Tuesday, May 1, 2012

protest as prayer

Today is May Day, a holiday which used to involve virgin sacrifices, wicker men, and maypoles; now it involves waving signs, interrupting traffic, and chanting slogans about "change" and "revolution" and how everything wrong with the world is someone else's fault.

This exercise is an instance of "prayer"—therapy through supplication to an imaginary entity. Protests as practiced in the contemporary United States do not affect government policy, they are not appeals to the president, they do not affect the opinions of individuals in any positive way, they do not generate any measurable, positive effect on the socio-economic status of the underprivileged or of those who engage in particularly onerous and under-remunerated brands of labor.

We can see they are not appeals to the president, since he himself is held up as an instigator and supporter of protests:

But who is the president exhorting the occupy movement to appeal to? Who are they protesting against?

It is the imaginary "other"—he who is responsible for all my travails, whoever it may be, that one.

Of course, protests in the US are directed against this imaginary other, while prayer in the Judeo-Christian sense is usually directed toward an imaginary other. In both cases, however, the primary function served is catharsis an inner relief from stress, depression, and pain by the foisting off onto an omnipotent other of one's problems, and, crucially, one's blame and responsibility for those problems.

And just as blameless is the retreat from the pain of this modern world into impotent prayer, so also is the retreat into impotent protest—protest free of conscience and clear of blame, but also closed of eyes and crippled of agency.

[This is not to say the practice of gathering in the streets has not, at any time, had political effect—many times it has; but in those times, there was purpose, focus, and unanimity, not ignorance, selfishness, and inconsistency.]

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