One of the most often made critics to the occupy movement is that its members ‘don’t know what they want’. Rebels without a cause, demanding changes without proposing how they could be made, the occupiers were often received with annoyance and impatience by those who, confronted with the indecision of these protesters on what, after all, they want to be done, would like they decided already what to do.
Against this sort of critic, it’s been already pointed out in a number of ways how this indecision, in its negative aspect (that is, in the sense of not immediately deciding on what is to be done), is essential and productive in many ways. As a matter o fact, it is this indecision that allows for a truly honest debate, a discussion open to new ideas and possibilities, that isn’t determined by presuppositions and prejudices put beyond any critic, any test through their discussion and questioning in an open dialog. This indecision, even in its negative aspect (of not deciding on what is to be done), isn’t to be taken as negative (as meaning something bad, prejudicial). On the contrary, this indetermination is fundamental, in order to make possible a truly honest politics, one that doesn’t guide itself through presuppositions and prejudices, through ideas or proposition pre-defined or rashly proposed, before they can be serious and consequently evaluated and discussed. The important thing now isn’t to take action as fast as possible; rather, it is to take it the best possible way. Thus, the priority isn’t to have a proposal – rather, it’s the quality (one could also say, the legitimacy) of the proposal that is built. Or, to put it in another way: what matters isn’t to have a proposal, but rather to have a satisfactory proposal. According to this point of view, it would seem even absurd to gather around an proposal due more to the faith in it than from the fact that it resulted from an extended debate from those who gather around it. The indecision of the occupiers about what to do is thus essencial in order to not take simply any action, but rather the action that is the most adequate to the current development of events. And this can only be done through dialog, openness, reflection.
However, without aiming to dismiss the relevance of the negative aspect of the indecision of the occupiers, I would like to emphasize, in this article, what I take to be its positive side.
If I intend to do this, it’s because, according to my understanding, if the occupiers are undecided on what to do, this isn’t due to the fact that they ‘don’t know what they want’, but rather, due to the fact that what they want can’t be submitted to the division that requires a decision. In other words, it’s not that the occupiers don’t know what they want: it’s that what they want doesn’t allow for any exclusive choice. Between one thing and another, what we, occupiers and sympathizers of the occupy movement, want, is both – and there is no possibility for us of deciding between one or the other. What we want is more than we can decide, more than what can be decided. And if we want so much, it’s because we no longer believe in the false dichotomies that for so long organized politics, forcing us to decide between one thing or another when there is no reason not to demand both, demand all of them. We can’t decide what we want not because we don’t know what we want, but because what we want is indivisible, and thus goes beyond the law of choice, at least so far as it requires from us that something be excluded. We don’t believe there exists an opposition between diverse, equally legitimate demands that would force us to choose between them – rather, we act on the principle that all legitimate demands are compatible with one another. Rather than taking it to be necessary to chose between them, we take any choice of this kind to be impossible, because all of them are equally essential and, precisely as such, can’t be mutually exclusive. When faced with the choice between two equally essential demands, we always choose both. Which doesn’t mean that we believe possible to satisfy equally and simultaneously all of them, or that we are unable to organize them in priorities, according to the means at disposal to satisfy them. It means only that we don’t believe that any definitive choice has to be made or can even be made between them, as if taking one of the demands forward made impossible to carry through another or others demands. We don’t believe legitimate demands can be satisfied with the same means and the same difficulties; but we do believe that satisfying one legitimate demand never turns impossible to satisfy another demand of the same sort. Thus, we don’t have to decide between them. We don’t, in short, have to settle for so little, to be satisfied with what is unsatisfactory, precisely because it can’t handle all the equally just and thus equally (to this extent) necessary demands.
It’s partly due to this that we are not satisfied with the politics organized through parties, one of the central principles of the occupations being a nonpartisan politics. Parties force us to choose sides, when there is no such need. They create oppositions between the demands of a party and of the other, of the left-wing and right-wing parties, leading us into believing that involving yourself politically implies defining yourself by the side you’re in. Likewise, they lead us into judging about the legitimacy of a demand according to the side whence it came – if it’s from a party or another, a left-winged or right-winged demand. Yet, I believe that the demand for a nonpartisan politics is grounded largely in the fact that we perceive that this logic of antagonisms, promoted by the organization of politics through parties, isn’t capable of organizing a form of politics capable of satisfying our demands for a fairer and more democratic world. That’s because these demands have no parties, they are not defined as left or right-wing demands, as being of the interest of one or another particular group. We can’t decide in which party we are, because we’re not interested in the benefit of one or another group: we’re interested in the benefit of all. We cannot decide between the legitimate demands from one side or the other: we fight for all of them. (Not that from this follows that we are never willing to give reason to one party and take it away from another; but we don’t believe that one of them can always be right and the other always wrong, and hence, although we may sometimes support the demands of one side or another, we’re not ourselves in either side, at least not in the sense of being bound to their limits). And we believe that only fighting for all of them we can change our way of making politics in such a manner that allows us to handle the fundamental questions that lie at the center of our current crisis.
It’s also partly due to this positive indecision that we can no longer be satisfied by our representative democracy. After all, it’s based largely in the presupposition that in a society as ours, no one can have a democracy that isn’t simultaneously a representative one. Yet again, it’s as if we were faced with a choice: either we have a democracy that can ‘work’, artificially as it may be, in our society – and this could only be a representative democracy – or we could have direct, real, democracy, in which everybody takes part in the major decisions on the course of your society, but which simply wouldn’t work. Well, it’s the necessity of such a choice, such a decision that we question. We no longer believe that democracy, in order to ‘work’, has to be representative, and we don’t believe the way this representative democracy works to be satisfactory – rather, we see in its way of ‘working’ one of the main causes of the events that lead to the crisis. They ask us what we rather have: a direct, real democracy, or a possible democracy. We answers, in our turn, that we want direct democracy is possible, that we can’t decide between direct and possible democracy because we want one that is both direct and possible. We no longer believe in the dichotomy between ideal and real, at least in the sense that we don’t believe that any true ideal is forever beyond becoming real, as if there was an absolute opposition between the real and the ideal, and not a merely relative one, in which what is ideal is only thus because it’s not our current reality, it hasn’t yet become our reality, because it didn’t find so far the necessary conditions to become real. In other words, we believe that direct democracy isn’t just an utopia, an empty ideal that is in contradiction with any kind of reality: rather, we believe it can be real, if the necessary conditions are given. And we strive precisely for the creation of such conditions.
Finally, that’s why, in my opinion, it’s necessary to fight for a politics that goes beyond the decidable. By such a politics I don’t understand one that takes no decisions on what to do, but rather one whose end is beyond decisions, in the sense of not being submitted to any division due to which one would be required to decide between one side of this end or another. We are tired of lesser evil politics, the one which gives us different, but equally unsatisfactory options. We’re tired of minimalist politics, which abdicate from doing what they should and settle from what they can. We want a politics that dismantles the illusion of the lesser evil, that doesn’t believe that its modus operandi is confined within the choice between alternatives equally insufficient to satisfy its object. Not that we believe that we can do away with the lesser evil strategy: we recognize its need. However, we recognize it only as a circumstantial one. Which means, in other words, that although we recognize the need to use such strategy in certain moments, we would never settle for it. Even though this strategy is required by politics, we don’t believe that it should be defined by it. If sometimes choosing the lesser evil is necessary, we believe, however, that we can overcome such choice. That’s why it’s always circumstantial, and never an unsurpassable obstacle for the possibility of having no need to choose between equally unsatisfactory options, of realizing what both of them are capable of and also what each of them isn’t capable of doing by itself.
That’s why we are tired of politics that settle with its insufficiency and naturalizes it, that takes itself to be politics precisely because it does what it can, not what it should. Not that we’re expecting a politics of the end of the history, which would be capable of making, once and for all, what it should. We’re just not satisfied with a politics that settles in doing what it can, that always believes itself incapable of doing what it should, that believes that what it should do is always unreachable. We want a politics that don’t start by assuming that one has to do what one can, but rather that starts assuming that one must fight until the end to do what one should do.
We want, finally, a politics that doesn’t take refuge in the rhetoric of division, according to which we should settle to one side or the other of what we want, and hence remains always unsatisfied. Do we want the individual or the collective? We want the individual and the collective, we can’t choose one in exchange for the other, we don’t fall into the trick of having to decide which would be the lesser evil, submitting the individual to the collective or the collective to the individual. (And isn’t that idea in the center of the idea of democracy itself? That one can’t choose between the individual and the collective, that the individual can’t be reduced to the collective – one citizen, one vote – and that the collective can’t be reduced to its individuals, but rather should be the result of all of them together?). Do we want safety or tolerance? We want safety and tolerance, not because we don’t believe these demands can be attended separately, but because we believe that each of them loses its value if in order to be satisfied it requires the exclusion of the other demand. We want a politics of the brave, one that believes in its own potential of realizing its own object, that doesn’t believe its object to be unavoidably torn to pieces and thus requiring a decision between one or some of this pieces and the exclusion of the others. We want a politics that embraces its object as it is, as something that goes beyond these decisions, that embraces it in its unity, its fullness, it absence of divisions.
Thus, I say it again: it’s not that the occupiers don’t know what they want. It’s that the nature of what they want does not submit itself to easy choices, to exclusive choices, and hence can’t be immediately transposed to reality, to a concrete proposal. It’s not that the protesters don’t decide what they want, it’s that, since what they want goes beyond decision, it’s difficult to decide what to do. And that’s not only because the nature of their demands doesn’t allow for an easy proposition on what to do, but also because there are hardly any means available to make such transposition from these demands to a concrete proposal. Thus, we have to create these means with our own hands. And what else has the occupy movement done, with the creation and use of its Collective Thinking? It has precisely organized a mode of thought, discussion and proposal that isn’t based on the exclusion of different opinions between themselves, such that one has to decide between one and the other, but rather on the inclusion of both of them in a new synthesis, in a unity in which both have their own space but also go beyond their selves and unite with the other one, in such a manner that no decision is required between them. The occupiers realized that what is fundamentally required, in order to achieve what they want, is a new form of synthesis; and it’s precisely this form that they are not only creating, but also practicing through their Collective Thinking, working not with an exclusive logic – according to which, in order to attain unity differences must be solved and dissolved – but rather with an inclusive logic, according to which unity can only be achieved through difference, and which only is capable of sustaining itself as unity as long as it doesn’t dissolve the differences it contains within itself in its own unity. Consensus is reached not by eliminating the differences, but by constructing upon them – and what is built upon them can never undo them – rather it gives them their proper place, without having to decide between one side or another. Thus, and to conclude, what we need is, in fact, a politics that goes beyond decisions; and that’s what the occupiers, with their new way of making politics and their Collective Thinking, are trying to build with their own hands.