As the KSR quote to the left suggests, and as I’ve argued here, the concept of Struggle Forever! is that the fight to create a just and sustainable world (whatever that means) is never ending. The world is continually and constantly changing, and so too will the meaning of justice and sustainability. Furthermore, there will always be people trying to amass as much control as they can – trying desperately to make the world fit into their own myopic vision – and in the process causing great suffering and injustice to others. The goal of Struggle Forever! is to recognize these challenges, and to continue struggling to make the world better for everyone no matter what victories or defeats we may suffer. Past revolutions failed not because they didn’t create a perfect society in the moment of victory, but because they stopped and the world didn’t stop with them. This opens the question, what does continual and constant revolution look like? I would argue that it looks very different from revolutions of the past (and present), but that’s an argument for a different post – for now I merely suggest the possibility and let you muse on it for a while.
This brings me to the question of power. For those of you who know me, and those who have followed this blog for a long time, I’ve been obsessed with finding a working definition of power. One of my major concerns about critical literature is that it fails to define what power is, and how it’s produced and maintained, and therefore it makes it into a nebulous concept that we can do little to actually mobilize against. I understand there are reasons for this – defining power may constitute an act of power itself, and in so doing marginalize certain groups and individuals for whom power is constituted differently. However, without some kind of definition of power, we become helpless to identify it and act against. It becomes a way of explaining without itself being explained – a mode of critique with no possible solution. For this reason, I’ve often been critical of critical literature that simply reduces any activity or injustice to a vague issue of power.
This is why I’ve striven to talk about power in other ways, for example, as the differential distribution of vulnerability (a similarly vague notion, but easier to grasp, I think – see my Imponderabilia essay). Thinking about the concept of Struggle Forever!, I can see another way to reconceptualize power in a way that allows us to start thinking about ways to address it. If the struggle must continue, then power, at least in some sense, is the ability of an individual or group (due to their position in a particular material-semiotic assemblage) to close off the struggle before it has ended (which is never). In other words, it is the ability to make sure that people can’t or won’t continue to fight despite injustice, suffering, or harm. It could be done by exertion of force, or by affective manipulation, but however it’s accomplished, it closes the door to resistance (and thus makes those in power less vulnerable – less open to being altered and affected by others). Of course, the door is never fully closed – there are always cracks through which resistance may seep, and people never truly stop resisting even when faced with an iron cage – this is why no power is ever truly totalizing.
So what can be done? There will always be positions of power in this sense – positions in which a few people are given the ability to shut down struggle before it ends. For those who occupy these positions (who would hopefully have an interest in being just and not causing harm), the ethical approach would be to avoid arbitrarily closing down the struggle before it’s ended – before everyone has had a say and an agreement has been forged. I don’t think this means that those in power need to avoid arguing their own case – they are “stakeholders” in many of these struggles, after all, and deserve some say. It simply means that one’s own opinion shouldn’t be held to any greater value than that of anyone else’s – that all opinions are open to being altered and affected equally (that they are equally vulnerable). For those who are not in positions of power, it means throwing yourself against the door to prevent it from being closed, and, if it is closed prematurely, battering at it until the door is either opened again or knocked down. Finally, and in the long run, it means creating systemic mechanisms that prevent these doors from being closed prematurely – a door stop that holds the door open even though the person who holds it may try.
For an excellent and timely example of (the abuse of) power, see this article on the recent Supreme Court decision on whether or not unions can charge non-union employees fees for certain activities. Whether or not you agree with the union position, it seems like the supreme court overstepped its limits by ruling on an aspect of the case that was not argued in the hearing. Thus, the supreme court has closed this door, making a number of state laws unconstitutional, without hearing the relative merits of the issue at hand.