neljapäev, veebruar 11, 2010

On the Responsibility of Being Against

Enne, kui läheb lahti põhjalikum diskussioon rahvuslus-kriitiliste näituse teemadel, saatis Carl-Dag Lige ühe oma varem avaldatud teksti (algselt ilmunud Helsingi Ülikooli esteetikatudengite lehes RSYKE, numbri teemaks oli Counter Culture), et tuletada meelde alati aptetiitse vastu-olemise vastutuskoormat!

Before we start more elaborated discussion here on national-critical (exhibiton), Carl-Dag Lige send one of his text on responsibility of ever-so-seductive being-against position. Text is published before in RYSKE (Helsinki University Aesthetics Students paper, under special issue Counter Culture).

ATTENTION! Programmatic text!

In the western globalized world the notion of counter-culture seems to have two generally understood meanings. First, counter-culture seems to be understood as a political activity, usually in the form of more/less radical activism. Neo-Nazis, anarchists, anti-globalists, Islamic fundamentalists might have different value systems, but they all have in common the stance of contradicting themselves with the ruling “body” (a particular religion, governments, capitalism, consumption-ism) and the will to publicly demonstrate their revolt and criticism. The second meaning of the notion of counter-culture seems to be related to the sphere of popular culture and the consumerist society – different sub-cultures from hip-hop and reggae to kyary and gothic. The latter are usually considered as having considerably less political ambition than the former ones. It has even been said that the pop-sub-cultures have lost their initial aim of cultural criticism – that capitalism has literally swallowed them and turned their originality/alternativity to an ordinary product of consumption. The most characteristic of those groups are definitely the followers of the otaku-culture in Japan.
Anthropologists, sociologists and narratologists have written about the myth of contradiction as one of the fundamental features of the human culture and the Western society in particular. Many of the theoreticians like to emphasize the importance of the difference between US and THEM. This is a view by which a foreign force, be it a culture or a person, is the key factor for constructing one’s own identity. We need the stranger and the enemy to build our own understanding of the world. If there would not be a force to be in conflict with, then it should be made up. One of the sources of this kind of view is clearly the tradition of Judeo-Christian as well as Islamic culture. But I do not want to go too deep to investigate the origin and the truth-quality of this understanding of opposition as the generative force of culture. Simply admitting the fact that a lot of things happening around us everyday are counter-activities, I would like to draw attention to the ethics of BEING AGAINST.
Through the 20th century a large amount of left-wing criticism was headed against different formations of the modern capitalist (nation-)state. Marxism was a source which fuelled the ideology of the totalitarian communist regimes as well as the soft-core Euro communists. Many of the student movements also drew from Marxism. Marxist philosophy became the general theory as well as the practice of being against. I do not want to over-emphasize the role of Marx’s philosophy but to draw attention to the fact that his initial idealist view of the egalitarian society transformed into the heavy-artillery of the oppressed.
Being an idealist myself, the idea of an egalitarian society is fascinating. I personally support the political left. I believe that every human being has the right for a dignity of life and equality with others. Yet, there seems to be a remarkable chasm between the idealism of the view and the possibilities of its implementation. Taking a closer look at the history of the 20th century, we can see that in most cases where the leftist politics was implemented, the success was scarce. The well-fare society of the Nordic countries might be the best example of the humanist government based on socialist ideals. But in most of the cases when the Marxist, socialist critique escalated, the forces which advocated those views were not able to take command. In the few cases of a successful revolution, the initial egalitarian ideals were soon supplanted with totalitarian methods as in the case of the Communist Russia and Cuba.
99% of the leftist critique seems to be like a barking of a dog. The critic, be it a simple worker or a philosopher, is not satisfied, but at the same time not able to take command and responsibility either for the lack of the governing skills or, in my opinion in most of the cases, for the lack of constructive ideas. The regular supporter of the socialist worldview is seldom able to combine visionary ideas with constructive practice. For him/her, it is easier to be simply AGAINST and say that the world is always cruel and that those who govern are unjust. Where am I heading? I support the idea of open society. I find public discussion as being one of the corner-stones of the democratic society. But I wish that the quality of the discussion would be good and the counter-arguments which are represented would be justified and had a so called positive program. Social criticism should always carry a POSITIVE PROGRAM. To be clear: if you criticize, please explain your personal aims and the potential general good that they might bring.
In contrast to the comfortable “independent”, “non-institutional” critique of the leftist culture critique, I find that a real socio-criticism is possible only from within the existing institutions. If You want to be critical, then TAKE RESPONSIBILITY and do not run to the hippie-commune! Apply for example for a job in a governmental institution, public sector or a third-sector organisation. In case of concrete action, there is always the danger, that something might go wrong, that there will be set-backs. Yet, I find that losing in the short-run is the best way to get to know your opponent. The best critique and counter-activities are those which have a hands-on approach. Your alternative counter activities are not worth a penny if you are not willing to put your own effort in making the world a better place!
To conclude, I would like to point out that my aim here is far from saying that there should not be any cultural criticism. On the contrary, I find the existence of different views as the main source for the diversity and richness of culture. My message here is that the most effective criticism is CONSTRUCTIVE, no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing it might be for the practitioner.

Carl-Dag Lige

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