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THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE - VANEIGEM
Humiliation - Page 9

There is no intermission, no truce between attackers and attacked. A flux of barely perceptible signs assails the walker, who is not alone. Remarks, gestures, glances tangle and collide, miss their aim, ricochet like bullets fired at random, which kill even more surely by the continuous nervous tension they produce. All we can do is to enclose ourselves in embarrassing parentheses; like these fingers (I am writing this on a cafe terrace) which slide the tip across the table and the fingers of the waiter which pick it up, while the faces of the two men involved, as if anxious to conceal the infamy which they have consented to, assume an expression of utter indifference.

From the point of view of constraint, everyday life is governed by an economic system in which the production and consumption of insults tends to balance out. The old dream of the theorists of perfect competition thus finds its real perfection in the customs of a democracy given new life by the lack of imagination of the left. Isn't it strange, at first sight, to see the fury with which 'progressives' attack the ruined edifice of free enterprise, as if the capitalists, its official demolition gang, had not themselves already planned its nationalized reconstruction? but it is not so strange, in fact: for the deliberate purpose of keeping all attention fastened on critiques which have already been overtaken by events (after all, anybody can see that capitalism is gradually finding its fulfillment in a planned economy of which the Soviet model is nothing but a primitive form) is to conceal the fact that the only reconstruction of human relationships envisaged is one based upon precisely this economic model, which, because it is obsolete, is available at a knock-down price. Who can fail to notice the alarming persistence with which 'socialist' countries continue to organize life along bourgeois lines? Everywhere it's hats off to family, marriage, sacrifice, work, inauthenticity, while simplified and rationalized homeostatic mechanisms reduce human relationships to 'fair' exchanges of deference and humiliation. And soon, in the ideal democracy of the cyberneticians, everyone will earn without apparent effort a share of unworthiness which he will have the leisure to distribute according to the finest rules of justice. Distributive justice will reach its apogee. Happy the old men who live to see the day!

For me -- and for some others, I dare to think -- there can be no equilibrium in malaise. Planning is only the antithesis of the free market. Only exchange has been planned, and with it the mutual sacrifice which it entails. But if the word 'innovation' is to keep its proper meaning, it must mean superseding, not tarting up. In fact, a new reality can only be based on the principle of the gift. Despite their mistakes and their poverty, I see in the historical experiences of workers' councils (1917, 1921, 1934, 1956), and in the pathetic search for friendship and love, a single and inspiring reason not to despair over present 'reality'. Everything conspires to keep secret the positive character of such experiences; doubt is cunningly maintained as to their real importance, even their existence. By a strange oversight, no historian has ever taken the trouble to study how people actually lived during the most extreme revolutionary moments. At such times, the wish to make an end of free exchange in the market of human behaviour shows itself spontaneously but in the form of negation. When malaise is brought into question it shatters under the onslaught of a greater and denser malaise.

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