I’m currently reading “Violence” by Slavoj Žižek and there’s one section that set me thinking about the nature of civic activism, especially anti-racist activism. He offers an analysis of the film “The village“, an analysis which I actually found more interesting than the film itself (you can watch the film here).
The film is about a village where people (who think it is 1897) live in Pennsylvania which is cut off from the rest of the world by a wood, a wood they don’t enter due to creatures, “Those we don’t speak of” which live there. As long as they don’t enter the wood, the creatures won’t enter the village. The drama comes when one of the protagonists (seen in the photo above) dares to exit the village boundaries. To cut a long story short, it turns out that the creatures don’t exist, rather, they are a myth concocted by the village elders (comprising of people from a support group for people whose relative have been murdered) in order to stop people leaving the village into the world which they see as dangerous. Through a few props but largely by the power of the myth people stay in the village.
Of the creatures Žižek writes that “The evil is part of the inner circle itself, it is imagined by its members”. This evil, this threat is effectively one that the villages themselves have created. This threat of violence, of danger is actually themselves, a projection of their capability for violence. The wood represents their unconscious. There lies hidden desires and fears.
Early in June I was co-leading a trip of people to Oświęcim and Kraków, whereby we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. One evening in a splendid anarchist pub in Kazimierz over a pint or two of Kasztełan we discussed being involved in anti-fascism. It came to the point where we were analysing ourselves: With Nazis, we can put all the shite we’ve seen and experienced on their shoulders; we cannot go shouting and agitating against everyday holders of prejudicial views but with Nazis we can allow ourselves to show hatred. It’s like they’re scapegoats for all the shite in our societies, in our lives. That we define ourselves as anti-racists and/or anti-fascists, it means that part of our identities is a reaction to other people, and therefore they form part of our identities, albeit in a reactionary form.
This makes an anti-fascist demo a personal event. On the other side of the police line are not just Nazis but also people we know from our pasts, people from our everyday life who annoy us because of their views. Nazis form a psychological function in allowing us to think of ourselves as being “good” people, working for a good cause. We can account for our feelings of hate by making our work “just” and “right”.
I could be wrong, like. Certainly, I don’t want people to stop working against racism and fascism because of any possible unresolved inner tension. Obviously, I’d rather people be active against racism. In any case perhaps it is the case that those who have experienced injustice can be more active against racism.
What I am saying is that I believe it to be healthier to be aware of ones motivations, to be active in a more reflected way. One can continue to be socially active, while also being aware of why wants to do that. Conscious actions can produce more energy. It can also lead to people not unquestionably identifying with people or groups perceived to be “victims”. The person being hit with hammers at home can be a man, and the person wanting to do a “Holocaust” in the Middle East can be a Palestinian. It means being more critical regarding accusations of racism.