Some Thoughts on Solidarity and Community

(I had written this article for our Save the UNT Library blog; I think it applies to more than just one cause and that is why I am sharing it here)

We live in a world constructed to force us to internalize our own insignificance. Every single day we go on with our daily activities, painfully aware that we are caught in an ever-expanding web of impersonal, totalizing power, a power that has, à la Foucault, no source, no origin, no head. Against this impersonal yet palpable power, our narratives of identification are also deeply structured by the images that we see and the stories we read or hear.

The greatest fiction perpetuated in this realm of financialized globe is the idea of individual subjectivity according to which, in the great scheme of things, the individual somehow masters his or her will and becomes a subject of his or her own movement up the so-called social ladder. This is the ideal narrative, for man and woman alone is the idealized object upon which this disembodied but potent power can work its magic.

So, we, having internalized these fictions of self, live our lives pretending to be free and individualistic while every night we enter our houses, close the doors and re-enter the world through the flat screens that offer us, virtually, the kind of world needed to keep us where we are: alone, powerless, and mostly unaware of our real state of being.

But self, and we all know this in a way, is always, as Bakhtin would say it, a “bridge thrown across” by another. That is why we seek symbolic and romantic recognition from the other: we become ourselves, so to speak, through the loving gaze, caring touches, and soothing words of the others. Love makes us who we are, but love always presupposes an other, or else all one has left is a destructive narcissistic self.

This insignificance that has now become a global way of life dictates our actions, polices our thoughts, and frames our self-narratives. We are always either too busy, too tired, or simply in too much of a precarious condition to do something, to say something. We even express our outrage in private, for the public, we have learned, is a dangerous space. In this world full of riches and plenty, when it comes to our self-worth, we have, somehow, learned to connect it to what we have and not who or what we are.

The question that we must pose to ourselves is simple: Are we noble? Yes, noble: an old fashioned word that has lost its significance in this world of enormous wealth and heartbreaking poverty and suffering. For if we are noble, we will, sometimes, stop to offer a word of kindness, a helping hand, a look that lifts someone’s spirit, an acknowledgment of the humanity of someone else, for, ultimately, it is only when we recognize the humanity of the others that we truly become human.

In this world, then, our only recourse, our only hope lies in solidarity with others, in being noble to each other. We also always imagine that the only form of heroism is something beyond the common scale, something monumental and since we conflate nobility with heroics, we also, always, find both the heroic and the Nobel beyond our reach. But heroism is not about scale, for anyone trained for years and given the biggest guns and tanks available can go and fight a war. True heroism, true nobility is the one we perform every single day: a smile and a kind word to the person who serves us our coffee, a thank you to a stranger who holds the door for us, a smile to someone who crosses our path. These are noble acts, acts that make us human and allow us to share our humanity.

This cause for the library started the very day sectarian violence claimed eight lives in my home town in Pakistan; In fact the city was under an indefinite curfew when we launched our Facebook page. Compared to that tragedy, attempting to save the library might seem like a mundane affair. But it is crucial to fight these fights, for we do not pick the scale of our fights nor do we choose what stands we would take and for what cause, but all we can resolve to do is to stand for something slightly larger than ourselves. I know, I know against the inexorable power that courses through the very fiber of this world, most of our efforts are doomed to failure, especially if we stand alone.

It is standing together, shoulder to shoulder (literally and virtually) that we send a strong message to the powers that be. It is in solidarity that we can learn to destroy the fiction of our flawed individualism. No, we do not lose ourselves into others: we rather stand together and share our energies so that the isolated oneness upon which rests the entire project of power is dismantled and replaced by a communal and loving way of thinking ourselves.

Save the UNT library movement is a great example of this solidarity, this power of the community: it is not a monumental cause, but a cause that has brought us together and taught us that in solidarity, in coming together for a cause we become more than ourselves. We become noble.

 

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