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THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE - VANEIGEM
Humiliation - Page 13

Nobody dared to announce the end of colonialism for fear that it would spring up all over the place like a jack-in-the-box whose lid doesn't shut properly. In fact, from the moment when the collapse of colonial power revealed the colonialism inherent in all power over men, the problems of race and colour became about as important as crossword puzzles. What effect did the clowns of the left have as they trotted about on their anti-racialist and anti-anti-semitic hobbyhorses? In the last analysis, that of smothering the cries of tormented Jews and negroes which were uttered by all those who were not Jews or negroes, starting with the Jews and negroes themselves. Of course, I would not dream of questioning the spirit of generosity which has inspired recent anti-racialism. But I lose interest in the past as soon as I can no longer affect it. I am speaking here and now, and nobody can persuade me, in the name of Alabama or South Africa and their spectacular exploitation, to forget that the epicentres of such problems lies in me and in each being who is humiliated and scorned by every aspect of our own society.

I shall not renounce my share of violence.

Human relationships can hardly be discussed in terms of more or less tolerable conditions, more or less admissible indignities. Qualification is irrelevant. Do insults like 'wog' or 'nigger' hurt more than a word of command? When he is summoned, told off, or ordered around by a policeman, a boss, an authority, who doesn't feel deep down, in moments of lucidity, that he is a darkie and a gook?

The old colonials provided us with a perfect identi-kit portrait of power when they predicted the descent into bestiality and wretchedness of those who found their presence undesirable. Law and order come first, says the guard to the prisoner. Yesterday's anti-colonialists are trying to humanize the generalized colonialism of power. They become it's watchdogs in the cleverest way: by barking at all the after-effects of past inhumanity.

Before he tried to get himself made President of Martinique, Aimé Césaire made a famous remark: "The bourgeoisie has found itself unable to solve the major problems which its own existence has produced: the colonial problem and the problem of the proletariat." He forgot to add: "For they are one and the same problem, a problem which anyone who separates them will fail to understand."

4

I read in Gouy's Histoire de France: "The slightest insult to the King meant immediate death". In the American Constitution: "The people are sovereign". In Pouget's Père Peinard: "Kings get fat off their sovereignty, while we are starving on ours". Courbon's Secret du Peuple tells me: "The people today means the mass of men to whom all respect is denied". Here we have, in a few lines, the misadventures of the principle of sovereignty.

Kings designated as 'subjects' the objects of their arbitrary will. No doubt this was an attempt to wrap the radical inhumanity of its domination in a humanity of idyllic bonds. The respect due to the king's person cannot in itself be criticized. It is odious only because it is based on the right to humiliate by subordination. Contempt rotted the thrones of kings. But what about the citizen's sovereignty: the rights multiplied by bourgeois vanity and jealousy, sovereignty distributed like a dividend to each individual? What about the divine right of kings democratically shared out?

Today, France contains twenty-four million mini-kings, of which the greatest -- the bosses -- are great only in their ridiculousness. The sense of respect has become degraded to the point where humiliation is all that it demands. Democratized into public functions and roles, the monarchic principle floats with its belly up, like a dead fish: only its most repulsive aspect is visible. Its will to be absolutely and unreservedly superior has disappeared. Instead of basing our lives on our sovereignty, we try to base our sovereignty on other people's lives. The manners of slaves.

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