The Biopolitical Occupation of Space

I’ve become lazy in my posts, using video or images to convey my philosophical experiences. I would just like to offer a few comments on the “Occupy Wall Street” movements from my own perspective.

I find it interesting that the protests encompass a disorganized plethora of different issues like cut-throat capitalism, labour rights,  indigenous rights, women’s rights, developing countries, income inequalities, and the list goes on – such that the whole of it comes out as a huge disorganized disunified cacophony of human dissatisfaction. The majority of the protesters seem to favour a Marxist slant (much to the dismay of people who still remember what communist rule was like) and I am well aware that the majority of the funding that sustains the protest is coming from trade unions, who would rather throw away thousands of dollars to stir up civil unrest rather than use that money to hire a couple of the more moderate protesters.  Certainly, I fully support their right to protest and express themselves, but the multiple cases of censorship and violence that have occurred leave me doubtful of the movement’s principles. Not to mention that the movement has managed to displace media attention on the real human rights abuses in the Middle East’s Arab Spring, especially with the atrocities being committed in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.

Now that I’ve debunked the tenets of the protests, I would just like to highlight a few interesting points. The incommunicability of the Occupy Wall Street protest seems in line with Hardt & Negri’s assertion in Empire as instances of biopolitical resistance that leap to international importance. Granted, the majority of the protesters are fairly privileged (I’ve seen them playing around with cellphones and most have the option to return to a home). In The Production of Space, the occupation of Lefebvre’s monumental space is supposed to infuse new meaning into the place, while at the same time, the monumentality of the space infuses the protest with new meaning. In the majority of cases, the usage of monumental space for protest is supposed to make visible the power of the sovereign as exercised against the subject. However, the sovereign is not engaging with the populace in this matter, because what is perceived as 99%, is really the 1% who want something to march about.

In most democratic countries experiencing the protests, the police nor the army have tried to suppress these protests through brute force, unless violent actions by the protesters themselves ensues. The protesters are not in Agamben’s notion of the camp, not external or outside of society, nor the victims of state failure (Canadian protesters are probably more well-off than their American counterparts, so perhaps we can argue that the Obama administration has failed the American people with their massive unemployment, their poor regulation of stimulus spending and massive deficit/debt). Therefore, the Occupy Wall Street movement is NOT a case of sovereign-subject conflict due to the permissibility of their protests in open, democratic society. The subaltern is represented and heard at these protests, as well as “marginalized” groups like women, Native Americans, and other minorities (though I would dispute applying the term to the first).

It’s also interesting to note how the meaning of the occupation has evolved. Previously, occupation usually meant physical military occupation of territory, sometimes of the population (as in ancient times) though international law deems the latter illegal. Now, occupation means physically being present in (biopolitically occupying) a particular space, whether by violent or peaceful means. The connotation is still there that the place is being reclaimed or taken by force. Reclaimed in the name of some ideology. Reclaimed in the name of nationalist sentiment or public interest. With regard to the Occupy Wall Street protest, I think it is important to ask: For whom is Wall Street being reclaimed? (that is, for whose interests) rather than Who is reclaiming Wall Street?

Like Foucault, I accept that power struggles are a natural part of any government and the people or individual are usually the counterforce to the state’s force. As a true conservative, I always question and critique both forces before accepting the power of one or the other over me. Perhaps it is anti-progressive and anti-democratic of me to question such movements, but the day that we are not permitted to question anything is the day that democracy and progress will have died.

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