As social resistance movements lost their momentum, solidarity received a hard blow. It seems like the “we” that dwelled on the streets and slept in tents exploded into infinite micro-identities, distinctions, categories; into perennial deconstruction upon deconstruction. Instead of social unity, we find ourselves in a bacchanal of differentiations and separations in which one cannot (and sometimes should not) transgress the private, consumer, gender, cultural I – with its specific opinion and limited interests.
It seems that we have lost what Bruno Latour calls: the “shared world” – a shared sphere of reference that allows common-sense or healthy-reasoning. A plain where consensual facts are agreed upon, meaning, can be shared and results can be addressed. The disintegration of such a shared world challenges not only the social-economic-political structures but also the more minor sense of expanding or broadening the self toward the other. It challenges our ability to take-part, and to be a part; to maintain a human partnership.
When will we be able to say We again?
(A monologue- Google titles)
We are Sheep Without a Shepherd
We Are Arabs, Not Sheep!
We Are Palestinians, Sir
We Aren׳t Palestinians, You Won׳t Fuck Us Over
We Don׳t Hate Arabs. Our Mentality is Kill or Be Killed
They Asked if We Are Arabs – and Struck. I Thought My Friends Were No Longer Alive
Stop Denying It – We Are Arab
We Are Not Racists, But As Is the Way of Israeli Society, We Went to the Other Extreme
We are Jewish and Let׳s Celebrate It
We Are Protecting the Jews, Not You, You Shit Face
We Are the Majority, and We Are Angry
We Are the Majority. It is Time to Change the Record
We Are the Majority, and We Are the Most Miserable
We Are Completely Alone Here
Have We Totally Lost Our Minds?
We Are the Ones Who are Not Learning
We Are the Ones Getting High and Fucking Ourselves to Death Every Weekend
If You Don׳t Mind, We Are the Ones Fucked
We Are the Ones Who Should “Have the Glory”
We Will Bring the Messiah
We Will Bring the Money
We Will Continue to Fight through Light and Love
When will we be able to say We again?
Livia Andrea Piazza
This question provokes in me a mixture of urgency and irritation: We who? We – as in "people like me" – actually never stopped saying "we."
Sometimes it was about reclaiming a common, some other times I was just being naïve on what "we" actually have in common.
I did learn that "we" as in "people like me" often hides a lack of rehearsals in recognizing one’s own privileges, and here lies another part of the irritation.
Still, "when will be able to say we" is an urgent question, especially within the suffocating individualism that occupies our lives, our work, our collaborations.
Navigating these thoughts, I was suddenly reminded of the sense of possibility I felt, when I first encountered the idea that, as human beings, we are always already dependent on others. It happened by reading Dispossession by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou. Being dispossessed is a condition of deprivation but also a state of exposure to that which is other. At the threshold between ourselves and the others, we are reminded of the limits of our own self-sufficiency: as we do and undo each other, dispossession becomes a constitutive condition of our subjectivity.
In a capitalism that tries so hard to convince us that we are free and autonomous individuals, it was so liberating to be reminded that we are not, and that if there is something we share, that is our being interdependent and precarious.
Maybe, we will be able to say "we" when we accept that what we share is not something we know we have in common, but rather something we don’t know; when we come to terms with the fact we are not – and never will be – able to understand each other completely and that this distance is a necessary condition for our communication and collaboration. In a paper I recently read, Valeria Graziano speaks about recreation, unpacking its meanings and following its threads in our different ways of being together. Recreation emerges across the spheres of work, leisure, labour and creation as time enabling another kind of social cooperation. Borrowing from her, I would say that we will be able to say "we" – and say it loud – when we will be able to experience our constitutive differences not as something to be managed but as a true source of pleasure.
I will give my answer in two parts:
First, when can we say “we”? Or, in other words, when does the term “we” play another role, in addition to its always ideological aspect? I think that the term “we” can only be said by two. Only a couple can say “we,” while already knowing that this is only partially true. When one (or both) of the partners says we, they actually say “I am less than one” and this, in my view, is a worthy statement. And if there are two – not necessarily in the sense of a romantic couple, or not a couple under any conditions – as Alain Badiou notes, you either have love or a revolution. So in this case, to say "we" is not only valid but also, it seems to me, welcome.
Second, as far as solidarity itself is concerned: I don’t really have any idea as to what social solidarity may be, but I do know there is such a thing as “solidity,” which is actually an expression of firmness. From this point of view, I will suggest that solidarity is not based on identification with the other, on empathy with the disenfranchised and the marginalized, or on contributing and helping the needy, but on the production of a solid state, on crystallization. Solid state is not a trivial matter in the Israeli context, which is constantly dissipating and dissolving. Solidness can be created when something becomes less humid. Less sweaty, less contemplative, less critical, less contentious, less concerned with gain and more cohesive, differentiated, that has a “contour,” delineated.
And from solid solidarity you can turn to solidity as a characteristic of style: the sound, non-vile, non-provocative, silent-strong, beauty and character. In other words, the Ideal. And if two people manage to say “we” in the sense of beauty and character, well, that’s already quite good. Finally, character-beauty expresses weight. And what has weight on Earth will always go in the direction of the earth. Simone Weil wrote about a beautiful concept, the need for roots, enracinement, which she invoked during World War II – at time that demanded a rethinking of the existence of the French nation under German occupation, that is to say, rethinking the claim and the need for cohesion against capitalism, totalitarianism, and racism. Something in this direction feels right to me, if you are looking for a solid solidarity.
“Pray run slower, and I will follow slower” (Ovid, Metamorphoses, “Apollo and Daphne”)
Here is a form of partnership, of solidarity, of a we, a metamorphosis that facilitates an agreement on love. Between a virgin that had been transformed into a tree and a god. A love that quite literally became a part of the natural order. But love, before any metamorphosis, always disrupts the natural order of things, the “ways of the world.” It is its inherent miraculous dimension. For it to not disrupt, that is to say, to be ingrained and included in it, we invented marriage. Which usually duplicates and maintains existing natural, social, cultural orders (and yes, also between same sex couples, and between gods and trees).
This seems to be a structural misstep that destroys not only love but also any other attempt to change something, through it, even when endeavoring to upturn. To change something in what we perceive as social reality, even if for the possibility of saying “we.”
I once heard one of our local "Panthers" talk about one of the great achievements of their protest, and there is no dispute that the Panthers’ fight was the most impressive to ever take place here and since then there has been no struggle that can even compare to theirs, but the achievement in question, a bureaucratic coup, was ... the possibility of taking a mortgage (an option that has since eluded the symbolic descendants of their fight). To buy property ... Well, what can I say? “Pray run slower (from the poverty imposed on you), and I (the bank) will follow slower (until you turn into plants).”
It seems, then, that the answer will not be found in the metamorphoses of love as included in the natural or social order. Whether it is love for a woman, a place, family, friends, or an idea. The question or possible cure vis-à-vis the function of love in any possibility of “we,” a possibility that every love fantasizes about, is in its pound of flesh. In what cannot be inscribed in it as a written agreement of some sort. Namely, what could not be subject to any barter. Let us try to agree on this. Let’s see how that turns out.
Let us agree that in order to say “we,” we must agree to love as a requisite of the possibility of “we,” without forgetting the rejection and hostility as inherent to any love relationship. In other words, let us not forget Schopenhauer’s “Porcupine Parable,” which Freud also invokes: A group of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold winter day. Obviously, they immediately started to feel the pricks of the other’s quills, driving them to disperse and then huddle together once again, and disperse yet again, until they discovered the right distance in which their situation was tolerable, both in relation to the cold and in relation to the quills.
A porcupine, a porcupine, and another porcupine, and another. Each porcupine and the distance they need from the other porcupine and the porcupine inside them, and the porcupine that they are, and from the cold.
We – A Litany
I would like to answer the question with a poem I have translated. Written by Audre Lorde, a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," this poem was published in her 1978 book The Black Unicorn. Using the plural pronoun, the poem invites into the collective it forms “those of us” who read in it their own struggle to survive. The collective that the poem creates is comprised of people who were never a part of that lost “shared world,” yet offers the precise message for this moment: “So it is better to speak / remembering / we were never meant to survive.”
A Litany for Survival / Audre Lorde
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.