Civil society is messy, disorganized, chaotic, spontaneous and unpredictable. This is our own personal experience of life lived in the real world, with people who work for a living and struggle to make a better life for themselves and their children. This was life as experienced in Taksim Square, a tangle of plazas, streets and shops representing an unruly commons in the middle of Istanbul. At least it was until the Turkish government decided to sanitize the square, channeling the traffic underground to create a pedestrian plaza and building a mosque and a shopping mall, designed no doubt, to enrich the political elites.
The really important knowledge in our lives is local, where the best ice-cream is sold, which tree provides the best shade to read a book under, who in your network gives the best advice on relationship issues, who you can rely on at work to get the job done. This is knowledge as experienced from the ground up and is very different from the view from the top. Thus a placard at Gezi Park in Taksim Square quoted an old poem by Nazim Hikmet:
I am a walnut tree in Guhane Park
Neither you are aware of this, nor the police.
The view from the top is molded by the necessity of retaining and if possible, increasing power over those at the bottom. Generally the domination of those at the bottom requires no knowledge of particularity or individuality, quite the reverse, it requires that those at the bottom be treated as a mass that can be measured, counted, controlled, organized, taxed, spied upon, lied to, and if necessary, imprisoned or killed (drone willing).
The general world view of those at the top is one of contempt for the rest of us as illustrated by the Turkish Prime Minister’s claim that the protesters were çapulcu or bums. Another example closer to home would be the recent reply of James Clapper, director of national intelligence, who in response to a question from the U.S. Senate about whether the government collected information on millions of Americans, answered: “No, sir, not wittingly”.
President Obama, who met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan recently in Washington, has praised him for “being such a strong ally and partner in the region and around the world.” Indeed, Washington has promoted Erdogan’s government as a model for the Middle East. However,while the recent confrontations in Taksim Square may be a surprise to our intelligence services, they are no surprise to those of us who view the modern state as the institutionalization of dominant interests. Managed democracy may try to channel dissent through established channels but sooner or later real life bursts through these sclerotic arrangements with the power of long repressed creative energy. Real life seeks to be messy, free and spontaneous.
As deflation tightens its grip on Europe and the US, the state together with its corporate partners will attempt to find new and more creative ways to soak the middling and poorer classes to pay for the excesses of the elites. Capital controls, travel restrictions and account confiscations are just a few of the panoply of techniques that will increasingly be used to try to seal the cracks which civil society currently uses to escape corralling and constraint.
Don’t expect all resistance to be overt. Throughout history most resistance has been under the radar and not the headline grabbing protests we have become used to over the last few weeks. As James C. Scott writes in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts:
“The hidden transcript is not just behind-the-scenes griping and grumbling; it is enacted in a host of down-to-earth, low-profile stratagems designed to minimize appropriation. In the case of slave, for example, these stratagems have typically included theft, pilfering, feigned ignorance, shirking or careless labor, footdragging, secret trade and production for sale, sabotage of crops, livestock, and machinery, arson, flight, and so on. In the case of peasants, poaching, squatting, illegal gleaning, delivery of inferior rents in kind, clearing clandestine fields, and defaults on feudal dues have been common stratagems.”
Expect the growth of high tech versions of these low-profile stratagems of resistance. Think Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, the Anonymous group of hacktivists, the use of crowdsourcing to monitor big brother, political satire combined with YouTube videos and the instant and wide transmittal of memes, graphics and images on social media like Twitter. The image of the woman in red which has become the leitmotif for protesters in Istanbul has, like the UC-Davis ’s “pepper-spray cop”, become memefied.
“You may either win your peace or buy it: win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil.” John Ruskin