Tuesday 9 August 2011

John Protevi: "Mindless"


'Mindless' indeed. As ever conservative politics is methodologically individualist. They want to focus only on the individuals, the 'rotten apples' on whom all blame can be placed (you conserve the whole by sacrificing the parts - the parts that don't matter, anyway). This is, of course, tied into all the pseudo-Biblical 'fall of man' nonsense that gets regurgitated as so many 'Broken Britain' cliches - the idea that the 'decline of traditional values' is (a) somehow uncaused, emergent from itself and (b) responsible for all our ills. The more powerful rhetorical strategy, however, is to try to collapse the distinction between explanation and justification. To try to explain the actions of the rioters, looters and muggers (and these, we are told, are all equivalent), it is supposed, is in some way to justify them. After all, doesn't it detract from denunciation? And denunciation is the only response politicians can muster. Anyone who tries to think beyond the mere, brute fact of criminality to any degree seems to make the denunciation less radical and so, it is inferred, that person must be a sympathiser merely mouthing the words of disapproval as opposed to the true believers who damn the perpetrators unconditionally. This is, of course, complete nonsense. One can explain actions in terms broader than essentialised, moralised, individualism without justifying those actions. All this constitutes a total refusal to engage in politics, to recognise the possibility of politics even occurring. Denunciation is the opposite of politics insofar as it cannot tolerate the separation of justification and explanation. One needn't justify action to explain it; one needn't endorse action to engage with it. Are these actions criminal? Yes. Must they be punished? Yes. But none of that need stop us thinking politically - that is, thinking of an explanation we can justify and a course of action to prevent these kinds of events. That, however, is of no use to conservatives who want nothing more than these people to shut up and make do with their lot.