During the height of the movement against neoliberal globalization in the U.S., numerous chants and sayings emerged or were resuscitated, such as, “This is what democracy looks like” or “The whole world is watching.” Fortunately, along with the phenomenon of summit-hopping itself, these utterances have largely fallen into disuse. A particularly nonsensical saying from that moment was “Speaking truth to power.” First coined by Bayard Rustin for a pamphlet he co-wrote in 1955, called Speaking Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence, the notion has been rightfully critiqued by the likes of Noam Chomsky, who stated, “power knows the truth already, and is busy concealing it.” Yet even this does not go far enough, as it maintains the presumption latent in the slogan that there exists a binary between those with power and those without it, or that power as such is a thing one can speak to.
Theorists from Spinoza to Gramsci to Foucault have attempted to wrestle with the question of what power is, arriving at no agreement aside from the fact that power is no one thing. In this sense, power can be understood as being “overdetermined,” a Freudian concept appropriated by Marxist theorists which, as explained by Stuart Hall, allows that “an idea, a symptom, or a dream symbol can itself be the condensation of a set of different chains of meaning, which are not manifest in the way in which the symbol is given.…One has to conceive of it as overdetermined; that is, the same symbol can be determined at different levels, by different kinds of discourses.” The exploration of this discursive malleability of power, as well as the capacity of power to reify certain discourses, is at the heart of the most recent edition of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, volume number 32, published in May of this year by the Institute for Anarchist Studies and oriented around the theme of “Power.”
For a little more than a year I lived in Palestine. This text is not about that time but rather a phenomenon I first encountered there. That would be, in an overarching sense, the experience of the normalization of the expectation of the abnormal event. In this context, an abnormal event refers to an incident or circumstance that is outside the range of normative human experience and often beyond the capacity of the human psyche to make sense of or healthily integrate. During my time in Palestine, abnormal events were occurrences such as the nighttime raids of villages or homes, killings, woundings, beatings, kidnappings, tortures, and home demolitions carried out by Israeli military forces or settlers. (This is limited to the West Bank and would be much more devastating if expanded to include Gaza. Also left out are scenarios such as protests, which one enters into knowing that Israel will utilize varying levels of violence.)
Israeli forces carried out these actions with a consistency accompanied by an intentional unpredictability. In practice, this meant holding in one’s awareness the knowledge that something bad was going to happen, and soon. There was no if. When, where, and how bad? were the ever-lingering questions. And, given the limited territory on which these events occurred, would it involve those one knows or perhaps even oneself? To daily hold the apprehension, dread, or anxiety of the knowledge of an impending but unknown calamitous event is psychologically and physically exhausting. Its presence festers in the background, tingeing even the most positive or enjoyable of activities with an ambiguous darkness, an ill-at-ease that can not be put aside. For at any moment, the phone may ring or text may arrive with the news that something has happened.
In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we speak with two ongoing IGD contributors Peter Gelderloos and Scott Campbell about the shifting terrain of US empire globally as well as internally. Touching on everything from new global free trade agreements which seek to remove the United States from the equation, the continuing possibility of world nuclear war, as well as continued attacks at home on workers, migrants, and the poor, we look at life in the US one year under Trump.
But as we discuss the current terrain, our guests return again and again to the reality of declining US hegemony and power, as well as the question of what that means for humanity. The fact that we are living in a country that is losing both economic as well as military supremacy, both in terms of influence and control, is now not a controversial statement, but one of growing academic discussion.