, etc.) do not fit our practices and give little value or visibility to that which is not epic.
Faced with the thousands of difficulties we meet in practice, there is a rebirth of the tempting illusion of a shortcut: the “taking of power”, (political) power as a fulcrum of change.
14. Statocentrism is the name we give to a type of gaze that places political power at the centre of preoccupations, expectations and desires for social change. Let us add three buts.
15. The statocentric gaze sees political power as the cause-engine-source of social changes. Reaching it will therefore put us in a position to change society.
But, the power of political power depends on what happens in the everyday places of experience. What can and cannot be done is interlinked and conditioned by the conflicts that permeate the thousands of situations that take place at the base of society. There is no macro without micro.
As such, it is a fatal strategy to empty time, desire, attention and energy from all these situations in order to concentrate on reaching political power, because the latter depends on what these situations allow and enable it to do.
16. The statocentric gaze proposes to think of social change as a conflict between the political class (“chancers, crooks, liars”) and a “we” that is essentially healthy (“the real people”, “decent folk”, “the multitudes”). It would be sufficient for “the good guys” to reach power (through their representatives) to change the state of things.
But neoliberalism is in fact a co-production. With different levels, but we all produce it among ourselves (by entering into competition with our neighbour, by speculating, etc.). It is not enough to be against “the bad guys” as if there were about the place somewhere a “good us” that already existed. A new reality has to be created (and we have to change with it).
17. The statocentric gaze pursues above all the “creation of public opinion”. What for? It is simple: public opinion translates into votes and votes confer political power. As such, the main actors in this idea of politics are the intellectuals who articulate discourse.
Pedagogical politics, politics of explanation: it is primarily a matter of occupying the media and convincing the other, thought of as a spectator and voter.
But neoliberalism is not first of all a discourse, but rather an everyday practice crystallised in habits and affects. As such it is a question of opening spaces where we might make other experiences of life (in relation to work, with thinking, with money, etc.), in which the other appears as an accomplice and an equal.
The multilayered and multichanneled revolution
18. It is not a matter of turning one’s back on the problem of political power, but rather de-centring it, by placing it on the inside of a wider process of the construction of a new reality.
Statocentric discourse holds that right now it is a matter of passing “from the social to the political”, as if what happened in the squares had not been political. But it is not a matter of moving from one (inferior) thing to another (superior) thing, but at any rate to open up yet another plane.
19. “Multilayered and multichanneled revolution” is the image proposed by a friend to think and imagine a complex social change (that is: not a statocentric one).
It means that there is no privileged point that marks out rhythms, positions and the course of action for others: election times, the conjuncture…
What there is is a plurality of times, spaces and subjects, each one of them precious and necessary in so far as they set out, with their body and by being there, new regimes of what is self-evident and desirable. A party of a new kind can be one more point in this constellation.
20. God has died, but there are still too many vanguards that seek to occupy his place: the vision of everything in general from nowhere in particular.
Let us not talk about what is to be done, thinking on behalf of everyone, but rather what we can do, wherever it is that we have situated our body.
21. The multilayered and multichanneled paradigm is a paradigm of abundance, not scarcity. That is, it does not depart from what reality “lacks” in order to be what it “ought to be”, but rather the marvellous and marvelling affirmation that there are already a thousand experiences and situations in train, of which there are already currents of sympathy and flows of communication.
(A highly important ‘militant-function’ here would be to de-centre one’s gaze and help us see and value the potency of what normally remains covered up. One example, then another.)
22. Organisation, in this paradigm, does not consist of “fusing” or “uniting” different experiences into a bloc, but rather composing them, establishing communications between them, and connecting them into a network without a centre.
It is above all an art of the encounter: the creation of bonds between situations, tools, devices, times, knowledges, concepts, images.
23. This art of the encounter requires above all the fine-tuning of a faculty: the faculty of listening. The statocentric gaze is incapable of listening to the singularity of experiences and situations. It only hears what it wants to hear. It is interested in struggles and movements only “in so far as” they serve its plans. Its closeness is rhetorical and instrumental.
But struggles are valid “in themselves” on account of the possibilities they open, the realities they generate, and not “for” something else. An encounter is not generated by fitting pieces into a plan, but rather by starting from the intimacy of one’s own experiences: their own rhythms, problems and potencies.
24. A social change that is multilayered and multichanneled follows what someone called a “strategy without strategists”. No one directs it according to a plan, they are practices that multiply and spread by imprinting, via intensification, a new global direction to reality, effects “without an author”.
25. Transformational hegemony is not the (quantitative) hegemony of opinion, but rather the (qualitative) hegemony of behaviours. It is not a media-based phenomenon, but rather a massive re-routing of the direction of life.
Amador Fernández-Savater is a participant in the Spanish May 15th movement, thinker, publisher, independent researcher, and one of the most stimulating and provocative writers from and about the new movements and their new forms of politics.
Originally published on the Interferencias blog on eldiario.es, 11th April 2014.
Translated by Richard MacAleavy on Cunning Hired Knaves
- Translation note: He uses the term ‘hacer plaza‘, which has no elegant translation in English, at least not from this source. What it means literally is to ‘make the square’, or to ‘do the square’, the square in this context being the site of public assembly and occupation that proliferated after 15-M. With ‘making’/’doing’ he is referring to the entire range of democratic practices that unfolded on these sites. I have translated it, inelegantly, as ‘making the square’. ↩