I’m somewhat hesitant to write this. It might be my most controversial post thus far for the obvious reason: What does an old white dude (me, or Badiou, or both) have to say that could possibly be productive for identity politics — the discourse that tries to take some power back from the old white dudes (rightfully so).
Potential problem: only those who are in the same situation can speak about their experiences, and those who are not in a similar experience cannot and should not speak about those more oppressed them themselves. The result: “allies” cannot exist. For example, people of color cannot speak about Blackness in the United Sates because the experience of Blackness it is much worse to be Black in the states than it is to be a person of color.
This leads to all sorts of potential problems. But the main one is this: it opens up a distance between the people of power and the oppressed people, which cannot be traversed. Thus, they cannot work together and any sort of redemptive work that is done is achieved only by the oppressed working amongst themselves and forcefully seizing the power from the powerful.
I think it is productive for those with similar experiences to talk about these painful experiences with one another. But it cannot be the only project. That is, if the only project of the oppressed is to make sure that they are represented correctly (the oppressed deem how correct it is, presuming there is unified front), than this only project will forever be one of expressing oppression. And since no one can join, or help, then it is a project for only for the oppressed to remain oppressed.
I realize that this may be an extreme view. But it exists all the same.
Let’s turn to a rather recent movement: Idle No More. I have been under the impression that it has basically failed — conditions are basically the same. The engagement with the murdered and missing women of the indigenous community has still not had proper attention by the Government. This is undoubtedly unacceptable. And yet, despite all of the protests and campaigns, why can’t we get the government to do anything?
An Event, for Badiou, includes everyone. Universal Salvation (St. Paul) and The French Revolution are good examples: freedom for all, salvation for all. An Event births a procedure that infinitely investigates all of the terms of a situation by relating it to the positive name: Idle No More. In so doing, it overturns priorities and projects according to the new Event. The Event positively re-orients the conversation with a positive name and positive goals: we want this, this has to change, stop doing this, etc. In contrast to the politics of refusal — Occupy Wall Street (I prefer not to participate in Capitalism, but I have no alternative).
Idle No More definitely seems to include everyone in Canada: we all can understand the need for clean drinking water, decent living conditions, access to healthy food, education, and so on. If it includes everyone, why is it that the conditions remain the same. Sure, maybe the conversation has changed, but this happened with Occupy Wall street.
Badiou would probably say that though everyone is implicated and included, there isn’t much of a project for anyone except those that are suffering. Those that are not suffering can basically just say “yes, I also think this is shitty. But what is there for me to do?” There is nothing for them to gain except, perhaps, a cleaner conscience. An Event must demand something of everyone, and everyone must have something to gain from it. And since Idle No More lacked this essential element, it was doomed to fail from the outset. If there is to be a change in the abominable conditions in the reserves and the dishonoring of treaties, then there needs to be a project for everyone. At least, this is what Badiou might say. I’ll end with a quote of his from an essay on politics and philosophy.