Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thoughts from Camus on Rebellion

Karl Marx isn't the "only" "great thinker" worth reading. For those of us who want to have a diversified theoretical toolbox for our interaction with the world, it helps to sift through the whole of human history and pick the seeds with the most vigor to take root in one's life. (Contrast this with the niche writing produced by microsects around the world, these hard and mostly barren clusters of stagnant thought, which cannot make the proper connections with mainstream culture but try anyway to co-opt or influence popular movements....)

It is impossible for any one philosopher or school of thought to sum up the whole of human experience and prescribe a program for operation. It's entirely necessary, however, to venture some sort of guess about what's going on. But even with the homogenizing effects of globalization, thinkers run the risk of over-simplifying complicated interactions. This is the lesson we the revolutionaries of the 21st century learn from post-modernism: that no single thought is ever entirely accurate, that no one philosophy can address all the factors in play, that any number and variations of paradigms can operate simultaneously within the social environment.

So after some time of laying off the political writings, I've recently turned to Albert Camus and his philosophical examination of different types and movements of dissent, a frayed old book entitled The Rebel. Written in 1951, The Rebel takes a good hard look at many thinkers who are still relevant to - and studied by - us today. Many, like Nietzsche and de Sade, are tarnished by reputation and still discouragingly misunderstood by our contemporaries.

The point of this post is not to discuss the ideas, but to encourage my readers to pick up this obscured essay in light of recent developments in the United States. So then, for your consideration, a condensed quotation from Camus, and a picture from the news that rocked California and the #Occupation movements Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Analysis of rebellion leads at least to the suspicion that, contrary to the postulates of contemporary thought, a human nature does exist, as the Greeks believed. Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in oneself worth preserving? It is for the sake of everyone in the world that the slave asserts himself when he comes to the conclusion that a command has infringed on something in him which does not belong to him alone, but which is common ground where all men - even the man who insults and oppresses him - have a natural community....

[A]n act of rebellion is not, essentially, an egoist act.... Moreover, the rebel - once he has accepted the motives and at the moment of his greatest impetus - preserves nothing in that he risks everything. He demands respect for himself, of course, but only insofar as he identifies himself with a natural community.

Then we note that rebellion does not arise only, and necessarily, among the oppressed, but that it can also be caused by the mere spectacle of oppression of which someone else is the victim. In such cases there is a feeling of identification with another individual.... Therefore the individual is not, in himself alone, the embodiment of the values he wishes to defend. It needs all humanity, at least, to comprise them. When he rebels, a man defines himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical.

I rebel - therefore we exist.
- Camus, from "The Rebel"

Protesters struggle to get a woman in a wheelchair away from the teargas and rubber bullets at #occupyoakland, 10/26/2011

No comments: