Sensing sensibility

One of the interesting things from watching the stirrings of a movement in Ireland based on the occupation of public spaces is how patterns from elsewhere are replicated. One example is in references to the occupiers, on social networks, in terms such as ‘crusties’, ‘hippies’, ‘bums’ whose campaign, it is often claimed, is doomed to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions because you cannot be opposed to capitalism and use mobile phones at the same time, or because the state pays your dole money and therefore it is contradictory to protest against the state, and so on.

What this shows once again is that although capitalist ideology now celebrates individual freedom (to dress as one wishes, to buy whatever consumer goods one wishes, to make whatever career choices one wishes and so on), whenever this conception of freedom is challenged, even in mild and ostensibly unthreatening ways, its true authoritarian character quickly reveals itself.


Dressing up as clowns, as this translated article by Juan Carlos Monedero shows, can be a dangerous business, but it serves a definite purpose whenever a movement starts approaching the truth.

The 15-M as question

The 15-M is emotional, it lacks thought. With only emotions, without thought, you don’t get anywhere – Zygmunt Bauman

Neurobiologists know that the passions reside in our most primitive brain. Every “rational” decision is “emotional” beforehand. To hold back a negative emotion it is necessary to have “a very strong positive emotion”. This is not a wager on irrationality, but on an “emotioned reason” to get beyond the traps of a world that says protesting is terrorist, laughing is subversive, the unemployed are lazy, the students are unruly and women are pushy and lightweight. Dressing up as clowns to demonstrate against social cutbacks means that not only do the charges of the riot police prop up finance capital, but also their image as executioners of Fofo and Miliki (popular children’s clowns on Spanish TV from the 1970s onward). Very intelligent emotionality.

 The left has only been fired up when it dared to present a different world which was always rather unspecific. “Liberty, equality and fraternity” in the French Revolution, “Land and Freedom” in the Mexican Revolution, “Bread, Peace and Land” in the Russian Revolution or “Country, Socialism or Death” from the Cuban and Venezuelan processes. Does it seem likely that the iron cage of consumerism can be brought down without firing up those who are to saw through its bars?

The 15-M movement has managed to achieve the impossible for any previous international: to call the first global demonstration against the capitalist model. A G-90. Countries came out onto the street to recover democracy in the place it was born: in the squares. A moment for downfall. In less than six months. A question, not an answer.

In the face of the shock of the crisis, the popular reaction toward the dictatorship of the markets is charting a different course from those of tradition. The emotion of the 15-M is more similar to the generosity that is born out of disasters (the Mexican earthquake, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima or the landslides after the floods in Latin America). At these moments, egotism is suspended. It is a matter of struggling for the basics. Out of this, optimism is born. Are self-help books or the guidance of vanguards better? The joy of 15-M bursts the dykes of parties, unions, institutions. It makes them more useful when it breaks the constraints on unions to defend public education. It also challenges them when it is the citizens themselves who vote and share the vision of the 15-M.

When a bolt of lightning strikes at night, the field lights up and renders visible what was hidden. Squinting is not enough. There are too many veils. It is a question of sensibility. Emotion is what turns pain into knowledge, knowledge into wanting, wanting into power, and power into doing. A young person who sets fire to himself because they have taken away his means of survival, students who pitch a tent in the middle of the city, poor people who confront the rich in the midst of their stronghold, an evicted man in tears, a president who looked in the eye and then deceived. Only sensibility can call forth absent reason. Only emotion can break the enclosure of thought brought about by overinformation, consumerist desire, fear of the future, the denial of the past and anxieties about uncertainty and punishment. If the system only understands objects – a mortgage in arrears, a costly university place, an old person or a sick person who causes the deficit to rise, an intern who makes the debt more expensive, a protest that angers the banks- sensibility restores people to their place.

To govern tomorrow? The 15-M would have to sign, like the Lenin of 1917, onerous peace treaties if it were to assume that responsibility before time. It would lose territory, it would pay reparations, it would weigh down its flight. It still has gotten into these fights. It is not the answer to the sclerosis of neoliberal capitalism and representative democracy: it is the diagnosis of its illness. Why get sick alongside them? It is not a party nor must it be one right now. A party is a means to an end. The 15-M is an end in itself: a great conversation that by knowing what it does not want, will end up knowing what it does want.

Without leaders, without a programme, without a structure, the risk of disappearance in the ebb of the movement is there. But the crisis of the system and the impossibility of finding solutions from the inside will keep feeding the search. This does not mean verticalism. It is time for a more horizontal social involvement. We have to reinvent governance and turn it into democracy. Political decisions born of debate, executed through organisation and supervised by discussion restored to those below.

Whereas it was freedom demanded in 1968, now it is equality. Despoiled nature, an uncertain future and everyday violence cannot sustain differences. Hence the strength of the camaraderie in the 15-M. For this reason also the importance of social networks, for their horizontality, for their relations between equals who recognise and treat each other as such.

In the 15-M there is a confluence of veterans punished by the system and also middle classes angered that, for the first time, they have felt treated like proletarians. From the abuse they recognise themselves and they reinvent themselves. Here part of their amiability can be understood. The struggle against authoritarianism generated a type of party. Against the cold war, a different one. Out of the 15-M there will come many different ways of organising politically. The important thing will be to see how much there is a constant back and forth to the movement that puts its stamp on the ways of practising politics.

Faced with a rigid and ever less tolerant capitalism –not at all liquid, with apologies to Bauman- the 15-M articulates its opposition with intelligence. The system knows how to defend itself when it is denied or when it is fought, but it doesn’t know what to do when it is overwhelmed. This has been the strategy of the movement for just 5 months. It turns upside down the theories of those intellectuals ignored by insurgent peoples that say: “if reality doesn’t look like theory, too bad for reality”. A stubborn and irreverent reality which, with apologies to consecrated intellectuals and with the help of poets, like lightning, never stops*

*The reference here is to El rayo que no cesa, a collection of poems by Miguel Hernández, who who fought in the trenches on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War and died at the age of 31 in 1942, incarcerated under vile conditions in one of Franco’s prisons.





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