Sunday, February 05, 2012

What is successful protest?

“Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success, namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

- Wendell Berry.

If success means the preservation of the status quo (as it often implied by discourse surrounding the term "sustainability"), then this is both impossible (philosophically and pragmatically) and undesirable. Yet if success is feeling good amount myself while the world burns, then this is a failure to connect with the plight of my fellow creatures. Berry points to something else as success: the preservation of spiritual qualities that cannot otherwise be preserved. This implies a "push" rather than "pull" reading of protest; protest is not performed in order to pursue an as yet unrealised objective ahead of me, but is the expression of qualities of heart and spirit which cannot hope to be preserved without protest.

Protest is thus spiritually conservative.

6 comments:

byron smith said...

Berry quote came from this thoughtful review of the thought-provoking documentary Just Do It. Lovely image at the bottom of the post.

byron smith said...

Derrick Jensen: Beyond Hope.

This is a powerful piece about love being greater than hope from one of the bleakest anti-civilisation writers around. Indeed, Jensen argues that hope is a barrier to love, since it leads to passivity. I don't think his take on hope is comprehensive, but it is a critique of certain versions of hope that is sorely needed.

bfriendly said...

You certainly keep an interesting, deep blog, Mr. Smith. Quite challenging. Really had to think about "protest that endures" and "public success" a lot. To me Berry's piece means that protest makes a difference when we do it not with the outcome in mind, but simply because we want and have to express what is important to us. Without even believing in the possibility for change, we must say when something is godawful wrong. I am thinking for example of the protests in East Germany "we are the people". Thanks for blogging. Best wishes from B.

byron smith said...

Thank you. Yes, I agree with your take on Berry's quote, and the post I linked to in the first comment above reflects on these things in more depth.

Protests are so often dismissed as asking the impossible, that is, the politically unthinkable. But only by such asking does the impossible become widely thinkable, and so desirable. But this is a side-effect rather than the primary goal of protest. The driving motive is simply to witness, to say publicly, that things ought not be this way. If silence is tacit approval, then protest is resistance to my own moral corruption and culpability in injustice.

Anonymous said...

People have been protesting against the over-whelming momentum of the world-machine for many centuries now.

There have perhaps been some minor adjustments to the way the relentless world-machine operates, but all of the protest movements have been either ground to dust (or insignificance), or co-opted by the world-machine itself (which has the immense power and momentum of at least 3 millennia of patriarchal power and control seeking "culture" behind it)

I quite like what Derrick Jensen has to say, but there is nothing in what he says and promotes that will or can make any real difference.

byron smith said...

The social transformations of the last few centuries have been "minor changes"? If so, what then do you mean by "world machine"? What is it that has stayed so constant during this whole time?