Resistance in an Age of Confusion

By Elias König

How do we live and act responsibly in a world that has been labeled as “post-truth”, in which instrumental rationality is the unquestioned guiding force, and in which postmodern dictatorships retreat to non-linear warfare[1] and media manipulation[2] as means to cement their power?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge that the language of modernity, which has shaped the way we understood ourselves and the world in the past 250 years, does not provide us with accurate vocabulary anymore. Words like “freedom”, “reality”, ”truth”, “fact”, and “justice” have entirely lost their meaning in the postmodern political, social and scientific context. As a consequence, our analysis has to start with a state of confusion. We define confusion as a state of societal insecurity due to a lack of shared realities, narratives and visions, deliberately fostered by the existing power structure.

We understand that while such state is intuitively inherently undesirable, it serves those in power – or, less personified, the system. Divided by perceived economic competition and ideological warfare, the confused masses are easier to rule and less likely to organize themselves. Unsurprisingly, we are witnessing the biggest accumulation of wealth and power in the history of humankind. Foucault´s analysis no longer applies: Power is not anymore tied to the production of knowledge, it is tied to the production of confusion. The resulting structural violence, exploitation, inequality, and ongoing environmental destruction call for urgent radical change. Conservatives emphasizing the need for gradual change in this situation fall for an illusion – for their beliefs are almost certainly going to be incorporated in the existing structure of confusion, strengthening the ones in power. Thus, a case is to be made for radical change – but how?

Old-fashioned coping mechanisms offer no help. Organized class struggle, armed resistance, but even fact-checking, investigative research, or civil disobedience have proven to be ineffective[3] – in many cases they have only contributed to more confusion. As indicated above, this probably has to do with the lacking usefulness of modern (radical) theory in postmodern times. We therefore need new methods, new ideas about how to achieve the radical change we are all craving.

One such approach could be “counter-confusion”. Instead of keeping up with the ruling class´ knowledge production (Herrschaftswissen) , the postmodern revolutionary subject will have to keep up with the ruling class´ tactic of disinformation and confusion. But while Herrschaftswissen could be countered through independent, radical knowledge production, Herrschafts-confusion has to be retaliated by spreading counter-confusion. The old motto “divide and conquer” will have to be applied to individuals and institutions reproducing material inequalities. Alternative facts will have to be answered with even more alternative facts. To rule must feel as confusing as being ruled these days! For then, and only then, in a situation of complete two-sided (or in our complex world: all-sided) confusion, will we have enough space to come together beyond confining conditions of rule and oppression once more and re-invent our social relations, establish new norms, and save our planet.

[1] http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/05/how-putin-is-reinventing-warfare/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/04/nigel-oakes-cambridge-analytica-what-role-brexit-trump

[3] Panama Papers

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