Tag Archive: revolutions


The groundlessness of revolution

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Every violent suppression of dissent is violence against the humanity that is being born. The world to come is at stake in these encounters.

That’s what I tweeted last night while watching what looked like the squashing of a revolution, when riot police appeared by the thousands and began moving in on the territory held by Ukrainian protesters in downtown Kyiv (Kiev, pronounced “kay-eev” in Ukrainian). Watching these events on the multiple live video feeds available to a global audience was transfixing. Together with the constant stream of commentary in social media — I followed Facebook, Twitter, and the feeds on the streaming TV sites, but there were other options available — made it seem like a genuinely global insurrectionary event.

The following are some reflections on this experience, contextualized within global geopolitics, Ukrainian politics, the ecology of media, and the recent history of analogous events elsewhere (such as those I have blogged about earlier in Iran and Egypt).

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Spreading revolution

The New York Times has a couple of nice pieces on the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions: an interactive account of the key events and a more detailed piece outlining the role of the different protest groups, bloggers and Facebook-ites, nonviolent resistance tactics, and the Obama administration.

A few quick thoughts:

1) Max Forte is right about the U.S.’s equivocation, its policy of “hedging its bets” in a mix of realism and opportunism.

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More thoughts on Egypt

Max Forte at Zero Anthropology* has a perceptive assessment of what he takes to be a (Hillary) “Clinton doctrine,” which he describes as the U.S.

hedging [its] bets by keeping a foot in almost all camps, by maintaining contact with diverse sectors in a society critical to U.S. national security interests, emphasizing “stability” when regime survival seems possible, and then emphasizing “orderly transition” when change seems probable. It is a mixture of realism and opportunism and a desire to intervene without being seen to intervene, a low cost foreign policy that builds on established bases of military aid and support for civil society groups. By maintaining open and positive channels of communication (with Mubarak, the military, the April 6 Movement, El Baradei, and even the Muslim Brotherhood [long a working ally of the U.S.]) the U.S. made sure that no matter what resulted, it would remain in the picture as a continued player of importance. Viewed in this light, there is nothing contradictory about U.S. statements on Egypt.

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The affective resonance of Tahrir Square

My thoughts on the “affective contagion” of revolutionary events such as those in Tehran a year and a half ago, or those currently happening in Cairo, have always been somewhat undertheorized. Posthegemony‘s Jon Beasley-Murray points to an exhilarating piece written by his UBC colleague Gastón Gordillo on Resonance and the Egyptian Revolution that is helpful for thinking these things through.

Gordillo begins:

“What has coalesced as a powerful, unstoppable force on the streets of Egypt is resonance: the assertive collective empathy created by multitudes fighting for the control of space. Resonance is an intensely bodily, spatial, political affair, materialized in the masses of bodies coming together in the streets of Egyptian cities in the past thirteen days, clashing with the police, temporarily dispersed by teargas and bullets, and regrouping again like an relentless swarm to reclaim the streets, push the police back, and saturate space with a collective effervescence. Resonance is what gives life to this human rhizome and the source of its power. View full article »

Egypt & everywhere

With too little time to follow the events in Egypt closely, I can’t add much to what other blogs and news sources are saying except to point to a few sources I’ve been finding useful, and to connect them up to some themes and discussions this blog has featured.

Uprisings, revolutions, and sudden political realignments are perfect subjects for process-relational philosophical reflection. Their causes are always somewhat mysterious; historians may reconstruct the events that led up to them, and may come up with theories to account for them, but these almost always remain highly contestable. They are moments when suddenly much more is at stake than is normally the case.

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happy solstice

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Two revolutions are being marked this weekend. One of them is natural, cyclical, the revolution of the earth around the sun with the sun reaching its most northerly point (in closeness to the surface of the tilted planet we live on), standing still for a brief moment, and turning back to the south. The second is political: a periodic, and perhaps naturally recurring (since humans are natural), swelling of collective energy that’s gotten particularly concentrated this week at the nodal point of the “city of 72 nations,” Tehran (35 N latitude, 51 E longitude).

Phenomenologically speaking (in terms of how earth-bound humans experience it), it’s not the earth that goes around the sun; it’s the sun that comes closer and then recedes. The solstices mark the two end points, and northerly peoples traditionally — and as universally as anything religio-cultural — have found this to be the high point of the living year, the height of life’s potency in the dynamic interplay of birthing and deathing, Yanging (in the Chinese system) and Yining, expansion and contraction. (For southerly peoples it’s the opposite, a time of withdrawal, inwardness, contemplation, a time for telling stories about how to get through the winter, carrying the flame through the darkest nights. But winters aren’t as severe in the habitable south, on average, since there’s so much less of it than there is habitable north, and the southern tip of South America is only as far from the equator as the “Athens of the north,” Edinburgh.)

That height of expansion is something one can feel in a fairly obvious way in the wet and dark green hills of Vermont where I’ve spent the weekend. But with many people’s lives no longer dependent on a natural calendar these days — and with generations of separation, in many cases, from a time when that dependence was clearly marked in collective rituals — celebrating the solstice becomes an artificial activity, a personal option that realigns one’s identity with a turn ‘back’ (back in time, back to ‘nature’, back to reason, in a sense) but also marks one as part of a distinct minority, encompassable under the umbrella term ‘pagan.’

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more on Tehran

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Planomenology‘s Reid Kane has posted an extensive analysis of the Iranian events from a perspective informed by Zizek and Agamben, among others — the first I’ve seen in this vein, though I’m anticipating others like it in the left-philosophical blogosphere. The piece draws too much, for my taste, on a monolithic (Marxist) understanding of capital and defers too hastily to Zizek’s weaker moments (I’m being respectful here). Reza‘s comments (see below the article) provide some important correctives to the piece, as does Ali Alizadeh’s piece here. But the article makes some useful points on Foucault’s original engagement with the Iranian revolution, and especially on the possibilities opened up by the new media landscape. Reid also reminds us that Guatemalan unrest had previously been dubbed “the Twitter revolution.”

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Today was the 23rd anniversary of the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine. I had been invited to give a sermon at a nearby Unitarian church connected to both this anniversary and the May Day (Beltane) that’s coming up in a few days, and my thoughts, in preparation, revolved around how both of those dates, along with Earth Day four days earlier, combine a significance in cyclical time — the ritualized time by which people shape their daily, monthly, and annual life rhythms — and in world-historical time, that is, the time of events that have redefined humanity’s relationship to the world at large.

Earth Day 1970 and the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986 both served as moments of recognition of environmental risk and hazard. Earth Day instituted the practice of large-scale political demonstrations and teach-ins on the environment. The 1970 Earth Day involved about 20 million people in the US; the 1990 Earth Day, at the peak of the ‘second wave’ of environmental activism, is thought to have involved 200 million participants in 140 different countries. Earth Day’s evolution thus offers a kind of gauge of the popular pulse of environmental awareness, and with its institutionalization into childrens culture, a gauge for the struggle over how our kids’ attitudes towards nature develop and, in turn, for how they may put pressure on us to change our ways.

Chernobyl, on the other hand, was the single most important shock to a system (the Soviet) that was eventually brought down by the events it triggered. This was especially the case in Ukraine, where it catalyzed an environmental movement that ultimately mutated into the national independence movement. More so than most environmental disasters, Chernobyl remains mired in debates over its impacts. The International Atomic Energy Association’s 2006 report (co-authored with the World Health Organization and the UN Development Program) cited data suggesting that no more than 4000 cancer deaths can be traced to the radioactive release from the Chernobyl accident. In response, Greenpeace International produced a report citing scientific data that the number is really between 100,000 and 200,000. Victims’ groups, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and even previous WHO reports appear to line up on the side of Greenpeace in this debate. Critics on both sides dispute the other side’s research methods, their use of epidemiological data, estimates for escaped nuclear fuel (which the IAEA puts at 3-4%, while others have claimed that 50% or even almost all of the reactor’s fuel escaped into the environment). See here , here, and here on the “body count” and other controversies.

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