Spaces of Otherwise

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Dear neighbor in Catalonia:
“throw roses into the abyss and say:
‘here is my thanks to the monster
who didn’t succeed in swallowing me alive.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

We’re just ending an intense week of public demonstrations around the claim for independence in Catalonia. These are days in which all the comfortable assumptions of democracy have been challenged, and the abuse of power and coward manipulation of legality were unmasked. It has also been an opportunity to see the irresponsible claims from politicians pushing to embrace constructed positions and narratives. However, we have also witnessed a demonstration of mature citizenship in every corner, street, school, and squares of Catalan towns and cities.

Citizens have demonstrated an advanced capacity of organization and inventiveness to face provocation and oppose to violence disguised as the defense of legality. At some moment it would appear that we’re entering the time to put to practice alternative forms of direct democracy, and collective organization.

However, the challenge remains here and following days have exacerbated misreadings and inked positions. History shows how interested politicians are inclined to insufflate epics of flags and frontiers in order to scratch votes to keep privileged positions of power or simply to hide obscure agendas; and despite its stubborn cultural supremacy, Europe has confirmed that it still can be fertile ground for such conduct.

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It’s been years that Catalan people have been legitimately claiming for a referendum which might elucidate their independence as a nation. But instead of a mature political dialogue, we have faced the tyranny of democracy [1] waved from both sides to fix opposite positions and diminish all the nuances between them. There are emerging some signs of dialogue at municipal government level  which has been accompanied by civil society and academics. But at this point, we are already moving in the arena of sensibilities, which have been somehow mistreated, generating a climate where negotiation and mediation are received with scarce enthusiasm. And meanwhile, flags keep finding out their way to the streets to make visible opposition.

If we agree with Reed McConnell stating that “the age of the frontier is over” [2] then the Catalan impasse could also be seen as an opportunity for a new social project to emerge, a project that giving agency to new forms of governance, would at the end, blur the lines that are supposed a definitory feature of nations. Following Elizabeth Povinelli we would need to understand that:

no social world is simply organized or unorganized, coherent or incoherent, unified or fractured. Instead, social worlds are multiply partially organized and thus always multiply partially disorganized. Social projects disaggregate aspects of the social worlds and aggregate individual projects into a more or less whole—a definable and describable thing. But social projects are not fixed things. Indeed, they are not “things” so much as aggregating practices, incessantly fixing phenomena and cosubstantiating practices.” [3]

Then we would ask if drawing a line, erupt a frontier, is the best way to define new nations? Moreover, what sense have to keep Westphalian conception of nations in times of institutionalized neoliberal economic policies and imperialist-like expansion of corporations, generating millions of displaced people, and migrants as result of warfare as a business, dispossession of resources and unequal distribution of richness?

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With this reality, is it accurate to define geopolitics as an ideology? Is there any space for critical geopolitics? At the end, is it possible to build places instead of nations that would host the otherness as part of the self? Some answers must be closer than we think, although they might be veiled by the multiplicity of flags waving around. And we bring the terrain of action to the scale of the street, where we can experience the naked humanity of the other nearby affecting us and being affected by us. Surprisingly, this a terrain where democracy can be avoided without remorse. Following Robert B Talisse:

“As democracy rests on civic friendship, it is perhaps no surprise that in order to practise better democracy, we need to engage with each other on matters that are not political. We must ‘tune out’, not from society as such but from society as it is constructed by democratic politics”

Because beyond ideological or identitarian narratives, nationalisms is, in reality, a feeling, a sense of belonging that operates mainly in the terrain of emotions, but at the end, it has physical, territorial and geopolitical consequences as the events in Catalonia have put in evidence.

Then it’s in the field of emotions where we can set the terrain of action. Recalling Talisse again: I”If we are to work together as a self-governing polity, we must cultivate a kind of civic friendship that enables us to regard each other as fellow citizens and sharers in a common fate. When we interact only on the battlefield of politics, our divisions erode civic friendship. Democracy is thus dismantled.”

On Sunday, October 1st, the voting day was filled with a sense of camaraderie in the streets, squares, and schools of Catalonia. Public spaces were creatively occupied, cared and defended as a place of commonality. However, such collective demonstration still lacked the presence of several others. In the following days, public space has also hosted opposite positions legitimately expressing themselves. And then we have the flow of nomads, migrants, refugees that negotiate their agency and their right to say theirs in a space which also belongs to them, although they are administratively silenced.

We effectively have in front spaces to courageously dismantle democracy with affection and empathy, and from there upgrade social projects, urbanity, and democracy itself. It’s in the terrain of civic friendship and the scale of the neighborhood where the main challenges, inquiries, and alternatives to Westphalian nationalism may emerge.

Several forces will interact in coming days, and several interested objections will emerge disguised as an inviolable constitutional order. We just need to keep in mind that, the streets will be always ours [4] and live them as a space of otherwise, which at the end is the real space of democracy.

….

*The artwork: The Sleepers by Elizabeth Heyert depicts naked humanity and the powerful “emotions of the unconscious”.

[1] Democracy is like fun: you can’t set your mind to having it. Robert B Talisse in Aeon. Retrieved October 6, 2017.

[2] Orphan Utopia. Reed McConnell. Cabinet magazine. Retrieved October 6, 2017.

[3] Elizabeth A. Povinelli. ‘Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism‘ Duke University Press, 2011.

[4] Els carrers seran sempre nostres! is one of the most used proclamations used by Catalan people on October 1st to face riot police units send by the central Spanish government to dismantle voting polls.

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