Friday, 19 February 2010

That Everything Keeps Going On As Before...

This thoughtful piece by Benjamin Noys – on apocalypse and stagnation in revolutionary imagination and theory - is worth reading.

Noys’ critical reading sets you up for all sorts of interesting philosophical and theoretical speculations, but it’s the practical-political implications of his comments on stagnation that I’ve been pondering. It’s one thing to investigate what it means for the system to keep going, but there’s also the question of how we can keep on keeping on ourselves. As Walter Benjamin observed so many years ago, part of the catastrophe is that everything “keeps going on as before.” From the US’ ‘jobless recovery’ of the 1990s through to the recession of today, so much of the debt burden workers in the so-called ‘first world’ have been struggling under has built up as we try to sustain standards of living amidst falling wages and increasing costs. Myths of ‘our’ profligacy producing the crisis hide the real suffering behind the credit card figures.

Particularly useful for me is Noys’ case for a ‘return’ to the concept of the tendency, something that lets us avoid the traps of everything-or-nothing scenarios some strains of apocalyptic thinking can encourage, and which reminds us to stay attentive to processes at work around us.

Since coming back to New Zealand one of the activities I’ve been involved in has been collecting signatures for the Unite union’s campaign for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. As always with a campaign of this kind, being active is at once frustrating and exciting. It’s frustrating, and upsetting, to realize how hard it is for so many people, people doing socially vital work for poverty wages. Work like cleaning buildings, caring for the elderly, assisting disabled students in schools, to name just three of the examples from people I spoke to today. But it’s exciting, too, to see how the campaign raises questions that need answered, and questions that connect with the kind of dilemmas of stagnation and stasis Noys analyses: what got us here? What tendencies are at work? What is the economy for? What might a living wage mean? What does it mean to get by, and for how much longer can it mean that?

[I've taken these photos from Unite's photo stream on Flickr.]

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