A parable of our oppression: Santiago López Petit

We share below, in translation, a reflection by Santiago López Petit on our times, on our voluntary servitude and our fear of rebellion.  (Originally published in Periodico Diagonal 5/11/2015).  His final question is ours, that is, of anyone who aspires to autonomous life: how do we exit from capitalism? 

In the waiting room or on the rabid present

I don’t know what we are waiting for since in here nothing ever happens.  I admit however that the waiting room is much more comfortable than the sinister platonic cave.  We are not subject to chains and the neon lights are always on, illuminating a welcoming space.  The walls shine with a white colour that protects us from the unexpected.  The meals which we can purchase are also much more varied.  Now there are no longer any complaints about bad quality.  If you can pay, a world of opportunities is offered to you.  Voluntary servitude is based on the production of individual consumers and narcissists, though sometimes volatile and unpredictable.  Consumers of themselves, it is the triumph of the autonomy of the “I”, of the “me”, of “free” self-control.

The musical jingle that continually accompanies me, day and night, reminds me that I can do with my life what I want.  That my life is in my hands.  If I fail, it is I who am responsible.  If I succeed, I alone am the winner.  When I hear this proclamation of freedom, I understand perfectly because I don’t want to leave the waiting room.  Out in the open, at the mercy of the elements, I do not know what awaits me.  Here, by contrast, all is planned.  They have filled the emptiness with so many commodities that it has disappeared.  I fill with honey the spoonfuls of loneliness that I swallow.  Normality is not a state of things.  It is the effect of a verb (to take up again, to return …). Everyday life repeats its normality.  Its?  Normality so woven configures itself as a space of possibilities.  The option that would put into doubt the very space of possibilities is prohibited.

During electoral periods, the musical jingle increases in volume, and we then notice that it is a strange music made up of words: “Change”, “Reform”, “Democracy” … The words are well known and already a little ours.  Their repetition then reassures us.  Like the small child closed within the interior of a dark room who in singing softly to her/himself manages to allay their fear.  Perhaps they are stories that allow us to sleep.  What more is there!  I have the need to believe in what they tell me.  I have hope in them.  It would also cost me too much to leave this room.  Sometimes I hear voices offering help outside, knocks on the door.  I prefer not to look.  It would be a mistake to believe that electoralism is synonymous with pure spectacle.  Electoral periods serve to define common sense, that is, to (re)establish the limits of what can be thought, experimented, and lived.  The political system imposes the code of government/opposition.  What is outside of it simply does not exist: it is criminalisable noise.

Today they programmed a boxing match between two pugilists with possibly great futures: El Coletas (68 kg.) and el Fachilla (80 kg.).  I am sure that I will enjoy it greatly.  Tomorrow they promised a documentary that carries the title, “Journey to Ithaca. Towards a New Country”.  I sincerely don’t have the time to ask myself why I spend so much time in this waiting room.  There are so many activities prepared for us!  Next week, they will even let us change the name of various streets, and we will be even allowed to remove the statue of the head of state.  Power no longer needs to transform force into right and obedience into duty; it is sufficient to entertain us.  This is the natural and only form of all experience.  Entertainment expels conflict and obscures the battle field that subsists beneath the space of possibilities.

The words “change” and “hope” animate.  If there is life, there is hope.  The democratic is a social debate for members of debating societies.  It is true that this interminable conversation slowly introduces itself into the cracks of walls.  Sorry, I mean to say into the convolutions of the brain.  “Each has his opinion”.  The essence of democracy is this, no?  For this reason voting by raising one’s hand in the air is prohibited and must always be secret.  The secret ballot, well hidden from others, completely respects what we are: private lives.  Those who accustomed to speak ill affirm that such votes will never change anything because they will always be the reflection of fear, the fear that only being together can undo.  I don’t understand and I don’t care.  The democratic effects a political operation of distraction.  It signals false enemies, decides what our problems are,  impedes posing the essential questions.  In the democratic conversation, there is no possibility of taking the floor to speak.  One can only speak, that is, indefinitely express one’s opinions.

Sometimes news arrives from the underground that shakes up the reigning tranquility of the waiting room.  Then the markets tremble, alarms go off, and blackmail perforates the eardrums.  In fact not much often happens because they installed double panned windows.  And since they don’t want us to approach them, we never know what is actually happening outside.  One day, I remember exactly when it was, I got tired of waiting.  More precisely, I asked myself what was I waiting for seated in that room.  I didn’t dare to ask why, only what.  I recognise this.  And yet it was then that I remembered that many years ago I was not in a waiting room, but in a subway car.  A subway car that we transformed into a fiesta, when we entered the car carrying great quantities food that we had previously stolen from a supermarket.  A subway car that was certainly going nowhere, but in which danced the rhythm of life.  We were strong and courageous.  We owed no one any favours.  With my independence recovered, I could, for a few instants, look and notice that on the battle field some had risen up.  I also heard the echo of a scream of indignant rage.  In Palestine, the weapon of the oppressed is a knife.  Our violence is to exist.  Greece in a referendum said “No”, but the EU finally imposed a “Yes”.  How much cynicism can find room in an organisation that continues to call itself “Podemos”/”Yes we can”?  Alliances, confluences, acronyms … What real forces are we actually talking about?  What counter-power are they the bearers of?  In the Catalan parliament, after the proclamation of the the Republic of Catalonia, the first gesture of the protagonists was to take of themselves a selfie.

In the waiting room, it smells of death.  Old friends want to clean the sewers and have decided to collaborate with the guardians.  Now its our own who call upon us to participate.  Forgotten are the heroic acts because politics is done in the day to day.  We were furthermore always few and very infantile.  In some moments, we believed ourselves to be the centre of the city.  We were deluded.  It is always better to do something than to do nothing.  We have to be responsible.  We have to simplify language so as to be able to reach people.  So as to solve peoples’ problems.  One question please: Who are the people?  We will take the institutions so that fresh air can enter.  Be careful, that is untouchable!  The contracts have already been signed and to rescind them now is impossible!  Where is the possible that we hoped to find?  The police are the powers that be.  The port, through which passes half the drugs of Europe, they don’t bother.   Our goal is simple: to change the city to change life, we have to begin to change the image of the city to change the idea that people have of their lives.  It will be a small step, a door to pass through.  All great journeys begin with an initial small step.  To defend economic development is progressive given that it drives economic development.  But why hide that fact that today capitalism and life are incompatible?  Whatever is possible in terms of profit has to deceive, and therefore, it loses as it stops being veracious.  In the end, all the remains is the management of the deception.  Time cannot calm down the wait because time no longer remains.  There is a question that can never be asked in the waiting room because it is continually ridiculed.  This question however is today the only truly important question: how do we exit from capitalism?

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