A book by the dean of Argentine writers, the 96-year old Ernesto Sábato, bears the title, La Resistencia, though the word Resistance itself is used sparingly in his 150-page book-essay. Yet, his message is clear: man must resist injustice. I began this essay from that point.
Resistance begins in doubt. Then it grows into the adolescence of skepticism and matures into defiance, confrontation and struggle. Resistance is above all the determination to say, no. No! to euphemism and deceit. No! to falsehood and lie. No! to promises of comfort and ease and assurances that ours is the right way of life.
Resistance is real life as opposed to virtual life. Resistance is the precise opposite of acceptance of what society offers and the resulting retreat into comfort and ease, into the assurances that your lifestyle is the right one, that your way of life is the right way of life. Resistance is the rejection of Power’s version of life. It is rejection of wide-eyed acquiescence to Power’s lure.
Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor points out that man usually chooses submission. Dostoevsky believes that man prefers comfort, or even death, to the freedom of choice. Man only wants to be happy. He wants earthly bread. And that, his Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov tells Christ-God returned to earth, is the Church’s job, that is, Power’s job: man’s happiness on earth.
The Church, that is, Power, the Grand Inquisitor claims, loves man more than does the creator who placed on man’s shoulders a burden too heavy for him to bear. Christ-God overestimated the strength of his creation when he gave him the freedom of choice: ‘You acted without pity for him, you demanded too much from him.’ Religion (or Power), the old Inquisitor claims, must be on the side of the masses. It must comfort all, the ignorant and the weak and the mean and the sick. It must be vulgar. Instead of the uncertainty and spiritual suffering of the freedom of choice, Power offers happiness. Since the weak and hungry and mean masses are not interested in heavenly bread, Power promises earthly bread.
The Grand Inquisitor and his Church choose for man. The earth is thus the reign of mediocre happiness. None of your great spiritual aspirations! Oh yes, men will have to work, he says, as modern Power continues to say, but for men’s leisure time Power will organize their lives like a game, with childish songs and dancing, Suvs and TV and Sunday football. Power even lets them sin a bit.
Dostoevsky thus describes the tragedies of the human condition. In his revolutionary attack, he attacks the Grand Inquisitors (that is, Power) in every church, in every state, in every time. He dealt with the universal truth that most people do not want freedom. Most are afraid of freedom. The limit of freedom is the drive “to be happy.” In American society, it is “the American way of life” that is to guarantee the mysterious object that is happiness. But since happiness is forever ambivalent, elusive, vague and subjective, the result is fear of not achieving it, which means failure.
Fear is thus a symptom of our times. Fear of non-achievement. And today, it refers also to artificial fears such as the fear of terrorism, ironically, of terrorist acts executed by ourselves against ourselves. Does one not talk openly today about the next institutionally organized terrorist act permitting the arrival of martial law in the land? All talk of the threat to the “future of our children” terrorizes American nights.
Resistance requires company. It requires companions in order not to be alone. Otherwise, fear wins out. But once you are on the inside of resistance, once you are involved and committed, each step becomes easier, your step becomes lighter. Resistance gradually comes to feel normal. You are not crazy; society is.
Unfortunately those who arrive at even the entrance door to the world of resistance are few. Most stand outside the door. Worse, many believe they are inside what is considered “real life” without realizing that they are outside of life, that they are walking on air. They are tamed by obedience to a way of life that does not respect human beings. Power says it is better not to get involved, better not to commit yourself, that anyway everyone and everything is corrupt.
Resignation is the result.
Resignation is more than just acceptance. Resignation, as Sábato notes, is “cowardly, the sentiment (born from fear) that justifies the abandonment of that for which one should struggle.”
We have to resist. It is not necessary to be a hero to resist. It can be much less than throwing Molotov cocktails at Power, or going to prison. It is smaller than that. But resistance is counter-current. It is easy to look around and pinpoint where to resist in everyday life. A first step is to abandon the WalMartian massification of society that “they” want to keep us in. Not to buy a SUV from a General Motors that marks a turnover 20 times the GNP of the country of El Salvador should not be seen as revolutionary. But it is! It is resistance. To demand decent public transportation instead of more SUVs and an efficient national health service for all is resistance. To reject programs based on assurances of comfort and ease, of our way of life, of the future of our children and the promises of the good for mankind of globalization is a program of resistance.
The initial step is refusal to be a tool in the lurid machine of “their” assurances that we are “happy.” Resistance is to refuse to be a cogwheel in the great machine of Power. A possible second step is to abandon concepts of American and European centrism, which is no less than the view that the real world begins and ends in the United States of America or in Europe. We know that the USA and Europe are a small part of planet earth. But we easily forget. The reality is, the rest of the world is out there.
I have quoted in articles about Latin America the progressive French sociologist, Alain Tourraine, a specialist on Latin American affairs. By one of the coincidences that occur in my life with increasing frequency, I recently saw and followed on Buenos Aires television an hour-long meeting with Tourraine, whom I had never seen before. Tourraine says the same as Ernesto Sábato: fundamental resistance must be directed against globalization and its gobbledygook language and to the inequalities it creates in the world at large. Resistance is thus counter-globalization.
Such thinking, resistance thinking, leads you in unexpected directions. For example one grasps that the opposite of peace is not necessarily war; the opposite of peace is also the abundance of social inequalities, the lack of respect for fundamental rights; it is all the situations of injustice; it is everything that widens the abyss between rich and poor, whether nations or individuals.
Resistance is counter-globalization because globalization is a “culture of exclusion,” eliminating jobs universally, instead of creating them, especially in the world of the have-nots. Resistance is directed at market economy thinking and globalization that have threatened planetary economy since the Industrial revolution: it then took the advent of US Imperialism after the fall of Communism and the technological revolution to achieve it.
The economist Joseph Schumpeter defined the technological revolution as “creative destruction” and in a like manner equated it with globalization. Tourraine—who notes that the majority of people in the world are saying, “I want to be respected, I want to be recognized”—equates globalization with the bourgeoisie, that old name for the capitalist exploiting class. Globalization is a plot of capitalism. The symbiosis of technological revolution, free market ideology and the expansion of US imperialism has created and fomented the “culture of exclusion” and its gradual and massive death toll among a great part of human society, a culture defined by free market exponents with the glowing term of globalization.
Here again, as the antithesis of Marx’s dialectical process, appears the word resistance. The antithesis to exclusion must perforce be the reappearance of neo-socialists or some kind of neo-socialist thinking. Am I wrong, or is that long-banned and politically incorrect word not appearing more and more in public in the USA? Is Socialism not again becoming salonfähig? Socialism and other forms of resistance such as genuine modernity of thinking also provoke the rabid reactions of neo-religious fundamentalists with their culture of fear and death, a most dangerous ally for exponents of globalization who hopefully will soon have to pay up.
Resistance to injustice should not be seen as revolutionary. But it is! Yet, as a rule, resistance to injustices does not have to mean to block the efficient uses of national resources of any country or to limit individual freedoms. It doesn’t even have to mean support for Socialism. But in my opinion resistance does mean rejection of savage capitalism that worships the market as an absolute, as if it were the end goal of human behavior and human society.
By pure chance sitting in a Buenos Aires cafè I read in an article in the conservative daily La Nación about the visit to Argentina of Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty of the existence of “subaltern studies” at the University of Chicago, of which the Indian scholar is a professor. The professor’s book Rethinking Working Class History: Bengal, 1840-1940 is described as a history of the margins of history, a history from and for the periphery, a rethinking of universal terms such as democracy, capitalism, equality, human rights, social justice and globalization, which, in Chakrabarty’s words is the residue of colonialism. The US invasion of Iraq is the clearest example.
A few days ago I was again disconcerted, though not unduly surprised, by the views on globalization of an educated Argentinian, from a rich landholding family, back in Argentina after twenty years on Wall Street. His definitions of globalization were reduced to matters like the bothersome fact that international travel is not what it used to be, now that airplanes are packed and that everybody can travel around the world. In the final analysis he equated the equal chance to travel of a still small minority of the world population to globalization, as if globalization had nothing to do with the methodical destruction of national industries in the margins, in the huge peripheries, all across the subaltern world.
Yes, that wise old man, Ernesto Sábato, is right: we must resist injustice!
© Gaither Stewart
Gaither Stewart is a free lance journalist and writer living in Rome.