France. Paris et Banlieue. Graffiti, bombages, inscription et affiche dans les fac et les rue autour de mai 1968

In Freedom Evolves, Dennett suggests– if I understand him correctly –that while everything is causally determined, our belief that we are free is nonetheless crucial because beliefs are themselves causal forces.  It’s been a long time since I read the text, but if my recollection is accurate, he gives the example of learning how to play the guitar.  If I believe I will never be able to learn the guitar, then I will never learn the guitar.  I will not make the effort, and, indeed, as Fink somewhere suggests, my unconscious might even lead my thought to become clouded when trying to learn these things.  The belief is itself a causal influence in what I am capable of doing.  Where the belief is lacking, my doubt will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is not, of course, to suggest that should I believe I can learn how to play the guitar I will become Jimmy Hendrix, only that without the belief that I can learn, I will never learn.

read on!

Perhaps this is what is most egregious in the political philosophies of centrism, incrementalism, so-called “pragmatic realism”, and “lesser evilism”.  In Irrreductions, Latour makes the claim that “we will never do better than a politician”.  By “politicians” he means people who are mediators, who recognize that they must always channel and moderate competing forces, and that the best we can do is compromise.  It all sounds very reasonable.  We have, however, seen the results of this political philosophy.  The incremental progress never occurs, and instead we see an intensification of wealth inequality, and the growth of racist, misogynistic, nationalistic paranoia, and all the rest.  The philosophy of mediation seems to perpetually push us in the wrong direction.  And at its core, the philosophy is mediation is premised on the idea that we can’t hope for anything better; that we must resign ourselves to “reality” and concede.

When, by contrast, we look at what has, in the past, really moved history, we see that it has always been those who have refused to be mediators.  Their realism has consisted in believing the impossible and demanding the impossible.  They didn’t wait until the public was read for queer subjectivities, they said “we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re here to stay!”  Rather than bowing to the “realities” of the semiotic field, they set out to transform the field of public sentiment.  They did not say that we live in a capitalist world and this is just the best we can expect.  Instead, they said that another world is possible, they outlined this world in works of theory, critique, literature, and art and fought for their world.  Far from bowing to the realism of the impossible, their realism consisted in demanding the impossible and doing all that they could to render the impossible, possible.  And in doing so, in believing that alternatives are possible, they have endlessly made alternatives possible.  They have been the motors of history.  They, not the incrementalists with their cowardice and lack of conviction, have been the ones that have endlessly produced change.  Through their militancy, their refusal to compromise, and their conviction, they are the ones who have endlessly shifted the semiosphere and brought new worlds into being.  They have been, to speak Deleuzian, the intensive factors.  In this regard, the only realistic thesis is to be realistic and demand the impossible; to refuse compromise, to proudly embrace the title of “purist”, and to step up to the mantel of militancy.  Let others be the mediators and the compromisers.  The far more realistic position, the one that produces change, is those who amorously embrace the impossible.

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