Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
“[A]ll public assembly is haunted by the police and the prison.” The words are Judith Butler’s, words through which she invites us to think anew the relationship between vulnerability and resistance.
If radical activists are wont to celebrate the latter, they do so very often in opposition to the former. Vulnerability is what must be overcome, a dangerous condition as it disarms oppressed subjects and feeds the paternalism of those who would seek to protect us. And yet this opposition is misplaced, as it ignores any subject’s dependence, and thus that of their freedom, on material conditions, language, social norms, others. We cannot act without certain material conditions being met (the public assembly of people calls for streets and squares, for example), without language (we speak to each other in assemblies), without norms and rituals (there are ways of assembling, appearing to each other politically) and without others (we gather with others). These last restrict us, but they also point to our passivity, receptivity, to what lies beyond us and at the same time to what shapes us. To imagine that freedom, agency, lies in detachment from all of these conditions, and others, is illusory, for it would be to conceive of agency as an impossible free floating power. This is not in turn however to reduce subjects to their social environment, to social conditioning, for we do act upon these conditions; rather than being mechanically and repetitively re-produced, they are altered in their re-production. Each act can remake and remake differently, “queerly”.
Domination endeavours to chain us to our vulnerabilities, rendering us dependent on those who would exercise power. But resistance is equally a mobilisation of our vulnerabilities, not the vulnerabilities that some would seek to impose and maintain, but the vulnerabilities that are present in our multiple relations with, dependencies on, others. We protest, resist, against the control and/or destruction of the very conditions that render political agency possible; but we do so as vulnerable, as dependent subjects-subjectivities.
To imagine resistance in the guise of hegemonies and counter-hegemonies, sovereignties and counter/popular-sovereignties, is to remain bewitched by the hegemony of hegemony, and thus trapped in a politics of sovereignty. Such a politics not only reproduces the violence of sovereignty (what can be described as a white, first world, male sovereignty), thereby condemning resistance to a re-production of the same, but also ignores that it is from our vulnerabilities that resistance grows.
What must then be thought through is a politics of resistance, a revolutionary politics, beyond sovereignty; or, stated differently, vulnerable political agency. What such a politics might look like remains a fundamental question. (These comments are both inspired by and part company with Judith Butler’s essay, “Rethinking vulnerability and Resistance”. See also: “The refusal of sovereignty; An anarchist reading of “occupy” movements”, by Autonomies).
The essay that follows, entitled “No quiero ser fuerte. Quiero ser vulnerable”, and which appears below in translation, was originally published in the Seville based newspaper-media collective, El Topo; a collective born in the wake 15M and other social movements, and which depends upon, reflects and speaks with-for them, in other words, it is an exercise in vulnerable resistance. And it is shared, with no payment.
Maka Makarrita, the author, questions a number of assumptions about political agency and rebellious or revolutionary politics that resonate with our own questions and desires. If the essay does not respond to all of our doubts, it takes along a path where believe those answers can begin to be discerned.
No quiero ser fuerte. Quero ser vulnerable.
They tell us repeatedly: be strong, be independent, be self-sufficient, be enough for yourself … They tell us this repeatedly, in self-help pamphlets, in therapies, in the most well intentioned advice. They repeat this to us through the publicity that calls upon us to be superwoman, along with your mother when she sees you carrying everywhere the punishment of domesticity. The system repeats it at multiple levels, in private and in public, in health and in sickness.
Firstly, all of this is said in reaction to romantic love. If capitalism was favourable to romantic love because it required the nuclear family as basis for a labour society, late capitalism needs profoundly individualist consumers who grab in each moment that which they desire in intermittent liquid relationships.
Suddenly, we go from being happy couples breathing love on the lollipop planet, to evaluating as a positive model that of the free-riders who throw their autonomy, with shields and borders, into personal relations.
“Dependent” behaviour is related to weakness and the lack of emotional equilibrium. However, do we not confuse terms sometimes? It is obvious that one must avoid toxic relationships, but the solution is not to be found in transforming ourselves into supposedly self-sufficient beings. It is necessary to find a formula that allows us to move past the emptiness that we find between the dependent relations that we want to escape and the profoundly individualist relations that they wish to impose on us. Sometimes, however, the only way to win against the enemy is to run off to an unexpected position and, in this case, the only way to escape the loop is to displace ourselves: to cease to go from one myth to its opposite and to change the place where we find ourselves. To change perspective: the problem is not to depend upon others. We do it daily. We need our firends, our family, our political circle, this friend with which we discuss cinema and the other one with whom we party madly. People with whom we want to spend Sundays on the couch and those we want to be elbow to elbow in a demonstration. We need our ties, to relate ourselves, but not because of dependency, but inter-dependency.
Because between the personal and political there is not only one return path, there are nodes interwoven like tapestries that allow to advance with one foot on each side of slippery ground. And the only certainty is that the exit always moves through a constant exchange between the individual and the collective.
There are two ideas that help us to kick over the over the board of play and start and other, different game. We can think that love (and love belongs not only to couples) belongs to the economy of abundance. This does not diminish what we desire or those who desire us, however much is distributed or shared, for what is at stake does not have to do with satisfying shortages, but with giving all that is in excess. And, on the other hand, to be vulnerable, the capacity the we have for reality and people to affect us is not a weakness as they try to make us believe. To be vulnerable  makes us stronger: they can hurt us, we can lose ourselves, but in the necessity that we have for each other is also to be found our strength.
I read by chance in some manual that to maintain healthy realtions, “we should be independent beings so that our relations are not disturbed by sentiments of necessity or infelicity or dependence”, and statements like these, so common, so innocuous, frighten me. Because I want my relations to be disturbed, that they not be aseptic, that they cut through me, for what happens to those who walk with me is important to me. Marina Garcés says  that we have to be abandon the fantasy of individuality because we cannot be alone. But what is still more important is that we do not want to be alone.
We live, whether we wish it or not, in a world in common (and again following Garcès, that there is love here that is good); even though we kick about to exhibit our actions as self-sufficient, we are implicated in what is done, eaten, breathed, undone or stolen by others. We live in the hands of others. And though read negatively, this might be taken to mean that “nothing can be done”, what we should really focus upon is that in resistance, we are much stronger because we, simultaneously, the united links of a chain and the interconnected nodes of multiple networks. We are stronger and freer as a pack. They want us alone, together they will find us. Always in endless with the communities that we desire and the sick system in which we are inscribed.
That is why for however much they insist on competition as the “natural” model, we know full well that to cooperate is of greater benefit to us. And we have experiences that strengthen us and teach us, collaborative practices that allow us to have many hands to support each of our lives: affinity groups, the PAH [Plataforma de afectados por la hipoteca/Platform for those affected by mortgages], social centres, childrens’ spaces, community gardens, neighbourhood assemblies, networks of mutual aid …
But if we want lives in which we can smile, we need relations that we can inhabit. And for this we should surrender to our vulnerability, to the necessity that we have to be sustained and cared for, to care and sustain. And, therefore, the necessity to put care at the centre of the battle; at the centre and beyond. We survive on the basis of invisible and “private” care that should be transformed into care in common. The vanguard is often our preferred position, the most spectacular, where we all want to be – and this “all” will remain intentionally masculine because the attention to care is marked like nothing else by gender – but where there are also often more elbows thrown. Normal, for it seems more enjoyable to go in the black block than to accompany the baby block. But it is the rearguard, to where we have moved care, that sustains our advance.
So, to upset my psyche, I am sorry, but I do not want to be strong. I do not want to be content with myself, I do not believe in self-sufficiency, in needing no one. I want to be with you, i want your lives to cross mine, to be scattered in pieces in many hands that help me to walk and get up when I need to, I want to carefully carry pieces of everyone to maintain ourselves afloat. I, an adult, what I want is to be vulnerable.
Maka is part of the El Topo collective