A Lion’s Courage in the Land of Oz

Recent anti-war and globalization protests have compelled me to ask myself why I altogether avoid attending protest rallies despite considering myself an informed individual with a strong social conscience. The answer is quite simple: I refuse to wear ill-fitting costumes and under no circumstances will I dirty my hands with the ink from cheaply printed and intellectually obtuse pamphlets. It doesn’t help that my thoughts cannot be reduced to a witty pun sequined onto a t-shirt or waved about on a stick, or that I have never much cared for the taste of tofu.

I have always been repulsed by the ideological narrow-mindedness and congratulatory self-affirmation that plagues most public protest. From a structural perspective, these shortcomings exist because to be accessible or coherent, protest groups must use arguments that have been reduced to their lowest common denominator and invested with all of the incontrovertible truth of the gospel. Public protests become intellectually inflexible, their form privileging the megaphone-powered monologue to the give-and-take of objective dialogue.

I also care very little for the petty ideologues who have attached their personal and organizational agendas onto what has rapidly become a cult of social movement personalities. There is no shortage of weak-minded, pseudo-Leninists willing to rally the mindless, upper-middle class troops behind a cause that none fully understands, and against a world order that, despite all pleas to the contrary, each of them is thoroughly complicit in. As discredited as Leninist theory may appear to be in the official dogma of contemporary movements, it continues to manifest itself in the thinly veiled air of superiority that is displayed by far too many movement participants. The radical right is not alone in its unshakable certainty of what-is and what-ought-to-be, nor does it have a monopoly on the desire to play shepherd.

Behind the façade of anarchist and social democratic ideals that permeates protest sites like so much tear gas is a repressed will to power—the existence of which being attested to by crumpled police barricades and broken storefront windows. Indeed, the iconic status that Che Guevara continues to enjoy within social movement circles hints at the extent to which protesters will gladly follow a man in uniform so long as he promises deliverance from evil and a good show trial or two (a solid grasp of Marxian dialectics is definitely an asset, as is an understanding of the daily struggles of the working class that need not come from personal experience, but from flights of the imagination).

As obvious as this may sound, every movement needs its critical theorists. To this end I humbly volunteer. By choosing to engage in a theoretical critique of the struggle and to limit the extent of my physical interventions, I cannot help but open myself up to the charge of having abandoned the messy realities of realpolitik in favour of the sheltered reaches of the intellect. As my critics will correctly observe, the goal is not to interpret the world, but to change it.

In my own defense, I can only note that the strength and conviction that it takes to make a meaningful and well-considered intellectual contribution to any given struggle defies simple observation and, for this reason, is often assumed absent. The theoreticians of a movement are all too often chastised for their alleged cowardice; for failing to assume a lion’s courage on the road towards Oz. Yet we would do well to remember what every child knows: The lion is simply biding his time, cautiously waiting for that pivotal moment of self-knowledge, collective realization, and eventual redemption.

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There is a fascist in all of us…

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~ by Sean Best on January 15, 2008.

One Response to “A Lion’s Courage in the Land of Oz”

  1. Good post, but why “the poster (poseur) boy for the revolution”? Would it not be more appropriate to bring OZ itself to the ‘manifestation’? Could a surreal intervention not offer a more promising critique? Given your predilections Debord would be far more appropriate.

    Oh and by the way Hi. I hear through the grapevine that things are treating you better these days.

    Ciao
    The Wicked Witch of the West

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