Archive for June, 2010

Don’t Protest, Think!

June 8, 2010

The revelation that the Canadian Harper government will be spending close to two million dollars to produce a media centre replete with a fake lake for the upcoming G20 summit only reinforces the fact that whatever actual political discussions take place will be secondary to the statement about modern power that is made by the spectacle surrounding the talks themselves. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that the primary political content of these types of events consists of the security and media regime that the governments involved are able to mobilize, with Canada’s 1.2 billion security budget proving that we can play the game in the same league as other First World nations. The overall effect of three metre high, 3.5 kilometre fence that will cordon off a large section of downtown Toronto and implement a check point system for entry and exit is to naturalize a militaristic model of urban regulation, an intrusion of totalitarian control structures into the realm of the everyday that a largely frightened population is coerced into accepting as necessary due to the heightened “threats” posed by protesters, malcontents and dissidents. But to what extent are these threats configured and produced by the implementing of the control structures themselves?

The two elements of protest and repressive state action are mutually supporting and dependent. To this extent, the protesters, though acting out of what might seem as politically justifiable motives, are unintentionally supporting and strengthening what Agamben calls the politics of security (the process by which a politics of governance is replaced by a reactive politics of fear that reinforces the state’s claim to power). Far from showing the world that there are still people in the West who don’t buy into the system of global exploitation, protesters are actually contributing to the G20’s hold on power by giving countries like Canada an excuse for implementing more spectacular and draconian security measures. The result is a restructuring of public space to produce the kind of “state of exception” that Agamben argues was manifest in the Nazi concentration camps of World War Two, but which also provides the hidden model for modern political power.

As a friend of mine pointed out, the protester needs the police truncheon just as much as the truncheon needs the protester’s head: the two acts of spectacular repression and resistance are mutually dependent and reinforcing. What would be a more effective tactic, one that actually points out the cynicism and excess of the governmental strategy, would be to not protest at all. By simply not showing up, protesters would prove that Harper spent 1.2 billion dollars of taxpayer money unnecessarily, thereby destabilizing his government’s claim to power.

The Harper government’s strategies, however, such as providing a designated protest zone replete with satellite feed so that dignitaries can watch the show while they eat their lunch in the Convention Centre lounges, or the refusal of the Canadian government to recompense property owners whose buildings might get damaged due to protester activity, are calculated to both incite reactionary protest and undermine public support for it at the same time. Through strategies such as these, the spectacle of protest is recuperated by the spectacle of power, and the protesters reinforce the very position they would hope to undermine or refute. There is nothing like a little state oppression to make a protester feel that his or her actions are more crucial and necessary than ever, but once the media frenzy subsides, the stories of incarceration and police abuse are circulated, and the “freedom fighter” endorphins wear off, what we will be left with is increased public sentiment in support of the stability, order and coercive control that politicians like Harper are only too happy to provide.

Better would be to stay home, read some Gramsci, and reflect on the social conditions that contribute to the dissolution of engaged public discourse productive of the climate of political apathy in which governments like the current Canadian regime can flourish.

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