Gone and busted, done and dusted? Notes towards a moral and political grammar of ‘civil dawn’

What happened?

While preparing the fourth instalment of the Sociologists of Crisis on the issue of suicide, life via death took over and in the face of a tragic event, I had to get my editorial, moral, political and sociological priorities right. The event was no other than the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the 34 year old Greek anti-fascist hip-hop artist (Killah P) by supporters of Greece’s far right Golden Dawn party. But as is the habit of shocking events, it was promptly followed by another; the arrest of circa 20 Golden Dawn delegates charged as ‘participants in a criminal organisation’. More on both stories can be found here and here. As a witness to both events, albeit from afar, I was juggling the temptation to comment and the discipline of letting some time pass for my thoughts and emotions to settle. The first seemed too premature, the second oozed of the dangers of making oneself irrelevant and allowing the flood of questions to wreak havoc in one’s own mind. What follows is my attempt to give this flood-stream a certain direction so that it can acquire meaning as it flows. You will not find anything a priori right, conclusive, or expertly in it so if that’s what you’re after you can simply stop reading immediately. All I am endeavouring to ‘do’ in the space of this article is to provide a few cautious and cautionary remarks, dictated by my civil conscience and offered out in the open as an invitation to think together, but differently, with more humanism, compassion and understanding. Failing that, we all risk becoming irrelevant and inaccessible to each other if not entirely helpless.

What and whose was ‘it’? 

Having briefly sketched out ‘what happened’ (not our usual type of arrest), and ‘what brought it forth’ (another violent act as befits Golden Dawn’s ‘marauding militia’ tactics), it is timely to consider the implications of both but mostly emphasising on the aftermath of the arrests and the public discussion that ensued. Anyone who attuned themselves to the public outcry following the arrests will have identified a series of recurring arguments over what the event actually was; was it a victory of polity, law, democracy and civil society? Was it a masterful intervention of the Greek justice system, the, government, the state and the police? Could it be interpreted as a decisive move by the ruling party? Do we owe such arrests to the Right? Or perhaps to the Left? In other words, what was ‘it’ all about and whose was ‘it’ anyway?

Replaying such possibilities in mind, I think it is fair to say that it would be foolish to allow anyone to claim stewardship over such an event, be it the Right or the Left whose political reflexes in Greece historically exhaust themselves in nepotism, polarity, populism and sloganeering, and whose civic loyalty and democratic sympathies are articulated solely by reference to ‘the party’; that minute segment of society they participate and are interested in, while of course issuing grand promises to liberate ‘the people’, ‘the nation’ if not the whole world over. Neither the Left, nor the Right did anything to effectively allow themselves to claim this as a victory of their own, though they certainly can, will and have use(d) it to their advantage; the right will claim that ‘it is we who put these men behind bars’, to which the left will respond ‘Yes, but you owe that to our antifascist struggle and protests’. The reality betrays both of course, as it always should. Golden Dawn’s criminal activities are no surprise to anyone in the know, let alone to the Greek political elites on either side; over two-hundred racist attacks, mostly attributed to Golden Dawn members, have been recorded the past two years making any statement of response from any political party unacceptable if not entirely laughable. Neither wing of the political spectrum won anything, nor should they as they both wavered in their commitment to civil society and its institutional satellites that they could have mobilised earlier to such effect. The process of gathering evidence to make a convincing case in order to press charges against Golden Dawn took a week, but that week could have well been any week in year 2012. Perhaps the protests were not loud enough, the blood spilled then was ‘not our own’, ‘we’ didn’t know what to do, how to deal with it, but now?

‘Now’ was what changed it all! This of course is a long string of excuses and soothing lullabies we sing to ourselves to avoid watching ourselves snore and, as Erving Goffman (1974: 14 ) wrote,  ‘the sleep is deep’. A fleeting awakening however did happen, but it was the reflex of another, more subtle political impulse brought forward by the most ‘gelatinous and primordial’ of political entities/institutions, as Gramsci (1971 [1929]: 238) called it, namely; civil society. Am I then suggesting that all this was the defeat of the political system and a victory of civil society? Simplistically put, yes, that’s what I’m saying, but it’s not all I’m saying! What I am saying is that it might be helpful and productive to interpret this event as a hinge-moment where a lot of things were in fact unhinged and where the abstract realm we call ‘civil society’ mobilised the ‘optimism of the will’ that was hitherto lacking in the political mainstream and perhaps the public too, who contented themselves instead with the ‘pessimism of the intellect’, to use a famous aphorism of Romain Rolland which Gramsci popularised through the masthead of L’Ordine Nuovo. But that’s a point that needs qualifying and that’s exactly what I intend to do in turn.

Why now?

That is a question that has puzzled many and quite rightly so. But unlike Douzinas and Co. I don’t think it is useful to attribute it to an act of political calculation by the government, simply because it was not a response from the government per se and sensu stricto but an initiative borne out of the powers of civil society itself, in this case meaning its democratic institutions such as the courts of justice. This separation of ‘government’ from ‘civil society’ in my analysis may appear strange on its own but in the Greek case, I don’t think the two can be conflated or treated as ‘one and the same’. It wasn’t the government and/or its assemblies that took the issue on but rather, the polity at broad, especially facilitated by law and the justice system.  And, this is not the first time the government is caught unawares in similar circumstances, but before dwelling on that let me just clarify that ‘the state’ and its institutional branches are not the same as or reducible to ‘the government’, but an organised political community living under ‘a’ government. In other words, the concept of the state is here provisionally distinguished from the concept of government to show how the latter was, in fact, caught by surprise as it was in 1963, following the murder of independent Greek MP, Grigoris Lambrakis (immortalised later through the film Z, directed by Costa Gavras). The Greek PM at the time, Costas Karamanlis the Elder, famously asked ‘But, alas! Who rules this country?’ and this question remains open to interpretation to this day, or rather especially today. When a PM does not know who runs the state and does not recognise that, last time we checked, it was himself and his political appointees, in collaboration of course with the undercurrent mafias that are inevitably attached, we can suggest two things; either that he should be held accountable (but not responsible) for the murder or that the state is run without him, in which case whatever response to the crime does not come from him. Or, in a more conspiratorial scenario the murder was staged by him, and so was the response from the law but as it would be absurd to charge him with the crime, others had to be brought in as a sacrificial offering in the name of justice and peace. This remark of course is satirical, but it does invite a certain conundrum or a paradox even. If the head of the state does not govern it, might this mean that s/he is exempt from accountability for such an event and should therefore mobilise all powers to restore justice through law? Or does it mean that s/he is complicit in some way or another? The former is virtually impossible and the latter amounts to a grave accusation.  If it is the latter however, that means that the (right-wing) government cannot possibly claim any success over the persecution of Golden Dawn unless it plans to celebrate its downfall. That leads us to suggest that we owe the trial of Golden Dawn elsewhere; to the Left,  to civil society, to ‘the people’ or to the democratic/institutional powers of the state, to name a few possible places where we might locate that change in the speed of political thinking and decision-making.

Let us retrace my main argument however for the purposes of clarification; neither the right-wing government, nor the oppositional Left can claim the Golden Dawn trials as a success of their own because they’ve both been complicit in, accountable to and responsible for doing virtually nothing for a very long time in order to build a case and/or persecute the party in question as a criminal organisation; both parties mobilised no processes whatsoever to that effect, so they cannot possibly claim any credit for these trials. The simple implication then is that the decision to bring Golden Dawn members to trial flows from a combination of (a) public indignation via protest and (b) the response of democratic institutional powers, such as the judiciary, towards the criminalisation and trials of Golden Dawn delegates who are now, all of the sudden, unanimously referred to as ‘members of a criminal organisation’. If that is the case, and we can pride ourselves on the agility of our civil reflexes and the robustness of our democratic institutions why weren’t we appalled before and why were the institutional powers of democracy not intervene before? Was the murder of Shehzad Luqman in January 2013 not enough to spark off such a response? Were the numerous other attacks on immigrant by Golden Dawn vigilantes not enough to cause our indignation, anger and disgust? I will stray away from suggesting that it was the spilling of ‘Greek blood’ that brought that reaction forward, but I will stress the hypocrisy and bigotry that logically accompanies it in the next section of this article.

The Shock Vitrine

Paraphrasing the title of Naomi Klein’s (2007) best-selling book, The Shock Doctrine, I propose the term ‘shock vitrine’ as the way in which the reaction to Pavlos Fyssas’ murder was framed. The shock vitrine works like a smokescreen that allows us to appear utterly surprised and indeed shocked in the face of such tragic incidents. This however is a reaction which smacks of extreme naivety on the one hand and extreme hypocrisy on the other therefore betraying important civic values such as honesty and responsibility. We cannot possibly claim, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, to be shocked when faced with the news of such a murder because it has happened before and we did close to nothing about it. There is nothing more shocking/appalling about this murder than there was in the Shehzad Luqman case and we must not allow amnesia, negligence, double-standards, regret, guilt and remorse cloud our view, our thinking or our civic response to such incidents, but we must make a resource out of them promising that we shall not allow this to happen again, not in our conscience and not in our name. The shock vitrine must therefore be dismantled at once or we must admit that we like to hide beneath its shiny glass surface as it if were a veil; but it is not a veil, it is transparent and our nakedness shows.

An important ingredient in the shock vitrine’s success as a barrier to our (re)thinking and (re)action is of course our unwillingness to accept a number of uncomfortable truths about the ideological extremisms that have a long pedigree in Greece and not without a reason. In a country that has been ravaged by a brutal civil wars and a malignant military junta, remnants of ideological extremism will be found and they are bound to be periodically re-animated, prompted by a number of circumstances, ‘the crisis’ being just one of them . But instead of shying away from that realisation by denying it or cursing it away with oppositional slogans, we have to understand that such ideas do circulate freely and they have been supported by many a people in our country, not to mention the complicity of many during the reign of the Colonels’ junta; aided and abetted by co-operation with and nostalgia for such ‘good times’ in the history of modern Greece. Anyone who has taken a cab, gone to a bar, dined with a distant relative, anyone who has lived in this country knows and will have heard such statements often enough to be robbed of the right to act surprised and/or shocked. Anyone who knows that history, either by researching it directly or through testimonies of the people who survived it, will also know that our very society did very little, or close to nothing towards successfully deciding how and/or whether to ‘deal with’ the actively involved sympathisers of and accomplices to the junta or the collaborationists during the Nazi occupation of Greece. An event, by the way, that did not simply coincide with, but effectively prepared the ground for the country’s blood-stained civil war; for most countries World War II lasted for five or six years, in Greece it lasted for another four. No one can pretend that this is ‘news’, or that these ideas are now extinct and when they re-emerge we need to be shocked; whoever does so, must do so at her own peril and by accepting her responsibility for being hypocritical, ignorant and therefore irrelevant.

What now?

Having so far attempted to outline the complexities, contradictions and tensions inherent in the Golden Dawn trials as well as in their interpretation, it seems particularly urgent to open up a discussion on what I propose, not as a sociologist and definitely not as an expert of any kind, but as someone involved in an emotional relationship with the pleasures and frustrations of political life, armed with an aspiration to use civic principles of associational life as a potent mould with which to (re)fashion a political reaction/response to such events. By means of a disclaimer, let me just say that I use ‘civic principles’ and ‘the powers of associational life’ to refer to a political realm outside party politics and ideological confines but one that aspires to and encourages participation in one’s polity for the sake of it, rather than to gain honorary badges, serve particular interests or act out politics from a pedestal or from the margins. My faith is neither in the ‘elites’, nor in the ‘masses’ but in the agora as an open public space that can assume many forms and invites us all to speak to each other candidly and with civility, thus affirming our humanity and recognising speech and action as ‘the modes in which human beings appear to each other, not indeed as physical objects, but qua men. This appearance, as distinguished from mere bodily existence, rests on initiative, but it is an initiative from which no human being can refrain and still be human’.  Thus spoke Hannah Arendt (1998 [1958]: 176) who saw in political deliberation and action the powers of making a life in common as human beings that are accountable, responsible and, by necessity, reducible to each other. If I were Gramsci (1929), I would call this agora ‘civil society’, and if I were Habermas (1962) I would refer to it as ‘public sphere’. What the three terms have in common is their intent to find communicational, dialogic solutions to political problems, contending that it is through ‘communicative action’ that any ‘structural transformation of the public sphere’ may be(come) possible, and that open public spaces can be found(ed) anywhere insofar as they are imbued with a willingness to speak and to listen.

This process of articulating politics as a medium for making sense of each other together through dialogue, is likened here to a moral and political grammar in order to suggest a shift not just in the mood but also in the mode in which politics is spoken and heard in debates that surround such events in Greece. Like Arendt (1998 [1958]: 176) I am inclined to believe that ‘[a] life without speech and without action is literally dead to the world’ so lacking a moral and political grammar to articulate speech and action with, is bound to lead us to our own extinction as political animals. This is an admittedly dark interpretation made even more sombre by my fear that the Golden Dawn trials have provided us with a hinge-moment, an affective point in which we find ourselves at the intersection of more light or more darkness as illustrated visually by the astronomical phenomenon of civil dawn where some fascinating glimmer of light is still visible before the sky casts its darker curtain on us. Less poetically put, we can either continue to behave politically as we have been so far, therefore admitting that we are not at all perturbed by the possibility of similar events resurfacing, or we need to prepare ourselves for a different kind of politics; one of many being what I here call the politics of civil dawn, articulated as a moral and political grammar with which to participate in the public agora.

Towards a politics of civil dawn

In keeping with the idea and the metaphor of civil dawn, as outlined above, it seems important to stress that my reason for insisting upon it is to dramatise what I see as a pivotal moment, one that needs to be grasped and seized, and this discursive politics of civil dawn seems to me to offer a great opportunity for such politics of prehension, of grasping who ‘we’ are, who ‘the others’ are and why we find ourselves in each other’s arms. ‘We’ and ‘others’ are staged figures; ‘we’ are not Golden Dawn supporters, ‘others’ can indeed be, so (how) do we come to learn to talk to each other and what for? Is there something to be gained from such a process of talking to ‘the enemy within’? My answer is a disconcerting ‘yes’. But first we need to recognise that others exist, will keep on existing and trying to exterminate them symbolically (through language) or physically (through violence) will yield no results, other than the intensification of hatred and violent collision, a state of ‘being’ that is closer to ‘nothingness’ and to a wasteland, than it is to a democratic polity. And, to make matters worse, we will know that we have all failed in our efforts to establish what we think is right, appropriate, good and true to our humanity because we failed to make room for ‘the other’ however repulsive she may be.

What I am therefore proposing in the remainder of this article is that we establish a different way of being ‘us’ which can then also alter what and who the ‘others’ are. In my conception of politics, the very gamble of social life is to understand, recognise and find ways to deal with the reality that we need to learn how to live with people who are unlike us therefore relying on our skill as political animals to remind ourselves not just that ‘nothing that is human can be foreign to us’ but also that ‘nothing that is foreign to us can be real’ to paraphrase Sennett (2011: 87). Reality is our common humanity, the rest we need to negotiate peaceably (with words) rather than barbarically (with violence). Besides, as Richard Sennett (2011: 87) recalls, was the Japanese President Nakasone not right to assert that ‘[o]nly those who understand one another can make decisions together’? Failing that, everything else is destined to failure too. This of course points to something extremely difficult to achieve and it requires immense imaginative and progressive powers for making sense of politics as a peacable agreement to recognise ourselves and others by finding a way to live together with tension and conflict, but without recourse to the dehumanising effects or violence or the mobilisation of emotions that run high but don’t run deep if they intend to cancel out what we have in common (a lot) than what divides us (very little). Hopefully my reflections on some recurring responses to the process and the outcome of the trials (still pending), might make all this just a little bit clearer.

Just as it is paradoxical, if not entirely farcical, to celebrate with a feeling of elation the powers of democracy in a country where we have historically invested very little in it, unless by democracy we mean its very splintering into a myriad of political factions that then and only then we can identify with the idea of democracy somehow, it is equally laughable to feel a sense of relief following the arrest of Golden Dawn members. The reason is that locking ‘them’ up becomes synonymous to denying that ‘they’ exist, that ‘they’ were democratically elected by 400,000 of our compatriots, and that ‘they’ have supporters who don’t feel the way ‘we’ do about these arrests. Denying that ‘they’ exist makes ‘us’ forget that ‘they’ actually do exist and repentance hardly ever happens, and hardly should ever happen by being confined to a cell. If anything, imprisonment, humiliation and torture may weaken someone’s body, sense of pride and amour propre but it will hardly weaken one’s resolve if that someone is determine to ‘do things’ with her ideas (experiences of political prisoners during the Greek junta demonstrate both points rather vividly).

Am I suggesting then that ‘they’ should be left free to roam the streets of Athens with burning torches and the intention to attack anyone who is ‘unlike them’? Definitely not! But what I am pointing out is that locking anyone up amounts to a decorative gesture, not a substantial one as the story of Pandora’s casket teaches. Keeping a lid on things we dislike hardly means that the cabinet of evils that resides in the box won’t spill out again sometime, sooner or later. Instead of celebrating the capture of people that we don’t like, might we not have faith in our civil powers as citizens to face, discuss and deal with the problem of far-right extremism uncuffed? To rely on the prison cell as a solution means we can’t and it also means that we fail to envision alternatives. Abominable though ‘their’ acts of violence may be to ‘us’, what are ‘we’ actually doing to eliminate them? Leaving the answer in suspension, here’s what I think we haven’t been doing, and what I propose we should be doing instead.

I

Above all, I wish to let out a plaintive cry against ex cathedra denunciations of evil that only succeed in making us feel comfortable in our display of self-righteous indignation towards ‘their’ evil acts and invite us instead to (a) develop political skills that go beyond waving flags, shouting slogans and sounding out clichés, (b) resist ideology in favour of taking ownership of our polity, ourselves, our situation and our relationship with and towards ‘others’ and (c) recognise our role in the making of democratic processes expecting them to happen through the mobilisation of our own political will, rather than rely on our elected representatives who can and will do only as much.

II

This requires an ability to understand that nothing will be ‘done and dusted’ or ‘gone and busted’ just because we keep it locked up in some safe place or simply because it is being cursed away voodoo-style as if it is an evil spirit. Such thinking confuses politics with sorcery and is of use only in superstitious rituals, not in deliberative politics.

III

A fair degree of maturity and wisdom is also desperately needed to conceive of political ideas as verbal, symbolic, cultural agreements that we need to forge as ends in themselves rather than instrumentally as ‘he who seeks liberty in anything more than liberty itself is destined for servitude’ to use a phrase from Tocqueville that hardly ever stales (see Lerner, 1969: 71).

IV

Ideological posturing, ontological constraints, fanaticism and prejudice are of very little help in such a process as they fail to recognise politics as an ongoing process, treating it as either a lost realm or as something to be conquered like a war trophy. Such sentiments atrophy political thought and debase political action in a way that using our communicative powers to negotiate our polity doesn’t.

One way of doing so is to apply such powers and discursive political skills to re-think our relationship with our recent historical traumas by finding ways to heal them, not through anguished revenge or violent retaliation but through making a restorative political resource out of opening those issues up for discussion properly as a historical first in Greek history. In the following and final section of this article I will dwell precisely on those concerns, drawing on examples where such attitudes to healing and traumas have been mobilised and discussed in relation to political violence, atrocities and shocking, evil, irreparable harms committed on a relatively mass scale on four different occasions, namely the tribunals of ‘collaborationists’ in post-Occupation France, the scars left from the bitter animosities between the two sides of the Berlin Wall, post-apartheid South Africa and September 11, 2001. Suffice to say that these events are not just randomly selected but specifically alluded to because they have been surrounded by truly awesome scholarship that sought to look deeper into those events and their aftermath.

Towards a ‘new’ emotional education for politics?

‘I want to write the moral history of the men of my generation or, more accurately, the history of their feelings. It’s a book about love, about passion; but passion such as can exist nowadays–that is to say, inactive’.

This is how Gustave Flaubert (1982: 80) describes the theme of his seminal oeuvre, Sentimental Education, in 1864 to fellow author Marie-Sophie Leroyer de Chantepie. The quote is telling, not as a piece of biographical trivia in the history of French realism but for what we might make of it as an observation on the instability and complexity of human emotions, especially in turbulent times. Flaubert sets the scene in the revolution of 1848, an event that upset not just the self-centred psyche of Frédéric Moreau but the whole of Europe which found itself negotiating its place in the emergence and crisis of modernity. To liken the backdrop of the Golden Dawn trials to ‘the year of revolutions’ in (most of) Europe, would of course be fanciful and this is not what I am attempting. What I am keen to explore however is the interweaving of emotions in political reflection and political reaction suspecting that there is a fine line between where the one realm ends and the other begins. The main emphasis of this final part of the current article is to interpret the emotional reactions to the Golden Dawn trials through the lens of one emotion (revenge), four historic events (see above) and a suggestion towards healing past and present traumas through a politics of discursive reconciliation.

Hannah Arendt (1958: 241), who spent most of her scholarly life dissecting the human condition, described revenge as ‘the natural, automatic reaction to transgression’, a remark echoed in more graphic terms by Ellis Cose (2004: 65) who referred to the same emotion as a ‘fiend who cackles wickedly, uncontrollably’, while political theorist Judith Shklar (1990: 93) calls it ‘an insatiable urge of the human heart’. Against such descriptions of revenge as an instinct, an appetite, an impulse, or an insatiable desire, Simone de Beauvoir cautioned against avenging injury with injury showing revenge to be ‘a complex social emotion and one that is almost always doomed to failure’ (see Kruks 2012: 154). Beauvoir was writing about revenge at the backdrop of a period of tribunals (formal and informal) following the end of World War II where collaborationists of the Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain were called to testify for their wartime activity. In response to those trials, and particularly that of Robert Brasillach, de Beauvoir wrote the 1946 essay An Eye for An Eye and developed her theory on The Ethics of Ambiguity in 1948 where she sought to delve at length on the emotional responses to the whole process problematizing, among other things, the distinction between épuration légale (legal purge) and épuration sauvage (inofficial ad hoc purges). For Beauvoir ‘revenge as a response to atrocity is almost always a failure on its own terms. For it cannot actually restore the prior situation or cancel out the prior suffering. Nor can it provide full moral satisfaction by establishing actual reciprocity’ (Kruks 2012: 160). To make matters worse, revenge as punishment ‘does not seek to prevent [the perpetrator] from committing new crimes, for if one is able to punish him, this means he is already beyond the condition where he could do further wrong. Nor is it a matter of making an example…Thus, vengeance is not justified by realistic considerations’ concludes Beauvoir (in: Kruks, 2012: 160). If then, à la Beauvoir, vengeful retribution is an existential, legal and political failure mobilised as it were on behalf of oneself, on behalf of others and/or in the context of legal persecution, could there be an alternative in sight?

Taking a lead from Sonia Kruks’ (2012) excellent chapter on the question of revenge, and attempting a chronological leap forward into post-apartheid South Africa, the notion of restorative justice emerges as a plausible alternative emerging through the setting up of truth and reconciliation commissions that urged surviving victims of and other affected individuals by atrocity to be ‘healed through reconciliation and forgiveness’ (Kruks, 2012: 176).  Although such have been established after mass atrocities in many countries, from Peru to East Timor, the best and perhaps most influential example comes from the South African Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who described the commission as engaging in ‘restorative justice which is concerned not so much with punishment as with correcting imbalances, restoring broken relationships-with healing, harmony and reconciliation’ (Kruks, 2012: 176).

The third example returns us to the Old Continent and a few years back from apartheid South Africa to the reunification of Berlin in 1989 and the efforts made to restore the building of the city’s archaeological museum, what is now known as the Neues Museum, as a place of and for the collective memory of the Berliners. Richard Sennett (2012: 216-8) describes how its restoration by British architect David Chipperfield raised ‘deeply unsettling’ questions about ‘how much did Berliners want to remember, how much did they want to forget?’ and about the extent to which restoration should ‘somehow register, preserve [and] narrate the trauma’ through which both the building and Berlin’s citizens had passed. Instead of blotting out the trauma, Chipperfield and his associates chose a revealing through healing approach by deciding not to hide but to show and restore war damage in some of the rooms of the museum so that it becomes possible to see the effects of the bombing.

Our last example in this short exploration of trauma and how it can be managed culturally and socio-politically, comes from the aftermath of 9/11 and Judith Butler’s (2006) passionate book-length essay on ‘the powers of mourning and violence’ as viable resources with which to do politics, following violent attacks. In a similar vein to Beauvoir, Butler (2006: xix) cautions against mourning as ‘resolved through violence, it seems clear that violence only brings on more loss and the failure to heed the claim of precarious life only leads, again and again, to the dry grief of an endless political rage’. Instead, she makes a case for using loss and vulnerability as potent raw materials to make use of in the post-violence period maintaining that both loss and vulnerability are essential human emotions which ‘seem to follow from our being socially constituted bodies, attached to others, at risk of losing some attachments, exposed to others, at risk of violence by virtue of that exposure’ (Butler, 2006: 20). This is a complicated statement, reflecting perhaps the complicated nature of social emotions in the face of tragic events, but Butler’s (2006: 49) point is articulated with more clarity when she explores the basis of our  common, human interdependence; ‘I am confounded by you, then you are already of me, and I am nowhere without you’. This could well be mistaken for a love poem were it not a passage from a political treatise on violence, loss and mourning. What Butler aims to problematize and insists on is the importance of and for a politics of ‘living together’, which she illustrates with reference to the word Ta’ayush in Arabic, asking ‘what do we make’ of it as a political resource (Butler, 2006: 116). Ta’ayush as a word that stresses ‘living together’ appears to Butler (2006: 118) as ‘an amazing learning experience’ for democracy and for responding to ‘times of crisis’. Though it has ‘no office, no official positions, it is democracy at work’ asking that we ‘maintain dialogue and work together’ towards creating a ‘real community’ thus dislodging pervasive assumptions that keep us apart.

Drawing on such ideas that counsel against the immediacy of emotion and rather advise calm, political reflection in association with developing dialogic, communicational responses in the face of adversity, I suspect that there is indeed something very extraordinary in the four examples here considered, at least as a call to and an open invitation for a process of healing deep historical, existential, cultural and socio-political traumas that have been haunting the political landscape of my native Greece for the most part of its recent history. Those bitter animosities are exactly the stuff that fills the proverbial Pandora’s casket, and each time those ‘wicked’ political ‘fiends’ are liberated, chaos ensues and amidst such chaos we lose the capacity to think of each other as interdependent and or human and lose sight of the implicit agreement we have made or have yet to make for living together differently, with less or no misery, a plea that (coincidentally) applies both to society and sociology by equal measure (see Bauman, 2000: 79-90). ‘Vengeance’, de Beauvoir (in Kruks, 2012: 160) reminds us, has no place in such a process as anything either than ‘a luxury’ while restoration and repair appear as an urgent necessity; ‘[s]ince the evils of atrocity cannot be allowed to sink silently, unacknowledged, into historical oblivion we must continue to seek repair’, not through revenge but through forgiveness. ‘But as we do so we must recognise, with Beauvoir, the element of wager that is present in all action and that “failure is a condition of life itself” (Kruks, 2012: 180).

Lambros Fatsis is a final year DPhil student at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex. His doctoral thesis concentrates on discussions of public sociology, the role of the University and intellectuals, while other research interests include black music, urban culture and the history and sociology of the Jamaican soundsystem. He also performs as a reggae selector/radio presenter under the name Boulevard Soundsystem and is a contributor of Billboard magazine on reggae music. Recent publications are featured on the British Sociological Association’s Postgraduate Theory Forum and on The Sociological Imagination blog on a variety of issues ranging from the English riots, the idea of sociological imagination and the Eurozone crisis. In the spring of 2013 he achieved Associate Fellow status of the Higher Education Academy.

References:

Arendt, H. (1998 [1958]) The Human Condition University of Chicago Press

Bauman, Z. (2000) On Writing Sociology. Theory, Culture and Society Vol.17 (1): 79-90

Butler, J (2006) Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence London: Verso

Cose, E. (2004) Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge Washington Square Press

De Beauvoir, S. (1948) The Ethics of Ambiguity New York: Philosophical Library

Flaubert, G. and Steegmuller, F. (1982) The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1857-1880 Harvard University Press

Goffman, E. (1974) Frame Analysis Harper & Row

Gramsci (1971 [1929]) Selections from the Prison Notebooks International Publishers

Habermas, J. (1991 [1962]) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere MIT Press

Habermas, J. (1984 [1981]) The Theory of Communicative Action Beacon Press

Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine London: Penguin

Kruks, S. (2012) Simone de Beauvoir and the Politics of Ambiguity Oxford University Press

Lerner, M. (1969) Tocqueville and American Civilization Transaction Publishers

Sennett, R. (2011) The Foreigner: Two Essays on Exile London: Notting Hill Editions

Sennett, R. (2012) Together: the Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation London: Penguin

Shklar, J. (1990) The Faces of Injustice Yale University Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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